woman with headset on working from home
PHOTO: Charles Deluvio

Many customer service operations had to go from centralized to distributed operations with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent shelter-in-place orders. Needless to say, the move presents a variety of challenges. We asked some customer service specialists and other executives about the challenges they’re seeing and the solutions to the problems.

Below are the top seven, in no particular order:

1. Poor Audio

“This poses an immense challenge to these companies, as IT departments rapidly try to mobilize the infrastructure to enable agents to be productive from home,” said Julie Miller, vice president of product marketing at Clarabridge. “Setting up the infrastructure and logistics for voice calls from the home can be the hardest challenge to overcome.”

Clarabridge clients had an initial significant uptick in calls mentioning audio difficulties as both agents and callers adjust to headsets, background noise and call drops.

These audio issues are prompting contact centers to increase their reliance on digital channels, Miller said. “Digital customer service using channels like social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp, live chat and SMS, can be deployed efficiently and cost-effectively to enable work-from-home customer service models.”

Related Article: 4 Tips to Effectively Navigate Seismic Shifts in Customer Service Channels

2. Security Risks

Security at a person’s home is rarely up to the level at an office, which poses risks to network and phone line security, said Kyle Hellsten, Clinc executive director of operational excellence. It’s in the business’s best interest to handle sensitive information via secure digital solutions as much as possible before utilizing at-home operators.

“In order to mitigate this increased information security risk, an organization can deploy virtual assistants that can help their customer with digital options that are available to them first, and then — if necessary or requested by the customer — can be connected to an at-home operator to assist via phone or email,” Hellsten added.

3. Work at Home Culture

“A lot of people believe that working at home is sometimes a relaxing and slow pace. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Trave Harmon, CEO of Triton Technologies. “We have implemented a required dedicated room or space in the quietest room for our technicians and people because we do not want our clients to have a bad interaction. So we require physical dedicated internet, in a quiet room, and people work. We have closed more tickets and have done more work by remote than we have ever done in-house. But emphasizing that to our employees has been a challenge.”

Related Article: Working Remotely: A Manager's Perspective

4. Internal Communication

“Team communication is very crucial. When a team works in office premises they ask to communicate and take help from each other right away,” said Gaurav Jain, co-founder of MageComp. "Working from home makes it difficult for the support team to call for each query and take help with remote sessions. It wastes so much time."

The company is still experimenting with various ideas to further enhance communications. The initial collaboration solution is Skype for screen sharing, calling and chat.

5. Internet Connectivity

“In offices we choose the best internet providers, the fastest speeds, and purchase the business-class services to match what we need to do,” Harmon said. The problem is in residential it becomes a significant issue with a lot of variables when it comes to performance. The company found out quickly that there were severe latency and signal degradation issues. So the company adapted its technology and services to take “the least common denominator” in connections into account.

Related Article: How to Cope With Internet Strain in the Midst of COVID-19

6. Lack of Automation

“You need technology to manage and evaluate your distributed customer support crew,” said Kinga Odziemek, creative owner of Brainy Bees. “Automating a few tasks can result in having more time on the creative side of the business, like adjusting your strategy in this turbulent time instead of only handling new requests.”

To support its customers, Brainy Bees has implemented LiveAgent.com, but there are other automation tools for companies to consider, Odziemek said. “It's a challenge to go remote overnight, but tools can really make it easier.”

7. Management Support Gap

Many reps are working from home for the first time and are finding themselves without the support of managers who are readily available, reliable phone connections and all of the benefits of a brick and mortar location, which leads to increased call holds and call escalations that test customer patience, said Rima Shah, analyst for emerging technologies at Technostacks Infotech Pvt Ltd.

“The clear resolution to these is to empower reps to go out of the usual followed course to provide support,” Shah said. “Equip reps with language techniques approach like advocacy (“will get through this together”) and avoid negative advice (“I cannot help you”) to reduce customer frustrations and lead to better outcomes.”

Another effective solution is having an easily accessible knowledge base to address customer service issues, Shah added.