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Innovative Management Information
July 2001


Transform Your Call Center Using Remote Home Agents


Retaining contact center representatives in today's agent-centric world may seem like an almost impossible task. It is, however, one of the most important elements and should not be underestimated. Agent retention is a key issue for the industry and is estimated to cost companies millions of dollars annually. Couple this high cost with the burden of a tight labor market and a shortage of qualified contact center agents, and the task seems even more daunting.

Agents may leave for a number of reasons, including dissatisfaction with their work, absence of career development plans, inadequate compensation and incentives and a lack of access to advanced tools and applications that facilitate quick solutions for customers. Using remote home agents can reverse this trend and help you attract, recruit and retain the best and brightest talent to increase your bottom line. Simply put, using remote home agents is a progressive approach that provides the flexibility in the work schedule of top-line contact center personnel, resulting in higher employee morale and increased productivity. First, we'll look at some background on the evolution of the call center.

My explanation will begin with the call center evolution model and how it ties into agent retention. Call centers have evolved beyond the cost-centric and service-centric focus to the agent-centric approach we use today. Traditionally, call centers aimed to be efficient by answering as many calls as possible in a given day (cost-centric). It mattered less if the customers' calls were directed to the appropriate agents with the correct skill sets. Consequently, customer satisfaction was measured in achieving efficiency, not effectiveness (first-call resolution, low number of complaints to total call ratio). The call center model subsequently evolved to the customer segmentation strategy (service-centric) while retaining the cost-centric part of the model. The customer segmentation strategy enabled organizations to divide their customer bases to determine the value each customer brought to their companies. Based on this information, companies designed customer service strategies tailored to specific customer groups (i.e., the airline industry's introduction of the bronze, silver, gold and platinum levels offering different treatment and benefits to their frequent flyer members).

Contact centers have now arrived at the agent-centric stage of the process. The nature of the labor force has changed dramatically since the inception of contact centers. Traditionally, the agent turnover rate has been high because of the intense pressure representatives experience on a daily basis, leading to frustration and burnout. Today, the agent turnover rate continues to be high. The bigger culprit this time, however, appears to be other companies "stealing" resources to win the war for talent. These alternative companies offer abundant opportunities, from providing access to advanced tools and technologies to more training, promotion, child care and higher pay.

Contact centers continue to compete fiercely for people with relevant experience to fulfill customers' expectations as well as their own internal goals. Incidentally, contact centers are noticing that people, not superior processes or technologies, will enable them to ultimately achieve their customer service strategy goals.

An agent-centric view emphasizes managing contact center agent development that begins with the process of acquiring, developing and retaining these resources. The process of acquiring agents includes screening, interviewing and selecting qualified candidates. Retention, on the other hand, is based upon protecting and receiving value on the enormous investments made in agents. Some very successful organizations have used monetary and/or nonmonetary incentives. Cash, vacations, time off, and now an opportunity to work from home, a concept known as "remote home agent," are powerful incentives. The remote home agent idea essentially gives a contact center's agents more flexibility in their work arrangements.

Figure 1.

Benefits of Remote-Home-Agent

  • Helps retain specialized, senior and the most productive agents.
  • Improves work-life balance
    (saving commute time).
  • Saves recruiting time and cost.
  • Improves agent morale.
  • Increases agent productivity and
  • Enables agents to deliver higher-
    quality solutions to customers; thus strengthening relationships between an organization and its customers.
  • Saves real estate cost.
  • Provides specialized/senior and the most productive agents an opportunity to serve as leaders and role models for other representatives.

However, the remote home agent idea is ideally applicable for a specific group of agents. Those representatives who are ranked as the most productive agents, senior agents, sophisticated/specialized agents and women agents on maternity leave. These resources are invaluable to a contact center and it makes sense then to make all efforts to hold onto these specialists. Specialized agents offer expertise in a specific area. They are often the highest paid, and sometimes require more training to get started. Agents in the brokerage industry, for example, usually need extensive training and multiple certifications to advise their clients online about investment strategies. Hence, companies must make significant financial investments in training these employees. Women on maternity leave and with small children, another critical resource, usually face a vital decision to return to or leave work. Offering some women an opportunity to work from home (part-time or full-time) may motivate them to stay, resulting in significant recruiting/staffing savings by not having to replace them.

Organizations can further profit from agents' improved morale, via providing higher quality solutions to their customers, strengthening a vital bond between companies and their clients. Consequently, companies can realize higher productivity levels because the workforce feels valued. This, in turn, can reduce absenteeism and lead to long-term retention of these valuable resources. Finally, these agents can serve as role models, leaders and a motivational tool for their peers to strive to become a member of this select pack.

A good example of this type of success is as follows: A large telecommunications firm's client was experiencing concerns about agent retention, shortage of work space and long training cycles. This client viewed remote agent technology as a way to alleviate space shortages and agent retention concerns. Meeting the needs of these two concerns provided the required work space to conduct training. By implementing the remote agent solution, this client expected to save $2.5 million annually (by reducing the agent turnover rate and avoiding the costs of rehiring and training new agents). In addition, the client expected to avoid acquisition costs and the time associated with leasing or purchasing a new property to accommodate its growing agent population. Consequently, the client envisioned an improvement in agent morale, efficiency, productivity and higher quality of service to its customers.

Another example deals with how a company, Company A, that makes a remote agent solution, helps solve its clients call center productivity concerns. Company A's client, Client W, has a membership that includes 170,000 people and high-profile, large-capacity clients. Client W wanted to increase its 46 customer service representative center's productivity. As a result, Company A implemented its remote agent solution. Client W embarked on a seven-month pilot program with two agents working from home. The remote agent solution allowed them access to the corporate phone system and management systems such as call monitoring for quality. The result was increased productivity and morale, a decreased number of sick days, improved attendance and commute time being transformed into productivity time. In addition, employees found it easier to work split shifts and weekend schedules. Finally, Client W's management decided to expand and offer the remote home agent program to other representatives with long-standing track records.

Another company was seeking to upgrade its contact center for future expansion and installed a new telecommunications system with an integrated telecommuting solution. This company implemented a remote agent solution. The company permitted 13 employees to work from home, and the remote agent solution allowed them to easily log into the ACD and take calls. In addition, the company's management was able to use their existing monitoring and quality assurance system to observe the calls of their remote agents. The effect was enhanced productivity and morale, and employees found the solution easy to use, flexible and reliable. Finally, the company changed its recruitment advertisement to mention the possibility of working from home. This resulted in four people being hired, compared to zero response received a week prior.

Last, a highly compensated and highly productive sales force in a computer catalog organization told its management that it preferred to generate sales by working independently, not from a contact center environment. The computer catalog company agreed to honor the sales force's request because the organization was confident in its salespeople to produce their targets. As a result, the computer catalog company implemented a remote home agent solution to address its representatives' requests, and to fulfill its own strategic goals. The outcome included retention of these valuable, high-producing agents; significant morale enhancement; reduced operational costs; and decreased recruiting and training expenses.

The Architecture
Now that you know the challenges of agent retention, the remote home agent concept and its benefits, let's move into a high-level overview of the technical architecture. Selecting and allowing a specific group of agents to work from home is an attractive option; however, a contact center's technical architecture needs to accommodate remote home agent technology to turn this concept into reality. Some remote home agent products can be implemented using two POTS (plain old telephone service) lines or BRI (basic rate interface) technology. POTS lines are usually the better choice, since they are widely available and inexpensive. BRI technology cost, on the other hand, varies and is not always offered by carriers in all geographical regions. Two POTS lines, for example, can be used to carry voice and data traffic to remote home agents. The POTS line for data can be used for PC modem connection (via WAN), so that a remote home agent can access the necessary documents, facilitate customer information management application or control softphone applications (i.e., dialing the phone, transferring calls, conferencing other agents, etc., using a PC instead of a telephone).

With this basic understanding, an organization should consider Figure 2, "dos and don'ts," when adopting a remote home agent concept as part of its contact center agent retention strategy.

Figure 2.



  • Deploy with full agent functionality
    (i.e., telephone functionality -- ability to call, redirect call to an agent in other centers and equip desktop with all applications) just as agents would have access to if they were working in a call center.
  • Deploy monitoring and reporting
    (historical and real-time) capabilities for supervisors and the agents to view their performance.
  • Test market the idea with a group of agents before fully implementing it (have service installed at agents' home telephone headset and load all software on a laptop. Give training to and ask agents to dial in from home to receive calls).
  • Consider senior, specialized/ sophisticated and the most productive agents (evaluate if employees are ready to work independently).
  • Articulate if the company or the agent is responsible for medical costs if an accident occurs while the agent is working from home.
  • Attempt to implement with inferior technology (i.e., not integrating remote technology with the ACD, depriving agents access to telephone functions or not giving supervisor access to historical and real-time reporting to measure agents' performance).
  • Consider allowing problem agents or newly hired agents to work from home until they have proven themselves.



Alpesh Fadia is a manager with Accenture's Electronic and High Tech industries Customer Relationship Management practice. His experience base includes planning, designing and implementing call centers and developing CRM Roadmaps.

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