Often, times of immeasurable hardships can spur innovations that generate positive future organizational improvements. It’s not a matter of being shamelessly optimistic; more often than not, long days under the darkest of clouds reveal at least one silver lining. To call the COVID-19 pandemic a challenge would qualify as an historic understatement for employers, employees, and customers alike. As the dark cloud of COVID-19 begins to move away, one innovation that was quickly initiated, as workplaces and businesses were forced to shut down, may qualify as one such silver lining.
Learning to communicate and function completely remotely was not something most companies and workers were contemplating before the onset of the pandemic. Many were suspicious of how functioning as a cohesive group would be affected if decentralizing daily operations were implemented across the organization’s landscape. But it is also true that great leaps in innovation are generally forced upon comfortably entrenched communities, and the pandemic of 2020 certainly forced its will on the whole of the business community.
Prior to COVID-19, consumers were being introduced to virtual communication technology most commonly through customer call centers. The experience could at times be infuriating to customers who were looking to have concerns answered in a timely manner via a face-to-face encounter with a real, live customer service representative. Similarly, employees found the structured environment of a brick and mortar workplace familiar and comforting for socialization and effective business communications. Work-at-home opportunities were few or certainly not common across all industries. But as the sparklers were extinguished after the new year, that all changed.
A Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work Report revealed that 98% of customer service teleworkers favored a work-at-home opportunity. According to a Staples Workplace survey 90% of employees believe that flexible work environments boost morale. During the pandemic, forced remote working plans produced a 13% gain in productivity over traditional work environments that led many business leaders to announce plans to maintain some work from home programs after the crisis passes. The new virtual work environments, however, are not without drawbacks.
Creating a working virtual environment requires a new mindset for management as well as workers. A study by Queens University of Charlotte found that 39% of surveyed employees believe that people within the organization do not collaborate enough, and only 27% of employees receive communication training. Without strong training and an ongoing commitment to team building, remote workers are likely to feel detached and complacent. The self-starting discipline that is so important to maintain productivity gains may dissipate once the excitement fades away. Proper security controls, investment in advanced technology, and new management styles will precede a virtual workplace that offers significant advantages for employees and businesses.
Key challenges remain for effective virtual customer service organizations as well. Focus on reducing customer wait-time and generate higher satisfaction scores by making all necessary product and organizational information accessible to all contact points. Keep the process simple and easy to use and understand. Know your customer and communicate personally and authentically. Use Chat and Chatbots where appropriate and create targeted messages across all channels rather than a “one message to all” approach. Customer centricity has become more than a “buzz word” for successful entrepreneurs, it is a focused mission.
Working remotely can create a sense of isolation among customer service employees, so schedule regular and frequent video conferences and chat sessions. Face-to-face relationships are relatively easy to form but virtual relationship-building can require more effort and entirely different skill sets. Foster a commitment to creatively motivate and engage remote employees to remain connected to the team.
Only the passing of time will reveal whether virtual relationship building or work-at-home models will continue to show promise for increased productivity and consumer connectivity over the long haul.
For more on how the Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) team can assist you in fashioning a successful virtual communication strategy, call 678-686-1125 today.