WHITEPAPER MAXIMIZING HOME-BASED AGENT EFFECTIVENESS THROUGH INTELLIGENT AGENT SELF-SERVICE

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1 WHITEPAPER MAXIMIZING HOME-BASED AGENT EFFECTIVENESS THROUGH INTELLIGENT AGENT SELF-SERVICE

2 MAXIMIZING HOME-BASED AGENT EFFECTIVENESS THROUGH INTELLIGENT AGENT SELF-SERVICE Executive Summary Contact center virtualization technologies such as IP-call routing, web-based training and automated call recording, have enabled companies to successfully deploy home-based agents. Results reported from companies considered the pioneers of the home-based business model show that by enabling agents to work remotely, contact centers can deliver superior service at a lower cost than traditional brick-and-mortar operations. But the benefits of the home-based business model do not come without challenges, especially as it relates to taking advantage of the inherent scheduling flexibility remote workers provide. This paper discusses the both the benefits and the challenges associated with deploying a home-based agent model. In addition, it provides insight into how these deployments can improve scheduling efficiencies and remote employee job satisfaction through the use of intelligent agent self-service. Table of Contents Executive Summary... 2 Business Drivers for Home-based Agent Deployment... 3 Challenges in Implementing a Home-Based Agent Model... 4 Supporting Home-Based Agent Models With Intelligent Agent Self-Service... 5 Using Real-Time Supply Chain Methodology in the Contact Center... 6 Conclusion... 6 Page 2

3 Business Drivers for Homebased Agent Deployment The development of low cost virtualization technologies, notably Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), has largely eliminated any cost premium associated with sending a call to an agent working from home versus one working from a physical contact center. With technology barriers removed, businesses that adopt a homebased agent model derive many benefits over traditional brick-and-mortar operations. Capital Cost Avoidance Perhaps the most obvious reason for adopting a home-based agent model is capital cost avoidance. Simply put, if 100% of your agents work from home, you can avoid 100% of the facilities-related costs associated with operating and maintaining a physical contact center. Some businesses have taken this a step further by making employees responsible for providing their own computer equipment highspeed Internet access thereby adding to their savings and eliminating the hassles associated with shipping and retrieving equipment. Expanded Pool of Resources In general, brick-and-mortar contact centers located in North America tend to hire employees within a 20-mile radius from their center. It stands to reason that beyond that range, the cost of the agent commute becomes a significant barrier to employment. As contact centers experience growth, it often becomes difficult in some regions to find enough qualified employees, particularly in situations where agent attrition is high. The use of home-based agents expands the labor pool and effectively eliminates this radius barrier. More Flexibility in Staffing and Wages By eliminating the commuting time delays, home-based agent models enable companies to schedule more flexible shifts, which can be particularly appealing to people wishing to work part time. Improved scheduling flexibility also attracts a more diverse labor pool, including highly educated people who may consider a contact center job as a means of supplementing their primary income. In turn, this can drive higher productivity at, potentially, a lower wage rate. Consider the findings from a 2009 World at Work which report that over a third of respondents saying they would take a pay cut in exchange for the ability to work at home just two days a week. Contact centers can use this to their advantage by offering lower wages in exchange for the increased scheduling flexibility and the opportunity to work from home. Extremely Targeted Scheduling Michele Rowan, President of At Home Customer Contacts, has done research on benefits of self-scheduling modules in two-hour increments. Companies that schedule in brief, staggered periods throughout the day are able to achieve actual interval staffing that is much closer to actual requirements. The cost savings associated with scheduling efficiency gains are just as material as the cost savings attributed to facility reductions. In addition, many home-based workers are happy to work brief staggered shifts enabling them to toggle back and forth between care giving, school, or whatever their primary focus may be. This kind of scheduling model is simply not possible in a traditional brick-and-mortar operation. Page 3

4 Improved Employee Satisfaction/Reduced Absenteeism According to the findings of the 17th annual CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey, the largest employers in the U.S. estimate that unscheduled absenteeism costs their businesses more than $760,000 per year in direct payroll costs, and even more when lower productivity, lost revenue and the effects of poor morale are considered. BLR, a compensation and compliance services provider found that of the companies they interviewed with work at home programs, 64 percent confirmed they had seen improvements in employee morale. The ability to work regularly from home can help employees achieve a better work-life balance that leads to improved job satisfaction and lower absenteeism. When an illness, childcare or other emergency makes it impossible for an employee to be in the office, a homebased agent model enables employees to stay connected and productive, ultimately reducing the number of absences and increasing employee morale. Enhanced Disaster Recovery Having agents work out of their home minimizes the potential for single fault conditions (e.g. fire and weather) to have a major impact on ability to offer service. The United States Office of Management and Budget estimated that one day during the 2010 snowstorms cost $70 million in lost productivity. By eliminating the daily commute and implementing a geographically dispersed home-based agent model, contact centers reduce their risk and ultimately strengthen their overall disaster recovery strategy. Challenges in Implementing a Home-Based Agent Model The inherent benefits of a home-based agent model do not come without several equally inherent challenges. Companies deploying home-based agent models often find that many existing policies, processes and tools used for their brick-and-mortar operations lose their effectiveness when applied to a remote agent environment. Therefore, in order to ensure a successful implementation, contact center leaders will need to consider developing alternative strategies to address these challenges. Agent Pay Structure As discussed, one benefit to a home-based agent model is the ability to offer lower wages in exchange for the opportunity to work from home. But this strategy could present a challenge when trying to convert existing agents into remote workers. In order to take advantage of this benefit, contact center leaders need to work with their human resource (HR) departments in order to develop multiple compensation models. Factors to consider include: Should agents working from home be paid less than their brick-and-mortar counterparts? Should there be different pay structures for agents willing to work a flexible versus a fixed schedule? Should pay structures be changed for existing agents, or should new compensation models only apply to newly hired agents? Page 4

5 Scheduling Rules Another benefit of a home-based agent model is the ability to achieve greater scheduling efficiency through the use of shorter shift segments (two-hour blocks, split shifts, etc.). But many contact centers miss out on these increased scheduling efficiencies by applying the same scheduling rules used for brick-andmortar agents to their remote workers. In order to take advantage of the inherent flexibility home-based agents provide, contact center leaders should consider the following factors: What is the minimum block of time an agent can work and still be effective? What is the maximum number of blocks an agent can work within a day? Is the scheduling system capable of supporting agents who work in shorter blocks of time throughout the day? What criteria will be used to assign initial schedules to agents? Is there one set of criteria for agents working in the center and another set for remote workers? Intraday Staffing Changes & Communication Another scheduling-related benefit associated with at-home agents is the fact that remote workers can usually provide more intraday flexibility than their in-office counter-parts. For example, it s much easier to get a remote agent to login for an hour or two than it would be getting someone to drive into the office on their day off. But this intraday flexibility presents a variety of challenges including: The ability to identify the right agents who are available (and willing) to take extra hours or log off during a period of overstaffing The ability to reach them quickly to make them aware of various scheduling opportunities even when they re away from the home office The ability to ensure that a remote agent s total hours fall within established agreements or regulatory guidelines Supporting Home-Based Agent Models With Intelligent Agent Self-Service Transitioning to a home-based agent model begins with an evaluation of your current operation. Prior to transition, some important business policy decisions related to pay structures and scheduling rules need to be made that will have a long-term impact the success of your deployment. Once policy decisions are made, it is necessary to operationalize those decisions, and the most effective way to accomplish this is through the use of technology. Although existing communication methods and WFM systems may be sufficient for a brick-and-mortar operation, they sometimes fall short when used to support a remote agent population. In these instances, the use of intelligent agent self-service technology can bridge the gap by extending the capability footprint of a workforce management system. The primary components of intelligent agent self-service technology include: Page 5

6 A rules engine that enables workforce administrators to ensure regulatory compliance and to configure thresholds for various actions (e.g. staffing gap, schedule adherence issue) and which actions are to be taken (e.g. extend hours, alert supervisor, etc.) An agent database that acts as a single repository containing all relevant data for agent management (e.g. proficiency, seniority, past responsiveness, hours worked, etc.) An agent web portal that enables agents to view and manage schedules and to identify preferences for how they would like to be reached and what their availability is for extra hours and voluntary time off (VTO) A multi-channel communications engine that provides the ability to communicate with agents and supervisors via screen pop when logged into the system or by a variety of other methods (e.g. phone, SMS, , Facebook) Based upon an adaption of real-time supply chain methodologies, intelligent agent self-service tools can be used in any contact center operation, but they are particularly well suited for home-based agent environments where proactively managing agent scheduling flexibility is a common challenge. Conclusion Deployment of a home-based agents model at your contact center can yield significant benefits in terms of improved cost-performance. But operating a home-based agent environment can create additional intraday staffing and performance management challenges that can be difficult to address with existing workforce administration tools and processes. The introduction of intelligent agent self-service technology can enable contact center leaders to effectively address these challenges and fully maximize the inherent benefits of home-based agents. Learn more about Intelligent Intraday Automation at Using Real-Time Supply Chain Methodology in the Contact Center The formula for maximizing home-based agent effectiveness can be found by taking a closer look at the manufacturing Industry. Instead of contact center workforce administrators and home-based agents, think of a production line with remote part suppliers. In the production line case, if an order is cancelled or a new order comes in, the issue is automatically identified, rules are invoked for which suppliers are to be contacted, the suppliers are contacted automatically, part shipments are expedited (in the case of a spike in demand) or postponed (in the case of a cancelled order), and the production schedule is automatically updated. Parts suppliers are automatically monitored for quality and adherence, and alerts are sent to management if performance issues are detected. This optimal just-in-time manufacturing model is enabled by real-time supply chain processes that are supported by real-time supply chain tools that can be just as effective when applied to the contact center industry. Page 6

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