Some companies, such as airliner JetBlue, have a long and successful history of employing at-home agents. But many are just now discovering the benefits of this trend, from on-site cost savings to more qualified workers – in addition to new legislation that could offer incentives to US-based contact centers.
So is it time to pull the lease on your building and send your agents home?
Before you do, be sure you’ve carefully weighed the pros and cons. As communication technology and social acceptance catches up with business requirements, the number of companies employing at-home customer service agents is growing. As a result, jobs that might once have been sent overseas are being “homeshored” to agents across the US. It could be time to take a closer look at whether your company should be taking advantage of policies like these.
Top 5 Advantages of an At-Home Workforce
- More qualified candidates. Expanding your hiring outside your company’s immediate geographic location enables you to assemble a team from the nation’s most qualified applicants.
- Better, more consistent customer service. Many US customers prefer to interact with native-English speaking agents, so providing access to US-based agents can offer a better customer experience.
- Scheduling flexibility. While at-home agents may appreciate the work-life balance of scheduling around family obligations, companies can also benefit from the ability to quickly adjust schedules without needing to account for commute times.
- Shorter wait times. With more agents available on a moment’s notice, you can better manage peaks in call volume and respond to unexpected events such as a flight cancelation, media attention or off-schedule catalog drop.
- Lower facilities costs. Reducing the number of physical seats required to staff an efficient contact center can greatly lower your overall costs and impact your bottom line.
Top 5 Challenges
- Onboarding. Local or remote, new employees need to be shown the ropes. How will you communicate not only day-to-day procedures but also technical knowledge, branding considerations and rules of thumb without the close contact of seasoned peers to help get them acclimated?
- Issue escalation. Are there clear channels through which agents can raise questions or direct customers who need specialized support?
- Company culture. At-home workers may not have considered everything they’ll miss outside of an office environment – department recognition, informal communication, pizza parties or simply going out to lunch with co-workers. Will you have a plan for promoting an atmosphere of collaboration and teamwork?
- Audio quality. When customers call in, you’ll need to ensure that your agents’ remote voice connections are solid and clear – as well as free from noise distractions such as barking dogs, street traffic or construction.
- Remote management. Effectively managing at-home workers is as much a skill as working from home. “When the cat’s away…” Managers will need visibility into how employees are actually spending their time, not just meeting their quotas early in the day.
If organizations invest in building a system that allows seamless connectivity, agent location become irrelevant to customers. In fact, with a good amount of planning and the right technology in place, your customers should not be able to tell the difference between an at-home agent and one who reports in to the office every morning.
For more on this topic, see the article in the latest issue of 1-to-1 Magazine: Addressing the Home-Based Agents Conundrum.