As the dust settled on what most have deemed the “new normal” of working from home, many industries — including customer service — rapidly shifted operations to be remote work-friendly.
At the same time, call volumes increased exponentially: During the last few months, airlines saw a 199 percent increase in customer inquiries, while grocers saw a 39 percent increase.
While the continuity of access to customer service is vital in normal circumstances, the sharp increase in customer demands during the pandemic has made it even more critical.
By overcoming reservations surrounding the idea of working from home in the customer service industry, many companies found real, upfront benefits from utilizing remote teams, including flexible business operations, lower absenteeism and increased productivity.
The implications of the shift to remote customer service teams aren’t limited to short-term benefits of business continuity and keeping representatives safe from COVID-19. There are long-term considerations for the customer service industry as well.
Call centers have been forced into overdrive to change business processes and policies on working from home — such as providing representatives with equipment they can use at home and scheduling staff in a way that ensures customers have access to service 24/7 — while keeping in mind the unique challenges of balancing work life with home life.
Despite the challenges, remote working has accelerated the pace of customer service transformation to digital, expanding opportunities for staff to work from the comfort of their living room (or kitchen!) — and it will occupy a permanent place in the call centers of the future.
Unique Benefits of Remote Working for Customer Service
Before the onset of COVID-19, many call centers around the world operated in an in-person environment because of the normal expectations within the customer service industry. However, with the push to remote working, companies have had to rethink their policies and turn call center support from an in-person job to one that can be done in a safe, home environment.
Many businesses generally have been successful in making this transition, but customer service representatives are in a unique position because of the need for specialized tools to pull up customer information, keep customer satisfaction high, and handle inquiries from a number of channels: telephone, digital and social media.
As it turns out, there are several benefits to having remote customer service teams:
1. Time Savings and Productivity Gains
Companies and staff alike are saving money and time. Employees are saving money on commuting costs, and remote customer service teams can handle 13 percent more requests each day, according to a study by Quarterly Journal of Economics.
2. Business Flexibility
The key benefits that make remote working for customer service worthwhile also go well beyond return on investment and meeting key performance indicators.
With remote teams, a business can become more flexible. Representatives working for customer service outsourcers can shift schedules to assist clients depending on volume spikes and where there’s a need. For example, there could be a greater need for representatives to be at the ready on Monday mornings, or Wednesday during lunch may be when call volumes hit a high for the day.
Whether working for an outsourcer or providing in-house customer service, working from home allows representatives to be “on call” in the comfort of their home vs. “always on” at the office, which allows for a better work-life balance too.
3. More Recruiting Options
Business flexibility is coupled with more recruiting options and an expanded talent pool to handle scale. Many job seekers are looking for flexible work as an incentive, with more than 40 percent of millennials saying that the flexibility to work from anywhere is a priority when evaluating job opportunities.
Many companies, such as Amazon and American Express, boast a significant number of remote work opportunities. By taking location out of the equation, a remote customer service model makes it easier to scale teams, attract high-quality applicants, and increase the likelihood of new hire retention.
4. Improve Employee Retention
When companies see increased retention rates, it usually means they’re reducing absenteeism and increasing staff happiness — and remote work figures largely in these successes.
The retention rate for remote representatives is 80 percent, versus 24 percent for those who work on site, partly because remote representatives are empowered to have control over their own schedules and create schedules unique to their availability.
5. Potential to Improve Customer Loyalty
More importantly, when representatives are satisfied with their job, it increases the likelihood they will provide excellent customer service.
At the end of the day, the goal for customer service is to ensure customers are satisfied with their experience, which leads to better loyalty. From a business perspective, when staff are engaged and happy with their work, they tend to be more productive, which can help them manage the increased call volumes happening across customer service departments right now.
Once businesses are able to reopen their offices, it might be wise to keep at least some customer service staff remote, as those representatives can fill in the gaps for on-site call centers to ensure there’s no disruption of service.
How Remote Work Forces Customer Service to Change
What will be seen over the next few months — and years — is that representatives will be more technologically savvy, especially as customer demand for 24/7 service grow.
Customers want to talk to a representative on multiple channels, whether it’s through chat on a website, direct message on social media, or through traditional phone calls. So, with the push to remote work allowing for greater usage of technology, teams will be that much more ready — and sufficiently knowledgeable — to use the technology at their fingertips.
Remote work has accelerated technology adoption of tools that allow staff to do their jobs seamlessly and effectively, all while giving a boost to employee morale.
Many companies are now aware that work productivity tools like those from Zoom and Slack bridge the distance between remote staff, and strengthen the relationship between staff and managers — which is a key component of engagement and improved productivity.
As for the technologies that support representatives in their roles, automation tools and dashboards are and will continue to be a necessity for keeping pace with customer demands and helping staff work efficiently. For example, automated chatbots can help customers get answers to simple questions while representatives focus on servicing customers who have more complex issues.
Looking ahead to how remote work will impact the future of customer service, companies can help ensure operations are seamless while addressing considerations such as how to train employees virtually and ensure the flow of information is secure.
There are numerous benefits to switching to remote customer service operations now and keeping these policies alive after COVID-19. Failure to take this transition seriously not only will cause business disruptions, but also will cause companies to be left behind the rest of the industry while changes are happening quickly — and for the better.