How to Start a Call Center with At-Home Staff

Are you considering a call center staffed with at-home specialists? If so, there are many steps to take to ensure these employees are equipped with the necessary tools. The list below contains those “must-haves,” but the list doesn’t stop here. It’s imperative that the workers have the right call center equipment, environment, technology, and software that will make maintaining a remote workforce effective. Be careful and try to think about the most minute details before taking the leap of starting a call center, and you’ll greatly increase the odds of success.

Here are the key elements:

  1. The Environment: Desk space, ergonomically correct furniture
  2. Technology
  3. Equipment and software which includes the basic computer, internet connection, and possibly a headset

First, talk with your employees about how the office area is to be set up. Help to ensure the environment is set with enough desk space and the correct furniture for long hours on the phone.

Next, think about the technology that will be required: the basic system requirements for your agents to place and receive calls. Your at-home agents will need a computer that meets your basic system requirements, possibly a headset, and definitely an internet connection. If you need services from a local internet service provider, we’re happy to help.

If you want to use a browser-based call center software, a regular telephone line will not be required; a VoIP connection or VPN will suffice. Many companies provide these basics for their at-home agents at no cost to the agents. This ensures that all equipment is the same and simplifies the troubleshooting process for your IT helpdesk.

It will be beneficial to use a browser-based call center software package for an at-home call center. With these software packages, all that’s needed to make and take calls is a computer, internet connection, and possibly a headset. The setup is simple as there is no hardware or software to install – just login and go.

Software packages can track call history. Enhance your agents’ capabilities and keep your team on the same page by providing them with the most valuable information about the customer, in real-time, with browser-based call center software and possibly even ACD Software.

Some call center phone systems include the functionalities of ACD. An ACD is a telephony system that is typically incorporated in call center software. The ACD answers incoming calls and routes them to a specific agent. With an ACD, calls can be routed to specific agents based on customer information (i.e. the phone number the customer dialed, the information the customer input into the IVR, etc.) as well as agent information (i.e. the skill of the agent and agent availability). This is critical in making sure each remote agent only receives calls they are qualified to handle when they are ready to handle them.

When your agents work from home, they can easily miss important information about customers. CRM’s fill this gap as they compile information about each customer, such as: client demographics, email, phone numbers, call logs, and so on. This means that your agents will always be up-to-date no matter where they’re working. Some browser-based call center software functions as a CRM as well. Ensuring that your CRM is constantly up-to-date, and that your call center agents are using it as a tool during their conversations with their customers, is critical to success.

Bear in mind the fact that your agents have a lot to handle. They have to answer customer questions, ensure the conversation is pleasant and seamless, take notes, and update the CRM with relevant information all at the same time. Due to the demands of their job, they may sometimes forget to record important details, enter the wrong information, or fail to enter any information at all. Reduce these mistakes by ensuring that all customer conversations are recorded and automatically updated into your company’s systems.

Call center software that allows for systematic, standardized call monitoring practices is a must-have for managing an at-home workforce. Call monitoring will allow managers to remotely train agents, drop in on live calls, provide whisper coaching when needed, and ensure that your team is delivering consistently excellent service at all times.

Keeping a close eye on performance metrics is even more important when your employees are not working in the same building as you are. You can evaluate agent effectiveness with metrics such as service level, average call length, average number of transfers and average hold time. You can also see when agents are logged in, how long they have been idle, when they are on live calls and when they are unavailable.

Before employing at-home agents, you should be sure that your IT team is well equipped to help set up and monitor remote workers. This includes providing them with software so they can easily diagnose and fix any technical issues that the at-home agent may be experiencing, without having to leave the office.

Workforce management tools are an easy way to create schedules and to monitor adherence to schedules. It is sophisticated software that takes into consideration agent availability, shift flexibility, call volume, and similar variables when formulating schedules.

Analyzing real-time and historical metrics are not the be-all end-all of analyzing an at-home agent’s performance. You should also listen to what your customers are saying. Using a post-contact customer surveying tool is the key to this process. When your customers are happy, your agents are doing a great job.

The benefits of an at home call center workforce includes hiring of the best employees, less travel, more productive time for employees, less overhead costs for office space and job satisfaction. Flexible employees are sometimes happier employees. Less overhead means the call center pricing can be more competitive.

When hiring at-home call center agents, your potential employee pool widens beyond the geographic constraints of an office. By choosing from a much larger pool of candidates, you can find top talent with unique skill sets. Your top applicants will be better educated, more responsible, more reliable and more productive. They will also have unique cultural skills and live across the globe. This recruiting process allows you to be more selective when hiring employees.

When you can hire top talent and they are more satisfied with their jobs, they’ll be more likely to be excellent employees. Research has reflected that more than half of people that work from home are more productive than their in-office counterparts. In addition to being more productive, there is evidence to suggest that the quality of their work improves as well. A recent study conducted by Stanford University confirmed allowing call center agents to work from home led to a 13% increase in performance (Bloom et al., 2012). That’s a huge increase that will lead to measureable results. When you hire top talent and keep them happy as they enjoy the flexibility and the freedom to work from home, your customers will benefit. This will result in enhanced customer service interactions, increased customer satisfaction, and increased sales conversions

A workforce of at-home employees makes it easier to provide 24/7/365 availability. When your at-home call center agents are spread across the globe, they can collectively work 24 hours, with just a few agents on staff. And when you employ an at-home flexible workforce, you can easily handle periods of high call volume. Part-time employees can log in for a few hours when call volume is expected to be high, they can remain on-call to handle overflow calls, and they can ramp up for a few weeks or months during seasonal rushes. Cloud-based call centers offer pay-as-you go options so you can scale up or down as needed, which makes it easier to handle fluctuations in call volume.

Regardless of where your office is located, there are inherent business continuity and disaster recovery risks that stem from having most or all of your call center agents working from one building. By establishing a geographically dispersed workforce, you’ll minimize the likelihood of widespread disruptions or outages and enhance business continuity.

Employing an at-home workforce can also dramatically reduce costs. According to consulting firm IDC, the typical costs for an agent working in a call center is $31/hour. An at-home agent costs approximately $21/hour. Employing an at-home workforce also significantly reduces the cost associated with real estate, maintaining on premise hardware, operational costs, etc.

By eliminating a daily commute for workers there is increased flexibility and time and money is saved. Attrition and absenteeism rates are well below the industry average for at-home call center agents. At-home call center agents are more satisfied with their work so as a result, they stay with their job longer, significantly reducing your cost of turnover. Allowing call center agents to work from home will help accommodate the changing needs of your workforce. When they have the option to work from home when needed (i.e. as result of acquiring a disability, to take care of a sick relative, provide child care, recover from illness), they’ll appreciate this flexibility.

Finally at-home call center agents typically report an increase in job satisfaction. They like the conveniences that come from working from home, benefit from eliminating their commute and often enjoy working flexible hours. All of this results in increased job satisfaction.

Just remember not to compromise on anything that may harm the setup of your call center operation.. If you need assistance with any of the items described here, please contact us. We are here to assist throughout the process and beyond.