Off Center
Those of you familiar with my writing know I’ve long been a proponent of the home agent model. So you may be confused by the title of this post and are likely thinking one of two things: 1) Greg is extremely wishy-washy; or 2) Greg is about to unleash a satirical blog post where he only appears to be against the use of home agents, to help readers see how effective the work-at-home model actually is.

Wishy-washy or smart aleck – which one could it be? I’m sure the suspense is killing you.

So, without further ado, here are the five reasons why you and your contact center should NOT embrace the home agent model:      

1) The increased agent retention means you won’t get to meet as many new and interesting people. If you are the kind of manager or supervisor who loves to meet and interview new people every month and who gets bored when surrounded by the same talented employees for years on end, stay away from the home agent model. In my (somewhat) recent study on home agent staffing, nearly every participant said their use of home agents has had a ‘very positive’ or ‘positive’ impact on agent retention. Fewer people quitting means fewer new folks for you to meet, and fewer people for you to get to know a little better several days or weeks later during their exit interview.

2) The sound of joy in agents’ voices will be disorienting. When you have grown accustomed to hearing agents sounding exhausted and apathetic during interactions with customers, hearing those same agents suddenly perking up and caring about customers is very jarring to the system. Such increases in happiness and engagement have been known to distract those who conduct quality monitoring to the point where they cannot focus and end up forgetting to fill out the monitoring form. This is just the kind of problem you can expect if you are silly and brazen enough to embrace the home agent model and give agents the kind of work-life balance they crave. Keep in mind, too, that sudden rises in agents’ spirits and performance can also be very disorienting for customers, who, upon hearing an authentically warm greeting and inspired efforts to assist them, may very well hang up assuming they have dialed the wrong number.

3) Hiring decisions will be too hard due to the overabundance of talented applicants. You may not have a lot of job openings after implementing a home agent program (since current agents won’t be quitting), but expect to be inundated by high-quality candidates whenever there is an opening. Once word gets out that your contact center uses home agents, applicants will come out of the woodwork in hopes of snagging a job where they’ll have a chance to work in their underpants. The real pain is that many of these applicants will be talented individuals whom you would be crazy not to offer a job. But good luck making the best selection when there’s only one agent position open and 50 candidates with solid college degrees, good references, and no police record to speak of. Who needs that kind of stress?

4) You’ll no longer have a good excuse for low service levels during storms. Senior management never likes it when you fall short of your service level objectives, but at least they are somewhat forgiving whenever a snowstorm or flood is to blame for it. If you implement a home agent initiative, you can forget about such leniency during severe weather situations. “There are 200 calls in queue because half our staff couldn’t make it in” doesn’t hold water when you have a team of home-based agents in place. Once you go virtual, it’s your workforce management and training skills that will be to blame – not the weather – if service dips when a blizzard hits. Better to keep all your staff on site to ensure that your managerial shortcomings aren’t fully exposed.

5) Your center may be suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. Many contact centers with home agents in place win awards for customer service excellence, but those same centers are often accused of pumping staff full of PEDs in order to achieve such accolades. You can’t really blame folks for being skeptical. I mean, when you see a center suddenly increase agent engagement and retention, productivity, customer satisfaction, staffing flexibility and operational costs, it’s only natural to suspect that center of cheating somehow. And while you – if your center implements a home agent program – may know that the aforementioned improvements came naturally from going virtual, are you sure you’re ready to face such serious and hurtful accusations? And are your agents willing to undergo random blood testing throughout the year?   

One other reason not to embrace the home agent model is the searing envy experienced by agents in your center who are NOT selected to work from home. There’s even a famous song (at least in MY mind) about this: (scroll down to the third song on the page, titled “On the Phone at Home”, to hear a sample).

Three questions seem to be on every call center professional’s mind these days:

1)    How should my call center handle social media?
2)    How should my call center prepare for mobile customer service?
3)    What would happen if Billy Joel wrote a call center song?

I feel that the first two questions are easy, thus I’ve chosen to tackle the third. I imagine this will help you immensely in your career.

What would happen if Billy Joel wrote a call center song? Probably something like what you see below. (Sorry, I would have made a recording of me singing the song, but I have laryngitis from shouting at Billy Joel’s lawyers. Besides, it will be more fun for you to sing it yourself with your agents during slow periods, or when you've all just given up.)

“The Call Center Is on Fire”
(to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”)

High attrition, battle scars
Spikes in volume, crowded queues
Budgets that are low

Calculating all the calls
Agents running down the halls
Service Level’s all disheveled
Systems that are slow

Senior managers aflame
Saying we take all the blame
Screaming that our stats are bad
Now our call forecaster’s sad

Driving callers to the web
Doing so to get ahead
Please adhere. Need a beer
Handle times are rising!

The call center is on fire
The calls ain’t stopping
Many calls are dropping
The call center is on fire
All the phones keep ringing
Not sure why I’m singing

FCR is down a bit
Unsure how to measure it
Social care has got us scared
Abandonment has grown

Seven agents called in sick
Seven more called in to quit
Callers now are getting mean
And I don’t like their tone

Monitoring all around
Agents lying on the ground
Everyday I have to swim
Through these freaking acronyms

SL, C-Sat, CPH
AHT, I need a break
ASA – blown away
What else do I have to say?

The call center is on fire
The calls ain’t stopping
Many calls are dropping
The call center is on fire
All the phones keep ringing
Not sure why I’m singing

Skills-based routing, traffic peaks
Half the staff releasing shrieks
Shrinkage, blinking readerboards
50 calls in queue

Chat requests and emails swell
Agents don’t know how to spell
All our text is just a mess
I don’t know what to do

Coaching, motivating reps
Work-at-home or under desks
Customers now own our soul
Your call is important – hold

Twitter volume’s on the rise
Facebook too, I want to cry
Time to train? Hide the pain
Obviously I’m insane!

The call center is on fire
The calls ain’t stopping
Many calls are dropping
The call center is on fire
All the phones keep ringing
Not sure why I’m singing

For more customer care related song parodies, check out my “Contact Center Tunes” page, where you can listen to song samples and, if you feel so inclined, download full songs.  (Let me know what you think about “The Call Center Is on Fire” lyrics above – maybe I’ll record the song soon!)