Exploring Virtual Call Centers

Consider the Pros and Cons

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Call centers were once centralized operations that functioned at a singular facility. Yet, thanks to today’s technology, they no longer need to be constrained to one location. Now, a call center can function as a distributed enterprise, with some agents working from a centralized office and others working remotely, such as from their homes. Extending this idea fully, all call center staff—including agents, managers, and support personnel—can work remotely. The result is a virtual call center, one without a need for a physical office.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections Magazine

Some operations are already 100 percent virtual, with others remaining 100 percent centralized. But most of today’s call centers exist somewhere on the continuum between these two extremes.

Here are the pros and cons of a virtual call center:

Pros

A virtual call center offers many advantages. Here are three key benefits of embracing a fully distributed call center operation.

No Facility Expenses: The biggest cost for call centers is staffing. The second largest expenditure is often their facility. By becoming a virtual call center, the need for a centralized facility goes away.

This means eliminating all expenses related to owning a building or renting office space. These cost savings directly boost the bottom line.

Expanded Labor Pool: Without the constraints of an office for employees to work from, you can hire anyone, from anywhere, providing they have a stable internet connection. This increases your labor market, allowing you to select from a greater pool of qualified candidates. The result is a higher caliber of employees for your operation and an increase in quality.

Maximum Flexibility: With a virtual call center scaling up and scaling down is easy. No longer will you struggle with finding space for more agent stations as you’re growing or wondering what to do with unused space during times of contraction. Your only limitation for growth is how fast you can hire staff.

Cons

Though the advantages of a virtual call center are compelling, there are also some downsides to consider. These are not formidable, but you’re wise to be aware of them before moving forward.

Management Challenges: The biggest struggle with the virtual call center is managing a completely distributed workforce. Overseeing a centralized staff is easy compared to a decentralized one, with everyone in a different location. This transition is seldom easy, but it is possible. Just don’t expect it to be fast or error-free.

Secluded Workers: With everyone working from a different location, there is no option for in-person interaction or group meetings. At best, video conferencing becomes the solution. Not everyone can accept this.

In working from home, there’s also physical isolation, which is problematic for some employees. They need to go to work for social interaction, and they can’t function in a virtual environment. Keep this in mind as you hire staff. Screen candidates appropriately.

Payroll Complexities: One element managers often overlook when considering going virtual is payroll. Paying staff who work in one location is manageable, albeit complex, with many components to consider.

Yet when you add a second jurisdiction—be it a different state or country—the complexity of payroll doubles. And it continues to do so each time you add an employee from a different area. One solution is to hire a payroll company to handle this for you.

Moving Toward a Virtual Call Center

Given the advantages of a virtual call center, you may be ready to jump into it with enthusiasm. Yet before you do, plan how to best deal with the disadvantages. These are not insurmountable but require forethought and diligence to be dealt with effectively.

For this reason, the best advice is to move slowly from a centralized operation to a decentralized one person at a time. This allows you to figure out solutions and make for a smooth transition to becoming a virtual operation.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is the editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time. Check out his latest book, Sticky Leadership and Management, along with Sticky Customer Service and Sticky Sales and Marketing.

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