Hiring, Onboarding, and Engagement of Work-at-home Agents

Work at home has become a pervasive reality. Many businesses across the globe switched to a remote mode for who knows how long. A pandemic made them rethink their hiring, onboarding, and engagement strategies. We’ve tried to briefly outline what steps your contact center should take to reduce employee turnover while working with remote agents.

Start With a Playbook

Create a set of guidelines for all your contact center staff, covering the different aspects of the working process. This playbook should contain detailed descriptions of procedures, internal practices, standards, especially those of customer service. It is very important for your work-at-home agents to have detailed instructions if some difficulties arise because it is not always possible to get an instant response from a manager. A detailed guideline, conversation scripts, and a comprehensive knowledge base will allow you to maintain high-value interactions with customers even working at home.

Hiring Practices

Create an agent’s persona. WAH mode gives your call center some benefits in hiring as well. First of all, it is a larger pool of candidates. You aren’t bound by your city, state, or even your country. For instance, if your company’s headquarters is in San Francisco, you can hire agents from Louisiana, where the cost of living is lower. However, it’s not the only benefit. Remote work allows your company not only to cut back on salaries but also to be more selective and specific while creating your hiring profiles. Since your talent pool isn’t limited to your region, defining your ideal agent is way more easier. 

Update all job descriptions. Work at home requires reviewing all job descriptions to reflect all changes in job responsibilities, requirements, and duties. All these documents have to follow guidelines from your WAH playbook. 

Make the interview process multi-level. It will help you to limit the time required for hiring personnel. In the first level, you can use some competency-based assessment tools to test if your candidate has the necessary skills and a high level of motivation. The second level is a behavior-focused interview where your recruiters ask some behavioral questions to understand how the candidate responds to a specific workplace situation. And the last, third level is when your prospective employee is interviewed in each of the channels they will be supporting.

Perform thorough background checks on prospects who pass the interview process. Pre-employment screening has always been an important part of hiring but with remote work, it is even more important. You hire the agents whom you may never meet in person but who will have a significant influence on your company’s customer experience. So your recruiters have to check their background as thoroughly as possible. 

Onboarding Practices

Create a comprehensive training program. As we’ve already mentioned, it is not always possible for your agents to have an instant response from supervisors while working from home. The same is true for training. So your call center training program has to be as detailed as possible. It is also worth taking the following steps:

  • hire a specialist to create training content and at least one trainer who will deliver training sessions either live (via video) or recorded.
  • include quizzes and/or assessments to measure training efficacy and skill competencies
  • include practice sessions
  • use eLearning platforms (for example, AcademyOcean) to automate and manage the training process

Use a knowledge management solution. Knowledge management software helps information to become knowledge. One of its features is the possibility to create a knowledge base that can be both internally and publicly available. It is no doubt that such a base can be very helpful for newbies during onboarding, especially when they are working from home. It may become your corporate Google, where they will easily find all the necessary information within seconds. 

Practice coaching with live call monitoring. Constant coaching is always important but with remote agents, it matters even more. Due to communication difficulties, an agent onboarding lasts here longer than usual. Using live call monitoring, your supervisors can coach your agents on the spot with the help of a call whispering mode. Also, they can define mistakes using hidden mode and give feedback to an agent right after the conversation. 

Engagement Practices

Set up online coffee chats. As well as in the office, you need to introduce your newbies to the team they’ll be working with. Organize 1:1 online coffee chat for a WAH agent and team. It will help them to establish more personal contact than during texting in some messenger. Such informal chats will also be good to organize from time to time later.

Create a 'Guide to You'. In Close, new hires need to fill out a ‘Guide to You’. It is a small, informal questionnaire where newbies have to tell about themselves, answering questions like ‘What are your quirks?’, ‘How can people earn an extra gold star with you?’, ‘What qualities do you particularly dislike in people who work with you?’ etc. These ‘guides’ are stored in a corporate wiki and all employees have access to them. It allows them to get to know their team better, as well as the whole company.

Use collaboration tools. Use software that allows screen sharing, file sharing, text, chat, task tracking, and shared calendars. For example, you can use Slack for messaging and file sharing, Zoom for meetings, Trello for tracking tasks, and so on. Each of these tools not only improves communication in WAH mode but also helps to keep your remote team members engaged. Such virtual environments enable them to feel that they belong to one team.

Leverage technology to remove repetitive tasks and keep your agents motivated. There are many repetitive tasks agents have to do: answer simple customer queries, dial numbers manually, and so on. Such monotonous jobs essentially kill an agent’s motivation and engagement. Technology can be your salvor in this respect, freeing up your employees’ time for more serious tasks and keeping them motivated. Let us consider three tools that may help you.

  • The Interactive Voice Response system (IVR) from Voiptime Cloud will give your customers information that does not require agents’ involvement (order status, delivery check, etc), identify callers based on information from CRM, and route them to the appropriate agents. 
  • Virtual assistants or self-service chatbots. Consider implementing a chatbot module in your web chat solution. Chatbots can answer simple questions, route customers through your website, or to the agents if necessary. These self-service systems can work 24/7 thus extending your business hours. 
  • Predictive dialer. This software allows you to get rid of manual dialing and reduce your agents’ idle time. It starts dialing one entry for each free agent. The dialer detects answering machines, filters them out, and connects agents with live calls. With the help of intelligent algorithms and collected statistics, a predictive dialer can estimate when each agent should be finishing a call and dial the next number.
  • Automated handling of customer complaints. Voiptime Cloud call center solution allows your agents to process customer complaints automatically. They fill out a form following a template and then it is automatically sent to the appropriate manager. It is a real time-saver for your agents because they don’t need to write to this person or department about the complaint. 

Give continuous feedback. Working at home, your agents need to know how you assess their work even more than in the office. So give them feedback as often as you can. Do not be afraid to overcommunicate. In remote mode, excess of communication is better than a lack of feedback. With our cloud-based solution, you can create scorecards using your own assessment criteria. Grade your agents’ performance from 0 to 100 and comment on what they have to improve. Voiptime Cloud will help you to provide your employees with feedback they need so desperately. A call recording feature in our call center software will also help your managers to select samples of successful and unsuccessful calls that can be used for coaching. 

Organize team-building events. It may be a talent show, a virtual game night, or even a guided meditation. Using video conferencing tools, you can organize everything that will enable you to maintain team spirit and keep your remote agents engaged. 

Conclusion

As you can see, hiring, onboarding, and engagement of work-at-home agents require more effort from your management. You should rethink your strategies in these fields, paying special attention to communication differences. However, the good news is that remote mode expands your pool of candidates and allows you to be more selective. 

To learn more about remote team management, read our article Scattered but Connected: How to Manage a Remote Call Center Team.

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