The concept of at-home agents continues to drive attention in the contact center market, to the point where we no longer need to be sold on the validity of the model. The trick now is figuring out how to build an at-home program. I recently sat down with Michele Rowan, CEO of Customer Contact Strategies, to hear some of her top tips on building a program with work-at home agents.
Is your recommendation to clients to hire agents to start at home rather than start in the center and graduate them to work at home?
It depends on an organization's objectives. If a company simply wants to relieve themselves of some facilities costs and they' are not really growing, they can move their existing workforce home (but don’t expect dramatically different results from these agents as their habits are well-formed). If an organization wants to take advantage of higher levels of engagement, incremental revenue, creative compensation and benefits models, and reducing costs in some other areas, then hiring agents at home as your in-house agents turn over, is a great strategy.
Do agents really need to come into the office?
No, they don’t need to come in to the office, nor do they want to and they will tell you that, if you ask them. In a truly virtual environment, both recurrent training and one-time training can be delivered as effectively or more effectively via virtual means.
Should you assess specific capabilities for an at-home agent that you do not consider for a brick & mortar agent?
Require a set of minimum connectivity, hardware and speed guidelines as part of the job posting, along with skills like basic use of the Internet, search engines, and whatever tools agents will have to use frequently. It also makes sense to include system diagnostics as one of the final stages in your application process. I also recommend including some IT navigational skills in the application process.
What is the typical profile of an at-home agent as compared to in-house agents?
Generally, at-home agents are of higher caliber than in-house agents as documented by Frost & Sullivan research. The part-time at-home workforce demographics include:
- Average age of 38 (vs. in house of 23)
- 80% with some college (vs. 30% in-house)
- 40% with some management experience
What equipment does the at-home agent need and who provides it?
There are two approaches to at-home equipment:
- The company purchases and provides all or some and what is not provided, the company makes recommendations on purchases (i.e. desk phones and headsets).
- The employee owns all equipment, and the company makes recommendations on what and where to purchase goods. The company sets minimum requirements around memory and the operating system for the employee-owned computer.
How can/should social networking be used to keep at home agents connected?
Social networking, in my opinion, is a baseline requirement for any organization today and particularly for home-based employees that don’t have the benefit of face-to-face interactions.
For a chance to interact in person with others implementing at home programs, check out the 2011 Remote Agent Summit.
Matt McConnell is chairman, president and CEO of Knowlagent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.