Call centres have become a mainstay in how organizations provide pre-sales service, post-sales support, and even selling itself. They have become a vital channel-to-market, and when done well, provide both cost efficiency for the organization, and time effective service and support for customers. Call centres usually require that call centre agents, or representatives, travel to the physical location of the call centre in order to receive calls. But the technology exists to allow call centre agents to work away from the call centre. While I doubt we’ll ever see a call centre agent working out of a Starbucks coffee shop — too much background noise for the agent and their callers, and too disruptive for everyone else trying to drink coffee and have a friendly chat — the most common approach if you’re not on-site is to work from home. If the agent has a quiet environment at home that’s free of unnecessary background noise, they should be able to give as good a quality service and support to callers as they could if they were in the call centre.

There are four factors that line up for work-at-home call centre agents, and I examine these factors in this post. In the second part (coming later this week), I look at the remaining collaboration challenge with work-at-home agents.

The technology to support work-at-home agents is readily available. Calls can be routed to the next available and most suitable agent, whether they’re on-site in the call centre or 100 miles away in a back room of their house. The status of the call queue can be shown to all the agents, usually on a big screen in the call centre or on a small window on the agent’s computer when they’re working remotely. And the databases and other systems that provide essential know-how and product knowledge can be extended securely beyond the call centre to an agent’s home, both as a reference for the agent during the call, and as a method of capturing the in-call details about the caller and their query/issue.

Managerial tools to monitor and measure agent performance and contribution are well-established. From monitoring when agents are logged into the system, the length of call times, ways of measuring post-call satisfaction, and even tracking sales to specific agents are common practice. Removing the agent from the physical call centre and giving them the ability to work from home doesn’t eliminate the capability of tracking these and other measures. The physical location of the agent shouldn’t eliminate the possibility of tracking performance.

Agents who are willing to work-at-home are out there — and some are likely working in your call centre even now. Workers with a desire to study part-time while they are working want to minimise unnecessary travel time — working from home allows this. Mothers with young children who want to earn a little bit extra while their children are sleeping or at play centre could participate in a call centre — as long as they could work from home; having to commute wouldn’t work. Skilled workers who have chosen a lifestyle over the pressures of city living could contribute for a few hours a day — as long as they didn’t have to commute to the call centre.

Finally, a case can be made for linking the idea of work-at-home call centre agents with core business drivers. The call centre manager gains access to a wider pool of motivated workers, compared to when he or she is limited to hiring from the local area surrounding the call centre. Turnover among call centre agents can be reduced, both because there are fewer opportunities for agents to shift to, and the work-at-home agent recognises the flexibility of their work. Greater productivity can be achieved by work-at-home agents, due both to fewer distractions and interruptions, and sometimes a willingness to work longer hours. And fifth, the call centre is better able to handle peak call loads and sudden call load fluctuations, by being able to ramp up its network of work-at-home agents to complement those working in the call centre.

There is a collaboration problem to overcome with work-at-home agents, however, and that is how to keep everyone informed about what’s happening, up-to-date with the current chatter, and aligned towards a common vision. We’ll look at this in the next post.

Original post is here