Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 50% of the workforce worked in some sort of telecommuting role, and 80 to 90% would like to work remotely (at least part-time), according to Global Workplace Analytics. In a post-coronavirus world, every workplace can expect remote work to increase drastically.
Many people are calling this time an “experiment in working from home.” However, just like with all experiments, there are positives and negatives.
According to Virtual Team Success: A Practical Guide for Working and Leading From a Distance (a study of over 300 virtual workers), 25% of virtual teams were not fully performing, and 33% of team members rated their virtual leaders as less than effective. That’s a major challenge for remote work, especially when it comes to remote call center management.
Challenges of Remote Call Center Management
Call centers face many unique challenges when it comes to working remotely. While, at first, it might seem advantageous because of reduced commuting, better work/life balance, and infrastructural cost savings, there are some challenges.
How do you work with your call center team and handle conversations when you’re not in the same room?
Performance monitoring is critical to quality control in the call center. Remote call center agents are more difficult to monitor effectively. It requires a high degree of trust, effective software tools, special hardware, and strategic planning.
For remote call center managers, this can be a struggle. It’s not as simple as just walking up to someone’s desk or hopping on a call to listen in. You have to build trust in the virtual environment and go further to inspire, influence, engage, train, and run the call center team.
You have to know how to behave as a virtual team leader and what structural elements you need to implement to impact performance positively.
How to Manage a Remote Call Center Team: 5 Qualities of a Remote Leader
Virtual environments are unforgiving, particularly if leaders do not communicate well, are not great at delegating, are not inclined to give feedback, and who are not adept at adjusting their leadership style to the remote work world. That’s why it’s essential for leaders who want to effectively manage remote employees to develop new best practices and behavior unique to the virtual environment.
It’s not enough just to encourage collaboration among your virtual team members. Leaders must be the ones to initiate contact and collaboration. The team’s success or failure lies solely on the shoulders of the team leader. It is up to them to encourage interaction among individuals and the group.
The key is to take advantage of technology in order to closely replicate collaboration in an in-person environment. Since there are no such things as spontaneous informal interactions in remote teams, leaders need to facilitate communication by reaching out regularly.
To effectively deal with remote workers in the call center, you must set your team up for success. To do this, you need to be clear about your expectations and what it takes to perform successfully. Then, you must encourage your agents to make more choices and decisions within that framework of success.
Exceptional remote leaders give their agents autonomy, but also guidance and parameters to make good choices and perform as needed. The key is to go beyond chat and email to encourage your team, personally, which is why communicating via video and telephone is best.
Leadership must take personal accountability for how their call center agents handle working remotely. It is remote call center management’s responsibility to find ways for their team members to make their work visible. This means setting up systems and processes to monitor performance and ensure that all responsibilities and commitments are transparent.
The key to accountability is communication. Effective remote leaders:
- Communicate expectations, including specific due dates.
- Rely on results-oriented data to discuss performance and expectations.
- Schedule periodic check-ins to ensure all responsibilities and commitments are met.
You must be accessible at all times so you can effectively resolve conflict in a timely manner. Rather than wait until a deadline is due to schedule a one-on-one with an agent, you need to schedule periodic check-ins and take time to peek in on your agents regularly. You must be available to provide feedback, recognition, and coaching when it’s needed.
The goal should be to provide regular opportunities to help your agents adjust course and reach their target. And by making yourself accessible, you’ll also be making their work visible, which is essential for performance monitoring.
5. Active Listener
As a remote leader, you must provide a balanced response in every situation, demonstrating empathy, and carefully evaluating the pros and cons. Without visual cues, this can be incredibly difficult, which is why, when you’re separated by remote work, active listening is more important than ever.
If you want to know how virtual leaders can ensure effective communication, it’s all about putting mechanisms in place to make it easier to share information and have shared processes for problem-solving and decision-making. By aligning technology and communication, building relationships and managing conflicts through active listening is possible. The key is using mediums that provide rich information and communication cues.
6 Remote Call Center Management Tips
To help your call center succeed in a virtual world, there are a couple of key best practices you need to follow. These remote call center management tips will help you motivate your agents, demonstrate accountability, build relationships, and deliver great customer service in a virtual environment.
1. Create a Sense of Purpose
Remote managers must be very clear about their expectations. This means providing regular feedback and coaching, as well as continually monitoring performance as you would in a face-to-face environment. When agents know what is expected of them, they know what they need to do to achieve success.
The key to creating a sense of purpose is putting systems in place to collect real-time data on individual and group performance. It’s only through this data that you can give good feedback and coaching, which opens up the door for autonomy and getting work done.
2. Put QA Systems in Place
You need a way to monitor team and individual performance while working remotely. This requires you to set up tools and mechanisms to assess and collect data on the quality of your interactions—between customer service agents and clients. A remote relationship management platform will add transparency to your daily processes, so everyone knows how they’re doing and how the team is doing.
The goal should be to put QA systems in place that provide two-way communication between the agent and leadership. The platform can be the focal point that provides and promotes opportunities for personalized coaching, behavior and skill assessment, and job adherence.
Scorebuddy is an intricate QA platform ideal for remote work environments. It makes one-to-one review and evaluation simple and engaging. It promotes accountability and provides remote managers with a deep level of observation and metrics about the KPIs that matter most.
3. Keep in Touch
On a regular basis, you need to interact with your team. This means using the tools and technology you have in place to share information, problem solve, and make decisions. But it’s even more than that, communicating should not be just about managing conflicts or speaking about work. It’s just as essential to keep in touch with your team through “care calls.”
One of the key remote call center management tips is to go beyond work and have chats that allow you to interact in a more normal way. Video technology can be very helpful for this as it reduces the opportunity for misunderstanding and is more reflective of sitting in a room together and having a conversation.
4. Provide Autonomy
To effectively manage remote employees, it’s critical that you set your team members up for success. Provide clear expectations, train them on the tools and resources they can use, and then provide a framework for accomplishing their goals. After that, give them the autonomy to get the job done.
Just make sure that you have a structure in place, including guidance and parameters for good choices. Then, once you’ve determined the best way to get work done, all you need to do is let your call center agents get to it. As long as they are hitting deadlines, you are scheduling check-ins, and you are in regular communication, you can allow your team members to take the lead in the virtual world.
5. Create Opportunities for Relationship Building
Relationship building is critical to successful remote team management. It’s the only way to build trust in a virtual environment, manage conflict, and encourage collaboration. The key is to build a virtual environment where all team members are actively encouraged to interact as a group and among individuals. It’s up to leadership to initiate contact, respond timely, take an interest in the lives of their agents, and incorporate a variety of perspectives in the problem solving and decision-making process.
To build relationships effectively, you have to select the appropriate method of communication for each situation.
- Face-to-Face: This method offers immediate and rich feedback and is essential when dealing with complex interactions such as managing difficult conflicts. Face-to-face is not always available, for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, but when possible, it should be included in remote call center management.
- Video: This method is a close second in terms of immediacy and richness of feedback, and is a valuable alternative to face-to-face meetings. Video should be used for all complex interactions in your virtual call center and is critical to building relationships.
- Collaborative Software: Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, and join.me are all great tools for screen sharing, whiteboards, document sharing, and more. They offer both audio and visual options and are ideal for problem-solving, decision-making, active listening, and information dissemination.
- Telephone: When you need immediate or fast feedback, telephone can be an effective means of communication. However, it lacks visual cues, so active listening is required to ensure messages are delivered and received effectively.
- Email: This method of communication is best for following up, summarizing conversations, and sharing information when feedback is not needed.
6. Leverage Technology
Technology is a powerful tool that remote call center management can use to implement processes, share information, connect with agents, conduct meetings, and more. Just make sure that you agree on which technology to use for every situation.
For example, if you use multiple platforms, agree to consistently use the same technology platform for information sharing, problem-solving, decision-making, and relationship building. In this way, everyone on the team knows when and how to use each platform.
To leverage technology effectively, there are a few other remote call center management tips you need to follow.
- Train each team member on all platforms that you’ll be using so that they are fully aware of the functionality and tools available.
- Have every team member reveal their personal preferences for contact: email, IM, phone, etc.
- Try to minimize the use of email except as a way to summarize conversations because it is a very inefficient and ineffective way to communicate.
- Increase the use of video technology in all communication for the best results.
Handling customer support in a remote work world isn’t easy, though it may be the new normal. That means it’s more important than ever that your remote leaders are well equipped to handle all offline and online interactions with the tools, skills, and resources they need.
It’s all about adjusting your service level targets to the new remote environment, and providing a myriad of opportunities to connect, grow, and support.