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Article : What’s the State of Work-at-Home in Customer Care in 2017?

#contactcenterworld, @BlueOceanTweets

Author Kim Campbell, VP of Operations for Blue Ocean Contact Centers examines the evolution of "work-at-home" agents in recent years and offers some insight as to why clients are now asking outsourcers about their "work-at-home" programs.

About five years ago, we entered a discussion with a prospective client. They had been outsourcing their customer service to a call center with a predominantly "work-at-home" (WAH) model and one of the first questions they asked us was about work-at-home agents. They’d had a bad experience with that model and were keen to move as far away from any work-at-home solution as possible. We won the business with a solution that was based entirely on using agents located in our center. In those years, we also saw many Requests for Proposals (RFP) for Call Center Services asking questions around WAH with the clear indication that it was not the desired model. The RFPs were basically asking questions to weed out strictly WAH providers. Fast forward a couple of years and the very same client who scrambled to get away from a WAH model was pushing us to move to a hybrid model with work-at-home as an integral part of the mix. We started to see RFPs asking, not if, but how we would incorporate WAH as part of the solution. So what happened? Did WAH move from something to be avoided to something to be embraced over the course of just a few years?


As Technology Advances, So Does Work-at-Home

Until recent years, many companies were hesitant to explore the work-at-home model for their outsourced call center agents. Even just five years ago, technology limitations were a barrier to having a remote agent solution that was as secure, robust, and stable as the call center environment. But the technical landscape has been evolving in leaps and bounds, and work-at-home capabilities are being driven by advancements in virtualization and cloud computing.

Once upon a time, we would place our own computers and routers at our WAH agents’ houses. We set up separate networks for computer and telephony, and our tech team would make routine visits to agents’ homes to audit set-ups and to resolve issues. In less than a decade, residential internet speed and stability has evolved to new heights and personal hardware like computers and monitors for home use has kept pace. So there is no longer a need to install our own equipment. We simply provide a USB headset for computer audio and set up the agent with credentials to a remote virtual desktop environment. In some cases, we also provide a USB key that boots their computer into an independent operating system that connects flawlessly to the remote environment.

With cloud and virtualization tools becoming ubiquitous in the business world, the ability to implement and support this technical environment has become significantly easier and more cost-effective. Stay at home agents are up and running without any tech support visits; in-house overhead, including workspace and technology, is significantly reduced; and the remote access model maintains a highly secure environment for any sensitive data and information. In other words, the cloud makes it possible for agents to be using the exact same environment at home as they do in our offices. The cloud has completely transformed reliability, security, and transparency in a WAH model. With this technical transformation, many of the concerns about WAH that clients had in 2012 have been erased. But what about the people concerns? Can a contact center partner really manage a team of agents working remotely as effectively as they can manage someone sitting right beside them?

Managing Work-at-Home Call Center Agents
There’s no denying that there is an enormous amount of trust required with a work-at-home model in your outsourced call center. After all, you’re already trusting your entire brand to an outsourced call center partner. The idea of having outsourced agents represent your company from their own homes may certainly spark some anxiety. Could your contact center partner really effectively supervise their contact handling efficiency? What about quality assurance? How do they get supported and coached? How can your partner guarantee the model won’t devolve into some nightmarish notion of "out of sight, out of mind"? These are valid questions and technology has evolved to assist in performance management in this regard as well. But to begin with, let’s look at some of the best practices for approaching the remote agent scenario.

There are three factors to consider when managing work-at-home call center agents.


First, Who Can Handle Work-at-Home?

Our hiring profile for work-at-home agents has unique distinctions. Not surprisingly, successful work-at-home agents tend to be mature, self-motivated, self-disciplined people who like to take initiative. Typically, these agents are not extroverts who need the group setting to thrive. The typical WAH agent is confident in their own abilities and are natural problem-solvers.

When recruiting people for work-at-home positions, we prefer to hire from within. Agents who have tenure in our physical environment have been immersed in the brand experience of our clients and understand how our culture drives our service. In addition, time working in our physical office means we’ve been able to gauge how that particular agent responds to coaching and what kind of support works best for them. We’ve seen how well they are able to focus on the task at hand and we’ve assessed their efficiency in contact handling. For some WAH agents, our process includes a "test run," in which candidates work in an isolated office area away from their home team. Essentially, this means working solo within a separate work area to see how well the agent performs working "alone" and if they even enjoy it.


The Virtual Classroom. Is It Enough?

This is a great topic of discussion. The virtual classroom of 2017 is a thing of beauty. In the past, training has been a barrier to some companies in developing their work-at-home team. If someone is working from home due to mobility or transportation issues – a requirement to come to the office to be trained could be a barrier. Today’s online classrooms have pretty much eliminated that barrier. But having said that, for us, training always happens in our own offices. One of the competitive differentiators for Blue Ocean in the crowded global contact center industry is that we have evolved a process and culture that results in our agents truly embodying our clients’ brands. (Our biggest clients tell us regularly that we do the brand immersion experience better than any outsourcers they’ve worked with around the world.) We’ve found that this cultural immersion in our client’s brand and in Blue Ocean’s values happens best in person. For us, this is truly a case of "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." Basically, we could efficiently manage the "knowledge transfer" process to get an agent effectively trained at home, but we believe the emotional piece of the puzzle still requires an in-person experience.


Coaching and Managing the At-Home Agent

Once they’re in the field, our on-going coaching program operates almost exactly how it does in the office. Again, this is where technology advancements, especially in collaboration, have changed the game. Through the use of SIP technology, communications tools (in our case Cisco’s Jabber) can support rich media, and real-time communication. Our contact center is built on that. The only difference in performance management for WAH agents is that our coaches and WAH agents engage in live coaching sessions via Jabber, with the ability to text, talk, use video, and share live screens and files rather than sitting side-by-side. Measuring the quality and productivity of the work-at-home agent is the same process as in-house; agents are held accountable to the same key performance indicators, and they are frequently asked to self-evaluate their delivery of the customer experience.

Will Their Performance Compare to In-House Agents?
A study reported in the Harvard Business Review claimed that stay at home call center agents answered 13.5% more calls than their in-house counterparts. The cause of this, they reported, was likely the quieter environment, with no "cake in the break room effect," as well as the lack of commute, shorter breaks and lunch hours, and fewer sick days.

We have seen excellent performance from our work-at-home agents. For non-tenured agents, the only negative we initially see is longer Average Handle Times. This difference becomes negligible over time as they are coached on a continuous basis. One benefit that at-home agents bring to the table is a greater willingness to accept split shifts and on-call work. In many cases, the work-at-home model has improved attendance records while simultaneously allowing agents greater work-life balance and continued employment despite scenarios like relocation or greater family responsibilities.

Another huge benefit to this remote set-up is the extra layer of redundancy for business continuity. When office evacuations occur or treacherous weather conditions make it difficult for agents to get to the office, remote agents are on the job.

Exploring the Work-at-home Model in Your Outsourced Call Center
The cloud, virtual classrooms, and new coaching approaches and tools have eradicated many of the concerns clients had in the early 2010s about the stability and effectiveness of WAH. We believe there are real benefits to including remote agents in the solution model for our clients. A WAH contingent can bolster your business continuity, scalability, and flexibility especially for programs with frequent unpredictable spikes in volume.

#contactcenterworld, @BlueOceanTweets


About Kim Campbell:
Kim has an excellent track record of growing her clients’ revenue and building trusting relationships. Her success has been driven in large measure by her analytical skills, her ability to identify and resolve challenges, and her dedication to improving performance through creative solutions.

About Blue Ocean Contact Centers:
Company LogoWe thrive on delivering critical customer service solutions that go beyond transactional interactions. As such, our goal is to enhance lifetime customer value, providing support that is a reflection of your brand promise, even in high-pressure, complex customer service scenarios.
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Today's Tip of the Day - Plan Training In Advance

Read today's tip or listen to it on podcast.

Published: Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Printer Friendly Version Printer friendly version

2023 Buyers Guide Speech Technology

 
1.) 
Premium Listing
Call Center Studio

Call Center Studio
Call Center Studio is the world’s first call center built on Google and is one of the most secure and stable systems with some of the industry’s best reporting. It is one of the most full-featured enterprise grade systems (with the most calling features, one of the best call distribution, outbound dialing features and integrations—including IVR, AI Speech Recognition, blended inbound/outbound calling and includes Google’s new Dialogflow and Speech API. Call Center Studio is the absolute easiest to use (with a 10 minute setup), and is the price performance leader with lower equipment cost and less setup time.


2.) 
Aculab

VoiSentry
VoiSentry is a voice biometric engine for speaker verification / identification. It is delivered as a virtual instance to be controlled by an application via APIs and can be deployed in whatever is the most appropriate environment i.e. public cloud, private cloud or on-premise. It is generally deployed as a white-label or OEM product, whereby Aculab’s partner integrates it into their own solution/platform and offers it as an integral part of their service. Unless they go public with it, none of their clients would even know that it was Aculab’s VoiSentry engine under the hood. As with any biometric speaker verification system, VoiSentry is language and dialect independent.

3.) Agara

Agara is an autonomous virtual voice agent powered by Real-time Voice AI. It is designed to have intelligent conversations with your customers, vendors, and partners without any assistance from human agents. It can handle a wide variety of calls including inbound customer care calls, outbound lead generation calls, appointment scheduling calls, and overdue payment recovery calls.

Agara is available for several industries including banking, insurance, retail, e-commerce, airlines, and telecom. Powered by advanced Real-time Voice AI that understands speech in real-time, automatically determines the right process to follow and guides the caller along in the process with natural conversation.

4.) 
Call Tracking Metrics

Execute automated actions based on words spoken by your customer.

Our intelligent word detection and transcription tools make it easier for you to decipher the content of your customer conversations and automate action based on those insights.

Transform the audio of your calls into speaker-organized scripts so you can easily search your call log for specific words from a conversation, or automatically detect when words of intent are spoken by your customer.

Listen in on and highlight common patterns in order to execute triggers to initiate a new action or workflow, such as emailing a manager if the word “cancel” is spoken on a call. You can also set up to automatically redact content from a transcript, such as sensitive health information transmitted on a call.

5.) 
Daisee

Daisee
Daisee builds technology that empowers people to solve problems by making interactions simple and smart so they can have a more significant impact, be more productive and be better at what they do. We believe incremental improvements carry huge potency and provide exponentially greater change for the better.

Genesys customers can now automate risk and quality management using Daisee’s speech and sentiment analytics and remediation workflow software. Daisee helps improve customer experience, ensure regulatory compliance, identify missed commercial opportunities & training requirements as well as provide valuable insights back to the business directly from the frontline – the true voice-of-...
(read more)

6.) 
Eckoh

EckohASSIST
Advanced speech recognition and natural language expertise that routes callers by simply asking ‘how can I help you?’. It allows customers to use their own words to ask for what they want and steers them to the right place.

Menus are eliminated altogether and contact centres can use a single inbound telephone number.

7.) 
MattsenKumar LLC

SmartSpeech
SmartSpeech – The Best In Class Speech Analytics Software

An all-inclusive speech analytics application that enables you to visualize your audio using state-of-the-art speech recognition, transcription, and text analytics technologies.

8.) 
Medallia

V-Blaze Speech to Text
Our GPU-accelerated, AI-based technology enables you to deliver greater insights to the contact center by transcribing audio into analyzable text.

- Transcribe large volumes of recorded audio quickly
- Integrate transcripts with your analytics or business intelligence platform
- Reduce your hardware footprint and minimize total cost of ownership

9.) 
Nemesysco

InTone Suite - Emotion Detection via Voice Analysis
InTone™ is a voice analysis tool geared to detect genuine emotional and cognitive reactions regardless of the speaker’s language or chosen intonation.
It integrates into existing contact center environments and provides realtime indications of both client and agent emotional reactions throughout all ongoing calls. This unique set of indications assists managers and call center representatives to truly understand the client, improve call center performance, easily detect angry calls, elevate training efficiency and provide a tailored customer experience in every single call.

Nemesysco's contact center technology is also available in API and SDK forms.
Please visit our website for information about our product portfolio.

10.) 
Voxjar

Voxjar
Voxjar is your one-stop-shop for driving better phone calls with your customers. We're a modern Conversation Analytics and Call Coaching Platform.

- Custom Charts and Dashboards give you the freedom to analyze calls from the highest level down to the details of each conversation.

- AI-Powered Speech Analytics transcribes, searches, and analyzes your reps' phone conversations, at scale.

- Quality Assurance and Call Coaching tools let you evaluate and improve agent performance with a human touch.

- Long term recording storage for historical analysis


All of these together provide the holistic, easy-to-use software that you need to manage a modern call team and create better con...
(read more)
 

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