The home-based agent model provides high-quality customer service for companies in any industry that requires sales or customer-care service. Hired as either contractors or employees, agents get to choose exactly when they would like to take calls, creating full or part-time work weeks that are completely customized around their busy lives.
The agents "commute" to work by going to their home offices and turning on their computers. Once their computers are powered up, the agents go through a series of security log-ins to start the Softphone application. Once in the Softphone, the agent will view the same screens and have the same tools to use that are available to any bricks-and-mortar call center agent. In this way, technology allows virtual call centers to literally recreate a client's customer service department in an online environment.
Home-based agents are able to effectively communicate a company's culture, values, and brand attributes through their customer service calls. In fact, companies using home-based agents report increased customer satisfaction, improved conversion rates from shoppers to buyers, higher one-call resolution, and strong brand development. Time and time again, home-based agents outperform a client's in-house staff. For one client, the average order size of the home-based agent team was 30% higher than the average order size of the company's own in-house call center agents.
Benefits of a Home-Based Agent
A home-based agent position gives people choices. Regardless of age, circumstance, or location, if people are self-motivated and willing to work hard, they can have successful, rewarding careers that balance work and family responsibilities. The benefits of being a home-based agent include:
- Ultimate Flexibility. Agents set their own schedules based on their availabilities, down to 15-minute increments. This provides people with opportunities to work when circumstances would typically prevent them from holding standard, eight-to-five jobs.
- Complete Freedom. All an agent needs to work as a home-based agent is a personal computer, a high-speed Internet connection, and a telephone. Agents do not have to live in certain locations simply to be close to work. They can live where they want based on what is most important, such as schools, extended families, etc. Being able to live where they want, rather than where they have to, improves their overall quality of life.
- A New Start. Sometimes, the idea of getting back into the workforce can seem overwhelming. The idea of sitting in a formal office setting every day or having to put on a suit is more than one can take. Working from home allows an employee to jump back into the workforce without having to be locked into a "boxed-in" work environment. The agent is allowed to work in an environment that is comfortable and familiar but, at the same time, is producing real results for the client.
- Save Money. The cost of commuting to and from a job is increasing dramatically. Along with higher gasoline prices, commuters also have car maintenance and toll fees. Another hidden expense of commuting is the cost of housing. Having a home close enough to the office is out of the price range of many employees. Instead, to own an affordable house, many people are forced to live in suburbs that require long commute times. With home-based positions, agents just walk down their hallways to work.
- A Career Path. Being a home-based agent is more that just a job. Answering customer service calls from home can be the beginning of rewarding career paths for people who are interested in continuing to advance their careers. When a person's circumstance changes, there are plenty of opportunities to grow within the call center organization. In fact, most corporate positions and promotions are filled with internal candidates.
For the reasons listed above, home-based agent positions are highly desirable. Last year alone, our company received more than 117,000 applications and hired about 5,000 agents. In this competitive environment, only the most passionate and enthusiastic individuals are selected.
While the hiring process is slightly different depending on the company, in general, companies look for agents with outstanding customer service skills and appropriate industry experience. By conducting 100% of the screening interview process virtually, recruiters can then evaluate applicants based on how they will sound and handle customer-care calls. Using a voice-screening process, recruiters assess how well applicants follow directions, how clearly they speak, the speed of their conversations, what tone they use, etc.
Some companies also look for good "client matches." Agents are assigned to companies according to their interests, skills, and prior industry experience. This is important for the agents because it allows them to work in industries they are familiar with and enjoy. It is also critical for clients to receive dedicated, experienced agents. To improve the chances of "matching" to a client, it is important for applicants to highlight their hobbies and interests, as well as job experience, on the applications.
The home-based agent industry is projected to triple in size over the next three years. The success of the model can be seen in the outstanding customer service home-based agents provide and the increasing number of companies who are choosing to have these agents handle their calls. There are plenty of opportunities available for anyone willing to work hard for a unique position that provides ultimate flexibility and a great work environment.
About the Author:
Christopher M. Carrington is president and CEO of Alpine Access, Inc., a Golden, Colorado-based provider of call center services using home-based customer service and sales employees. Carrington has more than 25 years of business service experience. Alpine Access clients include J. Crew, Office Depot, ExpressJet, and the IRS.