In order to tackle the increasingly complex and costly challenge of customer service, more businesses, both small and large, are turning to distributed solutions. Remote call center agents, who are often work-at-home employees or subcontractors, are typically are an integral aspect of that approach.
The benefit of a distributed solution is that it requires less overhead, such as call center equipment, and it allows the business to pay only for what they need. In a conventional configuration, a business is concerned with peak volume, and because of that, it often has more capacity than is necessary.
Remote call agents are not a panacea, however, and there are both advantages and disadvantages to using them. In the following lists, we will explore those pros and cons, and in doing so, help you determine if remote call agents are the appropriate approach for your business.
• Schedule Flexibility — Remote call agents allow a business to schedule appropriately and perhaps even pay on a per-call basis. Doing so, a business can have the resources necessary to handle peak volumes without being over capacity the rest of the time. In addition, a business can handle night, weekend and holiday hours without much, if any, additional cost.
• Real Estate Savings — The biggest costs associated with a call center is the physical location itself and all of the overhead that goes with that. Using a distributed model, there are no real estate costs, or they are significantly lower. Even small businesses can save thousands of dollars per month, which allows for a reduced budget or agents that are more skilled.
• Expanded Labor Pool — Telecommuting provides the business access to a much larger labor pool. This allows the business to hire highly skilled agents, and the competition generally drives down labor costs. In a conventional setup, especially in rural environments, a business often has to settle for agents with insufficient skills, and they often have to overpay.
• Higher Quality Labor and Specialization — The three items listed above translate into savings, and a business can apply those savings to pay for highly skilled, highly experienced customer service agents and even specialists for some scenarios. Therefore, remote call center agents actually allow a business to pay less for a higher level of customer service overall.
• Reduced Environmental Impact — Even small physical call centers have relatively large carbon footprints. With a distributed model, you significantly reduce auto emissions and other forms of pollution. This helps the business conform to the Clean Air Act, and it helps with public image, since there is great focus these days on giving our business to those companies that think green.
• Call Center Equipment — In many cases, the business just has to supply the remote call agent with the appropriate software. In other scenarios, however, the business must provide computer equipment and even Internet access. In those scenarios, the cost of equipment can actually be higher than a centralized model, which can share resources.
• Security — In a distributed model, the business has multiple workstations exposed on the Internet, and each of those stations is a security risk. Security built into call center software is quite strong, but it certainly isn’t as strong as a centralized solution with a single access point. For this reason, a distributed solution may be as poor choice for a company with strong security needs.
• Lack of Supervision — With remote call agents, the only way to supervise them is by monitoring the calls real-time or by listening to the recordings after the fact. In in-house scenarios, problem agents tend to become apparent. In distributed scenarios, the business relies on a complaint from a client, at which point the agent may have been a problem for an extended period.
• Coaching and Training Difficulty — Even highly experienced agents require coaching from time to time, and even the smallest call centers require ongoing training to prepare agents for changes. In a distributed model, both coaching and training become more difficult to execute and ensure, and the expense of training can be considerably higher because of a lack of shared costs.
• Social Concerns — In business in general, and call centers in particular, team unity and spirit is an important aspect of success. A business must foster it and manage it. In a distributed model, the remote agents are typically isolated, and they don’t usually feel like part of the team. Efforts to remedy this can be quite expensive, and thus undermine a key benefit of this approach.