The past four months have been surreal for customer experience professionals, with confusion and upheaval looming large for outsourcers.  It is in this vein that upstart consultancy 5th Talent recently published a study on trends in work-at-home agent management. Broadly speaking, the research points to a preference among front-line employees for more flexibility when it comes to virtual working.  But 5th Talent’s study also points to both limitations in this regard, as well as key pain points that outsourcers with home workers need to address head on.

Many organizations tout primary research as it relates to customer experience management during the COVID19 pandemic, but 5th Talent has clearly delivered the goods when it comes to sounding front-line worker views during this period.  With over 4,000 agents and supervisors in 7 countries responding to an online survey, this study brings to life elements that customer experience executives should be considering going into H2 2020, and were touched upon during a recent episode of Mark Hillary’s CX Files podcast.

Beyond its enormous sample size, perhaps the most striking facet that 5th Talent uncovered in its survey is the extent to which agents and supervisors feel that their own performance has improved since moving to a work-at-home environment.  This was quantified in almost all operational KPIs that were included in the study, and was most noticeable in regard to absenteeism and adherence. Only when it came to how supervisors perceived talk time by their teams was there a sense that things were going awry.  That notwithstanding, the broad sense among front-line stakeholders seems to be that applying the virtual working model is moving the needle in the right direction in terms of customer management performance.

But those looking to move more toward virtual working in the post-COVID19 period need to be cautious in the speed and breadth of such a shift.  5th Talent’s study has quantified the view of many that the home-working model may be popular among staff, but it does have its limits.  Specifically, work-at-home was certainly appreciated among a large number of those survey participants, with 46% stating they would like to support customers exclusively from their residences.  However, what should not be lost on BPO providers is that 52% of respondents cited the need for some type of exposure to the physical contact center (albeit in varying degrees).

This is a clear indication that as a collective, customer experience operations need to consider the importance of providing access to facilities for their agents.  5th Talent’s observations on this score are especially prescient. Among the top reasons why agents do not like to work at home: a lack of exposure to co-worker collaboration and missing colleagues that have become friends.

This is especially important among those in the Generation Z category.  However, while creating digital spaces in which front-line workers can share and socialize needs to be a priority, it was interesting to note that 5th Talent also uncovered that so-called virtual water coolers will only go so far in keeping morale high.  Also, work-at-home preference vary tremendously depending on the agent’s functional duties.  5Th Talent’s study shows that those working in care and sales are more likely to prefer 100% virtual work, as opposed to the majority of product and tech support agents that appear predisposed to working in a contact center.

Going into the second part of this year no outsourced contact center operator can be expected to foretell the future when it comes to agent management.  But what 5Th Talent has provided with its study is an affirmation that a mixed customer experience delivery model is essential, when it comes to driving employee satisfaction.  Ensuring maximum flexibility will drive both lower employee churn and better end-user loyalty.