What Is The Post-Pandemic Future for Work-At-Home?
This is our second installment on how COVID-19 has impacted contact centers and the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry. In this article we are focused on the effect of work-at-home agents (WAH). We will discuss how technology can impact, support and improve the agent and customer experience. We discussed in The Changing Relationship Between BPO and Real Estate Post COVID-19 that call centers have been moving to WAH for several years at a pace that was comfortable to them, their agents and their customers.
Covid-19 changed this slow and steady transition into an overnight pivot.
Contact centers across the world reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic by sending everyone home, including here in the US. WAH quickly became the default for most companies operating contact centers and this has changed the role of the agent - potentially giving them more power and control over their working life.
Although the shift to WAH was forced by the emergency situation, it was a very successful experiment and this is creating opportunities for both the agents and the companies that manage the contact centers. Companies can now hire the very best agents in the country - even globally - rather than relying on a labor pool within commuting distance of a contact center.
This also allows companies to tap into additional pools of talent that were not previously available. This could be people unable to travel to an office because of geography or some other reason or older workers that are happy to work flexibly from home, but would never want to work in a contact center. This creates enormous opportunities to meaningfully move the dial on diversity and inclusion measures.
When the wave of pandemic WAH initially started many agents were poorly equipped. Often there were few tools in place for management or oversight - let alone network security. This has changed in the past 18 months.
Agent attitudes have also changed. Many agents that enjoyed the greater flexibility afforded by WAH, not least the lack of a commute, want this to continue. Many job-seekers are now actively looking for companies that are planning to continue WAH after the pandemic. In this environment, offering WAH flexibility is now becoming a strong tool that can help companies to seek out and retain the best talent.
Much of the technology that makes it possible to continue offering WAH to agents did not even exist 2-3 years ago. In many ways, the entire world is fortunate that Covid-19 did not arrive a decade earlier because it would have been far more difficult to deliver enterprise systems that work in the home environment - and also for the personal connectivity that made it easier to cope during the various lockdowns. Disney+ launched just before the pandemic started and they now have over 100 million subscribers.
Since the pandemic began, we have worked with several clients and technology partners to design a WAH strategy that offers greater resilience for the future. These are some of the key technologies that are really making a difference today:
Intraday Real-Time Automation (RTA) is difficult to manage even in the best office situations, but the WAH environment has created new challenges for Workforce Management (WFM) systems and teams because employees are no longer easily accessible to departments, team leaders, or managers. An automated Intraday solution utilizing AI to make staffing and queuing decisions allows you to work more efficiently - especially when direct access to agents is more problematic. Our partner, QStory, has their intraday automation system installed in contact centers all over the world.
PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) Compliance has always been important for contact centers, but was elevated when agents went home - the perceived risk of non-compliance is greater with WAH agents. The business cannot be aware is anyone can hear the conversation and the agent may be using an unsecured network at home. The risk for credit card transactions is not so much that the agent will be malicious, but other people in close proximity could overhear or see payment information. Our partnership with Semafone gives us access to an industry leader in contact center PCI DSS compliance.
Dynamic Call Center Platforms, otherwise known as Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) solutions, are now the lifeblood of the call center. A good CCaaS solution will enable WAH management to be more effective and efficient. Team leads should be able to monitor and interact with their team as if they were in the room together. Our partner Smartz Solutions has developed cutting edge features to the core functionalities of their platform to enable WAH management to be more effective.
We asked each of these three partners to share how their product can help to manage a WAH strategy. As we have outlined here, all these partners provide a unique service offering that when combined can create a very effective WAH strategy.
Like many sectors, contact centers have been overtly affected by the pandemic. For an industry that has relied on agents coming into contact center buildings, working and managing within close proximity, the sudden lockdown, and move to home or hybrid working has been a huge challenge. On the whole, this challenge has been successfully overcome and many are seeing the benefits of having agents working more flexibly.
All of this can only be achieved if your contact centers are able to effectively manage and offer flexibility to their current and potential employees. Some are turning to Intraday Automation to work alongside WFM solutions. Intraday Automation continuously monitors trends in customer demand, communicates and alerts managers to potential problems before they arise, and suggests ways that gaps can be filled, what ‘idle’ agents can be doing during quieter periods (training and back-office work) and gives managers the ability to make informed decisions throughout the day, rather than having to stick by an advance schedule created weeks ahead of time.
This insight also sees a layer of flexibility added into the agents’ day allowing for last minute requests for personal time, change of breaks or holidays, with no impact to customer service. In this new world both contact centers and agents have the opportunity to create a very different working environment; one in which traditional rigid, advanced schedules are turned into flexible and productive realities, helping keep agents happy and giving contact centers the tools to attract and retain the very best talent.
Payments are the lifeblood of any business, so when the global pandemic hit and companies transitioned to a WAH-model overnight, they also had to solve the issue of processing secure, PCI DSS compliant payments. Meeting the security requirements laid out in the PCI DSS, which number in the hundreds, is notoriously difficult during normal times. With the additional challenges posed when agents work from home, it becomes a truly Herculean task.
Contact centers must never store sensitive cardholder authentication data; the simplest, most cost-effective solution is to keep cardholder data out of the business infrastructure entirely.
Semafone’s Cardprotect Voice+ and Cardprotect Relay+ solutions enable secure, PCI DSS compliant payments over the telephone or any digital customer engagement channel, respectively. With Cardprotect Voice+, when customers choose to pay over the phone, they can enter their card details using the telephone keypad, and the dial tones are masked so the agent can neither hear them nor see them on-screen. Agents stay in constant communication for the duration of the transaction, creating a better, more frictionless customer experience. Payment details are then sent directly to the Payment Service Provider, never entering the business infrastructure.
In the same vein, Cardprotect Relay+ allows agents to generate secure payment links they can send through email, SMS, webchat, social media, or any other digital channel. They receive a stream of real-time updates as the customer progresses through the payment process, allowing the agent to troubleshoot should any issues arise.
When it comes to providing agents the ability to process payments securely from a home environment, remove the risk of storing cardholder data entirely. After all, they can’t hack what you don’t hold!
Smartz Solutions has from the inception created the foundation for remote workers, offering a simple user interface on a cloud-based system that will ensure your business can continue operating. With a best-in-class communication platform, clients can transition from a traditional to a remote contact center. This shift catered for the full spectrum of communication channels – social media platforms, telephony, email and SMS etc. – through a true omnichannel solution, Smartz Communication.
Driven by AI-based strategies, clients leveraged the Smartz A.I.D (Automatic Interaction Distributor) to monitor real-time Sentiment data, powering personalized customer-employee connections, boosting customer and agent satisfaction. Through intelligent routing, the A.I.D understands customers' preferences and routes them to the virtual agent who will offer them the best service. In a WFH environment, this offers clients the flexibility to continue offering impeccable service.
Smartz Human Asset Management is a full-stack system that increases engagement, understands trends, empowers your team, gets accurate feedback, and retains top talent through a cloud-based platform seamlessly built around the employee experience.
Through surveys and integrated communication, teams can see the business structure and interact with the people they need to maintain productive working environments, all with low latency and minimal data costs.
SKWeston & Co
SKWeston & Company has worked with clients on technology implementation and optimization projects ranging from 25 to several thousand agents. We can work with you and your team to develop a WAH strategy which is best suited to your needs and will include establishing proper governance and oversight of employees, proper employee communications and an environment which is secure and productive. We have utilized our technology partners to enable oversight of employee downtime and implemented solutions for securing payment processing and securing PII information. We are prepared to support BPOs and clients in the review of their real estate footprint to devise a complementary strategy that will optimize space in both a post-BPO and post-COVID environment as well.
Contact our team today and let us get started on defining your path, creating your business case, and helping you achieve significant savings!
For more information on SKWeston & Co and our contact center consulting and other professional services - including WAH and hybrid strategies - please follow our company page on LinkedIn or visit our website.