The Current State of Remote Call Centers
As noted by Mark Scanlan, global retail industry lead for Cisco, “Contact centers enabled by hybrid work are not new but were often more the exception than the rule. Historically, there was a sense that if agents were not in a cubicle with a supervisor looking over their shoulders, they were not working optimally — but the enforced move to hybrid work has shown these long-held assumptions to be false.”
In fact, many call center agents found themselves happier and more productive, in turn helping to boost overall customer satisfaction. “Now, retailers are rethinking their contact center strategies,” Scanlan says, “potentially scaling down or eliminating some of their brick-and-mortar facilities while scaling to meet demand on their contact center engagements.”
Rick Vanover, senior director of product strategy at Veeam, also highlights the role of remote call centers in helping companies navigate new staffing challenges. “The Great Resignation has hit call center operations hard,” he says. “Employers that have the flexibility to support call center staff offer a serious benefit for employees that can make the difference in retaining or recruiting talent.”
Start with Infrastructure to Build a Better Call Center
While remote contact centers proved their mettle during the pandemic, Scanlan argues that they’re now evolving to meet new expectations. “The contact center is no longer about just handling customer calls,” he says. “They may also act as an associate help desk, or a remote expert to support an assisted sales engagement, whether on the e-commerce platform or from an endpoint or consumer device in-aisle.”
To support these new functions, however, the right infrastructure is critical. Vanover notes that some of this infrastructure occurs naturally. “With a fully distributed call center staff, there is a built-in redundancy against power failures, weather incidents and connectivity outages,” he says.
From a hardware and software standpoint, Scanlan points to the need for robust and reliable VPNs along with software-defined WAN solutions backed by substantive internet connections that can handle large call volumes on demand.
There’s also a need to equip staff with the technology to easily connect with customers. Common examples include IP phones, additional monitors and high-quality noise-canceling headsets that allow agents to work anywhere, anytime.
Modernize Call Center Operations to Improve the Customer Experience
Sustainable customer satisfaction is the goal of any call center. To achieve this at scale, however, retailers must modernize their operations.
“It’s important that end-to-end performance is effectively managed,” Scanlan says, “by leveraging full-stack observability to deliver the best possible experience for both the agent and their customer. In cases where contact centers handle payment information, this may include additional components such as digital tools that prevent screenshots or screen scrapes along with audio and video analytics to ensure confidential information is not recorded.”
Vanover, meanwhile, points to the use of platforms such as Microsoft 365 and Salesforce to help companies monitor key performance indicators and ensure there is no loss of efficiency or productivity over time.
“The technology now exists to deliver a high-quality remote call center,” Vanover says. “The global pandemic gave companies approval to try something new, and with measurable gains in customer success, call efficiency and employee satisfaction, there is now a permanence to these call centers.”
The result? Remote call centers aren’t going anywhere. To stay competitive, retailers must both improve their call center infrastructure and modernize their operations.