At first glance, the term “virtual call center agent” sounds like a Siri-like creature who exists in the ether, saving the day for troubled customers. Is it a bot? AI? No, a virtual call center agent is a regular human being. "Virtual" modifies the call center, so the call center is virtual but the agent is very real.
Most call centers still have a brick and mortar presence. However, cloud technology has enabled call centers to hire more remote, or "at home," agents. You now commonly see a mixture of remote and on premise agents at call centers. Also growing is a trend for call centers to only have remote agents, thus completely dispensing with the need for physical facilities. This arrangement is known as a virtual call center and its remote agents are virtual call center agents.
The benefits of making the call center virtual can be significant, especially the savings that can be realized with reduced facilities costs. This can be particularly appealing for businesses that scale up heavily for the holidays, but face a mostly empty facility the other 11 months of the year. Additionally, any call center that employs a remote agent model can reap the rewards of being able to tap into labor markets all over the world. Having a corps of remote agents can also hedge against local business disruptions, such as ice storms that prevent half of the agents from making the drive to work.
Virtual call center agents can also benefit from this remote arrangement. With cloud technology, often all they need is a computer, decent internet connectivity and a headset, so the setup and ongoing support needs are very manageable. Agents who work at home also benefit from the elimination of their commute and the requirement to purchase a "work" wardrobe. Additionally, working from home can give agents a little more flexibility in their lives and that can be perceived as an appealing job benefit. This could ultimately lead to higher agent retention.
Managing virtual call center agents has some unique, but not insurmountable, challenges. Companies who use remote agents will likely need to revamp training in order to enable distance learning. Additionally, organizations need to have a solid plan for protecting client data. And, of course, managers have to remember these are real people, too. Technology will allow supervisors to monitor schedule adherence, productivity and quality. Just as important, supervisors need to know how to develop agents and make them feel they are part of a team. Working at home can be great but it can also be lonely if agents don't have a strong connection to their managers and teammates.
Virtual call center agents are very real and a growing part of many organizations' operations strategies. Maybe it's time to consider them for your business.