How to Build a Great Remote Customer Service Team

For a very good reason, remote work is on the rise. Employees become more and more interested in this form of cooperation, and businesses also tend to incorporate it in their culture and offer flexible work arrangements. It’s not perceived as just a fad anymore, and there’s research that makes it a very compelling proposition. 

A new study by Pennsylvania State University indicated that employees who work from home have better work-life balance and are more productive (source). 56% of small business owners also believe that remote working positively influences productivity (source). Research by Stanford University found that remote employees work, on average, 9,5% longer than those who have to commute and work in the office. Employees working from home are also 13% more productive.

According to a study by the Quarterly Journal of Economics, working from home allows customer service teams to get through 13% more calls each day (source). Remote work will be trending in the upcoming years, and we’ve already mentioned it in our Customer Support Trends for 2020 article.

What are the advantages of the remote customer service model?

As indicated above, remote employees are more productive than their onsite counterparts; they also work longer and are more engaged. No studies suggest that team members working from home feel less connected with their peers than they did in person, which is often seen as the biggest possible disadvantage. There are also other advantages to this model. It can deliver more value than you might think.

  • Significant cost savings  

A remote customer service team eliminates the costs of a physical contact center – maintenance, rent, power, work stations. So businesses can combine cost-saving benefits of outsourcing but also have control over training, performance measurement, and coaching. A virtual contact center will be a win-win if you look for a cost-efficient solution that still gives you oversight.

  • Easier recruiting and higher retention

Flexible work is one of the biggest incentives for job seekers. Also, companies intend to offer flexible work arrangements for customer support consultants to improve employee retention. According to Deloitte’s study, this is the case 53% of companies. This means that businesses note the correlation between remote work and contact center churn.

It’s easier to recruit  employees working from home and scale customer service teams, as you are not geographically limited. This model expands the pool of potential applicants and attracts more high-quality candidates, who are motivated and look for specific incentives.

  • Technology is on your side

Building a remote customer service team encourages communication. It may seem like a blatant lie, but think about it for a minute. Even onsite customer support reps rarely interact with other team members – they take care of repetitive tasks, type notes into CRM, handle calls, close tickets, and then answer calls again. It’s pretty hard for them to interact with each other. 

A well-planned tech stack, including internal chat bridges the distance between offsite customer service representatives, employees based in the office, and managers. It makes training, coaching, and sharing feedback more effective. It also strengthens team cohesion. 

So, what should you keep in mind to build a successful remote customer service team?

Building a remote customer support team is quite a ride. It’s a complex and lengthy process that comprises various stages. Hiring remote employees is perceived as one of the biggest challenges of this operation. Let’s assume that you’ve already hired the right candidates. Here’s a guide on how to find the best employees for your remote team.

Then, there are other vital steps you need to take to make sure you will be able to build and manage a remote customer service team.

1. Choose the right customer service software

Organizing the seamless work of any help desk team is a challenge. Teams deal with lots of clients and queries daily, messages come from various sources; it’s hard to decide on priorities. 

Customer service software is critical for managers and offsite employees to monitor client relationships, track conversations, revisit past communication with customers. It also allows managers to stay clear of micro-management, which is always counterproductive and time-consuming. 

That’s why choosing the right software is especially important while building a remote team. But fear not! If you choose a help desk software with remote-friendly features, it will help your client service team run like a well-oiled machine. 

Some features are more important than others for managing remote teams.  

So, before you start building a remote customer support team, make sure you choose software with the following features.

Shared inbox

Many remote teams forward support emails from one inbox to another, answer chat queries in separate windows, manage social media messages in each channel separately. It’s a recipe for disaster. Wires get crossed, and tickets get lost, forgotten, or screwed up.

You have to give your agents software that offers a universal inbox where all your emails, calls, social media comments/mentions, suggestions, forum posts, and chats are gathered under one roof, all ticketed. 

With LiveAgent, all emails are turned into tickets, then assigned to the particular department, and lastly to the customer service representative. Same with live chat conversations.  

Calls can be made directly from your agent’s computer and are all logged in the software. Also, offsite employees can chat with a certain client and be on the phone with them at the same time. This kind of inquiry is turned into one ticket. 

All communication with customers is stored in secure, cloud-based software, so your employees can access their workspace whenever they need it.

Ticketing

To organize all support queries and control workflows of your remote team, your customer support software must enable ticketing. A ticket contains complete information about all ways of communication that relate to the same issue reported by a client – calls, emails, chat conversations, etc. 

LiveAgent offers the Ticketing feature, which means all company communication is sorted into tickets that are assigned a Ticket ID. Thanks to this unique reference number, you can track, locate, add to, or communicate the status of the user’s request. All history of every communication between your remote agents and customers can be found in a few clicks.

Tickets have different phases that relate to the current stage of the query within the workflow. Every ticket has an assigned owner, but the ownership can be changed anytime within Departments or even transferred to a different Department, changing the responsibility.

Tickets distribution

Different time zones, limited possibilities to communicate with each other, inconsistent flow of queries. To organize this possible chaos, your help desk should automatically assign support requests to remote employees based on predefined rules. Each team member will be able to see which requests are their responsibility. 

The LiveAgent’s Automated Ticket Distribution system assigns tickets among your agents to make sure they have their optimal load. You can define what number of tickets your customer service representative receive. Chats are assigned to the team member who has previously communicated with chatting customers to ensure a fast and accurate resolution of the query. 

Detailed analytics

You also don’t want customers getting duplicate responses to their emails, and, at the same time, you don’t want emails to slip through the cracks and go unanswered. That’s why a help desk software that your remote team uses must show you who on your team is working on what, what’s the productivity of your agents, do they hit their goals, and provide the best customer service possible. 

You can analyze essential KPIs and metrics thanks to advanced analytics features offered by LiveAgent. These features will be discussed in detail below.

Sharing notes 

Offsite representatives can’t turn and ask co-workers a question about a ticket or an inquiry. That’s why they must be able to pass notes back and forth within tickets. Minor things can be discussed using an internal chat, but while dealing with multiple tickets, all vital information should be added directly to tickets. 

LiveAgent gives your remote support reps the possibility to add private Notes to a ticket. Notes are only visible to customer support representatives, and if a ticket is transferred to another employee, it’s transferred with all the private notes. Updates can be logged, and progress can be shared internally for future reference. 

Collision detection

Remote work and limited possibilities to communicate may lead to more confusion and repetition of tasks, especially if agents work in different time-zones. That’s why your software must prevent sending repetitive replies or reopening tickets by different customer service representatives.  

The Live Agent’s Agent collision detection feature prevents multiple employees from working on the same ticket. The software presents information about the ticket owner, who’s viewing a ticket and who’s dealing with a certain query, so agents don’t open a ticket which is already being worked on by another co-worker.

2. Create an internal knowledge base to share information

A thorough knowledge base plays an essential role in the customer service experience. You allow your clients to help themselves and look for specific information whenever they need it. 

A study, fielded by American Express, shows that 99% of customers indicated talking to someone knowledgeable or getting a satisfactory response is vital for a great customer support experience (source: 2017 Customer Service Barometer).

But sometimes, a knowledge base created for customers may not be sufficient for the needs of your customer support agents. That’s why, especially in the case of remote teams, it may be necessary to create an internal knowledge base to streamline online knowledge management and provide agents with the right help to address client concerns effectively. 

Even the best and most independent employees may, from time-to-time, come across a question that requires a bit more research. And, as they work remotely, they can’t just stand up and come to their manager’s desk to seek help. Not mentioning time differences.

Without an internal knowledge base in place, your team members have to resort to email or a chat, which usually leads to a delay. And it means long response time and unhappy clients. 

What’s more, research fielded by Esteban Kolsky and [24]7 indicates that only 20% of the time customer service agents can find the right answer, but they spend almost 30% of their time searching for answers. 

That’s why you need a detailed, easily-accessible internal knowledge base. With this kind of resource, finding information becomes a breeze. 

Encourage your agents to update the company’s knowledge base or add new answers to foster a knowledge-sharing environment. This ensures that vital information is not restricted to one or just a few employees in the team.  

How to use LiveAgent to do it?

You can empower your remote team by creating an internal knowledge base using LiveAgent. It includes creating categories based on your products, services, or types of customers in your Customer portal, adding knowledge base articles, feedback boards, and Forums

But, apart from that, it’s possible to create different content for agents and customers. You can add separate categories and articles that are not accessible

You can create separate knowledgebase articles and categories that are not accessible to your customers but can be seen only by your Agents (internal articles, categories, procedures, FAQs for employees).  

3. Use project management tools that are cloud-based

A centralized, universal inbox with all client queries logged in one place is a must-have and one of the most vital elements of great customer service. That’s why emails should only be used to deal with messages from clients and not to manage projects when working with a remote team. 

We mention that because, unfortunately, many organizations incorporate this kind of communication to their “project management approach.” An endless flurry of emails can quickly become overwhelming and messy, turning inboxes into clutter. 

That’s why to build an awesome remote customer care team; you need a cloud-based project management tool. With this kind of solution, your team can access the information they need in seconds, have a glance at all current projects and stakeholders and get a general overview of what’s happening within a team or a company. 

No matter where they are located and when they need to get this information. 

There are many project management tools that you can implement to make sure the inboxes of your remote workers are only used to resolve client inquiries. You can choose Trello, Asana, Stackfield, monday.com.

4. Set clear KPIs and monitor them

Set clear, mutually-agreed objectives for your remote workers. They need to have a career path and goals they can pursue.

Define key performance indicators (KPIs) with each member of your remote team and reward their hard work if they manage to achieve them. Allow them to focus on essential tasks, reach both professional and personal goals, and move up through the business. It’s important to remember about that, because otherwise your agents may get demotivated and, in the long run, decide to leave your company.

It’s your duty to monitor and evaluate KPIs of your offsite employees, whether they work on an ad-hoc basis, part-time or full time. 

What KPIs, among others, should you monitor?

  • First Response Time
    The response time is a reliable determinant for client satisfaction. Your customers expect a smooth and compelling shopping experience, and they want to get answers quickly and never wait on hold. It is essential to respond fast to your customers’ requests, as your competitors are just one click away.

That’s why this metric should be included on your agents’ KPIs list.

  • Customer Satisfaction Index (CSAT)
    The most popular KPI to measure customer satisfaction is the CSAT, where you directly ask your customers to rate their satisfaction with your business, product, or service. Your score is the average of all client responses.
    This question can be asked after each interaction between a client and your remote support agent. The CSAT scale can be done in the form of numbers, stars, happy faces, your imagination is your limit.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
    Basically, the NPS index is a measure of how many of your customers like your brand enough to recommend it to other people (or promote it). If the number of people who would recommend you is higher than the number of people who do not, your score will be positive and will generally imply that you are doing well.
    You can measure NPS of customers supported by a certain service representative to assess if they are doing a good job.
  • Minutes spend on call
    You should expect your agents to solve problems as fast and efficiently as possible. The fewer minutes they spend on a call, and the more interactions get through, the more customers they can support.
    Define an average range of time and see how efficient and productive your remote team is. Of course, remember to match the range of time to departments.
  • Total tickets to resolved tickets ratio
    Total Tickets or Ticket Volume measures and tracks all tickets in your support queue over a period of time. But what’s important is how many tickets submitted are actually being solved?
    Are there agents that solve more tickets compared to others with the same ticket volume? This KPI is a great productivity metric.
  • Top support agents
    After reviewing various metrics, you can evaluate the productivity and overall performance of each customer service agent. Include KPIs mentioned above, and other metrics like the average number of calls handled in one hour or first call resolution. This will help you reveal who can be named a top performer and who may need a bit more training. However, be vigilant as there may be a lot of variance and randomness around quality metrics. Some agents may be unlucky and get to deal with irate customers in a certain period who, irrespective of how well their query was handled, may rate the customer service representative negatively.

How to use LiveAgent to do it?

LiveAgent provides features that help you track your agent’s performance and monitor various KPIs.

With the LiveAgent Agent ranking overview feature you can let your customers rate the service, answers, and responses of your customer reps. Both chats and emails of your agents can be rated by customers. You can also create a report of rebuked and rewarded employees, with customer’s comments included.  

The Time report feature measures time spent by each customer service representative resolving a particular ticket. You can check which tasks take your agents the most time, if some of them work faster or slower than others, what’s the overall performance of your offsite team, etc.

Analytics overview gives you insights into the service your customers receive while interacting with your company. You can analyze the custom time ranges. This feature presents usage, statistics, possibility to evaluate performance reports, and learn from customer satisfaction ratings.

Performance report visually presents your agents’ work so you can analyze detailed graphs and charts: solved emails, active chats, number of calls, received Facebook messages in the custom time ranges. For instance, in the report, you can display: new answer average time, chat average time, rewards, rewards %, rebukes, rebukes %, incoming messages.

The Department report feature presents the overall performance of your teams or departments and enables you to compare them. Reports are presented in area charts, line charts, bar charts, pie charts and can be exported to CSV files.

Agent availability enables you to monitor your remote customer reps are online. Check their availability – date, hours from, to, filter statistics according to communication channels (calls, chats, tickets) and departments and export your report to CVS file.

Keep in mind that regular reviews and evaluations will help individual reps to stay motivated, and a clear team goal will keep the virtual team motivated as a whole. The motivation of the remote team depends highly upon the degree of connection and inclusiveness they feel.

5. Foster transparency and communication

Keeping your team members connected is a vital part of managing a great remote customer service team. Although it’s really hard to build working relationships remotely, we’re aware of that. Your virtual team members may never meet in person, or even if they do, it may be difficult for them to connect right away, and it won’t ensure smooth communication between them in the future.

That’s why it’s your job to build and improve the long-distance relationships within your remote team. You need to create a shared purpose and a sense of “virtual teamwork.” Even if they work offsite, your employees should have a sense of belonging.

Even if it feels too much, over-communicate. Be proactive about sharing a status on projects, stick to recurring check-in meetings, connect with your virtual team members as much as possible. There should be no secrecy or

Schedule recurring meetings with team members to discuss work projects collaborate; this can include both one-to-one meetings or with multiple agents; whatever works better for you and for them. If needed, set up daily standups to keep everyone on the same page.

Remember to schedule meetings that fall into normal working hours and are convenient for all offsite employees. Sharing time-zone challenges is pretty vital. If your team is located across the globe, rotate meetings, so everyone makes a little effort now and then and has to participate at 10 pm if needed. Use EveryTimeZone or Timezone.io to check teammate’s time zones.

Build better connections within your virtual team by using empathy-building questions. Ask your remote employees how are they’re doing, what they are working on right now, how was their weekend, and so on. Make an effort to get to know them and understand who they are, what’s important for them, what challenges do they have.

Provide feedback and recognition of jobs-well-done. It’s equally essential to provide perks and rewards. Recognize when remote employees have worked extra-long hours or go above and beyond. Surprise agents who are doing a good job with a gift card, support, and promote attendance at conferences. Maybe your virtual team members can meet in different locations and learn something new.

The best thing you can do is to foster communication. Communicate as proactively and frequently as you expect your team too. Take some time to listen, say hello in the morning (even virtually), and be generally available. It doesn’t mean micromanagement, just taking some extra time to connect with your team.

Wrap up

There is no secret formula for managing remote teams, but there are a few acknowledged best practices to follow. Harvard Business Review outlines:

  • Set clear expectations for communication and productivity
  • Encourage ultra clear communication, organize recurring meetings and rotate meeting times to adjust to time differences if needed
  • Unite the team members around a shared goal
  • Meet with team members in person regularly, but especially when they start their work 
  • Nurture familiarity and inclusiveness
  • Create intentional space for celebration
  • Use the same performance metrics for all team members

It may be difficult to follow all the practices, especially if your teams are scattered around the globe. However, in many cases, it’s worth going the extra mile to make your employees feel connected and cared about. 

Andrej Csizmadia

Growth Marketer

Andy is Growth Marketer at LiveAgent. Previously, he studied International Relations and Business Diplomacy and was active as a volunteer in the world's largest student run organization, AIESEC. Running, music and reading books are his favourite free-time activities.

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