This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Customer Inter@ction Solutions
Things like smart phones and social media are proving to be good for business, but are also forcing businesses to offer customer service around the clock, around the world, and many are looking for creative ways to do it and still keep costs in check.
Two words and one very viable solution: remote agents. With IP technologies and the new breed of centralized all-in-one IP communications platforms, a company of any size and located anywhere can deploy remote agents with as little as a high-speed Internet connection, a computer, a phone, and a quiet environment in which an agent can work. As importantly, most all-in-one platforms also provide the real-time monitoring and reporting tools supervisors need to view remote agent activity, at all times.
Will using remote agents benefit your business?
As one director of technology advises, “Don’t deploy remote agents for remote’s sake — there has to be a strong business driver.” There are, indeed, a growing number of reasons to employ a remote workforce, and some striking benefits.
· Increased agent talent pool. Take advantage of work-at-home (WAH) parents, students, disabled workers, retirees, persons living in rural areas — workers who might not be able to work full-time in a formal contact center, but who often possess hard-to-find skill sets.
· Reduced churn. Agents who work at home are generally more satisfied with their jobs because they appreciate the flexibility.
· Cost savings. Eliminate the expenditures of contact center facilities, equipment, energy costs, etc. As attrition rates improve with the use of remote agents, costs of training new hires is also reduced.
· Flexibility to meet peaks and ebbs in demand. The ability to bring remote or home-based workers online quickly allows companies to rapidly respond to daily or seasonal demands, or to emergency situations.
· Business continuity. Stay nimble and responsive in the face of a natural disaster or crisis. When an outage does occur at a contact center site, an IP-based platform can quickly re-route calls to remote agents.
· Follow-the-sun support — think globally, act locally. Remote agents let companies serve customers 24/7 in various parts of the world and in different time zones, minus huge investments on a global basis. Remote agents also provide a “local” voice, and many are willing to work from home at night and on weekends, expanding coverage without leaving the time zone.
Remote agent best practices
When using remote agents, keep the focus on technology, people, and process. Stay flexible, since deploying and managing remote workers isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition.
· Leverage a contact center platform that supports remote agents inherently, rather than as an add-on capability. The flexibility to migrate between on-premises and hosted CaaS environments to address changing business conditions is also important. A centralized all-in-one IP communications system can satisfy both needs.
· Workforce optimization software is critical; make sure your platform is equipped to support these capabilities.
· Where appropriate, combine a traditional contact center with WAH agents and automated self-service systems. Agents in the main center can handle interactions during regular business hours, supplemented by self-service IVR and remote workers for nights and weekends.
· Ensure remote access security through a Web client and endpoint of choice, or mirror an office environment through a broadband connection, VPN and SIP endpoint. Terminal server access utilities such as Citrix also provide secure access and simplify deployment for IT.
· Enable remote agents with UC feature sets supported by their organizations in broader UC strategies.
· Determine the ROI of using remote agents by identifying the costs your company will absorb versus what remote agents are responsible for.
· Conduct competency-based staff screening, assessments and extensive background testing for all applicants.
· Establish a probationary trial period for each new hire and determine performance metrics to measure the success of all remote agents. Communicate expectations clearly and make appropriate performance data available to agents so they can self-manage to expectations.
· Allow for a breaking-in period. If working at home doesn’t work out, allow employees to return to the contact center facility without loss of status.
· Have clear guidelines for remote agents as to what is expected of them, including a work area in a quiet environment.
· Consider an initial in-center training program for remote agents, with regular follow-up online training. Allow remote agents to access training sessions at their convenience using e-learning and Web-based training tools.
· Utilize workforce optimization products and services to monitor remote agents’ performance, along with the same recording, reporting and analytics capabilities as in the formal contact center.
· Equip remote agents with the same tools and access to resources as formal contact center agents.
· Give remote agents the appropriate levels of authority to solve customers’ problems.
· Extend reporting, recording, monitoring, staffing, and workforce optimization capabilities to remote agents to give managers and supervisors full visibility.
· Incorporate tools to ensure information security and confidentiality.
· Record 100% of remote agents’ calls, use analytics to identify issues and trends, and offer after-call customer surveys to ensure that quality and performance expectations are being met.
· Ensure communications between remote agents, supervisors, managers and subject matter experts, and establish a formal communication process between agents and supervisors to facilitate ongoing contact.
· Reward at-home and remote agents in the same way with the same visibility as in-house agents.
Download the complete whitepaper to learn more:
Success with Remote Agents – Is Not so Remote
Visit www.inin.com | Interactive Resource Center | Whitepapers
Blair Pleasant (News - Alert), President & Principal Analyst, COMMfusion LLC; Nancy Jamison, President & Principal Analyst, Jamison Consulting; and Jason Alley, Solutions Marketing, Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert), Inc.
TMCnet publishes expert commentary on various telecommunications, IT, call center, CRM and other technology-related topics. Are you an expert in one of these fields, and interested in having your perspective published on a site that gets several million unique visitors each month? Get in touch.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi