Adapting to the New Normal –
Delivering Quality Customer Experiences with Agents at Home
The COVID-19 pandemic threw a spanner in the works for employees and businesses everywhere. Offices worldwide were forced to shut down and millions of customer support agents were sent home, even in areas where contact centers were deemed essential services. Aside from this an additional number of employees were unable or fearful to be physically present in office due to a lack of transportation services or health concerns. In this blog, we’ll explore the impact of the new normal and best practices for companies to adapt to it while still delivering quality customer experiences.
Prior to the pandemic, the agent deployment model was depended on brick and mortar offices so that agents and supervisors could coordinate work faster. Very few businesses already had an at-home agent set up in place so the majority of companies were not prepared for this unexpected shift, and had to haphazardly set up their agents to work from home.
Many companies managed to do so and just in in the nick of time. However, in doing so the customer experience quotient took a pretty significant hit for most companies. It started with increased and sometimes unbearable wait times since companies were struggling with a sudden increase in calls while functioning with a limited number of agents. When companies managed to restore the status quo with greater agent numbers, their services were yet again obstructed by limitations imposed on at-home agent activities.
Fast-tracking the Transition to At-Home Agents
When a global emergency causes call volumes to rise while simultaneously restricting the number of agents available, customer frustration levels are likely to go through the roof. At the start of the pandemic, phone call wait times were preposterously high and only continued to increase in duration. Reducing wait times to a level that could be considered acceptable instead of simply hanging up on callers was imperative.
The quick establishment of work from home agents requires administrative effort from technology, security and human resource teams plus equipment. Computers need to be set up and shipped to agents’ homes and security and agent management systems must be established. Sometimes in areas that have unreliable public infrastructure, additional equipment such as mobile hotspots and uninterrupted power supplies will have to be set up.
Another aspect of adapting to the new normal entails getting customers more inclined to utilize self-service options when feasible. In some cases, the work load on agents can be reduced by opting for an automated or partially automated Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Usually it takes about a week to update an IVR but in some modern systems they can be reprogrammed in a few hours. Companies that employed updated systems benefited from faster call automations and new call flow narratives that covered questions pertaining to COVID-related cancellations, deferrals or refunds.
Redirecting phone calls to alternative digital channels is another key strategy that can reduce the burden on your telephone agents. Live chats can a better option than calling since faster responses are guaranteed. Through services such as Apple Business Chat, Google Business Messages, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and so on conversations can be resumed at any given time depending on the availability of the agent or the consumer.
Digital channels can positively impact your business’s customer experience with faster response times alongside a number of benefits. For instance:
· You can set up at home agents must faster and with less effort since agents are switching to established digital channels of communication that have lower connectivity and bandwidth requirements that real-time phone calls to support customers.
· Automate customer and agent journeys with visually engaging content such as images, forms, cards, tables and lists.
· Interact with multiple customers simultaneously via digital channels which isn’t possible over a phone call. Agents can usually support up to 2 clients over live chat and many more over messaging support channels.
Making the Most Out of the New Contact Centre Norm
Once you have tackled the issue of wait time with at home infrastructure and operations established for your agents, customers can connect to agents and have problems resolved instead of remaining lost in the limbo of waiting. The next step incudes delivering quality customer service which a lot of businesses fall flat on since there is a lack of supervision. To overcome this issue automation and collaboration technologies can play a significant role. They can help increase levels of security, productivity and employee engagement comparable to a standard call center. These practices will be useful in the future once the pandemic subsides as the new operational model is likely to continue to some extent.
Inappropriate behavior in a call center is mitigated by a number of security measures such as video monitoring, biometric access, device restrictions as well as the proximity of supervisors. With agents now working from home imposing such measures might prove difficult. As a solution, agent activities have now been restricted from handling sensitive information such as bank details or any financial information. However, these restrictions delay first contact resolution and increase effort on the customer’s part.
In order to overcome these limitations, AI-powered inspection can cross-check workspace and transaction compliance – two aspects of increased security risk for remote agents. So, this means that agents maintain a work environment free from personal communication devices, recording devices, writing materials and other individuals. By using a live video stream of the agent’s workspace computer vision can detect any breaches in security compliance.
Transaction compliance entails that policies are adhered to and customer requests are reconciled. By implementing automated transcription, conversations can be converted into text and interpreted by AI’s Natural Language Processing (NLP) to extract customer intent as well as the nature of the request. The AI also uses NLP to classify each procedural step performed by the agent and flags any transactional anomalies.
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