All Posts By

Convoso

Keeping It Compliant: Legal Aspects of Running a Virtual Outbound Call Center

By | Work From Home Agents, WFH Webinar Series, TCPA and Compliance | No Comments
Work From Home Webinar Series.

Convoso teamed up with attorneys Michele Shuster and Lisa Messner of Mac Murray & Shuster for a 30 minute presentation in this second of our popular Work From Home [WFH] webinar series. Over 100 people tuned in to learn about legal considerations of operating a remote call center.* 

Here you’ll find some of the essential points covered in the presentation, hosted by Convoso CEO Nima Hakimi, to help keep your virtual call center operation legally compliant. Check out the webinar in the video below for details not covered in this summary.

[If you missed our first webinar on setting up a WFH call center and managing the productivity of remote agents, you can read the summary and watch the video in our blog.]

Develop a Remote Work Plan

 

Remote work is here to stay.

The work from home model represents cost-savings and flexibility in the hiring pool. For many call centers, a remote operation may be the new normal. It’s time now, if you weren’t doing it before, to give thought and consideration to a comprehensive set of policies and procedures. 

Know key points of new legislation. Tax credits for two weeks paid sick leave.

One of the first things employers need to do is familiarize themselves with the newly-passed Families First Coronavirus Act, an amendment to the existing Family Medical Leave Act [FMLA]. Employers with fewer than 50 employees must provide two weeks’ worth of paid sick leave if employees are unable to work because they’re subject to quarantine or isolation, are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, are caring for someone who is in quarantine or isolation, and/or have children in schools that have closed. Some hardship exemptions exist for companies with fewer than 30 employees.

Employers also receive tax credits to offset the costs of providing this paid leave. 

Increases in unemployment benefits.

Extending the unemployment benefits can be very helpful when companies want to keep their employees, but need to temporarily cut staff by layoffs or furlough. 

Record Hours Worked. Track via dialer, keep records 3 years.

It’s the employer’s legal obligation to track the time and the hours employees are working. In some states, meal periods are mandatory. For a remote call center, your employees may track time through a dialer system. Training is essential to make sure they understand how to track their time accurately, so they’re not working off the clock, or logging hours for work when they’re not working. Keep time records a minimum of three years.

“In terms of policies, procedures, privacy, all those things, what you need to do from an employment standpoint is training, training, training. And make sure your employees understand what their guidelines are and what that obligation looks like.” —Lisa Messner

 

When Employees Return to the Office

Communicate On-site Safety Measures

Implement precautions with masks, handwashing stations, hand sanitizing for employees so they feel safe. 

Screenings and Privacy

You need to implement some type of screening method. Keep in mind that the employees have privacy protections covered by  The Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA] and/or state disability discrimination statutes.

Handling Sick Employees

Employees who get sick should be sent home, and instructed not to return until they’re symptom-free for at least 24 hours. Privacy issues apply in terms of identity disclosure. Should the returning employee need some kind of accommodation, for example more frequent breaks for oxygen due to post respiratory illness, the employer is under obligation to provide that accommodation in accordance with the ADA. 

Downsizing

If you should need to downsize employees as your operation returns to the office, make sure you document the decisions through measurable and objective standards, such as seniority or quantifiable performance issues.

 

Risk Assessment – Privacy & Compliance

A risk assessment is critical. It reveals privacy concerns you should have about your remote call center operation. Take a look at the different regulations imposing privacy restrictions (e.g., GDPR, HIPAA, GLBA, other consumer protection laws) and what security measures are considered adequate to protect the privacy of sensitive consumer information.  

“You have to look at what the risk type is. Is it that we’d be violating the law? Is it that if we had some type of privacy breach that it would damage our reputation? Are we concerned about identity theft? Is it trade secrets? You have to analyze.” —Lisa Messner, Parter, MacMurray & Shuster

Collecting Information

What are your business objectives for collecting information? Ask strategic questions about what information you collect and why. And then review what controls you have in place, which are still needed based on the requirements of the laws, and document your conclusions. 

Tech Concerns

Assess what kind of controls or lack of controls are in the home. Consider internet connection/WiFi, firewalls, data encryption, and use of personal computers/devices, which can pose an increased risk of ransomware, malware and other security vulnerabilities. 

Home Environment

Protect data from inadvertent access of others in the home environment, including overheard phone conversations by people and personal assistant devices such as Alexa, Google Home & Siri. Documents left out in public areas of the home or put on unsecured removable media (e.g., flash drives, CDs, DVDs), as well as not adhering to systems such as a Clean Desk policy can also be an issue. Training will be critical here.

Mitigation Steps

Determine what can be done to mitigate the risks identified by your risk assessment, and develop a comprehensive set of policies and procedures. Establish minimum security requirements like prohibiting the use of public WiFi, encrypting whole drives, using work-issued devices instead of personal devices, and maintaining robust IT assistance so employees don’t self help. 

Be sure to document the solutions, policies, and procedures you establish.

“Your best line of defense to prevent data breaches and other privacy breaches that can be very costly both in terms of reputation and statutory fines is to make sure you’re training your agents so that they understand where the vulnerabilities are.” — Michele Shuster

TCPA Violations

You need to do the same level of risk analysis and mitigation for TCPA compliance as you do for privacy, with documented and defendable positions for all of your campaigns.

Affidavits for WFH Agents  

You’ll need to have written agreements with agents you’re allowing to work at home. Those agreements should specify what type of things can and cannot be done in the work at home environment. You need to document everything from IT controls to the types of action that can be taken on the computer. Agents working from home need to sign that they have read and understood the policies, and that the work at home situation is a privilege and not a right and can be revoked at any time.

 

Compliance Safeguards Your Dialer Should Be Providing

Never has it been more important to have technological support to make sure you’re compliant. Whether it’s scrubbing against Do Not Call lists, conforming to individual  state laws, applying tools to avoid over-dialing, or protecting your caller ID reputation.

State-by-State Compliance

Every state has different requirements. There are state-specific disclosures and restricted call times, days of the week, and specific holidays. For example, your dialer should not be making a call to anyone in Alabama on the first Monday in June because it’s Jefferson Davis Day. In some states, the agent needs to give their full name, or their address, while in others, they can’t rebuttal. 

You want to be sure your dialer is up-to-date with all the rules. As an example, in response to Covid-19, New York now has rules restricting calls if you don’t have an existing business relationship. 

“I can’t imagine how an agent can remember which disclosures to use, especially with changes going on all the time. At Convoso we implement smart scripting capability which, based on recognizing the state that the call is either coming from or going out to, displays the appropriate disclosures into the script.” —Nima Hakimi, CEO

Download our STATE BY STATE CALLING RESTRICTIONS quick reference chart, courtesy of MacMurray & Shuster.

 

Contact Center Compliance Solutions

Convoso offers a contact center solution that’s proactive around helping you to stay compliant with a number of compliance-focused features, such as scrubbing against an internal Do Not Call list, more advanced lead redial/recycle logic to maximize contact rates while making sure that you’re not overdialing your leads, and integration with third-party compliance solutions such as ActiveProspect, TrustedForm, or Jornaya. 

 

Q&A

The question and answer period continued for another 15 minutes following the 30-minute webinar presentation. Be sure to listen to the whole webinar to hear even more information on this topic as the attorneys answer participant questions.

 

Watch the webinar presentation in this video

About Our Speakers

Michele Shuster is a founding partner of Mac Murray & Shuster and former Chief of the Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section. 

  • Advises highly regulated businesses on a wide range of privacy, advertising, and other consumer protection issues. 
  • Deep background in the teleservices industry
  • Represents clients in matters before federal / state regulatory agencies, issues legal opinions on outbound dialing solutions, and conducts telemarketing compliance audits.   

Lisa Messner is a partner at Mac Murray & Shuster, where she leads the firm’s litigation practice area. 

  • Focus on consumer protection and privacy laws and regulations.
  • Has successfully defended highly-regulated businesses of all sizes in class actions, complex commercial litigation, and government enforcement actions.
*Nothing in this webinar or summary is meant to convey legal advice. You should consult an attorney for legal guidance on compliance matters.

 

At Convoso, we’ve supported remote call centers for many years. To learn more about transitioning traditional call centers of 10 seats of more to remote operations, request a demo or call 888-456-5454.

Follow us on LinkedIn to be the first to know about our upcoming e-book and webinars.

How to Effectively Operate A Work From Home Call Center

By | Work From Home Agents, WFH Webinar Series | No Comments
Work From Home Webinar Series.

In this popular webinar, participants learned about best practices, technology, and tools for managing productivity of remote agents from call center expert Heather Griffin, SVP Inside Sales at Momentum Solar, and Chief Product Officer at Convoso, Bobby Hakimi.

You’ll find the essential points covered in the Work from Home (WFH) webinar in the summary below. Your call center team can thrive with a remote operation that supports a productive at-home workforce.

Watch the video to get the most from the info-packed 30-minute presentation dedicated to lead generation virtual call centers. 

 

 

“Over the last few weeks we’ve been busy working with call center owners on their transition to work from home agents. The good news is, it’s simpler than you think.” —Bobby Hakimi

 

Technical Requirements for a Work from Home Call Center

The most basic requirements to get your agents set up with a virtual dialer are a computer, a headset, and a stable internet connection.

Work From Home Call Center Hardware

WFH COMPUTER

Recommended: Provide at-home agents with laptops or Chromebooks with built-in webcams, that are dedicated to work and dialing. 

Not recommended: Personal devices, due to potential security concerns, as well as the inability to confirm technical specs and capacity to complete work-related tasks.

WFH HEADSET

Recommended: Remote agents need a headset compatible with your dialer system, preferably with echo-cancellation built into the microphone for the best possible call quality.

Not recommended: Earbuds, hand held phone, speaker phone.

Virtual Call Center Software

Recommended: A remote call center operation definitely needs a web-supported SaaS dialer platform. Choose a browser-based dialer with multiple outbound dialing modes, prioritization for inbound dialing, and built-in dynamic scripting. This will get your agents up and running more quickly and help improve quality. Convoso has these capabilities and more, and was built with remote call centers in mind—don’t hesitate to ask us if you have questions. 

Not recommended: Your agents shouldn’t have to worry about installing or updating software on their computers.

Connectivity for At-Home Call Center Employees

Recommended: A wired ethernet connection. Few things are more important to the remote call center than a reliable internet connection. Be sure to provide clear instructions to remote agents on how to connect their computer to an ethernet cable.

Less recommended: WiFi connection. 

 

Best Practices for Managing Productivity of a Work from Home Call Center

Managing at-home call center agents effectively means providing support that keeps them connected with good communication, accountable to productivity goals, and positively motivated with employee engagement. 

Communication best practices for your remote team

Hearing the voice of leadership give clear direction and guidance, and seeing familiar faces makes a big difference in keeping your WFH agents motivated.

  • Hold a brief daily company and/or team meeting led by a member of leadership. Use this opportunity to communicate essential company updates, events, goals, and shoutouts through video conference technology [eg, Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Team, Slack] to connect the call center team with leadership and with one another.
  • Instant messaging/chat is your go-to tool for individual and small group communication throughout the day. Broadcast chat helps leadership get out quick messages to the remote team. 
  • One-on-one meetings, preferably via webcam, give supervisors and employees the opportunity to communicate clearly about goals, historical performance, and career growth and progression. “You should make it a 360 and really hear back from the employee and what they want to see in the business. This should happen at least once a month, if not twice a month, or weekly if possible.”
  • Email is best for high-level communication, especially as a follow-up to your daily team meeting. When agents are dialing, they’re typically not checking their email—nor do you want them to. So reserve email for communication that isn’t time sensitive.
  • Have a remote communication plan for handling call escalations. Is an escalation now going to be taken as a call back? Or are you going to transfer the call to a supervisor? What if the supervisor’s not available?

“Make sure you have a really clear path for all of your workflows when you move to remote.”
—Heather Griffin

 

Accountability tools when managing work from home agents

Your agents are now working from home. So the question is, how are you going to monitor their time and productivity? You need tools that provide real time reporting and historical analytics.

“Right now, we’ve got about 400 agents working remotely from home, and we are able to see what they’re doing at any time.” —Heather Griffin

 

Real Time Reporting Tools

You want a dialer system that shows in real time what’s happening with your at-home agents, with a clear dashboard to monitor every employee and their status. Who’s on a dead call, on not-ready or pause, how many calls are active, and how many agents are available. Also, important to watch in real time are your abandonment rates, if you’re dropping calls, your dial speed, and if you’re running out of data. A good system will also automatically email production reports at regular intervals.

Quality Assurance Monitoring and Scoring Software

With real time reporting you may be able to see when remote agents are on calls. What you can’t see is the quality of the call. How do you ensure that agents stay on script, follow compliance regulations for the state they’re dialing, and aren’t losing their temper with customers? New software technology offers automated QA on 100% of calls. 

Dynamic Scripting and State Filters

When calling different states, it’s critical to have customizable filters so you can comply with various state, and even city, regulations. The same business may also have a different sales approach in one region over another and use different scripts to reflect that. 

 

Historical Reporting of Remote Agent Performance

In contrast to real time reporting, historical reports are metrics to analyze the next day or for whatever period you want to track trends. Understand how at-home employee paid time is spent, agent performance, and how your lists are converting [or not!].

Time Clock Monitoring

Tracking productive agent time becomes particularly critical when operating a remote call center, in order to ensure that agents are on-task during their scheduled hours. In some cases, agents might clock in to get paid, and go on to other activities before they actually clock into the dialer. By checking daily, managers also see if this happens on breaks and lunch.

Disposition and Pause Time Reporting

Virtual call center managers should be tracking employee utilization, which is the percentage of the time you’re paying an employee that they’re on a workable status. Work from home agents should aim for a utilization of 80% talk time (waiting for a call or talking on a call), and a pause and dispo time of 20%. Heather says, “This is a standard report that’s incredibly imperative and I don’t see it happen at every call center.”

Agent Performance Reporting

A standard report showing number of calls taken, number of sales, some conversions like percentage of sales to data. and so on.

List Conversion Report 

“You need this report more than you probably know. Having a system capable of doing this kind of reporting is so incredibly important. It’s going to show you who you’re talking to, and is it working.” —Heather Griffin

The List Conversion Report gives you a quick Profit-Loss statement for your call center lists. It combines revenue and billable hours, and gives an overall profit-loss for the report period you run. Heather says, “I can see if a list is burnt because our contact rates are super low. I can see a list that’s converting. And more importantly, I can turn off lists where we talked to a lot of people and it didn’t result in sales.”

Some key information available in the List Conversion Report:

  • Highly customizable to how you’d like to see the metrics. Edit by a 15 minute period, by 30 minute, by an hour, by last month, by the whole year.
  • How many leads dialed and how many leads actually got on the phone
  • Contact rate 
  • Number of sales
  • Transfer rate 

Heather sums up the importance of knowing your remote call center’s profitability. “Opportunity costs are our biggest costs as call center owners. We’ve got payroll, we’ve got overhead, we’ve got telephony. So if I’m spending a long time talking to a lot of people and it’s not resulting in sales, then I’m wasting a lot of payroll.”

 

Employee Engagement for the at-home call center agent

“There’s so much great technology out there. It can alert us and catch bad behavior. It can tell us who our top performers are. However, especially in this moment of uncertainty and fear, it’s even more powerful to remind yourselves that as leaders, as managers, for ultimately all people, employee engagement is key to a successful remote call center.” —Heather Griffin

When you operate a physical call center, there’s an audible bustle and energy that comes from having many agents in one place, working together toward the same goal. While working from home is different, there are many ways to create positive connections with shared activities that continue to build a relationship.

Besides the daily meetings mentioned earlier, make sure there’s a way to recognize people. Show leaderboards, provide spiffs, and offer loads of public praise and acknowledgement whenever you get the opportunity.

You can use webcam meeting tools to encourage recreational interaction for your team with games, virtual happy hour, trivia night, celebrating birthdays, and so much more.

“Finding ways to have games and virtual meetups is a really fun thing to do and the employees really like it…I can’t emphasize enough how much the cameras make a big difference.” —Heather Griffin

 

Training of new at-home agents

Onboarding for the remote call center operation means taking advantage of eLearning programs, sharing of slide presentations over Zoom or other platforms, roleplaying over webcam, and other methods. 

Career Progression – the path to retention

Make sure your call center agents know specifically what the steps are to progress in their jobs. This gives them incentive to focus on achieving their goals. Heather says, “If you don’t have a formalized career progression program, you need one for remote working. It’s monotonous, repetitive, you never get out of your pajamas, you’re always in the same cycle. In my career progression programs, it’s very clear. If you’re here for six months and you meet these expectations, you’re eligible for a lead training program. And that gives people hope, and it helps with retention.”

Compensation plans should offer incentive rewards targeting behaviors where you’re seeking improvement, based not only on productivity metrics, but also QA and utilization scores.

 

A Future Vision for Call Centers

In response to a question at the end of the webinar about what might happen to call center remote operations when things are back to normal, Heather says:

“I’ve always thought this is where we’d be going. We’ve been building technology around remote call centers for a long time. Now that we’re seeing how effectively it can be done, I certainly think that this will change the landscape. I genuinely think that a lot of call centers won’t go back into the office.”

The uncertainty and difficulty caused by the COVID-19 outbreak has forced all industries to get creative in order to remain competitive. Call centers are no exception. We admire the commitment of our call center customers to maintain business continuity and keep their agents employed. 

Work from home call center operations are discovering new ways of managing productivity and driving profits. Hiring remote agents expands the talent pool and geographic options. And, working at home offers flexibility and opportunity for modern employees, especially Millennials and Gen Z. 

At Convoso, we’ve supported remote call centers for many years. To learn more about transitioning traditional call centers of 10 seats of more to remote operations, request a demo or call 888-456-5454. 

 

Watch the webinar presentation in the video below.

 

 

Follow us on LinkedIn to be the first to know about our upcoming e-book and webinars.