As every good customer experience leader knows, quality and cost of service not only factor into every decision – they are often at odds with one another. Attempts to push customers entirely to self-service have made many organizations realize that while automation works in many cases, keeping a human touch available is crucial for a positive customer experience. And with customer experience rated on the same level as product/service quality, leaders need to remain mindful of potential repercussions when considering cuts.

On the other side of the coin, factors that improve the quality of service including keeping reps happy, providing professional development, focusing on the speed of issue resolution, even controlling how well you hear the person on the other end of the line, typically come with costs that are tough for the organization to justify.

But, there is a trend gaining momentum that, with the right approach, can have a significantly positive impact on quality and cost control: virtual call centers.

Numerous studies have shown that remote workers are happier and it’s a small leap to make that happier customer service reps deliver better service. Not requiring a commute to the office also opens new talent pools to hire the very best reps. And while it may seem like most of the remote work benefits are for the employees, the facilities cost savings alone can be substantial.

So why hasn’t every customer service team gone virtual? It’s the ability to get the virtual call center right that’s keeping the most progressive organizations ahead of the pack. Amazon is a prime example.  The massive retailer recently announced that it is hiring 5,000 virtual customer service representatives. The goal according to the company’s official announcement is to add “talented people no matter where they happen to live” to the mix.

“A lot has changed, but what made Amazon special was a tremendous focus on the customer and obsession about the customer experience,” says Tom Weiland, vice president of Amazon Worldwide Customer Service. “That absolutely what’s still true today.”

Getting Virtual Right

Of course, going virtual involves more than just hiring a contingency of at-home workers. And going virtual after decades of managing an in-house team can be daunting. But with the right strategy, structure and technology in place you can unlock that elusive combination of improved experiences and lower costs.

Learning opportunities – A well-educated team is always the most productive team. You probably have an LMS system in place to deliver solution and sales training, but often the most valuable lessons are from peers. Mentoring and shadowing may seem impossible with a virtual team, but when video conferencing and content sharing are added to the mix it becomes as natural as teammates sitting next to one another.

Seamless connections. Much like the sales team, customer service reps are the face of the organization. The key to success here is to keeping them connected to the business (even at a distance) so they are always good brand ambassadors. When organizations go virtual, it is important to take advantage of all possible opportunities to interweave the reps into the fabric of the company culture. Seeing a CEO pace during a company all-hands meeting even if they’re watching it from their computer or engaging in banter about sporting events or the weather at the start of a virtual meeting may seem trivial, but it’s these “hallway” interactions that make remote employees feel connected.

Right resources – Resources are a crucial component to empowering reps to provide customers with the optimal experience.  In some instances, this simply means having access to account data. However, getting their issue resolved quickly has been shown to be the most important aspect of a satisfying customer service experience (even more than a favorable outcome!). And it’s unrealistic to think any one rep will be able to answer any question or complaint a customer throws at them.

Which is why instant access to in-house or even partner subject matter experts capable of assisting with customer issues has always been key to driving customer satisfaction. When customer service teams go virtual, a true unified communications and collaboration solution not only shows the availability of SMEs, but allows reps to pull them into customer conversations instantly for fast issue resolution.

The right technology – Just because customer service reps will work from home (or co-working spaces), doesn’t mean they should be interacting with your customers using consumer-grade technology. By centralizing the purchase of collaboration technology, customer service leaders can ensure the reliability, security, and perhaps most importantly, the quality of customer interactions, whether that be via messaging, video or voice.

Though not a virtual call center, Copper Mountain Resort wanted to give their customers the best interactions with reps while people tromped in and out of the space in snow and ski boots. When you look at enterprise-grade solutions, you get access to innovations like Acoustic Fence, which makes it possible to sound professional, even if reps can’t find a quiet spot in their home.

Having the proper mix of technologies can serve as the glue that binds virtual teams with each other and to the rest of the organization.

Bottom line: While no organization can afford to ignore the importance of always delivering the optimal customer experience, the cost of accomplishing that goal can be hard to justify. Transitioning to a virtual customer service team isn’t a change to take lightly. The key to success is to arm your remote employees with the collaboration technology that allows them to learn from others, feel part of the greater team, pull in experts when needed, and have crystal clear customer conversations. With those resources in place, you can achieve the elusive combination of increased customer satisfaction and cost control.