This article details the results of the most recent QATC quarterly survey on critical quality assurance and training topics. Over 60 contact center professionals representing a wide variety of operations provided insight regarding moving agents to home working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Number of Agents
The largest number of participants is from call center operations with more than 500 agents. However, the balance is widely dispersed across all ranges. This mix of respondents provides a broad spectrum of call center sizes. Financial, healthcare and “other” have the largest representation but there are participants from a wide variety of industries.
Change in Number of Agents Working from Home
Respondents were asked how the numbers of agents working at home had changed during the pandemic. One-third (34%) indicated that the transition was complete with 100% working from home. Another 57% responded that they had made a significant change/major transition. This shows the quick response to ensure agent safety was wide-spread. Only 9% overall indicated that there had been little or no change and some of that is due to the center employing home agents prior to the pandemic.
Technical Issues Experienced
When asked if the operation experienced technical challenges in the initial transition of agents to work at home, only 14% of the respondents indicated that more than 50% of their agents had problems, while a third reported that less than 10% had issues. However, there certainly is some indication that the fast deployment of home workstations had its challenges including reliable Internet availability for some personnel.
Staff Reaction to Working from Home
Respondents were asked if their agents were agreeable to work from home. Half of the respondents indicated that more than 75% of their agents were agreeable while another 38% thought 50 to 75% were agreeable. It is interesting in matching this result to the SWPP survey this quarter that asked about productivity results where most centers found productivity either the same or improved over pre-pandemic performance. Perhaps there is something to the adage, “Happy agents = happy customers.”
Impact on Attendance
Survey participants were asked how the move to working at home had impacted attendance. While 30% indicated they had experienced no change, over half (54%) indicated that attendance had improved. Any significant reduction in shrinkage has a big effect on the bottom line so this is a welcome impact. Only 8% reported higher absenteeism in the current environment and this could be due to the illness itself.
Impact on Schedule Adherence
Respondents were asked how working at home had impacted agent adherence to their schedules. Once again, about one-third reported no change, but 37% indicated that adherence was better. However, another 30% reported it was worse. This is a mixed result and one that deserves some further study to identify the who and why of these changes. For example, is increased absenteeism more clustered in groups of agents who have children or who care for elderly relatives? Have the absences been due to actual cases of COVID-19? Knowing the most frequent causes may reveal opportunities to work around them with unique schedules or other adjustments.
Impact on Quality Scores
The respondents were asked how the work at home environment had impacted their quality scores. Most (61%) reported that there was no change in the results. However, the remaining responses are somewhat evenly split between better scores and worse. Once again, further study into the who and why would be useful to be able to reward and replicate the improvements and address the challenges of the declines. For example, are the worsening scores coming from agents with poor Internet connections, children who need to be home-schooled during work hours, etc.? Identification of causes could lead to some opportunities to address these unique issues.
Impact on Coaching Sessions
Respondents were asked what the impact of home working had been on coaching. Half (51%) reported that they have the same amount of time for coaching as before and 20% indicated that they have more time for coaching. However, 29% report that they have less time for coaching in the home working environment. Coaching is one of the most important roles of the supervisor/lead agent and anything that interferes with that time should be identified and ameliorated if possible.
Impact on Attrition
Respondents were asked how attrition had changed in the past few months. Two-thirds overall reported either no impact or losing fewer people. However, approximately one-third (31%) reported that they are losing more people lately. This is an important metric that has a significant impact on both performance and cost as every lost agent that must be replaced can cost the center thousands of dollars and loss of performance as the agents becomes fully productive. Analysis of the reasons for losses should be studied to identify what has changed to see if there are adjustments the center can make to address these problems which may be unique to this timeframe. Of course, focusing on why people stay and ensuring that they continue to be satisfied with their jobs is equally important.
Keeping Remote Agents Engaged
The survey respondents were asked what they had found was the most successful technique for keeping remote agents engaged. Continuous communication including face-to-face interactions over tools such as Zoom or Teams were cited frequently along with making sure to add elements of fun and happy hours to share personal experiences. One mentioned a “question of the day” with a gift card prize. Focusing communications on the agent as a person by asking about family, pets, etc. reminds them that they are valued.
This survey provides insight into the impacts of moving agents into a home working environment. In many cases, the results are mixed with some centers finding their world is improving while others are having challenges. These are often new challenges that have not come up before or at least not in large numbers. That suggests some new kinds of analysis will be needed to identify the areas of excellence to be rewarded and replicated along with the problem areas that need to be addressed with new techniques. Surely, we are living in “interesting times.”
We hope you will complete the next survey, which is available here.