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Home Agents: The Big Game Changer

When organizations successfully reach beyond the confines of bricks and mortar sourcing, they tap into a vast labor pool filled with unprecedented talent. And when they re-engineer their scheduling models to enable more flexibility, employee satisfaction climbs and the customer experience improves. So says Michele Rowan of At Home Customer Contacts, in the first of a three-part series with Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert) on the growing home agent trend.

What’s the hitch to a successful home agent program? Just one. Companies need to leverage their technology platforms. Call delivery, access to applications, content management, virtual learning, and collaboration tools are all readily available, although these tools often reside on existing corporate platforms but not in the contact centers. Technology decisions also must be made. Do you lease or buy; bundle or unbundle products; house the data, host it, or both.

Nevertheless, businesses now have more flexibility in the home agent equation than they’ve ever had to satisfy infrastructure and cost requirements, to meet customer demands, and to embrace the changing face of the mobile employee.

Growth of home agents: Then and now

Look back over the better part of this decade and the success that several large BPOs have realized with material footprints in teleworking. They’ve uncovered the best talent to deliver the best customer experience, and done so at the best cost. But with the technology more fully in place, the ability of home agents to thrive is far greater — in Fortune 500 companies as well as small and medium size firms.

Along with call delivery, the required security mechanisms, hardware and software, and remote access to networks and applications largely exceed baseline requirements to support at home initiatives. There’s also this terrific bonus: the Software as a Service (SaaS (News - Alert)) option and cloud computing. For the home agent model, SaaS can reduce startup costs to nil in many cases, and makes adoption quite seamless from the capital investment perspective. Beyond technology, other drivers are equally influencing the move to engage home agents. Companies are growing, need seats, and refuse to make additional investments in real estate. High value customers are being moved back on shore. Or pure and simple, home agents reflect the pursuit of the best talent and reducing costs.

Five tangible returns companies are taking to the bank

1. Applicant flow quadruples and nets unprecedented talent

Companies that remove the stigma associated with “brick and mortar call center positions” are the ones that attract experienced, educated professionals — thousands of people from the likes of financial services, real estate, teaching, and healthcare who otherwise might never consider a role in a contact center. Disabled individuals with mobility challenges, returning military, new parents and baby boomers are the dominant profiles, with part-time offering the broadest reach across the expanded labor markets. (Full-time and part-time posts are each highly appealing.) Ultimately, employee referrals become the primary source of home agent hires, and the pool grows organically. Many individuals have voluntarily stepped away from full-time careers, have been displaced, or are simply retooling their professional lives on life-balancing alternatives centered on telecommuting.

2. Productivity improves: New hires and transfers home

Organizations that are smart about workforce management realize these tangible productivity improvements with home agent deployments.

Reduced shoulder staffing Home agents can easily work brief, staggered work segments that let companies schedule succinctly to peaks and valleys in volume during the day, and reduce often unproductive scheduled labor hours.

Shrinkage drops  Home-based employees are delighted to be home, and put their best foot forward to exceed expectations and avoid returning to the office. Attendance improves, too, since home agents are more likely to “try to get to work” when not feeling 100%.

Reduced overtime and seasonal staffing. Many people in the remote applicant pool agree to expand their part-time hours during seasonal or peak business periods, in exchange for extended time off later in the year. Think retirees, who love to travel.

3. “Employee satisfaction”(ESAT) and retention

Employers report heightened ESAT from remote agents when flexible scheduling is included in the staffing strategy. No wonder. Remote employees eliminate commute times and costs, the employer shifts incremental time and money to the employees, and those employees stay with the company longer. By the numbers, employee satisfaction can improve by 4-10 points, and overall operating expenses can drop by as much as 10-30% as a result of improved retention.

4. Heightened “customer satisfaction” (CSAT)

Better CSAT scores are primarily a result of the experience and education levels of new home agent hires. The “happiness factor” of existing and new employees who choose to work from home also enhances the customer experience. The net result is that when customer satisfaction scores improve, they propel customer loyalty, share of wallet and revenue.

5. Training cost reductions

For new hires during on-boarding as well as for recurrent training, technology and unified communications platforms enable companies to measurably reduce the labor costs associated with learning. For instance, self-paced e-learning modules, chats, webcasts, and webcam meetings are cost-effective channels for learning and collaboration, and are delivering high returns. Companies can easily design these modules in a cost contained manner and deliver them to agents based on business conditions, skill set, performance level, length of service, or other such rules. That way, trainer time and talent is optimized across multiple channels, as are cost savings.

Download the complete whitepaper to learn more:

Home Agents: The Big Game Changer

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi