Seven key areas to address for work-from-home agent success

Aimee Giese | August 9, 2016

What you need to know to implement virtual, work-from-home agents successfully

Over the past five years, the work-from-home or “virtual” agent model has grown in popularity. According to IT consulting giant ICD, nearly 310,000 home-based agents will be working in the
U.S. by 2013, up from 112,000 in 2007. And with productivity among home agents proven to be higher than brick-and-mortar agents, more and more contact centers are adopting the practice.

While most of the fears about productivity and security among virtual agents have proven unfounded, it is true that managing a virtual team requires different communication mechanisms and practices. Before building a virtual team, be sure to consider the unique requirements of the following seven areas:

1. Recruiting

While many agent skills overlap from the brick-and-mortar model, keep in mind that recruiting for a virtual workforce is not exactly the same as for a brick-and-mortar call center. One key difference is that industry experience outweighs call center experience in the recruiting process. And the reason is simple: with the background of the call center stripped away, what matters most is the level of agent knowledge and expertise. Also, highly motivated and self-starting candidates work best in the virtual sphere.

Best practices:

  • Recruit for technical skills
  • Test for desired attributes
  • Engage virtual agent recruiting firms

2. Onboarding

Because believe it or not, talented virtual agents actually require less direct supervision and monitoring than brick-and-mortar agents, it’s essential that the onboarding and login procedures be crisp, clear and simple. Most virtual agents work well under pay for performance metrics, and they are eager to begin their shifts on time. Create clear guidelines, streamlined and foolproof login procedures, and clear procedures for disaster recovery or equipment failure. State and reiterate the best ways to reach technical support.

Best practices:

  • Use pay for performance model
  • Streamline or automate logins
  • Create clear DR processes
  • Offer 24/7 technical support

3. Training

 

Training for virtual agents can be accomplished just as easily as for brick-and-mortar agents, if not even more so. It is essential to provide virtual training via a self-paced curriculum. Webinars, video conference calls and chat tools help to reinforce training over time. Training materials should be “always on” to easily allow the supervisor or coach to suggest review, retraining and quality improvement. That means 24/7 access to enable your agents to engage in continual improvement.

Best practices:

  • Training materials should be available 24/7
  • Implement a self-paced curriculum
  • Take advantage of webinars, video conference and chat

4. Workforce management

Virtual agents are willing and eager to work, and their work assignments should reflect the value placed on their punctuality and performance. Allow them to bid on shifts based on seniority and
performance. Resist the urge to reroute to the brick and mortar team during periods of low call volume to avoid sending those agents home; rather, reward the best-performing virtual agents with the appropriate call volume so they generate as much value as possible from their allotted hours. Removing hours from well-performing virtual agents is a good way to decrease morale.

Best practices:

  • Bid on shifts based on performance
  • Avoid favoring brick-and-mortar agents on shifts
  • Increase morale by consistently rewarding performance among both virtual and brick and mortar agents

5. Performance management

With the big data tools available today, there is no need to fear a lack of productivity or morale among virtual agents. It is essential to implement tools that will allow for real time interaction
and online collaboration among agents and between agents and supervisors. Instant messaging tools are a must and should facilitate collaboration while allowing for multiple simultaneous supervisor chats. An ideal situation for a supervisor would include a collaborative team chat window (for all members of the team to chat together) and the option for nested windows for one-on-one chats with or between agents. Additionally, supervisors should solicit regular feedback from agents through chat or, for a more structured approach, online surveys.

Best practices:

  • Select real time tools to facilitate collaboration
  • Provide tools for both collaborative and one-on-one chat
  • Solicit agent feedback regularly


6. Motivation

Keep in mind that the biggest factor in agent motivation is the corporate culture in which they are operating. Varying business models (full time employee, independent contractors, part time
employee) will spawn different motivational models, but any and all of these models work equally well when the motivations of agents, supervisors and clients are in alignment. Take the time to state and align your goals and methods of measurement. A few additional tips:

  • Host meet space events
    If you have a brick and mortar location, leverage it by hosting a quarterly party for in-the-flesh meet and greets. The location can be used to give a sense of place
    and purpose.
  • Provide daily feedback
    Feedback should be a daily habit, as it is the most important contributor to retention. Use email, chat or video conferencing for daily positive feedback and coaching. Spoken’s HyperQuality team excels at allowing you to coach your agents to be EvenBetter®, and their expertise is at your disposal.
  • Get real-time access
    No one should fly blind. The use of real-time, easy-to-read dashboards helps agents, supervisors and executives to understand current performance and how it relates to the team and overall goals.

Best practices:

  • Align motivational models of agents, supervisors and clients
  • Host in-the-flesh events
  • Provide coaching and feedback every day
  • Use real time dashboard for an overall view of performance and possibilities for motivation and improvement

7. HR practices

The two keys to virtual human resources are security and transparency. With technical innovations, it’s easy to implement secure online tools such as DocuSign to safely eliminate the need for hard copy documentation. And in terms of transparency, keep in mind that a work from home model necessitates the ability to connect virtually in order to communicate, monitor and enforce policies and procedures in a consistent manner. Additionally, bonus and pay programs should be kept consistent from agent to agent; in the online world, nothing is kept secret! Even pay grades and bonuses should be fully transparent; in fact, that full disclosure can be an excellent motivational tool.

Best practices:

  • Take advantage of secure online tools for documentation and onboarding
  • Adopt a policy of transparency to communicate, monitor and enforce policies
  • Keep pay and bonus structures consistent and transparent

Finally and perhaps most importantly, your organization must build trust with each and every virtual agent. Again, in the online world, nothing is secret, including how you and your corporate culture support and reward your virtual agents. Insisting upon regular, consistent and open communications with your agents will not only deliver immediate positive results but will also serve to improve retention rates, enhance your brand image and build long-term agent loyalty. For a successful and loyal virtual agent workforce, the most important best practice is to foster consistent and persistent communications.

For more information on implementing work-from-home agents, download our free remote agent whitepaper.