With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many enterprises to enter the work-from-home/remote work domain, some companies are getting a crash course in maintaining their business’s essential functions via a remote workforce. While remote work is not a new trend in 2020, this time of social distancing could yield key insights that don’t need to stay in quarantine once the pandemic subsides. Not every job has to come back to the office after quarantine. And in some cases, this might be beneficial to your organization – particularly when considering how your customer support function could evolve post-pandemic.
Good customer service is a crucial element in customer retention, but in-house contact centers are frequently one of a company’s largest expenses. The work-from-home surge may position Home-Based Servicing (HBS) for customer support as a beneficial long-term option compared to in-house or outsourcing to off-shore companies. Once the domain of third-party vendors, the evolution of telecommuting capabilities offers organizations more flexibility than ever in evaluating HBS as a cost-reduction option. After the coronavirus, many enterprises may have observed these benefits firsthand. So how to equip new and existing employees for a long-term home based servicing arrangement? Here are some key considerations:
For good reason, most companies considering HBS name proper training as their biggest concern. While 90% of brick-and-mortar training is classroom-based, HBS relies on virtual training. Virtual agents will require some additional content above and beyond that offered in traditional brick-and-mortar settings. Most of the additional content will focus on the special skills that virtual agents must master, including:
- Time management, since HBS agents lack external structure and supervision.
- Communication tools like Zoom for distance collaboration.
- Disaster recovery for dealing with agent computer crashes and other technical difficulties.
- More rigorous processes for recruiting/screening, given that most (if not all) HBS agent recruitment will be virtual
Most companies without HBS agents already have a large percentage of the required technology infrastructure to support remote agents. The components requiring the most scrutiny are phone and workstation configuration, Private Branch Exchange (PBX) setup, and application server setup. The technical support of HBS agents remains a constant and ever-growing need as more remote-friendly technologies emerge, with an increasing interest in innovations like VR office environments. A strong technological infrastructure and support is crucial to making home-base servicing viable for your organization.
Most HBS vendors create proprietary software to manage all aspects of the virtual workforce. Many bundle scheduling, communication, call routing, forecasting, coaching and agent ranking functionality into a single application. Effective workforce management tools will:
- Create agent work schedules
- Assign agents optimally to schedules
- Monitor each agent’s adherence to schedules
- Facilitate communication about scheduling
Remote work requires a non-traditional style of management due to the lack of onsite supervision. Some virtual contact centers start new agents working on site to become familiar with products and procedures before establishing their remote offices.
Virtual agents must have robust communication tools that allow them to communicate freely with other agents/managers while still on the phone. HBS vendors often integrate collaboration (interactive participation) and presence (the ability to see where your colleagues are) into the communication framework.
Full-time telecommuting can save approximately $10,000 per employee per year . Assuming a fully-loaded customer service rep costs about $50K (including real estate needed to staff this individual in an office), we can reasonably suppose a minimum of 20% savings for home-based. Add in the benefits of flexible scheduling, increased productivity, and lower attrition, and a total savings estimate could be closer to 30%.
What about comparing telecommuting to a fully offshore arrangement? A similar story emerges in a strict comparison of Salary & Benefits (S&B) costs between in-house, telecommuting, and offshore employees. For illustrative purposes we’ll make a few assumptions, namely:
- The primary savings for a fully offshore service center is Salary & Benefits (S&B)
- A U.S. customer service rep’s S&B alone in the US might be approx. $40K/year
Thus, S&B for an offshore solution in a place like India would likely be closer to $10K/year. Factoring in extra costs for technology, training, and other miscellaneous associated expenses, let’s assume net savings of $25K less than in-house, or a cost reduction of about 50% (Figure 1).
Figure 1 – Cost Comparison for In-House, Telecommuting, and Off-Shore Customer Service Employees
Beyond cost-saving benefits, HBS can be a good way to enable companies to meet workforce diversity targets, or to gain access to a larger labor pool of top talent in other cities. A home-based model enables better coverage for seasonal/daily service spikes and better business continuity in the event of major storms or other natural events, eliminating multi-site contact centers acting as points of vulnerability in a storm. 24-hour service becomes a reality with a robust staff of telecommuting agents coast-to-coast. It can even reduce attrition. Onshore call centers can experience attrition rates of 20-30% per annum, with offshore potentially double that. In contrast, attrition rates for home-based reps are typically under 10%. Beyond the cost impact, lower attrition generally results in improved customer and employee satisfaction and improved quality level.
Before deciding on whether to send (or keep) your employees home or partner with an HBS vendor, perform a thorough analysis of your HBS capabilities, along with a benchmark against current best practices. Even if your ultimate goal is to run HBS in-house, using a vendor to test out the process could act as a soft entry.
The COVID-19 pandemic has re-positioned the way we think about remote work, and it’s never been easier to incorporate HBS practices into your call-center operations. However, a long-term HBS model requires more than converting training materials and extending existing brick-and-mortar practices. It requires careful consideration and planning for recruiting, training, operations, technology and partner selection. But with the right approach and infrastructure, it could set you apart from everyone just waiting to go back to the office.
This article originally appeared on fischerjordan.com
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