Just in Time Staffing

By Chris Bell

Having remote agent stations has been a most positive experience for our enterprise in several key areas (see Implementing Remote Agent Stations). Managers and on-call supervisors can quickly log in from home to monitor the call center, communicate with agents, or take calls during unexpected traffic spikes. We have been using remote agent stations for about a year. We spent about six months proving it out with key managers. Then we went to supervisors and select employees. We are in the process of drafting a comprehensive “remote agent” agreement that fully explains our policies and procedures and the employee’s duties and obligations.

Having remote agents enable MedCom to implement our own version of “just-in-time” staffing for our traffic. It reduces the number of full-time equivalent agents that we would normally staff, because we have been able to buy labor just for the traffic spikes when we really need the help.

Having fewer agents in the call center brings several other efficiencies. There is less banter and noise and less wear and tear on our facility.  Having fewer direct personnel to supervise is an added benefit to our supervisors.

We have been able to re-hire an excellent former employee, because she needed to be home-based. In her case, we had no re-training issues and we rehired someone who previously we would have lost forever.  In another instance, an excellent full-time customer service representative (CSR) was able to keep her job when she moved to another state. In still another example, we have a highly valued long-term CSR who, since she can work remotely, is working shifts during hours that are difficult to fill.

We are careful about who we approve to work remotely. Currently, only managers, supervisors, and select CSRs are considered for this program. If you can’t trust the employee in-house, you certainly cannot trust him or her to work remotely. We consider working remotely to be a privilege. Also, we continue to monitor remote agents and hold them to the same high standards as we do our in-house staff.

The Internet, DSL, high-speed cable, and the advent of low-cost telephone lines have made the concept economical in a variety of configurations. Operationally, supervisors can instant message remote agents to answer specific questions and schedule breaks using the Telescan IM system over our Startel workstations.

We believe having remote agents to be integral to our overall staffing solution. It plays an important role in filling niches but can only work with the highest caliber CSR, supervisor, or manager. At least one person, however, will always have to be working in the call center.

Overall, we are very satisfied with the way it has worked.  Our staff is delighted with this flexibility.  There has been no degradation in quality of service to our clients. Plus we have been able to retain quality employees, employ (and pay) them just when we need them, and require fewer full-time employees to get the job done.

Chris Bell is president of MedCom Professional Services in Levittown, PA.

[From Connection MagazineSeptember 2003]

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