By Ida Rowlands
Some market analysts predict that by as early as 2009 remote agents will constitute approximately 7-1/2 percent of the total contact center agent workforce. Continuous advances in technology provide the framework for the successful integration of remote operations, which in turn produce recognizable benefits for leading contact centers. The proven rewards include leverage-gaining competitive advantages such as a decline in labor costs, relief for seasonal staffing fluctuations, and a drastic reduction in geographical limitations. In addition, remote operations from an off-site location provide an economical and safe environment for off-site file storage and recovery.
Employing remote agents offers contact center management a solution to often troubling scheduling dilemmas, as most agents who work from home actually prefer to work during traditional off-hours; one of the additional advantages is that the contact center can now accommodate global business opportunities while allowing for variations in client schedules.
Remote operations also provide real-time savings by contributing to lower facility and training costs while drastically reducing turnover rates. By embracing the most up-to-date technology (such as VoIP), contact centers no longer have to rely on traditional hardware systems. Remote agents become productive almost immediately with the right communications platform, a SIP headset, and remote connectivity to their home or mobile phone, which effectively eliminates the traditional limitations of ISDN lines or ACD routing systems.
Just because an employee works from a remote location, it doesn’t mean that productivity is compromised; remote agents can and do perform all the usual tasks performed by the contact center in-house staff. Whether they are dealing with recording client interactions, emailing, paging, accessing databases, communicating with other team members, or receiving coaching tips from a supervisor, there is virtually no loss of functionality with remote agents. Moreover, quality control can be readily maintained because contact center managers can conduct agent monitoring at any time, depending on the communication solution used. Innovative organizations stay on top of the most technologically advanced e-learning, phone training, and Web conferencing applications in order to ensure that their remote agents receive training comparable to that available to their in-house agents.
However, contact centers that decide to take advantage of the many advantages of virtual operations must be ready to invest a great deal of time, energy, and due diligence in order to ensure the successful integration of remote agents with the home office. Not all top in-house operators can readily adapt to remote operations. Although an operator may be highly skilled and competent, extremely motivated and technologically astute, it takes a special type of person to work well outside the confines of a regulated environment.
Therefore, it is incumbent on the manager of a contact center to ensure that remote operators meet specific requirements prior to endorsing their performance as a virtual agent. By performing due diligence, the shrewd manager will be on the lookout for a potential candidate for remote operations as part of the regular interview process, and candidates who exhibit high motivational and self-starter skills should be encouraged by management to attain all the necessary call center skills. Prior to agreeing to a contract with the remote agent, both the legal and human resources departments should be involved; it should be made clear that remote operations can be terminated for any reason during a predetermined probationary period.
Remote agents should be afforded the same opportunities for training as in-house staff, and access to supervisory advice and review must be part of the process. By carefully documenting responsibilities and ensuring that all standard operating policies and procedures specific to remote agents are addressed prior to contractual negotiations, potentially harmful future incidents can be identified and dealt with before they become major obstacles.
Quality monitoring sessions should be established, and regularly scheduled employee evaluations must be conducted so that the remote operators’ strengths and weaknesses can be determined and addressed. Self-management skills will be enhanced if remote agents have access to all their employee evaluations reports and they are included in all in-house training activities.
It is equally important that the remote staff maintain a sense of being a part of the “team” by being kept in the loop for any extracurricular activities that in-house staff members attend. Even though they operate outside the physical boundaries of the contact center, remote agents should always feel that they are an integral part of the overall operation.
Ida Rowlands is administrative assistant to the executive director of CAM-X (Canadian Call Management Association). As a CAM-X team member, Ida has worked behind the scenes on various association projects including the Annual Call Center Coaching Clinics, CSR and Supervisor Certifications, AOE and AOD awards programs, and the CAM-X Annual Convention and Trade Show. In her spare time, she likes to write short stories and has ghostwritten hundreds of articles for various online businesses.
[From Connection Magazine – October 2008]