If your firm offers customer service, inside sales, or help desk assistance you undoubtedly staff a call center. Should you, for financial, recruitment, safety, insurance or real estate reasons, want to seriously consider going virtual (remote call center staffing) you have two options.
You can go it alone, sending some of your call center staff home, overseeing the transition and the supervision in-house. Or, to expand your current staff, you can look to virtual call center firms. These agencies are fast becoming an attractive alternative to your spending time finding, training, supervising and paying your newly-virtual staff.
How do you decide which alternative is the most attractive – affordable, efficient, effective?
Jack Heacock, virtual call center/telework consultant with the Heacock Group and Vice President of the Telework Coalition, is an expert on this issue. He is past president of the International Telework Association and Council and board member of Call Center Magazine. His background includes many years as a call center administrator.
“There are a number of factors involved in setting up your own virtual call center,” Heacock advised: “ IT, Human Resources, pay, replacement of broken parts, termination of a virtual employee, employee relocation and so forth.” Heacock noted several points your management team should discuss:
Heacock believes you have to answer the question, “Where’s your pain?” to know if virtual is right for you. “Determining why you’re even considering a virtual call center is paramount to your decision whether to move forward – write it down,” he said. Answer these questions: “Is continuity of operations a concern? What about insurance risk? Where do you see your business being three to five years from now?”
McKesson Health Solutions is a client of Heacock Group. “Jack has been a great help with our going virtual, “ said Michael Modiz, vice president of operations and strategic projects. “We keep him on retainer to help us with problems that arise – issues his other clients have successfully resolved.” McKesson’s virtual staff is evenly divided between inbound and outbound tasks. Primarily RNs, they take calls about medical concerns, advising folks in distress whether the medical problem requires a trip to the emergency room, a call for an ambulance, or a doctor visit in the near future. Outbound they watch over patients with chronic ailments who need education on caring for themselves and their illnesses.
Begun in September 2003 to reduce expenses and improve their labor pool, McKesson’s virtual program will expand to fifty percent of their 550-600 nursing staff by the end of 2005. “We won’t ever go completely virtual,” says Modiz. “While we have many folks who love working at home we also have a significant number of skilled, loyal employees who never want to do it.”
Modiz is thrilled about their virtual project’s success, as are the employees. In a recent employee satisfaction survey, McKesson earned high marks for their work-at-home call center program.
McKesson Health Solutions has five different office locations – in Sacramento, Denver, Chicago, Jackson Mississippi, Westlake Texas and San Juan Puerto Rico. While McKesson is in the process of introducing their own connectivity into the home office locations they still allow home workers to use their own PCs for work. The firm is now successfully recruiting directly into the home.
Paul Heacock (no relation to Jack) is President of Human Dynamics, a management consulting firm that specializes in virtualizing a company’s training and work processes.
“We help firms democratize the knowledge to do the job,” explained Heacock. Their products are designed to help those who can’t raise their hand or tap the person in the next pod – the home worker. “The biggest impediment to folks finding the help they need,” said Heacock, “is that they don’t always know what questions to ask.’ “Human Dynamics’ program anticipates the user’s needs. It knows, for instance, that s/he is on the customer service screen and that there are about ten actions the worker would typically need to perform from here. Its software prompts the user to choose from the list of alternatives. Its one or two click resolution is much faster than the fastest search engine.
Should you, however, want to forego the headaches of trying to create your own virtual call center, you can let the experts do it for you. Two highly successful virtual call center firms – one whose agents are employees, the other who works with independent contractors – earn high marks with their clients and staff.
The first, Fort Lauderdale-based Willow CSN, contracted with the Washington Post early this year to assist the paper’s classified advertising staff during peak times. Willow’s ‘cyberagents’ began taking overflow calls in June.
Goli Sheikholeslami, consumer-to-consumer sales manager at the Post, said that they are very happy with Willow and its virtual agents. “We monitor the calls, and those [Willow agents] who’ve been here from the start – the first of June – are becoming very proficient.” Sheikholeslami says that Willow reps are given the same talk time and conversion goals as the in-house staff and those cyberagents who came on board at the onset are now beginning to meet those goals. “We didn’t want to decrease our current staff,” explained Sheikholeslami, ”but we had humps where we were providing bad service. Willow resolved that.” She was attracted to Willow because they were able to offer flexibility, with half hour scheduling. Willow CSN takes Washington Post calls Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons between 3 and 6:30pm – when things are starting to heat up for the Sunday classified deadline.
“We’re perfect for companies who can’t always predict their call volume, “ said Willow CEO Basil Bennett. “We’re very flexible.” Since its inception in 1997 Willow CSN has grown steadily, and now has over 2000 agents, contracted as individual corporations, working from home in eight states – Florida, Arizona, Maryland, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Michigan and Texas.
Where the agents live has nothing to do with where the clients are, however. Willow serves 30 clients all over the country – companies as diverse as Virgin Atlantic Airways, Sears, Staples, AAA, GE and AIG. Each client prepares training to submit to Willow for its cyberagents, although Willow’s twenty-person curriculum development team is highly competent in helping a client take its training virtual. With a Florida home office, Willow easily attracts bilingual agents. Forty-two percent of Willows cyberagents are Spanish fluent.
Colorado-based Alpine Access, the largest provider of virtual call center agents, employs 3800. That employment is the biggest difference between Willow and Alpine – in fact, as far as we could determine, the biggest difference between Alpine and all others. Alpine’s agents are employees – not contractors. While both Alpine and Willow managers are adamant that their way is better, the primary difference seems to be in the way the agents themselves get paid. Willow compensates its agents for each minute they are on a call, while Alpine pays each employee an hourly rate, whether on a call or not.
At this time Alpine only hires in Colorado, Arizona and Utah, although they will be adding to other locations in the next year. Just like Willow CSN there are no location restrictions on Alpine clients.
Both Alpine and Willow have strict auditioning processes. All agents must show technical/computer proficiency and general customer service skills, and must pass voice and live auditioning interviews. Of course, they then must successfully complete the clients’ training programs.
Alpine’s COO Jim Farnsworth explained the process for resolving a client’s unexpected call volume crisis. “Each account has an account manager responsible for day to day contact with the client,” he said. “We can respond very quickly.” Farnsworth said that agents dictate their own schedules (and can change them every thirty days.) Each agent lists three levels of availability: Optimal being the hours she really wants to work; Less Optimal but available indicating those hours he’s willing to work if needed; and Emergency (I really don’t want to but if it’s crucial I will.) These schedules tell the account manager which folks are available to respond to their client’s immediate need.
Alpine and Willow share two clients – 1-800-FLOWERS and Office Depot. “That’s pretty typical of clients,” said Farnsworth. “If all calls are contracted out they usually use three or more firms; if they want outsourcers to take only overflow (peak) calls they choose one or two. It’s common practice.” Alpine’s many clients include American Marketing Services, and Park University.
An enduring characteristic of the job market is that there have always been more job-seekers than available jobs, not least because of constantly growing populations and sluggish economic growth. In an environment where job demand exceeds supply, your company should find it easy to fill vacancies. All you need do is release a recruitment advertisement in target group-appropriate media to attract plenty of job hunters. But is a huge response what you really need? Wouldn't this burden your HR department with the task of sifting through dozens of applications, many of which might not fill the bill? Wouldn't it be better if your recruitment ad had filters built into it, so you net the right people? Here are pointers to help you craft a job ad--not to draw an exceptional number of people, but a number of exceptional ones. Make it stand out Look at the 'Appointments' page of a newspaper. You'll see a formidable mass of text with nothing to break the monotony. This is because most recruitment ads are designed without visuals on the assumption that job seekers will find what they're looking for anyway. But what if your recruitment ad is missed altogether? Wouldn't it be better to treat it like a regular display ad, with a powerful headline and arresting visuals that are sure to be noticed? This means going in for a larger size, so..
Too many businesses struggle recognizing toxic personalities on their staff. Sometimes their personal feelings get in the way, or they don't know what a bad employee looks like. Spending a few minutes learning common personality types can help them uncover troubling habits, and decide strategies that work for their team. The Micromanager Managers should delegate responsibilities, but some concentrate too much on small details. Micromanagers spend most of their time pestering underlings about small details, sabotaging their productivity. Instead of assigning tasks and offering help or correction when needed, they hover behind employees, making sure they use the water cooler correctly. Of course, this wastes the micromanager's time, too! Thankfully, nitpicky leaders aren't hard to spot. Look for annoyed or unproductive employees. If everyone is trying to do their job well but can't, look to management first. If they are always babysitting their employees instead of giving them space, you probably have a micromanager. Asking employees about how their coworkers spend their time is sometimes helpful, but could backfire, too. Looking at body language and attitude is a safer approach, and you can always ask questions to confirm your suspicions later. Remember, you will lose your staff's trust if they think you are talking behind their back. The Pretender Intelligent people will find ways to save time and effort, at work or home. You should always ask yourself if an..
When the unemployment rate is high, employers can pick and choose their new hires from the ranks of those without a job. Those job seekers may need to update their skills, and they may need a bit of retraining here and there, but they are widely available and anxious for a new opportunity. Things become considerably more challenging when the economy turns around and the unemployment rate dips. While no one wants a bad economy, it is hard to deny that a good economy presents a difficult environment for those with jobs to fill. Economists used to define full employment as a 5% unemployment rate, and though things have changed somewhat, that guideline is still a useful one for employers and hiring managers. When the unemployment rate dips to the 5% level and below, an overwhelming percentage of workers who want jobs already have jobs. Hiring new workers in an environment like that can be challenging to say the least, but all is not lost. Some 95% of the working-age population may have jobs, but that does not mean they love their jobs or their employers. No matter how high or low the unemployment rate, there are always disaffected workers, or employees who would eagerly switch jobs if given the opportunity. That is where the casual job search comes into play. Employers who are able to reach out to those..
Many surveys are publishing similar results when it comes to the growth of freelancing in today's economy. Between 35%+ currently and 50% in the coming years, the percentage of freelancers in the workforce is growing steadily. There are many reasons for it, from lower costs for business to more workers who want better control of their working hours and rewards. Almost anyone can add to their income through freelancing part-time to get their feet wet. It is all about what you know. Do you know what you know that is of value to others? The Self-Assessment Step Instead of jumping onto freelancing websites to see what you may find that you can do for income, first figure out what it is that you can do well. What do you know, what have you done, and what experience do you have that others will pay you to share? Depending on your age, you have a past education and work history, and that's where you start. If you went to college, what was your major/minor? Were there courses you particularly liked and spent time learning more about those subjects? Did you later get a job using that education? Perhaps you were a finance major who worked for a bank, an investment firm, or a lender. Did you go to trade school or learn a trade on the job? Maybe you learned..
Employee turnover will cost you, and in ways you may not have previously considered. Higher than average turnover can sink morale, cut production, and tax you dearly in training costs. Although not every resignation can or should be thwarted, by understanding the reasons why employees quit, you can reduce turnover accordingly. We'll take a look at seven reasons why employees resign and move on as well as how to counter each one. 1. Poor hiring decisions. Sometimes people leave or are pressured out simply because they were the wrong person for the job. Worse, this individual may have been wrong for your company's culture. That's a clash in interests that could have been averted before they were hired. If your company consistently hires the wrong people, then your method of recruiting, evaluating, interviewing, and offering jobs to these individuals is all wrong. Something is broken in the process and needs to be fixed. Human Resources must be empowered to have the final say whether an individual is hired or not. If they already have that say, then something in the HR department needs overhauling. 2. An uncompetitive compensation package. Salary and benefits work in tandem to form your business' compensation package. Naturally, such packages should be tailored to individual employees, especially as they move up in the ranks. While the initial compensation package may be sufficient to attract an employee,..
Employee turnover is one of the most annoying things in business. It means you've got to take the time to go through the hiring process again, hope that you find the right candidate, and train them hoping that they'll get up to speed as quickly as the person that left the position. Employee turnover results in lost time and money, and in some situations, can mean that your other employees may start feeling the brunt of having to pick up the slack for the person that's gone which can create a nasty cycle. That is where actionable ideas on employee retention come into play. There are a lot of reasons for turnover, and in any company, they can differ. Sometimes those in leadership roles are unable to do anything about it, but other times, actions by leadership can make a world of difference. Leadership development is one such area. Employees and Money One of the first things that some management professional think about when it comes to employee turnover is money. Data scientists have found that while pay is important, it's not the top predictor of employee satisfaction. Things that are important include the values and culture of the company in addition to what type of leadership and future opportunities are available to employees. Leaders that tap into the potential of their employees beyond just the skill they need to..
Toxic attitudes in the workplace are contagious and can affect company morale in a negative way. Here are a few steps on dealing with toxic attitudes in the workplace. 1. Don't Engage Negative people feed off of an audience. If you find yourself on the receiving end of a negative tirade in the break room, don't add fuel to their fire by engaging their negative ideas (even if you agree with them). Simply nod your head, say "that's interesting" when they've finished and then go back to eating your sandwich. Your toxic coworker will sense that you're not going to give them the attention that they want and they'll move onto someone who will. 2. Turn the Tables If you have a particularly attention hungry coworker who doesn't go away after you show disinterest, turn the tables on them and be positive. Whatever situation your coworker is complaining about, find a positive aspect to it and interject that positivity into the conversation. Positivity is repellent to negative people. By turning their negative rant into a positive conversation, you'll completely turn them off and they'll leave you alone. If you're able to define yourself in your office as a positive person, negative attitudes will avoid you and you'll be able to work in peace. 3. Give Them More Responsibility If you have an attitude problem in your office and a few..
Have you just been invited to an interview, but unsure what to bring? Or wondering whether you should bring anything at all? Worry not, there are just a few things to bring that will be useful for you but impressive to whom is interviewing you. 1. A copy or two of your CV Most likely, the interviewers will have a copy of your CV in front of them, with some notes scribbled on suggesting potential questions to ask you. However, it's always handy to have an extra copy or two if somebody else asks for one, and it is worth bringing extra copies if you have updated your CV since applying for the job. Your CV might be handy for you if you need to provide dates of previous employment when filling in a written application form, or for when providing reference contacts. 2. Identification You never know when you'll need your ID, or what their company's security procedures are. 3. The job spec Hopefully, you've read the job spec several times, and know what types of skills the job requires, and what the day-to-day responsibilities are of the job. Before you go into the interview, maybe even when you are sitting in the car because you've made sure to be early, make a few notes on the job spec itself. Circle the skills that you have, what job responsibilities..
Quite often in your working life (and sometimes your non-working life), your goal is to get another person to say yes. This is most evident if you work in sales or marketing, run your own business, or even need to sell an idea to your manager before you go ahead with it. If any of this sounds familiar, try these persuasion techniques based on academic research. Endowed progress Next time you get one of those loyalty stamp cards in a coffee shop, have a close look at it. You may find that your first stamp was free and that the one the barista put on counts as your second. This is the endowed progress effect in action. If you make a degree of progress towards a goal, the brain doesn't want to stop because that will mean all that initial effort went to waste. Think about how you can apply this in your own situation. For example, if you sell an online course, you could give the first lesson for free. The power of because Psychologists have found that people are more like to accept a request if you give a reason for doing so, even if that reason is not particularly relevant. In one study, subjects tried to skip the queue at the photocopier. If they just said "May I go in front," the request was denied significantly more..
Finding qualified applicants (and quickly) when you have a job to fill can be very difficult. Often, it takes a lot of time and money to find the perfect person for the job. You might not have the time, but it is important that you find the right candidate or you may be out looking again shortly. Here are some tips to finding qualified candidates for the job. Ask your employees. Your employees know the job and what is required of them. They also usually know people who are in the same field because they have a lot in common with them. They probably know someone who is looking for a job. Some employers even give their employees a reward for recruiting a new employee. Place ads on job websites. There are many websites designed to help match up employees looking for jobs with employers who have positions to fill. This can help you find people from all over the world who may be willing to relocate for a job. Contact a staffing firm. Staffing firms can help you figure out what you are looking for and work hard to find you the most qualified applicants possible. It can be hard to find the right candidate for your job. However, you may want to start by asking your employees. They may know someone who is looking for a job. You..
Top 5 Industries that Offer you the best Opportunities to Grow Most of us when we search for a job, we do so because of the stories that we have heard about people who started their career from nothing, but turned out to be something in their field in a very short span of time. Everyone who joins a job or applies for a job, before they think about anything else, they think about achieving something great in the field they are about to join. But most of the time, the reality turns out to be something different, because several months down the line you realize that there in not much scope for your own personal growth and moreover whatever great that could possibly be achieved with the available resources, more or less, already has been achieved. So once that castle of dreams comes crashing down to the ground, you start thinking about “is there something related to your area of interest, that provides you with a good income, and at the same time offers you an opportunity to grow?” Well realistically speaking, there might, and maybe you are still not familiar with those opportunity, because you didn’t do your research well. In any case, you are just several months down the line and you still have enough time to make a switch. So if you are at that point..
The digital media has provided a wide range of opportunities to streamline and boost communications particularly in the job search sector. Professional job search is a major project to undertake specifically if you are not clear about the distinction between established job sites with real opportunities and the ones that are just fronts for unqualified or unacceptable offers. What attracts visitors to Job sites Major Job boards today have brought forth the modern concept of connecting potential employees with a variety of job opportunities. One of the key issues with this situation is that many job boards are designed to attract both job seekers and potential employers without truly understanding “The Connection” needed between the two. Most hopeful job seekers fall prey to the elaborate marketing and appeal of the job boards mentioned below: Job boards claiming to use modern predictive algorithms to match you to your perfect professional opportunity match. The ease of seeking a new job from directly an interface that reduces having to make direct calls and applying resumes to different professional offices, the job sites promise to lower the usual stress of handling multiple professional discussions and applications right from a single platform. The overwhelming competition in almost every professional sector makes it hard for potential job seekers to rely on simply their own struggles to get them through to major professional opportunities. Potential pitfalls..