Ask The Expert Featured Article

August 03, 2012

Ask the Expert: Remote Agents


This article was initially published in the May 2007 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. Interactive Intelligence would like to say congratulations, and thanks, to TMC (News - Alert) on its 30 years of promoting the contact center industry.

Q: There seems to be a lot of talk about the benefits of using at-home or remote agents as additions to the physical contact center. So, actually, three questions Is the technology available to effectively implement a remote agent strategy? Are companies deploying remote agents successfully? And are the benefits tangible?

A: Remote or work-at-home agents are indeed catching on, for a couple of reasons. First, the industry now has enough experience with remote agents to be able define best practices for such a workforce and to quantify the benefits. Second, with the advancements of voice over IP, the technology is now in place to allow for successful deployments. Let's look at some of the key benefits, to start.

  • Competitive differentiation Employing remote agents is one of the most significant differentiators you can use to gain a competitive advantage in your contact center. You’re also protected against the ebb and flow of the costly labor market, you have a hedge against seasonal variations, and you can provide an alternative for geographic challenges.
  • Business continuity. No one ever hopes that some unexpected event will take their contact center offline. But the reality is that planning for such an event is wise management. With remote agents, the ability to get back up and running quickly is greatly enhanced.
  • Cost savings. Remote agents are less expensive to the organization overall for a number of reasons. Foremost are savings in facility costs – physical office space, equipment, energy, and so on. Remote agents also save travel costs (and time), which contributes to higher agent satisfaction levels and lower turnover rates. And when turnover is reduced, so are training costs.
  • Improved scheduling. Reports show that there is increased flexibility for agent scheduling, since remote agents often find off-hours as a preferable work time. This flexibility eases the management challenges for off-hours scheduling in the contact center, and further lends to the agent satisfaction equation.

What about the technology? Is it in place to reliably deploy at-home agents? Absolutely, although this wasn't the case 10 years ago or even five years ago. Technology has advanced to the point that remote agent deployments are now straightforward, and allow agents to provide superior service from wherever they’re located. Consider:

  • No specialty is hardware required for the remote agent. With VoIP, a remote agent can use a SIP headset or remote connectivity to a home phone, mobile phone, etc. If you select the right technology vendor, there’s also no need to worry about ISDN lines or ACD routing limitations.
  • There is no loss of functionality or features. A Windows PC and any telephone device can extend the same functionality to a remote agent that agents get in the physical contact center. At-home agents can record calls, access the information database, view the presence of other agents, and even receive online coaching from a supervisor.
  • The contact center supervisor still has control. Again with the right vendor and product, contact center supervisors retain the ability to monitor remote agents, regardless of an agent’s location, and including on hook/off hook status. All reporting capabilities still apply, too.
  • Remote agents can handle all media types. Remote doesn’t have to mean limited. Remote agents can handle calls plus e-mails, chats, and generic object routing with no reduction in service.

The fact is, companies are deploying remote agents at an increasing pace. Datamonitor estimates that within the next two years, remote agents will grow to 7.5 percent of the total contact center agent population. (The results of a recent ContactBabel (News - Alert) survey actually show that remote agent usage had climbed to 42 percent in 2011.) The technology is available to support remote agent initiatives successfully, and the benefits are evident.




Edited by Stefania Viscusi


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