For financial firms, comfort means providing reliable customer care that fosters trust and transparency. But, as consumer demand for individualized support grows, many banks are looking to move beyond the traditional contact center in an effort to provide superior client care and drive down operational costs.
With an at-home agent model, financial institutions create the opportunity to develop expanded support services that are no longer limited by the four walls of the physical contact center. Such strategies enable firms to scale up and down with flexibility and speed so they may deliver responsive care and proactive outreach with minimal difficulty. However, while this trend continues to gain momentum, many banks are hesitant to adopt said strategies, as they're unfamiliar with the underlying benefits of this innovative approach. Few recognize that, while this model features increased security risks, companies are apt to compromise the customer experience if they fail to operate at maximum efficiency.
Four Reasons to Cozy Up with the Flexible Workforce Model
Because the financial services industry carries an air of sensitivity, firms are cautious when it comes to operating outside their comfort zone. Customer information must remain secure across channels, thereby stalling many banks in their tracks. But, as safety measures become increasingly easy to implement no matter the agent's location, financial institutions are beginning to explore this opportunity to reduce costs and boost customer satisfaction simultaneously.
Here are the four benefits every firm must mull over when considering the at-home agent model:
- Scalability boosts efficiency and effectiveness-According to Chris Condon, vice president and financial services client partner at TeleTech, the home agent model allows banks to scale up or down as needed, thereby eliminating customer experience variances. Home agents are available part-time, so companies can add and remove staff as volume dictates, ultimately enabling service adaptability and alleviating budget concerns.
- Expandability facilitates the creation of an experienced workforce-Home agents are not bound by location. Therefore, large firms and small banks have the power to recruit talent from across the country. Financial institutions can now be more selective during the hiring process and create an alternative workforce based on experience and character, not locality.
- Reliability preserves business continuity-Unplanned volume fluctuations can occur at any time, but few companies are prepared to handle such issues. With the home agent model, companies can staff up capacity by 50 percent in less than an hour, as this virtual workforce remains on-call in various locations, thereby enabling such individuals to take over if unforeseen circumstances, such as dangerous storms and power outages, prevent other areas from providing assistance.
- Flexibility improves consumer perception and employee morale-Flexible workforce models impact external and internal morale, influencing both customer perception and agent retention. Externally, banks can tout the fact that they employ U.S.-based employees, thereby establishing their firms as effective job creators. Internally, Kerry Sherman, vice president of international sales and business development at TCN, notes, employees demonstrate higher satisfaction and retention, ultimately reducing talent acquisition and training costs, and promoting better attendance and schedule adherence, as agents won't be hindered by weather or traffic.
Ultimately, the decision to implement an at-home service strategy lies solely with the institution in question. Despite its benefits, this model may not be the right fit for all firms. However, for those eager to limit spend and improve experience, an at-home workforce will likely provide the flexibility necessary to satisfy these crucial goals.
How to Hire Experienced Employees Who Maintain Security
With an at-home workforce in place, financial institutions can take time to screen prospective employees from an array of locations and ensure that they're motivated and self-sufficient. Ideal candidates will also possess honesty and organizational skills as firms work to instill these traits throughout the institution. Sherman emphasizes that, while many agents agree that working from home is quite the perk, this role puts more responsibility and ownership on each individual employee to maintain accountability for their assignments. Thus, banks must also guarantee that new hires demonstrate reliability and trustworthiness, as these characteristics are deal breakers.
But, while background checks and past experience may highlight what they've done, financial firms must adopt management and coaching strategies that foster growth and development across the board. In this instance, technology plays an essential role, as agents and managers no longer operate within the same facility. Dashboards enable managers to see the state of each agent at any given time, while clear policies and guidelines establish acceptable behaviors during working hours.
Employee recognition and incentive programs are also critical to long-term success and agent retention rates, as banks must work even harder to build and support engagement and satisfaction among these remote agents. Though the flexible workforce model offers numerous advantages, Sherman notes that there are several components of an on-site contact center that fail to transfer over, including:
- Feelings of camaraderie and the sense of being part of the team
- Public recognition, such as 'wall of fame' honors and award presentations
- Peer recognition, such as the boss personally delivering handwritten 'thank-you' notes
- Social relationships and interactions (i.e. coffee breaks, lunches, pizza parties, ride sharing, etc.)
Therefore, when establishing said reward programs, firms must be sure such measures encourage agents to perform at peak levels so they may meet their personal goals and achieve recognition despite the solitary nature of the at-home model. Companies may choose to:
- Give small rewards frequently for small precedent activities rather than large in order to support their momentum and emphasize how important even the smallest achievements can be.
- Make having fun an essential element of the reward process by replicating games that would've been played in the office electronically and playing with the same frequency off-site.
"When it comes to implementing an incentive plan with the work-at-home agent model, it's important that lines of communication be kept up as they are within an office setting," Sherman highlights. "Staying in touch regularly will help build upon the team nature of the job and help employees to stay motivated. As far as what to avoid, it's important to not look at this model as being any different, meaning agents should be held accountable in the same manner and recognized equally for their performance, just like their in-office counterparts."
Recognition also promotes and sustains trust throughout the organization, which is crucial in the wake of security concerns. Safety starts with trust. Condon notes that banks will find themselves grappling with new security issues, as breaches and identity theft pose serious threats throughout the industry.
"There are many ways to mitigate risk with the home associate contact center model," Condon explains. "For instance, during the hiring and human capital process, companies can tap into a larger applicant pool and be more selective with who they hire, considering applicants based on many attributes, including trustworthiness. There are also many process controls that can be put in place, such as live agent observation, monitoring, and recording capabilities, as well as spot check and regular supervisor check-ins. Companies can even enact formal risk assessments and readouts to keep up with possible breaches."
By not taking such risks, banks are in the position to lose even more with respect to their overall business. Financial firms must be sure to establish workplace privacy provisions and confidentiality agreements, just as they would within the physical contact center. Security protocols and technology controls offer added safety, but no matter the guidelines in place, trusted agents remain at the core of any successful at-home agent strategy, for it's their character that builds rapport and improves reputation among the bank's client base.