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Call Center Conundrum: The Future is Flexibility

Published: July 28, 2020 | By: Matt McConnell

The world of customer experience is at a crossroads. Particularly for call centers, COVID-19 has served as the inflection point for change at breakneck speeds. A decade of aversion to evolve has now been seemingly reversed overnight as centers were forced to pivot to remote models for staff safety concerns, while ensuring continuity in a time of chaos.

But now as we look to pick the pieces up from COVID-19, what else can call centers adapt, apart from the shift to remote environments?

We are entering the start of a new era for call centers, where technology will need to be leveraged to deliver continued cost savings and productivity gains to keep up with new demands and expectations. Call centers have previously been reluctant to the shift to remote work, but once the band-aid was ripped off, the upside became clear. Now, we are at a tipping point. All signs point to a new age of innovation in the call center, which rewards flexibility and an openness to change.

Flexibility to Expand Your Talent Pool

To the companies that embrace a flexible mindset, there are many potential advantages including an ever-expanding array of talent. Due to the new remote nature of call centers, managers will no longer be tied to physical locations to source agents. Top talent can be identified anywhere there is an internet connection, enabling stronger performing teams. According to Gartner, nearly 75% of customer service leaders expect to expand WFH programs post-pandemic, so this is a trend we’ll likely see more of in the near future.

Talent pools will now be broadened to new regions, opening doors for both agents seeking new roles, and companies looking to find new remote agents. Yet, this new opportunity will come with organizational change. New onboarding and training processes will need to be developed to account for a lack of in-person guidance and development.

In a call center we once knew before social distancing became a thing, new agents typically shadow experienced ones in a controlled environment before handling their own calls. But now more than ever, workforce automation platforms can help mirror in-person experiences to a remote environment by leading and hosting virtual training and development for new hires. This method also allows time for one-on-one coaching and virtual modules to ensure any new agents are receiving a robust onboarding ahead of their deployment.

The Advent of Split Shifts Will Unlock the Future of the Contact Center

Another advantage lies in the flexibility of agent schedules. With the rise of virtual agents, split shifts have become a new possibility to improve both the agent and end-customer experience. Instead of a routine 9-5 work schedule, split shifts allow for agents to have the option to break up their work week into smaller shift windows, depending on call volume.

This added flexibility gives agents the freedom to take care of needs throughout the day, while still retaining their same, if not more, hours per week. They can split-up their hours, which curbs agent burnout, and allow for well-needed breaks without repercussions.

For managers, split shifts ensure that an accurate number of agents are online at any given time, as well as provide productivity boosts to guarantee a top-notch customer experience.  WFA platforms can react in real-time to fluctuations in call volume to initiate these shift changes.

Before the pivot to remote work, commutes prevented the wide-spread adoption of this work style. Now that agents are remote, logging on and off is much easier, versus driving to and from a physical call center. There is more incentive for agents to add/drop shifts without having to factor in time spent on traveling to a call center or the cost of gas or public transportation.

Sustainable Cost Savings

Apart from benefits to the agent experience, flexible contact centers are valuable to the bottom line. There are tremendous cost savings involved with downsizing physical call centers and moving agents remotely. Thus, the only overheads are salary, and all software and hardware equipment, essentials agents need to work from home.  The average annual cost to physically house a call center agent is approximately $8,300 per agent in the United States. If a 200-person contact center decided to move only half of its agents to home offices, they would see $830,000 in annual real estate cost savings.

Flexible work schedules can also help lower attrition rates in a typically, high-churn industry. This vast improvement to the agent experience keeps agents engaged and happy and a significant factor in reducing the costs of sourcing, onboarding, and training new agents.

As well, with workforce automation platforms adjusting staffing according to real-time volume shifts, call center managers can more accurately staff centers with remote agents. The cost savings are evident by no longer having to understaff or overstaff centers to gauge agent absence, tardiness or volume spikes.

This is an interesting time for call centers. The immediate future presents a golden opportunity for rapid change and innovation. The cost savings and productivity gains are clear, but only for those companies that successfully break the mold and adopt flexible operations.

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