By Bob Webb
If you are looking for a winning strategy to streamline operations, provide improved customer service, decrease call center costs, and increase agent retention and job satisfaction, the at-home agent model could be your answer. The at-home agent paradigm is revolutionizing the call center industry. Three primary reasons for companies to implement remote agents are to lower costs, improve customer services, and enhance employee satisfaction and retention.
Lower Call Center Costs: Reducing call center operating costs results in bottom-line savings for companies. Operating costs associated with at-home agents include less need for brick-and-mortar facilities and support staff, increased labor pool with flexible scheduling options, and reduced training costs because of increased agent retention. Additional cost savings can be found with reduced benefit packages for part-time agents.
The need for large call centers and accompanying support staff is reduced with at-home agents. The at-home agent pool is vast, and multiple configurations of scheduling options are possible. Remote agents with flexible schedules simplify staffing for special events, holidays, and vacations. Remote agents can also accommodate spikes in call volume on short notice.
Virtual training allows agents to live outside the geographical boundaries of the call center and receive the same training as on-site agents. E-learning technology enables ongoing training for remote agents to be deployed the same as for on-site personnel once initial training is completed.
Improve Customer Service: At-home agents have demonstrated their ability to create a better customer experience, resulting in increased customer loyalty. Customer loyalty due to improved service translates to increased revenue: First-call resolution is at 34 percent for United States-based centers. Remote agents are able to take customer service to the next level and increase customer loyalty.
Two factors contribute to call center success: excellent customer service and consistently reaching service-level objectives. Service levels are severely impacted when agents are out of adherence or underperforming. In-house agents encounter interruptions throughout the day that affect productivity. At-home agents are proven to be more productive than in-house agents, with a reported increased productivity of up to one hour daily. Working in an environment without disruptions allows agents to focus on meeting service-level objectives and provide excellent customer service.
In a disaster situation, an at-home model increases operational stability by having agents in multiple locations that can continue to work during an outage or natural disaster. Remote agents can also fill the gap when internal problems arise in on-site call centers by answering calls with no disruption of service.
Enhance Employee Satisfaction and Retention: Agent turnover is an inherent problem for call centers, and replacing agents is a major cost consideration. Employee satisfaction contributes to agent retention. Recruiting and training costs can significantly affect a company’s bottom-line profit margin. The retention rate for at-home agents is 80 percent versus 25 percent for in-house agents.
Agent morale is a key factor in retention. Remote agents have more control over their schedules, allowing for improved work/life balance. While software tools are available for helping increase agent control over schedules, the at-home model supersedes software solutions offered to on-site agents. Remote agents can create schedules unique to their availability, and schedules can be segmented throughout the day and vary on a daily basis.
At-home agents bring a level of professionalism to their job that enhances their quality of customer service. More than 80 percent of at-home agents have a college education and management experience, compared to 35 percent of on-site agents. At-home agents are more likely to value their employment and view it as a profession as opposed to “just a job.”
Conclusion: Many companies are implementing the at-home agent model for purposes of improving customer service and increasing customer loyalty, as well as increasing retention through improved agent satisfaction. The at-home agent model meets these objectives. Additionally, the current economy is driving the at-home agent model because of reduced operating expenses. Estimated annual savings per at-home agent is approximately $25,000, including reduced facility requirements, training, and supervisory demands.
The benefits of having a larger labor pool from which to choose is invaluable for meeting last-minute scheduling demands, filling peak call volume time slots, or continuing service during emergencies. Remote agents can be located anywhere and are available for hard-to-fill time slots, enabling contact centers to offer extended hours or accommodate non-traditional operating hours. The at-home agent model truly creates a win-win situation for both agents and call centers.
Bob Webb is VP of sales at Pipkins, Inc., a supplier of workforce management software and services to the call center industry.
[From the February/March 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]