SaviLinx Executive Interview
Kim Williams, COO, SaviLinx
How to Make Work from
Home Work for Your Contact Center B
It’s no surprise that contact centers are moving toward the
work-from-home model. It’s the proverbial win-win situation: companies gain
access to a broader talent pool while saving money on facilities, and employees
love ditching their commutes and work wardrobes. We’ve had a lot of experience
setting up and managing BPO contact centers, including brick-and-mortar and work-from-home
programs, and while we and our customers are big fans, there are some
guidelines we follow to help us achieve a successful program. From hiring the
right talent to ongoing management, this
is our insight into lessons learned.
At SaviLinx, about half of our employees work at our
brick-and-mortar facility in Maine and about half work from home in Mississippi.
There are many similarities to managing both workforces – we set plans and
goals for each employee and monitor them closely, and use the same metrics for
call quality and closure rates. We are proud of our very strong culture of
support, where we emphasize growth for each employee and offer a caring and
connected workplace. But there are some differences between the two.
Hire the right
candidate: Not everyone has the skills or desire to work from home. Some
miss the camaraderie and structure of an office environment; others have a hard
time staying focused. We’ve found the most important factor in the success of a
work-from-home program is hiring the right people. At SaviLinx, our interviewing
process screens for candidates who are independent, self-motivated, and are
able to work with little or no supervision. We also look for integrity:
candidates must do the right thing, even when no one is looking over their
shoulders. We’ve had luck with people who want work-life balance and
flexibility, including stay-at-home parents and college students. We also find that
retirees want to use their considerable life and work experience without committing
to a high-pressure career in an office setting.
Monitor closely: Supervisors
who monitor home-based employees also work from home, and we find that they
have as much, if not more visibility into their team as in a traditional
setting. We use the same ratio of supervisors to workers as we do in our
brick-and-mortar setting, and monitor the same metrics. But it can be a bit
challenging to deliver feedback via email or chat tools. With no body language
or tone of voice, supervisors must hone their virtual coaching and listening
skills. We have found an interesting generational divide that bodes well for
the future of work-from-home: millennials are very comfortable communicating
via text message and chat.
Use Technology – With
cloud-based contact-center software and Internet access, it is relatively easy
to set up a virtual agent with a laptop. We find the most important tool we use
on an hourly basis is chat. There are plenty of options to choose from; just
pick one that enables workers to virtually tap their supervisor on the
shoulder, and vice versa. The one-to-one connection is vital when a supervisor
monitoring a call needs to interject with advice or information, or when an
employee needs an immediate answer to complete a call. Just like in a
brick-and-mortar facility, we use a remote monitoring tool where we can listen
in to employees’ calls. We know from the moment they log in what they are doing
at any point in the day, and our supervisors closely monitor their activity.
Not all work-from-home positions have to be completely remote. As a matter of
fact, we’ve had terrific success with a hybrid approach. We’ve set up a small
brick-and-mortar office in a geographic hub where we can interview applicants, conduct
training and quality monitoring, and have regular meetings. When an employee starts
at SaviLinx, they work from our physical office using the exact same set up as
our home-based workers. We train them and work by their side as they start to
take calls. Once employees demonstrate they are ready to take calls independently,
they can then transition to working from home. This approach makes a huge
difference in our employees’ confidence levels and definitely boosts our
overall retention. And when employees need additional training or support, it’s
easy to call them back to the office for some in-person coaching. A small
brick-and-mortar footprint can support a very large workforce.
Keep people connected:
Another benefit of a hub-and-spoke system is that we can connect with our
employees face-to-face. In addition to a daily virtual meeting for each team, we
have a monthly in-office meeting where employees can spend time with their
supervisors and each other while they participate in quality monitoring and
training. We also can organize group gatherings – for example, we recently held
a barbecue for our work-from-home employees based near our Hattiesburg, MS
office. It was a great opportunity for them to connect and meet other members
of the team, and for us to show our appreciation.
Keep Iterating: Our
work-from-home program has changed a lot from when we started, and we know it
will continue to change. We constantly capture data and insights, and try new
ideas for improvement. You can’t “set it and forget it” – you will need to
constantly tweak your work-from-home program to meet your goals and needs.
We are proud of bringing much-needed jobs to an economically
distressed area with our work-from-home program, but more than that, we are
delighted to have these resourceful and talented people on our team. Could we
have made this happen in a brick-and-mortar facility? Maybe, but we know that
our work-from-home program has given us a better, stronger, and more diverse
team. We can’t wait to expand it even further.
Kim Williams is COO of
SaviLinx, a BPO contact center headquartered in
Brunswick, Maine with work-from-home agents in the Hattiesburg, Mississippi
area. She has established brick-and-mortar and work-from-home contact centers
in numerous industries and geographies, including Europe.