Editor’s note: CRM and the contact center are often viewed as two different entities – one an aid for generating revenue, the other a cost center. One’s seen as new, the other as old. The reality is that the two are complimentary – poor contact center operations will nullify all the good CRM practices your company invests in. So it makes sense to think about the contact center in a CRM context – especially as service and support increase in importance. And, as we’ve said here before, it’s important to have employees who buy in to the ideas of customer-centricty, because they are the ones who put a human face on your CRM efforts. In the contact center, then, it makes sense to have agents who are skilled and happy.
Here’s Nicholas DAlleva of Specialty Answering Service ( http://www.specialtyansweringservice.net) to talk about one way to find those agents.
Call centers are discovering that utilizing home-based agents offers much more than just cost savings. Sure, a work-at-home agent costs significantly less than a salaried employee, but other benefits, such as lower attrition levels and more effective disaster planning, make pursuing a work-at-home strategy beneficial and a growing part of any sound customer service strategy. Today there are more than 100,000 home based agents working for call centers in the U.S. and this number is only going to grow in the coming years. Check out these five reasons to find out why!
Cost Savings: Cost savings has been touted as the most compelling reason to have a virtual call center, and what business doesn’t want to save a few dollars if they can still maintain great customer relationships! You not only save on office space, but also on equipment costs as most home agents use their own equipment like their own computers and their own Internet connections.
Another area of cost savings is salaries. As most home agents work as contractors or temporary staff, you will not have to offer them benefits such as health insurance or 401k. And because they are independent contractors, their employment will not increase your insurance burden. All of these factors lead to significant cost savings, especially if you are replacing a large static team with a home-based operator pool. Though no one can deny the huge cost savings that can be obtained by opting for home agents, that is not the only reason why you should consider having part of your customer service agents work out of their homes.
Lower Attrition Levels: The call center work environment has received a lot of criticism in the past in terms of harsh work hours and difficult shift times. It’s difficult to maintain good customer relations when the typical employee works long hours, handles irate customers, or repeats the same mundane answering and dispatch tasks over and over again. As a result, the industry is plagued with high attrition levels. However, having home based agents provides better work-life balance and flexibility for the agents by allowing them to select the shifts they want to work. Some call centers even offer split shift options where agents opt to design the shift lengths to suit their needs. An agent can still work an eight-hour day split around a schedule that is convenient to them. It has also been seen that absenteeism levels and attrition levels are much lower among home agents. I would argue that if you are feeling too sick to go to work, it’s easier to lurch into your home office with tissues and trash can in hand rather than take the long route to your real office.
More Inclusive Workforce: Offering the option to work from home means that the call center is able to tap into a more diverse workforce – young moms, persons with disabilities, and an aging population are some examples of profiles that may have a lot of talent, but cannot easily work outside their homes. The flexible shift timings also mean that mothers may choose to work only during school hours when kids are not at home, while the elderly may opt for a smaller shift in exchange for lower pay. Disabled individuals may not have the mobility necessary to go into the office every day, so opening up a work-at-home environment can give them a great opportunity for income and a career path. This model helps to tap into this potential workforce at a lower cost and gives answering services the ability to utilize employees who often work at higher productivity levels as compared to their in-house counterparts.
Matching Agent Profiles: Unlike off-shoring your call center operations to another country, opting for home agents, or “homeshoring” as it is commonly known, helps you save costs without having to sacrifice on the agent profile quality. Often, foreign agents undergo “American” training on accents and interests. Even with this preemptive insulation against customer backlash, there is a risk of increased customer complaints when customer service is managed by foreign call center agents. Of course, we argue that using foreign agents is acceptable given the globalization of business, but the fact remains that U.S. customers prefer a U.S.-based customer service agent. Homeshoring helps you to utilize agent profiles that match your typical customer in terms of accent and interests, thus leading to more satisfied customers, if all other factors remain unaltered.
Disaster Recovery Strategy: Having your agent base spread out across the country also means that your call handling and customer service capacity is spread across different cities. Your customer relationship management strategy managed by a distributed workforce offers a built-in redundancy and protection against potential disasters that affect a single city. Agents in your other cities can continue fielding calls, provided your servers are adequately backed up in a remote location. Imagine if a massive snow storm at your call center in Erie, PA didn’t hinder your workforce because your agents had the option of logging onto your virtual call center from home and because you employed agents working as far out as San Diego California!
I hope this post shows that there are several direct and indirect benefits of having a virtual team of agents in your call center and that integrating a work at home agent model is a useful cog in a successful CRM model. Happy and productive agents mean happy customers!
Nicolas DAlleva is the owner of Specialty Answering Service, a domestic call center based in Pennsylvania. For more information, please visit http://www.specialtyansweringservice.net.