By Felix Serrano
The rise of the remote call center agent is one of the fastest-growing trends in the customer care industry. In fact, with an anticipated annual growth of 25 percent, some industry leaders are beginning to wonder if the dramatic rise of work-at-home agents could mean the eventual extinction of brick-and-mortar contact centers.
Accordingly, customer care providers are beginning to transform the way they hire, train, and manage their remote workforce through new innovations and technologies such as multi-channel support capabilities, security, and validation applications. To confirm this trend, the call center industry is seeing an increased adoption of outsourcing from in-house centers that have not kept pace with these innovations and want to leverage the company’s expertise and capital investments in the call center of today.
Below are five primary reasons that a work-at-home model is beneficial to customer care providers and their customers:
1) Greater Talent Pool: The traditional contact center is limited to hiring employees who are either local to the area or willing to relocate. The work-at-home model allows for an unlimited talent pool and increases the quality of staffing. Additionally, employees with flexible work schedules have a lower propensity to switch jobs, which ultimately means reduced attrition, fewer interruptions due to new-hire learning curves, and increased knowledge retention for businesses.
2) Enhanced Overall Employee Productivity: One of the main concerns with deploying a work-at-home model is the fear that agents will become less productive and more distracted. However, new research shows the exact opposite to be true. By having this type of flexibility, employees eliminate distractions and time-consuming nonproductive tasks, such as socializing with colleagues, elongated lunch breaks, and downtime associated with inclement weather. Remote workers are able to maximize their work time and decrease wasted time.
3) Cost Reductions from Increased Scalability and Flexibility: The customer care industry tends to have dramatic fluctuations in staffing needs during specific periods of the year. During the holiday season, for example, there is always an increase for customer interaction. The same idea applies to slower periods of the year, when there is less of a need for staff. Fortunately, the work-at-home model enables greater flexibility with adapting to particular needs. And work-at-home isn’t just a seasonal solution; it is a more efficient way of providing optimal staffing levels for providers that have evolving business needs and a way to further enhance business ROI.
4) Minimal Remote Office Costs Result in Monetary Savings: The cost of deploying and maintaining a physical contact center site is much more of a financial expense than deploying a work-at-home model. Maintenance repairs aside, traditional call centers also need equipment and IT capabilities just to remain in business. Work-at-home programs reduce those overhead costs where the agent is typically using their own equipment, which may include their own high-speed Internet access, computer, and other office equipment. These are tangible, bottom-line savings with work-at-programs.
5) Training Opportunities Through E-Learning: While brick-and-mortar contact centers allow for group training, new advancements in e-learning capabilities are helping remote workers to have the same level of training that their in-office counterparts receive. Integrated video and audio connection capabilities, for example, not only allow remote agents to participate in training sessions and record mock customer interactions, but these technologies are also more cost-effective when compared to the costs associated with working in an office environment. E-learning tools also require fewer trainers to be present, making this capability a lower cost solution for businesses overall.
Is the work-at-home model the future of customer service? Will the call center become a distant memory in years to come? While the industry-wide swing toward the at-home call center is a beneficial attribute, both are still essential to a balanced business strategy. The two models will continue to complement each other and make the other discipline stronger, resulting in the highest quality customer experience possible.
Felix Serrano is the senior vice president and general manager with Work@Home Solutions, Sitel. Contact him at 615-301-7100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[From Connection Magazine – May/Jun 2014]