More and more, companies are turning their approach to customer service into a more home-based system, closing their call centers and having employees work from home. While traditionally more common with temp agencies, a home-based call center workforce is rare, though becoming increasingly more common, with full-time call center buildings.
A remote call center working environment is exciting, for the employees in terms of having a more comfortable environment, as well as the employers in saving the costs associated with renting the building, but it’s also challenging.
Some of the exciting benefits of a home-based call center include:
- Reduced operating costs
- Reduced infrastructure costs
- Success with the initial roll-out of the work-at-home model for delighted employees
But likewise, challenges include:
- Service level agreements
- Maintaining customer service standards
- Coordinating shift scheduling/swapping
Let’s take a look at these challenges to home-based call centers a bit more closely:
Service Level Agreements: While there can certainly be automatic re-routing capabilities in place in the event that an employee can’t get to their phone the moment it rings, it may be difficult to prevent employees from doing other things during the workday while ‘waiting for the phone to ring’. There’s a delicate balance that needs to be attended to regarding managing employees and holding them responsible without micromanaging and over-monitoring. It’s a tough call to know how to handle the unique situations that could present themselves, like if several employees at once are doing house chores and all of their calls get re-routed. It would be hard to know or prove what they were doing, and therefore difficult to enforce discipline, at the risk of wrongly accusing employees of errant behavior.
Customer Service Standards: This relates less to whether or not a rep answers the phone, but more about his or her attitude and focus. With typical at-home distractions of children, pets, visitors, or any number of other unpredictable obstacles or noise sources, it can be hard to ensure proper focus for the customer service rep. In a call center, the environment is predictable and monitored, with all reps physically together in one space. With reps at their homes, it’s hard to be able to monitor the environment. Reps’ focus may be detracted from the call if the doorbell rings, a child needs help with something, a dog starts barking, etc. These breaches in focus can cause problems not only in terms of potentially lower customer satisfaction rate, but also in administrative expenses by calls taking longer or requiring multiple call-backs. This gets even more complicated in the event that a customer needs to speak to a manager. If the manager is also at home and potentially detained, what happens then?
Shift Scheduling and Shift Swapping: In order for this to properly work in an at-home work environment, the ability to shift swap or reschedule must be automated using a real-time central database of some kind. If employees can no longer speak directly with a manager in person or look at a physical chart to rearrange their schedules, this leaves gross margin for error if an automated system isn’t in place. It would be important for employees to be able to see where there are open shifts, who’s available to cover no-shows, and quickly coordinate last-minute shift swaps in real time. With the advancements in cloud computing, this may be an easier process to implement than previously expected.
Have you ever participated in or been a part of a company that has a work-from-home customer service call center environment? What obstacles came up? How were they handled? Please get in touch with any experiences, good or bad, that you may have had. We’d love to hear from you!
==== About the Author ====
Pola Zen is a content producer at Click Software, a field service management software company which also offers a variety of resource capacity planning and mobile business applications.