Agents Have Gone Remote, and Many Are Not Coming Back

Your contact center today looks nothing like it did before the pandemic. And these changes go beyond just the shift to remote work. Today, you need different ways to onboard, train, and make your agents successful. You need new measures of success, and new supervision—a new employee experience.

Here are some things to think about to make your agents successful:

Embrace new ways of working.

You don't have to source agents only within commuting distance of your physical contact center. Think about pivoting to adaptive work models, like gig work, that allows you to scale with demand. It's also likely that you've optimized around the old way of work, so be warned: Systems built to source talent, onboard new agents, administer benefits, and manage performance become less relevant when significant portions of your workforce are not traditional full-time employees.

Give agents a career path.

Job roles and responsibilities quickly change as you roll out self-service portals and automate easy work. You might find that you need fewer generalists and more higher-tiered agents. You might need to retrain agents or hire new agents with different skill profiles. You might need to tap into new skills, like script writers to help design chatbot flows or data engineers to help you tune artificial intelligence models. How many contact centers plan for job shifts? Not many. We also find that only 18 percent of agents understand their career paths today.

Recognize that new workers need new metrics.

We are all familiar with contact center metrics: customer satisfaction, agent productivity, revenue, and compliance. Yet, as you automate more of the routine work, the importance of these metrics changes. Quality takes center stage over productivity. Supervisors who manage remote teams must also create an environment where they can succeed in managing this new labor force. They must become enablers of quality rather than drivers of efficiency.

Be realistic when calculating automation-induced headcount changes.

One bot that might cost $10,000 per year can offset two to three-and-a-half agents. Yet, companies that automate often find that they remove fewer full-time agents from the mix than they expected. At times, the contact center pivots to more complex and value-added work. Other times, system inefficiencies put a limit on productivity increases. Do your due diligent to identify the weak links in your processes and technology and be creative in addressing them.

Kate Leggett is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.