Featured Image for the blog: Lead With Empathy and Watch Poor CX Fade: 4 Methods for Workforce Managers to Reconstruct Remote Work With People, not Processes, in Mind

I read an article last night talking about how big tech is handling work during the pandemic, and one line stood out: companies aren’t in any rush to get back to the office. 

By now you know that work (and life) is different than we thought it’d be in the new decade. And, you’ve culled through tips on how to engage remote teams and keep productivity pulsing through your dispersed workforces. 

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But trends tell us that remote work won’t vanish any time soon. And, with several months at home under our belt, burnout will seep into your workforce if you don’t take proper measures. Then, exhaustion will tip the scale to more severe problems – wreaking havoc on the experience your agents deliver to customers and the health of your people. 

So, what else do you need to plan for as remote work continues – in its current state and as you set new workforce standards to fit your company needs?

Contact center leaders and their workforce managers alike must key in on important details to keep customers happy and operations smooth as remote work continues. To help, we’re sharing five tactics you (or your workforce manager) can nail down to shape the future of distributed work.

1. Build-in extra flexibility for agents. 

I’ve been waiting (and waiting) for a few doctor appointments. For the past few months, my appointments have been put on hold to give the healthcare system back much needed time and resources. But as some restrictions lift, so do the filibusters on my appointments. 

I finally got a call from one of the doctors I’ve been on the waitlist for, and she had an opening. The kicker? The opening was the same day she called – in two hours. Luckily, I have a really understanding manager and team who encouraged me to duck out and take care of my health. 

Right now, strive to be one of those managers.  

Certain aspects of life have been put on hold. But, that doesn’t mean we stop living, thinking or feeling. What it does mean, though, is that you need to prepare for off-the-cuff moments. 

Your agents work in shifts based on customer needs, so it’s harder to run to an impromptu appointment. That’s where you come in. Pad agent schedules with extra time, and keep in close communication with your workforce, so you can keep your service level standards high and be the manager your team needs – no matter the circumstances. 

When you build in this kind of flexibility for your team, it will pay off in the outcomes they deliver. Research out of IWG found some 63% of people have a flexible work environment. What’s more, 21% of those report an increase in productivity because of it. For me, getting back from my long-anticipated appointment meant I hunkered down and knocked out my work, with far less stress fogging my brain. 

Need more workforce management strategies to ease the burden on your agents? Jump to our post featuring 6 WFM strategies to keep teams engaged. 


2. Show empathy. 

What’s the fastest way to tank your customer experience? Let a hard-and-fast focus on metrics cloud your view of what’s important – the people at your company and the people they’re helping. 

In a recent HBR article, Patti Sanchez, head of strategy for Durate, Inc., talked on empathy and how it’s the cornerstone for leading through change. 

“Business practices evolve rapidly, but there’s one technique business leaders should always rely on to effectively motivate and lead: empathic communication. Develop and show empathy for everyone involved in your corporate transition, and you’ll lead a team that feels valued, included, and driven to help your initiative succeed.”

– Patti Sanchez, Chief Strategy Officer at Durate, Inc. 

Clearly communicate changes coming down the pipeline for your business. Clue agents in on changes to your workforce, no matter how tough it may be. And, set up-front contracts with your customers. 

If you’re understaffed and buried in interactions, let your customers know wait times will be unruly. And, create options to help your customers communicate in another way. Seek out new channels or add a message to your IVR to let customers know what to expect when they want help. Honesty and candor unlock empathy.  

How else can you improve your customer experience with downtime you find? Bring these 7 projects to your VP of Ops to partner up and kickstart new CX projects, today.


3. Leave room for longer customer interactions in service-level forecasting. 

Data shows, while some industries have declining interaction volume right now, customers who do reach out for help have more complex problems than a few months ago. Not only that, but CCW’s report on the New Standards of Contact Center Performance predicted that customers are looking for more empathy and personal interaction, too. 

“When considering COVID-19’s impact on contact volume, it is also important to look beyond the number itself. As customers navigate a changing world, they will have different preferences, expectations and emotions. In many cases, they will seek more custom and empathetic support.” 

It is imperative for companies to ensure preparedness for this qualitative shift in customer demands. Just because they are fielding fewer chats and calls does not mean the customer experience will be less taxing on their resources.”

– Brian Cantor, CCW 

We don’t have our usual avenues for comradery and socialization. So, it makes sense that when we have to pick up the phone, we ask the person on the line about the weather or their dog. As you (or your workforce manager) forecast staffing needs, plan for longer handle times. Build in time for agents to put customers at ease and encourage emotional connections. Those are the conversations that lead to lasting loyalty

4. Cut clutter out of the WFM process. 

Employee engagement surveys from our friends down the street at Emplify prove that right now, we’re pretty exhausted. At the same time, though, we’re consumed by guilt for feeling this way. After all, we’re working from home, and maybe even clocking a few extra minutes of sleep sans commute. So, we feel guilty for needing some time away. I mean, what ELSE do we have to do? 

All these feelings and thoughts zooming through our brains make it easy to feel overwhelmed. Don’t contribute to the brain clutter. Streamline your processes and tools to bring clarity to agent scheduling and work requirements. 

How do your agents check their schedules, ask for time off, and submit shift requests? And as volume peaks and you dedicate time to intraday management, how do your agents find out about changes to their schedules? Do they sift through spreadsheets and multiple screens? Or, do you, manager, have a way to proactively notify your workforce that they can’t take their scheduled lunch break at noon because too many customers are stacked in the queue? 

You’re not in-office to communicate changes on the fly, so the tools you use need to add clarity, not confusion. Declutter your WFM process and eliminate barriers for agents to get the information they need, when they need it. 

Learn 7 more ways you can improve as a manager for your workforce and elevate the agent experience. Get real about coaching your contact center teams with these methods.