Benefits of remote agents (part 1) – Expanded skills recruiting
This post is the first in a series exploring the benefits and drawbacks of the growing trend of homesourcing call centers to remote agents working from home.
With the rising adoption rate of IP telephony and an increasingly mobile work force, call center managers are warming to the at-home agent model. While cost efficiency is usually the primary driver of the shift to remote agents, organizations who have already made the shift have reported additional benefits that are driving the move.
One such benefit is the ability to recruit nationally rather than locally for agent positions. With the elimination of location-based recruiting, call center managers are discovering that they can impose a higher level of selectivity when recruiting at-home agents. According to Forrester’s 2010 survey of call center operations, the infrastructure cost savings was not the only benefit of enabling at remote workforce:
Forrester clients with home agents report positive benefits, such as improving their recruitment opportunities, attracting higher educated and more experienced workers, and lowering their absenteeism and attrition rates.
Increased talent level and reliability is a significant benefit of having a dedicated, talented workforce capable of working independently without on-site supervision.
Call center managers are wising up to the fact that a highly skilled and motivated workforce exists outside of the major cosmopolitan areas in which the brick-and-mortar facilities happen to be located. One such untapped pool is military spouses, which in a recent research study were found to be highly educated and highly motivated to maintain a career but disadvantaged due to frequent moves:
The clearest indicator of the challenges of military spouse employment is the fact that almost two-thirds of those interviewed felt that being a military spouse had a negative impact on their work opportunities. The most frequently cited cause was frequent and disruptive moves.
How long before call centers catch on to this dedicated talent pool eager for productive work opportunities? And military spouses are far from the only remote yet skilled groups currently untapped for at-home work.
In addition to expanded recruiting, the remote agent model shows benefits in terms of valued agent retention. One call center, Veterinary Pet Insurance customer care center, implemented an at-home work program to enable its best agents to work from home. While it was intended as a reward and convenience to top performers, the program also helped the organization retain some of its best agents when their families moved out of state.
“We currently have three agents for whom we have made special arrangements as they have moved out of state,” reports Debbie Carter, Senior Director of Operations at VPI.
A nominal risk in implementing the at-home model was easily offset by reducing the need to recruit and train experienced, dedicated agents due to an involuntary relocation. How much did VPI save by retaining valued talent instead of going through the costly process of replacing the agent?
Recruiting Specialized Talent
The benefits of the remote agent model extend beyond the strict call center space as well. In the field of insurance, two of the top outsourcing firms teamed up to provide both offshore and homesourced talent for an industry requiring a host of specialized skills for specific tasks:
WAHVE (Work at Home Vintage Employees, LLC) innovated the “remote outsourcing” model under which experienced U.S. retirees work from home for insurance industry firms. Founded as an alternative to offshoring for agents, brokers and insurers, WAHVE provides back-office processing and customer service. WAHVE created a database of baby boomer retirees with insurance knowledge who provide contract staffing or consulting to firms on a full-time, part-time and/or project basis.
With virtualization, all businesses can benefit from increased opportunities to invest in highly skilled and dedicated agents who are motivated to work efficiently on a remote basis. Rather than being limited to a locally available talent pool, organizations can recruit based on skills and experience and increase both productivity and retention.