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Posted Aug 8, 2010
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According to a recent report by market intelligence firm IDC, companies who employ a work-at-home agent (WAHA) model for their contact center operations experience a number of benefits, including lower attrition, greater scheduling flexibility, increased productivity, and a higher sales close rate. They are also able to deliver a more consistent level of service by staffing their contact centers for peak times and matching agent supply to customer demand. As a result, customer satisfaction increases too. But perhaps the greatest benefits of deploying at-home agents are also the greatest benefits of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) application model: reduced capital and operational costs.

While there are a number of benefits to having an at-home agent model, it's critical for you to stop and consider the technology and operational investments required to effectively manage such a workforce model. Without the right workforce management software installed, you won't be able to effectively manage your remote workers. And in the end, your biggest casualty may be lost customers.

Benefits of the work-at-home agent (WAHA) model

Despite the benefits of deploying WAHAs, you may wonder if it's right move for your organization. Your organization may benefit from WAHAs if:

  • Your company has widely distributed customers
  • You have limited capital budgets
  • Your call patterns are seasonal or fluctuate greatly.
  • Your operation is growing and you are having difficulty finding qualified full-time employees

If you answered yes to at least three of those four questions, then your organization should consider using WAHAs. Here's why:

  • Global reach. One of the key advantages associated with WAHAs is their ability to be located just about anywhere there's an Internet connection. If you have customers across the country or around the world, it's critical you have staff working when your customers are doing business.
  • The right mix. WAHAs provide you greater control in managing labor costs by allowing you to use the proper combination of part-time and full-time agents. Profitability is therefore maximized while sustaining your service and revenue targets.
  • Supply vs. demand. When a peak in calls creates a need for more agents on the phone, you need an efficient way to get additional agents on the phone fast. If not, customer service and revenues will suffer.
  • Flexibility. Compared to their in-office cohorts, at-home agents offer companies greater scheduling flexibility. By allowing at-home agents to work at different times on different days, and possibly even split shifts, you'll appeal to stay-at-home moms and college students. This segment of the workforce has the skills and professionalism you need to get the job done, while responding to the weekly peaks and valleys of customer demand.

The right technology for WAHAs

Now that you've decided an at-home agent model is right for your business, you need to roll out the right technology that will help you effectively manage your workforce and reduce operating costs while improving customer satisfaction. A SaaS-based workforce management solution provides all the benefits of an on-premise workforce management solution -- reduced labor costs, increased revenues, decreased agent attrition and improved customer satisfaction -- but without a large, upfront capital investment.

An intuitive, easy-to-use, hosted workforce management tool makes it convenient for agents to specify their availability, as well as request time off by time-of-day and day-of-week. For example, it:

  • Eliminates clerical work -- data entry of requests -- from team leaders and supervisors who can easily view and approve all requests. As a result, they have more time to attend to higher-value tasks.
  • Gives at-home agents a greater sense of control over their lives. Allowing at-home agents to manage their availability in such a manner improves their job satisfaction and increases retention.
  • Helps your business better manage expenses and, therefore, profitability.

No matter what your business challenge is, the right on-demand workforce management system can help you reach your business goals:

  • Supporting a distributed workforce? Make sure your workforce optimization system can communicate to each agent in the agent's local time.
  • Looking for a better way to manage workload? Make sure your workforce optimization system can identify at-home agents who are available for immediate extra hours and who have the skills you need, send a mass notification to them, and limit the number who sign up for the hours.
  • Scheduling based on agent preferences? Make sure your workforce optimization system allows your at-home agents to increase their availability both on a one-time basis and long-term.

The SaaS application model has successfully put full-featured workforce management solutions within reach for many contact center operations lacking capital budgets or information technology resources. By empowering your agents with the tools they need to get the job done, you improve agent satisfaction, which leads to increased customer satisfaction, retention, and revenues. In turn, costs for attrition and replacement decline — resulting in a more experienced workforce with a lower error rate and a workforce management system that is highly valued within your organization.

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About the Author

Robert Hill is an industry sales consultant with over 20 years experience in information technology, customer relationship, and supply chain management. Mr. Hill specializes in the development and operation of state-of-the-art customer care and technical support operations and has provided expertise to international companies such as Xerox, GE, Allstate, Computer Sciences Corp., DuPont, National City Bank, QWest, and Cincom. Reach him at rhill@cincom.com or 1-513-612-2300. 

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Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors

You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" below.

If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

For the rest of the July 2010 issue of CRM magazine — which examines the past 15 years in the CRM industry — please click here.

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