Thursday, February 24, 2011

by Natalia Klishina

Call centers have increasingly transitioned to hiring at-home agents lately, with roughly 30% of U.S. centers utilizing remote agents already. Some predict this number will grow to 80% by 2013, which may be a bit steep, but the trend is clearly in that direction. Currently, there are 45 million Americans who telecommute to their jobs. Published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, an American Psychologial Association (APA) analysis of 46 studies on telecommuting involving 12,833 employees comes out strongly in favor of the practice, calling it a "win-win" for both employees and employers. The employees are happy to not have to commute and the employers are happy to be getting better results and encountering lower costs.

We know that many of you still remain skeptical, but this is why you shouldn't be.

You will not lose any control over your agents.

Yep, you read that right. Just because you cannot walk the floor and physically watch your agents doesn't mean that you will lose any control. In fact, with CallFire's monitoring capabilities and comprehensive reports, it's even easier to keep track of your agents online than in person. You can see which agents are currently on the phone, how many calls each agent placed and their duration, and all the notes that they have input for each customer. Still feeling paranoid? You can listen in (or even barge in) on ongoing phone calls, or listen to call recordings at any time (included in the cost). Big Brother at his best.

You don't have to worry about network security.

All your information is stored on our secure CallFire database, and you -- the administrator -- are the only one who has access to it. Your agents don't have any of this information on their own computers, so you can sleep soundly.

Training & feedback is as easy as ever.

We've long since entered the Internet age, so there's nothing you can't do online. eLearning has become quite prevalent, and it provides a flexible schedule not just for your trainees, but also for you. You can sit down and create training materials and videos whenever it's convenient for you. As for testing their effectiveness, with all the analytics and recordings right at your fingertips on your CallFire dashboard, seeing results and compiling evaluations is quick and simple. Then just jump on a conference line or a Skype call if you want to have a conversation with your agents.
If you're still wondering why you should switch, here's just a few reasons.

Lower costs

You don't have to rent out real estate to house a call center, or buy all the equipment that's necessary for it. Most at-home agents have the Internet and phone access required for the job. You're also probably hiring most of these agents part time, not full time.

Higher productivity

For one, absenteesism and attrition rates decrease: A TelCoa study showed a decrease from 18% absenteesim for in-house agents to 7% for at-home agents; and employee attrition went from 53% to 39%.

On top of that, productivity has been shown to go up by anywhere near 15%. There are a myriad factors contributing to this: employees no longer have to spend time commuting or getting dressed for the office, weather and traffic aren't issues, costs of fuel and vehicle maintenance are cut, and employees are generally more willing to work longer hours when at home.

Better Workers

At-home agents are of higher caliber: A Frost & Sullivan study found that the average at-home worker is over the age of 35 (vs. 23 for in-house). Also, 80% of at-home workers have some college experience (vs. 30% for in-house), 40% have management experience, and 30% are bilingual. A believer in equal-opportunity? Well, at-home workers are usually 50% male and 50% female.

Higher customer satisfaction

The same TelCoa study mentioned above also found that customers who spoke to at-home agents vs in-house agents were 12% more satisfied with the service. If your customers are happy, they'll spend more, talk about you more, and generally make your life better.
By now, you should be convinced. The question then becomes not whether this is a good idea, but how to implement it. Here's some quick advice.
  1. Create virtual training materials, whether this be videos, PowerPoint presentations, interactive systems, or simple printable documents. Continue to edit and supplement these as time goes on. Set aside time for individual or group Q & A. Perhaps you may even want to go the route of on-site training if you still plan on all your agents being located in the same city.
  2. Compile a list of technical demands: minimum connectivity, hardware and speed requirements, Internet and search engine familiarity, experience with SalesForce, etc. In general, at-home workers should possess higher IT skills than in-house agents.
  3. Equipment: what do your agents need, what should they already have, and what are you willing to provide? With CallFire's cloud call center, all any agent needs is an Internet connection and a phone line (this can even be a cell phone or Skype number).
  4. Set clear expectations. How many hours a day do you expect home agents to be dialing? How often do you want them to report back to you? Let them know exactly what working from home means to you.
  5. Create a communication structure. Every agent should know how to get in touch with you and be comfortable doing so if they need support. They should also feel like they are part of the company and its community, so make sure they're included. This may involve occasional events if your agents are located in the same city, or it may be as simple as creating an online conversation forum if your agents are all over the country.
  6. Plan out your agents' schedules. Take advantage of the fact that some people may be willing to wake up and start working at 5am if that means they can end earlier. Also, keep in mind different time zones. This may mean that no one has to get up early or work late.

So whether you're thinking about setting up an at-home call center or you already have one (or if you're set on keeping your brick-and-mortar in-house call center), find out how CallFire's Cloud Call Center can help help power it and increase efficiency.