Worldwide, there’s an ongoing trend in contact centres employing work from home agents, and Australian contact centres are embracing this as a viable operational option.
The shift to cloud contact centre technology has been the enabler behind the increase in telecommuting, as it makes it easy for staff with a reliable internet connection to log in and get to work, and for supervisors to monitor productivity.
After Medibank’s successful pilot in 2015, they now have approximately 20 contact centre agents working from home (WFH).
“WFH works best for employees who need flexibility, such as return to work mothers. A high percentage of our WFH employees live a long way from Melbourne in places like Bendigo, Ballarat and Swan Hill. Retention amongst WFH staff is great and turnover is far lower than in our Melbourne contact centre,” reported Contact Centre Manager, Melanie Davis.
WFH isn’t for everyone though. “Most call centre people want to work here for the environment,” said Davis.
53% of American Call Centres employ work from home agents
According to the National Association of Call Centers, more than half of the contact centres in the United States today (53 percent) have some percentage of their agent population functioning from a home office.
13% productivity improvement in Chinese travel business
Stanford University did a study of 1000 call centre workers at China’s largest travel business, Ctrip. Half worked at home and the other half in the call centre. The research found staff working at home produced 13 per cent more calls than those who worked from the call centre. Staff at home were also happier, more diligent, and less likely to leave.
Seven great benefits of the work from home model
- Workforce Diversity: The agent pool is limitless with remote agents, which means that Contact Centres can employ experienced agents, that they may not otherwise be able to attract because of location or travel barriers.
- Scheduling flexibility: Contact Centres have access to agents who are more flexible with their availability, which means they are better able to serve customers during peak times and minimise quiet times where the channels fall silent. Staffing for special events, holidays, and seasonal spikes is simplified by work from home agents with flexible schedules. Remote agents can also accommodate spikes in call volumes on short notice.
- Reduced operating costs: Reduced operating costs associated with at-home agents include lower starting wages and reduced benefits, less need for brick and mortar facilities and support staff.
- Lower staff turnover: Retention rate for at-home agents is 80% versus 25% for in-house. Agent morale is a key factor in retention. Work from home agents are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs because they’re empowered by having control over their schedules, allowing for improved work/life balance.
- Lower training costs: Virtual Contact Centre NexRep has a remote staff of 600, and CEO Teddy Liaw reports that training virtual agents is easier and much less expensive than providing onsite classes.
- Improved Productivity: A Stanford University study showed that home working led to a 13% performance increase, of which about 9% was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick-days) and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter working environment).
- Increased customer satisfaction: Job satisfaction is dramatically improved when an agent experiences the benefits of working from home. Improved agent satisfaction leads to increased customer satisfaction which results in improved customer loyalty. “In a way, customer care has been the laboratory from which the backbone for the remote workforce has emerged,” noted Ken Landoline, Yankee Group Senior Analyst.
Tips for managing remote staff
Remote staff do require the same level of management and help that your onsite staff need. It’s not a “set them up and forget them” solution. Successful management and results will depend on deploying the right technology.
1. Provide a cloud based contact centre solution
It goes without saying that work from home staff cannot login remotely to an on-premise system. You will need a cloud-based system like Premier Contact Point for managing staff access and for supervisors to monitor logins, activity and KPI tracking.
2. Give seamless access to your internal systems
To aid productivity, have your cloud based contact centre solution integrated with your key back-office CRM, enterprise system and knowledge base, so that all the information they need is screen-popped into their desktop.
3. Provide communication systems
Your remote agents will need fast access to your supervisors and other agents for help, and for fostering a sense of teamwork. Instant messaging tools make it easy to manage and communicate with remote staff. Team Leaders can use remote agent monitoring for real-time coaching, and performance management for agents.
4. Optimise workforce scheduling and management
Agents are happier and more engaged when they’re working the shifts they prefer, and you provide a fair system which allows them to bid for schedules and holidays. The Premier Contact Point Workforce Management solution provides insight reports and predictive capabilities to create accurate demand forecasts and baseline staffing levels. It also has roster and holiday bidding functionality.
5. Create goals and targets
This is even more important when agents are not physically located in the main office. Premier Contact Point provides remote agents with real time reports so they can check their performance, see trends over time and see how they rank compared to other agents on a range of KPIs.