Many company workforces have gone remote, and an increasing number aren’t planning to return to the office—ever. As companies recognize that employees can be just as (or more) productive at home as in the office, many organizations are leaning into the idea of long-term remote work.
But there’s a distinct difference between piecing together a work-from-home strategy that will suffice for a few months and a strategy that will enable your customer service team to thrive for the long term.
If your company is planning to continue working remotely indefinitely, it’s extremely important to make sure that employees feel supported and enabled to do their best work—especially your customer service staff. One study found that 74 percent of customer service agents are at risk of experiencing burnout—and that’s under non-crisis conditions. When employees experience burnout, their work can suffer, and the likelihood that they’ll seek out a different job increases.
If your company is embracing a long-term work-from-home strategy, there are several elements you must proactively address to set your customer service team up to avoid burnout and be successful long-term. Here’s where to start:
1. Work Out the Technological Kinks
First things first: to ensure employees are able to successfully work remotely, you need to equip your team with reliable systems. As customer service increasingly moves to an omni-channel model, you’ll need technology that offers options beyond phone calls, such as email and text message support, chat, and self-serve customer FAQs and knowledge bases. Investing in a customer-facing knowledge base can be especially valuable, as it will deflect common questions from customer service agents and give them more bandwidth to address complex issues.
In addition, your employees’ at-home setups need to be optimized for remote work. That may mean ensuring they have proper headsets, extra monitors, a reliable VPN, and access to all company systems. Taking the time to implement and troubleshoot these systems now will help keep your team stay productive (and frustration-free) for the long term.
2. Strengthen Your Remote Training Program
Your company may have a robust onboarding program, but if it relies on in-person presentations and interactive activities, you’ll be in for a challenge when you begin to onboard and train new remote customer service representatives.
For initial training, you’ll likely need to use a combination of video presentations, online resources, and pre-recorded training modules. You may need to spend some time digitizing your training materials and making them available to current and future employees in a central knowledge base.
Of course, training shouldn’t stop once onboarding is complete. To offer the best long-term experience to your customer service reps, you should offer ongoing training and professional development opportunities, with resources such as webinars available on demand. Making these ongoing learning opportunities available to customer service agents can have a big impact on job satisfaction and retention: in fact, 94 percent of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development.
3. Establish Communication Expectations and Channels
Loneliness is one of the most common complaints about remote work, and that feeling can lead to a lower sense of belonging and an increased desire to leave the organization.
Managers must be intentional about mitigating those feelings of loneliness through frequent — though not overbearing—communication. For example, supervisors may choose to have a daily or weekly call with each employee, as well as regular team meetings (via a conference or video call) and regular email communications.
Making these expectations and channels of communication known from the beginning will help employees know what to expect and keep them closely involved with their team and immediate supervisor.
In addition, many organizations find it useful to offer optional social opportunities, like virtual happy hours or game nights. These events can give employees the chance to feel connected to their co-workers and talk about non-job-related topics, which can help further reduce feelings of isolation.
4. Establish (or Update) a Robust Knowledge Engagement Platform
Newly remote workers may be surprised at the time and effort it can take to track down the information they need when they aren’t in close proximity to their coworkers or supervisor.
This highlights the importance of a robust, easy-to-use knowledge engagement platform. A knowledge engagement platform gives employees one central source of up-to-date information, so when they have questions, they know exactly where to find the answer. That often allows customer service representatives to minimize customer hold times, because they’re able to find the information they need with a quick search—rather than tracking down someone in the organization who might have the answer.
A knowledge engagement platform also helps ensure that all customer service representatives give customers accurate information, rather than a potentially out-of-date answer that can cause confusion and issues down the line.
Another major benefit of a knowledge engagement platform is that it allows customer service agents to contribute their own knowledge and create a feedback loop. Agents can comment on posts with clarification questions or recommendations based on their experience, or add questions to the platform when a customer asks something that doesn’t have an established answer. This helps the entire company identify knowledge gaps and build more content to better support the frontline customer service agents.
Ultimately, empowering employees with a robust knowledge engagement platform can keep remote employees productive, self-sufficient, and equipped to handle any problem that comes their way.
5. Determine and Communicate Your Standards for Success
When you don’t physically see your customer service team working at the office, it can be difficult to assess whether they’re performing at a high level. That’s why for remote employees, it’s important to establish key performance indicators (KPIs). Depending on your unique organization, these KPIs may include first contact resolution rate, average issue resolution time, or customer satisfaction scores.
Establishing KPIs that reflect the metrics that are truly important to your organization will not only help you accurately assess your employees, but give your employees objective, firm goals to work toward.
And relying on those KPIs—rather than constantly monitoring whether employees are showing as active on your company messaging system—will demonstrate that you trust them to get the work done, even when you can’t physically see them.
6. Establish a System of Recognition
According to HubSpot, 69 percent of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were being better recognized. But employees can feel invisible when they aren’t working in a physical office. To ensure the long-term success of their teams, managers should implement a system for recognizing and rewarding their employees.
There is a wide range of ways to effectively recognize your employees. Sometimes, you might contact the employee individually, through an instant message, email, or phone call. Other times, it may be more appropriate to recognize an employee in front of the rest of the team or company, on a virtual team meeting or conference call.
It can also be helpful to proactively determine the types of things you may recognize an employee for. This could start with the KPIs that you identified, but could also extend to one-off instances—like if a team member received a particularly good customer satisfaction survey or went out of his or her way to assist a new employee.Remote and flexible work is likely the way of the future—and as technology and methods of communication improve, that’s becoming easier and easier. However, you must have the right systems and processes in place to make sure your customer service team feels supported and satisfied in their work. By thinking about these things now, you’ll help your remote customer service teams succeed well into the future.