Higher Quality or Lower Costs: Seven Ways Companies Can Deliver Both

By P.J. Weyforth

Customer experience can make or break a company, and today’s service failures are often publicly played out online for the world to see. At the same time, the pressure to manage costs has never been greater. However, it’s a fatal mistake to view customer service channels as a cost center. What is the solution? An at-home workforce that delivers excellent results:

  • 10 percent higher customer satisfaction
  • 30 percent more flexibility
  • 20 percent lower cost to serve customers
  • Highly educated employees with significant work experience
  • Geographic distribution of workforce, minimizing disruption
  • Greater business continuity
  • Potential to engage more employees onshore

Why are at-home employees more productive and more effective? The mere premise is confounding to some, who assume that less hands-on control over staff will lead only to lower performance and wasted resources. In fact, some organizations have made this a self-fulfilling prophesy by attempting to shift their current customer representatives – along with existing management, training, and communications practices into an at-home setting – only to see performance metrics plummet across the board.

An at-home workforce is much more than a shift in location. It’s a customer interaction strategy that requires a new paradigm in the way companies recruit, hire, train, and manage customer-facing employees. In my experience, there are seven key advantages that, when done well, create an at-home workforce that generates excellent results in an affordable, sustainable model.

1) Best-in-class security with high-speed connectivity and protocols. At-home workforces have been successful in the financial services industry for years, which reinforces a critical point: At-home employees can deliver the same security and industry certifications as employees working in traditional locations. With today’s advanced security protocols, information is protected in compliance with industry and regulatory requirements across financial services – including the Payment Card Industry (PCI) – healthcare, and other industries. In fact, the computer is locked down, so the employee is not able to print, copy, or paste except within his or her work application.

2) Flexible staffing with quick ramp-up or ramp-down times to meet fluctuating volumes. At-home workforces offer solutions using employees with unique skill sets, scalability, and efficiency. The ability to be ready to work with no commute allows for quick ramp-up or ramp-down in order to meet fluctuating volumes and minimize costs. And the “set up and stand by” model allows employees to meet unexpectedly high demand. Whether employees need to handle increased call or click volume from a successful product campaign, field complex questions from a natural disaster, or reassure customers after an unexpected system failure, a targeted at-home workforce can be ready as needed, for far shorter shifts than traditional office-based staff.

For example, one of the world’s largest financial institutions, whose services cover a full spectrum of banking, investing, and asset management services, struggled to manage seasonal call volume spikes of up to 200 percent using a traditional human resource approach. Hampered by outdated staffing models and cumbersome scheduling methodologies, this Fortune 100 company could scarcely answer the phone, let alone deliver a satisfying customer experience.

By employing an at-home solution, the company was able to secure high-caliber employees and deliver flexible scheduling and training by mapping support resources directly to call volumes. This ensured that customers were receiving the high quality of service associated with the brand. In doing so, they improved operating efficiencies by 30 percent, and within the first month of operation alone, the at-home workforce achieved 110 percent of the client’s customer satisfaction goals.

3) Scalability and fluency in languages, skill sets, flexibility, and cultural settings. With recruiting boundaries largely eliminated, companies can handpick the best talent with fluency in whatever languages and cultural settings are needed, no matter where they live. Companies can also tap into targeted skill sets – such as specialized expertise in healthcare, financial services, or gaming, for example – as well as have access to employees with greater flexibility and speed. This eliminates issues surrounding language barriers, skills, lack of customer affinity, or frustrated customers that often come when companies can’t recruit employees who can relate to the demographics and preferences of your customer base.

4) Seamless integration with virtual management tools. Because they’re equally secure and productive, virtual workplaces blend easily with existing brick-and-mortar centers. Virtual management tools allow managers to have the same level of interaction and supervision, whether in person or at home. Clients can be confident that they have the same level of control as with their office-based teams.

5) Expanded labor pool anytime, anywhere. Traditional contact centers and corporate offices are often limited by their geography when recruiting and selecting staff. Unfortunately, this eliminates many high quality candidates who live in rural areas or move frequently (such as veterans’ spouses). Most traditional roles are also full-time positions, which further limits an employer’s ability to benefit from highly qualified candidates who prefer or require part-time work. By drawing from a much broader candidate pool, at-home programs can attract the best possible workforce for the job and hire more mature candidates. Once the staff is in place, training time can be reduced drastically, as virtual training classes have no size limit.

6) Higher quality of service. With advancements in technology, security, and employee management, at-home workforces are helping businesses solve customer management challenges with proven results. At-home providers can recruit across a broader geographic area and can accommodate a wide array of employee needs, such as mobility issues. Therefore, they can attract a more diverse, often higher-quality selection of applicants. At-home employees tend to be self-motivated, highly educated team members with many years of work experience. The benefits of a work-from-home opportunity attract individuals who typically would not seek a contact center-based position.

7) Improved return on investment with the elimination in facility costs and higher employee utilization rates. Downtime and “off-line” time is a natural by-product of a full-time workforce. At-home solutions easily reduce this by a minimum of 20 percent, making it one of the most efficient staffing solutions available. Through the elimination or reduction in facility costs, lower employee turnover, and higher employee utilization rates, companies have a cost-effective solution that can improve customer experience while saving money.

Technology makes these home offices run as if an agent were sitting in a corporate location, complete with highly secure Internet connections, direct access to each employee’s manager, virtual training, and team support, and an internal social media approach to learning and development. Additionally, without commuting time and on-site office needs, these home employees are also helping companies reduce their carbon footprint, an environmental goal for many businesses committed to “going green.”

A virtual workforce is no longer a futuristic idea. It’s available today and ready to help call centers save money and solve customer management challenges.

P.J. Weyforth, TeleTech@Home senior vice president, is an expert on trends in at-home hiring and the unique advantages of an at-home workforce. With more than twenty years of experience in the contact center industry, she is now responsible for the in-house operations, product development, marketing, and technology efforts for TeleTech@Home.

[From Connection Magazine September 2011]

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