Contact Center Leaders Advise How to Manage Your Team During a Crisis

Contact Center Leaders Advise How to Manage Your Team During a Crisis

First and foremost, we can all agree – these circumstances are NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL.  So, throw out the idea that your typical way of thinking and operating will work. 

Let’s cut to the chase.  Our lives have been disrupted, both at home and work.   And the rapid pace of information we are getting about COVID-19 worldwide both via traditional news outlets and social media creates an even more heightened sense of concern. COVID-19 is challenging for everyone, and especially for organizations who play important roles in supporting their communities. COVID-19 contact center Business Continuity Planning has taken top priority.

I have had the privilege of speaking with several customers who have been able to respond quickly to relocate their agents to working from home in 72 hours or less.  One such customer was Trupanion, hear from Ryan Olson, Manager of Contact Center Operations and Analytics, on how their contact center agents are helping customers care for their pets even during a crisis.

There are key components that continue to bubble to that top that we must consider as we all move toward remote operations in the coming days.  We have put together a checklist to help with your COVID-19 response.  

Planning Checklist Work from HomeThe top three: (1) The health and well-being of your staff, (2) The technology to ensure ongoing operations, and (3) Managing your work at home agents.  

How can I care for the health and well-being of my staff?  

There are a few must-do’s that have come up consistently with our customers over the last week as they transform their contact center operations into a 100% work-at-home program.  Encourage agents to:  

  • Follow typical routines – for themselves and their families.

    This first one, originally pointed out by Ryan Olson from Trupanion focuses on the core mindset of a person who suddenly finds themselves working from home – in a completely different “structure” than what they are used to.  Ryan says from waking up, to packing lunch, to “arriving” at the office.  While nothing may feel typical –especially given that our children are also home from school giving another component to balance – try to maintain as much “normalcy” as possible to help everyone move forward.

  • Avoid burnout.

    Monitor and maintain standard work hours, when and where possible.  “Make lists, take breaks, avoid work creep.  Maintaining balance is crucial to your job and your family,” as Ryan Olson states is about as simple and clear as it gets.  This is crucial – don’t expect or allow your agents to add on additional work hours unless specifically required – its important they don’t get pulled into never quitting work when at home – have them leave the desk/phone/computer as they normally do for breaks and in the evenings.

  • Stay healthy.

    Mental and physical health is more critical than ever.  Encourage routines to ensure a healthy mind and body. Practice regular exercise and getting up from your desk at least once an hour to stretch and move, just as you normally would at the office.  It’s amazing how easily these small behaviors go by the wayside when a shift like this occurs.

  • Take advantage of benefits.

    Ensure your team is fully aware of any employee assistance programs or confidential counseling available to associates and their families.  Working closely with HR on these matters can help ensure the cultural health and positive morale of your company, and the long-term mindset of your employees.

  • Let your customers know what is going on.

    As a global community we all recognize that these times are nothing short of bizarre. So, your customers are likely to be more understanding given the circumstances, and appreciative that     your agents are available and willing to help them during this time. Being transparent with them about your remote workforce will provide understanding for everything from background noise     to longer wait times.  Consider updating your IVR scripts to keep customers informed and get them connected to the right agent as quickly as possible.  Also don’t be shy to use IVR scripting     help handle changes in operations and a potential increase in contact volume. 

  • Share tips and techniques.

      Partner with your HR department to deploy daily work at home tips for your agents.  While we don’t know if this shift will be for 3 weeks or 3 months, minimal to no interaction with teammates     can be challenging from a mental health perspective for agents. So, share tips and techniques continuously to help your agents not only survive, but thrive.

In one example, Trupanion is encouraging agents to record clips of themselves to share across the team. For example, they share their office set-ups via facetime to create a fun element, lighten the intensity of the situation, and share ideas across the team for creating a healthy home workspace and more.

How do I make the right technology come together to ensure ongoing operations?

While we likely all have a different starting point -- perhaps using technology from a combination of different vendors -- one key rule applies:  Start with the basics.

  1. Does everyone have equipment? 
    1. PC, monitor, mouse, keyboard?  Ideally your organization will be able to provide equipment for your agents, especially given that not everyone has a set up at home. Also, be prepared to supplement their home internet connection if necessary.  Its likely cheaper to hook up high speed for a few months than to lose employee productivity during that same time.  Hear how Trupanion tacked the technology.
  2. Figure out the phone connection.
    1.  This can be very easy. For one customer, they just shared instructions for using a standard phone connection -- like a personal cell phone or home phone -- thru CXone MAX (My Agent eXperience) unified agent interface, a 100% thin client, supports voice and digital interactions to ensure quality of service was available to their agents and all call controls right there on their desktop – no matter where they are working.  There are many options available to ensure you are connecting calls – the question is which is right for you and your agents.
  3. What is your video platform?   
    1. Remember, seeing a friendly face is very important in long-term remote situations.  And it helps to maintain a sense of community!  Use video in your team meetings using MS Teams, Webex, or maybe Zoom or Slack meetings… or your choice of virtual environments.  Some of these tools even integrate with your contact center agent desktop!!
  4. Loosen your metrics.
    1. The first few weeks are going to be novel, and people will potentially enjoy it.  Then the impact of social distancing could show up.  This is going to be hard on you and your employees.  You may need to loosen some metrics to keep morale in line.

How do I manage my workforce while they are working remotely?

It’s important that your agents see you are trying to proceed with business as usual (as much as possible) while still flexing to accommodate these bizarre situations. They need to understand that you are making every effort to ensure their success, and that includes maintaining workforce optimization processes as much as possible.   Here are the top priorities.

  • Ensure schedule access and flexibility.

Things are moving quickly, and your workforce management (WFM) technology can help you ensure you still have the right number of people in the right place, at the right time – even if that place is at home. Ensure agents have real-time visibility into their schedules and are proactively notified of any changes.

  • Ensure communication between workforce managers, supervisors and agents.

    Tom Laird, CEO of Expivia, has his teams kicking off the day with a full team video conference call to start the day.  This allows people to see each other and talk “face to face” – ensuring continuing a sense of team and human contact.  Solicit agent communication, especially from those agents that you know are juggling additional responsibilities at home while trying to work. Consider getting agent input on scheduling to help ensure that they can balance their extended needs in these new circumstances, maybe scheduling longer breaks and lunches throughout the day to give them time to care for themselves and their dependents!

  • Assess your workforce needs from afar.

    With agents at home, supervisors can’t rely on a glance across the floor to assess schedule adherence. Real time monitoring via dashboards lets you to see what agents are doing, so you can reach out to them if needed. Intraday forecasting capabilities allow you to identify if and how you need to tweak schedules to balance customer needs. Given the circumstances, and the potential surge in contact volumes -- think airlines, healthcare providers, etc. – this may be a time to focus less on these intraday metrics and more on just getting the job done – even if your scorecards look ugly for a while.

  • Continue quality management and coaching activities.

    Tom Laird says, “When you are at home there’s a constant communication stream going so you don’t feel like you are out there by yourself.  Trying to keep our culture as much as we possibly can.”  Coaching and feedback are critical components to agent engagement and morale. It’s potentially even more important to continue these activities for a work at home period. Try to continue to evaluate and provide feedback on a variety of agent interactions. Especially given that these interactions may require a different level of empathy and service than agents typically handle, and thus an opportunity for a different type of coaching.  Consider communications via a messaging tool even, to share kudos broadly with the team recognizing agents who are earning high quality scores for that day.  And, a best practice Expivia has put in place is to engage with agents 1:1 at least 3x per day to show you care, and to show you are listening and there to support them – with their goal doing 2 monitors per rep per day.

  • Make the most of the downtimes.

Things are moving quickly, and your workforce management (WFM) technology can help you ensure you still have the right number of people in the right place, at the right time – even if that place is at home. Ensure agents have real-time visibility into their schedules and are proactively notified of any changes.

While some contact centers will be busier than ever these coming weeks, there are other contact centers that are going to have lighter call volumes as their customers are less focused on buying certain types of products and services and more focused on just getting by! This will be a great time to have your agents catch up on some training and development activities you often have difficulty finding time to complete. The ability to push training and coaching via the agent interface is key, as they can stay available to customers while also turning idle time into training time.

Ask your agents to put themselves in their customer’s shoes … more than ever.Speakers who are presenting during the webinar on contact center work from home best practices.

Last but by no means least, ask your agents to put themselves in their customer’s shoes … more than ever. Warn your agents: people react differently in times like this.  The general public is scared, or at the least concerned, and the news and social hype that occurs can make it worse.  Some people have a harder time dealing with exceptionally stressful situations than others. Ask your agents to be patient and kind in interactions both internally and with customers.

Finally, monitor the situation consistently and be prepared to adapt to agents needs or further changing conditions.  Please review our Work at Home checklist for additional insights.  For further information on COVID-19 contact center business continuity resources please see our webinar on contact center work from home best practices.