Off Center
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:

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