Last March, I wrote about what I saw happening to the customer care industry when COVID-19 forced entire call centers to close their doors, send their agents home, and scramble to provide the technology necessary to get those agents back on the phones.
It was ugly.
As I suggested then, the pandemic didn’t just disrupt business-as-usual for brick-and-mortar call centers. It threatened to destroy them. The truth is, most call centers that were operating on-site had been doing so for years, with no realistic contingency plans for a sudden, mass exodus from headquarters to home offices. As a result, just when their customers needed them most, their agents weren’t ready or able to pick up the phones and help them.
My March post focused primarily on how this industry-wide lack of preparation had impacted customer experience, and, as a result, knee-capped countless brands. Today, for those customer care centers that have survived, there are enormous, complex questions still looming in the near future: When is it safe to move agents back into the call centers? When is it wise? What kind of investment and strategic redirection will it take to be ready for the next global crisis?
Whenever I hear those questions being asked, I want to jump into the conversation and add these: What are your agents telling you? How has the pandemic altered employee experience, including the levels of trust your employees place in you and the brands they serve? How has the COVID-19 experience impacted employee retention?
In other words, if you believe that Customer Experience is closely tied to Employee Experience (and I believe that), then your customer care agents are the key to helping you recover from the pandemic and rebuild your brand.
I’ve been reviewing a number of findings from recent studies that begin to tackle those questions. As I’ve read through them, one enormous observation shines through everything else for me: Agents who were already working at home before COVID-19 are better equipped to do their jobs, more confident in their skills and job performance, and consistently delivering a better experience to the customers they serve. Their work experience has been just as positive, reassuring, and rewarding as it was before coronavirus. Conversely, consider the agents who were rushed out of the office and have been doing their best with the technology, coaching, and support that was cobbled together in a hurry. Their experience has been more stressful, confusing, and frustrating than ever.
While I’ll be going into more depth on these studies in a future post, today I want to pass along these observations and suggestions for every call center leader who is currently trying to figure out “where do my agents go from here?”
- Ask Them!
What do I mean by that? I mean seriously, ask your agents how they’re doing, how the transition has worked (or not worked) for them, and more importantly: what will make things work better for them. If your supervisors have remained in close, multi-level communication with their agents, they probably already know the answers to many of these questions. But if you haven’t put any structure around capturing those insights, they’re not doing you any good as you plan for the future. But don’t limit your inquiries to informal chats. If you haven’t used a robust, anonymous survey tool since March, now is the time to do so.
- Re-create Collaborating and Socializing Opportunities
One of the greatest disappointments expressed by on-site agents who transferred to their home offices because of the pandemic is the sudden loss of the everyday, informal human connections they enjoyed when came into the call center. At Skybridge Americas, we recognized how important those interactions were and we invested in the technology, process, and team-building protocols to make sure agents did not end up feeling isolated on the job. Providing the infrastructure necessary for team members to stay connected with each other is no small task. It takes a significant financial investment and it demands a supervisor team with truly extraordinary people and leadership skills. But even without those advantages, you can use basic teleconferencing, texting, and team collaboration apps to plan team celebrations and recognition events, social hours, good-natured contests, and other opportunities.
- Become the Chief Empathy and Gratitude Officer
So often, especially during crisis mode, even the best leaders can forget that what their people need more than anything else is to be recognized and thanked. When I say recognized, I’m not just reminding us all (myself included) to recognize successes, great results, and solid efforts. At times like these, I think it’s vitally important to recognize the challenges, the worries, and the unknowns that our call center agents have endured since so much has changed. While your agents might remember the telephony upgrades, the improved training, or the fun events, those things probably won’t hold a candle to what you ask, how you listen and respond, and how often you do all of that. Showing that we care about each individual on the team, that we recognize the moments of difficulty or sacrifice, and that we are deeply, deeply grateful… those are the unforgettable moments that lead to happy employees and long-lasting loyalty.
If you would like to know more about how Skybridge Americas can help you improve employee and customer experience, please reach out. We would love to talk.
Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing
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