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The “How To” of working with Remote Call Center Agents

This article covers the pros and cons of using remote call center agents and recommendations from working with some leading call center operations.

The “How To” of working with Remote Call Center Agents

The introduction of cloud-based systems that use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has allowed the traditional call center to come under the general heading of Call Center as a Service (CCaaS). One of the obvious benefits of this new class of service is that call center agents can now be untethered from the traditional on-premise Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) system. Now remote agents can handle calls, emails, chats and social media inquiries from their home office locations, while still being part of a call center operation. While there are some obvious benefits to this type of business operation, there are also caveats and things to consider before making the leap into using remote agents. This article covers most of the pros and cons of using remote call center agents and some recommendations that we have learned from working with some leading call center operations.

Your Call Center Agents are the face of your company.  Make sure they are equiped and motivated to do so.” 

Why use remote call center agents?

In many parts of the world the cost of living and commuting to a call center location are prohibitive and restrict the number of potential agent candidates. With access to a fast and reliable internet connection, a remote agent can work virtually from anywhere. Not only does this expand the pool of potential agent candidates but having the flexibility to work from a home office can also increase the levels of staff retention, which is an ongoing issue in any call center.

Our customers have also noted that the advent of the remote agents allows them to expand their call coverage hours and specifically be able to support peak periods when call volumes are unseasonably high or in emergency situations, when it would typically be more difficult to have onsite agents in the office.

In some technical support operations, where there are tiered levels of support from Tier 1 through to 3, it is of particular benefit to allow some of the Tier 2 or 3 support personnel, who handle relatively fewer calls, to be able to handle call escalations from their desktops, without having to be physically located in the call center.

It is perhaps only anecdotal information, but our customers have reported that their remote agents tend to be “happier” and more productive than their onsite counterparts. It might be related to the fact that the remote agents don’t have to commute to work or feel the need to “dress up” or it might be related to the fact that they are working in a comfortable environment. Nonetheless remote agents clearly are more motivated and express a higher level or satisfaction with their work.

Remote Agent Caveats

Recruiting the “right” agent candidate will be a challenge that warrants a significant investment in time. A remote agent not only needs to have a track record of reliability but also be able to demonstrate a self-starter attitude and operate with minimal supervision and daily oversite. Even though their work on the call center will be monitored, without having the benefit of being able to walk over and talk to their colleagues and managers can be difficult for some people.

In addition, training of a remote agent is more expensive than an onsite agent and will typically require several onsite training sessions over the first 6 to 9 months. Regular communication and quality monitoring processes will need to be developed and tested to ensure that the required productivity levels are established and maintained that are consistent with the on-site staff.

An additional cost to consider with remote agents is the need to ensure that they are provisioned with adequate computing and telephone equipment and have access to a reliable and high-speed internet connection. There will also need to be assurances that their workspace is secure, noise- free and not prone to interruptions.

We have also seen situations where some of the onsite agents can feel a level of resentment towards the remote agents and imagine that the remote agents don’t have to work as hard as they do in the office. That’s where the wall boards and call monitors are important, so that the onsite agents can see that the remote agents are in fact handling calls at the same level as they are inside the call center.

Before hiring a remote agent the call center manager also needs to consider how often they will be able to interact with their staff and will need to establish a regular schedule to meet in person either in the office or at the remote location.

Practical Steps

Despite the fact that the remote agents can be located just about anywhere, when reviewing the agent candidates, we have found it important to maintain the same qualification standards that are set for the onsite agents.

While flexibility of the remote agents is a benefit for them, they also need to feel as though they are part of the overall call center team and processes need to be implemented to ensure a sense of accountability, despite the remoteness of their work. That means, the remote agent will need to check in at the start of the shift, provide updates at mid-day and check out at the end of the day. Communication technologies such as Slack or HipChat or similar applications should be implemented to encourage regular contact with the team and the management and provide a sense of “team”.

Particularly after the initial onsite training sessions, it is important for the remote agents to know that there are options for the call center managers to monitor their calls on a silent basis, or provide in-call coaching, so the agent can be assured that they are handling the calls appropriately and have their call handling skills be audited for quality.
Some teams with remote agents have effectively used “gamification” applications to generate a sense of competition and build comradery among all the personnel.

Probably the most important factor to the long-term success of a remote agent programs is that in the absence of regular face-to-face meetings, that the remote agents feel as though they are part of the call center team and that they are part of the culture and community. If distance is not prohibitive, we also recommend that monthly or bi-monthly meetings be scheduled onsite for the entire team to share fun events or team-building exercises.

Remote Agents

The ability to support remote agents in a call center department and have a much larger pool of potential agent candidates changes the potential economics and efficiency of the operation. Even though the technology can be deployed to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the remote agents, it will be up to the call center management to ensure that the best practices and processes are implemented to manage the change in the business model.
Author: Bob Tatemichi has been in the call center and software application business for over 25 years and currently works as an IT consultant with Xcel Services Group focused on deploying call center and voice-based applications with key customers throughout North America.

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