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The call center of the future: WFH is here to stay

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Over the last several months, many industries have had to shift operations to become remote-work friendly, and customer service was no different, going into overdrive to process new work from home policies, maintain the safety of employees, and reduce disruptions to business operations. At the same time, the customer service industry experienced an exponential increase in call volumes. For example, airlines saw a 199% increase in customer inquiries.  

While the continuity of access to customer service is vital in regular circumstances, the sharp increase in recent customer demands has made it even more critical. By overcoming reservations about the idea of working from home in the customer service industry, many companies found themselves seeing real, immediate benefits of utilizing remote teams, which include flexible business operations, better employee satisfaction, and increased productivity.

Despite the challenges associated with moving teams from the call center to living rooms and spare bedrooms, remote working has accelerated the pace at which customer service has transformed its digital presence and opportunities for staff to work from the comfort of their homes. Due to early success, this new model will likely become a permanent fixture in the call centers of the future.

Forced Technology Adoption is Changing Customer Service for Good

The customer service industry has been using many of the latest technologies available to them to better handle customer inquiries and to automate simple tasks such as helping a customer reset their password. But over the last few years there has been room for improvement in how quickly companies are adopting the use of technology and to what extent, despite the numerous benefits it provides (flexibility or even cost savings to name a couple). However, the shift to remote work has forced many companies to implement new—and sometimes improved—technologies to ensure customer service teams are able to do their job seamlessly and effectively, all while giving a boost to employee morale. For instance, many companies are now aware that work productivity tools such as those from Zoom and Slack bridge the distance between remote staff and strengthen the relationship between staff and managers—which is a key component to engagement and improved productivity. Additional tools to ensure data privacy and security are also important.

When looking at the technologies that support representatives in their roles, automation tools and dashboards are and will be a necessity to keeping pace with customer demands and helping staff work efficiently. For example, chatbots can help customers get answers to simple questions while representatives focus on servicing customers who have more complex issues. Did you know that you can process a refund through Amazon using a chatbot? The ability to handle such a process witha bot creates a stress-free return process for customers who don’t have to wait on the phone to talk with a representative, and allows the representative to turn his or her attention to more complicated inquiries that need human interaction to resolve.

With an accelerated rate of technology adoption to accommodate working from home, over the next few months—and years—we’ll also see more technologically savvy representatives, especially as customer demand for 24/7 service only grows. Customers want to talk to a representative on multiple channels, whether it’s through chat on a website, direct message on social media, or through traditional phone methods. So, with the push to remote work allowing for greater usage of technology, teams will be that much more ready—and knowledgeable—to use the technology at their disposal.

When thinking about how remote work will impact the future of customer service, many companies have implemented remote working technologies for staff. This is helping to ensure operations are seamless while addressing other considerations such as how to train employees virtually and ensure the flow of information is secure. As such, there are numerous benefits to switching to remote customer service operations now and keeping these policies alive after COVID-19.

The Unique Benefits of Remote Working in Customer Service

At the start of COVID-19, many call centers operated in an in-person environment due to expectations within the customer service industry. However, the push to remote working has pressured companies to rethink policies around remote work and turn call centers into a job that can be done in a safe, off-site environment. Representatives are in a unique position because of the need for specialized tools to pull up customer information, keep customer satisfaction high, and handle inquiries from a number of channels: telephone, digital, and social media.

Over the last few months, call centers and customer service departments have discovered several benefits to having remote customer service teams. The key benefits that make remote working for customer service worthwhile also go well beyond ROI and meeting KPIs:

Time Savings and Productivity Gains

Both companies and staff are saving money and time: staff are saving money on commuting costs, while remote customer service teams get through 13% more requests each day according to a study by Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Business Flexibility

When teams work remotely, overall business can become more flexible. Representatives working for customer service outsourcers in particular can shift schedules to assist different clients depending on volume spikes. For example, there could be a greater need for representatives to provide coverage during lunch hours. Whether a representative works for an outsourcer or as in-house customer service, working from home allows representatives to be ‘on call’ in the comfort of their home and provide customer service based on need.

More Recruiting Options

Many job seekers are now looking for flexible work as an incentive with more than 40% of millennials saying that the flexibility to work from anywhere is a top priority when evaluating job opportunities. As such, many companies such as Amazon and American Express are promoting a significant number of remote work opportunities. By taking location out of the equation, a remote customer service model also makes it easier to scale teams, attract high-quality applicants, and increase the likelihood of new hire retention.

Potential to Improve Customer Loyalty

In customer service, when representatives are satisfied with their job, it increases the likelihood of an excellent customer experience. When it comes down to it, the goal for customer service is to ensure customers are happy after interacting with a representative, which can also lead to better loyalty. From a business perspective, when staff are engaged and happy with their work, they tend to be more productive, which can also help manage the increased call volumes happening across customer service departments right now.

The move to remote working for customer service shouldn’t be considered a temporary shift, rather it should be part of the “new normal.” Companies that take advantage of the real benefits associated with having remote teams and mold policies to support this type of work will be better able to compete in the future and ensure they see ROI with talent, equipment, and technology. If companies don’t take this exercise seriously, not only will it cause business disruptions, but they will also find themselves left behind in an industry where changes are happening quickly—and for the better.

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