Efficient & Effective At-Home Agents: Can it be Done?

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By Barbara Buchanan

Dogs barking and babies crying in the background are something many companies fear when it comes to employing an agent working from home to handle calls. But this cliché is an out-dated one. Work at home agents, or WAHAs as they are more commonly known, can be professional with the right training. Frost & Sullivan Customer Contact Principal Analyst Michael DeSalles, maintains that just about every US contact center provider, large or small, now has a WAHA program. “My wife has been a home agent for the last seven years. Frost & Sullivan is a big supporter of work-at-home solutions, since it provides careers for Americans regardless of their proximity to physical sites. I think BPO companies want to trial work-at-home and that clients would like the choice.”

Healthcare, retail and financial sectors have been particularly quick to embrace the concept of home agents. Vehicle rental giant, Enterprise Holdings is currently on a recruitment drive to employ home agents to service its various brands which include Enterprise Rent-A- Car, Alamo Rent-A-Car and National Car Rental brands.  DeSalles says customer management outsourcing giants such as Alorica specifically target service personnel who have “sacrificed so much.” It’s also a valuable work option for single mothers who need to stay at home but also earn money or for those living in remote places. Home agents are a resource too valuable to ignore for contact center providers as they allow them to offer flexibility to clients for managing surges in customer contact volumes.

Creating Opportunities

“We originally started developing a stronger infrastructure and a reliable business model and platform,” says Talk2Rep CEO Jim Ryan, whose company has been using home agents for the last seven and a half years across 22 states in the US to respond to this demand. “Everything from hiring staff, training, operations, technology to building an entire platform revolving around our home agents.”

Ryan says his company is inundated with applicants which means they can afford to be choosy. “Today we receive between 2000 to 5000 resumes per month from people across the US looking for job opportunities.” Talk2Rep has a rigorous process for selecting potential home workers to make sure they hire professionals.

“We have a critical battery of tests that we have these agents go through in order for them to onboard themselves when they talk as rep agents. Because we have such a huge volume of applicants we’re able to narrow down to what we really feel is the best.” Candidates’ typing, desktop capabilities, IT knowledge and personality are all looked at in order to find the perfect match for clients’ needs.

Technology is Key

Technology can be harnessed to test their response skill to contact requests either on the phone, email or social media. “They go back and forth through a lot of chats and software modules where we can see and test them and see their real type and what their critical skills are when they engage and talk to a recruiter pretending they are customers.” Ryan says this is an effective way to score potential employees and match them to the correct client.

While the US home agent market is well developed thanks to good internet infrastructure the same cannot be said about Latin America, claims DeSalles. “This is fundamentally an infrastructure problem. The barriers remain technology-related challenges like bandwidth and reliable electricity. Infrastructure (DSL/Cable/HS Internet) in the home and network reliability are just not ubiquitous.” There is also the problem that typical family homes don’t have a spare bedroom or study where a home agent can work from.

Although DeSalles adds that some contact center providers are currently exploring the possibility of this type of work in nearshore locations but it’s not a priority. He believes this is due to concern about compliance, data security and infrastructure particularly with regards to Banking Financial Services Insurance and (BFSI) and healthcare. However, he would like this to change given the flexibility which home agents offer service providers and clients. “It’s a great delivery model for so many reasons and I really do hope that it catches on in the near future.”