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Network World - McKesson Health Solutions runs two fewer brick-and-mortar call centers than it did three years ago, and the Broomfield, Colo., company is set to shut down a third facility by year-end. McKesson's business isn't shrinking; its call center staff is relocating - to their homes.
Over the past three years, McKesson has increased its at-home worker population from 13 to 500 agents. Most are registered nurses who provide over-the-phone triage and disease management services to health plan members. Clients call in with questions about health concerns, and McKesson nurses call patients with chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
Getting the company's distributed call center staff up and running wasn't easy, but the payoff is worth it, according to Linda Casey, a senior manager of operations at McKesson. The company is saving $2 million each year in building leases alone, she told attendees at the recent International Contact Center Management conference in Chicago.
Hiring managers can choose from among a wider pool of candidates, because they aren't limited by the location of a call center facility. The at-home jobs are sought after, so McKesson typically can hire at-home agents for about 16% lower wages, Casey said. Agents tend to keep the jobs longer, too: Attrition rates have dropped from 37% before the work-at-home program matured to 20% today across McKesson's virtual and brick-and-mortar call centers.
At the same time, McKesson is benefiting from greater staffing flexibility. About 20% of its at-home staff voluntarily work split schedules, which lets managers better allocate their hours around peak call periods. The company shifts 1,500 agent hours each month from overstaffed times to understaffed times - the equivalent of eight full-time employees, Casey said. The pool of at-home agents is "the easiest to manage, and it's the easiest to schedule," she said.
While the payoff is satisfying, getting to this point required considerable effort. "We ran up against a lot of brick walls," Casey said.
For companies that are considering a work-at-home program, she suggests forming a steering committee with representatives from departments including human resources, finance, operations, IT and training. Getting buy-in from each of the departments is critical, so resolve any differences, she said. IT, in particular, needs to be on board for a work-at-home initiative to succeed. "They are probably the most important - and they will be the most resistant," she said.
A key first step in winning over naysayers is providing a compelling ROI. "That's the ammunition you're going to take to the executives," she said.
McKesson started with a pilot project involving 13 employees. As the program grew, managers refined the associated systems and processes.
For example, McKesson has had to increase its IT budget to support the work-at-home program. The company hired a new pool of IT people to support remote agents, Casey said. Remotely diagnosing an IT problem and talking an agent through its repair can be challenging. In some cases it pays to have IT make a house call, Casey has found. "It can be less expensive for us to send an IT person out to Pennsylvania to visit with three work-at-home nurses than it is for us to replace and retrain those three agents."