Home is where the heart is (of your business – dummy!)

Wondering where to find the room to grow your call center has kept call center executives awake for many a night.

Some of us remember trawling the Interstate highways looking for Nirvana – a pocket of reasonably well educated but unemployed Americans looking to work in a call center. And once we found it, holding our breath hoping that another call center would not open up within driving distance. Oh, those were the days.

Roll the clock forward. It was the early ‘90’s when the “location de jour” was Ireland. A country steeped in history – as well as in young well-educated unemployed call center gold nuggets. Times were so good that companies were putting call centers in downtown Dublin and attracting real talent. Then the economy took off and quite rightly Ireland priced itself out of the market and moved to an economy with much more rapacious appetite for higher skilled jobs.

So the caravan of call center executives headed to India, the Philippines, and beyond to find the next “gold mine” of educated English speaking customer service agents. All wonderful so far, until you have to endure the attrition rates and customer grumblings that typically follow. And the search for the next caravan stop continues ….we have all been to call center summits where government funded agencies representing places many of us haven’t heard of, trumpet the apparently endless supply of well-educated English speaking talent.

With the rapid technological improvements, particularly broadband access, coupled with a desire to provide a better quality and more authentic “voice”, we are coming to realize that the greatest untapped talent pool of well-educated English speaking talent is right in front of our noses. It’s our Aunt Betty’s bridge partner, our neighbour’s college kid, the Mom down the street whose kids are now all in school from 8am to 3pm – heck it could well soon be the 30% of our current workforce who will make up this year’s dreadfully inefficient attrition rate.

There are many ways to view (and use) home based agents – and all of these have successful track records:
• To augment your current seat count
• To manage your seasonal peaks To help you grow your business without having to sell your next born child to get the CFO to agree to build a new call center
• To repatriate call volume that hasn’t met the standards that you had expected (and to some extent we have all had that experience – either as a client or a slightly frustrated customer)
• To improve customer satisfaction
• To improve your sales conversion rate
• To provide current “good” agents with the ultimate retention tool

Noticeably absent is cost saving. It is definitely cheaper because of the large productivity gains that can be made, but this is primarily a quality play and a growth-proofing strategy that, by the way, is cheaper. Get ready to be on you CFO’s holiday card list.

But why does the home-based paradigm scare us so much? We have all benefited from taking a day at home to “work on performance reviews” or some other important initiative. Why can’t those efficiencies be shared throughout the enterprise. Could it just be that we are afraid to lose the keys to our castle? Are we a little bit afraid that if we have no visible workforce to manage that we are somewhat less important? Are we just afraid of change?

What is not to be afraid of? Happier and more productive agents with more flexible schedules – a thought unlikely to keep you awake at night. How can we not love the willingness for these agents to happily work the “Holy Grail” – the split shift?

There are a few ways to get a home-based agent project up and running
• The Do-It-Yourself mode – move your current agents to a home based model
• Engage your current outsource vendor in providing you with a home-based agent pilot
• Use a specialist home based agent vendor
And even within the vendor category there are companies that are technology plays, companies that use independent contractors, companies that use their own employees, companies that are predominantly “bricks and mortar” vendors diversifying into this space to stay relevant.

The time to approach this solution is now – the question to ask yourself is
• How do I go about it?
• How can I sell it internally?
• How long will it take?
• What potholes do I need to avoid?
• Is my business ready for this?
• How will training be done?
• Can my IT department handle this?
• What is my risk tolerance?
• Which vendors is the best fit for me?
• To RFP or not?
• How can I not do this?

Make sure it is one of your New Year’s resolutions.

The above article was written by John Riordan. As Vice President of Customer Service at Virgin Atlantic Airways he devised, championed and implemented a combined in-house and outsource home-based that is now entering it’s fourth year. Since leaving Virgin Atlantic in March 2006, he has consulted with, conducted RFP’s for and managed the implementation of a home-based customer service solution for two Fortune 500 companies, including Apple Computers, one of the most iconic brands in the world.

Let us know what you think of John’s article and his point of view, please visit or send us an email at [email protected].

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