Offshoring — the idea of sending call-center jobs overseas — is a cost-saving measure that has been employed by corporations over the last decade. In an offshoring arrangement, a call center is created overseas and local employees — who work for a fraction of an American call-center agent's salary — are trained. Offshoring sounds like a good idea, but it isn't in every case. Savings from low overhead have been offset by the dismal customer-satisfaction ratings for offshore call centers, mostly due to lack of needed expertise, cultural differences and poor communication skills.
In many cases, American CSRs (customer service representatives) hone in on customers' needs and connect with them accordingly. International employees, on the other hand, often believe that it is impolite to take charge or fail to grasp the issue. When calling an overseas call center, customers may need to restate their problems a number of times to supervisors or specialists or even make multiple calls to solve the same problem. Such difficulties can make customers reluctant to do business with the company again.
Bringing call-center operations into the homes of U.S.-based agents (often known as "homeshoring") has provided a way for managers to lower costs, as well as improve customer and employee satisfaction.
Companies benefit from homeshoring because employees provide their own computers, office space and phones. In some cases, the brick-and-mortar call center is entirely eliminated. Instead of on-site classes, many companies are substituting self-paced online tutorials or Webcasts given by home-office personnel or industry specialists. Self-paced study gives agents the flexibility to study at times that fit their schedules, as well as the ability to advance to more specialized areas when they are ready.
Home-based agents not only save time that would otherwise be spent commuting, but also money that would normally be spent on gas. These employees have the option to work full-time or part-time in shifts that fit their schedules. Soccer moms can work during the school year and take off during the summer, and students who want to work evenings or nights can do so.
Customers like call-center personnel who speak their own language and understand their own culture. More importantly, U.S.-based agents can often complete a transaction or solve a problem in a single call. A sense of competence and efficiency, plus ease of communication, provides a positive experience for customers and keeps them coming back.
What Is Required?
Employers screen call-center applicants to weed out those who are not appropriate for their type of business. While offshoring has it difficulties, homeshoring can also create problems if employees are not right for the job. A self-starter mentality is mandatory, and technical skills are a plus. Working at home requires an employee to be reliable and to possess the ability to take initiative, when necessary, to be responsible for customers' satisfaction.
Employees need an OS (operating system) that is compatible with the company's software, as well as a high-speed Internet connection. The company provides phone software that monitors calls and routes them to individual agents, as well as software for updating and tracking call records. Ongoing training is a must to ensure a positive customer experience. Flexibility on the part of employees to adapt to technical, product or procedural changes helps, too.
Turnover is typically high in call centers, but less so when the opportunity to work at home is combined with the opportunity to advance within the company. Some companies, such as VIPdesk, based in Arlington Va., hire from within their ranks when filling corporate positions. To inspire employee loyalty and motivation to advance, such companies sometimes hold monthly contests and recognize excellent performance. Creating virtual community spirit goes a long way toward keeping employees.
Homeshoring jobs are no longer limited to call centers for retail businesses. The market is growing for technical-support jobs; hospitality positions in the airline and hotel industries; and even specialized professionals such as software-development teams, financial experts and medical-support professionals. Information is instantly available to virtual teams and online communities. Teams can work in concert with little or no effort, and customers have the satisfaction of feeling that their problems are being addressed.
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