We blogged recently about increasing interest from U.S. companies in locating operations in small American towns rather than offshore locales like India. With offshore salaries on the rise, it's an economically friendly option, since companies can save on remote management, travel and other costs. And it's a politically friendly move, hailed by folks who want to see more jobs kept on U.S. soil.
An even more cost-effective alternative for customer service positions is employing folks who work out of their own homes. The CEO of one company doing so tells the Christian Science Monitor that this model is "redefining how Americans will work in the future."
Research firm IDC says there are some 110,000 home-based contact center agents in the U.S., a number it believes will grow to 328,000 by 2010. Southwest and Jet Blue are among the companies that employ such agents.
The same broadband Internet connectivity and Web-based software applications that make it feasible for companies to employ workers in foreign countries also allow them to extend their hiring reach across the U.S.
This is a key advantage, says the VP of a staffing agency specializing in such positions, because companies can draw on a broader and more experienced talent pool rather than employing "kids out of high school who never had a job before." The average age of contact center workers for one company cited in the story is 41, and 80 percent of them have at least some college education.
Using home-based employees also helps reduce the turnover rate for contact center agents, which is often quite high, says the VP of marketing and products for Five9, a company that provides on-demand contact center solutions. Read the full IT Business Edge interview: Home Is Where the Call Center Agent Is.
At the risk of sounding xenophobic, it also allows companies to employ native English speakers. Customers consistently rank speaking with agents with a limited command of English as one of their top contact center peeves.
The model is likely to become even more popular as Indian workers begin to shun contact center work for employment in more sophisticated sectors such as product development.
Some caveats: Home-based workers must be self-directed and highly motivated. They must enjoy speaking with people -- a lot. And they should have good reading and writing skills. The last tip comes from Convergys, a company with a large workforce of home-based agents. It's important because such agents typically communicate with supervisors via e-mail and instant messaging.