The coronavirus pandemic has upended our communities, resulting in record-breaking numbers of businesses closing their doors and surging unemployment rates. But even in the midst of this unprecedented economic downturn, ecommerce spending has remained steady, particularly in the consumer technology and entertainment space. In fact, recent data from The NPD Group on consumer technology spending found that both revenue increases and unit increases were up by 14% and 11% over the last 5 weeks. As more people purchase and use devices and services, the demand for customer and technology support services has also increased.
While some brick-and-mortar call centers have temporarily closed down, others have attempted to continue in-person operations with physical distancing policies, or even sent agents to work from home (WFH). In the midst of these operational changes, the quality and availability of customer support services has been negatively impacted. Increased hold times, limited support staff, and related issues have had negative effects on the customer experience– decreasing customer satisfaction and loyalty, and increasing product returns.
Companies seeking to develop a sustainable customer support strategy that mitigates the impact of unforeseen risk should incorporate a virtual call center model. A virtual call center model with WFH employees distributed across multiple geographies is a particularly stable and scalable customer support model, though it requires significant changes to systems, policies, and procedures. Setting up a virtual call center model requires completely transforming operations, including recruiting and training, managing teams and productivity, establishing system requirements and security protocols, and developing the appropriate business processes, policies, and even company culture.
A few considerations for organizations looking at a virtual call center model include:
- Modifying the recruiting & training process
Recruiting must include screening for personality and behavior traits that excel in the WFH environment. Training must be “virtualized,” i.e., adapted to be clearly communicated remotely and in an engaging manner, employing a combination of virtual and instructor-led modules. The training process must allow for the development of class relationships in a remote environment. Candidates must also be made aware of expectations of attendance and at-home equipment requirements up-front.
- Setting up clear telecommuting policies and WFH expectations
A robust telecommuting policy that states compliance expectations, including equipment standards, IT processes, timekeeping, and response expectations (e.g., chats and phone calls), is critical to a productive WFH environment. It must specify confidentiality requirements, such as the expectations of privacy and a closed-door environment, and should include the ability for managers to remotely review an employee’s office set up regularly and without notice.
- Employee equipment & ISP requirements
The right connection and equipment in a WFH environment are paramount for security and productivity. Success depends upon establishing clear standards, including those involving the hardwired ISP with speed tests, a computer spec test, and phone and camera requirements, etc. The recruiting and onboarding process should include compliance “checkpoints” during the initial interview and ultimately include a visual inspection of equipment in the home office.
- Systems, security, and IT applications
Managing and monitoring a remote workforce typically requires the addition of a new technology platform and digital systems to ensure security, performance, and communication. For example, Support.com uses a secure Virtual Meeting Platform that can support large group meetings, facilitate agent-supervisor interaction, and team collaboration. These systems must supersede in-person management practices, such as “walking the floor,” to keep communication open, continuous, and secure.Having the right IT and network security ensures that employees are productive and secure. VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) ensure secure communications between employees and applications/data, while a Network Access Controller checks that employees’ devices meet minimum requirements when connecting to corporate systems.
- Communication & relationship building
Managing and cultivating virtual teams requires an even greater emphasis on open communication and continuous relationship building with a “from hire to retire” mindset. To build and maintain these relationships, employers must be creative and consistent in their practices, including establishing an internal social media platform and fostering team relationships. Common practices such as introducing a new employee to their team in their local area early in the onboarding process and engaging in remote team building activities provide employees with a feeling of community, ensuring that each employee feels like a part of a “virtual village”, reducing isolation, and improving performance.
Going forward, partial or even fully-remote support teams will become an integral component of risk mitigation strategies to maintain a high-level of customer support and service in the event of future business interruptions or closures. As more companies opt for a remote support model for at least a portion of their needs, they will have to decide whether to face the complex challenges of setting up and managing a virtual call center themselves or outsource these challenges to veteran, industry leaders like Support.com.
Rick Bloom is the President and CEO of Support.com. Rick’s leadership and commitment to operational excellence have established Support.com as the full spectrum leader in outsourced call center and direct-to-consumer and small business tech support services. Rick is deeply passionate about technology problem-solving, enabling both consumers and businesses alike to get the most out of their tech.
For more than 20 years, Support.com has been delivering virtual call center services with a U.S.-based remote workforce. We provide outsourced customer and tech support, and license our proprietary software platform to quickly enable call center teams with secure, virtual call center capabilities. As demonstrated by our low agent attrition and industry-leading NPS scores, we understand the management and technology best practices necessary for virtual teams to work-from-home effectively and securely.
See also: Re-Imagining Retail in the COVID-19