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How to Overcome Challenges of Remote Contact Center Work in Africa

Kenya You look at your reports and get a headache. You’re anxious because you’ve been asked by your management team to come up with a remote working strategy and you don’t know where to start.  You’re overwhelmed; your team is already working remotely, but the challenges are never ending and they’re impacting performance.

There’s no doubt about it - it’s challenging running a contact center during this pandemic COVID-19 era. The truth is, everyone is learning, and everyone has unique challenges.

The pandemic accelerated Africa into the remote working sphere, which some of us contact center professionals were eagerly awaiting. That’s because in-office work often has posed some unique challenges.

Before the pandemic, most organizations quickly itemized the challenges of working remotely and concluded that the simpler and easier method was to have everyone work from the office.

For some contact centers that operated twenty-four hours, seven days a week, the night shift was quite a long one, ranging anywhere from 12 to 14 hours. To mitigate the effect of such a long shift, they offered their contact center agents’ special monetary allowances. For other contact center teams who needed to work late into the night but not necessarily overnight, the organization simply had to forgo the late-night hours to ensure employees made it home at a reasonable time. For instance, the company would close at 9 pm even though reports showed after-hour customer interactions up until 12 pm to 1 am. It’s clear that these were compromises that still missed the mark on both the employee and organization ends.

To try and stop the raging effect of the coronavirus, countries implemented lockdowns. The lockdowns ranged from a few weeks to several months, and from complete lockdown to partial lockdown. The result was that for a company to continue operations during the lockdown period, they had to quickly shift to working remotely. Most companies in Africa did rise to the challenge and continued services while on lockdown, some less successfully than other.

There were some unique challenges to remote work in Africa, including:

Power/Electricity

Power or electricity isn’t constant for some countries in Africa. This means for several hours in a day, week, or month, citizens may not have direct electricity from the government. We’re used to using alternatives like generators, inverters, power banks, and solar-powered devices. While government-provided electricity isn’t free, it is generally cheaper than the alternatives when the power isn’t flowing. The main challenge here is how do we ensure our team members have constant electricity throughout their shift, because they will most likely experience power failure at one or several periods?

Internet Connectivity

Contact center platforms and tools are cloud-based nowadays. Even if you’re using an on-premise solution, your team requires good internet connectivity to connect from home. Companies in Africa spend a big chunk of money to ensure the best internet connectivity in the office so that all processes and platforms run smoothly. While everyone purchases internet data for personal use, that same level or quality of internet connectivity that is needed at the office isn’t required at home.

This is a huge and costly challenge! How do you ensure the best internet connectivity for your team members? How do you mitigate the effect of poor weather, poor location, or even poor network provider performance on your team?

Quality of Interactions & Agent Productivity

Imagine this, you’re at home ready for work. Your work corner is set up with your work tools, you have a bottle of water on your desk, and your internet is showing full connectivity. You take your first two calls, you’re content and focused on having a great day. Then in the middle of your next call, your 3-year-old runs into the room crying because her brother won’t share the Paw Patrol toy. Even with the best noise-cancelling headset, you’ll be distracted trying to handle the two situations. You quickly end the call and log out to settle the kids. This should take a few minutes but by the time you get to the living room, you see a huge mess and you need to take another few minutes to clean it up. One thing leads to another and you see you’ve been logged out for 45 minutes.

How do you ensure the quality of the interactions and 100% productivity of your team members?

Here is how we managed some of these hurdles to remote work:

Use Smaller Work Tools

Use the smallest work tool for the role. Instead of giving everyone a laptop, can they use a tab or even their phone? This ensure that the employee will require less internet data because laptops generally use more data than smaller devices.

Give Your Team Members Data

This can be done corporately by providing a network SIM card for everyone to use. It’s not a perfect solution - team members in locations that are notoriously poor for that network would suffer. The other option is to give a data allowance for team member to purchase data from the best network provider in their area.

Give Your Team Members Power Banks

This enables your team member to have a reserved pool of electricity so they can continue working even when power goes out. This also goes in line with using smaller work tools; the smaller the work tool the easier it is to provide a suitable power bank.

Have the Best Contact Center Solution or Customer Relationship Solution (CRS) Tools

This is critical for team and performance monitoring while working remotely. Your team leads and supervisors can only successfully ensure high-level productivity and efficiency with the right tools.

Build Lasting Structures

Create processes, policies, and platforms that will enable you to continue with a remote working team even when the pandemic is over. The overnight or late-night shifts can continue working from home after the lockdown periods meeting both the employee and company needs.

Surprise! Productivity Improves

A major incentive in Africa is the reduction in time spent in transit. Many people are used to getting up and heading to work several hours ahead of time due to traffic delays. That extra time saved is a big incentive to them; they log in promptly and there are no excuses for lateness. You’re able to create unique shifts that better suit their lifestyles. These incentives, along with using unique performance metrics, actually help improve agent productivity; team members are even willing to put in extra time when working remotely.

The challenges of working remotely in much of Africa are daunting, but our innate sense of preservation kicked in with the pandemic and it activated two key aspects of business success - creativity and innovation.

Can any of these success help improve your team? There’s no set right or wrong way to make working remotely a success - just place creativity and innovation at the top of your tool kit. Continue to review your structures, processes, and platforms. Continue to search for companies that provide the unique solutions that you need (or build your own in-house).

Don’t give in to anxiety or frustration, we’re all in this together to make working remotely a successful and profitable one.

Editor's note: While the author is based in Lagos, Nigeria, this photo is of Nairobi, Kenya.