By Rick Bell
Sep. 10, 2020
Call centers typically are staffed by dozens, if not hundreds of employees during any given shift.
Most employees sit at workstations in relatively tight quarters in large, open rooms as they assist customers tracking an order or seeking to initiate a return. Such work environments, however, had to undergo an immediate makeover in March as the COVID-19 pandemic set in. By June, a remarkable 42 percent of the U.S. labor force was working from home full time, according to Stanford University research.
Dallas-based PFS, a global ecommerce call center provider for high-profile consumer brands including Yves Saint Laurent, L’Oreal and Asics running shoes, was well aware of the pivot it needed to make. Immediate, wholesale changes in where and how its call center employees worked was imperative given safety and social distancing regulations.
With an accelerated shift to online shopping, it was crucial for PFS employees to provide uninterrupted service to customers as company executives sought solutions to keep its employees healthy and productive, said Dawn Brewster, vice president of PFS global customer care.
Some employers had difficulty implementing a productive work-from-home model. Companies with large hourly employee bases faced time and attendance concerns as well as legal hurdles. But PFS, whose hourly workers account for about 90 percent of its employee base across its four contact centers, was ahead of the curve, Brewster said.
“Creating a work-from-home model in such short notice amid a pandemic was a challenge at first,” Brewster said. “We needed to prioritize our employees’ safety and ensure our clients received the same level of customer experience, regardless of where agents were operating from.”
PFS quickly built a model that helped employees emotionally and physically, Brewster said, adding that they conceived and implemented a work-from-home plan in just two weeks.
“The urgency to shift our call centers remotely without any lag in output for our clients was a challenge that our team was able to rise above,” she said. “We designed a solution that translated our typical processes and technology to a remote solution, ensuring that any operational shifts were designed with the employee in mind first.”
PFS employees remain 100 percent remote through the company’s work-from-home model, which allows employees to avoid the complications COVID-19 presents for normal in-office experiences, Brewster said.
“We have made our employees’ mental and physical health our top priority,” she said. “Through Communities in Microsoft Teams, employees can interact with other employees to ask questions or share best practices for how to respond to various customer requests, much like they would on-site at the contact center. We have done everything possible to simulate an on-site environment to support our agents through this difficult time.”
PFS continues to operate multiple shifts through its work-from-home model, Brewster said. Employees clock in remotely using various time-and-attendance platforms, she added.
“Multiple shifts are standard practice for us,” she said. “We typically have six to seven shifts running between 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., depending on client’s requirements. We can support as many shifts required, up to and including 24/7 support.”
To date PFS has not reopened its centers. Yet PFS executives have been pleasantly surprised at the results of implementing a work-from-home policy, said Brewster, who has been at the forefront of making sure PFS’ remote work model was a success.
What began as a response to an immediate need to prioritize employee safety actually resulted in improved contact center metrics, she said. Employees are happy to be working from home and it shows. Quality assurance review rates have improved as supervisors and managers maintain employee engagement through increased team and individual meetings, she said.
“PFS has seen a drop in attendance issues and we’re experiencing lower attrition rates across clients,” Brewster said. “We helped our employees transition to working from home, giving them all of the necessary tools to be successful. This has led to an overwhelmingly positive response from both clients and employees. We have increased our quality-assurance review rates, and supervisors and managers are maintaining employee engagement through increased team and individual meetings.”
Given the immediacy of such a drastic shift in its workforce, PFS executives adhered to patience and adaptability to shift employees to remote work environments. Brewster suggests other organizations should consider breaking up shifts to offer flexible scheduling, adopting new technologies and increasing communications and training with its employees.
“Embracing these shifts offers an immense upside for organizations,” she said. “We’ve seen increased performance and happier employees since the shift to work from home. Additionally, we have been able to expand our recruiting capabilities now that we are no longer tied to a physical location.”
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