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Advice for virtual call centers

Feb 10, 20043 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Working Solutions lays out a roadmap for sending call center agents home

“OK, show of hands, who wants to work from home?”

Believe it or not, that’s how some companies kick off their at-home call center agent programs – and one of the big reasons they fail. Presuming the best or most eager in-house agents will make the best at-home agents is a common misconception, says Tim Houlne, CEO of Working Solutions. “Key attributes of remote agents are very different from those in bricks and mortar call centers,” he says. “But not a lot of companies understand that.”

At last week’s Call Center Demo and Conference/3rd Annual Telework Conference in Dallas, Houlne’s company – a Plano, Texas, outsourcer with 22,000 part-time at-home agents nationwide – released a white paper aimed at helping firms launch successful at-home call center agent programs.

“Whether companies outsource or keep the call center in house, we’re big proponents of the industry,” he says. “Without giving away too many secrets, we wanted to provide a roadmap to help companies succeed.”

There are a handful of reasons why companies’ in-house call center programs fail. “In the last two years, we’ve seen the same mistakes being made over and over again,” Houlne says.

Firms that don’t properly define their goals – whether it be save money, improve customer service, retain and recruit agents, or all of the above – often run into trouble. Many often underestimate the cost of deploying a virtual program because many of the costs related to their existing in-house call center are hidden in other departments’ budgets – facilities, IT and HR. Some companies overestimate the cost savings of sending agents home, assuming they won’t require infrastructure support when in fact they’ll probably need more when you add up the cost of PCs, communications links, security, training and remote support.

When assessing the cost, companies also need to weigh the pros and cons of keeping call center employees in house vs. hiring independent contractors. Independent contractors could be cheaper, but there’s no rule of thumb. When weighing the contractor issue, always consult a lawyer to make sure the required IRS laws are followed properly.

Another problem Houlne encounters with his clients is training. Some companies insist training should be done in house, but Houlne shakes his head. “Why would you train someone in house then expect to manage them virtually? Everything has to be virtual.”

Working Solutions has been profitable for 14 quarters, and gained a number of Fortune 50 clients in the travel and leisure, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, and most recently communications services sectors – wireless and landline voice and data providers. A link to the white paper, “Leveraging Remote Agents for Strategic Advantage: Eight Essentials for Success” is below.