Hybrid call centers and the new normality

How VoIP enables CX from anywhere

As we stand on the threshold of what we are optimistically describing as the “new normality”, one of the biggest buzz phraseswe are seeing everywhere is the term hybrid working. But what will this look like for the contact center, and for those professionals involved in delivering excellent customer service?

For many, elements of that new normality has been here all along. Throughout the global health emergency e-commerce exploded,and with shops and showrooms closed, the call center became the primary point of contact between enterprises and theircustomers. None of those people could work in their usual buildings, and had to adjust fast to successfully delivering customer service work from home.

Voice over IP(VoIP) phone systems like Ringover saved the day for businesses worldwide, who suddenly had to maintain communications with not just a distributed workforce, but with distributed customers too.

Indeed, in many cases voice calling became the threshold indicating the condition of an organization’s readiness to work in a remote way overnight — plenty already had tools in place for sharing information and documents and written communicationvia cloud-based systems, but were yet to integrate calling.

Of course in an emergency it might be OK to expense an employee’s mobile phone if they were just making a few calls to colleagues or clients, but when it comes to delivering customer service consistently this could never be a viable option. Soeven if things were a bit lashed up in 2020, those same businesses are considering how their CX offering will look in the future,and how to create a sustainable plan for the return to the office — or not — as the case may be.

We’re not (all) going back

There’s growing recognition that in many cases it simply won’t be possible to go back to working the way we did before. Those office buildings would be too heavily occupied to ever provide for safe social distanced working. We won’t be able to have the same numbers of people in them as we did before, even if it were somehow safe to bring them in on public transport to a central location.

So, the hybrid approach is definitely going to be the future for many, and customer service work is in many ways ideally suited to this — consisting as it does for the most part of one-to-one conversations between a customer and an agent, which can be carried out from any location.

The cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) tools already familiar to every customer service agent —including the many with which the Ringover phone system directly integrates — are ideally suited for this work, and also give thehome- based agent the freedom and flexibility to work on any desktop or mobile device of their preference.

Hybrid, remote, or work from anywhere?

As call managers refine the long-term sustainable strategies for safe post-pandemic work however, they will need to consider other aspects of the agents work day, beyond speaking to customers. And they will need to consider the team dynamics which underpin the happy and productive call center experience.

In some ways it was easier during the pandemic, as strange as that may sound…

everybody is responding to When an emergency situation there is a great sense of togetherness and mutual support,responding collectively to a common threat (even an intangible one like a virus), and also a sense that this is a short-term situationthrough which we will travel, if necessary on adrenaline alone, and eventually come out the other side.

To make sustainable long-term arrangements though, managers will have to find ways of connecting with their teams and maintaining a shared culture and orientation, when the novelty and sense of collective overcoming wears thin. And if you havea hybrid team, where some people are collocated while others are remote, the challenges of generating and sustainingcohesion become even greater — avoiding your team splintering into two distinct cohorts who each have a very differentexperience of the working environment.

However, making good use of the tools and integrations in Ringover, there are lots of things you can do to make this happen:

Have group and individual video meetings

It’s much easier to relate to people we don’t work alongside, if we can see them face-to-face occasionally. So, “cameras on” shouldbe your default for internal meetings. As well as adding richness to any briefings which need to happen on an ad-hoc basis,you can also use video calling for regular team check-ins on a weekly cycle.

If you have a hybrid team it is important to make sure you adopt remote-first principles for video meetings. One webcam and device per participant levels the playing field, and creates a far more unified experience for the remote participants, than if you haveone group of people together in a conference room while the remote folks are literally stuck on a wall off to the side somewhere.Indeed this is something that many people talked about as a powerful leveling factor during the pandemic, that even the c-suitewere talking into their laptops individually, rather than being in an important place which showed off their hierarchy and seniority by location.

Digital by default avoids discrimination

As well as ensuring that formal meetings take place on a remote-first basis, it’s important that all important conversations or decision points get dealt with similarly. We all know that not every business decision gets taken during official meetings, and if people feel that they are excluded as the remote participant because they are not top of mind when managers are looking around forpeople to work with, then this kind creates a very uneven vibe in a previously unified team.

This could also lead to indirect discrimination as an unforeseen consequence, because it looks most likely that women, older people, carers, and people with health and disability problems will be the most likely to opt to continue with remote working in a hybrid environment. If you don’t have systematic ways to make sure you are involving and consulting the whole team, you will findstructural inequalities creeping into the way you do business. Even factors like who gets first pick of which shift to work, must begiven equal opportunity and access, for remote and local workers.

Unfortunately managers are not immune from cognitive biases like the availability heuristic — say you need to pick a fewpeople in your contact center team to work on a new project, or try some new documentation: you are far more likely to select thosewho are in your line of sight and directly under your nose, this is purely human nature. When internal promotion or training opportunities come up, those same people are more likely to be top-of-mind as well. And that is the reason that successfulhybrid team leadership will require overriding that instinct and deliberately looking around for ways to include those peopleyou don’t see every day — because you may have no intention whatsoever to act in an unfair way, it’s simply human nature to takethese mental shortcuts.

Working out loud, without drowning in the noise

Back in the pre-Corona days when contact centers consisted of lots of little adjacent cubicles, it was easy for managers to see people being busy, and for everybody else to see that everybody else was similarly occupied. Nobody wondered who else was working, whether they were on their own, who they could turn to for a quick bit of advice or reassurance. If somebody came off a customer conversation which had been stressful or upsetting, it was easy to find colleagues close at hand to take a quickbreak with and decompress.

As with most things in the virtual working world, this can be adequately replicated online — but it won’t happen accidentally. Instead, you will need to design processes which make it just as easy for the distant customer service colleagues to access support, connection, and the sense of being part of a team. One way a manager could do this is to consciously check-in with everyshift participant at least once during their daily work, even if nothing seems to have changed or to be going on, just to offer them amomentary human interaction that is not about serving a customer, in a way that will help them feel embedded and part of the bigger picture.

As a VoIP-enabled data-driven organization you can also find creative ways to share what’s going on across the team, the organization, or even just the current shift working together/apart. Perhaps in the old days you had more analogue ways ofdoing this, like a thermometer chart on the wall showing progress towards the group target — well these things are easy toreplicate digitally, and this must be done to include everybody in a hybrid environment, because those distant colleaguesdeserve to see the progress just as much as those in the office, and arguably need the motivational factor even more.

Ringover’s native metrics are easy to integrate in dashboards in a shared online space, for example to make visible to everyonehow a team’s net promoter score (NPS) or first call resolution (FCR) rate is doing. And this data can be used to stimulate a healthysense of competition between different teams, who are both working in a hybrid way — so long as the playing field is.

Interesting Related Article: “Should You Have Shared or Dedicated Call Centers?