Virtual Agents: Bringing Benefits Home with the New Cloud-based Contact Center


Virtual Agents: Bringing Benefits Home with the New Cloud-based Contact Center

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  April 17, 2014

Employing work-at-home agents can help companies build more successful customer care and outreach programs by enabling them to call on a larger workforce, pair callers with certain affinities with like-minded agents, and lower their costs in the process. And new cloud-based contact center solutions are facilitating all of the above.

As noted in inContact’s Feb. 24 blog: “The skills and motivation and productivity of at-home agents are often unmatched. And on the company side, having these flexible, skilled remote agents enhances the customer experience and reduces operating costs (estimated at as much as $25,000 per at-home agent, as compared to their premise-based counterparts), both of which drive dollars to the bottom line.”

Organizations contemplating the use of at-home agents may be concerned with how to manage hiring, quality management, and workforce management relative to this new, remote workforce, inContact adds, but they needn’t be if they have the right tools at hand.

“The at-home model gives companies a much wider candidate pool from which to hire, since location is no longer an issue,” blogs Lynn Weil, manager of field marketing at inContact. “Turnover is reduced, too: When agents move or their circumstances change, they can be automatically retained on staff.”

Quality management is also no barrier to at-home agent adoption, she says.

“At-home agents are proving to be game-changers for contact center capability and responsiveness and the customer experience,” she writes. “Sophisticated cloud solutions make hiring, integrating, managing and monitoring at-home agents a breeze.”

The same can be said for WFM related to remote agents.

“The use of at-home agents requires no installation of hardware,” she says. “Instead, a variety of cloud solutions, tools and techniques make tasks like scheduling, monitoring and communicating seamless and virtually identical to those in a brick-and-mortar setting. Even training is easily accomplished for at-home agents, with tools such webinars effective alternatives to in-house classes.”

The more expansive workforce that instituting an at-home agent program ushers in opens the door for companies to hire people whose expertise or interests dovetail with the interests of companies and the individuals reached by their call centers, adds Felix Serrano, senior vice president and general manager at Sitel. For example, he says, a beverage retailer could ask a partner like Sitel to recruit contact center agents with a high level of brand affinity for its coffee and other beverages. When Sitel has implemented this kind of “human to human interaction,” as Serrano calls it, Net Promoter Scores went way up and complaints went way down.

This kind of thing clearly speaks to the new focus many companies have on customer experience and taking service to the next level.

Raj Sharma, president and CEO at 3CLogic (News - Alert), adds that a subtrend on this front is to use a contact center model of what he refers to as fronter and closers. Fronters are agents on the front lines who can address more basic customer issues and might have a higher-level view of the organization and the solutions it offers. Because these individuals are not as experienced, and may be working in other countries, companies may want to consider using avatars for ease of communication and to allow these agents to get assistance from their managers without letting callers know, he says. Closers, meanwhile, are more skilled agents, and may be either on site or working remotely, he says. The fact that cloud-based contact center solutions can now call on agents located virtually anywhere means that more of these experts are now available to them.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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