Why Companies Should Make Customer Service Teams Flexible for the Long Run

At the onset of COVID-19, many companies had to shift operations to remote work almost overnight, for both safety and the continuity of operations. Now, months later, it's apparent that this new normal paved the way for a shift in how businesses operate, including the ability to offer flexible working locations.

Once the pandemic is behind us, companies will face the decision of whether to return to the office or to continue with a hybrid remote work model. For the customer service industry, the flexibility to work from anywhere has many benefits, including an engaged workforce with higher retention, expanded recruiting options and, potentially, better productivity, all of which contribute to superior customer service.

Remote operations offer flexibility and affordability, both for employees and the company alike. With the option to work from home, employees save time and money by skipping the commute to the office. When employees benefit from more time back in their day, they also experience increased productivity while working. According to a study by The Quarterly Journal of Economics, remote customer service teams get through 13 percent more requests each day. Through this increased productivity, companies can handle a greater volume of customer inquiries. And when shifting to adaptable work environments, companies can foster a work-from-anywhere policy that suits their employees' and business needs.

Beyond potential productivity improvements, flexible operations can enable customer service teams to shift schedules to meet volume spikes when they occur. For example, there could be a greater need for representatives on Monday mornings, whereas on Thursday afternoons, call volumes might hit a low for the week. Allocating resources according to the demand is key. Allowing representatives to log in and out of work depending on call volume allows them to have better work-life balance and stay engaged, while also providing the company with extended on-call coverage from representatives.

Providing employees with flexible schedules also leads to higher employee satisfaction and increased retention rates. For remote representatives the retention rate is 80 percent versus 24 percent for those who work on site.

In addition to increased retention, it's important to consider that satisfied and engaged representatives also offer better customer service. From a business perspective, the option to work remotely acts as a building block for more control over their work and encourages them to perform better and be more productive in their role. Overall, keeping business operations agile and easily adaptable will empower businesses and employees alike to find the environments that best suit them.

Expand Recruiting Options

With business flexibility and satisfied employees, remote operations mean an expanded talent pool to draw from when recruiting. With more than 40 percent of millennials citing the freedom to work from anywhere as a key factor when evaluating job opportunities, the ability to work remotely has become a defining recruiting point. By taking location out of the equation, a remote customer service model makes it easier to attract high-quality applicants and scale teams according to need. Being able to recruit professionals regardless of location and offer them work flexibility is an important determinant for staying ahead of the recruiting curve.

The industry shift to remote work also accelerated the widespread adoption of digital tools and brought their importance and potential into sharp focus. Digital technology allowed employees to transition their jobs between the workplace and home seamlessly and effectively. This transition highlighted the importance of adapting to rapidly changing business needs in a timely fashion.

Companies should prepare their teams for an increasingly digital environment because that will dictate success in conforming to industry changes; the option to work remotely is an easy way to achieve this. Over the next few months and years, representatives will need to become even more technologically savvy, especially as customer demand for 24/7 service grows. Customers want to talk to representatives on multiple channels, whether it's chat on a website, direct message on social media, or traditional phone methods. When teams are familiar with tools that offer remote work flexibility, they will be that much more prepared to use the technology at their fingertips.

Lesson Learned: Be Adaptive

Coping with the challenges of work during a pandemic has highlighted what it means to be thoroughly prepared and flexible. Simply put, being prepared for remote operations makes you more adaptable to any challenge.

The unforeseen call to remote work has moved the customer service industry forward in a big way. It will be up to companies if they want to take a step back into their old ways or a step forward for long-term growth by providing employees with the option to continue working remotely. Companies that don't lean into flexible work will find themselves left behind in an industry where changes are happening quickly and for the better.

Fara Haron is CEO of North America, Ireland, and Southeast Asia and executive vice president of global clients at Majorel. She leads a rapidly growing team of customer service professionals helping companies with their global customer service strategy, providing customer engagement to some of the world's largest and most respected companies.