At home with customer service

Homeworking for contact centre workers can provide huge benefits if companies prepare their workers and their technology says Content Guru director Martin Taylor.

SONY DSCIn the last twelve months there has been a surge in interest in contact centre homeworking as big brands recognise the added flexibility and cost savings it can bring.

Household names such as the AA, BT, Argos, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, LV=, Photobox, Tesco and the RAC – as well as specialist outsourcers – now employ thousands of homeworkers across the UK, serving customers across a range of communications channels (voice, email, web chat, SMS, social media) often on a 24/7 basis.

The benefits reported are numerous. According to a 2013 Customer Contact Association survey, 92% of organisations felt contact centre homeworking delivered ‘improved flexibility for our workforce’ while 61% cited ‘cost reductions’ as a benefit.

One contact centre homeworking pioneer goes further, reporting a 15% annual fall in the number of complaints, a 14% saving through more efficient scheduling; a 10% reduction in average handle time, and a 14% overall cost reduction as a direct result of homeworking. A post-call customer survey it conducted revealed that 87% of queries were resolved on the call, with customers rating advisors 8.4 out of 9 for both ‘ability to listen and understand’ and ‘taking ownership of the enquiry’.

Other homeworking companies cite a broad range of benefits from lower customer wait times and reduced physical infrastructure costs, to dramatic improvements in the ease of planning and scheduling and radically enhanced customer experiences.

Plan for success

Contact centre homeworking clearly works. However, sending agents home is just the start of the process. To be successful, you need a new mindset within your customer contact teams. You can’t just take people from the office, place them at home, and expect them to perform as well, or better.  Homeworking simply doesn’t suit everyone. In every area – from recruitment to management, and from business processes to technology and communications – companies need to ask the question ‘how do we optimise what we have for the virtual environment?’.”

The process of gearing up for the virtual environment is not something that companies have found easy. Indeed many early homeworking pioneers freely admit to only discovering what works best for them through trial and error, often a lengthy and costly process.

Technology is a case in point. There’s not a single contact centre technology provider that wouldn’t claim that their technology is suitable for homeworking – yet the reality is often very different. Many don’t have the physical infrastructure and systems to send multichannel customer contacts to home-based agents and report on them as if they were just another member of the contact centre team. Others can’t provide the instant messaging and online forums so essential to maintaining close communications between virtual team members, or the video conferencing facilities that are key to virtual recruitment and training.

While moving contact centre teams to homeworking can be a difficult transition, the benefits are potentially so strong that it’s worth the effort. Homeworking is set to become one of the fastest growing trends in the customer service industry, with analyst Ovum predicting that the number of home-based agents will increase from just under 84,000 to nearly 160,000 by the end of 2017.

Martin Taylor Content Guru

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