Voice quality and other agent desktop-related issues have been an increasingly prevalent issue with more contact center agents working remotely during the pandemic. The accelerated shift to at-home agents during COVID-19 ripped a hole in contact centers' ability to manage technical issues as well as offer consistency across network environments, including those that negatively impact customer experience during interactions with callers.

As a result, brands have seen consumer satisfaction and net promoter score (NPS) ratings drop, which has a negative effect on topline revenue. This can be especially detrimental for hospitality organizations, such as hotels since customers typically have ample options for where to stay while traveling and competition between hotels can be fierce.

Interaction with customer support agents typically occurs when the consumer has a request or query that's complex, or if they need a dispute resolved. Most of the time, the longer it takes to answer a question or resolve a problem, the worse the customer's experience becomes.

For example, when the customer has to keep repeating themselves or re-spelling words over the phone because the agent can't hear well enough to understand them. Plus, if a customer service agent's phone connection isn't working properly, they may not even be aware of the issue until customers start to file complaints. So, how can contact centers with at-home agents identify, diagnose and repair call issues before they negatively impact customer experience (CX)?

Below are four key strategies for organizations to prioritize improving their ability to resolve remote agents' voice quality issues and best practices for achieving results in real-time.

1. Moving Contact Centers to the Cloud for Increased Agility

Even in large contact centers, as many as 30% of calls have voice quality issues. Due to the pandemic, more agents are working from home, which comes with added factors that can lead to additional voice quality issues. In a typical contact center, the environment and technology are mission-controlled and carefully orchestrated. A traditional contact center includes the desktop the agent works on, the specialized software on that computer, high internet bandwidth and a perfectly tuned headset. This is the ideal atmosphere to ensure that agents have clear sound quality and can provide a pleasant experience for the customer.

Now, whether by choice or through pandemic-inspired policy, agents who are working from home offices are frequently operating with their own, private devices like personal laptops and headphones. These may be of sub-par quality or incorrectly provisioned, leading to things like jitter (when the voice signal breaks up) echoing, volume issues, and other conditions that result in poor quality interactions with customers. Additionally, public Internet bandwidth may be limited or spread too thin between kids at home playing Internet games, taking online courses or streaming videos.

Simply put, there is a loss of uniformity and standardization of quality for home-based agents. The contact center has lost the ability to control environmental factors that affect voice quality and connectivity, which increases the risk of brand-damaging CX issues creeping into agent interactions with customers.

When COVID-19 began, many enterprises realized that they should have moved contact centers to the cloud sooner, so they could pivot and evolve to meet the demands of the pandemic. This fast pace of change also heightened the need for continuous testing to stay on top of CX quality. Moving contact centers to the cloud provides companies with the ability to deploy cloud-based CX technology that can be updated and improved on a regular basis. With a traditional on-premise contact center, IT was only able to make updates to CX software once or twice a year because it was such a heavy lift. With cloud-based contact center technology, the increased agility enables IT teams to easily implement updates gradually over time.

2. Testing and Monitoring to Speed Up Root-Cause Analysis

Consistent CX testing and monitoring help contact centers keep watch on every aspect of their customer journeys, whether they're still being designed, getting updates, or in production and actively servicing customers. Results of each test will inform you about errors that exist and point you to the source of the issue so your technical and development teams can manage the issues efficiently, all the way to resolution.

The ability to monitor the factors that affect voice quality and connectivity for calls in real-time between agents and customers - even if your agents are working from home -- provides the data necessary to swiftly diagnose the root cause of poor voice quality during live calls. These factors are varied, from headset settings, browser issues, central processing unit (CPU) or memory usage, etc. Now, armed with the source and details of the problem, business operations and IT can drastically reduce mean-time-to-repair (MTTR) and lessen or eliminate negative impact on the customer.

With modern CX testing and monitoring in place, organizations can collect and aggregate call data for every agent on an ongoing basis, giving them a holistic view of data that can be used to uncover issues, determine root causes and fix the problem.

3. Increase Agent Productivity with Modern CX Technology

Remote agents are geographically isolated from the IT support team, which typically leaves them on their own to figure out what to do when there are voice quality issues or dropped calls. They must figure out when and how to report voice quality issues, what data to include in their alert, how to find and collect that data, and determine what troubleshooting tactics to try first. Without the assistance from IT support they're used to when working in a contact center, at-home agents must suffer through bad phone connections, which puts CX and other metrics, such as NPS and even sales, at risk.

In some cases, contact center agents have no choice but to take themselves offline until the problem somehow gets fixed. This completely halts their ability to serve customers or make sales, negatively impacting the business' key performance indicators (KPIs). Therefore, when voice quality degrades, it's critical that a real-time monitoring solution is in place, so that agents and support teams can immediately know when and why the problem exists, and how to fix it quickly.

Voice quality monitoring should ideally include a dashboard that gives contact centers and IT teams historical, real-time, and trending views of voice quality metrics at the individual, team and aggregate levels. Alerts about dips or interruptions in quality should contain all the necessary data to facilitate troubleshooting and faster resolution of voice quality issues. This allows the IT team to get up-to-speed quickly and have an easier time helping the agent resolve the issues, saving time and effort. With a quality monitoring and alerting system in place, the agents can get back to assisting customers and avoid wasting additional time on voice quality problems.

4. Support Top-Line Sales Objectives and Reduce Customer Churn

It is fundamentally more challenging to manage technology and assure quality CX without being able to control factors impacting voice quality and without on-hand technical support available to resolve issues as they surface. This was a common challenge for contact centers throughout the last two years during the pandemic. Even more importantly, when agents cannot take calls or have poor quality connections, it can affect important business metrics such as Average Handle Time (AHT), agent utilization, customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) and net promoter scores (NPS). These metrics have a direct impact on CX and customers' opinions of your brand.

A decline in CX quality can lead to an increased customer churn rate and, for sales-focused contact centers, it can negatively impact the brand's top-line revenue. For example, a Forrester study revealed that improving CX by just one point in the CX Index can drive up to $1 billion in revenue, which is a lot of money at stake if the CX Index score declines. The good news is that CX Index scores can be improved by investing in modern cloud contact center technology, better training for agents and providing additional CX channels to reduce call traffic.

For the hotel industry specifically, research showed that a one-point improvement in the CX Index meant that hotels made approximately $170 million more in total revenue. Therefore, businesses must make CX and specifically voice quality, a priority to maximize revenue. By leveraging proper monitoring and detection technology, organizations can more efficiently address the challenges of managing remote agents and deliver strong CX from anywhere, any time of day.

Summing It Up: Why Real-time Voice Monitoring is Critical for a Businesses' CX

Today, many contact centers have migrated to the cloud to become more agile and accommodate remote workforces, including agents working from home or offshore. However, the quick pivot to remote work led to contact centers losing visibility and control over the quality of CX. This caused an increase in poor quality call experiences that diminished customer satisfaction, contributed to lost sales and impaired agent productivity. In addition, this lack of visibility created challenges in resolving voice quality issues with a remote workforce and added to the technical workload.

By deploying real-time, continuous monitoring and diagnostics of voice quality metrics, organizations can deliver better CX, regardless of where customer support agents are located. With the proper technology in place, remote agents will be empowered to report problems right away, so they can get back to taking calls, serving customers and making sales through clear communications with callers.

By Ajay Dawar SVP of Product, Cyara