Companies usually think about “supply and demand” in terms of their products and services, but it has long been a critical way to organize how customer service agents are scheduled as well.
At any given moment, those managing contact centers need to gauge the volume of customers who might be reaching out with questions or complaints.
Next, they have to determine how many agents should be called in to respond so those customers aren’t kept waiting.
This all has to be balanced against other considerations such as the hours each agent works, potential overtime costs and whether there will be enough cubicles or desks available for everyone.
Over the past two years, of course, many customer service teams have learned how the right tools let them support customers far from a traditional office. This includes their own homes, where many agents have fielded calls, answered texts and assisted customers through their preferred social media channels.
There are still occasions when customer service managers want to have portions of their teams on site, whether it’s to provide additional training or to discuss changes in support policies. The benefits of operating a hybrid model, however — where employees are empowered to work successfully from anywhere — is leading to the creation of a customer service operation that exists within a digital HQ.
For employers, this means improved access to talent they might not have been ablate bring into a physical contact center in the past. There can also be cost savings in terms of real estate and even reduced sick time.
As for agents, the flexibility of hybrid scheduling means they aren’t trapped in an endless cycle of commuting back and forth, and increased productivity because they can dive into the queue of support requests directly from their living room. Better work/life balance in turn contributes to a better employee experience and a more engaged workforce.
It’s important to recognize this might seem like a sea change compared to the way managers were used to running customer service teams in the past. Those that feel daunted at the prospect of scheduling some agents to come in and some to work outside the office need to be reassured everything has been thought through.
The elements that will make hybrid scheduling work for everyone involved include:
Traditionally, agents might have shown up for work in a contact center with little more than their personal items and a positive attitude. When they are spending at least part of the time working at home or elsewhere, they’ll need to be properly equipped.
A good example is a quality headset. Even if phone calls are no longer the only channel where customers show up looking for help, agents will work well if they can keep their hands free while talking to teammates or their manager. The easier such gear is to pack up and carry, the better.
It might have made sense for organizations to install on-premise software and servers when everyone was centralized in the same building, but no longer. In fact, many firms were discovering the scalability, improved performance and security of cloud-based or software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools long before hybrid schedules emerged.
Using platforms like Service Cloud, for instance, it’s easy for agents to quickly get at customer account histories in order to prevent them from repeating information. The cloud also means they can tap into knowledge bases and other resources to take on more advanced issues. Internally, they can also use tools like Slack to coordinate their efforts to ask more experienced team members for their expertise.
A hybrid schedule may still seem somewhat novel, but most other aspects of working in customer service shouldn’t change all that much. In many contact centers, for example, a shift might start with a team huddle where unusual problems that came up during the previous shift are discussed, or where troubleshooting tips about new products are discussed.
These kinds of huddles can easily continue by videoconference to include both those on site and those working outside the office. The same goes with communicating updates or announcements from the company. If employees have come to expect news at a predictable time, make sure communication is maintained through the most appropriate channel, like e-mail or messaging apps.
It’s not just the official rules that need to carry over to a digital experience. You also need to use technology to check in with agents who now work on a hybrid schedule. This could be as simple as a regular touchpoint via video call, a message in Slack or a e-mail. Make sure agents feel recognized and celebrated for their achievements, whether they’re working at home or in the contact center. Encourage collaboration between those who are physically present and those who aren’t. Make a little room in online discussions for chit-chat and other social interactions that keep morale high.
It goes without saying that a hybrid schedule wouldn’t be possible without advances in customer service technology, but this isn’t limited to the tools agents use directly. Automation solutions like a chatbot can ease the transition to hybrid scheduling because they can be programmed to handle some of the most common customer questions and concerns.
By introducing greater self-service capabilities, the overall volume of outreach from customers can be considerably reduced, and satisfaction rates increased. Customer service managers, meanwhile will be in a better position to make the most of their human agents’ time.
Hybrid scheduling isn’t just a new reality within customer service — it’s a huge leap forward. By making it possible to work locally or remotely, companies and their employees will literally be able to enjoy the best of both worlds.