So you want to hire a stellar live chat team. Chances are, you’d love to have the option of picking from a vast pool of talented agents. And let’s be honest–you probably want to save money in the process.
These are just some of the things that startup businesses and multi-billion dollar corporations alike look forward to when hiring a remote live chat team.
Then comes the pesky doubt. Sure that sounds great and all, but how do you manage a live chat team that you have never faced in person?
Whether your live chat team is made up of individual freelance workers or a team based overseas, these tips and best practices will help you learn how to effectively manage and lead your live chat agents. And if you don’t have a remote live chat team yet but are thinking about hiring one, read on! These tips are for you too.
What Does It Mean to Hire and Manage Remote Employees?
Remote hiring is the practice of hiring an employee or several employees to work outside the office or business. For customer service teams, this could include a call center overseas or freelance workers who operate from their computers at home.
Managing these remote teams or individuals involves the same guidance that on-site managers should provide, but may include things like:
- Odd working hours (specifically if your team is abroad)
- More time spent connecting with team members virtually
- A bit of extra effort to help your employees feel like a part of the team.
Why Hire a Remote Team?
According to a survey of business leaders at the Global Leadership Summit in London, 34% of respondents said more than half of their company’s full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020 and 25% said more than three-quarters would not work in a traditional office by the end of this decade. This is because advances in technology have made it so that hiring and managing remote workers is not nearly as difficult as it used to be.
Some of the advantages of hiring a remote live chat team include the following:
- Access to a bigger and potentially better talent You have more options to choose from when you can hire agents all around the country or the world, and not just from your city.
- A team that can better relate to the cultural norms and practices of your customers. This is true when you bring agents who live in the same city, state or country as your customers aboard your live chat
- Reduced operating costs. This is because part-time remote staff or freelancers may work for lower wages and won’t require you to pay withholding taxes, social security or other employee-related government fees or taxes.
- Time differences that work in your If you have live chat agents who are working on the other side of the world, they will be able to easily take over a live chat shift as your daytime team is ending it. This means having 24-hour live chat availability should be a breeze.
Remote hiring can also be a great way to attract millennials to your live chat team. According to Adam Kingl, director of Learning Solutions at the London Business School, flexibility “is the number one reason [millenials] are attracted to a workplace.” Workers who grew up with the internet are fully aware that you can email, message, or call someone from anywhere. As a result, the idea of working differently has become “a criterion that people are expressly looking for before they’ll sign on the dotted line,” says Kingl. “It’s not a perk or reward.”
Tips for Managing Your Remote Live Chat Team
Once you hire your remote live chat team, it is important to use effective management practices so that the benefits of this decision outweigh the risks. By practicing good remote management techniques, you can ensure that both your customers and your remote live chat team are successfully cared for.
1. Set Clear Expectations
In order for a remote live chat employee or team to succeed, they need to know what exactly is expected of them. When conveying your expectations to your remote team or freelance employees, it is important that you do the following:
- Provide structure — Define your direction and set clear boundaries. What is the company flexible on and what is it not? What discounts or freebies do agents have the ability to give angry customers? What decisions can they make for themselves before they escalate a decision to a supervisor?
- Set motivating goals — This can include monthly, quarterly, etc performance goals. What is the average handle time that your team/employees should strive for? What is the first contact resolution rate that you expect?
- Clarify employees’ roles — What specifically do your agents need to take care of? Are they going to be solely on live chat, or are they going to handle emails and/or phone calls as well?
- Show how individual employee roles impact the overall team — How does each agent’s work contribute to the team as a whole? What is the customer service outcome that results from good agent performance? Who is the company serving?
Setting clear expectations for your live chat team requires that you first have a clear plan on your end. Make sure that your expectations are in line with your customer service plan before discussing them with your agents. Remember to also check whether your expectations are reasonable so that your agents won’t get discouraged or overwhelmed by hefty or impossible requests.
It is also important to compile your expectations of your live chat agents into a formal document or manual for new hires. This will help make sure that what you expect is crystal clear, and not subject to misinterpretation.
2. Conquer Communication Limitations
When you are managing employees who share the same office space as you, communication is fairly straightforward. However, when you are relying on mostly email and live chat to reach your remote team, it is easier for potential lapses in communication.
According to Mark Mortensen, associate professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, “If you, the manager, don’t create good, open communication channels, the remote worker will feel, well, ‘remote’ and forgotten.” He mentions that it is also important to establish frequent, recurring team meetings that at least attempt to accommodate everyone’s schedule.
Establishing good communication practices is a two-way street. As you establish healthy communication with your live chat agents, your live chat agents need to know that they are expected to communicate with you too. Your team must “understand that they have an obligation” to stay in regular contact, says Mortensen, be it by email, live chat, or skype.
You can create this understanding by scheduling regular meetings with your agents, either in a group or a one-on-one setting.
3. Flexibility and Patience Will Take You Far
When you are working with remote live chat agents, it is likely that time differences may exist. Though these differences may appear a burden, it is important to approach them with flexibility. Just how flexible you have to be will depend on where in the world your live chat agents are located. For example, for a 12-hour time difference, you might have to check in with your agents at 8:00 PM or 9:00 PM your time, when your agents are just starting their day. However, if your farthest live chat agents are located only two or three time zones away, it’s likely that you will divert minimally from your normal work schedule, if at all.
Time differences can also make group training and conference calls a little tricky. If you have agents located in various cities around the world, work with your agents to try and calls with every agent present at least once a month. When working with extreme time differences, try establishing a rotating meeting schedule, so that no one agent has to always take on the burden of attending a meeting at night.
Alternately, if the time differences between your agents make a group call truly impossible to do, a rotating schedule could allow one agent’s time zone to be exempt from attending each meeting.
As much as you may try to plan a perfectly accommodating meeting schedule, sometimes technological mishaps arise. This is why it is important that you as a manager have the patience and the innovation necessary to deal with any speed bumps that may get in the way. For example, if you planned a video call with your agents, but there is a thunderstorm and the connection is extremely low quality, you can decide to switch to an audio only call in order to improve the sound quality and carry on with the meeting as planned.
4. Harness the Power of Video Chat
Video chat is an important tool for combating communication limitations and establishing a strong personal connection with your employees. Although bonds can bud over live chat, video chat helps speed things up. With this technology at your disposal, it doesn’t matter if you have ever met your employees in person or not – if a good relationship with them is possible, video chat can help you build it.
Video chat also helps eliminate the likelihood of misinterpretations of tone or other common miscommunications that might happen over email or chat messages. This is why it is important for you to use video chat when you have to give agents serious feedback or correct any major issues (imagine the times you have received an email or chat message that read as harsh when it probably wasn’t intended as so!).
To properly use this tool, establish regular video chat check-ins with your remote employees. This will show them that you care about their progress and will help your employees feel more comfortable with approaching you with their feedback, questions, and doubts. Plus, they’ll appreciate the chance to see you!
5. Make Sure the Right Systems Are in Place for Effective Collaboration
In order for effective collaboration to take place, the right systems must be in order. This could mean having an effective email or live chat system, where agents can easily connect with their peers and superiors in case of doubts.
This also involves having effective transfer systems, so that if a live chat session needs to be escalated, your freelance or remote workers aren’t stuck with a chat that they cannot handle.
Many people who manage remote teams use online collaboration tools to get and stay in touch, such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, Google Drive, DropBox, Spark, Murally, Google Hangouts, Group Skype, GoTo Meeting, and Sococo. You can even opt to use more than one of these tools, depending on which works best for what is needed. For example, you might decide to use Microsoft Teams for sharing files and posting updates, but you may prefer Skype for video calls.
6. Give Regular and Timely Feedback for Remedial Action
Joining a live chat customer service team is a learning process. This means at one point or another, you are going to have to correct agent mistakes to help them grow and improve their customer service skills. As a manager, you have access to the number of live chats that each agent is handling, live chat transcripts, and can even watch live chats in progress as they are happening. Shoot an agent a friendly chat message should you notice anything out of line or that doesn’t follow your company’s best practices.
When remedial action is necessary, it is important to tackle it right away, instead of waiting until the next day. This is because if you address a behavior right after it happens, it is a lot easier for agents to consider why the event panned out the way it did, and what they could have done differently. If you wait to bring the mistake up the next day – or worse, later in the week – they’ll be less likely to have a clear recollection of events and may even have forgotten the events in question entirely.
Also, the faster you correct a mistake, the faster it stops being made. This keeps additional customers from being affected by the same issue involving the same representative.
For these reasons, it is preferable to address mistakes quickly via live chat rather than email (a missed email could just sit in the inbox and go unnoticed for hours or even days). If your feedback is especially damning, mark a prompt video chat with your agent to help correct the action.
Sometimes it isn’t possible for you to give an agent feedback immediately. That is why it is also important to provide your agents with regular, scheduled feedback sessions. Consider setting up a weekly or monthly video call with each employee to discuss progress, what is going well, and what can be improved.
7. Provide Onboarding and Extended Training
The purpose of onboarding training is to help agents develop the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that are necessary for them to succeed at their job. For a remote agent to be successful, it is important that they have access to this training, followed by extended training that lasts up until the point where agents have shown complete mastery of their field.
According to a study by Raytheon and Training Industry Inc, Approximately 30% of leaders report a continuous onboarding program for entry-level employees lasting one month or longer. This sort of continuous training can help remote live chat agents guarantee the best possible customer experience and can also play an important role in whether new hires become invested in the company.
When implementing your own training program, try providing an initial onboarding training, followed by an extended training phase where check-ins, coaching, and quality assurance checks are more frequent, before your live chat agents “graduate” to a regular staff training program.
8. Prompt Watercooler Moments through Agent to Agent Chat Feature
Think back to the last time you were starting a new job. Chances are, you may have asked a colleague or two some questions regarding the position, the company’s computer system, or maybe some parts of company policy that you were still unclear on.
However much a live chat agent may learn from training, the learning does not stop there. Agents continue to grow as they gain personal experience in the field as well as through conversations with their coworkers.
Bouncing thoughts and questions off your coworkers may be trickier to do online, but that doesn’t make it impossible. Chatting technology can help take the place of watercooler conversations, and can help generate impromptu learning moments amongst employees.
This is why it is important that you encourage your live chat agents to get to know their colleagues through the agent-to-agent chat feature. This is especially useful if your agents are all freelance workers operating from several remote locations, rather than in a single overseas office. Alternately, you can create a Slack channel just for chit chat, although the agent chat feature really minimizes the need for this resource.
9. Include Your Remote Agents
Part of having a successful remote live chat team involves making your remote agents feel like they are a part of the team. According to Mark Mortensen, an associate professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, “We have a tendency to overcompensate and approach remote workers and virtual teams as these mythical beasts. But you shouldn’t think about them in a fundamentally different way. They are still people working in an organization to get stuff done. Treat them as such.”
This means asking remote agents their feedback, acting on their feedback, and having practices such as group video training calls. When it comes to managing remote employees, sometimes you have to put extra work forward to make sure that everyone feels like a part of the team.
If you’re doing a specific training session on a new feature with your in-office employees, as long as there’s not a time zone restraint, include your remote agents! This will help them feel connected to the rest of the team, rather than isolated on their own. If you are limited by time zone differences, try taking some time at the beginning or end of your day to check in with your remote team, and include them in any updates.
You can also try including your remote live chat agents in some virtual team-building exercises. One source discovered that 65% of remote employees report that they have never had a team building session. Some examples of these virtual team-building exercises include engaging your remote agents in online trivia, games, and/or fun email threads with icebreaker questions.
10. Bridge Cultural Differences
If your remote employees are in a different country to your customers, be aware that you probably need to address differences in culture with your agents, and come up with an effective solution on how to bridge these.
Customer experience consultant, Micah Solomon, addresses this in a Forbes article: “Your best- intentioned customer-facing employees can still create a poor impression with customers from a different part of the world due to cultural differences of which they’re not aware. (The same may be true when they interact with a different subculture within their same country as well.)” This, he says, is due to the fact that culture is a series of assumptions, traditions, and values, which gives different people different lenses through which to view and interpret behavior.
To bridge cultural differences most effectively, consider bringing culture experts onto your team, or becoming an expert yourself on the cultures that your live chat agents and customers are coming from. You can also review common mistakes made by your live chat agents, and use them as cultural learning opportunities for your team.
If you are managing a remote team of agents who come from a culture where their first language is not your customers’ native language, be sure to check that their live chats are getting sent out with proper grammar, sentence structure, spelling, and word choice, so as not to confuse customers or detract from your company’s image or credibility.
11. Motivate through Positivity
Everyone needs a bit of positivity to shine. When managing remote employees, it is important to use positive, clear language in order to reinforce good behaviors. It is also important to use constructive criticism rather than negative reactions to behaviors in order to guide your live chat agents towards growth, not repression.
By being specific about what your live chat agents are doing well versus where they need to grow, your team will know how to differentiate which behaviors are worth repeating and which ones are in need of altering. For example, instead of saying, “Great job with that customer, Eric!” try saying, “Great job with that customer, Eric! You solved her issue the first time, and she left a great review about your patience and your helpfulness!”
Positive reinforcement can help reduce employee turnover rate, boost dedication, and ultimately helps save your company money in the long run. For a job that is extra well done, consider sending your remote live chat agent rewards. Sending an employee a gift card or a gift basket in the mail when they have given a truly exceptional service could help soften the distance between you and your employee, and will be a great incentive for them to keep doing what they are doing.
“The conventional definition of management is getting work done through people, but real management is developing people through work.” – Agha Hasan Abedi
Like any long distance relationship, a long distance relationship with your live chat agents requires dedication, patience, communication, and a bit of fun. By following the remote management practices laid out in this chapter, you will be able to help your live chat agents shine, your company flourish, and your customers walk away satisfied, regardless of the physical distance.