Shifting the Remote Agent Paradigm

By Steve VerBurg

Three months ago, I was speaking with a customer who was distressed about losing her best third shift agent; the agent’s husband was being relocated to another state. I asked why she didn’t simply let this agent work remotely. She responded that it was not something she had thought about and that it would probably not work. The idea of being able to staff a call center with virtual agents seems foreign to many people within the telemessaging industry, but ironically, that’s how the industry got started.

Business people who could not afford to pay someone to sit in their office and answer the phone began asking for outside help; hence an industry was born. In the early years, hardwire lines, leased lines, or FX (foreign exchange) lines were used to extend clients’ calls to the call center. Technology changed with the advent of concentrators, call diverters, and call forwarding devices. It has continued to evolve into the technology we use today to service our clients. The virtual call center is what we sell every day. Why, then, do we frown at the idea of a virtual agent for our own call center?

The answer is control!  The reason some prospects are hesitant to outsource their calls to external call centers is the same reason some call centers are afraid of letting an agent work outside of their building. The industry has always had to educate businesses on the advantages of the virtual call center; we should apply the same thinking to ourselves when considering a virtual agent.

Call centers grapple with issues like the skill sets of their labor force, the cost of labor, language skills, accents, technology, and reliability. With the flexibility and low cost of today’s technology, agents can log themselves into and out of ACD queues with minimal investment, allowing call centers to be de-centralized and more flexible. So, the concern typically boils down to managing these remote agents. Will we get the same caliber of employee? Will our remote employees stop working because they’re out of the manager’s eyesight?

The answer is simple. Employees who will slack off when they’re away from the office are the same ones who slack off when the manager’s back is turned. Whether local or remote, agents must go through training and then be monitored to ensure they are going to be a good fit for your call center. Agent performance is typically monitored by performance reports, voice loggers, system activity monitors, and real-time monitors to ensure quality of service. With today’s technology, these same processes apply to the remote agent as well.

Agents are the biggest assets a call center has. Estimates on the cost of replacing an employee vary; some say it costs anywhere from 25 to 200 percent of that employee’s salary, while others say two to seven times annualized income. So, in the case of an employee who has proven herself, there should be no question that she will get the job done. Instead of trying to hire, train, and replace these valuable resources, the reward of keeping an employee outweighs the cost. In addition to retaining employees, call centers may want to try remote agents in order to tap into other labor pools.

The industry has told prospects and clients that location does not matter, as long as they can put their trust in professionals that are reliable, experienced, and highly competent. Shouldn’t we do the same?

For more information, contact Steve VerBurg at 800-782-7835 x714 or

[From Connection Magazine May 2006]

%d bloggers like this: