Flexible work can work for customer service too - here’s how

Peter Lorant Profile picture for user Peter_Lorant November 3, 2021
The well-worn phrase 'this is the way we've always done it' is out of date for service agents' working hours. Peter Lorant of Zendesk shares why companies need to take note - and be flexible.

Flexible work time schedule concept as customer agent balances between 2 watches © LanKogal - Shutterstock
(© LanKogal - Shutterstock)

Everyone has a slightly different take on the future of work. Some managers fear flexibility, while nearly 40% of workers in a study said they would rather quit than give it up. Some lament the end of water cooler conversations, while others point out that digital-first approaches can democratize the workplace. Wherever you land, one truth is impossible to ignore — the need for flexibility, in one form or another, is here to stay.

Leaders in the technology industry, including Zendesk, have shared their intentions to focus on flexibility in 2021 and beyond. But some sectors, such as shift workers in contact centers, are left out of the conversation — perhaps unnecessarily.

In organizations where customer service teams are shift workers, it's a misconception that flexible working strategies, including hybrid schedules, hot desking, and remote collaboration, are not possible for your agents.

However, in a recent study on customer experience maturity, created in partnership with Enterprise Strategy Group, we found that nearly all customer experience (CX) leaders surveyed said they are emphasizing initiatives that offer greater flexibility and mental wellbeing of their customer support staff. And, top-performing CX teams (described as ;Champions' in the study) in the mid-market and enterprise category expect a 21% increase in remote agents after COVID-19.

When done right, these flexible approaches can have a domino effect, benefiting employees, companies, and the customers they serve.

Overwhelmed service agents need support, and top companies are leaning on tech to lighten the load

The report findings show that top companies have leveled up their technology to help make agents' jobs easier. Mid-market and enterprise Champions were more likely to provide cross-channel customer visibility and seamless channel switching. Artificial intelligence is also top of mind, embraced almost universally by survey respondents.

This technology can improve performance and save time by automating repetitive tasks, for example. This allows agents to spend more of their working hours focused on more meaningful assignments that add value to the company.

Companies need to take agents' concerns seriously, or risk the costs of high turnover

At the same time, the research found that companies are more likely to struggle with agent churn compared to a year ago, and it's no wonder why.

Call center staff have been pushed to the brink since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They spend their days calming overwhelmed customers who are frustrated by service disruptions and global supply chain disruptions. It turns out the old adage, 'the customer is always right', may not always be right, and it could be costing you talented employees due to prolonged stress and burnout.

Endlessly hiring and onboarding new staff is costly, and it distracts your team from the work they should be doing. Instead of eating that cost, consider how process improvements — from flexible working platforms and policies to adding an AI-powered chatbot to help handle simple requests — could lighten the load, increase engagement and change the equation to be more in your favor.

Customers want better service, and they reward companies who treat them well

There's another important reason to care about retention. A strong bench of experienced agents can be more effective because they've built up a wealth of knowledge they can draw on to provide more thoughtful help and recommendations to customers. That level of insight leads to greater efficiency and effectiveness in your customer service. And, in turn, that leads to happier customers, and hopefully, more repeat purchases.

We already know from earlier Zendesk research that customers are willing to pay more to buy from companies that give them a better experience, and the CX Maturity data shows that Champions are also more likely to achieve key business results, such as increasing customer spending.

Now is the time to future-proof your business

Flexible workplaces are becoming a permanent fixture, and it's time that customer service teams are brought into the fold. The benefits are clear: higher employee retention, differentiated customer satisfaction, and tangible bottom-line results.

The question is not if you will need to adapt, but how soon.

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