The Homeshoring Phenomenon: Managing Call Centre Agents without Call Centres

When call centres moved into the cloud and starting making use of hosted contact centre solutions, agents began moving out of offices.

August 23, 2012

By Jed Hewson, director of 1Stream

When call centres moved into the cloud and starting making use of hosted contact centre solutions, agents began moving out of offices – a phenomenon known by some as “homeshoring”. According to Gartner Research, 1 out of every 10 international call centres is likely to shift at least partly to home-based agents.

There can be no doubt that using “homeshoring” is the cheapest option. Just avoiding the cost of renting floor space represents a significant saving, and some home-based agents pay for or provide their own equipment, including computers and telephones. It also affords companies the opportunity to custom design their service offering – customers can make calls to agents who speak exactly the same language, have the same culture and who literally live in the same area.

Needless to say, this opens up opportunities for people who wish to work from home and can potentially boost employment in areas where there are no major industries to support local residents – not to mention that it’s a much greener option than having hundreds of employees commuting to work every day.

After all – work is an activity, not a location. There is literally no competitive advantage to leasing property or owning IT assets. Having employees coming into an office entitles them to lunch breaks and tea breaks…not to mention that even the most disciplined of us occasionally arrive late, which means that staff actually have the potential to spend more time on the phone at home than they do at the office. Add to that the cost of fixed assets such as chairs and desks, and you’re instantly stuck with (unnecessary) overheads.

Many South African companies are sceptical though. Although the temptation to run personal errands and the distractions of children and domestic duties aren’t as easily controlled, there are ways of minimising the risk.

I don’t suggest that call centre owners take their cue from their American counterparts  where recruiters rule out any potential agent who has a dog, a baby or a noisy houseguest that could cause interruptions, and periodically listen in on calls to keep agents in check. (I was horrified to learn that some companies even go so far as to spy on their home-based agents via webcams!).

The truth of the matter is that not everybody – or every home – is suited to call centre work and that the most important preventative measure maybe not to skimp on staff costs – hiring highly trained, highly experienced and self-motivated agents (in other words, a mature workforce) will go a long way when it comes to making a success of the homeshoring model.

My personal view is that call centers are becoming more results-driven, both with quality and performance. This (systematic performance and quality of interaction) can easily be managed and measured through reporting. The rest is up to the agents themselves. This doesn’t mean that staff won’t have support. Even with agents working from home, managers can coach and train struggling staff members remotely as effectively (and unobtrusively) as they would if they were in the same room.

There is literally no valid reason to dismiss the possibility of homeshoring. The technology platform already exists – systems could be up and running within a matter of days. Ultimately the only barriers to adopting are related to people management. By engaging with the right hosted technology partner that can manage the technology and necessary monitoring tools, call centre managers willing to try the new model can focus on the core of their business: taking care of customers.