5 Advantages of Having At-Home Contact Center Agents

By Dale Holub

As VoIP technology first hit that critical point when it could effectively be utilized within the contact center environment, offshoring suddenly seemed like an amazing opportunity to save substantially on labor costs. This led to some of the most recognizable industry leaders moving many of their agent jobs overseas.

When you consider that labor costs are typically the largest expense component for contact centers, often exceeding 60 percent of total operational costs, using offshore labor seemed like a no-brainer. And it certainly was for many organizations.

Yet, there were many variables that weren’t necessarily considered when companies first transitioned to offshore agents. From an extended recession with high U.S. unemployment rates to customer dissatisfaction with overseas service agents and even issues of consumer fraud perpetuated from offshore locations, a backlash against foreign contact centers grew quickly.

With many companies realizing that the savings of outsourcing didn’t justify the very real cost of losing unhappy customers, the search for an alternative solution began. Leading companies including US Airways, Delta, and Sallie Mae discovered that shifting contact centers from offshore locations to at-home agents made both financial and strategic sense.

With contact centers now embracing the flexibility and mobility of many cloud-based solutions, the concept of requiring all agents to work from a single location has evolved. Technology now enables contact centers to work efficiently with distributed workforces that operate from multiple offices or increasingly from home.

Making the Switch to an At-Home Contact Center Workforce

Choosing to use an at-home contact center workforce has many of the same benefits of offshore alternatives, along with some of the fundamental advantages of having an in-house, fully-staffed, single location.

Advantage #1 – A More Experienced, Skilled Workforce

One of the biggest challenges of an overseas workforce is overcoming communication and training issues. It’s simply a reality that an agent who is based 5,000 miles away from the customer is unlikely to have any knowledge of local culture, regional business issues, or commonly-used slang. This communication gap combined with oftentimes a lack of comprehensive training has led to a substantial drop in the quality of customer experience for many companies.

According to a study by consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, U.S.-based at-home agents have at least some college education. Many of these individuals have contact center experience and prefer to work from home because of family obligations, health issues, or to just earn supplementary income.

Advantage #2 – Fewer Technical and Management Hassles

Many companies discovered that overseas contact centers were not particularly easy to manage. There are often many hidden considerations including appreciating currencies, legal issues, cultural differences, recruitment challenges, equipment failures, and the need for round-the-clock management in foreign locations. With U.S.-based agents, many of these hassles are eliminated.

Advantage #3 – Scalability

Another dilemma for contact centers is having sufficient staff to handle fluctuating call volume. This challenge has become even more of an issue with the introduction of new customer communication channels such as social media and online chat.

Having a domestic at-home workforce of agents that are willing to respond to customers on a moment’s notice or pitch in when there is an influx of calls can help minimize idle time on a daily basis. It can also help tremendously during seasonal rushes, marketing campaigns, and even when technical issues are prompting an increase in call volume.

Advantage #4 – Lower Operating Costs

Although wages are lower in India, the Philippines, and other countries with large volumes of contact center agents, they are often not as low as many think. In many cases, wage differences are less than 20 percent making the operational cost gap between overseas and onshore contact centers minimal. When you then factor in the investment in additional technology and training and the expense of losing dissatisfied customers, the cost of have a domestic team of at-home agents is often less than maintaining an offshore workforce.

Advantage #5 – Higher Levels of Data Security

Background checks are standard for hiring new domestic agents. This isn’t always the case when it comes to external contact centers managed by overseas providers. Many companies found out the hard way that security breaches and fraud can be very difficult to prevent when you’re not on the ground hiring and managing your own team.

Hiring a U.S.-based, at-home workforce that is sufficiently background-checked can significantly increase data security and decrease incidences of fraud.

Whether you’re considering shifting from a single domestic, contact center location to outsourced agents or you’re bringing your operations back to the U.S. after a lack of success in another country, there is no denying the considerable advantages of having an at-home workforce. With so many benefits, it’s likely that this trend will continue, and that’s good news for companies and customers alike!

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