A new trend toward home-based agents is driven by both technology and economics. For instance, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) significantly reduces the cost of long-distance calling and allows for data transfer that makes it possible to manage home-based agents remotely. Ssince they require very little overhead, at-home agents offer significant cost savings over their counterparts at brick-and-mortar call centers -- an average of $21 per hour per agent compared with $31.
It has also been indicated that the benefits of using home-based agents extend beyond cost-savings, and include: expansion of the available workforce, flexibility in meeting demand peaks, reduction in agent turnover and improved service levels. Agents who work at home, so called At-home agents report a higher overall job satisfaction rate than their traditional call center counterparts, and their annual turnover rate is just 10%, compared with 50% or more for in-house agents.
Looking for a more comprehensive understanding of the virtual call center trend, in 2006 Five9, Inc. commissioned a survey of decision-makers in the call center community to assess the extent to which call centers were using at-home agents and attitudes toward the practice. An Internet-based survey was sent to leading call center executives, and distributed to the greater call center community through a variety of industry newsletters. All the survey’s questions explored the current use of at-home agents, as well as factors that may promote or limit the widespread adoption of this strategy in the years ahead.
That survey received 200 responses from call centers operating in the United States and Canada, and was followed by interviews with selected participants to gather additional anecdotal feedback. These results revealed that while the trend is not as widespread as some reports indicate, the use of at-home agents is on the rise and being considered as a productivity-enabling model in the near term. As it turned out, this model also brings numerous challenges to an organization in the area of personnel recruitment and management, training and even security.
Out of the respondents to survey, 83% are based in the United States and 17% in Canada. 68% of responses represented in-house call centers , while 25% came from outsourcers; the rest were either a mix of both or virtual call centers. By far the largest number of respondents (51%) represented small call centers with fewer than 11 agents, although the second largest group (22%) had 75 or more agents.