Virtual Call Center Gotchas

Updated: April 30, 2009

Perks like cost savings, agent satisfaction and access to a wider talent pool are prompting an increasing number of companies to turn to home-based agents for their call centers. In fact, according to a study from Five9 Inc. , a provider of on-demand customer-service and call-center solutions, 39 percent of respondents are currently using home agents, and of those, nearly a quarter use home agents exclusively or almost exclusively.

But while there's no shortage of semiretirees, homebound and long-distance individuals willing to work as home agents, migrating to a virtual contact-center environment has its fair share of challenges.

According to Michael DeSalles, a strategic analyst with Frost & Sullivan, "The problem is people think it's easy to just move your existing agents in a brick-and-mortar environment and make them home agents."

Here are four ways to avoid common mistakes companies make when using home agents for their virtual call centers.

Prepare to Be Challenged

Sure, it's easy to route calls to a home agent based anywhere in the world by simply using a 1-800 telephone system. But there's more to managing a virtual call center than redirecting voice traffic. Throwing an Internet connection and laptop at every eager agent isn't enough to set the stage for quality customer service. Yet many companies still "treat virtual contact centers like a do-it-yourself project from Home Depot" and "underestimate the complexity involved in moving in-house agents to a home environment," said DeSalles.

Businesses need to carefully examine what they hope to achieve from a virtual call center and what steps they're willing to take to ensure its sustainability and financial efficiency.

Recruit the Right People

Selecting just the right home agents is "a critical element" in developing a successful virtual call center, said DeSalles. After all, an in-house agent that's a superb worker from the confines of a brick-and-mortar location may lack the self-discipline needed to field calls from a home environment.

What's more, many companies fail to recognize that home agents and in-house agents belong to drastically different demographics, requiring different recruitment and retention strategies. For example, the average age of an in-house call-center agent is 23, while the average age of a home agent is 38 or older. And more than 80 percent of home agents have some college education, as compared to 35 percent of in-house agents.

Educate Appropriately

Companies that take a one-size-fits-all approach to training their contact-center agents may be asking for trouble. "The training piece is often overlooked in making the transition to home agents," warned DeSalles. Just as home agents are required to have different skills sets than in-house agents, they're also best suited for different types of training methods. Home agents are more likely to benefit from distance-learning initiatives and Web-based sessions, whereas in-house agents are available for one-on-one personal coaching and in-person sessions.

Supply the Proper Technology

Putting the right technology solutions at the fingertips of today's home agents is an integral part of a virtual call center's success . But it takes more than simply providing agents with a flashy laptop and sizable bandwidth. According to DeSalles, organizations need to level the playing field throughout a virtual work force by setting stringent quality standards for the types of tools and technologies being supplied. Companies should also make sure the right security measures are in place so that the home agents' computer and data don't fall victim to a hacker's ill intentions.

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