Businesses are coming to terms with the new normal of remote working. We’re all learning how to reach a sustainable level of productivity, continue serving customers and, most importantly, look after staff.
And we’re all trying to do it quickly, which means mistakes will be made and lessons learned as the yard sticks keep moving.
For customer service teams, the challenges are particularly pointed; agents are without the infrastructure and resources of an office environment, customers are far more stressed and uncertain than normal and jobs are potentially in the balance.
Management teams need to tackle these issues quickly, without compromising employees’ wellbeing or customers’ experience. It means increasing agent productivity while reducing handling time, reskilling service agents and streamlining communications.
So we’ve done (and will continue to do) our best to share practices and tools we’ve found effective in the world of remote working. These may not apply to every business. And they certainly won’t apply to every situation. But we think they can help a lot of businesses right now.
Three key challenges facing service teams right now
Here are some of the key problems we’re seeing service teams wrestle with – and some potential antidotes:
1. Keeping customer service agents productive and safe
Without question the most important challenge businesses face is keeping their staff safe. It’s tough to look after an invisible workforce, but with everyone home-bound, that’s now the task at hand.
So it’s become essential to communicate effectively, regularly and in both directions. Service teams and their supervisors just need some of the tools and habits to stay positive, productive and open.
This is a trying time for service agents and their supervisors. You can’t look over your shoulder to see if someone’s struggling, or pop out to grab a coffee. The onus is on staff and their managers to, if anything, over-communicate. For a workforce pivoting from an office or contact centre into working remotely, these practices are often unnatural.
It’s important to stay vigilant against falling into individual siloes – understandable given the balancing act of keeping work and home life separate, despite both happening in the same place.
Addressing these challenges can help prevent people from becoming disheartened. Keep staff up to date with higher management. Provide regular information (if anything, overshare). Keep staff in the loop over the state of the business.
2. Handling increased customer enquiries
We’re all navigating life under COVID-19; including our customers. The people you serve are facing similar uncertainties, pressure and stress.
That means customer service teams face tougher and more taxing interactions, more often. So it’s vital service agents can strike a balance between reactive service (answering customer queries as and when they arrive) and proactive service (updating customers on what they need to know.)
Effective service counts for even more in a time like this.
That’s easier said than done when you’ve moved from a dedicated contact centre to your living room. And your desk phone’s been replaced with your mobile. And you’ve gone from multiple monitors to a single (probably laptop) screen. These can all become barriers to seamless customer interactions at a time of heightened stress – but they don’t have to.
(There are practical solutions to these issues but they bear a deeper dive so do tune in to our webinar on Scaling Remote Service Teams to learn more about them.)
3. Meeting customers on the right channels
New means of communication are allowing people and businesses to connect in ways like never before – handy, given we’ve never needed them as much as we do now. But it can be difficult to know what’s appropriate when contacting customers – particularly if the team has become used to simple telephone calls in a contact centre.
Issues like often-repeated questions consume agent time, when they could be solved by chat bots or knowledge articles in a Help Centre. The often siloed nature of remote working means best practice stops being shared – so teams lose out on potentially crucial time-saving information.
Service teams need clarity over customers’ preferred channels. With digital channels at their disposal, one agent can handle multiple enquiries (through, say, a live chat) vs a one-on-one phone call. Smarter and more efficient communication channels reduce queued calls and lost time for customers (and stressed agents).
Fortunately, there are just as many opportunities as there are obstacles. With remote working, the technology at our disposal means a lot of time-consuming, grinding processes can be reduced, allowing more time for agents to focus on customers.
Some practical advice for scaling remote service teams
We’ve put together an on-demand webinar to demonstrate all the best working practices we’ve found for scaling service teams. There are a wealth of tools and practices to help remote customer service teams do their best work during COVID-19 and beyond. While we don’t have all the answers, we want to share the best ways we’ve found so far.