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WFH Hurts Contact Center Productivity – Here’s How to Fix It

Having contact center agents continue to WFH is more than reasonable. Continuing to accept less than pre-pandemic performance isn't. Dee Nilles, Centrical's contact center subject matter expert, offers why and how to get productivity back to where it needs to be in this post.

By: Dee Nilles, Business Program Director, Centrical

WFH Hurts Contact Center Productivity – Here’s How to Fix It

Respondents to a recent survey of contact center managers, conducted by Centrical, found that with most agents working from home (WFH), there’s been a 20% hit to business performance, overall. Nearly two-thirds of those managers noted productivity has dropped more than 20%.

That’s some serious impact on performance, productivity, and revenue.

It will soon be six months since you shifted agents to work from home. Many thought it would be for a handful of weeks. So, let me ask: When will you realize the new normal is here? We’re in it.

To be clear, I sincerely hope COVID-19 is contained and controlled. Living life in quarantine is not ideal. However, infectious disease and public health experts tell us that we will have to contend with other health crises in the days ahead.

Along with that, industry observers believe when the current pandemic is behind us, most contact centers will adopt a hybrid model; one that will have most, or nearly most agents working from home, and the rest operating back in the contact center. WFH will continue, in a big way.

The point being that continuing to accept less than pre-pandemic performance from your agents is not okay. In early March, maybe. Even the start of April. Perhaps you could justify it. No longer. It does not make business sense.

In fairness, you initially tolerated less than solid performance for all the right reasons. The disruption of, disconnection and disengagement from daily work at the contact center created isolation, anxiety even depression.

Choosing not to push results in the initial weeks of WFH – that it was alright not to meet KPIs, let alone track more than just a couple of KPIs – made sense then. Go easy. Be human. But it can’t – nor should it – go on.

So, how to change it; how to fix it? In a word: accountability. When you took the pressure off to perform, you allowed agents, really everyone in the contact center, to effectively stop being held accountable for what they did or didn’t do. That’s got to stop.

The first step to a renewed sense of accountability among all your employees is to communicate. Now I wouldn’t be surprised if you thought: Communicate! I’ve been communicating constantly since I sent everyone home. The difference is what you convey to the agents and their team leaders.

Let them all know that the performance bar that was in place before COVID-19 is back in place. That ad hoc measurement and processes can’t be part of how your contact center operates. And, importantly, this kind of back-at-it orientation is for everyone. Managers and agents alike. The reason being, when accountability is driven to the lowest level of an organization, everyone has a sense of ownership, of purpose.

It should be emphasized that a contributing factor to the downturn in performance and productivity was the fact people who never worked from home were working from home. When they were working at the center, the environment was consistent. Agents had a designated workspace. They were at work with an at-work-mindset. Put them in their homes and the environment is anything but consistent. Filled with distractions.

So, with the absence of a controllable physical environment, and the continued physical separation from fellow team members, team leaders need to operate such that their teams feel like they’re always there. As if they’re actually a desk or two away. Build connectiveness as much and in as many ways as possible. Create a genuine feeling of inclusiveness.

At the same time, show that you are aware of the inconsistent environments in which they work. Be more flexible with their schedules. Recognize they can’t take calls when it’s bath time for the kids. Consider implementing split shifts. Look at your call levels and staff more efficiently.

Beyond that, you must equip your team leaders, who are also WFH, with the ability to connect with and manage their teams remotely. Give them ways to re-instill their teams’ commitment to accountability and to have their team members return to – and go beyond – the performance levels they attained before COVID-19. In particular, give them a way to coach from afar, drawing on real-time data that they and their team members can view, discuss, and act on. In ways that drive performance. To where it should be.

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