Virtual Home Agents: Manage Them More Easily in the Cloud
Technology has had a profound impact on the way Americans work, and nowhere has this been more apparent than in the rise of telecommuting, or work-from-home positions. Any office-based task can now be completed as easily from a home computer as it can from a corporate cubicle. And with the right workers and the right technology, such as contact center cloud software, the results are often more efficient and
Contact centers have also experienced a rise in “virtual agents,” those that work out of their homes. For the first time, qualified agents looking for a position no longer have to live close to a call center location. In fact, they don’t even have to reside in the same state.
Yes, the absence of direct supervision demands a high level of trust between employer and employee, but it’s an arrangement that can be beneficial not only to the agent, but to the call center and its customers.
The Benefits of Working from Home
If an agent is happier working from home, that positive attitude will certainly be reflected in his or her job performance. The comforts of home can make a call center agent more motivated to maintain their employment by working hard and meeting the company’s needs.
While there are virtual agents of both sexes and all ages, the average age for these types of employees is approximately 40, which in most cases means an experienced worker that will be the same age as the average contact center caller. This increases the odds of that agent “speaking the same language” as the customer.
Parents with small children also fall into this age group and often prefer the family proximity of a home-based office. It also eliminates their drive to and from work, which not only increases family time, it also decreases gas costs, automobile wear and tear, and the need to purchase a “work wardrobe.”
One might think coaching at-home agents might be more complicated, but training one on one via telephone can be as effective as an in-person coaching session.
What about technology? In many homes the bandwidth provided from a DSL/cable connection is higher than what many call centers provide. However, security measures must be implemented to make certain all customer interactions are not subject to hacking or breaches.
Scheduling is another area where virtual agents can be an asset, though reporting may have to be adjusted to include necessary KPIs for managing remotely. They can also contribute to the flexible scheduling needs of a call center – when there are unexpected peaks in call volume, at-home agents can help by simply logging on to their computer – no need to drive down to the call center first.
Finally, it’s not surprising that managers have reported much lower attrition rates with virtual agents, which is particularly significant in an industry where high employee turnover is typical.
Managing Virtual Agents
Overall statistical results have shown that home-working agents are more productive and provide superior service to callers when compared with their contact center-based colleagues, delivering exceptional performance in KPIs with fewer behavioral issues.
But for call centers unaccustomed to this work arrangement, managers may be reluctant to introduce a paradigm that is so different from their status quo.
However, the transition can be made quickly and efficiently with cloud software. In fact, the evolution of cloud software has accelerated the work from home trend in the call center industry, as it provides the same technology and service capabilities to an agent’s home computer and web browser as they would enjoy at the call center. No installation is required, data sharing remains secure, and managers enjoy even more flexibility in the forecasting and scheduling process.
Since all call monitoring, recording and analysis data is stored “in the cloud,” access is independent of location. The same information can be retrieved at any call center workstation, as well as at home and on mobile devices away from the office. With more companies hiring telecommuting employees, or working out of their home part-time, that flexibility can be invaluable as the industry continues to evolve.
Multi-site recording systems should provide full recording and monitoring functionality, as well as instant retrieval of any files, whether from local or networked storage systems. With a cloud-based system, storage is never an issue. Whether there are two call centers or fifty at home agents, all calls and customer interactions can be unified within one system.
Installation is simpler as well. Where in the past there would be a need to set up remote call recording systems and tie them together, the cloud-based system can be implemented more quickly, and with a lower investment cost in equipment. It’s also more environmentally friendly, as fewer machines mean less of a power drain – another monthly savings.
And working from home doesn’t mean the agent is isolated from coworkers; cloud software incorporates collaborating and chat tools, seamlessly integrated with current systems. Real time dashboard and adherence tools allow a manager to monitor virtual agents as easily as those within the call center, and provide instant feedback as needed.
Helping work-from-home agents achieve acceptable performance standards becomes much easier with a quality monitoring solution. The in-depth analysis and consistent reporting provided by a QM system exposes areas where improvement is needed, and provides accurate measurement on changes that occur as new standards are adopted.
The benefits of expanding call center operations to incorporate at-home agents are numerous – for the company, it means a larger talent pool to recruit from, the ability to add more agents without adding office space, having a flexible virtual staff “on call” for an emergency, and being able to address sudden increases in call volume within minutes, not hours.
For the agents, it’s a chance to have a job that does not require a car, a new business suit or the added expense of daycare for the kids.
Companies now have the means to build a geographically diverse team that works together with all the benefits of improved productivity and better communication.
While such arrangements are still the exception, they may not stay that way much longer. One survey predicts that nearly 80 per cent of employees could be working ‘outside’ their organization by 2020 thanks to the rise of cloud computing.
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