If you didn’t have a remote customer service team at the beginning of 2020, you probably do now—and you may have plans to keep it that way.
The benefits of remote and flexible work are clear. Between reduced overhead costs, less employee turnover, access to a larger talent pool, and ensured continuity of operations—even in situations like a global pandemic—more and more employers now plan to keep their customer service teams remote well into 2021, if not permanently.
Whether you plan to keep your teams remote for another several months or the foreseeable future, you will need a plan to scale. Your organization must be able to adapt in terms of hiring and onboarding new employees, implementing and adopting new technology, and improving processes to meet the needs of an expanding team.
Follow these essential tips to help your customer service team grow—and thrive—even when you’re not in one central location.
1. Evaluate Your Tech Stack
Your remote team must have the right technology stack to communicate and collaborate—and that only becomes more important as your team grows. At a minimum, all companies should have video conferencing, real-time chat, project management, and knowledge engagement tools.
In addition, customer service agents will need:
- A way to take calls, like a browser-based call center software, which enables customer service representatives to make and answer calls without a separate phone, phone line, or VoIP connection.
- Customer relationship management (CRM) software, where agents can easily find and update customer information.
- Call monitoring software, which can make it easier for supervisors to remotely train agents, listen in on calls, and provide discreet whisper coaching.
These tools give your team the ability to collaborate and communicate effectively, even when they’re not together in the same room. It also gives your employees options based on the situation and the ability to communicate and collaborate in real time and asynchronously.
Beyond having this technology available, you will need an established process to give every new hire the right access and permissions for each tool. This will help you get new employees quickly up to speed and integrated into the team.
2. Make Employees Feel Like Part of the Team
Remote workers often struggle with feelings of loneliness or difficulties communicating and collaborating with their teammates. To keep your employees happy, engaged, and productive, you must consistently make them feel like an important part of the team.
For new employees, that might mean sending them a welcome package filled with company material and branded gear. During their first few days or weeks, set up video conferences between them and other team members, so they can get to know each other, both on a professional and personal level.
However, even established team members can begin to feel isolated when working remotely. It can help to schedule regular video check-in, as well as identify other meetings that can take place over video. Setting up regular face-to-face time (even over a screen) can help create deeper connections and mitigate those feelings of loneliness.
Many customer service teams have also been able to successfully enhance employee engagement, connection, and productivity through gamification—i.e., employing game metrics (like points, badges, or leaderboards) to encourage desired behaviors. For example, after Microsoft implemented daily competitions for customer service agents, the company saw a 10 percent increase in productivity, and 79 percent of agents were able to acknowledge and apply new information. Ultimately, gamification can help keep employees happy, productive, and willing to learn.
3. Give Your Team a Central, Trusted Source of Information
Remote employees don’t have the ability to walk over to a co-worker and ask a quick question. Even with a real-time chat tool, team members may not always be available to provide a prompt response.
To empower your remote customer service agents, you should provide them with a central, comprehensive source of information, like a knowledge engagement platform. They should be able to find everything they need to do their job within this database, from process documents to training videos to FAQs. To make it easier, make sure your knowledge engagement platform has robust search functionality, so employees can use a keyword search or categories to quickly find an answer—and provide prompt responses to customer questions or issues.
Centralizing all the information relevant to their job can help minimize frustration and enable even new employees to jump right in and start contributing to the team.
4. Set Expectations Early and Often
According to Gallup, only 50 percent of employees understand exactly what’s expected of them at work. And that only gets more challenging when your customer service team doesn’t work from one central location.
To keep your team performing at a high level, they need to understand how their performance is measured and what goals they need to strive to achieve. As a customer service leader, it’s your job to set and clearly communicate these objectives. Your key performance indicators (KPIs) might include:
- First response time, or how long it takes for a customer service representative to provide an initial response to a support ticket.
- Customer Satisfaction Index, the percentage of positive customer responses out of total responses.
- Net Promoter Score, based on the percentage of customers that would recommend your company or product to a friend or colleague.
- Total tickets to resolved tickets ratio
- Minutes spent on call
When you establish clear expectations, your remote employees will have a much better understanding of where to focus their time and efforts.
5. Deliver In-the-Moment Micro-Coaching
When your team is remote, you can’t simply drop by an employee’s desk to provide feedback on the fly. But that can be detrimental, for both keeping your employees engaged and providing a high quality experience to your customers.
According to one survey, 32 percent of employees say they have to wait three months to get feedback from their manager. That’s a lot of time for issues to linger (and get worse). And what’s more—employees want that feedback. In fact, 96 percent of those surveyed said receiving feedback regularly is a good thing.
Rather than waiting until a formal performance review or even a regular check-in meeting, strive to provide micro-coaching moments to your team on a daily basis, using your established KPIs. For example, if you see an agent’s first response time or resolved tickets ratio slipping, use your chat tool to message him or her with feedback, or recommend relevant trainings and documentation in your knowledge engagement platform.
This will allow you to catch issues before they become full-blown problems—and keep your employees satisfied and engaged. Just make sure to offer praise as well as feedback for improvement.
For many organizations, remote work is here to stay—at least in some form. By using these tips, you can keep your customer service teams growing and thriving, even from many different locations.