In the past, when customers contacted companies to acquire information or resolve issues, they likely spoke to customer service agents working out of bustling contact centers alongside dozens or even hundreds of their colleagues.
Running a contact center from a single physical building, however, might soon be a thing of the past. Thanks to advancements in modern technology, as well as ongoing challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, more agents are working from home. This trend is likely to continue as organizations grow more comfortable with work-from-home environments and realize the benefits of moving to all-remote contact centers, including reduced absenteeism and improved service levels.
Before deploying a remote contact center, however, there are a multitude of factors to consider. Three of the biggest include the security of customer data and complying with related regulations; managing productivity; and boosting employee engagement and morale.
Ensuring Data Security and Compliance Using Technology
When it comes to contact centers where all agents are working from home, upholding the security of data and ensuring compliance with data security and privacy regulations requires a two-pronged approach. From a technology perspective, it’s all about locking down endpoints. Tactics include the following:
- Use Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), which allows you to host desktop environments on a centralized server and securely deploy the virtual desktops to employees. If this is not an option, virtual private networks (VPN) can provide data security by encrypting data being sent over a network, making it unreadable.
- Ensure employees store all data in the cloud rather than locally.
- Require employees to use hard-wired connections instead of Wi-Fi, which creates the risk of roamers looking to hijack a connection. Hard-wired internet access also ties employees to their home office space, which ensures they aren’t going to a coffee shop to handle sensitive customer information in a public place and/or working off an unsecured connection.
- Restrict network access to hours of operation only, which mitigates the risk of bad actors accessing networks during off hours.
- Employ two-factor authentication to ensure the person logging into a computer or network is the correct user.
The other side of ensuring data security comes down to the bigger variable: the people. In a brick-and-mortar environment, contact centers can more easily reduce the human risk factors that jeopardize data security. This is more difficult when everyone is in their home environments, but it’s not impossible.
To set the stage for work-at-home employees’ success, follow a formalized process from the beginning and reinforce best practices throughout all stages of the employee lifecycle. Some tactics include the following:
- Educate employees on the importance of data security. This can start as early as the recruitment phase; in fact, one best practice is to ask potential employees for live videos of their anticipated at-home work areas. Managers can verify that it is a quiet, low-traffic area and will be able to spot and immediately correct unsuitable factors (e.g., screen reflections in mirrors or windows or people or pets in the background).
- After they are hired, reaffirm in writing that they understand what is and is not allowed in their workspaces and that their workspaces will be periodically reviewed for compliance via live, 360-degree-view video.
- Home workspace policies will depend on the company, but many include requiring that desks must be clear of paper, pens, and personal devices and that no writing tools or data-recording devices can be within reach.
- Once the employee is officially performing the job, train and engage operational teams to conduct 360-degree-view audits via webcam at prescribed intervals; ensure that the same forms are used; and track results for follow-up and compliance with governance requirements.
While it’s important that employees have comfortable, ergonomic work spaces, it’s equally important that they’re secure because in remote contact centers, employees’ personal environments are an extension of company work areas.
Ensuring productive workers starts with recruiting the right people. This is even more true within an all-remote contact center, where employees must be able to be successful in both the contact center and from home—not one or the other.
There are several personality traits and skills that make quality work-at-home employees. They include the following:
- Look for people who are self-motivated and self-reliant. They must be able to adapt to the virtual environment while achieving agreed-upon goals without physically being supervised every moment;
- They should exhibit confidence and independence and know how to use available resources to minimize downtime and resolve problems; and
- They should be strong communicators who demonstrate an ability for concise written communications via email, chat, or social media support.
Once you’ve found the ideal people, give them the tools that will help them succeed. This includes the following:
- Training sessions should be comprehensive, with multiple touchpoints, and refreshers throughout that drive home key information.
- Help employees be self-sufficient when possible, which will instill confidence and reduce potential anxieties about being fully remote. For instance, demonstrate the basics of troubleshooting their equipment and give employees access to chatbots that can solve simple IT issues so they only need to contact IT for serious problems.
- After employees are fully onboarded, managers should conduct regular coaching and check-in meetings and work with direct reports on performance management plans.
Once employees have the right training and the tools they need to be successful, it’s likely they will be more productive in their work and more engaged and helpful with customers who rely on them.
Boosting Employee Engagement
Of course, while data security, compliance and productivity are obviously high priorities, just as critical is ensuring that your employees like where they work. The foolowing tips can help with that goal:
- It can be hard for contractors or short-term employees to feel real connections to their employers. Hiring people as true employees—with the same benefits that brick-and mortar workers have—instead of as contractors can help them feel part of the greater workplace and boost their company loyalty.
- While at-home employees generally gain a better work-life balance, they also might miss the camaraderie of an office space. Keep geographically separated co-workers engaged with each other within the work-at-home culture through chat and video. This comprises communication not just between managers and direct reports but also between employees and the larger team or organization.
- People are social animals. Host team meetings and coaching sessions via webcam instead of phone so people can see each other and their managers.
- Apart from team meetings, find ways to have fun together, too. Celebrate big wins, promotions, birthdays, and such with virtual video chats and happy hours. Don’t be afraid to get creative. The company could arrange to have pizzas delivered to everyone at the same time so the team can enjoy a lunchtime pizza party together.
The Future is Remote
The 2020 pandemic proved to businesses everywhere that agents’ physical locations are less important than the outcome of their customer interactions. When deploying remote contact centers, organizations can set themselves and their employees up for success by prioritizing data security, productivity, and engagement and reap the benefits of a motivated, more efficient workforce.
Marco Colaiacovo is responsible for developing and growing Hinduja Global Service (HGS) Work@Home program. He has more than 20 years of experience in the contact center sector, having collaborated with internal and external partners to create and deliver environments that produce world-class service. He works out of his home office in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, and also serves as president of the Contact Centre Association of Nova Scotia.