The dos and don'ts of remote customer service
Updated: Jan 28, 2022
TL;DR DO get the right tools / DON’T expect to deliver the same level of support without a bit of extra effort
More and more companies are exploring the option of remote customer service. Some are trying a flexible policy that allows support agents to work from home whenever they choose, while others are shifting to a fully remote model. Meanwhile, some companies have been deploying remote support departments for years in the form of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO).
Working from home is great for agents because it saves time on commutes, reduces the cost of transportation and gives them more time with their families. It's also great for employers because they don't have to pay for office space. But there are some things that support departments need to consider when they allow their agents to work from home.
If you’re considering using remote or virtual employees, you may be wondering how it’s possible to offer seamless customer service when your employees aren't at the office. In this article, we'll discuss the dos and don’ts for offering great customer support while their agents are working from home, and some best practices to guide you along the way.
The Dos of Customer Service?
DO set clear expectations for employees
When customer service agents work from home, it’s important to make sure your Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is crystal clear. For customer service departments, SOPs ensure consistency when customer service reps are responding to and working with customers. SOPs standardize routine activities for employees to execute. This includes everything from customer protocol to onboarding a new employee, managing project deadlines, and one-on-one meetings.
A reliable SOP will give agents a clear idea of their duties and responsibilities, even when a manager is not there looking over their shoulder. Additionally, the policy should include restrictions on when agents can and cannot work. Setting clear expectations on remote work from the start means that for your customers, service will continue as normal without any noticeable interruptions.
In general, policies should ensure that an agent is polite and courteous at all times and that all information requested is communicated properly. This is especially true when communicating with customers on their phones, so the agent’s tone and inflection of voice matters a great deal. If you’re going to get a lot of questions, or complaints, it’s essential to put them in writing and have multiple lines of communication for customer service.
Make sure that any differences between how your team handles customer service over the phone and in person are documented so that your company can make the necessary improvements.
DO utilize social media to communicate with customers
One of the biggest advantages of a remote customer service system is that you’ll be able to keep customers informed without them ever having to make contact. Using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook lets you give customers a heads-up when you have something exciting in store for them. Your customer service system should also allow you to send personalized and time-sensitive alerts, and you should encourage employees to use it to help resolve customer complaints or prevent further problems.
DO conduct virtual training online
Do you have the time and resources to invest in the training of all customer service representatives? If not, you can easily create a virtual training environment for those working remotely, so that they can improve their skills and remain informed on your products. Simplify resources and shorten onboarding by letting agents educate themselves. To do this, you'll need to streamline your knowledge management platform for all teams with essential information, guidelines and how-to’s.
DO embrace technology and use it to your advantage
Good or bad customer service can really make or break your customer relationships. To ensure that your customer service department is all that it can be, you need to first make sure that you’re properly incorporating remote workers into your company’s culture. The key is in your company's dedication to technology. If you fail to ensure that your employees have the necessary tools, remote workers can quickly become frustrated, and this is even more true when agents are spread out. It’s key to have great communication between your customers and remote agents to build a strong rapport, and that doesn’t happen when you rely on outdated support software. If you lack the resources to provide an excellent customer service experience, you will eventually lose your customers' business.
DO find a support platform that includes all the necessary features
To successfully manage remote customer service jobs, you'll need to implement a system that can help you:
Manage customer tickets and phone contact details.
Have a single email address for each customer.
Ensure agents are available across all the communication channels that your customers use.
Keep in touch with customers by phone, text, email, and chat.
Respond quickly to tickets that require urgent attention, but be careful not to spam users.
Enable instant notifications.
Use support platforms to communicate important updates to agents, letting them know that a customer is in need of a ticket or support session.
DO use tools and apps to increase efficiency and productivity
Emails are the main form of communication for some companies today, but virtual agents can easily use messaging apps like Slack, storage tools like Google Drive, and Wix Answers, a help desk software that comes with built-in integrations like Zapier, Jira and Salesforce.
The Don'ts of Customer Service
DON’T make promises you can’t fulfill
If you want your employees to work remotely, you should clearly lay out expectations on the first day of training, not at the end of their training program. If you’re letting them work from home, they should have a clearly defined role that fits their specific needs. For example, if they are going to be answering calls and typing up emails, their job description should state what they’re responsible for and what they’re able to do. In order to make a real-time connection, it’s important to have clearly defined expectations from the start. Don’t rush it. The process of moving your customer service reps to a remote model may take a bit longer than you’d expect.
DON’T isolate your agents
It is very easy to feel socially isolated from the rest of the world when you work from home. Some days, you barely see anyone other than your family members, and it can be hard to get the same level of interaction that you would if you were in an office environment. So what can companies do to enable their employees to work from home?
Start by encouraging and facilitating calls between your agents. Being a customer service agent can be emotionally taxing, so it’s vital that you make space for your team to check in with each other to share what they’re going through, especially during the first weeks and months.
If you're in the same city and are able to communicate face-to-face, check the local health restrictions and organize a local meet-up. If your team is spread out of locations or if you have a large operation with dozens of employees, you may be lacking the bandwidth to regularly check in with agents who aren't physically there. In this scenario, it may be more cost-effective to schedule activities over Zoom to use cloud-based technology for team-building purposes.
DON’T lose communication
The risk of letting agents work remotely is the lack of accountability. Before they start the day you want to know what your team is working on, what issues they're having, and if there are any conflicts that they need to deal with. You also want to be aware of what’s going on in the field and make sure you're helping them when they need you.
Schedule a quick sync with your team 2-3 times a week — but also make it clear you have an 'open door' policy so agents can reach out for help with any issue, whether personal or professional.
You may think that having your employees work remotely keeps them from taking on too much work, but the truth is that the more they’re away from the office, the more they have to do. By using the right tools to create a virtual working environment for them, remote customer service is not only possible but profitable.