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The VoIP Report

How to Manage Remote Contact Center Agents
January 18th, 2017

How to Manage Remote Contact Center Agents

Ian Linton

Remote contact center agents play an important role in enhancing contact center efficiency and capability. So how can businesses manage them efficiently?

Remote contact center agents play an important role in enhancing contact center efficiency and capability. They provide additional capacity to the main center at peak times or out of hours, and they may offer specialist skills or knowledge not available in the core team. For companies with a strong international presence, they can deliver the equivalent of local service in the appropriate language during local business hours.

Cloud technology and communications solutions like VoIP give businesses the flexibility to provide a full set of contact center services to remote agents wherever they are located. This helps businesses deliver a consistent standard of service to customers using any central or remote resources.

The remote management challenge

Monitoring and managing remote contact center agents presents a different set of challenges. Remote agents do not have colleagues or supervisors on the spot to support them or intervene if there are problems. Remote workers may also experience the phenomenon known as social dislocation, which is characterized by a sense of isolation and inability to fully participate in the activities of their company.

For a remote agent program to succeed, there must be an effective method of control in addition to benefits for both agents and employers.

Managing overall contact center resources

Managing remote agents is part of the wider process of managing contact center resources to control costs, increase revenue, meet important metrics, and maximize customer satisfaction.

Supervisors and managers can access a comprehensive range of tools to measure contact center activity and monitor agents’ performance. These tools and the data they provide give managers the information they need to make decisions about using and managing remote agents.

Identify capacity requirements

Using the reports available from a web portal with a VoIP contact center solution, managers and supervisors can identify both long- and short-term requirements for remote agents.

For example, if they find that peak traffic occurs at regular intervals each day, they can plan to allocate calls to both central and remote agents to balance workload and avoid over-staffing in the contact center. If real-time reports indicate a spike in traffic, they can quickly allocate overflow calls to remote agents to keep queue waiting times to a minimum and reduce the risk of abandoned calls.

Recruit remote agents with scarce skills

Analyzing performance reports might indicate that agents in the main center are lacking certain skills. For example, the reports may indicate a high number of calls transferred to other agents or an excessive number of callbacks or repeat inquiries. That highlights a need for agents with better product or industry knowledge, technical or diagnostic skills, or customer handling ability.

Supervisors can then recruit remote agents with the skills or expertise to fill the gaps in the team. A combination of skills-based routing and business rules in a VoIP contact center solution ensures that incoming calls will reach the most suitable central or remote agents. That reduces training costs, ensures customers receive the best possible response, with queries resolved quickly and efficiently.

Expand opening hours

If traffic reports indicate a significant volume of calls outside business hours, or if there is a steady volume of calls from international destinations, then remote agents could provide important customer service benefits.

Calls outside business hours would normally default to voicemail, meaning that a caller would have to wait until the center re-opened for a response. That could cause inconvenience for the customer, particularly if the inquiry or service request is urgent. When customers expect their calls to be answered quickly, any delay reflects badly on a business’ reputation for service. Callbacks also add unnecessary costs and reduce productivity.

Routing out-of-hours calls to remote agents extends a contact center’s opening hours, eliminating callback costs and improving customer satisfaction. Time-based routing is used to deliver calls to the remote team. When hiring, supervisors must ensure that remote agents are available to take calls during the extended opening period, particularly if they want to offer 24×7 service.

To handle calls from international destinations, supervisors must recruit remote agents who have the appropriate language skills and are available to handle calls during the export territory’s local business hours. The ability to provide this language-based service is essential for businesses that want to grow their export operations.

Give internal agents flexibility

Managing remote contact center agents can prove easier when employees can choose when and where they work. Flexible working arrangements give agents the opportunity to achieve a better work-life balance and can help create a positive attitude to the job and improve productivity.

So part of the recruitment and management process is finding agents on the main team who are willing and able to take on a remote role that may require them to work hours different from their main shift pattern in the main contact center. Moving existing agents to remote roles also reduces recruitment, induction and training costs, and ensures the remote agents can provide the right service from day one.

Set standards and processes

In the absence of an on-the-spot supervisor, it is essential to give remote agents a set of standards and processes that they must adhere to. Induction training should focus on company policies for handling different types of calls, together with key measures such as average call handling times, the number of abandoned calls or recalls per agent, and the number of calls handled. These metrics apply equally to remote agents and those based in the main contact center.

The policies should also set out requirements for checking in, submitting reports and updates, and completing call logs and timesheets. Supervisors can automate the reporting process to ensure compliance.

Monitor agent performance

VoIP provides many different monitoring and measuring tools to manage and track remote agents’ daily activities and performance in real time. Using call logs, recordings, and silent listening, supervisors can monitor performance and intervene if necessary by offering support.

Where remote contact center agents are taking on specialist roles or handling calls during quieter out-of-hours periods, supervisors should ensure that metrics reflect changing work patterns. Workforce management tools allow supervisors to use data on remote agents’ statuses and create schedules that match call volumes and balance the workload.

Maintain security and compliance

Maintaining security and compliance are essential to any contact center’s operation, but control can be more difficult when agents work remotely. The problem increases if a business is subject to regulatory compliance or service level agreements that incorporate security requirements.

Agents working in remote locations may use their own devices to access the corporate system and communicate with callers. If those remote devices are not secured to corporate standards, there is a risk that personal data or confidential customer or company information may be lost or stolen. Supervisors must ensure that remote devices are secured by applying measures used in BYOD programs.

Build community

Although monitoring is essential, supervisors should also ensure that remote agents feel involved as part of the company team. This can be difficult when supervisors are normally out of the office, so a variety of creative approaches could be taken. VoIP’s collaboration tools make it easy for remote agents to join weekly online updates or progress meetings and share news, experiences, and problems.

Remote contact center agents should also be able to participate in any recognition and reward or incentive programs such as Agent of the Week or Agent of the Month based on revenue growth or customer satisfaction scores. Participation ensures that agents remain motivated as well as involved.

Take the contact center forward

Remote contact center agents can make a great contribution to the scope and success of a contact center when they are properly managed and supervised. They increase flexibility, extend opening hours and provide skills and knowledge to enhance the quality of service to customers.

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