Keeping Home Agents on the Ball and in the Loop
Up until relatively recently, any article on home agents focused almost entirely on the benefits of such an innovative staffing approach. Contact center leaders still needed to be convinced. They had yet to embrace the home agent model and remained uneasy about the imagined “dangers”: “How will I know if a home agent’s working?” “What if a thief breaks into their home and steals proprietary customer information?” “What if a giant steps on their house and they’re unable to handle calls?”
A more appropriate question would have been, “What if agents end up loving the at-home arrangement so much their performance and engagement, as well as customer satisfaction, all increase substantially?”
Fortunately, contact centers have since woken up and smelled the home-brewed coffee. Now that remote agents have become a common piece of the customer care landscape, articles on the topic can focus less on why to go virtual and instead get right into how best to do it. Of course, that didn’t stop me from creating a three paragraph-preamble to what I really want to discuss in this post: Coaching, training and “including” with regard to remote staff.
How do you keep virtual staff not only continuously improving but also up-to-date on (and involved in) what’s happening in and around the contact center and the larger enterprise? How do you counter the isolation and potential stagnation of agents working by themselves miles or even states away from the rest of the team? Following are some of the common ways that successful contact center organizations keep work-at-home staff on the ball and in the loop:
Use phone, chat and video calls to regularly conduct coaching/feedback sessions. Every center I know of with a successful home agent program in place doesn’t let agent distance get in the way of agent development. These centers monitor home agents just as if they worked in the center (easy to do with today’s technology) and, importantly, deliver timely coaching and feedback without ever having the agent set foot in the contact center. A QA specialist or supervisor can send the home agent an audio file with the recorded call in question and, after having the agent review it, interact with them via phone, chat or video to discuss what they did well and where they could stand to improve. (Email is also an option, but due to its not so real-time nature, is less effective for coaching purposes.)
Tap the power of e-learning modules. While live phone, chat and video calls are great for individualized coaching and feedback purposes with home agents, when it comes time to provide more broad-based training to remote staff (in fact, all agents), formal e-learning modules can come in very handy. Well-designed e-learning solutions enhance not only training consistency but also efficiency, as they eliminate (or at least reduce) the need to have remote staff come onsite for ongoing training. Keeping home agents away from the brick & mortar center as much as possible is important because home agents rarely bathe (they don’t have to), and you don’t body odor to distract your on-premise staff and hinder productivity.
Have home agents “attend” weekly meetings and other events. The same communication channels that are used for coaching home agents can be used to have them join in on team or center-wide meetings, “town-hall” discussions, brown-bag lunches and brainstorming sessions. Including them in such activities is a wise practice not only because it helps to instill a strong sense of team, but also because home agents – in most companies, at least – tend to be among the most experienced and talented members of the frontline and thus will be able to offer more insight and better ideas than agents whose brains are being slowly fried by the contact center’s fluorescent lighting.
Create a dynamic online “communication hub” – where all agents can access important updates/announcements and interact with one another. (Yeah, I could have said “intranet” but “communication hub” sounds a lot sexier, especially when you put “dynamic” in front of it.) Such online hubs are a great place to post key product/service updates, upcoming events and contests, company/contact center news, blog posts (invite agents to contribute!), names of agents deserving of public recognition, agent discussion forums, and anything else that helps keep everybody on the same page and fosters a sense of community. Home agents could even post photos of themselves working in their pajamas or underwear to make onsite staff jealous.
Invite regional work-at-home staff to come in (or meet out). As viable as the virtual model is for contact centers, nothing quite compares to face-to-face interaction for building camaraderie and rapport among the entire staff. That’s why many organizations with thriving work-at-home programs in place still occasionally invite remote agents (who live within driving distance of the contact center) to rub elbows with their onsite peers. It may be for a team-building exercise or reward ceremony, or for a fun social event in the contact center – or outside of it (e.g., an employee picnic, a bowling outing, et. al.). Whatever the reason, regional home-based staff will appreciate the opportunity to get out of the house and schmooze with cohorts once in a while, and onsite staff will appreciate the opportunity to lend their remote peers some soap and shampoo.