A federal appeals court decision handed down Friday opens the doors for a whole new segment of at-home call center agents.
The decision allows the FCC to move forward with converting its $4.5 billion program subsidizing telephone service in rural areas to one that subsidizes high-speed internet. The appeals court upheld the agency’s Connect America fund, which had faced opposition from dozens of phone companies that stand to lose subsidies.
For call centers, the decision is a major victory. Companies that rely on at-home call center agents or hope to move in that direction will face fewer technological barriers and have a greater pool of workers from which to choose.
The decision is also a win for technology in general. FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn told the New York Times that the reforms will change the lives of millions of Americans who will have access to broadband for the first time.
Benefits of At-Home Call Center Agents
Companies are increasingly embracing the idea of at-home call center agents due to the cost savings and productivity gains.
At-home call center agents are typically contractors, so there are no benefits to pay. Even if the agents are employees, the at-home model leads to reduced overhead costs. In-house agents cost an average of $31 per hour, according to IDC Consulting, while at-home agents cost an average of $21 per hour.
Surprisingly, studies have shown that at-home workers are actually more productive than their office-based counterparts. There are many theories as to why, but it may come down to the fact that home-based employees are simply happier. They have more flexible schedules, greater autonomy and a better work/life balance.
Other benefits of the at-home model include:
- Lower turnover – A TelCoa study showed that attrition declined from 53 percent to 39 percent with at-home call center agents.
- Lower absentee rates – The same study identified a drop is absenteeism from 18 percent to 7 percent.
- Access to a more educated workforce – With an at-home model, call centers can tap into a wider network of employees from a variety of geographic locations. Hire educated people who otherwise would not be able to take the job, perhaps because of location or because they’re stay-at-home parents or retirees.
- Improved customer service – Simply put, happier employees provide better customer service.
Making the Shift to At-Home Call Center Agents
Forrester’s 2013 Outlook for Contact Center Plans report noted significant growth in at-home call center agents. Some 34 percent of companies had plans to invest in home-based operations, according to analyst Elizabeth Herrall.
Today, some of the nation’s largest companies have gone this route. These include Amazon, Jet Blue, AT&T and Citibank, to name just a few.
In order to shift to an at-home model, whether partially or completely, your call center software must be cloud-based. Obviously, the model doesn’t work unless agents have full access to the tools and resources used by in-house staff, including customer records. Supervisors also need remote access to features like call monitoring, which cloud-based call center software provides.
With the right cloud-based call center software, however, transitioning to an at-home model can be seamless.