The concept of using remote agents is not, by any means, new. However, what once constituted a small fraction of a larger fixed contact center establishment has gradually become the norm rather than the exception. Quite simply, with the ongoing evolutions in technology, the ability to use remote agents without affecting quality has largely become a reality and even a competitive advantage of some sorts. In other words, if your contact center doesn’t use remote agents, you may very well be handicapping your company before any customer interactions even take place. Don’t believe me? Consider the following:
- An estimated 3 million Americans work primarily from home today, an increase of 61% since 2005. (Forrester)
- An estimated 60% of contact centers utilize virtual agents in some capacity with an expected increase to 80% by 2013/2014. (Customer Contact Strategies)
- 53% of contact centers in the US have some percentage of agents already working from a home office with 70% planning to increase the total number of virtual agents. (National Assoc. Of Call Centers)
- Ovum expects the number of home-based customer service agents to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 36.4 %. (Ovum)
Contact centers are going remote and so are their agents. With the advent of cloud, improvements in Internet speed, and the need to stay competitive, it is becoming increasingly common for a customer’s call to be handled by an agent in their pajamas at home rather than by someone in a cubicle. But why the change?
Contact centers, for the longest time, were sarcastically referred to as cost centers; mandatory establishments to field customer calls and inquiries with generally low skills requirements or expectations. Fast-forward to today, and the growing emphasis on customer service, and the fundamental value of contact centers has changed as businesses increasingly rely on them to drive customer retention, as well as cross and up-sell product. Contact centers, in short, have morphed into relationship centers, driving the customer experience with a direct impact on a company’s bottom line. So where do remote agents fit in?
Allowing your reps to work from home has its advantages:
- Flexibility: With a distributed workforce, a business can easily scale their workforce up or down with relative ease. It’s just a matter of bringing more remote agents online, which can come in handy during unexpected peaks in customer demand. The added benefit of organizing your workforce by geographic time-zone can also be a big differentiator when it comes to customer support.
- Expanded Hiring Pool: By simple virtue of maintaining a geographically dispersed employee model, a company is no longer restricted to hiring individuals within driving distance of its contact center. As a result, employers can hire the most skilled and experienced agents, an important benefit as companies continue to expect more from their reps beyond simply fielding calls.
- Reduced Costs: Perhaps not as obvious, remote agents can help improve the bottom line by reducing expenses related to real-estate and overall labor costs, meaning your potentially more experienced and distributed workforce is likely costing you less as compared to a traditional brick-and-mortar contact center.
- Productivity: While one might assume that remote agents would be less productive than those under direct supervision in a physical contact center, a recent Stanford University study found the opposite to be true. In fact, remote agents completed more calls and were less likely to quit than those working in a traditional contact center environment. While one can speculate as to why, the assumption is that the improved work-life balance actually helps agents be more productive.
With a cloud contact center solution, the reality of having a largely distributed workforce is within reach. Granted, hiring the right individuals and picking the best vendor will require some work, but if you haven’t already considered the benefits, it might be high time you do because your competitors already are.