Have you noticed how many companies and senior executives are now experts in building a work from home strategy? If you went back to the beginning of March this year then almost every major Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company had almost all their employees working in contact centers. Very few were managing significant numbers of work from home agents (WFH). According to Malcolm Gladwell it takes 10.000 hours of individual practice to become an expert at anything. Have those 320 business hours since the 1st of March really made everybody an expert?
There is an explosion of all this advice and unfortunately, most of it is just clutter. None of them have become experts overnight. I noticed Tony Won from Epic Games blogging on exactly the same subject. Our company has been on a work-from-home journey for almost two decades now, so we really have seen how it works – 100% of 5CA’s agent base permanently works from home.
But there are some industries out there that are desperate to ramp up their customer support because of the coronavirus pandemic and naturally they need to get people on board that can work from home. Take a look at the gaming industry or the companies offering streamed entertainment, like Netflix and Disney+. E-commerce is also booming. Amazon is about to announce its recent profits and analysts are predicting a huge increase as the company presently has revenue above $10,000 every second.
If you think about it, most retailers with a strong e-commerce platform are facing Black Friday every single day right now. Ever since the first week of March, when most of the international lockdowns and quarantines went into effect, it has been a daily onslaught. These companies are in hyper-mode and it will not end until the lockdowns are eased, and some shoppers return to regular stores.
My advice to anyone ramping up their ability to work from home is to think carefully about the agents. It’s just about “finding the right people”, our thought when we first started the work from home model. Our experiences of the past 20 years have shown we are wrong, and we are still learning every day. You need to change the usual processes used for hiring, onboarding, and engagement. Ensure you are hiring people who really want to work from home and do not feel that they are being forced to work this way. Focus much more on domain knowledge rather than formal degrees. For example, if you are ramping up a team that supports game players then
make sure that you are only hiring people into the team that care about that game – they need to also be fans.
You also need to analyze your budget. You cannot seriously scale up on the same budget as before, but make sure that you have the right data. Your decisions around the team need to be data-driven, not just gut feeling.
Our approach to hiring the right people has been different from most of the other BPO companies for a long time. We hire from anywhere so we know that we can support any language in any location. Our approach also allows us to raise the bar on recruitment. We do not need to build a contact center and then hire only those within commuting distance. Not only can we widen the net and just choose the best, but when we need to ramp up quickly it is possible because we don’t have to worry about office space.
Many of these industries that are currently in hyper-mode will calm down eventually, but it will be interesting to see how some consumer behaviors remain permanent. Many customers with no experience of e-commerce will have tried it in the past month and I expect many will continue using it long after the crisis is over.
If you want your customer service team to be resilient in and after this crisis then they need to be distributed and working from home.
Photo by Mike Mozart licensed under Creative Commons.