Working remotely became a way of life in 2020. It went from a privilege that some had to a necessity for large swathes of the workforce. Research shows that more than half of the American workforce moved to remote work over the past year. But what now? As the world inches toward a form of normal we once took for granted, how will the remote workforce fit into the equation? Do we stay remote or return to the office? It’s the question business owners and managers alike are pondering.
- What does remote work mean for our company?
- What does remote work mean for our staff?
Both are incredibly important, logical questions to ask and worthy of deep contemplation. But there is a third, equally important question to factor into decision-making: What does working remotely mean for our customers?
Here’s why a remote workforce could make your customers happier
There are many factors to consider in the great remote conundrum: industry, company structure, team size and work responsibilities, just to name a few. In short, no decision is one size fits all.
A return to the office is alluring. Many teams have already begun to unwind the temporary remote work arrangements of 2020 while others continue to contemplate the decision.
For many startup founders, the pull to get staff back into the office will be strong, primarily for practical reasons like management and interconnectedness, but this is also a comforting sign that life is regaining a semblance of the normal we once knew.
For any customer-centric company, however, thinking deeply about the impact of a remote workforce on customers should be top of mind. From a customer experience perspective, there are persuasive reasons to continue remote — or hybrid — work arrangements. Here’s why.
Reduce costs and invest in customer experience
Remote work also supports more cost-effective staffing. This can be achieved by hiring beyond state and country borders where living costs are less — a practice known as geo-arbitrage. Sixty-four percent of employees also say they would choose a lower salary if the position allowed them to work remotely, an indication that employees now heavily weigh remote work in their career decision-making.
This dual-fronted, cost-saving ability of a remote workforce can be used as a savvy investment in customer experience, whether that’s more personalized user experiences, enhanced customer support or customer-focused innovation.
Savings of any kind that come with no diminished output are a boon for business, and that’s one of the perks of a remote workforce for startups. Exactly what portion of a remote work-generated surplus is allocated to customer experience is one for company leaders — but it’s a luxury they now have.
Staff productivity is a key to customer happiness
For any performance-minded startup, productivity is a core focus.
Perhaps counterintuitively to some, it’s been revealed that a remote workforce enhances productivity. Remote employees have been shown to work an extra 1.4 more days per month compared to their office-based counterparts. Plus, they lose 27% less time to distractions when not surrounded by the typical hum of an office. This heightened productivity amounts to 17 additional workdays a year.
The productivity bump that comes with working remotely is a contributing factor to why digital-first companies are 64% more likely to achieve their business goals. This is good news for customers because productivity can be a powerful contributor to positive customer experiences.
With greater output, companies can better prioritize and support customer needs. This is especially true for customer-facing roles, like support and community, but it extends to other aspects of business, too. For instance, more productive product and development teams can spend more time identifying and fulfilling the needs of customers. We have seen this play out first-hand via our productivity and analytics platform.
In short, more productive teams are better positioned to deliver more personalized and timely customer experiences that enhance brand loyalty.
The remote talent pool is deeper
Top talent is limited — and in demand.
In a traditional office-based workforce, access to the best talent is constrained by office proximity or an employee’s willingness to move. Remote work breaks down the nexus between home and office location, expanding the talent pool available.
When working from home is an option, all location-based constraints are shed. Hiring managers suddenly have access to new reserves of top-tier talent. A glowing example of the talent acquisition upsides of remote work is Zapier, a company recently valued at $4 billion that has been 100% remote since its inception.
“We can hire people wherever we want to,” Wade Foster, Zapier co-founder, said. “We don’t have to compete for Bay Area talent, and instead we get to hire the best people all over the world. Not only does it increase the size of the applicant pool, but it adds a layer of diversity into the company.”
There is a natural correlation to customer experience from having access to top talent. When employees are high performing, engaged and ideally suited to their role, they provide better service to your customers. Put simply, engaged employees lead to better customer service and experiences, and a talent pool that’s enlarged by remote work makes it easier to find engaged employees.
Customer support as a customer experience differentiator
Customer support alone can define your customer experience, good or bad.
Research by American Express reveals that 68% of customers say quality of customer service defines the customer experience they have with a company. Adopting a remote customer service structure can have a meaningful impact on customer experience. It can make customer support both physically and culturally more accessible, both factors that can spike customer experience.
For instance, taking advantage of multiple time zones in play through remote work means a company can offer greater customer support availability — even 24/7. A remote, cross-border support team also makes multilingual customer service more accessible.
Giving your customers access to support in their preferred language makes the service — and your customer experience — more personalized. It helps contribute to increased customer retention, higher brand loyalty and lower customer support abandon rates.
The great customer experience opportunities of a remote future
The pandemic-induced shift to remote work caused incalculable disruption to companies everywhere. Now, its legacy has the potential to use this accelerated digital transformation to elevate customer experiences and, in turn, company performance.
Just by resisting the lure of returning to office-bound work, companies can use remote work to enhance their relationships with customers, especially as most companies now have some level of remote infrastructure after the remote experiment that was 2020.
So, when considering whether to adopt remote, office-based or hybrid work arrangements, it’s imperative for companies to ask not just what it means for them and their employees, but also what it means for their customers.
Originally published June 8, 2021.