Off Center
I dedicated an entire post to the topic of peer mentoring in contact centers a while back, but there’s one thing I didn’t address then that I’d like to address now: The importance of incorporating home agents into the peer mentoring mix.

With so many organizations embracing the home agent model in recent years, a good portion of some centers' best agents no longer work onsite. And while these agents invariably thrive at home, they are no longer available to help their peers do the same back at the brick and mortar facility.

At least that’s the assumption. I’m here to say that home agents not only can serve as peer mentors, they absolutely should.

Just because these talented team members have traded in their business casual attire for pajamas doesn’t mean they’ve traded in their expertise and insight – or their appetite for empowerment. Case study after case study shows that experienced agents fully embrace the opportunity to serve as mentors, to share their vast knowledge and skills and expand their job role.

Sending top agents home without their mentoring hats zaps the contact center of much of its employee development strength. It’s like eliminating part of the training team.  

So how does a center go about utilizing home agents as peer mentors? The same way the center keeps home agents in the loop and up to date. Email, chat, video and phone are invaluable communication and training tools in centers with remote staff; those tools can be just as invaluable when used to foster mentoring relationships. Sure, it’s always nice for new-hires and seasoned staff to work side-by-side, but physical presence isn’t nearly as important as real-time communication when it comes to mentoring. Protégés with pressing questions can initiate a quick chat session with their mentor. When in need of more in-depth coaching or assistance, chat (or phone) with screen-sharing can be very effective, as can video calls, which add a nice face-to-face element to help foster a sense of connectedness. And email can come in handy for less urgent or in-depth matters.

As with traditional mentoring, contact centers need to establish certain scheduling and adherence policies to ensure their virtual mentoring initiatives don’t end up hindering service levels or quality. Since home agents serving as mentors are likely to be among the center’s star agents, it’s important not to have too many of them offline assisting their respective protégés, or to have any of them or their protégés offline when the center is being bombarded by customer contacts. Centers can solve (or at least minimize) such issues by having a solid workforce management process in place, and by instilling a “keep your eyes on the queue” mentality among mentors and protégés whenever they are working offline.

And finally, it’s important to realize not every home agent – regardless of experience and skill on the phones – is cut out to be a mentor. Some, in fact, love working at home for the simple reason that it allows them to never have to interact with another human being (other than customers) again. As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to force sociopaths to assist new-hires. When choosing virtual mentors, be sure to select those who are as gregarious and patient as they are experienced, and stay away from those who snarl whenever approached or who look like Jeffrey Dahmer.  

What are YOUR thoughts on virtual peer mentoring? Have any of you tried it? If so, how well did/does it work for your center?

12/6/2012 04:57:04 am

"As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to force sociopaths to assist new-hires."

You'd be amazed how often some companies will try! Your best agent might want nothing to do with their fellow employees and forcing them to become a mentor is going to hurt their performance and probably scare the beejezus out of your new-hire. You can't force someone to be a good mentor, even if they are a great employee.

12/6/2012 05:01:10 am

I'm glad we agree, Trish. I'm somewhat of a sociopath myself -- you don't want to know what I do to readers who disagree with me.

Thanks for reading and for your comment!

12/7/2012 07:20:09 am

Hey Greg, yes, I'm still stalking you - this is your "other" Trish.

Hadn't thought of, and really like, the idea of including home agents in peer reviews. Excluding the sociopaths, - the rest will likely appreciate the opportunity to stay connected with their office team.

I also think it provides a real opportunity for fully virtualized teams, like Pizza Pizza - where everybody is working from home and there is no office - to build a sense of connection and team.


12/8/2012 02:42:30 am

Some people are big in Japan -- I'm big with the Trishes.

Thanks for your input, Trish 2, and most importantly for concurring with my suggestion. I like that in people.

Warm regards!



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