May 28, 2021

Want Happy Customers? Start with Your Work-from-Home CX Agents

Monti Becker Kelly
By Monti Becker Kelly

Chief Sales Officer

I recently moderated a panel discussion, now available on demand, titled “How to Approach WFH in 2021: Future-Proofing Your Contact Center.”

Together we explored all sorts of hot-button topics—from the biggest CX challenges companies faced in the pandemic to the ways customer sentiment has changed to the retail industry’s accelerated pace of digital transformation.

But for this blog, I’m capturing the key takeaways from their answers to the question:

Do happy CX agents truly equal happy customers—and, if so, what does happiness look like in the work-from-home model?

CX Agent Happiness Is Contagious

First, let’s meet our CX leader panelists:

  • Krista Mathews, Chief Customer Officer, Overstock
  • Brian Whitney, Customer Service and Contact Center Director, Urban Outfitters
  • Peter Ryan, Principal, Ryan Strategic Advisory

All panelists agreed that in the aggregate the happier the CX agent, the better the interaction, the more satisfied the customer.

Urban Outfitters surveys every customer and affixes a simple voice of the customer (VOC) score that correlates to the agent. At the same time, the company internally benchmarks employee happiness.

The happiness of agents absolutely rubs off on our customers, said Bryan Whitney of Urban Outfitters. The VOC scores we get by agent match the benchmarking internally—so we know beyond a doubt that agent happiness correlates with customer happiness.

There’s no question that a happy agent equals a happy customer, agreed Peter Ryan of Ryan Strategic Advisory. You keep your workforce engaged, happy, and motivated, you will have infinitely better outcomes than with an agent pool that's disengaged.

Bryan also noted Urban Outfitters had a lot of “nervousness” about outsourcing half its contacts to [24]7 Agent Services™. Doing so became necessary when the pandemic caused the company’s customer service volume to explode while simultaneously sidelining much of its agent workforce.

The [24]7.ai agent VOC benchmarks are basically the same as our internal ones, said Bryan. We've had great success with that change.

Work-from-Home CX Agents: The Happiest of All?

At [24]7.ai, employee satisfaction (ESAT) hit an all-time company high—95.8 percent—among CX agents working from home at the height of the pandemic. Overall, more than 80 percent of our agents say they are happy working from home.

Our CEO PV Kannan characterized it this way in another publication:

If enabling your agents to work from home makes them super happy AND it moves the needle on CSAT and NPS—and it does—then why wouldn’t you do it?

But: Work-from-Home Is Not for Every Agent

Of course, not every CX agent wants to, or even can, work from home—at least not all the time. But as their contact centers shut down, many agents had no choice but to work from home. So organizations had to work harder to keep them satisfied.

Peter cited a 5th Talent consultancy report that surveyed 6,000 agents who shifted from onsite to work-from-home contact centers and found that the majority wanted to spend at least some time back in the center.

Bryan has seen that play out at Urban Outfitters as well. But the company has been able to bring back most of the CX agents who want to be onsite while letting the others work from home as long as they meet their SLAs.

Krista of Overstock.com agreed that WFH happiness depends on the individual agent. The company’s call centers are located in states that, during the pandemic, did not consider CX agents as essential workers, so their only choice was to join the work-from-home contact center ranks.

Some people struggled to adapt, Krista said. But we work hard to show our appreciation, and it seems to pay off. Our customer satisfaction scores continue to go up and up and up.

Engage Your Work-from-Home CX Agents

Agent engagement is critical for those working from home—and that’s true even for CX agents who are ecstatic with their newfound WFH status. With the number of people working from home expected to double in 2021, employee engagement is perhaps this year’s top CX agent issue.

Peter noted that, in the 5th Talent report, contact center leaders said their biggest issue was figuring out the best ways to engage their WFH agent community.

How do you engage and motivate work-from-home CX agents—especially those who would rather be onsite—to make sure they are giving 110 percent each time? asked Peter. How can an organization sustainably foster agent happiness?

As it turns out, organizations can do quite a lot.

We do whatever we can to boost employee morale because we want our agents to love working at Overstock, said Krista. It's been a huge priority to make sure employee satisfaction goes up at the same rate as customer satisfaction.

Which requires some creativity and flexibility when dealing with the work-from-home agent community.

We’ve always had an events week each year, when agents share recipes, or make videos showcasing hidden talents, that sort of thing, said Krista. But it was a challenge to find ways to make it accessible and fun when everyone is remote. Plus what everyone needs is really different, so we had to trust team leaders to identify what individuals needed to keep motivated.

Bryan echoed that sentiment:

The agents who want to be more connected can stay on Zoom all day, interacting whenever they want with their supervisors or coworkers. And we started surprising them with things like emailed pizza coupons. When they ask, 'What did I do to deserve this?' I say, 'Nothing out of the ordinary—that’s just a thank you for being there for us.'

One client’s contact center offered a Zoom aerobics session, led by a professional instructor, said Peter. They thought maybe seven or eight people would sign up. They got ten times that many.

Take the Next Step

Want to learn more about the advantages of WFH CX agents? Check out these resources.

Our WFH Agents web page

Blog: 6 Ways to Empower Your Work From Home CX Agents

Recorded webcast: How to Approach WFH in 2021: Future-Proofing Your Contact Center

Article: Why Work-From-Home Customer Service Agents Are Here to Stay

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