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The Benefits Of Distributing The Call Center
By Tracey E. Schelmetic, Editorial Director, Customer Interaction Solutions magazine

In the olden days, they called them “boiler rooms.” Call center employees were hearty (and underpaid) souls who sat in large, unpleasant rooms, spending eight hours a day manually dialing out and reading scripts off index cards. Had Dante lived to see it, he might have reserved a special place in his Inferno for these primitive call centers.

Flash forward a few decades, and thanks to the benefits of auto-dialers, PCs, computer-telephony integration and a variety of call center software innovations (not to mention the intervention of OSHA, in all likelihood), call center jobs are a thousand times more pleasant than during “the olden days.” Many of today’s contact centers have break rooms, rest rooms, cafeterias, modular and ergonomically correct furniture, coffee bars, day care centers, massage therapists, exercise facilities and game rooms, all aimed at keeping employees healthy, stress-free and content.

One thing hasn’t changed from the days of yore, however: hundreds (even thousands) of employees still show up at the same location each day, fight for parking spaces, ride elevators and climb stairs together, fight to be heard over the voices of co-workers and compete for the last cheese Danish in the cafeteria. The call center is still — well — a center.

When distributed call centers began debuting with some of the more daring companies, everyone assumed that this model was being created out of necessity: a company couldn’t find enough agents in one town or state, so they had to open another, smaller center in a neighboring area in order to fill seats. Years later, enter broadband Internet, IP telephony, advanced contact center software, skills-based routing, videoconferencing, increased globalization, offshore outsourcing and multilingual markets.

Follow-the-sun service (locating call centers in distributed time zones, so no one has to work a “graveyard” shift in order to provide 24-hour customer service) was the first clue that, perhaps not only was the distributed call center model sometimes necessary, it was a smart business choice, as well. One large organization, if it provides around-the-clock service, is always paying overtime to someone, whether second- or third-shift workers, or agents who are forced to pull overtime due to their unique technical or language skills.
Nowadays, there are few, if any, drawbacks to opting for smaller, distributed centers. Some of these smaller “centers” might even be individual agents working from home (and thus saving overhead costs). Experts can be brought in to service remotely, at any time, and offshore or nearshore locations may be used to balance domestic costs; and, as detailed by Eli Borodow and Kevin Hayden in the accompanying article, workers operating in different time zones can share software licenses during one another’s “off” times.

Nowadays, there are positive implications with this model when it comes to disaster recovery, as well.

Old wives’ aphorisms tell us that it’s best not to put all of one’s eggs in one basket. The modern customer-facing enterprise is beginning to draw the same conclusion.

[ Return To The June 2005 Table Of Contents ]

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