One of the real benefits of next generation customer interactions solutions is their ability to fully support employees, anywhere, any time and all the time if necessary. In short, a business disruption at a physical location, even headquarters, for any length of time does not mean you are literally out of business. In fact, in an always on/all ways on connected world, having your “front line” people available to customers as well as other employees and ecosystem partners is an absolute necessity.
An example of state-of-the-art customer interaction solutions is how Columbia, MD-based COLA, a non-profit clinical lab education, consultation and accreditation organization which accredits nearly 8,000 medical laboratories and organizations, redeployed its entire staff of 80 employees to work at home during a four-month office remodel using the remote agent capabilities of Interactive Intelligence Group Inc.'s all-in-one IP communications software suite.
The software suite, Interactive Intelligence’s flagship Customer Interaction Center™ (CIC), includes remote support capabilities that enable work-at-home employees to access the same communications applications as their onsite colleagues using an Internet connection and standard phone. In addition, managers can monitor remote employees in real-time and access reports about their activity and performance.
"I've been managing communications for many years and I've never been a part of anything as impressive as this," said COLA's director of network services, Larry Senior. "We made one tiny change to our employees' login procedure and everything else was exactly the same - no hardware to install or complex configuration changes to make. Incredible!"
Despite being physically out of the office, but virtually always there, COLA was surprised to see during the four months of remodeling that key business metrics held steady or even improved. "Sales actually hit record levels while our employees telecommuted," Senior said. "Customer satisfaction also held steady, and in some cases even improved."
Enabling remote works to have sophisticated features and functionality is highlighted by how they were able to leverage CIC’s ability to show presence information for every employee. "CIC enabled our remote employees to see the precise status of every coworker - whether they were ‘Available,' ‘On the Phone,' ‘At Lunch,' and so on - so they could avoid blind transfers, thus getting calls to the right person more quickly," Senior said.
Senior elaborated on other benefits of CIC's remote support capabilities. "We had one employee working from home when his broadband went down," he said. "He simply drove to a nearby hotel and worked from the lobby that day. He didn't call us, because he didn't need to. The whole event was invisible to callers and colleagues."
The process went so smoothly that COLA has decided to keep some staff remote, according to Senior. "Ironically, some of the employees that were most apprehensive about working from home are now asking if they can continue to telecommute," he said. "We've allowed many to do just that because our performance metrics during the remodel were so positive. Plus, we save money on reduced office space. It's been a real win-win."
COLA's decision mirrors moves many companies are making to initiate or expand work-at-home programs. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that almost one in 10 employees now work from home at least part time. Still, some companies have concerns about telecommuting despite the growing demand from employees.
According to Senior, while COLA had similar trepidations, the work-at-home experience was a real eye-opener. "Like a lot of companies, we had apprehensions ranging from breaches in security and technical complications, to a loss of visibility into performance," he said. "But with the right technology and processes in place, we're now a firm believer in the benefits a work-at-home program offers to both employers and employees."
Today, COLA uses CIC to support its entire workforce of onsite and work-at-home employees, all of whom have access to CIC features such as automatic call distribution, unified messaging, voice mail, desktop faxing, conferencing, and more.
There is an old saying about the value of the Internet Age, “wherever I am is where you will find me,” that is applicable as the nature of work transforms and enterprises become more virtualized and mobile and the workforce becomes more dispersed. Transparency to the user and consistency of experience during interactions are what matter, and the location of the agent providing a compelling user experience should not matter. This is true whether a company is going through something like remodeling, or has some other type of disruption and is actually true all the time as the value COLA found during its remodeling demonstrates.