The number of outsourced home agents will double by 2015, thanks to innovations around security, vertical market expansion, and forays beyond the traditional U.S. market, according to industry analyst firm Ovum.
However, while this model will outgrow facilities-based outsourcing in terms of overall pace, it will remain a niche until long-standing enterprise concerns around data security, agent supervision, and fostering a team atmosphere across a virtual model are overcome.
Ovum forecasts the number of agents working more than 20 hours per week will reach nearly 130,000 in the next four years, growing predominantly in the United States (which is expected to make up an 88 percent share of the total). There will be increased penetration in other English-speaking countries as well.
In the U.S., political pressure surrounding the high unemployment rate is a major contributor to the trend, as is growing pressure to bring contact center work outsourced to overseas locations back home. Legislation introduced in Congress in December sought to make U.S. companies that ship call center jobs overseas ineligible for federal loans, grants, and tax credits. The proposed bill, the U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act, would also require companies to reveal the locations of their call centers to callers and provide them with the option to transfer to U.S. call centers. Though the bill did not make it to a vote in Congress, it has gained momentum around the country and sparked similar bills in many state legislatures.
Also involved in the national debate around foreign call centers is the issue of security and a number of cases of fraud and identity theft by foreign call center employees. Security is being addressed in the home-based contact center model. Peter Ryan, practice leader of Ovum's IT services team, says "improved technology security" is allowing for "more robust work-at-home options without compromising data protection.
"Outsourced home agents have garnered a strong reputation for providing end users with robust customer experience," Ryan adds. "Vendors of home agent services are well-placed to take on work from enterprises that are more discerning than ever about execution quality and lowering costs."
According to Ryan, companies today want options that are cheaper than running facilities-based contact centers while keeping work onshore. At the same time, call center workers are demanding more work-at-home flexibility, he adds.
The majority of the growth will come from new hires rather than a shifting of existing call center employees. "Most facilities-based agents tend not to be the best candidates for home working, due mainly to their age demographic, coupled with their desire for a social workplace," Ryan explains.
The bulk of the current home-based contact center workforce today is made up of stay-at-home parents, veterans, retirees, and university students looking for part-time flexible hours. Most are being hired by contact center outsourcing firms.
Customer care will continue to comprise the bulk of horizontal applications, with approximately half the share of agents through 2015.
"Any firm looking to enter or expand…in the outsourced home agent market should target sectors in which interest in this business model is significant, as well as those that require higher-margin processes, including healthcare and insurance-related work," Ryan says. "Nonvoice multichannel CRM work should also be considered to take advantage of the superior agent quality and sophistication that the virtual model offers."
Companies should "understand the implications of…data security and training a virtual labor force and conduct as much due diligence as possible when seeking an outsourcing partner," Ryan adds.