One of the biggest lessons of the Covid pandemic has been the proven ability for office-based professionals to work from home (WFH). Most customer service solutions designed pre-pandemic involved physical contact centers, but as we have seen over the past couple of years this is no longer a strict requirement.
However, as we return to greater business normality there is a need to learn from what we have experienced, rather than to just automatically migrate back to how business functioned in 2019. I think that within the customer service environment we will see a strong focus on delivering a hybrid type of service.
This means that a physical contact center should remain at the core of a customer experience (CX) strategy, but it can be augmented by other team members that are based in their home.
Why does this make sense? Consider some of the value for an agent if they join a team that offers hybrid working options that include a blend of working from an office, working from home, or a mix of both:
• More flexibility: the ability to choose where you work allows workers to still benefit from in-person team meetings and training sessions, but offers the ability to spend a week working from home when there are no meetings scheduled. The employee has more control over their time - especially time wasted commuting.
• Jobs available anywhere: some employees may choose to be 100% virtual so they can take a job wherever they are based. This is a benefit for both the company and the employees as it widens the horizon for high-quality jobs - hire from anywhere.
• Gig options: some workers now prefer to be paid as they deliver services, rather than for time spent on the job - often called ‘gigs.’ There is the ability to offer this type of flexibility to people who want it so they can work from home and login to assist the team when it suits them, just being rewarded each time they help a customer. It’s never going to be the core of a CX strategy, but it can be a valuable way to increase the team for busy periods like Black Friday or times where it’s hard to get core team members to work - like night shifts.
Now consider the employer's perspective. If you are building a CX team then why bother with a physical contact center if you have all these virtual and remote working options? There are still some strong reasons why an office or contact center makes sense:
• Training: remote training works well and we use it in Transcom, but when you are building out a core team, especially for a new project, there is nothing like getting the people together so they learn together and become a team.
• Culture: having a physical center or HQ allows for a stronger sense of culture-building - visits to the head office play a strong role in defining leadership and building a corporate culture where every team member can contribute, wherever they are located. Even if most workers are often remote, it can be useful to have a center where the team can meet in person on occasion.
• Complexity: modern CX is getting much more complex. Improved self-service and automation are answering most of the basic questions now so the contact center agents are becoming more than just a friendly voice - they are subject matter experts. If the team is supporting a complex product, like electronic gadgets, then it will not be possible to have all the devices in every person’s home - a complex support center that requires access to the products being used by the customer will need dedicated space.
This last point is perhaps one of the most important in my opinion. If your customer interactions are at a very basic level then a completely remote workforce is an option because the agents will need nothing other than a PC and Internet connection. If you are supporting your customers and the agents need to know the products inside out and have access to those products then you will need a space for at least some of the team.
With Google and Alexa now answering many of the most basic customer questions, it’s likely that your agents are getting more and more complex queries. A really complex support operation will probably need some dedicated space so agents can experiment and train with the products they are supporting.
We have learned a lot during the pandemic and WFH will remain part of most solutions moving forward, but we should never forget that the physical contact center has not been replaced by WFH - the hybrid option just improves the way CX can be designed.