Three Must Haves for Managing Remote Agents
By: Bob Webb, Pipkins, Inc.
There are three primary reasons for remote agents: lower contact center costs; improved customer service; and, improved employee satisfaction and retention. Operating costs associated with remote agents include lower starting wages and reduced benefits, less need for brick and mortar facilities and support staff, increased labor pool with flexible scheduling options, and reduced training costs associated with increased agent retention. Technology has enabled contact centers to easily integrate remote agents into their labor pool; however, proper tools are required to maximize use of agents and achieve desired results. There are three essential tools for managing remote agents.
Agent Self-Scheduling Tools
While software tools are available for helping increase agent control over schedules, the At-Home model supersedes software solutions offered to on-site agents. Remote agents can create schedules unique to their availability and schedules can be segmented throughout the day and vary on a daily basis. Remote agents also have ability to pick and choose blocks of time in which they build their own shifts based on established company rules, business needs, and staffing requirements.
Features of self-scheduling software tools expand agent capabilities by allowing:
- scheduling through an easy agent self-service scheduling tool;
- a checkout method for self-scheduling to accommodate staffing requirements based on business needs; and
- schedules that can be created in blocks of time to accommodate both the center as well as agent’s personal needs.
Remote agent self-scheduling tools virtually eliminate complications of vacation, holiday, and special event staffing, including the need for supervisors to limit agent time off. Staffing requirements can be easily filled with no gaps in service as remote agents view available time slots and choose work hours compatible with their schedules. In the past contact centers were threatened with over- and understaffing when agents requested time off and overtime was needed. This threat has been eliminated with self-scheduling tools that ensure available slots are filled according to staffing needs rather than agent availability.
Intra-day optimization is also simplified with remote agent self-scheduling. When agents cannot fill their allotted time slots, supervisors can notify remote agents and receive help quickly without disruption to service levels. This feature is critical for juggling holiday staffing issues. Last-minute schedule changes and overtime requests can be sent to agents’ computer screens via pop-up messages. Supervisors can quickly review current-day staffing and recalculate those needs for the day through an intra-day analysis function with confidence that staffing needs will be accommodated by remote agents.
Supervisors also benefit from the At-Home Agent model. While supervisors are still responsible for setting business rules and establishing staffing needs, agent self-scheduling tools eliminate the need to limit agent time off. With an unlimited remote agent pool, supervisors have:
- Various configurations of scheduling options
- Simplified staffing for special events, holidays, and vacations by remote agents with flexible schedules
- Accommodation for spikes in call volume on short notice by remote agents, ensuring holiday fluctuations are fully staffed
The At-home Agent model creates a win-win situation for both agents and supervisors and fills intrinsic needs of agents who desire more control over their schedules. The value of an unlimited remote agent pool is well documented and companies are experiencing cost savings as well as increased morale and lower agent turnover rates. Issues such as holiday and vacation planning that used to present a scheduling nightmare have become a thing of the past with the use of remote agents.
Real-time Agent Adherence
Service levels are severely impacted when agents are out of adherence or underperforming. In-house agents encounter interruptions throughout the day that affect productivity. Remote agents are proven to be more productive with reported increased productivity of up to one-hour daily. Working in an environment without disruptions allows remote agents to focus on meeting service level objectives and customer service.
The best option for monitoring remote agent adherence is real-time adherence tools. Supervisors can view adherence status at any time in a window that is refreshed according to the timetable set by the user. When an agent is out of adherence, the system typically spotlights the discrepancy by a visual device such as color-coding. More comprehensive systems provide important additional information by indicating the nature of the violation (e.g. late start, improper activity, logged out early) as well as the agent’s current state (e.g. ACD inbound, logged off, after-call work) and the duration of the problem.
Agent turnover is an inherent problem for contact centers and replacing agents is a major cost consideration. Employee satisfaction contributes to agent retention. Recruiting and training costs can significantly impact a company’s bottom line profit margin. Retention rate for remote agents is 80% versus 25% for in-house. Agent morale is a key factor in retention. Remote agents have more control over their schedules, allowing for improved work/life balance.
Online Productivity Tools
Online productivity tools make the workday easier for agents and supervisors. Remote agents can manage day-to-day activities, as well as personal performance. This functionality enables agents to:
- View schedules, as well as changes made on a real time basis
- Submit change requests and trade shifts with other agents based on business rules
- View KPI’s delivered real time through the notification system, allowing agents to quickly change behavior to meet goals
- Manage vacation time through automated requests according to business rules defined by the HR system
- Communicate with other agents via a bulletin board system
The remote agent pool is limitless and multiple configurations of scheduling options are possible. Brick and mortar centers offer a limited agent pool and scheduling can be tricky when trying to balance organizational needs and service levels. Remote agents can be located anywhere in the country and are available for hard-to-fill time slots, enabling contact centers to offer extended hours or accommodate non-traditional operating hours.
Pipkins, Inc. is an American company and a leading supplier of workforce management software and services to the contact center industry. Vantage Point, Pipkins’ premier product, is the most accurate forecasting and scheduling tool on the market. Pipkins’ @HomeVantage gives organizations the ability to effectively manage their agents and can be used with Vantage Point or integrated into another workforce management system to leverage existing technology. Pipkins’ systems forecast and schedule more than 300,000 agents in over 500 locations across all industries worldwide. For more information, visit www.Pipkins.com.