Working from Home Fuels Virtual Call Center Industry

By John Meyer

Telecommuting, or working from home, took center stage earlier this year due to the leak of a controversial memo from Yahoo’s human resource director. In the memo, published by AllThingsD, Yahoo announced that all employees who work from home must start coming into the office beginning June 1, 2013, because “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

Yahoo’s stance on telecommuting seems to stand in stark contrast to the growing popularity and acceptance of a home-based workforce. According to data from the United States Census Bureau, 9.5 percent (or 13.4 million) people worked at least one full workday at home in 2010. Even more compelling is Forrester Research’s prediction that 63 million Americans – 43 percent of US workers – will work from home by 2016.

Although each situation is different, company executives often deny giving employees the option to telecommute because they are afraid of reduced performance. In actuality, allowing people to work from home often delivers positive financial benefits. Consider the results of an experiment conducted by CTrip, China’s largest travel agency, which was reviewed in a study by Stanford University:

The turnover rate among CTrip call center representatives had historically hovered around 50 percent per year when company executives decided to conduct a nine-month work-from-home experiment. Selecting a random sampling of the company’s 16,000 employees, the company had a portion of workers work from home and kept a control group in the office. The following astonishing results persuaded executives to conduct an aggressive campaign to convince employees to take the home-working option:

  • Working from home led to a 13 percent performance increase over nine months. About 9 percent came from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick days) and 4 percent came from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter working environment).
  • Attrition dropped by half as home workers reported improved work satisfaction.
  • An estimated savings of $2,000 per year per work-at-home employee was reported.
  • There was no impact on quality.

Obviously telecommuting can, and does, work for thousands of companies and individuals worldwide. However, there are arguably certain types of people, positions, and industries that are better suited than others for operating in a virtual environment. The call center industry, for one, has been completely transformed by the advent of the home-based business model and is proof that it can work on an extremely large scale.

Sending calls to agents working from home was a new concept twenty years ago. Today, there are extensive networks of small businesses providing customer service through thousands of carefully selected home-based agents. The value and results these home-based resources provide has persuaded many high-profile, brand-conscious organizations to outsource to virtual service providers. The benefits of using home-based agents include:

  • Higher quality talent: Service providers using home-based agents have the unique ability to scour the nation looking for the highest quality agents with skills, experience, and other qualifications that match client-defined criteria.
  • Lower costs: A virtual contact center has the advantage of lower operating costs because it eliminates fixed costs such as utilities, facility rental and maintenance, network operations, and office suppliers.
  • Lower attrition: Telecommuting provides people with improved work/life balance, allowing them to schedule their work around their lives. Combined with the savings from no commutes, less eating out, and not having to pay for gas and parking, home-based agents tend to stay in their positions longer. “There’s a lower agent-attrition rate among home agents (10 percent) than there is in the brick-and-mortar world (50 percent),” reported Frost & Sullivan.
  • Reduced environmental impact: Companies increasingly are placing a high priority on the lower impact on the environment achieved through telecommuting. “The energy saved annually from telecommuting could exceed the output of all renewable energy sources combined,” according to Kate Lister’s study, “The State of Telework in the US.”
  • Improved service levels: Customer service programs provided through a virtual business model that utilizes crowdsourcing, or “work-as-a-service,” can easily adapt to changing business needs and deliver an exceptional customer experience. To handle unexpected or planned business fluctuations, the number of professionals working from home can be ramped up or down within minutes, helping companies protect their brand by delivering consistent, high-quality customer care.

The overall success of the virtual call center industry shows that a work-from-home model can deliver superior performance, outstanding service, and high overall business value. These universal benefits will continue to convince companies to take a more progressive approach and use talent from within the human cloud to meet tomorrow’s business needs. Slate reporter Farhad Manjoo predicts, “I suspect that, in time, the distinction between working in the office and working at home will fade away. We’ll all be able to work from anywhere, at any time, and our work will be assessed by what we produce, not by how much time we spend doing it.”

I couldn’t agree more.

John Meyer is co-chairman and chief executive officer of Arise Virtual Solutions Inc., a virtual solutions company. John joined the company in 2011 to drive the organization’s growth, set the strategic vision, and manage the global operations of the business. John has over twenty-eight years of leadership experience in building high growth organizations.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2013]