12 Questions to Ask Before Starting an At-Home Agent Program
A growing number of contact centers are making use of at-home agents, despite lingering concerns about being able to manage them effectively. Although technology limitations initially curbed the adoption of remote agents, Internet Protocol (IP), Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and cloud-based contact center solutions now make it relatively easy to set up agents in their homes. This leaves contact center managers free to concentrate on coming up with best practices to optimize the performance of a workforce that they cannot see. Here is a list of 12 practical issues to consider when setting up an at-home agent program:
- How are you going to decide which agents have what it takes to work at home?
- How are you going to determine if an agent has an appropriately quiet and secure workplace?
- Are you going to provide agents with their equipment – PC, software and headset – or are you going to require them to purchase it themselves?
- How can you secure your customer and enterprise data?
- How can you ensure that an agent is doing what he/she is supposed to at all times?
- If you plan to provide the equipment, how are you going to get it to agents and how are you going to get it back when they are no longer employed by your company?
- How do you troubleshoot and fix technical issues for at-home agents?
- How are you going to train agents and provide ongoing training, as needed? (Note: Many companies require agents to be within a 100-mile radius of their contact center, but this may defeat the purpose of using at-home agents, if the objective is to expand your agent population.)
- How are you going to make sure agents can get real-time supervisory support when needed?
- How do you facilitate knowledge sharing between at-home and on-site agents?
- How can you build camaraderie between the at-home staff and the rest of the department?
- Should at-home agents be paid at the same rates as premise-based agents?
While many contact centers are considering using at-home agents, a surprising number of managers are reticent about adopting this practice. This list makes it clear that there are good reasons to be concerned, but all of the issues can be overcome with proper planning and investments. This list also points out that using at-home agents is not as simple as “sending a few agents home to work,” which is the approach taken by a surprising number of organizations. (This is not to suggest that sending agents home for disaster recovery and business continuity is a bad idea; only that this too should be planned in advance so that everyone knows what should be done and how to do it when the need arises.)
DMG expects the adoption of at-home–agent programs to continue to slowly increase and encourages companies interested in taking this approach to address the technical, operational, HR and managerial issues in advance.