UK contact centres are lagging behind their US counterparts in their adoption of home working models, and missing out on significant cost and environmental savings in the process.
That is the view of Ian Ashby, chief executive of contact centre software specialist Exony, who argued that with 5 percent of US' 3 million contact centre agents now working from home there was increasing evidence that the technology and business models existed to enable the "home-shoring" of many UK contact centres.
A recent whitepaper from Exony argued that there are multiple benefits to be gained from implementing so-called "virtual contact centres" where agents work from home, including lower staff churn rates, reduced real estate costs, improved employee diversity through greater recruitment of disabled staff or working parents, and reduced carbon emissions associated with employees' commutes to work.
The study argued that the UK's call centre professionals are responsible for 1.3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year through their commute, a sizable proportion of which could be avoided through greater adoption of home working.
Ashby argued that employing contact centre agents who work from home can also make the contact centre more reactive to caller demand. "If people don't have to come into work it is far easier for a call centre manager to get agents to agree to shorter shifts at less notice, making it easier to respond to spikes in demand," he explained.
Enabling home working for call centre agents would require significant technology investments in the form of enhanced network, security and monitoring software for managing home-based agents, however Ashby insisted that such systems were now widely available and proven and as such the main barrier to wider adoption of home working models was cultural.
"There is a sense with contact centres that if you can't see the agents they are not working," he said. "But monitoring tools means firms can make sure that is not the case."
He added that these concerns appeared less apparent in the US where many of the agents working from home are effectively self employed and as such motivated to remain productive. "The US model has been to ensure home agents are working for themselves, which plays well with the entrepreneurial culture," he explained.
UK firms keen to pilot the use of home agents are advised to focus on higher end services, such as technical support, where agents are likely to be a bit more experienced, keen on the idea of home working and easier to manage without constant supervision. Ashby also recommended that companies interested in the idea should first "dip their toe" into the model by recruiting some home agents to cover a seasonal peak in demand like Christmas.
Eradicating millions of car journeys each day by replacing the UK's many call centre's with an army of flexible, happy, work-life balanced home agents may seem like something of a pipedream, but Ashby is increasingly convinced that widespread adoption of "home-shoring" is possible.
"If you had asked me six months ago I would have to admit that I was unconvinced," he said. "But in the last two months we have seen massive interest in this model and it would only take two or three successful deployments and this could really fly. The whole model has a lot of support from local government, disability rights groups, working parents and of course the green movement – with that level of backing it is hard to imagine how it cannot work."