Home Agent Adoption in 2010

By Daniel G. Willis

Your boss hands you the equivalent of eight more weeks off this year in commuting time and a savings of $2,500 in gas, insurance, and car repairs, and what do you say? You say, with a smile on your face, “Thank you for calling. This is Daniel speaking – may I have your telephone number, please, so I can access your account?”

It’s no wonder that home-agent projects are successful. From the point of view of most agents, there is no better scenario, and since there is a direct connection between agent satisfaction and customer satisfaction, customers, companies, and agents are all winning at this game.

In 2005, the consulting firm IDC reported that there were 100,000 agents fielding calls in an at-home environment, and consultants at Gartner Inc. were predicting that 10 percent of all call centers would employ at least some home-based agents by 2007. Also in 2007, a national poll by inContact showed that almost 50 percent of call centers were, in fact, doing so, but ICMI reported in 2008 that the number was more likely 20 percent.

This year, we at Transcom North America & Asia wanted to find out what the current state of the at-home phenomenon was. So, over the past several months we made our online survey available to over 2,000 companies in North America, representing five important industry sectors, for key executives to submit responses. Joe Gearon from Marketing Alternatives Inc succinctly summed up the general sense of the at-home experience from a company perspective on one of the LinkedIn discussion boards that led up to the survey. He wrote:

More mature. Fewer issues.
More experience. Less training.
More tenure. Less HR.
More “happy reps.” Better customer service experience.
More candidates. Better fit for defined skill sets.
At-home agents have more for less, with better results.

Overwhelmingly, our survey data supports that organizations are embracing at-home agents and are realizing benefits far beyond what they had originally planned. With almost one-half of those surveyed having adopted an at-home delivery channel, we found that 90 percent of them were experiencing successful programs, and there were some impressive numbers that told us why. Like Joe, almost all cited value in expanding the geographic reach of their agent pool. For instance, if you have a highly complex call process, or if you are in a regulated industry, you may have to cast a wide net to get the right agent for your requirements. Experience shows that at-home professionals are more mature, better educated, and more experienced than their fixed facility counterparts.

It was for these same reasons that 88 percent cited the advantages of adding language capabilities, and overall most realized the advantage of adding flexibility into their customer care strategy through enhancing the skill set of their agents. Results indicated significant value in using the at-home delivery model to recruit outside of a traditional fixed-facility radius – providing organizations with the ability to support customers locally, thus enhancing the customer experience. Additionally, geographic flexibility assists in disaster recovery and pandemic planning.

Like many business decisions, ROI (return on investment) plays an important role, and here it is no different. For those that are interested in the numbers, 86 percent of all at-home adopters realized the cost savings they were expecting, and in 14 percent of these cases the cost savings exceeded expectations. The need to lower costs is often combined with a desire to repatriate offshore work domestically, and at-home delivery models make the grade.

In addition, data suggests an 8 to 10 percent increase in first call resolution versus offshore as well as a significant decrease in agent attrition. All this adds to the financial business case for an at-home delivery model.

Balancing capacity, customer satisfaction, and costs are an ever-growing problem for contact center executives. At-home delivery models enable organizations to scale operations without the need for a huge capital investment in new facilities. Flexibility is not only about scaling up and down quickly and cost effectively, it’s about managing:

  • Increased compliance requirements
  • Volatile call volumes
  • Changing call patterns
  • Increasing call complexity

Our survey data suggests that an overwhelming 95 percent accomplished increased flexibility when adopting an at-home delivery channel.

The reasons why 54 percent of the organizations polled did not deploy an at-home model are plentiful. Budget issues appeared in the top five reasons, yet our survey showed that cost savings was a primary reason for deployment in the first place. Additionally, call complexity also ranked in the top five reasons, yet our data shows the at-home professional to be more mature and experienced than a fixed-facility agent. Lastly, lack of internal sponsorship and expertise prevent organizations from implementing at-home programs, which in and of itself does not preclude outsourcing.

Of course, there are hurdles to overcome, and they may be insurmountable for certain organizations. Of those who found the program unsuccessful, management expertise, technology, and executive sponsorship where the top three reasons for failure. Managing a virtual workforce is much different from in a fixed-facility environment – everything from training, coaching, and the actual management of the agents must be completely redesigned to ensure success. While today’s technology facilitates access for the remote agents, the security around this access is an essential component to eliminate risk.

Across the verticals polled for this survey, results showed that adopters and non-adopters were fairly evenly split at 46 percent and 54 percent respectively. This was consistent with the findings of the 2007 inContact report, and thus provided a statistically valid number of respondents from which to draw our conclusions. This was especially true with respect to what the successes or benefits of the program were, as well as what the impediments to success were. Our industry report provides this data as an overall metric.

At the granular level, there was one key variance worth mentioning: the variance between technology and telecom sectors as compared to the others in the financial services, retail, and consumer goods, and/or services sectors when responding about whether experiences matched the results expected. Our data indicates that the technology and telecom sectors’ experience greatly exceeded expectations, more so than the other sectors. Our reasoning is that these sectors are more experienced in outsourcing in general and therefore have a clearer set of data points from which to evaluate success factors in an at-home environment as compared to a fixed-facility model.

Remember, about half of our respondents had no experience in using an at-home model. While we aren’t at the end of the fixed-facility call center as we know it, it is a fact that 31 percent of them are planning to implement an at-home program within the next twelve months.

Daniel G. Willis is marketing manager for Transcom North America & Asia, where he publishes industry documents, webinars, and newsletters for over 20,000 readers. Transcom North America & Asia is a provider of contact center services with offices in Canada, the US, and the Philippines.

[From Connection Magazine October 2010]

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