According to IT consulting giant IDC, nearly 310,000 home agents will be working in the U.S. by the end of this year – up from 112,000 in 2007. Studies by other entities reveal similar growth in the contact center work-at-home arena. While it’s great that so many organizations are embracing the home agent model, most organizations aren’t realizing the full potential of their home agent program. Picture3

Why not? Because they insist on ‘tethering’ their home agents – adhering to a “hub & spoke” approach that places rigid geographic restrictions on the virtual initiative and keeps it from truly burgeoning. 

With today’s technology, a home agent located in a neighboring state or across the country can handle customer contacts just as easily and effectively as an onsite brick & mortar agent can. And the contact center can monitor, coach and manage the aforementioned home agent just as easily and effectively as it can a brick & mortar agent. 

Granted, managers and supervisors can’t exactly give far-away home agents an actual slap on the back for a job well done, or an actual kick in the pants for a job done atrociously, but that’s no reason to keep home agents confined to the same or similar zip code as the contact center’s. “Keep you enemies close and your home agents closer” is not a thing. It’s time contact centers stopped acting as if it were.

Reconsidering Traditional Policies

One of the main reasons why the vast majority of home agent programs are so local is that most contact centers don’t allow new agents to work from home until they have proven themselves in the brick & mortar center for at least six months. Such a policy is reasonable, but customer care organizations that want to separate themselves from the competition by building a truly talented and engaged frontline need to start being a little unreasonable. 

By requiring all agents to first work inside the facility prior to flying the contact center coop, companies limit themselves to a workforce comprised only of job candidates who reside in the immediate region. In contrast, by opening its arms to a nationwide workforce, a company exponentially increases the chances of finding top agent talent during the hiring process. And because adopting such a progressive hiring policy essentially means letting new-hires work remotely (few candidates are going to relocate across state lines for a agent position), the number of interested applicants will be even larger still, as workers everywhere are clamoring for work-at-home opportunities. 

In addition to attracting a much larger and talent-filled candidate pool, abandoning the hub & spoke mentality enables companies to retain valued and experienced brick & mortar agents who may have to move out of the region due to spouse’s/significant other’s job transfer, or to be closer to an ailing family member. I know of one large vacation and cruise company that changed its policies to hold on to three of the contact center’s best agents, all of whom had to move a few states away within a few months of one another for reasons already cited. Today, that company has a truly virtual workforce – roughly 60% of the company’s 500+ agents currently work from home, many of whom live nowhere near one of the company’s physical contact centers. 

But Does Truly Virtual Truly Work

Good question. If you ask one of the organizations that has already gone truly virtual, the answer is a resounding “YES”. All you need to do is take a look at one of the rapidly-growing virtual outsourcers, like Alpine Access or LiveOps, and you’ll see that the truly virtual model truly works. Via the use of web-based pre-hire assessment solutions, e-learning solutions, quality monitoring solutions and performance optimization solutions, these and other customer care organizations can effectively hire, train, evaluate and continuously improve agents who have never (or have rarely) set foot in one of the organization’s actual contact centers. And these agents are easily kept in the loop and connected to peers and supervisors via phone, email, chat, SMS, and video conferencing – technologies that ALL of us already use to do the majority of our communication today anyway.

And all of the alluring benefits of home agent initiatives – better employee engagement and retention, better performance, more flexible staffing, decreased facility expenses, smaller carbon footprint, et. al. – well, those benefits apply whether the home agents are working in a house down the block from the contact center or across a couple time zones. In fact, many of those benefits are increased once the organization lifts its geographic restrictions and sheds its short spokes. 

 


About Greg Levin

Greg Levin, Founder of Off Center, is one of the most unique and refreshing voices in the customer care industry. He has been researching, reporting on and satirizing contact center management and customer care since 1994 – first with ICMI, a leading consulting and training firm, and now as an independent writer, speaker and rabble rouser.

Greg offers a wide range of valuable and compelling resources – all aimed at educating, empowering and entertaining contact center professionals worldwide. Most notable is his popular weekly Off Center blog and his critically acclaimed ebook, Full Contact: Contact Center Practices and Strategies that Make an Impact.

To learn more about Greg and what he brings to the table, go to:

www.offcenterinsight.com.

 

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A widespread and ever-increasing trend within the contact center industry is to allow service representatives to handle customer contacts from the comfort of a home office.  The growth of this virtual contact center workforce begs at least two questions:  (1) what are the key competencies people need in order to succeed in a home-based service representative role, and (2) are those key competencies any different than those required of service representatives in a brick-and-mortar contact center?  The answers to these questions may seem obvious--or at least easy to find--but the reashutterstock 105854504lity is that very little information is publicly available on this topic. Below, I highlight key evidence and insights from FurstPerson’s extensive job analysis research that paints a very clear picture of the most typical and unique demands of a home-based role. 

 

Key Competencies of Successful Representatives

We all know that in order to identify qualified candidates for any particular role, you must first understand what it is that makes a candidate “qualified” for the role.  In other words, what are the critical competencies that candidates must possess in order to be successful as a new hire?  An understanding of these critical competencies should be gained through a targeted and thorough job analysis process.  FurstPerson’s Contact Center Job Analysis Survey data from more than 1,600 service representative job experts indicates that, regardless of the environment in which the job is performed – brick-and-mortar center or at-home – the following competencies are most critical for success:

  • Compliance with rules and procedures
  • Dependability to follow through on commitments
  • Accountability for actions and results
  • Composure and Tact in even the most difficult interpersonal situations
  • Listening and Oral Communication skills
  • Integrity and Professionalism in all actions
  • Learning Aptitude to absorb and apply new information quickly

Given the nature of a contact center representative role, these competencies make perfect sense.  They indicate a need for agents to be highly conscientious, to possess strong interpersonal and customer-service related skills, and to get up to speed readily on new and rapidly changing information.

 

Key Competencies of Successful Representatives in a Home Environment

So if all of those competencies are critical regardless of where the job is performed, then aren’t home agents and brick-and-mortar agents essentially interchangeable?  The answer is a resounding “NO!”  Too often, contact center organizations take their most successful brick-and-mortar representatives and allow them to work from home as a reward for their success, only to see them then crash and burn in a home office environment.

In order to succeed in a representative job in a home environment, our research shows that candidates need all of the above competencies … and then some.  Not only must home agents be able to do all of the same things that brick-and-mortar agents can do, but they also must possess the following characteristics--and to a significantly greater extent than required for brick-and-mortar agents:

  • Autonomy:  Home agents must be able to work comfortably and confidently on their own with little or no supervision and without needing the social interaction that comes in sitting face-to-face with one’s coworkers for several hours of the day. 
  • Perseverance/Task Focus:  Home agents must possess the self-discipline to maintain consistent focus on their work activities, without being easily distracted.
  • Time Management:  Home agents must be able to manage their time effectively on their own in order to maximize achievement of work activities during their shift.
  • Computer Skills:  Home agents must display strong working knowledge of how to use computers and troubleshoot basic technology issues on their own without having to reach out to technical support for every little problem.

Selecting the Right Representatives for a Home-Based Role

The bottom line is that before you can build a pre-hire assessment process to identify successful candidates for any job, you must first understand what you need those assessments to measure.  And it’s not just about the key competencies required to succeed as a Service Representative; it’s about the key competencies required to succeed as a Service Representative in a home office environment.  It does your home agent program no good to identify candidates who can successfully perform the job itself, but then fail to take into account whether they will be miserable, lonely, lost, unproductive, or too easily distracted in a home environment.  In fact, the quickest way to lose some of your best agents is to remove them from the very environment in which they are most successful and place them in a new environment without considering whether or not it’s a good fit for them.  Before you decide to reward your high-performing agents by allowing them to work in a home-based role, you must first consider whether they will potentially succeed in that role, or whether you are setting them up for failure by removing some of the very factors that help them to succeed in the first place (e.g., structure, socialization, supervision).  Instead, the decision to move an agent into a home environment or hire a job candidate for such a role should be based on the results of a well designed selection system that assesses the key worker competencies specifically for the at home role. 

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As we all know, hiring can be frustrating especially when dealing with high applicant volume or resume shortcomings and vague requirements. But, if done properly, talent selection can help you overcome some of these challenges. In last week’s post I discussed how talent selection can help you hire the right home agents. Today I wanted to dig a little deeper and delve into the specific results that talent selection can help you achieve. Specifically I want to show you how talent selection can help reduce attrition in work at home programs, as well as improve call metrics, customer engagement metrics and sales production.Picture5

 

Reduce new hire attrition in your work-at-home program

People who have the right personalities and skills for the job are more likely to be successful and happy, and are less likely to look elsewhere. The same holds true whether you are hiring a traditional in-house role or if you are hiring someone as an at-home agent. However, the same skills and traits do not necessarily translate for both job types and it is important to make sure you are screening appropriately for the position being hired.

For example, remote agents need different competencies (abilities, behaviors, and skills) than brick-and-mortar agents because their jobs lack in-person supervision and interaction with coworkers. Hiring processes that do not measure autonomy and other competencies may not screen out job candidates that are not the right fit for a home agent role.  By developing job profiles and administering assessments that identify specific skills and personality traits necessary for remote contact center agents, you can screen out people who are likely to be unhappy or unsuccessful.

 

Improve call control metrics

The metric I want to focus on is Average Handle Time (AHT). This key metric is important because it directly relates to production efficiency within your center. We have found that the best way to evaluate a job candidate’s ability to manage their average handle time is through a call center simulation. Specifically we want to simulate a candidate’s ability to enter information into a call center type system, document call details, and switch between tasks. Candidates that do well on call center simulations have proven to have better average handle time performance.  

By introducing a simulation to the hiring process you are getting a virtual preview of how the candidate may perform once they are placed into a similar live situation. This reduces your risk of making the wrong hire.

 

Improve customer engagement metrics

Customer engagement metrics are very difficult to quantify in the traditional interview process. By adding assessments and simulations into your talent selection process you should be able to gauge how a candidate will perform with regards to metrics like first call resolution and customer satisfaction.

First call resolution: The old adage of time equals money holds true here. Your representative’s ability to solve the customer’s problem on the first call reduces the amount of customers who have to call back to get their problem solved and the number of customers who are dissatisfied with your customer service. Through job analysis studies, we know that candidates that want to solve problems and can solve problems tend to resolve calls more effectively leading to better first call resolution results.  Assessments that evaluate personality (measures the will do) and problem solving and learning (measures the can do) tend to predict which candidates will meet your first call resolution production goals.

Customer satisfaction: Customer engagement involves creating experiences that your customers enjoy.  One metric used to measure this is customer satisfaction (CSAT)Research and practical results suggest using multiple types of assessments to evaluate a candidate’s potential to meet CSAT production targets.  First, a simulation requires a candidate to demonstrate decision making ability in a service or sales environment.  A personality assessment will measure the candidate’s friendliness, dependability, and desire to help.  A problem solving test will measure the candidate’s ability to probe for information and use that information to solve problems.  Combined, these types of assessments can help evaluate the entire candidate. 

Improve sales production

Unlike first call resolution and customer satisfaction data which is usually based on downstream customer surveys; sales data is directly tied to an agent employee.  Many call centers are pushing for revenue which means more cross-sell and up-sell offers.  Evaluating job candidates that can sell becomes critical to meeting these performance targets.  Combining assessments with structured interviews will enable you to measure the candidate’s ability to quickly create rapport with a customer, probe for their needs, and present choices to them in order to close the sale.

Add it up

Hopefully you can now see how important talent selection is in driving an objective process that produces financial results. By hiring the right people that do their jobs well, your company will increase profits and reduce costs. Understanding how to effectively screen, especially for remote agents, will increase the likelihood that customers will continue to do business with you. It will also reduce new hire attrition which in turn reduces the amount of resources you spend finding, hiring and training new people. This will allow you to focus on making good employees excellent ones. But remember, it all begins with the proper talent selection tools and process.

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In my previous post, I provided information on behavioral interviews and psychometric testing. In it I also touched on talent selection.  Having a strong talent selection process (one based on defining and measuring the necessary abilities, skills, and behaviors for a given role) is important because hiring the right people helps reduce turnover and increase revenue. Conversely, hiring the wrong people can cost the business money and harm its reputation with customers, employees and the business community. This week I wanted to focus on talent selection, specifically how it can help you find and hire the right home agents.shutterstock 81385114

What is talent selection and how can talent selection help you? 

Talent selection, simply put, is the process of finding the right people for each job by understanding what constitutes success in a particular role. It is the finding of candidates with the capabilities that will enable success allow them to support the long term goals of the business.

There are three key components to talent selection:

1) Understand the job by defining what job success looks like. 

Understanding what makes jobs different from each other and understanding the metrics are important for different types of jobs. This is where a job analysis is helpful to determine what abilities, skills, and behaviors are necessary, especially if you have a number of jobs that are superficially alike, such as call center jobs, but that deal with different business functions. Some examples would include:

  • Sales representatives drive revenue and thereof might be measured on how many sales they make.  To be successful in a sales role, a job candidate should have the right level of listening and oral communications ability. Compared to other home agent roles, like technical support representatives, they don’t need the same level of technical knowledge, but should know enough to recommend the right solutions to their prospects’ business problems.
  • Tech support representatives need technical and problem-solving skills, the patience to deal with customers’ questions and problems, and the ability to explain technical concepts to non-experts.
  • Collections representatives need good organizational skills, assertiveness, and strong math and negotiation skills to calculate payment plans since their success depends on how many outstanding accounts they can collect on.

When hiring home agents you should look for people who are self-motivated and can work without in-person supervision. Home agents should demonstrate good time management skills and the ability to solve complex problems by referring to documentation. Whereas brick and mortar agents should be able to work in a busy, social environment, home agents should be comfortable working alone without much coworker interaction.

2) Understand how to measure those competencies during the talent acquisition process. 

Once you’ve defined the competences associated with success, how do you measure these to make sure you’re hiring people who have the right skills to be successful at the job? Predictive assessments can help hiring managers determine what candidates have these abilities, skills, and behaviors. The types of skills that are necessary determine what assessments are most useful. What might predictive assessments include?

  • Simulations that require candidates to perform multiple tasks at once while solving a customer’s problem are more useful than asking candidates to describe their multi-tasking skills in an in-person interview.
  • Personality assessments that can determine whether a home agent candidate has the right temperament for dealing with difficult customers and the right behaviors for working at home.
  • Problem-solving tests that that evaluates an applicant’s ability to learn new information and apply the information to solving problems.

3) Understand the key business metrics to measure and relate back to the hiring process.  

Hiring the right people means hiring people who help the business achieve its objectives. Statistical evidence of a correlation between a candidate’s assessment performance and their success at the job provides the best information. A validation study that measures performance and retention will allow you to screen for candidates that meet certain standards and revise your hiring model based on new data. Using a data-driven hiring process enables you to make continuous improvements because you can point to the steps that need refinement.   Measuring a job candidate against your successful home agent hiring profile that is based on retention and performance data will ensure that you are hiring individuals that are the right fit for a home agent role. Using a data-driven hiring process enables you to make continuous improvements because you can point to the steps that need refinement.

So remember, understand the job by defining competencies associated with success, how to measure the competencies during the process, and what the key business metrics to measure and relate back to your hiring process. Finally look at the data and refine as needed to help complete the talent selection process.

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For many, contact center work becomes a whole lot more enticing when it doesn’t involve working in a contact center.

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If you’re looking for a way to vastly expand your center’s recruiting reach and hang on to top talent for years rather than merely months, you should seriously consider implementing a home agent initiative. 

Many customer care organizations today have a home agent program in place, and nearly all of them report how the program has enabled their contact center to cut attrition. However, what often gets lost in the shuffle with all this talk about retention is just how effective a recruiting tool a home agent initiative can be. Don’t get me wrong, extending talented agents’ tenure by sending them home is great – a huge boon – but it shouldn’t totally overshadow a home agent program’s potential for attracting and retaining new talent, as well.

Even if your center doesn’t allow new-hires to work from home until after they’ve served six months or more onsite, you’d be amazed by how many people would apply for an agent position if they knew that a work-at-home opportunity existed down the road with the company. It’s not just that promoting such opportunities in job ads attracts a ton of candidates – it attracts a ton of talented candidates. Top agents from other organizations that don’t offer remote work opportunities would love the chance to interview with one that does. And no, you shouldn’t feel bad about stealing talent – unless your spouse, mother or best friend manage a contact center down the street. Even then you shouldn’t feel too badly about it.

It’s not all about nabbing neighboring agent stars. Many very talented and well-educated folks who’ve never even considered working in customer care might very well consider it if it meant being able to avoid traffic gridlock and working in their pajamas. Granted, it’s always nice to attract applicants who already have contact center experience, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with attracting smart, driven people – many of whom may very well possess a customer service soul despite having never donned a headset. (You can test this during the interview/assessment portion of the hiring process.)

The real recruiting power of a home agent initiative, however, is tapped when the organization abandons the typical “you have to work in our center first” policy. Once a contact center decides to let at least some new-hires start out working from home immediately – and clearly advertises this fact – the number and quality of job applicants often increases exponentially, thus allowing recruiters to be highly selective and discerning during the hiring process. And once a center goes truly virtual with its home agent program – that is, stops restricting its candidate search to the immediate geographic area – the entire nation opens up to recruiters. Organizations that go this route are able to attract extremely talented and experienced applicants, and those applicants typically end up sticking around for a very long time. 

So what do you stand to gain by implementing a home agent initiative and treating it like a recruiting tool? Higher caliber agents, for one. Lower turnover and associated costs, for another. And let’s not forget the increase in customer satisfaction that occurs when agents not only know what they’re doing, but also love how they get to do it.

 


About Greg Levin

Greg Levin, Founder of Off Center, is one of the most unique and refreshing voices in the customer care industry. He has been researching, reporting on and satirizing contact center management and customer care since 1994 – first with ICMI, a leading consulting and training firm, and now as an independent writer, speaker and rabble rouser.

Greg offers a wide range of valuable and compelling resources – all aimed at educating, empowering and entertaining contact center professionals worldwide. Most notable is his popular weekly Off Center blog and his critically acclaimed ebook, Full Contact: Contact Center Practices and Strategies that Make an Impact.

To learn more about Greg and what he brings to the table, go to:

www.offcenterinsight.com

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Yahoo! appears to have chosen a radical short-term plan that addresses a surface-level issue, rather than the underlying cause. 

Reaction to Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to end telecommuting came quickly and critically.  Mayer is attempting to turnaround Yahoo!, a company that has churned through four CEOs and an untold number of employees in its fight to remain relevant in the face of Google’s search engine dominance.describe the image    

Yahoo! will end telecommuting in June, effectively forcing remote workers to either return to the office or leave the company.  Many media outlets decried Yahoo!’s policy reversal as a step backwards for working mothers and advocates of work-life balance while others considered the risk of the company’s best talent leaving for more flexible working arrangements. 

What has not been discussed is that Mayer’s decision reflects a startling indictment of her team’s ability to build and lead high-performing remote work teams.  Yahoo!’s internal communication to employees pointed out that “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” prompting some observers to suggest Mayer is attempting to identify and eliminate unproductive employees.  However, no policy or control tactic will overcome weak leadership, a far bigger concern for Yahoo! than either work-life balance or the risk of losing its most coveted talent. 

Some studies show that telecommuters are more satisfied and productive, such as Mobile Work Exchange’s 2013 Digital Dilemma report, which pointed out that work-from-home employees average nine hours more productivity per week.  One factor contributing to these improvements, according to Chicago-based consultancy FurstPerson, is that telecommuters tend to organize their work around their personal lives. 

There is a disheartening lack of competent managers in many U.S. companies - some estimates suggest that 50% to 70% of managers are ineffective.  The challenges associated with managing a virtual team, which requires more skill than traditional management jobs, amplifies a manager’s already existing weaknesses.  Some of the consequences for companies plagued by weak managers include poor quality, slow innovation, and lower productivity.  The problem reflects management’s inability to lead effectively, not in an office and especially not from afar.

Nearly fifteen years ago, I was the lead author on an article, Remodeling the Electronic Cottage, which described four consequences of working from home.  First, the lack of face-to-face interaction leads to social isolation and, consequently, lower job satisfaction.  Second, telecommuting negatively impacts an employee’s professional and organizational identity. Third, successful telecommuters tend to be ambitious and conscientious, so if advancement is slow the employee will become disenfranchised and seek opportunities elsewhere.  Finally, many companies use work-from-home models to avoid costs rather than as a well-articulated, data-driven strategy. 

The social implications of telecommuting are important and should not be marginalized, but those issues are easily overcome with modern technologies and a supportive culture.  The more fundamental concern is whether a company has the managerial talent necessary to compete effectively.  If not, the organization will find itself in a struggle for survival, regardless of where work is performed. 

The decision to focus on improving speed and productivity reflects Mayer’s understanding of the competitive landscape, but her focus on telecommuting appears to miss the central issue at Yahoo! … it’s all about leadership. 

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In part 4 of our blog series on remote talent assessment strategies, we look at various issues to consider when moving to a remote agent model. For a more detailed discussion on talent assessment strategies in the home agent model, view our white paper .

FurstPerson Considerations for Remote Agent

Important odds and ends considerations for the remote agent model include:

Employee or Independent Contractor?

Most employee agent programs use an employee only model for many reasons, but primarily because directly employing remote agents solves many potential problems. In fact, several independent contractor models are now being challenged with lawsuits.

Choose a State or Province

With 50 states, the United States offers mini-labs on employment laws, costs, etc. Frankly, some states, like California, are almost universally avoided by virtual home agent models because of the costs to employ someone in that state. Make sure to understand the costs and regulations associated with each state so you can focus your sourcing spend on the most attractive markets.

Recruiting Tactic

One interesting recruiting strategy is to set-up a Google Alert for call centers or contact centers so that you are notified of contact centers that are closing. With a virtual model, you can then reach out to that organization’s Human Resources team to potentially source and select those employees into your remote agent program.

Provide a Computer or Not

Determine your company policy on providing a computer to the new hire or requiring them to purchase or use their existing computer. This has a number of technical and financial implications including compensations and tax benefits.

Work Shift Trends

According to survey data from the 2012 Remote Agent Summit and Michele Rowan of At Home Customer Contacts, an emerging trend is increased utilization of split and staggered work shifts at home (often several a day), attracting high-caliber employees to customer contact positions, while sharply matching arrival patterns of voice and non-voice work in very targeted increments. The results are labor cost savings and material and facilities reductions for many organizations.

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In part 2 of our blog series on remote talent assessment strategies, we took a look at the advantages of the virtual recruiting model and the key role it plays in hiring remote agents. Now, in part 3, we examine ways to prepare for an increase in candidate volume when moving to a virtual recruiting model.

FurstPerson Types Recruitment Models

There are two recruiting models for remote agent hiring: hub and spoke and virtual.

  • Hub and spoke means that your agents work at home but live within a convenient drive time of the physical center.
  • Virtual means that agents can live anywhere.

For hub and spoke, candidate volume is not as large a concern because it will mirror your brick and mortar volume. However, moving to a virtual model requires you to carefully plan the recruitment process and workflow. You should experience an increase in candidate volume with a virtual model which means you need to consider hiring automation. If you stick with a recruiter led interviewing process, your costs will skyrocket, the candidate experience will be poor and, the candidate and recruiter effort will be significant. Whether it is using assessment tests or some other type of filtering, you should plan to automate the front-end of the hiring process.

For a more detailed discussion on talent assessment strategies in the home agent model, view our white paper .

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In part 2 of our blog series on remote talent assessment strategies, we highlight the advantages of the virtual recruiting model and the key role it plays in remote agent hiring.

Virtual Recruiting

There are two recruiting models for remote agent hiring: hub and spoke and virtual.

  • Hub and spoke means that your agents work at home but live within a convenient drive time of the physical center.
  • Virtual means that agents can live anywhere.

While there are benefits and drawbacks to both models, FurstPerson views access to talent as the most critical benefit of the virtual agent model. In a traditional brick and mortar labor market, superior talent for contact center jobs is capped based on population size, competitive influences, and distance. You might be at a 3 to 1 candidate to hire ratio or maybe 4 to 1 or 5 to 1. This limits your ability to select potential top performers. Virtual models allow you to remove or reduce population size and distance from the recruiting equation. You now have access to more talent which means you can be more selective. Think of hiring at a 20 to 1 ratio. Virtual home agent models enable you to hire more potential top performers.

Why is this important? It is all about optimizing your hiring process and performance to drive more profit for your organization. Using a data-driven hiring process will demonstrate that the more selective you can be, the more value you can drive in new hire production. This can lead to performance improvements of 20% to 50% for more selective hiring models than models stuck at a 3 to 1 hiring ratio.

The other key benefit to the virtual model is the ability to optimize your recruiting efforts. For each candidate that completes your process, you can match them to all of your contact center job families and call types. This enables you to save significant recruiting expense, improve the chances of a candidate being hired by your organization, and improve overall fill time.

For a more detailed discussion on talent assessment strategies in the home agent model, view our white paper .

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Growth and interest in remote agent contact centers continues to steadily climb. In fact, survey results from the 2012 Remote Agent Summit indicate that attendees’ percentage of home agent population will double in size over the next year, from an estimated 18% to 36% of their customer contact population.

Low investment and high returns are driving the contact center capacity shift from the traditional brick and mortar infrastructure to the remote agent model. What are the key considerations to ensure this shift is successful and provides the anticipated returns? FurstPerson recently published a white paper that delves into this topic in detail. We’ll also summarize these issues in a four part blog series. Here in part 1, we highlight the difference between the traditional brick and mortar contact center role and the home agent role.

Virtual Agent

So what makes a home agent different? Bottom line: successful home agents have a different competency profile than successful contact center agents.

To create a successful home agent competency profile, you first need to understand if the candidate fits the hiring profile for the job – be it a role in customer care, support, sales, loyalty, or collections. Next, you need to determine if the candidate can perform the job from home. To learn more about contact center and home agent competencies, visit our blog posts here, here and here.

Based on extensive research, FurstPerson data has shown, for example, that autonomy and time management are two competencies that rate as more important for successful customer care performance in an at-home environment vs. a brick and mortar contact center. However, these are not the only competencies to consider. You can read more about our research on these and other competencies to consider on our blog.

Understanding the competency profile is an important first step. Knowing how to evaluate the candidate against the competency profile is even more important and becomes a critical second step. For example, for home agents, measuring autonomy and time management can best be performed through personality assessments. Measuring multi-tasking, meanwhile, is best done through a simulation. More complex call types like technical support may require using a problem solving assessment. Be sure to read more about using assessment tools as part of your hiring process on our blog here .

In addition, it is important to realize that an employee who is successful as a brick and mortar agent will not necessarily be successful in the home agent role. In our experience, many organizations move employees home and then see deterioration in performance because they are not fit for the remote agent role. You can learn more about this in a previous white paper post on home agents and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter performance.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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