Call Centers Go Home: Successfully Managing Remote Front Line Agents

First, some bragging rights: we’re early adopters. Ted Turner once said “I was cable before cable was cool.” In a similar vein, CSR went virtual before virtual was cool – and it wasn’t nearly as seamless from a technology standpoint as remote agent systems are today.

Remote Agents: Tech-Enabled Distance Employees

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At the heart of the movement away from a brick-and-mortar, centralized workplace (millennials rejoice!) is technology. Its role in creating a vast ‘distant employee economy’ has been critical.

Remote or virtual call center agents are an entirely new way of thinking about the workplace. Perhaps surprisingly, managing remote agents can be very similar to managing brick-and-mortar call center agents – with the caution that successfully managing remote front line agents does demand some additional diligence.

Here’s some advice for call centers working with virtual agents:

  • Manage Diligently.
    It is generally acceptable to use similar management techniques as you would in a physical call center facility (depending, of course, on what those techniques are). The one difference with a virtual team? You’ll want to be a touch more diligent in measuring performance and taking immediate action.Progress reports for agents (as well as managers and supervisors) should be compiled and published (or distributed) on a regular and frequentFor many companies, this will likely amount to shorter intervals between both performance measurements and remote agent evaluations.
  • Build Community.
    It’s even more important to create a sense of community among remote agents. Call center managers and supervisors can foster team cohesion by hosting regular team meetings to discuss the project and/or calibrate if needed.It’s best to use a video-capable service such as Skype, so team members can see each other. Supervisors should let the virtual staff know that they are part of a team with client deliverables as the objective, and that their contribution means something to the other team members, the client and the Company.
  • Use Top-Notch Technology.
    As I mentioned above, it’s important for supervisors to be a bit more diligent in their oversight of remote agents. Having the right technology is critical toremote front line oversight. Today’s technology makes it much easier to quality control the work as it happens, in or near real-time. Today’s systems include automated persona-based performance portals and speech analytics, which help automate the agent feedback process.
  • Supervise Supervisors & Manage Managers
    Supervisors and managers have to be organized, self-directed and review their team’s work on a daily basis. With remote staff, clear, understandable communication is even more important than usual (and it’s always very important!). Supervisors and managers need to be clear on their requirements and insure that the agents follow through on the instructions. As always, responsibility flows uphill – management also needs to diligently monitor the supervisors.

Managing remote call center agents poses some unusual challenges – most of which can be addressed by today’s technology. But it also requires deft hands-on supervision capable of frequent, positive oversight while simultaneously building a cohesive team.

Does your Company use virtual agents? What has been your experience?