At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic during the second quarter of 2020, businesses and industries were forced to shut down in response to quarantine lockdowns in attempts to stop the spread of the disease. As the global economy plunged into an unprecedented recession, the drastic decision was made to implement Work From Home (WFH) in order to keep businesses afloat.
One industry that has somewhat resisted the transition to WFH is the customer service or call center industry, with companies harboring expectations that customers are best given service within an in-person or in-office environment. However, these companies who still hold firm to this belief cannot deny that they were forced to scramble to transition to WFH as a result of a dramatic increase in call volumes as well as the rising number of call center agents who prefer to WFH.
With COVID-19 now here to stay for the long term, there is the demand from call center agents and customers alike to switch to WFH, either as a permanent, full-time solution or as part of a hybrid model. In fact, a Forbes article noted a study that service and sales workers are among the “remote-friendly” job categories at 29 percent.
Here are the reasons why the future of call centers is WFH.
1) Technologies already exist that will allow customer service representatives and call center agents to handle customer inquiries at home.
When it comes to existing technologies, cloud contact center technology is being cited as the essential element and one of the best practices for making WFH call center models work. However, what is needed is to solidify call centers’ cloud foundation so that it will be able to meet the requirements of the tech (including the need for regular upgrades), reliability to route and deliver calls to other work environments other than the office itself (meaning the agents’ homes), security of data (especially data that is related to finances, such as credit card information, etc.), and the delivery and installation of the tech to computers and other devices in the agents’ homes.
Aside from cloud, other technologies that need to be improved upon are automation and tools that will enable agents to keep up with the needs of a demanding customer base. Part of this solution is the utilization of intuitive chatbots, which can address simple inquiries so that the more complicated inquiries can be resolved by direct human interaction, whether by email, chat, instant messaging on social media, or through person-to-person phone calls.
2) Access to a larger labor pool
As many companies – and not just in the call center industry – have noted when they made the switch to WFH, they now have access to a larger labor pool. They no longer have to limit themselves to their current in-office pool of agents. Because of the greater demand for real 24/7 service, call centers can now outsource customer service representatives not only from multiple time zones, but also those that actually possess the technological savvy to work with the technologies that are available to them.
3) Gains through time savings and productivity
This is an observation in all businesses that have already transitioned to WFH. Call center agents have reported savings as expenses from the daily commute, the need to wear office uniforms, and child care are eliminated when they started WFH. On the other hand, in a study conducted by the Quarterly Journal of Economics, employers have seen their remote customer service teams increase their customer request quotas by 13 percent. They have also seen a reduction in real estate expenses as the sizes of call center office spaces became smaller with more of their agents working from home.
4) Improved business flexibility
It was made evident during the COVID-29 pandemic that call centers cannot just simply rely on their existing in-office agents to meet the demands and inquiries of customers. Neither can they expect this pool of customer service representatives to work 24/7. By adding outsourced or WFH agents to their current pool, their businesses become more flexible because these talents can fill in for their in-office counterparts during their lunch breaks, sick leaves, etc. This means that the call center is literally “on-call” 24/7.
5) Greater recruiting options
As we have mentioned earlier, call centers don’t have to limit themselves to their current pool of representatives or agents. They can now recruit talents not just in their local areas, but from other countries in multiple time zones. In fact, many of these talents may possess greater technical knowledge than their in-office counterparts. This has the indirect effect of allowing businesses to expand to other locations and countries as a result of “promotions” by these same agents through excellent customer service.
6) Potential to Improve Both Employee AND Customer Loyalty/Retention
Any business can tell you that the quality of customer service can make or break them. Good customer service though is also reliant upon how happy and satisfied an agent is with their job. This satisfaction can be obtained by providing flexible work schedules which can be accomplished with WFH, full time or as a hybrid setup. With improved employee engagement, agents are more productive, capable of handling increased call volumes, and they are less inclined to resign from their jobs. Of course, when these agents are able to address customer concerns, customer satisfaction and loyalty are most certainly guaranteed.
At present, the call center industry is still struggling with the decision on whether or not to fully implement WFH. In data and opinions compiled by the Site Selection Group with various call center companies, the estimate is that 25 to 30 percent of employees will be working from home while 70 to 75 percent are expected to continue to work in-office. This decision is, of course, dependent upon the location and specifically customer demand for human interaction. For example, in the U.S., there is the expectation that more than 50 percent of call center agents will be working from home. But in countries like the Philippines where Internet connections are still faulty and wherein human interaction is preferred over automated tools like chatbots, call center agents are required to work in-office where all the data and technological tools are available to them.
While it cannot be denied that the call center industry is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they need to do a careful evaluation of the risks and rewards of WFH, not only for their businesses, but more so for better employee satisfaction and retention and customer loyalty.