Over recent weeks, the media has been full of claims by companies to have successfully moved hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands, of people to work at home. Moving the workforce on this scale is, of course, a significant achievement.

But, when it comes to delivering customer service, are providers and brands really delivering a full service or are they offering a necessary compromise?

Effective, outsourced work-at-home (WAH) customer service is far more than simply moving agents out of the centre. It’s not just about delivering relatively easy services at home, such as email and chat, which can be implemented anywhere with internet access. Work at home is about enabling agents to work fully at home – making and taking phone calls, accessing knowledge bases and other systems available when they were in the contact centre, and continuing team meetings and personal coaching sessions as though the move home hadn’t happened.

For brands, this means their customer service can move to work-at-home without missing a beat. Agents that were previously working in the contact centre plug in at home and continue to provide the full scope of services, just as though they were on site. That’s what the complete WAH set-up looks like.

The providers that already offered full-service WAH were in a great position to extend this as it became clear that in-centre working couldn’t continue without creating a potentially harmful situation for their people or breaching regulations and guidelines. However, it’s become clear that others now have agents at home, but telephony or services aren’t available to them. As a result, moving more to home doesn’t mean that the full range of services can be moved with them.

The result is that brands accept a compromise, either because of their own technology limitations or their partner’s.

And there are more factors affecting success in home-working. Customer service relies on internal communications, training, and coaching, all of which rely on face to face and classroom interaction in the conventional contact centre. Equally, how do managers know what their people are doing and how productive they’re being without line of sight?

Addressing these situations does not require something new as the experience, tools and methods have been refined over many years of managing remote customer service teams.

As businesses start to move back in-centre, work-at-home as a permanent model may seem like less of a priority. But who’s to say that there won’t be another crisis in the future, or a second peak to the current crisis? Businesses have been through a painful period and moved their people home, and have probably made compromises as a result.

Lessons learned from recent experiences, and planning for the future, should create a new model for serving customers. This must consider if brands will accept compromise again in the future, or if they need a model that offers resilience, contingency, and productivity.

SYKES offers a complete, virtual customer service, blending domestic in-centre, work-at-home, near-shore, and off-shore options. To find out more about how we can help you create an efficient, versatile model, please get in touch.

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