In my previous post about the contact center industry’s response to the global pandemic, I noted the remarkable shift to work-from-home. This is different than most corporate functions, where employees could unplug laptops and be fairly ready to make the shift. In contact centers, thousands of laptops had to be procured for front line reps, who typically work off of two or three screens in wired workstations. Conversely, we’ve heard from some client organizations that they sent their reps home with desktop computers.

In addition to the physical set-up, the crucial person-to-person interactions within the brick and mortar site had to be reconfigured. Contact centers are typically a place of real-time interaction. Don’t know how to solve a customer’s problem? In many contact centers across the world, you simply need to raise your hand, and someone will, sometimes literally, coming running to help. Suddenly, that raised hand needs to be virtual and it is harder to get the support you need. Compound this with millions of stressed out customers and it is quickly easy to see how difficult it is to be a customer service representative.

But let’s be honest: this is a hard job in the best of times. And even in those best of times, attrition is an ongoing problem for contact centers, where it is not uncommon to have 30% annual turnover across the front line rep population (even though some organizations have made great strides in recent years to combat this). To put it plainly, we took a group of people that were already high-risk for attrition and sent them home to do their hard jobs under harder circumstances. Attrition, by the way, is a major cost driver for customer contact organizations. The average cost to replace a rep is about $12,000, which includes recruiting and hiring and lost productivity along the way. This isn’t just a people issue—it’s a business issue.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop? Here it is: in our recent survey, about half of respondents said that they are likely to NEVER mandate a return to the brick and mortar office, at least not for the entire contact center staff. And 81% percent (not a typo—81%!) said they are anticipating expanding their work-from-home programs permanently. We are about to see a massive explosion of WFH opportunities in the contact center world.

WFH or “remote rep” programs have been popular in the contact center space for years. In fact, it was one of the first topics I was asked to research when I joined the CEB Customer Contact Council research team in 2004. Interestingly, the topic maintained momentum across the last 15 years, but it was a steady momentum, not a wild escalation, between 2004 and 2020. For many organizations, WFH programs continue to be ways to reduce real estate costs during times of growth and to reward high performers, using WFH as an engagement and retention mechanism.

The global pandemic has forced companies to revisit long-held beliefs about employees’ capacity to be productive from home, and contact centers are no exception. Based on conversations we are having with leaders across the industry, work from home is about to become a basic feature of contact center operations moving forward. This should be a massive wake-up call to contact center leaders everywhere, because the competition for CSRs is about to heat up. In our recent survey, 62% of respondents said they were either comfortable or very comfortable hiring reps directly into WFH positions.

So what are you doing to improve your employee value proposition (EVP)? How do you plan to keep your reps engaged and committed to your organization? We have some ideas that we’ll be sharing in a follow-up post. We’re also hosting a few discussions this week about the future state of WFH programs and will report back with any interesting findings.

Lauren Pragoff

Lauren Pragoff

Lauren Pragoff is the Vice President of Challenger's Service practice, Effortless Experience. In her role, Lauren manages several tailored product offerings designed to help companies in their journey to become low-effort service organizations.