Over the last several years there has been a move towards virtualization of the contact center, with increasing numbers of work-at-home call center agents. This has been made possible through significant advances in broadband technology as well as developments in work-force management software.
THE WORLD OF VOIP
Voice-over IP (VOIP) refers to any method of delivering voice communications and multimedia sessions over Internet Protocol. This model of communication requires less hardware than the previous methods and is almost purely software based. Working remotely has previously been impractical due to slow dial-up internet connections. But with broadband internet now widely available in many agents’ homes, it is becoming increasingly prudent and profitable to virtualize a portion of a contact center’s workforce.
Workforce management software means quality assurance can be maintained even if the agent is a continent away. Across the distance a supervisor can now easily monitor the agent’s screen and audio recordings of the calls, monitor when an agent is out of adherence, and even provide training and coaching tips directly to the agent’s desktop.
BENEFITS OF WORKING REMOTELY
An agent working from home is often a different breed than those typically found in a mass contact center. At-home contact center agents are most often college-educated mothers seeking a flexible source of income. Agents who can isolate an area of their home to use as a home office cost less to train and will often have higher levels of worker satisfaction because of the flexibility and freedom their position allows. This helps reduce turnover rate and improve customer experience. This model also means that a company can shut down traditional brick-and-mortar contact and training centers, to minimize their office space and thus reducing cost. Many companies have seen the value and opportunity in this model. Alaska Airlines has shifted 50% of their agent population to virtual at-home offices, with the intent to move closer to 60% by the end of 2012.
In addition some industries, such as retail, will experience increased call volume during certain times of the year. Additional staff is often needed to handle this increase and the flexibility of the work-from-home model can provide this workforce at a lower cost than training new agents for a seasonal position.
THE FUTURE OF AT HOME CALL CENTER AGENTS
It is highly unlikely that physical brick-and-mortar contact centers will disappear completely. Many agents simply do not have the luxury to work from a home office. In addition, many companies may handle proprietary information such as credit card information or social security numbers. A business or organization may prefer to keep such information within their own walls.
While the traditional model of contact centers will remain, the virtualization trend creates many exciting new opportunities.