Managing Home-Based Contact Center Agents

High-technology and competitive-staffing strategies have made at-home contact centers a reality. Now agents are able to log on and handle customer calls, emails, and chats in the convenience of their own home. Nonetheless, application of best practices is necessary for your contact center to enjoy ongoing success.

While sending agents to work from home without direct physical supervision may be a large leap for some companies, many are already comfortable with the idea of distributed call centers. Home-based broadband and voice quality improvements in VoIP have enabled home-based contact centers. Besides technology, business owners have learned that a happier workforce means better recruitment and employee retention. While there is no universal remedy for a satisfied workforce, there are many advantages to offering staff the ability to work remotely. These include quicker ramp-up, more flexible working hours, and the elimination of commuting-related expenses. However, in order to achieve continued success from a contact center, it is essential that best practices are established and followed.

Technology-Based Best Practices

Alternate Access Methods for Voice and Data Both PSTN and VoIP can be used to connect agents and callers over the phone; however, using the highest quality telephone lines for customer service is still recommended. You may find that some connections will not tolerate voice and data at the same time and you may be forced to use a separate PSTN connection for phone calls. In this case cellular networks may be used as a back-up.

For data, DSL or cable-based broadband connections are optimal. Consider experimentation with satellite and cellular connections as a failsafe. While some service plans are based on unlimited usage and a flat monthly rate, be certain to weigh monthly costs for these contingency services against your normal operational expenses.

Standard Issue PCs, Modems, and Routers Consider standardizing all equipment and software to outfit your home-based agents. Offering a home-agent starter kit depot for your remote workers will help ensure proper office setup. Coupons, expense reimbursement, and other perks may be offered as a benefit. Everything you can do to make it easy for them to install and stay up and running is a good idea. Let them focus on generating revenue and making customers happy--not faulty or incompatible gear.

Standard Troubleshooting Procedures Standardizing formal troubleshooting procedures will also pay great dividends. Establish your own help desk and train those employees on troubleshooting your home-agent starter kit.

If your organization is small, consider making arrangements with a technical outsourcing service organization familiar with your company's kit. Furthermore, you may want to conduct exploratory tests with vendors around their hardware expertise and support services.

Workforce-Based Best Practices

Hands-On Coaching for Remote Workers Contact center supervisors traditionally coach, train, monitor, and tally agent KPIs, which vary from company to company but generally involve metrics, such as length of call, closing ratios, and first-call resolution. These activities must also apply for supervising remote agents. Several remote contact center solutions facilitate this real-time ability by allowing supervisors to listen in, whisper coach, and even view the screens of home-based agents.

Establish a formal, rotating procedure for every supervisor who manages remote agents. This will help to compensate for the fact that they are not physically colocated. For example, you can reach out to them regularly with specific feedback, be it whisper coach or chat coach. It is also useful to post team KPI results regularly. These practices will help remote workers feel more connected and will contribute to better morale and productivity.

Establishing a Company-Wide Remote Work Ethic It's important to establish workplace ground rules for your remote agents. Publish these guidelines and incorporate them as part of the interview and hiring process. If you run an outsourcing business, the sensibilities and goals of your clients should also be articulated. Make it easy for remote workers to work effectively by establishing flexible schedules for them. Use "logged-on and available" as the basis for establishing the agents' work hours. If you want to establish different metrics for productivity, such as the number of issues resolved or the number of appointments made, you may establish competitive distinction in your recruitment efforts.

Career Development for Remote Workers It's not uncommon for remote workers to express feelings of being out of touch associated with a traditional office setting. Some may even feel their chances for advancement are lessened by being away from the office. You can address this by establishing a career development program especially designed for remote workers. For example, you can use self-paced distance learning so remote workers can take required courses for advancement. You can also host webinars in which guest speakers can present tips and best practices on customer service or other job opportunities in your company.

The application of best practices, both in the technology realm and in staffing strategy, can help you to establish a productive remote workforce for your contact center. If you incorporate these suggestions and modify them based on your needs, your contact center will reap the lasting benefits of a remote workforce.

About the Author
Mike Betzer is the vice president of service CRM product management at Oracle. Please visit www.oracle.com.

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