What Does an Agent Really Cost, and Could You Use an Extra One or Two?

By Doris Primicerio

Although the starting rate for an agent can vary greatly, let’s assume a nominal rate of $8.50 per hour. When the cost of worker’s compensation, unemployment compensation, health insurance, “Errors and Omissions” insurance, FICA, SUTA, retirement contribution, vacation pay, paid breaks, shift differentials, and bonuses are factored in, that amount can easily jump an additional $3.50 per agent hour. This means that an effective agent cost is about $12.00 per hour.

This is the basic agent cost; now what does it cost to train that agent? We run an ad for about $500, which may result in twenty applicants. Maybe four will pass the basic test for hiring, and perhaps two will be hired. For the two that may be hired, we pay a highly paid trainer to train them, along with the trainees’ pay. This makes the training hour cost well over $24 per hour. This is in addition to the costs for running the ad or paying the employee who does the applicant testing, interviews the applicant, and checks the references.

It is amazing how many applicants who are offered good jobs, stay at them for less than three months. The moment that something goes wrong, they simply quit. We spend an enormous amount of money training new applicants, over and over again, and the churn just continues. We try to pay every benefit known to mankind to keep our employees with us, and many in our industry have loyal employees who have been with them for years. However, there are always some who keep churning, which runs up our expenses, puts enormous stress on our managers, and has our loyal agents working much harder and for more hours.

Now that VoIP has become viable, it has allowed us to have agents working remotely, from anywhere in the world. Years ago, call centers started teaming up to handle each other’s overflow. This allowed them to take on accounts that had huge call volumes, and it better utilized their agents.   There is now a new trend: agent outsourcing. Right now, you can contract your agents for much less than what it would cost to hire them yourself. You totally control who your agents are. You have an initial telephone interview with the prospective new agents; they will only be hired for your company upon your approval, and they have to qualify with all testing and training. You grade them on each level of training, and each agent is dedicated to your call center.

Agent outsourcing has so many advantages. It cuts down overtime and takes the stress off the agents having to work extra hours to cover shifts. It cuts the attrition rate because it cuts down on employee churn. It saves your company money because the agent hour cost is less, it cuts down on overtime, and training is at a fraction of the normal cost. You can contract for as many agents as you need.

An agent outsourcing company can charge less for the agent (including training, supervision, and no overtime) because they outsource to other countries. Walk into any hospital today and you’ll notice employees from many different countries. You can walk into any business in the US and find employees from different countries who speak fluent English and sound professional. There is no difference when you outsource an agent in another country. In fact, agents in other counties look at working in a call center as prestigious employment. They go through many years of schooling to become an agent.

There is concern among call centers about staffing, benefits, and what an agent really costs. The problem is not isolated to one geographic area or even one industry; it is a problem for many businesses. All businesses are doing whatever is necessary to find and keep good employees, not those who show up late or don’t show up at all. In call centers, this increases hold times, which upset callers and clients. There are many unemployed people in the United States, but where are they? It is time for a change!

Many companies have been outsourcing for years. Now the time has arrived for our industry. However, there are some questions you need to ask before selecting an agent outsourcing company. What country do they use to outsource? In some countries, people are very difficult to understand on the telephone. In those countries, you’ll want to outsource employees for back office work but not phone work. You also want to ask how the agents are trained. Will the agents be dedicated to your company? What is the supervisor-to-agent ratio? Make sure the agent outsourcing company has all the employee contracts in place that you would use for your own operation. To use an agent outsourcing company, your call center system must be able to accommodate remote agent stations. You will also need broadband and VoIP capabilities.

Just as agent outsourcing is a new trend, a similar thing is happening with equipment. By hosting your system though an equipment vendor, you don’t have to worry about upgrades or deal with equipment problems. You have all the up-to-date services available, and you can do it for less than purchasing a new system.

By outsourcing your services, you can free up the time of valuable employees and dedicate this time to sales, billing, customer service, and running a profitable company. I look forward to the day when we all will be able to walk out our doors and not have to worry about agents answering the phones or the equipment not working. Outsourcing is the key.

Doris Primicerio is president of A Courteous Communications in Orlando, Florida. She has thirty-four years of experience in the telemessaging industry. For more information about agent outsourcing call 800-785-4766.

[From Connection Magazine October 2007]