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Remote call center agents can offer cost savings and other benefits

Learn call center strategy from Donna Fluss in this expert tip, including the benefits of remote agents for the call center.

Can you explain the benefits of remote agents (outside of the obvious -- cost savings)? Can their performance be tracked using traditional methods? Do you have some numbers to make a case for this arrangement?
At-home or remote agents are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. as enterprises search for ways to keep their costs down and their agents satisfied. The significant adoption of IP in enterprises and contact centers has also contributed to the growth rate of at-home agents.

Enterprises realize both hard (quantifiable) and soft (difficult to measure) benefits from employing at-home agents. Cost savings are realized from reduction in facility expenses, salary rates, benefits and, in some cases, hardware (when agents provide their own). Another benefit is that at-home agents eliminate geographical recruiting boundaries since enterprises are able to source from a virtually unlimited area and can target highly-skilled agents who are multilingual and who can support regional and cultural differences. Enterprises with seasonal/peak hiring needs, the need for off-hours or time zone staffing can greatly benefit from the flexibility of at-home agents. For example, some enterprises pay at-home agents a low fee to be on standby and a higher rate if they are needed. Additionally, at-home agents can be an important element of a business contingency plan.

Current contact center technology offers centralized management of distributed networks, which can support an at-home agent environment. Additionally, quality management/liability recording suites with eLearning, coaching and performance management capabilities enable supervisors to easily track, monitor and manage remote agents. Online training tools and help features are readily available in most applications and if an agent needs real-time assistance, a supervisor is only an IM away.

The best approach for obtaining approval for an at-home agent program is to justify it based on quantifiable hard dollar savings. Hard benefits include cost avoidance due to reduction in facilities, utilities, salaries and benefits. Additional soft benefits include increased agent satisfaction, retention, improvements in attendance and punctuality and an improvement in the customer experience.

A recent study of at-home agents by the management and technology consulting firm Booz, Allen, Hamilton provided the following statistics, which are very hard to ignore:

  • At-home agents have a 10% attrition rate, which is significantly lower than for on-site staff
  • At-home agents are 25% more productive
  • At-home agents cost $11 less/hour
  • The average age of at-home agents is 30 to 48, vs. an 18- to 28-year-old average for those who work on site
  • When interviewing prospects for a contact center, most organizations hire one out of three. An outsourcer that specializes in at-home agents said that it hires one out of 20 and can really focus on hiring the best people.

There are a variety of at-home agent models. Some enterprises hire them outright and provide them with all of the technology. In other situations, the at-home agents buy their own technology and are contractors. In some situations, the agents pay for their own training -- as you can imagine, this further reduces the rate of attrition as the agent has "skin in the game."

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