Employing a remote workforce, a once relatively difficult undertaking due to the technological limitations of the time, has now become one of the most widely adopted trends within the call center space. In fact, an estimated 53% of contact centers in the US have some percentage of their agent population working from home, with more than 70% planning to increase the total number of employed remote agents. Considering the positive affect on employee turnover, productivity, and overall cost it maybe should not come as much of a surprise.
Consider the Benefits:
- Higher Productivity: At-home agents are noticeably more productive, spending 9% more time on calls and handling 4% more calls-per-minute.
- Lower Employee Turnover: Employee turnover is 35-50% lower for home-based agents versus those in-the office.
- Higher Education and Greater Experience: More than 80% of at-home agents have a college education and management experience compared to 35% of agents in-house.
- Cost Savings: Estimated annual savings per at-home agent is approximately $25,000, including reduced facility requirements, training, and supervisory demands.
- Lower Cost per Hour: Average cost of an on-site agent is approximately $31 per hour, compared to $21 for at-home agents.
- Facilitated Recruiting: 29.2% of LAG survey respondents experienced higher applicant flow for home working positions.
But despite the obvious advantages, many contact center managers are still hesitant to hire a remote workforce. In fact, according to CBRE’s Labor Analytics Group (LAG) survey, 57% of companies considering remote agents express concerns regarding the supervision of a home-based workforce. Many also fear the potential security backlash of providing employees access to sensitive information in a potentially less secure environment. And still others worry that a geographically dispersed workforce could hurt the development or sustainability of any corporate culture (the DNA to any well-run organization). While these concerns are certainly valid, there are ways businesses can effectively manage virtual agents in a manner that would emphasize the benefits and limit the potential disadvantages.
Corporate Culture will go down the drain: Organizations with a strong corporate culture typically achieve superior financial performance, greater brand differentiation, and higher employee and customer satisfaction—the majority of which can be attributed to effective teamwork, collaboration, and communication. And while many fear a geographically dispersed workforce would fail to achieve a similar level of “work-synergy”, the fact remains proper planning, guidelines, and training can allow for similar levels of productivity and effectiveness. A few suggestions:
- Create a consistent training program held at company headquarters to encourage the development of social interaction and teambuilding in a live environment to help facilitate team bonding and friendships.
- Consider treating the right-to-work remotely as a privilege granted only to those who have achieved certain milestones or company goals.
- Use gamification to create a healthy competitive environment which will encourage interactions between individuals despite being remote.
- Expand beyond email and the occasional phone call and include video conferencing to help establish more meaningful interactions between teams.
Remote = Loss of Control: When exploring the possibility of remote agents, 57% of of surveyed companies express concern regarding supervision. But the quality and supervision of customer service and sales initiatives should never be compromised by a geographically dispersed workforce—and the good news is, it doesn’t have to be. With a location agnostic call center software solution, contact center managers can supervise and guide agents just as effectively as if they were in the same location, and all business workflows and processes will remain intact. Coupled with supervisor dashboards, offering managers a real-time view of agents’ activities (who’s logged in, on a call, wrapping up, etc.), quality management tools (virtual monitor and assist), and advanced reporting capabilities, supervisors will have a 360-degree view of agents and their performance at all times. And by utilizing a cloud-based platform, support teams and supervisors will have direct access to agents’ user interfaces, making configuration and problem resolution a breeze. Consider yourself more in control.
Security and compliance will be a challenge: Many call center managers fear providing agents access to sensitive company and customer data within “uncontrolled” environment. But the truth of the matter is, remote and home-based work environments can be just as secure as brick-and-mortar call center facilities—it simply depends on the technology and procedures in place to protect the information. Case in point, the right solutions and platforms can automatically encrypt call recordings, export consumers to private IVRs to input sensitive data, mask information as it is shared, restrict agent access to only view accounts a single one at a time, and much more. In addition, the proper policies and procedures will help dictate who is qualified to gain access to specific data and information to help mitigate the human element which is always present, remote or not. The key is to realize the level of security for any institution is not defined by location but rather by the approach and tools used to achieve it.