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October 2010 | Volume 28 / Number 5
Ask the Expert

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Leveraging Technology to Expand Your Agent Pool

By Tim Passios,
Director of Product Management, Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert)

In last month’s Ask the Expert column, we discussed best practices for routing calls in order to maintain customer satisfaction. We talked a little about LIFO vs. FIFO and touched on the value of making customers happy so they’ll continue to come back. This month, I’d like to focus a bit on the agent, another important part of the contact center that management also hopes is happy and will continue to come back, daily.

In tough economic times you would think most contact centers could easily hold on to key employees, with jobs being tight, and opportunities slim. That’s not the case everywhere. We’ve been engaged with an ever increasing number of contact center managers, looking to install options to support remote/work at home agents – not to address an operations need, but to offer a benefit to agents that competitors might be using to entice defection. In fact, the ability to work remotely is starting to become common in contact center employment ads, right beside traditional stalwarts, such as salary and health benefits.

Three recent interactions I’ve had with contact center managers drove this point home. The first was a company that mentioned it had no agent turnover in 24 months. Yikes! Most contact centers fall into the 40% annual turnover range. Another center was showing strong growth in its agent base, and when asked where all its quality candidates are coming from, the response was, “Everywhere.” The last discussion was with a manager who was having problems keeping his staff levels where he needed them because his agents were leaving for a competitor.

In all cases, one of the main driving factors was using technology that allowed agents to work remotely. In an industry that used to treat working from home as a benefit reserved for only key agents, today’s contact centers are using it more and more as part of normal operations.

The contact center with low turnover lays out its schedule for how many agents are needed for each shift, just like any other contact center. It still maintains a headquarters building and hires from a single metropolitan area, just like any other contact center. The difference is it doesn’t matter where the agents are when they log in for a shift -- at home, in the office, or on a boat – as long as they have the correct staff logged in and taking calls. Productivity is up, revenue is up, and turnover is gone.

The contact center that is aggressively growing a base of agents has a different approach. It doesn’t maintain a traditional headquarters building. All of its agents work remotely. What does this do for the quality of the agent pool? Agents are hired from all over the country, not one geographic region. This offers an ability to pick from a larger group of agents versus a contact center that is forced to hire from a single metro area. Think about staffing a contact center with no geographic boundaries. If contact center A has to fill 10 seats and has a pool of 100 to choose from, and contact center B has to fill 10 seats and has a pool of 1,000 to chose from, which do you think will have the 10 best qualified agents. This contact center’s metrics show its agents are older and more experienced than what the industry typically is seeing.

The third contact center is on the losing end of the remote agent issue and has been losing agents to a direct competitor. The competing companies are actually headquartered at opposite ends of the country and, up until last year, they staffed their respective contact centers from candidates in their own metro areas. That was until one of them upgraded its technology to allow for the support of full remote agents. At that point, when the company with newly acquired the remote agent ability needed to hire a new agent, its pool of candidates now included its competitor’s agents. We all know how it works – once one employee from the competitor came over, word of mouth between agents started to spread about all the benefits of working remotely.

The technology has been around for a while and it’s evolving daily, with more and more features to make supporting remote workers viable for all organizations. If you don’t think you’re quite ready to send everyone out to work in the remote world, you probably should at least be in the planning stages. Unless you run a business that has no competitors, you might find your agents are already planning this for you.

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