Enhanced call-routing methods, lower hardware costs and better Internet access have combined to create an environment conducive to remote call-center support. That's why almost one-quarter of North American call-center agents currently work from home, according to a Yankee Group survey.
And this trend toward home-based customer service is expected to continue as demand for call centers increases and the cost of remote outposts drops. International research firm IDC estimates the number of home-based customer-service representatives (CSRs) will grow from 112,000 in 2005 to 300,000 by 2010.
These home workers perform many of the same tasks as their office-based counterparts: taking orders and selling for online retailers, providing technical support for software and hardware manufacturers, and making reservations for travel services.
Sound intriguing? Home-based agents and service providers offer an inside look at this emerging career option.
Outsourcing Without Offshoring
Most home-based agents work as contractors for large call-center managers. These call centers get more business as companies seek to outsource customer service.
Allanna Kelsall, vice president of human resources for Alpine Access, a provider of home-based call-center services, says companies look to call centers for two key reasons: "The most important is the recognition of their own core competencies -- not all companies are able to provide the same quality of service as an outsourced company that is focused 100 percent on the management of agents." Call centers also are better able to rapidly expand their network of agents as needed.
All the Benefits of Home -- But No Health Insurance
Many contract positions don't include benefits like health insurance. But Kim Conner, an Illinois-based CSR, says her job offers other perks.
"I don't have to worry about childcare, a work commute or a work wardrobe," says Conner, a contractor for virtual call center LiveOps. "I can save more than $1,000 a month. Most importantly, I am at home raising and enjoying my children, not missing any of their firsts, and contributing to the household income. It's a great work-life balance."
Personable Self-Starters Wanted
Still, not everyone is cut out for such a gig. "Agents that have the correct skills for working from home include people that are self-motivated, can work without physical interaction with people, and have exceptional online and computer skills -- all of which directly impact their enjoyment and performance on the job as a home-based call-center agent," Kelsall says.
LiveOps CEO Bill Trenchard wants contractors who think and act like entrepreneurs. "The ability to think independently is important, because LiveOps contracts with home-based business owners, and running a successful business requires self-sufficiency and initiative. Reliability is also important, as adherence to the self-set schedule is a driver for receiving more calls -- and that means making more money.
Some home agents' potential earnings are partially based on sales and customer-service performance levels, so being comfortable and confident on the phone is critical. "Having a nice phone voice and a good personality probably wouldn't hurt either," says Kimberly Creque, a Colorado-based CSR with Alpine Access.
And if you're wrestling with whether you should work from home or outside the home, consider Conner's advice: "Apply and work part-time from home so you can get a feel for it before quitting a full-time job."
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