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Communication and collaboration are at the heart of any organization, especially the contact center. When internal communication is tight, everyone operates on the same page. Everyone knows what is expected of them, and everyone is enabled to work for the good of the organization no matter their role. When internal communication is poor, things go off the rails; misunderstandings abound. Good communication allows individuals to connect with others but the next layer, collaboration, takes commitment among the individuals.
Collaboration in the broader organization is still a work in progress. When it comes to the contact center and customer-facing employees, communication and collaboration are essential in servicing the customer. The primary focus is to ensure that agents and supervisors are aligned with accurate and timely information, and, if necessary, collaboratively create new content for effective customer delivery. Additionally, there is a third “C,” that of connectedness – specifically, agent connectedness.
Agent connectedness is more of an intangible, operating on a human level. Through team involvement and contribution, agents feel part of the process and are invested. When collaboration and communication are done right, connectedness is an outcome that benefits all – the organization, the agent and ultimately the customer. Since the pandemic, the WFH model has highlighted that new intentional methods for the three “Cs” need to be considered to ensure that efficient customer handling and involved employees are outcomes that benefit the whole.
Moreover, the contact center environment can be fast moving and intense one minute and moderate in another. Agents need the focus of a hockey goalie, or a line cook to rapidly shift gears from downtime or mundane question handling to providing a rapid and accurate response to critical customer requirements. While agents speak directly to the customer, the communications between manager (supervisor) and employee (agent) and agent-to-agent is critical and can often be pressure packed.
Pre-pandemic, (and will we ever stop talking about the pandemic?) most of the contact center agents in the world were located in a center, seated with their team and managed by their supervisor. This presented its own problems arising from the shift to an all-remote environment due to the pandemic, but it was done. The basic hardware and software were relocated to WFH spaces, internet connections were established, and, in some instances, whole families were moved into hotels to get an internet connection. Over the course of the three-year span that marked the official pandemic period, new work styles emerged. Employees personally adapted to WFH environments while technology rapidly responded in terms of functionality for the new WFH model. Better conferencing programs, complete with virtual lipstick and virtual backgrounds galore, faster internet connections, and lighting circles so employees could look good on high-quality cameras were tools for the WFH employee.
However, as Joni Mitchell sang, “don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.” Intuitively, we know that things we were used to doing pre-pandemic in an in-office model are gone in a WFH model. Some we were happy to see go, such as the long drive to work; other things were dependent on physical co-location which has made them more challenging to replace.
For contact centers, it is the triumvirate of the three “Cs” that has suffered. Particularly within contact centers that had not moved to systems or added technology that supported these functions. The problems:
- Communication, particularly between supervisors and agents and agent-to-agent, has suffered. For contact centers that have not modernized their tech stacks and business processes, the lack of a physical location has further set them behind. Contact centers have long relied on line-of-sight management and working techniques even while implementing technologies designed to digitally service the customer such as chat and messaging. The contact center wallboard displaying information for all to see regarding operations and agent performance is a good example of a process that has worked over time, ensuring all agents the same information at once. If an agent was overworked, a supervisor could observe that while walking around or an agent could signal trouble by raising a hand in the air.
- Collaboration. Agents working together or contributing to solve a problem, particularly in a tense moment with a customer on the phone could seek help in less automated contact centers by a quick question to a neighbor or relying on a veteran colleague. That person could also be the supervisor. Collaboration could occur within the weekly huddle meeting, over coffee and donuts, with agents sharing ideas or swarming around a problem. These meetings no longer take place in person for many contact center teams.
- Connectedness. This last one is possibly the most intangible. Connectedness operates on a more personal level. Why does one feel connected? When it comes to agents, and other members of the contact center, connectedness comprises two parts, 1) professional needs and 2) personal needs. Connectedness can relate to being able to communicate and engage on the one hand, and on the other hand to feeling involved and together. In an in-person center, these things can naturally happen. Agents can reach colleagues quickly as well as easily chat with them or participate in a group activity,
All of these behaviors contributed to the communication and collaboration and ultimately connectedness required for successful contact center operations.
Best Practices for a New Model
Three years after the start of the pandemic we have agents in permanent WFH models, including hybrid, that require formal processes to replicate the informal and regular pre-pandemic touchpoints. How have organizations coped? In interviews with agents, the interplay of communication, collaboration and connectedness comes through loud and clear. Here are some of the workarounds reported by organizations as they strive to address these needed capabilities within the contact center.
- Establishment of a WFH task force. Many organizations recognized a need for a task force or team to focus on the new WFH and hybrid models. At first these teams were tasked with understanding what the fundamental issues were and suggesting quick fixes to aid in the communication and collaboration within the customer handling environment. As time progressed, some of these teams have evolved into groups charged with the evaluation and selection of tools to meet the new demands of WFH.
- Chat to the rescue. Using a broadly available group chat product such as Microsoft Teams was noted by several companies as a solution. One organization had 80 people in a group chat while others had as few as nine. In addition to the general chat, organizations are supporting chats focused on a topic or group organization such as the WFH task force. Of note are group chats that aim to replicate the sense of physically being in the contact center. Organizations are using chat groups on a regular basis, such as for a weekly huddle, sometimes accompanied with video, to replace their weekly in-person huddles.
- Incorporation of a scripting tool. Training agents in a WFH model has new challenges from an initial training perspective to ongoing oversight. The incorporation of a scripting tool shrank the initial learning curve in one organization while also providing a mechanism for ongoing support. Think of this like a supervisor whispering suggestions to a befuddled agent.
Embracing the New Work Model: Navigating WFH and Hybrid Solutions for Tomorrow
Workforces have gone from commuting to communicating which has presented a new work model. Solving for the new work model is critical. Before the pandemic, only approximately 20% of agents operated in a WFH mode while that number is now 60% to 80%, inclusive of a hybrid model of in-office/WFH. While the solutions above have played a key role in the “responding to change” period, there is an inherent problem with utilizing tools that store data outside of the core contact center system; a problem whose solution hinges on effective communication and collaboration. For example, above we talked about essentially building a knowledge base within Teams, using group chats. This is a new world. Culture and sensibility are evolving along with technology. In the second part of this blog, we will look at how organizations can think about creating a thoughtful approach to the need for communication, collaboration, and connectedness.
Message from the Sponsor
LiveVox (Nasdaq: LVOX) is a proven cloud CCaaS platform that helps business leaders redefine customer engagement and transform their contact center’s performance. Decision-makers use LiveVox to improve customer experience, boost agent productivity, empower their managers, and enhance their system orchestration capabilities. Everything needed to deliver game-changing results can be seamlessly integrated and configured to maximize your success: Omnichannel Communications, AI, a Contact Center CRM, and Workforce Engagement Management tools.
For more than 20 years, clients of all sizes and industries have trusted LiveVox’s scalable and reliable cloud platform to power billions of omnichannel interactions every year. LiveVox is headquartered in San Francisco, with international offices in Medellin, Colombia and Bangalore, India.