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January 14, 2013

Leveraging Technology for Remote Agents

By TMCnet Special Guest
Michele Rowan, Tim Passios, President, At Home Customer Contacts and Senior Director, Solutions Marketing, Interactive Intelligence

This article originally appeared in the DEC. 2012 issue of CUSTOMER Magazine.

The economic pressures of the last few years have forced businesses to focus on cost reduction, often ahead of everything else. At the same time, customers have continued to demand “more and faster,” meaning added channels, freedom from IVRs, and increased self-service calls to action, given the premium placed on time-to-service.

Fortunately, to meet these demands, technology providers have continued to innovate with new and improved products that ease interoperability and reduce cost. Many of these products also come with options for premises and hosted deployment. And even as customer contact organizations still grapple with the stalled economic recovery, they’ve begun to reset — with four change agents guiding the way:

  1. Returning some or all of the head count lost in the recession is restrictive, at best. Instead, investments have shifted to business process improvement and supporting technology.
  2. Customer experience emphasis and effort is broadening. Many organizations are moving all customer touch points under one umbrella, with a singular accountability for optimization.
  3. Live customer transactions continue to gain complexity with the appeal and low price point of self-service. Customer entry points are quickly evolving with the expanded capabilities and utilization of mobile devices.
  4. Competencies required to optimize the customer experience and reduce effort constitute a different agent profile.

With regard to this fourth issue and remote agent recruiting, contact centers are targeting experienced knowledge workers rather than traditional agents skilled in customer service, selling and recovery. Candidates in the knowledge worker class are considered as having rich life and work experiences in customer engagement, with additional skills in troubleshooting and issue resolution. Such candidates also are drawn to flexible work schedules and having control over when and where they work, in lieu of adding incremental commute time to their lives.

For the new breed of customer contact agent, home-based positions in sales as well as customer service and support solve the challenge of flexibility and control. For organizations and contact center operations, technology makes the home-based model just as attractive.

Here are some of the key aspects of technology that appeal to remote agents and businesses alike.

Flexible scheduling. Allow home workers to break full time schedules into “micro shifts,” or split shifts. Doing so lets workers maintain desired time and energy in their lives, and adapt work requirements accordingly.

Utilization of presence. Presence connects remote workers with each other, with supervisors, and with the corporate base. As a whole, presence in real time enables visibility and collaboration that’s instant.

Live platform for team meetings and training sessions. Utilize platforms such as GoToMeeting or Microsoft (News - Alert) Lync for training updates, daily team huddles, recognition and reward, one-to-one coaching sessions, and customer-facing meetings. As virtual teams collaborate and share experiences and content, the business can effectively measure the activity of remote end users.

Live virtual help and collaboration. By way of a virtual meeting room or chat room, establish a help environment for agents seeking information to complete customer transactions. Agents can also collaborate with other agents and subject matter experts to resolve knowledge search queries.

Knowledge management system. The KMS is a remote agent’s self-service quick stop for completing customer transactions. System capabilities should include a customized search function, plus the ability to bookmark, tag (News - Alert), and contribute knowledge to improve content overall.

Learning management system (or communications management system). Support self-paced training modules and push them to agents by leveraging business rules established in the ACD. Also capture information from additional channels such as e-mail and product updates, and deliver the info in conjunction with training courses.

Self-paced e-learning. Reduce training times and labor costs – well designed online courses can take learners much less time to complete and can free up facilitator resources. Housing e-learning courses in a learning management system additionally makes it easy to manage course schedules and track outcomes.

Call delivery and VoIP. The first consideration, for labor, facilities, and customer requirements, is the global flexibility of VoIP over that of a local physical footprint or ACD. The second consideration is anticipating end of life upgrade cycles for ACD/PBX (News - Alert) equipment, and investigating the benefits of cloud-based offerings, either through VoIP or a hybrid MPLS model.

Speech analytics. Supplement call and screen recording with real-time speech analytics to more readily identify customer trends, performance trends and training gaps. Speech analytics can further help mitigate risk of deviant agent behavior or fraudulent activity.

Video. Use video to establish early-day relationships between the company and remote employees, and among remote employees themselves. Video likewise is effective in one-on-one performance management sessions with remote agents, particularly when delivering constructive feedback.

Cloud-based technology. Hosted IP contact center platforms nearly eliminate the capital requirement of contact center infrastructure and provide instant virtualization. Moreover, application updates are automatic, deployment time is compressed, and ramp-up and down costs are minimized. Throughout, optimizing the remote work force – and the customer experience – remain safely in the control of the company.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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