Working from home and flexible work arrangements had been steadily on the rise in recent years. But the disruption resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust many call centers into a sudden, forced transition to virtual operations.
Even as restrictions lessen in certain areas, many call centers are not going back to the “old” in-person model. Instead, many call center owners and managers now see that the new way of working not only works, but that the productivity of their agents and operations can be effectively managed or even improved.
That’s why in 2022 and beyond, the trend toward running virtual call centers—or a compromise hybrid model—is no longer a stopgap solution. It’s something that’s here to stay and something that can offer a number of advantages.
Of course, for even the most seasoned call center managers and teams, the WFH call center presents unique challenges even as it offers exciting possibilities. In this guide to navigating the hybrid or virtual call center for your sales and lead generation team, we’ll cover:
- Why working remotely is here to stay
- The benefits of managing a virtual call center
- How to equip your virtual call center
- How to keep your virtual call center productive and connected
- Ensuring that your WFH call center remains compliant
What is a virtual call center?
Before we jump into our look at the virtual call center landscape in 2022, let’s get on the same page.
To clarify: A virtual call center is simply a call center operation whose employees are spread across multiple locations. Virtual call center agents and managers may work remotely 100% of the time, or their business may encompass a mix of on-site and WFH employees. In either case, cloud-based dialer software is the glue that binds all the distributed workers at an outbound virtual call center together. When your business uses a cloud-based solution, all that’s required is a reliable internet connection and computer—but more on that later.
Why working remotely is here to stay
What factors are driving the popularity and persistence of this virtual call center model? For starters, many have learned, or are learning, that this is the way they prefer to work. Even before the pandemic, the Millennial generation—which now accounts for the largest share of the overall workforce—preferred the flexibility of remote work to the old ways of the office and cubicle.
In fact, in one study, 68% of millennial job seekers stated that an employer offering a work-from-home option would greatly increase their interest. What’s more, many who get a taste of the WFH life aren’t willing to give it up—and, in turn, the word about how great remote work is seems to travel fast: Another survey found that 90% of remote workers polled wouldn’t return to office work, while 94% said they would encourage others to find remote work, too.
For call center expert and veteran Heather Griffin, the trend has been an unsurprising one. “I always thought this is where we were going,” she said. “Now that we’re seeing how effectively it can be done, I think it’s going to change the landscape.” Because it’s not just the flexibility that the workforce prefers. Agents and managers alike are finding that the work from home environment can unlock new efficiencies and levels of productivity – the past year gave a bit of proof of concept for those who might have been reluctant about its feasibility in the past.
In fact, research by Owl Labs found that 90% of respondents are as productive or more so working from home as they are in the office. But, as we’ll see, that’s just one of the benefits that can come from the virtual model.
The Benefits of Managing a Virtual Outbound Call Center
To some, it might not be all that surprising that—so long as outbound call center teams can maintain similar levels of productivity—the work-from-home model has proven to be successful for so many. After all, it’s pretty intuitive, right? By moving to a virtual operation, call center businesses can:
- Cut down on expensive office space costs
- Build their teams from a broader pool of agent talent
- Function with fewer geographic restrictions
- Scale their growing operations more quickly
These benefits that organizations are realizing frequently extend to the sales and lead generation agents making all of those calls on a daily basis in an outbound operation. Convoso customer George Mueller, VP of Sales at NextGen Leads, noted that after switching to remote at the beginning of the pandemic back in March 2020, they saw an increase in productivity.
Perhaps this ought to be as unsurprising as those organizational efficiencies described above. After all, the absence of a commute, a better work-life balance, and an increase in flexibility are all benefits that call center workers pay back into operations with increased productivity and efficiency.
How to Equip Your Virtual Call Center
Of course, reaping the rewards of these benefits isn’t as simple as snapping your fingers. There are no magic words you can say to suddenly enjoy a high-performing work-from-home call center. But with the right support and know-how you can rapidly increase the time that it takes to get there. As Convoso Chief Product Officer Bobby Hakimi says about transitioning to a virtual call center: “It’s simpler than you think.”
So, to adapt to the trend of going remote or incorporating a hybrid model, learn the must-haves and follow WFH call center best practices.
Building the lead gen call center of the future starts with making sure your employees have the workstation and materials they need to succeed.
Equipment Fit for the Job
Start with outfitting your staff with the right hardware. This means first providing them with the right computer. Whether a laptop or Chromebook, agents should have dedicated work devices that offer the technical specs, capacity, and features required by your dialer and the scope of your operations.
Avoid a situation where your agents are working on their own personal devices: This can not only open your business to additional security vulnerabilities but lead to inconsistent experiences for your agents and your customers.
Agents also need a quality headset that’s compatible with your dialer system. Knowing that your agents have the right hands-free setup can help your team remain as productive as possible and avoid call-quality issues that lose leads.
Having the best technology possible is also something that can attract and retain the best team members in the first place. 93% of millennials say that up-to-date technology is a major factor in deciding where to work. The same goes for the next generation in line for employment: 91% of Gen-Z workers said that technological sophistication (or lack thereof) would impact their interest in working for a company.
The Right Connectivity
Another critical element of ensuring continuity and quality is a reliable internet connection. Provide support to ensure that your entire team has access to a strong connection at home—and knows how to make sure it’s running as fast as it can. As part of your onboarding information, include instructions on how agents working from home can connect their computer to an ethernet cable and attain the highest speeds for both upload and download.
Super-Charged Cloud-Based Software
With a cloud-based solution, agents and managers won’t need to worry about the installation and updates that downloadable software requires. Opt for a browser-based SaaS dialer platform like Convoso. With a web-supported solution, your agents will have everything they need in one easy-to-access place, and managers will have the data analytics and agent performance monitoring they require as well.
How to Keep Your Virtual Call Center Productive and Connected
Virtual call centers don’t just require any old browser-based dialing solution, though. The best solutions are ready with a suite of tools and features that support all of the tasks in a work day.
Tools to Drive Agent Efficiency, Productivity, and Morale
Choose a dialer that provides an automated, streamlined workflow and saves your agents time as they are completing their calls and tasks. As with on-site call center operations, it’s all about keeping your remote agents in a rhythm and moving seamlessly from call to call. When selecting a dialing solution, look for agent efficiency catalyzing features and tools like the following:
- Dynamic Scripting: Get your agents through conversations with the lead information and scripted path they need to meaningfully connect with customers and effectively qualify leads, while meeting the various state compliance regulations.
- Customizable Dashboards: Your dialer managers need a user-friendly front-end that automates the number crunching and allows them to get all of the actionable metrics in real time so they can make strategic decisions throughout the day. They need to be able to pull in KPIs around agents, lists, and leads relevant to your business goals.
- Workflow Dialing: Use automated workflows to increase contact rates and keep sales and lead gen agents engaged. Connect with leads at the right times without overdialing, by tailoring dial schedules to each lead based on CRM and call history, and avoiding call predictability.
Underlying all these helpful tools is automation, an absolutely essential facet of any future virtual call center operation. Supporting your agents with call center automation saves them from the tedious and time-consuming tasks that feed disillusionment and disengagement. As Chris Cantrell, an experienced agent with US Health Advisors, says, automated capabilities like an effective autodialer are not just “how you put time back in your agents’ pockets. [They] also produce more sales, at the best times.” A win-win for your team members and your business’s bottom line.
Tools for WFH Call Center Managers That Support Accountability
With staff spread across many locations, keeping tabs on performance and keeping agents accountable to their responsibilities is as important as ever—and will require that your cloud contact center solution comes equipped with tools tailored to effective management as well. Make the job of running a tight (remote) ship easier with tools like these:
- Agent Productivity Logs: Gain visibility into agent login and logout times with agent productivity logs and make sure that your team is making the best use of their scheduled work time.
- Wrap Up Time Limit: Set limits on how long agents may take to wrap up between calls with customizable settings.
- Listen and Whisper Capabilities: Listen in on calls to monitor performance, whisper supportive guidance, and be able to step in when the situation calls for it.
- Quality Assurance Monitoring and Scoring Software: As Heather Griffin describes, “In the past you needed 5, 10, even 20 QA agents, and they would only be able to score a fraction of your calls.” Now, new AI technology gives you the ability to monitor 100% of your calls. And since you won’t be in the room with your agents anymore, Griffin says, this software plays a vital role in alerting you when calls go awry or off script.
- Real-Time Reporting: Keep things humming along across your virtual call center with real time reporting that delivers transparency into activity and performance—whether it’s team-wide or down to the individual agent—no matter where they are.
Strategies to Keep Your Remote Team Connected and Empowered
The right tools for both agents and admins can support efficiency and productivity at any virtual call center. But without the right strategies for keeping teams in touch and engaged, WFH call centers will run the risk of a workforce that becomes disengaged and disinterested.
This burnout risk is a common theme in surveys about remote work. While the Owl Labs research we cited above found that almost all remote workers were as or more productive, a majority of them (55%) also felt that they worked more hours in their new environment. In an industry already facing issues of agent burnout, this is a risk to keep an eye on at all times.
Not only that, but as call center operations trend toward remote work and leave traditional office spaces behind, teams lose the in-person meetings, break-room chatter, and activities that help build unity, camaraderie, and other elements of human connection that form the foundation of shared success.
“Employee engagement is so key to a remote call center,” says Griffin. “At my agency, we’ve found that whenever we fall away from employee engagement metrics and connections, we’ve always seen production slide.” To build and maintain those crucial connections, call centers moving to a virtual model will need to implement vital channels and strategies of communication. Employee retention also depends on thought-out compensation and career-progression structures that allow for growth and rewards.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Clear communication that builds connections starts with regularly scheduled time to chat as a team. “If you can make it possible, a daily meeting with clear direction and guidance is so helpful,” according to Griffin. And don’t forget the face time: While it can be easy to slip into the habit of leaving cameras off during morning calls you might take in your pajamas, encourage turning cameras on and holding talks “face to face” to help maintain a necessary sense of personal connection.
Supplement regular updates with one-on-one meetings over video chat platforms like Zoom or Google Meet. These meetings, even if they’re short, A virtual call center is win-win for your team members and an opportunity for your business’ bottom line.
There should also be opportunities to let loose and have a little fun together. Isolation among team members can be a drain on productivity, decreasing output by 21%, according to Gallup. On the flip side, virtual socializing helps improve communication patterns by more than 50% while supporting collaboration, trust and, yes, productivity.
Enjoying a happy hour over Zoom instead of at your old haunts might sometimes seem like a tough pill to swallow when you move remote, but holding team-wide events really does make a difference. These meetups are also an opportunity to get creative. Heather Griffin says that her teams have enjoyed everything from scavenger hunts to trivia nights to help stay connected and blow off some steam.
Build the Right Progression Programs and Compensation Structures
The nature of outbound call center agent work can get a little monotonous.
To motivate your remote workforce and give them a transparent, hopeful outlook on the future, you need a well-developed career progression program with clearly defined benchmarks and timelines. “[A good program] gives people hope, and it helps with retention,” according to Griffin.
Back up this progression program with a compensation structure that incentivizes performance and keeps employees plugged in and at their best. You can easily make your sales leaderboards digital to add a little extra competition and fun. Properly planned incentives can have an incredible impact: They can increase performance at your company by as much as 44%, according to the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF). In fact, the IRF also found that 90% of top-performing companies used incentives to motivate and compensate their sales associates.
Regulatory Compliance and Your Virtual Call Center
Compliance should always be top-of-mind for any call center, but the move toward remote work presents new hurdles and potential risks.
Virtual call centers will need to do their due diligence in understanding issues of privacy-related compliance. Attorney Michele Shuster of MacMurray & Shuster advised that performing a risk assessment of your operations is critical.
“That involves taking a look at the types of regulations that are imposing privacy restrictions on [your business],” Shuster said. Call centers working in industries that might handle sensitive personal information need to be particularly vigilant in their assessments. “You want to take a look at what the business objectives are with that information, and you have to look at what the risk type is. Is it that you would be violating the law? Is [there a risk that] would damage our reputation? Are you concerned about identity theft? Is it trade secrets?”
By taking stock of your organization’s particular risk factors, as well as the differences in security infrastructure between your office environment and your WFH setup, you can accurately assess and account for new risks that may arise due to transitioning to remote operations.
Meanwhile, to maintain TCPA compliance, you again need to have the right remote contact center software solution in place. Your software should include features and strategies that help your team avoid overdialing, scrub numbers against a Do Not Call list, and offer integration with additional compliance solutions.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to keeping up with this 2022 trend and achieving success with the virtual call center model. But at the end of the day, with the right software solution on your side, the process becomes a whole lot simpler. Whether it’s new to you or you aren’t clear how to improve your current remote operation, you should know that you can run a productive and profitable sales and lead generation team with a virtual outbound call center.