Managing Agents in your Virtual Call Center: All You Need to Know
2020 will be remembered for many reasons, but one important shift we’ll reflect on is the transition to remote or virtual working. Every industry which needed to keep operating during the pandemic had to make the transition, frequently overnight, to operating virtually — and those providing customer service are no exception.Fortunately on the technical side, Ringover’s call center tools make it easy to set up and run your remote call center, and provide all the technical support you need for virtual call center management.However, as many organizations and enterprises learned the hard way during 2020, there’s more to effective leadership and supervision of any distributed team than simply providing them with world-class tools. You need to adapt your management style as well, to motivate, inspire, and provide support to a team of people you no longer have in your direct line of sight. In this article we’ll touch on: What is a virtual call center? What should you consider when managing virtual agents? How to best measure performance in a virtual call center? Let’s jump right into it!
What is a virtual call center?
A virtual call center consists of remote-based agents who handle customer calls from multiple locations via a single platform. Virtual call center agents typically work from their homes or from another location of choice.
At the heart of a virtual call center is a cloud-based call center software that routes calls to agents on their internet-enabled devices such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet. Compared to an on-premise call center, a virtual call center tends to generate lower operational costs and is well suited for businesses who serve clients across different time zones.
Virtual Call Center Agents: Key Things to Note
Alt: agent working from homeRegardless of whether your remote colleagues previously worked together in a centralized location, the work or serving customers has always taken place on a typically individual basis — one-to-one personal conversations, which may have had that feeling of privacy reinforced by the use of individual booths and headphones and similar accessories. When not actively on a call however they enjoyed the camaraderie of their colleagues in conversation and breaks, and even when directly engaged with a customer, they felt connected to a roomful of other people doing the same thing on the same shift — that quiet buzz of activity which signified a joint enterprise and sense of belonging.
Feeling part of a team
When your call center is operating remotely, it’s crucial to foster that same sense of connection, and cultivate the kind of team spirit that matters. This is easy to do using collaboration technology, but as with most activities in remote work space, it requires deliberate intention instead of happening organically. You’ll need tools and time and commitment, but it’s perfectly doable.It’s not enough to put tools in place, and let their use evolve (though you will need tools, such as an instant messaging platform like Slack or Facebook Workplace, along with a way to have group or individual calls and meetings — such as Zoom, or using Ringover’s video conferencing functionality.)Think about the behaviors you want your team of agents to exhibit, then consider how to nurture them on a remote basis. For example:
- If your team handles challenging and emotional calls from time to time, colleagues will need a means to vent and offload, whether privately to a supervisor, or within a group — such as through a dedicated shared messaging channel named for this purpose.
- If you want people to feel committed to a vision or mission, ensure you share content from your leadership team which reinforces the values central to it — in a way that’s easy for people to consume and engage with on their own terms. Access to ‘town halls’, newsletters, in-house podcasts, and similar content will boost a sense of belonging.
- If you’re operating a sales team, you can gamify the natural competitiveness of the process by making progress visible to all via a live sales dashboard. Everyone wants to be a winner!
- If you’re collaborating on a shared objective, you can make that progress visible too, and let them each see how they’re contributing to a collective goal. Target onboarding to new product version, 80% complete!
- If you have a team briefing call, do it via video as the default — so people can put faces and voices to each other’s names, and encourage open questioning and discussion. This will make them more likely to connect with and support one another outside of these formal meetings, and share learning, enthusiasm, and ideas.
Motivate and empower your team
Deci and Ryan’s theory of self-determination for intrinsic motivation suggests we are inspired to do our best work when we feel we have autonomy and competence as well as relatedness — so that feeling of being part of a team is only one third of the puzzle, as important as it is to feel closely related to the people you work with.To feel a sense of autonomy, your virtual call center agents need to know they have the freedom, within certain parameters, to do the work the way they think is best — and this can be challenging within any call center environment, because of all the monitoring and measuring which goes on to ensure efficiency and effectiveness.You can increase feelings of autonomy by considering the following ideas:
- Within the limits of any regulatory compliance to which your industry is subject, can you encourage people to use their own words and phrasing on customer calls, rather than being constrained by a script?
- Can you be explicitly clear about when and where their individuality can be expressed — for example when explaining product features it’s fine to be creative and persuasive, but not while reading a statutory disclaimer?
- Can they have discretion to make customer service decisions, within certain parameters? For example, you might decide that any qualified agent can instantly authorize refunds up to $50, without requiring escalation, if that’s what it takes to make the customer happy. Not only will this fuel their feelings of autonomy, it will save time, and increase your first call resolution and customer satisfaction metrics.
- In terms of the work itself, can they choose which shifts to book on to? What kind of equipment to use? The Ringover call center software apps can easily run on any desktop or mobile device, so why not let them choose the way they want to work?
Competency is the final element of intrinsic motivation, and this is the feeling that you know how to do your job — that you have everything you need to do it confidently and well. It stems from involvement, from being kept in the loop about company news and policies, the bigger picture, as well as the part they deal with. Role competency can grow from training and onboarding, which conveys product and organizational knowledge, as well as building the relatedness described above. Whether your virtual team is selling or supporting, the more they are confident and assured about the features and benefits of the products in question, they’ll do a better job and feel good doing it.Competence also comes from accessible just-in-time information as well — such as integrating your virtual contact center software with your CRM via Ringover’s extensive native integrations and API tools, so that your agent has instant knowledge of who is calling them. Bonus points here, as customers love it too, when their call gets answered by someone who knows their history and context, and can jump straight in with meaningful conversation rather than asking them to repeat previously shared information.
Hands-on virtual support
While dealing with anything as unpredictable as a customer, it’s impossible to foresee every potential interaction, or the way things can go on a call. Luckily, Ringover’s call center tools enable direct monitoring, even when your customer service agents are working virtually. Supervisors can remotely listen to any call in real time, in order to provide feedback and professional development. This could be done on a random sampling basis for quality assurance, to support a novice agent, or perhaps in response to an agent raising a flag in your remote messaging system, to signify they have a challenging customer on their hands and would appreciate live support.If things are in need of immediate remedy, supervisors also have the option to provide direct ‘whisper’ support to the agent in the moment, helping them to resolve things with the customer and if necessary change the way they’re approaching a conversation. Or in the most extreme circumstances they can take over the call completely, if the agent has lost control of the conversation or cannot respond effectively to an aggressive or unpleasant customer.The tools Ringover provides for these purposes include recording too, because no supervisor can be listening live to every conversation, nor would it be good use of their time. However, if you have a team culture of high psychological safety, an agent can ask for feedback on an interaction they weren’t happy with, and want advice about how they could have handled things differently. Or a listen-back could be triggered by a customer complaint, of course.It doesn’t matter where your agents are working from, their supervision can easily be managed with the same degree of competence and control, as if you were all sitting in a large office building together. And you can plan your training and staffing based on the competencies and capacities assessed and observed through these tools.
Management and measurement in your virtual call center
As important as your human resources are, you’ll want to manage other KPIs within your remote call center carefully too. The good news is that Ringover’s call center software makes it easy to monitor a diverse range of metrics which can inform every aspect of your customer service and support offering, enabling you to run a tight ship that delivers — for your customers, and as a cost center within your enterprise.This is a great reassurance to any call center managers who are unused to managing a remote team, and concerned that their productivity may diminish. By monitoring your call center metrics effectively, you won’t need to worry that your team is watching TV or messing around on company time, and you may well find that they’re more productive and motivated than ever.
Virtual call center metrics that matter
Focusing on a blend of qualitative and quantitative metrics will ensure that your teams and individual agents stay at their peak throughout their shifts, and may include:NPS — knowing your customers are happy and satisfied is the most important thing you can track, and a goal that can unify everyone — because satisfied customers mean good businessFirst call resolution — making sure your agents are doing a thorough and complete job on each call will affect how many queries and tickets can get wrapped up quickly without escalation or delayAverage handle time /call admin time — without the buzz of the phone room, transparently tracking call handle time will help each agent keep focused on the productive aspects of their work, and ensure they spend the greatest part of their shift directly interacting with your customers.Of course, you can measure many more things, but what you choose to focus on really matters, both efficiency and alignment of incentives. So consider not only what you measure, but how you use and share that information, with individuals or groups.
Surveillance and remote agent productivity
The key is to strike the balance between providing motivation, professional guidance, and encouragement — vs the risk of making people feel that they are being micro-managed in their own homes, and measurements carried out for their own sakes.We all know that we raise our game when we have an audience — just look how difficult it is for performers like comedians and sports professionals in the age of corona, having to do their thing without the feedback and energy of a live audience to cheer them on. But as discussed above, the best motivation to perform comes from within, and building a strong company culture and sense of team belonging — despite your physical decentralization — is the best way to ensure that each virtual call center agent is as committed to the metrics as you are.
You can ensure this by connecting effort with reward — commissions and bonuses for sales people, and recognition and appreciation for all, including celebration of excellence. It’s more difficult on remote teams both to catch someone doing brilliant work, and to highlight it to others, but again you can use your team communication channels to share customer feedback and ratings, and make sure that the smaller things get recognized and highlighted as well as the big achievements.It’s also essential to make sure people know why things are being measured in the way they are. You’re not monitoring their calls because you think they’ll lie to your customers or be rude to them, but because you have an external quality standard to maintain. You’re adding up their sales, to see how they contribute to the team target, which has a reward structure associated with it.
The future of the call center is virtual
Provided you approach the design of your virtual call center with the right intentions and ends in mind, you’ll be leading a team of motivated and driven professionals, who enjoy all the flexibility benefits of living and working in the location they choose, while doing interesting and fulfilling work with intuitive and excellent software.It starts by equipping them with the Ringover call center software and tools, to underpin flexible cloud-based professional competence, wherever they are located.
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