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The remote agent model is compelling for many reasons – from elimination of the cost of physical work space, to decreased employee attrition and the higher caliber of employee that can be hired once geographical limitations disappear.  At the recent Frost & Sullivan Customer Contact 2010 Event, Michael DeSalles, Strategic Analyst of Contact Centers stated, ‘It is estimated that the work at home agent model is growing by 40% annually’[1].  Attrition among work at home agents is only 10% compared to attrition rates of nearly 50% in typical call centers[2].  The ability to fill agent positions with individuals who have college degrees (80% of work at home agents do) and management experience while reducing overhead is an intriguing proposition to many organizations.

We recently covered this case study during our quarterly Customer Insight to Actions (CIA) user group meeting. As an applied Business Intelligence services firm we deliver actionable insights and best practices from data that is mined from voice of the customer, voice of the employee, and call center performance metrics. This case study was shared anonymously by one of our business partners after they deployed a call center remote agent model.

In the graph below, from the beginning, you see that the wok-at-home call center agents performed worse when customer’s rated the likelihood to recommend the company after their service experience (Net Promoter). The call center began working on correcting their work at home agent model as a result of this business intelligence soon after deployment but as you see recovery has been slow.

Here you get a similar perspective by looking at performance with call center agent satisfaction.

So why did net promoter scores and customer satisfaction drop when one call center sent their top-performing agents home to work?  Despite significant planning to address the technological challenges of remote workers, this call center quickly discovered the down-side of their work at home call center agent model.  Previously top-performing agents struggled to maintain even average-level performance.

As a result of their re-engineering of their work-at-home agent model the call center considered many things not previously considered.

A few items you may consider are:

1.  Have we selected the right employees: The ability to perform well in your call center may not guarantee a high performance level will be maintained once the agent goes home to work.  When selecting remote agents, certainly job competence has to be a key factor, but is it the only factor to consider?  Do the agents that are effective in working from remote locations share similar characteristics?  Additionally:

  • Are they the self-motivated ones that strive to out-perform their peers and their own historical performance because of the satisfaction it brings them, not the praise they may receive from others?
  • Are these the “low maintenance” call center agents?  Do the supervisors give them little supervision or direction to complete their job responsibilities. Will this still be true when they work-at-home?
  • Do these call center agents typically learn new systems, platforms or programs quicker than others?  Do they have a natural interest in technology and can therefore help (not impede) remote trouble-shooting?

2.  Do you need a different set of expectations? Is one of the key factors to a successful remote agent model consistency of customer experience?  A customer should not be able to tell whether an agent is working from an office with dozens of other call center agents around him / her or in a home office.  Of course, no dogs, screaming children, deliveries, plumbers or televisions in the background.  Do the call center agents realize that the ability to work from home is a privilege – a privilege that is contingent on them maintaining a high level of performance? 

3.  Do you need a different plan for coaching & training?  Is simply requiring that remote agents dial into regular office training sessions sufficient?  Much like face-to-face training, does remote training need to be designed to teach individuals in all of the different ways in which they learn – by sound, by visual instruction and by tactile experience (doing while training)? 

4.  Do you need mandatory in-office events to keep agents engaged and entrenched in company culture?  This consideration was the most controversial among with participants of the CIA Meeting, as it requires companies to limit their recruitment to within 40-50 miles of the company’s location.  Proponents of this approach cited the ability to have remote agents work from an office location in the event of internet, phone or electricity outage, as well as the opportunity to maintain engagement through regular face-to-face contact. Do you need this?

The findings from our user group meeting case study discussion were not to construct the perfect call center at-home-agent model.  Instead, it was meant to provoke thought.  Because one thing is certain, you must think in a totally different manner than you are used to when designing an at-home agent model. If you don’t, the risk of failure is high and the road to recovery is long.


[1] Michael DeSalles, Strategic Analyst, Frost & Sullivan – April 19, 2010

[2]   http://www.crmbuyer.com/story/57812.html?wlc=1272052827

About Jim Rembach

Jim Rembach is a panel expert with the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) and an SVP for Customer Relationship Metrics (CRM). Jim spent many years in contact center operations and leverages this to help others. He is a certified Emotional Intelligence (EQ) practitioner and frequently quoted industry expert. Call Jim at 336-288-8226 if you need help with customer-centric enhancements.

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