How to Engage Remote Customer Service Teams


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Last month, Amazon announced plans to hire more than 3,000 customer service representatives. These roles would offer $15 an hour for pay, provide overtime, and allow workers to qualify for healthcare coverage after 90 days of employment. But perhaps the most enticing news of all? The workers would be completely remote.

When announced, the news hit far and wide — because it was Amazon but also since this was one of the largest hiring sprees for remote customer service agents in recent memory. In all, Amazon will be hiring from 18 different states.

Of course, the lure of remote work is well documented. Remote employees are able to work from their own homes, don’t have to worry about stressful commutes, and can often build flexibility into hours worked. Remote workers also hail the benefit of being able to multitask and accomplish various home management tasks or have their children close by under the care of a nanny. Meanwhile, the company hiring remote workers can save tremendously on operational costs.

But there are also downsides to working remotely. Not just for the employees themselves but also for the company. Remote employees may feel disengaged or lack proper training to confidently do their jobs. And managing a remote staffer’s job performance isn’t always easy.

So, how do employers and employees — even big ones like Amazon — set themselves up for success when it comes to large remote teams? Here are 3 tips to consider:

Technology will be the glue that keeps everything together

Having an effective remote team is really only possible because of technology. But nowadays there are thousands of tech vendors trying to sell contact centers their tools. From my experience in working with hundreds of brands and their customer services teams, remote teams benefit most from technology that fosters real-time communication like Slack or virtual leaderboards that monitor performance and create friendly competition. Whether an employee is in North Dakota or Florida, these tools allow for positive reinforcement and a sense that the team is all in it together.

Obviously a CRM platform is also key, but ideally the CRM platform will serve as the central repository for all other tools and information. Thus incorporating a platform like Zendesk that integrates with the vast majority of software is a huge benefit. No matter where an employee is based, it’s important they can all access the same information quickly.

And lastly, having a customer feedback platform will be integral for a company to know how a remote employee is performing. Managers can flag issues, spot trends across the team, and easily hop on a quick call or video chat to correct issues or offer positive reinforcement.

Motivating remote employees is even more necessary

Technology provides the infrastructure for a remote team to be successful, but a company that invests heavily into its contact center must also consider the intangible aspects of the role.

Meaning, even brands with phenomenal operations, products, or service will be hit with negative customer experiences. As the first line of defense, service agents bear the psychological brunt of this ire. For physical contact centers, when a tough interaction occurs, a colleague or a manager can immediately speak with the employee or call a quick team meeting to offer positive reinforcement across the board.

Remote employees, however, are isolated and feel challenges more deeply. In fact, a study by HBR found that “when remote members of a team encountered common workplace challenges, 84% said the concern dragged on for a few days or more, while 47% admitted to letting it drag on for weeks or more.”

For a company to succeed with a remote staff, executives must realize that frequent motivation is necessary. This can come in the way of recognizing employees during video conferences and in group chats; sending thank you kits to team members; and calling out when a remote employee embodies specific company values. Technology alone isn’t enough, but rather wielding the technology to boost and motivate a remote team is what leads to a happier workplace and retained workforce.

Deliver micro-coaching in the moment and consider service recovery

There are times when customers go too far, but there are also instances when agents make mistakes and they were in the wrong. It happens to the best customer service agents. By using a real-time customer feedback tool, a customer service manager can spot this interaction and course correct with the remote employee to get them back on track. This “micro-coaching” is far more effective than a weekly 1:1 conversation or a group meeting to discuss non-specific trends.

Capturing customer feedback also allows for a brand to put its service recovery team in motion to proactively make it right when an agent may have made a mistake, which helps to increase CSAT scores. Brands like Williams-Sonoma and Birchbox employee this strategy with their customer service teams and have seen significant increases in CSAT scores as a result.

The bottom line for a remote customer service team is that in order for a company to realize the operational savings and continue to deliver excellent service, they’ll have to create the right plan and infrastructure from the beginning.

John Ernsberger
John Ernsberger co-founded StellaService with Jordy Leiser in 2010. John leads the company’s client success teams and is a passionate believer in the power of customer service as a driver of customer retention and sales. John graduated from Bucknell University with a degree in management.


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