Ever considered using remote agents?
Transitioning to (or setting up) a virtual call centre might seem pretty daunting, for very good reason. Without a software solution which enables you to have effective managerial oversight of your team, it can seem like you're completely stranded if things go pear-shaped.
However, most people have a general understanding of some of the potential benefits of using a remote workforce - that's probably why you're reading this piece!
What is a virtual call centre?
Essentially, a virtual call centre has remote or geographically-dispersed agents. Meaning, employees either work from home, or are stationed at a number of different offices in different regions, rather than in a single location.
Virtual call centre software (like contactSPACE 😎) is basically a solution which allows you to set up and effectively manage a virtual contact centre. Meaning, the software can be deployed in any location (normally using the cloud), can be used with nothing more than a computer and a headset, doesn't require on-site IT support, and enables managers effective insight into remote agents' activities.
As you might expect, there are a few potential issues you'll have to consider before committing to using remote agents.
Lack of managerial control
The most obvious disadvantage of running a virtual rather than a physical contact centre is the lack of immediate control you have over agents' activities. You can't physically monitor what they're doing, so you're entirely reliant on your software solution to enable you to carry out oversight and employee management.
Moreover, providing direct feedback to agents may prove to be quite challenging when they're located off-site. Explaining difficult concepts and providing constructive criticism is going to be more difficult using tools like Zoom that it would be in-person. You could schedule in-person catch-ups (depending on how far away your agents actually are) but this will obviously take time and cost money.
Less inter-employee communication
If day-to-day teamwork is crucial to the smooth operation of your contact centre, using remote agents might not be the best idea. Although collaboration is still possible with apps like Slack and Zoom, this sort of communication can prove quite different to talking things over face-to-face.
Another issue: if you're in inside sales, it's going to be more difficult to encourage a sense of competition between employees if they aren't located in the same office. You could try call centre games, but you'll have to think outside the box a little to make this work with remote agents.
Increased potential points of failure
What happens when your best team member's power goes down, their hard-drive fails, or their dog chews through their Ethernet cable?
In a centralised contact centre, you generally have a greater level of control over your IT infrastructure, although a fair deal of complexity will be involved. There are limited points of failure - basically just your power supply, telephony connection and internet link. By broadening the number of access points, you're increasing the likelihood that one of them will go down. Plus, how do you find out how reliable an applicant's internet connection is? There's no point hiring someone whose broadband can't even handle VoIP, unless you want to go through the hassle of having their connection upgraded.
However, increased points of failure can also improve redundancy, which is what you want. You're much better off if a single agent's power goes down as opposed to the entire team being forced offline (which is what would happen if the power cut and you were all under one roof).
Training will prove more difficult
If you're hiring remote agents, you'll want them to be extremely familiar with the message you're trying to deliver. In physical contact centres, you can sit your team down and clearly explain concepts to them, demonstrate how things (like the products you're selling) work, and explain any updates in your communication strategy. This makes it feasible to hire people who don't have direct experience with your product/service.
Having team discussions is still possible if you're running a virtual contact centre. But it might prove more challenging to get your message across (and ensure it's well-understood).
Despite the issues you'll need to figure out before beginning to use remote agents, thousands of organisations have thrived using virtual contact centres. contactSPACE client OurTel for example conducts highly-effective telefundraising campaigns using an entirely-remote workforce.
Here are some of the benefits of going virtual.
Much larger available skill pool
Think about it - if you insist on agents working in your contact centre in-person, you're restricting the available talent pool to only those within a roughly 1-hour travel radius of where you're located. If there are plenty of other similar contact centres near by, the available talent pool is restricted even further.
But if you allow employees to work remotely, you can hire basically anyone from basically anywhere. This enables you to get the best-possible person for the job, at the best-possible price point.
As a result, you can generate better outcomes with less money - and who could argue with that?
Happier, more motivated employees
Working as an agent can be a tough job. The work can get pretty repetitive, the office environment doesn't tend to change much, and it can be incredibly disheartening when the last ten calls you made didn't achieve the desired outcome - whether it was your fault or not. As a result, call centres have some of the highest average turnover rates of any industry in the world.
Using remote agents could help resolve some of these issues. According to research by Stamford University, workers at a call centre in China who worked from home produced 13 per cent more calls than those that worked at the office. They also tended to be happier, and less likely to leave their job.
Being more motivated isn't the only reason virtual call centres often enable greater agent productivity.
Remote workers are able to avoid office distractions, meaning they can stay 100% focused on their job. Of course, any potential benefits of this will be offset if there are distractions at home, but most households are pretty empty during the day.
In addition, since remote workers won't have any commuting to do, they're more likely to begin work with a clear mind. What's more, they won't necessarily be in a rush to finish their duties at the end of the day - since they don't have to worry about catching the right train/bus home.
Reduced overhead costs
If you've ever managed a bricks-and-mortar contact centre, you'll understand the incredible amount of overhead involved. You'll be responsible for managing and minimising the following costs:
- Internet access.
- Data storage and tech support (unless using a managed, cloud-based solution).
- PCs, monitors, keyboards, desks, chairs, headsets.
- WH&S obligations.
These overheads get very expensive, very quickly. But with a virtual contact centre, the majority of these expenses will be more variable than completely fixed. For example, you might have to offer one or two employees a new laptop to encourage them to join, but you won't have a monthly rent bill for an office.
Although there are costs involved in managing remote agents (paying them visits, monitoring performance, potentially providing hardware), for the majority of contact centres these expenses are fairly minimal compared to the indirect costs of running a physical office.
Say you want to be able to take calls for 12 hours of the day rather than 8, or need to be able to make contact during certain time periods to manage your compliance with domestic cold-calling regulations.
If you have a single contact centre in a single location, chances are employees will clock in at 9:00am and leave at 5:30pm. But if you're in Sydney, this means that a customer in Perth won't be able to reach you if they call in at 5:15pm their time - right after they clock off work.
This will harm your customer experience significantly if you've got a lot of customers in Western Australia. Assuming the caller is told that you're closed, they'll be forced to call you really early, or during their lunch break - time they might prefer to spend chilling out or getting ready for work.
Obviously, having even just a few remote agents in another time zone can help you get around this issue. Imagine being able to provide awesome customer service to clients in any location - all without the cost of setting up a dedicated operation in a bunch of different localities.
It's also much easier to scale your virtual workforce up/down as necessary, since you don't have to worry about moving between bigger/smaller offices as you change the number of agents on your roster. This flexibility enables firms facing seasonal demand to still meet customer needs without paying for heaps of agents who aren't taking calls.
What you need to know
Ultimately, virtual call centres have a huge number of benefits when compared to traditional contact centres, but a considerable amount of significant downsides as well.
They are generally more suited to organisations:
- Looking to find the best-possible experts for the job at the best-possible price.
- Where competition between agents isn't essential to employee motivation, and effective teamwork can be achieved using virtual collaboration solutions.
- Looking to provide customer service to customers in different time-zones.
- Where success is easy to monitor remotely with the right software solution. Meaning, you've got tangible KPIs you can track, and you have access to reports which offer actionable insights.
- Who are just starting up. Smaller firms sometimes struggle with the overheads associated with operating a physical operation.
Another thing to consider is this: if you're already running a contact centre, you can begin by hiring just a few remote agents and seeing how they perform. As we mentioned, it's going to be much easier to keep track of just 1-3 off-site employees than it would be managing an entire virtual contact centre.
Finally, before using remote agents, you've got to have complete confidence in your contact centre software solution. Under a virtual call centre arrangement, you're going to be relying a great deal more on your technology than you otherwise would be.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is your solution easy enough to deploy on an external computer? Can agents log in with a web browser?
- Can the system be used on a PC/laptop with just a headset?
- Does the software provide the necessary reporting tools to enable you effective oversight of your remote workers?
- Would a remote agent be able to operate without on-site IT support? Is the interface intuitive to use, and could they get the hang of things without extensive in-person training?
If you answered no to any of these questions, your solution is likely unsuitable to manage a virtual call centre.
Here at contactSPACE, we're incredibly proud of the success our clients have had using our software to manage their remote agents! 😊
Our comprehensive reporting suite, super-intuitive interface, and cloud-based delivery enable managers to achieve awesome results - all without the need for an on-site IT team.