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While I usually cover contact center best practices and innovation in this blog, today, in keeping with Halloween, I’ve decided to highlight what scares the pants off of most customer care professionals (and what scares the pants back on those who work from home).

Forget about witches, ghosts and goblins – here are some things that are really scary if you manage a contact center:

Rampant agent turnover. It’s positively frightening to think that the average contact center has an annual turnover rate of nearly 40%, and that, according to the human capital management firm CallMe! (that really is their name), the average turnover cost per agent is upwards of $4,000. This means that in a typical 100-seat contact center, agent turnover costs roughly $160,000 – every year. Evidently many organizations are so paralyzed by fear of such exorbitant figures, they are physically unable to create the kind of positive culture that would cause said figures to plummet.

Disengaged agents interacting with your customers. Even scarier than agents leaving are agents who stick around – but who couldn’t care less about your company or its customers. Just because agents show up and sit at their workstations everyday doesn’t mean they are truly present, and THAT can cost you even more than actual turnover. When agents aren’t engaged, empowered and focused on the job, the unnecessary callbacks, long caller rants and customer defection could end up forcing your center to implement a 100% work-at-home initiative – because your company soon won’t be able to make rent.   

Managing Millennials. Millennials tend to be highly creative and tech-savvy multi-taskers who enjoy working in a collaborative manner. Nothing actually scary about that – unless you are a contact center manager or supervisor who only knows how to lead and develop people whose learning styles and communication preferences are just like yours. If that’s the case, your attempts to engage the typical Millennial will be a horror show featuring a lot of carnage – or at least a lot of burnout and attrition.

Social customer service. Just when you thought you had a handle on all the channels and that it was safe to go back into the contact center, social customer service entered the scene – bringing with it a new kind of terror. Now your center has to respond not only to customers who contact you directly (via phone, email and chat), but also to those who express their issue and mention your company name via Twitter or Facebook. And if you don’t respond to the latter customers – or if you respond in an unsatisfactory manner, everybody and their mother gets to see as the PR nightmare plays out. 

Big data. The vast amount of customer information today’s contact center is able to capture is amazing – and scary as all get-out if the center doesn’t have a way of structuring, analyzing and strategically acting on the data. If you thought finding time to monitor each agent a few times a month was hard, try finding time to make sense of the millions of pieces of customer intelligence flying around the contact center stratosphere. Fortunately, there have been real advances in interaction analytics and data-mining to help centers slay the big bad data monster, but many customer care organizations have yet to invest in or tap the full power of said technologies, and thus must continuously face the fear of being swallowed up whole.    

The power of the home agent model. This one may seem a bit out of place, but the power of the home agent model is scary. What else do you know of that, once implemented, has the power to vastly improve such critical things as: agent engagement and retention; agent performance and attendance; contact center staffing/scheduling flexibility; facility expenses; disaster recovery; and the environment? It’s natural to be in awe of such power, even a little frightened. But what’s REALLY scary is the fact that not every customer care organization has embraced the home agent model despite all the huge proven benefits. I guess they are deathly afraid of success – or of happy agents.


What scares YOU about customer care and working in a contact center? Share what makes you shudder and shiver in the ‘Comments’ box below.

Oh yeah, and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!



 
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: http://www.offcenterinsight.com/cc-tunes.html (scroll down to the third song on the page, titled “On the Phone at Home”, to hear a sample).


 
In this age of social media, sound bytes and ADHD, people love quick and catchy stats. Unfortunately, in the contact center and customer care space, there seem to be only a handful of snazzy stats in circulation. The same ones just keep getting regurgitated over and over (yes, that’s redundant), especially on Twitter.

This is perplexing considering how dynamic customer care is and how much contact centers have evolved. It’s actually worse than perplexing – it’s depressing. Every time I see someone tweeting the old chestnut , “Satisfied customers tell only 3 people about their experience, while dissatisfied customers tell 8-10 people” (or some variation of this), a part of my soul dies. I even wept a little just now while typing that stat.

Rather than just complain about the lack of statistical variety being promoted by self-proclaimed customer experience experts in the Twittersphere, I aim to remedy the situation. Following are several fresh and captivating stats about customer care and contact centers that I believe you and everybody else will feel compelled to talk and tweet about:

  • 86% of customers would be willing to pay more for better customer service. 100% of contact center managers would be willing to pay more for even mediocre customer service.  

  • 70% of contact centers list Average Handle Time among their key performance metrics at the agent level. Of those centers, 100% need a clue.

  • Only 17% of contact centers really mean it when they say “Your call is very important to us”. Of the remaining centers, 38% feel “Your call is somewhat important to us”, 24% feel “It’s surprising how unimportant your call is to us”, and 21% feel “It’s hilarious that you are still holding for a live agent.”

  • 73% of contact center managers claim to know how to accurately measure First-Call Resolution. The remaining 27% of managers are telling the truth.

  • Engaged customer service agents are 35% more likely to provide a positive customer experience than are customer service agents who are already married.

  • The top three criteria contact center managers consider when selecting work-at-home agents are: 1) Past performance; 2) ability to work independently; and 3) body odor.

  • Every time a caller must provide his/her name and account number to an agent after having just provided that exact same information via the IVR system, a puppy dies.

  • 97% of contact center agents fantasize daily about sending a hungry Bengal tiger to the home of abusive callers. The remaining 3% of agents fantasize daily about sending a hungry Siberian Tiger.

  • 81% of contact center agents are empowered to do exactly what their managers and supervisors tell them.

  • Each year, over 150 customer care professionals die from overexposure to acronyms.

  • 50% of managers feel their contact center is highly unprepared to handle social customer care; the remaining 50% do too.  

  • The three people that satisfied customers tell about their experience are Sue Johnson, Dave Winthrop, and Bud Carter. All three are tired of hearing about these experiences.

  • 42% of contact center managers say they will not hire an agent applicant unless said applicant has a pulse and/or can work at least one weekend shift a month.

  • Four out of five agents represent 80% of all agents. In contrast, the remaining agents represent only 20% of all agents.

  • The average agent-to-supervisor ratio in contact centers is 20:1. The odds that this is enough to provide agents with the coaching and support they need to succeed is 2000:1.

  • 100% of managers destined for greatness and wealth purchase a copy of the Full Contact e-book. 0% of managers understand why the author of said e-book looks so angry and aggressive in the photo on the book cover.



 
Thanks to some special medication my doctor prescribed, I haven’t felt the peculiar urge to share any of my signature contact center song parodies with the public in a while.

Unfortunately for you, I’ve skipped my last few doses.

Below are the lyrics to a song I wrote – from the perspective of a contact center agent jealous of a co-worker who gets to work from home. You can hear a sample of the actual song – and even download the whole thing for a nominal fee if you feel so inclined – by going here: 


http://www.offcenterinsight.com/cc-tunes.html (be sure to scroll down to the third song sample.)

Enjoy! (Or, at the very least, try not to get nauseous.)


"On the Phone at Home"
(to the tune of “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan)

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Came in to work at 9 right on time, didn’t you?
Now you’re all alone, working in a robe
Chilling on the phone right from home – isn’t you?

We used to… talk a heap
Made fun of all the customers who… talked to me  
But now you don’t even sock your feet
Working out of your house there in your boxer briefs
Please tell me, I need to know now – what’s the deal?

How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To work all alone
Your facial hair all grown
On the phone at home

Yes, among us reps, you were the best
I guess you that you deserve to work undressed – lucky stiff
You always got awards with all your scores
The rest of us were bored, wanted just to roar “enough of it!”

But just because we… secretly
All wanted to beat you up so…   frequently
Doesn’t mean we wanted you to leave the scene
You never come into the center even just to see the team
So, what’s it like going to work without the use of wheels?

How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To work all alone
The whole house to roam
Your facial hair all grown
On the phone at home

You brag and brag, but we ain’t so sad
The center ain’t so bad, the other day we had… a pizza hour
Pepperoni grease and extra cheese
That’s all I really need to keep me pleased and… steeped with power

I know that you must miss our… breakroom chats
And the overtime snacks that are always…  laced with fat
Then again at home you get to take a nap
Whenever on a break from all this agent crap
Ok, I must admit, a home-based shift sounds quite ideal

So tell me, how does it feel?
How does it feel?
To work all alone
The whole house to roam
Your facial hair all grown
On the phone at home

Tell me, ain’t you scared with the fridge right there?
Your television’s staring at your chair – tempting you
How do you adhere with your bed so near
The devil on your shoulder in your ear saying… “Bend the rules”
   
There’s a pool out back – you know you want to… take a dip
Even if it means your stats will… take a hit
Gonna do my best to try to make you slip
Because I want your job and I plan on taking it
Man, I want to work at home – and I’m prepared to kneel

How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To work all alone
The whole house to roam
Your facial hair all grown
On the phone at home


Don’t forget to check out a sample of the song at: http://www.offcenterinsight.com/cc-tunes.html


 
Last night you were told by senior management to “do less with more” in your contact center.

You can stop celebrating now – it was just an “opposite” dream.

Back to reality.

Contact center professionals have historically had to devise ways to do more with less. The economy being down for the count hasn’t helped matters much. While some managers have resorted to prayer and medication to get through it all, others have rolled up their sleeves and gotten creative.

Especially in terms of contact center staffing. Try as some organizations might, you can’t simply replace agents with machines. The best contact centers have learned to be innovative and resourceful with existing employees – embracing unconventional and progressive staffing and scheduling approaches to get the most out of agents without breaking their backs.

Here are several ways you, too, can get crafty with staffing in your contact center to drive the sort of success that upper management demands, and that customers expect.
      
4 x 10 workweeks. Many centers have introduced 4 x 10 workweeks (four 10-hour days) to the agent scheduling mix, thus enhancing coverage in the contact center during peak periods while simultaneously making agents happy with an extra day off. Schedules can be arranged so that the center has all hands on deck on the busiest days, like Mondays. And since 4 x 10 stints are popular, centers find that they have plenty of senior agents working through the evening, thus ensuring that service quality and efficiency doesn’t go down once the sun does. 

Agent reserve teams. The contact center loses many of its best agents to internal departments like Marketing and Sales all the time. Crafty managers know how to steal them back – at least temporarily. Creating a crew of former agents who can help out on the phones during unexpected call spikes is a great way to meet service level objectives without having to enter into a complicated outsourcing arrangement. It also brings some welcomed job diversity to those who serve on the agent reserve team, who more than likely miss their headset a little. After all, you can take the boy or girl out of the contact center, but you can’t take the contact center out of the boy or girl.

Home agents. I can’t say enough about the home agent model. When carried out with care, no other staffing approach has as big an impact on agent engagement, retention and performance, or on the center’s ability to staff flexibly and cost-effectively. The center is able to attract and keep top talent who rarely if ever call in sick and who don’t mind being “on-call” on occasion if it means getting to work in just their underwear every day. And kicking agents out of the contact center means the contact center facility needn’t be so big – and rent so expensive. Plus it’s all seamless to the customer, except for the fact that they might note a little extra joy in the voice of the agent with whom they’re interacting.
 

To read more about these and other effective staffing/scheduling tactics – as well as lots of other contact center best practices – be sure to check out my comprehensive ebook Full Contact. http://goo.gl/y73U9



 
Some people are simply blessed with the power of prognostication. They have visions and pick up signals the average person cannot, thus enabling them to provide unique insight into how things are likely to go down in the future.

I am not one of those people, but that has never before stopped me from making bold predictions about contact centers and customer care.  

With the aid of my crystal ball and a couple cans of Red Bull, here’s what I see happening in 2012:



A new metric – “Average Speed of Anger” – will take hold.  Customers are more demanding than ever. It’s nearly impossible to respond to their calls, emails, chats, and social media comments/inquiries before they start whining or worse.  Many companies now find measuring traditional accessibility metrics like Average Speed of Answer (ASA) to be a waste of time. After all, even when the contact center hits an ambitious ASA objective, customers still complain and clamor for quicker service.

That's why a growing number of centers have started secretly tracking a new metric: Average Speed of Anger (ASA grrr),  which measures the average time it takes customers to become so enraged they curse your agents/IVR and/or blast your brand on Twitter. By focusing on ASA grrr, the contact center can make training and staffing adjustments that will quite possibly keep customers from killing anybody, and maybe even satisfy a few.


A law will be passed that makes it illegal for a contact center to not have a home agent program in place. Study after study has shown the huge impact home agent programs have on employee engagement, retention and performance, as well as staffing flexibility and operating costs. Nevertheless, three in four centers still don’t have a single home agent in place.

Fortunately, the leaders of these centers will soon be imprisoned and/or fined if they don’t get with the program. A militant but growing group – led by me – has been lobbying Congress about the issue for over a year now. I’ve been told by powerful sources that, thanks to my group’s efforts, Congress now views expanding home agent positions as a top priority, right behind balancing the Federal Budget and bringing down Kim Kardashian.  



A new type of cancer caused by over-exposure to acronyms will plague the customer care industry. This is one prediction I hope doesn’t come true; however, I don’t see how it can be averted. Medical researchers have strong evidence that excessive absorption of acronyms radically alters brain cells and can cause severe vowel deficiency.

A recent landmark study showed that lab mice placed in a cage lined with shredded ACD reports were 17 times more likely to develop malignant growths than were mice whose cage was lined with shredded long-winded speeches free of any abbreviations. The study led medical researchers to conclude that excessive exposure to acronyms may be more dangerous than smoking two packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day while standing next to a Japanese nuclear power plant. The researchers implore contact center and customer service professionals to start using fully spelled-out terms as much as they can, and to do so ASAP.

 


 
If you stick a human being in a cramped cubical, tether them to a desk and pay them $9.50/hr to handle calls from demanding customers for 8-10 hours each day under fluorescent lighting…

…bad things are bound to happen. Bad things like burnout, poor performance, turnover, substance abuse, and most commonly of all – supervisor kidnappings.

Ever since the invention of the call center, companies have struggled mightily with keeping agents inspired and in place. What’s truly disconcerting is that, in many organizations, low agent retention and engagement is in some ways part of the plan. That is, they view burnout and turnover as the “nature of the beast” in the call center – accepting it as inevitable due to the repetitive, restrictive and stressful “nature” of call center work.

Of course, not everybody has such a defeatist attitude. In the best call centers, management strives to change (or at least tame) the nature of the beast. While they do acknowledge that frontline work is challenging and potentially monotonous, they also recognize that there are countless ways to counter that – to inspire agents not just to show up to work but to excel at it, and to relinquish any spray paint, drugs or weaponry in their possession before coming through the door.

I know this because I have seen it first hand, time and again – at leading customer care organizations during my nearly two decades sneaking into call centers and conferences.

So how exactly DO the best call centers achieve high levels of agent engagement and retention? Let me count the ways – seven of them, at least:


1) Put your metrics where your mouth is. When your company tells everybody in the world that it’s a highly customer-centric organization focused on quality and issue resolution, you can’t then tell your agents (whom you attract with such proclamations) that their main performance metrics are Average Handle Time and # of Calls Handled per Hour. Doing so will quickly sap staff of their enthusiasm and trust, thus resulting in high turnover, poor customer satisfaction and your head getting mounted on the CEO’s wall.

2) Provide meaningful rewards and recognition. When it comes to motivating agents, you don’t have to break the bank, but if you write off rewards and recognition entirely – or go at it half-assed – agents may break their computers, or your legs. There are plenty of fun, affordable and meaningful ways to reward/ recognize individuals and teams when they achieve key goals or come to work sober more than two days in a row. I talked about a few of these in a previous post:
http://goo.gl/pDSzO

3) Empower agents beyond the phones.  Your agents possess a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience – assuming your center’s hiring and training programs don’t blow. Empowering staff to use their expertise and experience to come up with better ideas and approaches than you can think of yourself is a great way to better the center while simultaneously making agents feel like they didn’t make a mistake by dropping out of high school. In addition to improving processes and employee morale and retention, having agents help out on committees, task forces and special projects frees you up to spend more time on things like coaching and online poker.      

4) Kick agents out of the call center. Other than threatening agents with serious physical violence if they quit, giving agents the opportunity and the freedom to work from home is the best way to retain them. In fact, in a study on call centers with home agents in place that I conducted this past spring, nearly every participant (93%) reported that the use of home agents has had a “very positive” or “positive” impact on agent retention. If you think I’ve been drinking and am just making this up, check out the key findings from the report – or better yet, purchase/download a copy of it – by clicking here: 
http://goo.gl/6hfQt

5) Invest in agent wellness. I blogged about this a few months ago (
http://goo.gl/L3VFk), but feel compelled to mention it again here after visiting several call centers recently and witnessing incidents of repetitive stress injuries, insanity and cannibalism among agents. Fact: If you show agents you care about them by providing things like fitness amenities, healthy food options, de-stress areas and wellness courses, they will not only stay healthy and perform better, they will feel highly valued by and committed to the organization. If, on the other hand, you make no effort to improve wellness in the call center, agents WILL eat one another, thus making it difficult to schedule enough staff during peak periods.

6) Covet community service as much as customer service. People are inspired by and want to work for companies that care about all human beings – not just customers and employees. You are much more likely to hang on to talented staff if you can show them the reason their wages are so laughable is that half of what they should earn goes toward feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and rehabbing former child TV stars. Also, be sure to give agents a few paid days off each year to volunteer for their favorite charity/non-profit organization; the time off the phones will help to minimize their whining about back pain and Carpal Tunnel flare ups.      

7) Administer formal engagement surveys – and act on the findings. The very act of measuring agent engagement can help to increase it – but only if agents see that the 15 minutes of their life they wasted filling out the engagement survey actually leads to some positive changes. You can’t ask a child if he wants a piece of candy and then not give him a piece after he says “yes” – as tempting and fun as doing so might be. When gauging agent engagement, be sure to use a reputable third-party surveying specialist or, if you don’t have the funds, just use the Ultimate Agent Engagement Survey I created and shared in a blog post a few months ago:
http://goo.gl/yYnTK


Regardless of what my wife says, I DON’T think it’s “all about me.” I’d love to hear about some of YOUR ideas for increasing agent engagement/retention in the call center. (Use the comment box below.) Just don’t write too much – I refuse to be overshadowed.   

 
With call centers and customer care evolving so rapidly, it’s only natural that new types of jobs should start to emerge. Back in the 1980s and early1990s – when call centers were dungeons where supervisors whipped reps whose AHT was higher than desired – nobody could have pictured that centers would one day have an entire team dedicated to quality and customer satisfaction, or that it would be illegal to line cubicles with electric fencing.

These are exciting times for call center professionals who are serious about carving out a career -- one that doesn’t involve day-trading and/or exotic dancing on the side to make ends meet. A whole slew of new and rewarding customer care opportunities are on the horizon. Let’s take a peek at some of them, and then get our resumes ready:   


Chief Customer Silencer. I’ve always been a big proponent of “Voice of the Customer” initiatives, but some customers just need a little assistance in shutting up. That’s where the Chief Customer Silencer comes in.

The person in this high-profile, low-patience position is responsible for monitoring all contact channels and community sites, identifying frustrated and problematic customers, and reminding those customers that their health could take a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse if their incessant public complaints about the company don’t cease.

Ever wonder whatever happened to that guy who made the viral video about how United Airlines broke his guitar? My guess is that United got smart and hired a Chief Customer Silencer.  

When selecting a CSS for your organization, look for somebody with ample knowledge of social media monitoring and service recovery techniques, and who lives in New Jersey, Chicago or Sicily.  


Virtual Agent Secret Agent. Home agent programs are currently all the rage. And while most call centers that have embraced the virtual agent model have a solid selection process in place, there is no guarantee that their remote staff is abiding by all the rules and haven’t at least tried removing their house arrest ankle bracelet. That’s where the Virtual Agent Secret Agent comes in (though you may not know they’ve come in – they’re stealthy).

The VASA’s main objective is to gracefully gain access to a home agent’s house and secretly watch their every move – with the exception of bathing, which few home agents do anyway. VASAs aren’t there to micro-manage performance; that’s the job of the agent’s supervisor. Instead, they take special note of such things as whether or not the agent has changed their pajamas in five days, how often they make their little brother take calls while they nap, and how much they earn daily from selling customer account information to neighbors.     

To be effective, VASAs should be small, agile and have the innate ability to go completely unnoticed in a room, thus the ideal candidate is a life insurance salesperson with a ninja or jockey background. Check craigslist. 


Textpert. With text quickly catching up to voice in terms of how customers interact with companies, call centers need to seriously panic. Centers that are not adept at panicking do have a second option, which involves accepting the aforementioned shift in communication preferences and doing something about it. That’s where the Textpert comes in.

The Textpert is tasked with responding quickly, accurately and courteously to all customer emails, chats, SMS messages, social media comments/inquiries, hate mail and ransom notes. Exemplary spelling, grammar, professionalism and eloquence are all key requirements for this position, which rules out all human beings of working age in the modern era.


Service Saboteur. Numerous studies have revealed what has come to be known as “The Service Recovery Paradox,” which basically states that an effective recovery process following a bad service experience often results in higher customer satisfaction ratings than if the bad experience had never occurred in the first place. In other words, first you have to screw up before you can really impact customer loyalty. That’s where the Service Saboteur comes in.

The person in this important position is responsible for intentionally and strategically providing poor customer service so that the center’s Recovery Team can then swoop in and sweep customers off their feet. It shouldn’t be difficult to find qualified Service Saboteur candidates from you existing staff. Just pick from among your rudest, most apathetic and most incompetent agents, give them a new business card, and instead of reprimanding them every time they alienate or offend a customer, give them a pat on the back and a slight raise in pay.   



 
10 Reasons Your Contact Center Should Use Home Agents

1) Better employee retention. Most agents who plan on quitting to take a better-paying job – such as janitor or migrant farm worker – will reconsider if given the freedom to handle calls naked.

2) Expanded recruiting reach.
When seeking candidates for agent positions, you will no longer be limited to dropouts from just local high schools/colleges.

3) More flexible staffing/scheduling.
Such immediate access to their workstation makes it easy for off-duty home agents to work odd shifts and to save managers’ butts after inaccurate forecasts.

4) Higher productivity and quality.
The extra sleep and not having to suffer through rush-hour traffic enables home agents to stay focused and energized throughout the entire first half-hour of their shift.   

5) Decreased facility expenses.
You can grow the contact center without expanding walls, the parking lot, or the toilet paper budget.

6) Improved attendance.
Absenteeism and tardiness will drop, assuming you select reliable agents who don’t suffer from long-distance sleepwalking.

7) Enhanced disaster recovery.
No longer will road closures brought on by blizzards or Justin Bieber concerts bring employees and the contact center to a standstill.

8) Increased ability to tap “alternative” labor pools.
Going virtual provides job opportunities to qualified candidates who might otherwise be unable to consider contact center work – e.g., individuals with physical disabilities, older workers, or people deathly afraid of cubicles and industrial carpet.

9) More environmentally responsible.
Using home agents reduces vehicle pollution and gasoline/oil consumption; also conserves water since agents will no longer need to bathe, brush their teeth, wash their clothes or clean their wrist brace.

10) Improved call center aesthetics.
You can rid the center of the least-attractive and worst-dressed agents without losing their valuable skills and experience.


 
Take it from a guy who has been a telecommuter since 1994, there is nothing as inspiring as having the freedom to work in just your boxer briefs. (Actually, my habit of working in just my boxer briefs started even before I started telecommuting, which is why the company I was employed by at the time sent me home to work in the first place.)

Giving deserving agents the opportunity to handle customer contacts from home gives them a whole new life: No more soul-crushing commutes during rush hour; better work-life balance and more time with family/friends; cost-savings associated with not having to buy clothes, shampoo, shaving cream or deodorant; and the highly empowering feeling that the company values and trusts them enough to work so autonomously.

Home agent programs inspire and engage not only the employees who get to actually work from home; they also motivate many of the onsite employees, who will typically work very hard in the call center to earn the opportunity to work outside of it. 

And it’s not like agents are the only party that benefits from a work-at-home arrangement. Call centers stand to reap big rewards from a business standpoint: Higher retention of the best agents; better recruiting results (due to employee demand for home-based work, as well as the ability to expand your recruiting reach outside the immediate region); improved productivity and quality; better attendance; increased staffing flexibility; and decreased facility expenses.

To ensure that your organization experiences such success with its home agent program or pilot, consider embracing the best practices below – but not too hard, as some may be brittle.

 
Select the right reps for remote work. I have interviewed many home agent managers in my years posing as a call center expert, and just about all of them look for the following criteria when choosing which staff to kick out of the building:  

•  Consistent high performance
•  Stellar attendance record
•  Ability to work independently, with minimal supervision
•  Ability to work in an environment offering no live social interaction with peers
•  A quiet home office environment with few distractions
•  A home with a jacuzzi and/or swimming pool that you can enjoy when visiting

To ensure that there will be minimal noise and distractions in the home, it’s a good idea to select home agents who have no friends and whose only family members are cats. But not too many cats, as studies have shown that constant meowing in the background during phone calls causes a 56% decrease in customer satisfaction.   


Use a formal written telecommuter agreement. Once they select their home agents, top call centers make sure that these lucky stiffs carefully read and sign a formal telecommuter agreement before beginning to take calls naked.

A comprehensive agreement typically covers such things as workspace requirements, appropriate use of business equipment, overtime/on-call policies, and nap times. As part of the agreement, many companies ask home agents to state in writing where they keep a spare house key and their good liquor. 


Tap the power of virtual training and communication tools. Call centers with the best home agent programs utilize e-learning apps, instant messaging and email to ensure that home-based staff stay in the loop and receive the ongoing coaching/training they need. IM and email also enable home agents to interact with their peers and rub in their face the fact that they aren’t wearing any pants while handling calls.

Some centers also use web cams for home agent coaching and meetings, thus adding a nice face-to-face feel to such activities and ensuring that remote reps brush their hair occasionally.


Invite them in every so often. Most call centers don’t rely solely on technology to communicate and bond with their home agents; many centers occasionally invite home-based staff to the facility for training, meetings, events and celebrations. The frequency of such invites often depends on how far the agent lives from the call center, how frequently they bathe, and whether or not they usually bring donuts.


Welcome Home

Quite simply, home agents represent the future of call center staffing and customer care. No other trend stands to have as huge a positive impact on call center performance and employee satisfaction – except for perhaps agent cloning, which has yet to be perfected and requires expensive lab equipment that can make it cost-prohibitive.  

Want to see what real home agent success looks like? Read about how VPI has improved virtually everything by adopting a virtual staffing model: http://bit.ly/gCzLRT