Remote work had a coming of age in 2020. Albeit largely due to the force of COVID-19.
Most conversations surrounding remote work have centered on the general themes of “What does this mean for the company?” and “What impact does this have on our staff?”
Critical questions to ask, of course.
However, what has been asked less directly, or in less public terms at least, is what this new remote working world means for customer experience. In other words, answers to the question, “What does this mean for our customers?”
I believe the decision as to whether to maintain a remote workforce should be weighted just as heavily by what it means for customer experience, as its impact on company operations, structure, and staffing.
A Working World in Flux
COVID on its own isn’t responsible for the digital transformation of the global workforce. But it has been an accelerant like no other. A transition that would have otherwise happened over a decade-plus, has occurred at hyper-speed in under a year.
Remote work has risen rapidly as a result of the pandemic, with more than half of the American workforce currently working from home. And 62 percent of hiring managers say their workforce will be more remote going forward.
This pandemic-induced remote shift gave us a sudden preview of what the working world of the future will look like. It became, perhaps, the greatest experiment in workforce management, structure, and human resources ever undertaken.
It also provides reams of data and learnings that allow a strong argument to be made for maintaining this way of working in the interests of customers.
Staying Remote for the Customer’s Sake
With vaccines rolling out, the prospect of returning to pre-COVID work arrangements presents company decision-makers with plenty to contemplate.
For executives and managers, the opportunity to get everyone “back under one roof” will be alluring. For practical reasons and as a reassuring checkpoint that the world is returning to some form of normal.
A return to the office is tempting, no doubt. But it’s a decision that customer experience should be heavily factored into. As we’ll see, from a customer experience perspective, there are compelling reasons to maintain a remote or hybrid workforce.
1. Lower Overheads & More Cost-Effective Staffing
Of all the upsides of going remote, few are as stark as the potential for cost savings.
One study estimates employers stand to save $10,000 annually on office-related overheads per remote employee.
Similarly, remote work can lead to more cost-effective staffing. For two reasons in particular.
First, the appeal of the flexibility that remote work delivers can also aid more cost-effective staffing. A recent Deloitte study reveals that 64 percent of employees would opt for a lower-paying job if they could work away from the office.
Second, remote work opens up the prospect of geo-arbitrage. That is, hiring beyond state or country borders where staffing and living costs may differ. For instance, a software developer in Colorado t will cost around $30,000 less than one in California.
This isn’t an invitation to be stingy when it comes to staff recruiting. Rather, it’s an indication that employees view remote work as an appealing perk that ranks highly in their decision about which job to take.
More cost-effective staffing enables the ability to invest more heavily in customer experience. Whether that’s investing in customer-centric innovation, more personalized user experiences, or enhancing the support offerings to your customers.
Exactly how a company chooses to use a potential financial surplus is a decision for company leaders – but it’s a luxury that remote work can afford them.
2. Hire from a Deeper Pool of Talent
Ask any hiring manager: the competition for top talent is hot. And expensive.
When hiring for office-based staff, the search for talent is heavily geo-fenced by proximity to an office – or the willingness of talent to relocate. This naturally limits the size of the talent pool on offer.
Remote work breaks down the location-based nexus between the home and the office. When the home is the office, all constraints are removed.
Few companies have demonstrated this digital-first talent acquisition approach more evidently than technology company Zapier. Recently valued at $4 billion, Zapier has been completely remote since its inception in 2012 – even before the days of Slack and Zoom.
Zapier’s founders credit much of their success to being a digital-first company, especially the ability to hire from around the globe. “We can hire people wherever we want to,” Zapier co-founder Wade Foster says.
“We don’t have to compete for Bay Area talent, and instead we get to hire the best people all over the world. Not only does it increase the size of the applicant pool, but it adds a layer of diversity to the company.”
It’s not hard to see the link between access to greater talent and better customer experience. When your employees are the best fit for the job, engaged, and high performing, this employee experience flows onto the customer.
A recent Gallup study reinforces the link between employee experience and customer experience, showing that companies with engaged employees outperform the competition by 147 percent.
In short, engaged employees lead to happier customers.
3. Access to Additional Specialist Skills
For companies big and small, talent gaps exist.
This can be due to headcount limitations, budget constraints, lack of access to talent, or a myriad of other reasons. Whatever the cause, the outcome is often the same: specialist skill shortages.
A virtual workforce can help close talent and skill gaps, by providing on-demand specialist skills not available in-house.
For smaller projects or short-term engagement, remote freelancers and contractors can be used to augment capabilities.
On a grander, more permanent scale, business process outsourcing (BPO) has become a popular choice for modern companies. Proof in point, the BPO industry is expected to grow to $405 billion by 2027, up from $92.5 billion in 2019
On the frontend, a BPO service can provide a ready-made customer experience-enhancing workforce in the form of a call center or customer support team. Behind the scenes, BPO providers can support data analysis, software development, or administrative tasks.
Whether directly (answering calls, responding to inquiries) or indirectly (helping build better products, freeing up company resources) the specialist skills of an on-demand remote workforce can meaningfully supplement the customer experience.
4. More Accessible Customer Support
Customer support has an outsized impact on customer experience.
A study by American Express reveals that 68 percent of customers say the level of customer service they receive is key to a positive customer experience.
Implementing a remote customer service structure can boost customer experience by making customer support more accessible – both physically and culturally.
For instance, a remote customer service structure spread across state and country lines opens up greater hours of support availability, even to the point of 24/7 support.
More accessible support means more customer inquiries get answered, more often. This aligns directly with the fact that a majority of customers prefer to solve urgent issues by calling for support rather than use other channels.
Remote support teams can also offer multilingual services, making the customer experience more culturally accommodating.
Providing your customers with support in their preferred language supports a more personalized service, higher brand loyalty, increased customer retention, and lower call abandonment rates. All the hallmarks of outstanding customer experience.
Multilingual support makes sense from a revenue-generating perspective too. Take for instance a company considering offering customer support in Spanish. A report from the U.S. Census Bureau states that Hispanic consumers have nearly $2 trillion in spending power.
5. Productivity as a CX Driver
Productivity is front of mind for all leaders. And it can be a powerful driver of customer experience. That means, for the productivity-minded manager, remote work can be an asset.
On average, remote employees work an additional 1.4 more days per month than their in-office counterparts. Amounting to 17 additional workdays a year. They also lose 27 percent less time each day due to distractions compared to office-based employees.
In combination, this is part of the reason digital-first companies are 64 percent more likely to achieve their business goals.
When employees are more productive – especially those in customer-facing roles like support and community – this enables companies to better prioritize and address customer needs.
Put simply, more productive, focused employees help deliver more compelling customer experiences by supporting customers in a more personalized, timely, and brand-defining manner.
The Great Post-COVID CX Opportunity
The overnight shift to remote work was a shake-up that no doubt many managers rued. But it now presents a great opportunity to use this digital transformation to deliver more meaningful customer experiences.
There is an undeniable link between employee experience, productivity and engagement, and customer experience.
By resisting the temptation to “return to normal” post-COVID, employers can tap into this via the benefits of remote work. Especially as most companies now have some level of remote infrastructure in place from the COVID experience.
Thinking about remote work in the context of the customer experience isn’t a suggestion that the impact on internal structures, staffing, and other considerations can be overlooked. Instead, I believe all should be considered in unison and thought of as inseparable.
Encouragingly, nearly half of all companies say improving customer experience and customer satisfaction were leading influences to start a digital transformation. For the rest, it’s critical to ask, “What will remote work mean for our customers?”