The Call Center Conundrum: The Future Is Flexibility

COVID-19 has served as the inflection point for call center innovation. Centers pivoted to remote work models to alleviate safety concerns, while ensuring continuity in a time of chaos. As operations continue to accelerate, intelligent technology must be leveraged to deliver continued cost savings and productivity gains to keep up with increasing demands and expectations.

All signs point to a new age of innovation in the call center, which rewards flexibility and an openness to change.

Flexibility in contact centers not only allows for better employee experiences, it also delivers value to the bottom line by downsizing physical call centers. As a result, the only overheads are salary and all of the software and hardware equipment essentials agents need to work from home. The average annual cost to physically house a call center agent is approximately $8,300 per agent in the United States. If a 200-person contact center decided to move only half of its agents to home offices, it could see $830,000 in annual real estate cost savings.

Unlocking the Power of Intelligent Assistants

While ongoing productivity can be a concern for call centers, the shift to remote working lends itself to more innovative ways to manage people and offer help. Companies turn to technologies to virtually assist agents to maximize productivity and even engagement after losing the ability to connect face to face and spot stressful situations visibly.

Intelligent assistants provide new opportunities for contact centers to optimize operations. The technology processes all of the center data that's constantly changing and then directs agents throughout the day. With intelligent assistants notifying agents when to take breaks, begin training, or return to call handling, managers, coaches, and supervisors have more freedom to do what they do best: connecting with agents, offering empathy, and ultimately, developing and coaching them.

For companies that embrace change, one consideration is the need to revise onboarding and training and to improve agent engagement virtually due to the remote nature of call centers. According to Gartner, nearly 75 percent of customer service leaders expect to expand work-from-home programs post-pandemic, so this is a trend that will continue to grow in the near future.

To account for a lack of in-person guidance and development, intelligent assistants can help mirror in-person experiences in a remote environment by leading and hosting ongoing training for agents. This method also allows time for virtual one-on-one coaching to ensure agents are continuously developing within their roles and armed with the necessary tools to stay engaged, be efficient, and deliver optimal customer experiences.

Transitioning to a predominantly virtual working environment also means managers must invest more time and energy into training that is frequent and intentional. Now managing a fully remote workforce, this task can seem daunting and nearly impossible, especially when managing large teams while juggling other responsibilities. Through the use of intelligent assistants, identifying small pockets of down time within agent schedules ensures training is not only flexible but persistent.

The Advent of Split Shifts

With the rise of virtual agents, split shifts provide an opportunity to improve both the agent and end-customer experience. Instead of a routine 9-5 work schedule, split shifts allow agents to break up their workdays. This flexibility lets agents take care of needs throughout the day while curbing burnout.

Before the pivot to remote work, commutes prevented the widespread adoption of this work style. Now, accepting a split shift offer is much more appealing. There is more incentive for agents to add or adjust shifts without having to factor in travel time.

As with many working environments right now, call centers are facing interesting times. The immediate future presents a golden opportunity for rapid change and innovation. While the cost savings and productivity gains are evident, it's only for companies that successfully break the mold and embrace flexible operations.

Matt McConnell is CEO of Intradiem.