At Home and Happy? – What Remote Work Means for Customer Service

By Darren Parker, Director, Customer Success at Zendesk

Published February 3, 2021
Last updated February 3, 2021

Last year was the year COVID-19 forced a shift in working practices. Could 2021 be the year we embrace permanent change?

The sudden switch to remote working affected businesses that had to pivot quickly. But now, we're seeing the benefits of working from home. Take customer service organisations, for example, that moved to flexible working. Nearly two thirds (63%) plan to make these policies permanent, according to research. Many experts foresee a hybrid working model being the order of the day. However, there are provisions businesses need to make in order for this approach to work.

Regardless of the working arrangements, two things must continue to happen. Service agents must stay motivated and consumers must stay satisfied. And the former affects the latter.

Let's look at team spirit. It's much easier when there's a watercooler to gather around. But with remote working on the rise, they're not as plentiful in supply. Some firms have created new ways of keeping their teams motivated. Meal kit delivery company Marley Spoon is a great example. They created a sense of community across the workforce through a range of bottom-up initiatives. Their cross-practice team of 'Spooners' created a remote working handbook full of hints and tips for working from home. This included advice on employee mental and physical health, and wellbeing.

Marley Spoon also created a happiness committee in their Shared Service Centre. It's this team's job to organise virtual events and shared experiences. This does two things effectively. It keeps the company values alive through greater transparency and team coordination. It also helps new starters to settle in at a time when they may not have met their colleagues in real life.

Businesses can also make it a regular practice to show their gratitude to agents for good work. This can manifest itself in many ways. It could be as simple as thank you cards or a trophy that is circulated around the team. You could even introduce tech and create leaderboards or charts to show the impact that agents make to customers. These also place the focus on outputs and productivity, rather than presenteeism.

Empowered to excel

But this shouldn't just be about boosting morale and camaraderie. Firms should also ensure they are giving their workers the tools they need to become better service agents. This is what directly ensures that customers remain satisfied. Even in remote settings, agents should have access to training and cross channel adaptability. When they do, they are more productive and more loyal to the business.

We released a report on CX Maturity among UK and European companies. Those described as Champions, the most mature and developed firms, provided an average of 2.4 more days of training for service and support staff per year. They were also 4.8 times more likely to describe customer service and support staff turnover as 'not at all problematic'. But companies also need to consider how training needs can be complemented with adequate quality assurance tools to maintain consistency and quality of responses from agents who are now fully working from home.

Got the tools? Great. But that's only part one. Companies also have to make sure they integrate these tools in a way that enables agents to be at their most efficient. No one wants to spend their entire day switching between windows, and in turn, offering a disjointed service to customers. Software integrations are key here. For example, customer service with video conferencing allows agents to speak to customers and read the historical data about their query at the same time. This speeds up time to solve the problem and avoids the frustrating process of retelling different agents the same issue. The customer ultimately wins.

A changed office

With employees spending more of their time working remotely, where does this leave the office? After all, three quarters of executives surveyed by PwC said that shifting to remote work was a success. Should we go back to the working patterns we used to know pre-pandemic?

The short answer is no. We should learn the valuable lessons from the remote work revolution of 2020 and apply them to the post-2020 world. This may mean changes to the design and function of the office. It might even mean some customer service teams working virtually on an ongoing basis. The important thing is that every decision made should reflect the needs of both employees and customers. The location matters less than the ongoing satisfaction of the people who matter.