Achieving Call Center Success in the Era of Hybrid Work
David Sudbey, President & Chief Customer Officer at Cogito Corp
Call centers everywhere are experiencing a significant change as hybrid work becomes increasingly popular — a shift fueled by the complexities of remote work, emotionally draining conversations and emerging workplace technologies with lofty promises. As the workplace evolves, leaders across call center organizations must be prepared to shift their own approaches to meet the complex requirements of hybrid work.
With the infrastructure to support remote operations in place from the last 15+ months, many call centers are considering continuing to offer the flexibility remote work presents to keep pace with the changing workplace expectations and competitive dynamics. In fact, splitting time between the office and home is expected to become our new normal thanks to many becoming accustomed to working remotely, in addition to those who have been recruited and hired as permanent remote employees, as confirmed by a recent PwC report.
For today’s call center leaders, it’s important to acknowledge that this shift in work requires a shift in leadership. With agents in and out of the office, establishing a baseline for support is imperative as it’s seldom a one-size-fits-all approach. Here’s how leaders can take the lessons learned over the past year and a half and apply them to the new era of hybrid work in the call center, ensuring that individual agent needs are continually met and coaching support doesn’t turn on or off depending on the agent's location.
Calling Attention to Agents’ Overwhelmed State
Let’s face it: agents are overwhelmed and have been for quite some time. By analyzing 23 million calls from leading healthcare and insurance companies from December 2019 to December 2020, Cogito’s data science team found that customer experience took a big hit following the pandemic-led shift to remote work.
The data highlighted a 19 percent increase in the number of call prompts nudging agents to respond to customers more quickly. It also showed a 23 percent increase in notifications for dead air time—which detects the dreaded, long silences on calls. All in all, customer experience decreased with global customer experience scores dipping by just over 2 percent. And we’re not the only ones who found similar findings.
While it’s widely accepted that customer support functions are at a higher risk of burnout during a crisis, it’s astonishing that another study found that the majority (74 percent) of call center agents are at risk for burnout. And 30 percent of those agents are at an even higher risk of severe burnout. It’s due time leaders put a larger emphasis on supporting agents in and out of the workplace as we enter the next phase of work.
Leading with Empathy and Flexibility
As leaders put a larger emphasis on supporting agents, the combination of empathy and flexibility pays off for short- and long-term success in attracting and retaining employees.
Empathic enterprises — purpose-driven organizations that prioritize the well-being of its customers and employees by infusing emotional intelligence throughout its operations — standout amid the work shifts grasping industries everywhere. Earlier this month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released the American Works Report, revealing that there are approximately half as many available workers for every open job (1.4 available workers/opening) across the country.
There has never been a more important time to lead with an empathy-first approach to coaching in today’s candidate-first job market. Taking into consideration each agent’s unique needs, schedule and time zones, flexibility plays a paramount role in keeping turnover low. Not to mention, the critical shortage of skilled workers will undoubtedly impact nearly all levels of the call center — an industry notoriously known for high turnover, some reporting 30-45 percent turnover according to the Quality Assurance and Training Connection. By embracing empathy and flexibility, leaders can adapt to the changing times and avoid the uncertainty that fewer staff on the line may bring.
Adopting a Remote-First Mindset
While virtual call centers offer the benefits of a wider talent pool, lower upfront costs and the potential for increased employee wellness, it also carries critical disadvantages that can stifle productivity and negatively impact the customer experience. For instance, as many employees working from home can relate, communication is far more challenging outside of an office environment.
This issue carries over to hybrid environments. Consider, it’s likely that entire teams will not be able to reap the benefits of sharing an office where they can pop by each other's desks to ask a quick question or walk through training or coaching sessions in-person.
With this in mind, call center leaders must aim to level the field for those in and out of the office and consider taking a “remote-first” mindset where business operations closely mirror those of a fully remote company.
As we continue to adopt hybrid work models, call center leaders must reevaluate their approach to leadership while bearing in mind the power empathic and flexible leadership offers. All call center agents — no matter their workplace location — deserve the same access to the resources and support they need to improve their ability to interact with customers with confidence. This level of access and support will enable agents to deliver great human centered customer experiences; the key component in driving long-term success for call center agents in the era of hybrid work.