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 home agent programs, most organizations aren’t realizing the full potential of the home agent model.
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, work at home agents located in a neighboring state or across the country can handle customer contacts just as easily and effectively as onsite brick & mortar agents can. And the contact center can monitor, coach and manage the aforementioned home agents just as easily and effectively as it can a brick & mortar agents.
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 Home Agent Program 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.