by Mark Atterby (The Sauce)
Taking the work to the people – not pushing the people to the work
Advancements in contact centre technology have changed the face of the industry and how labour is sourced to perform required roles and job functions. What was once a bricks and mortar facility where people were brought in to work at work stations with phones and computers is progressing to a completely different infrastructure.
The industrial revolution established the paradigm of people having to leave home and commute to a centralised cluster of workplaces or of taking people to where the work is, leading to the development of mass urbanisation and industrial centres. The industrial revolution made a number of home based industries and trades redundant.
The rise of electronics and modern communication, as well as the development of outsourcing and crowdsourcing, has reversed this paradigm to some extent. The Internet and the delivery of applications via the cloud allows work to be taken to where the people are. Simon Burke, managing director for ipSCAPE – providers of virtual contact centre solutions, comments, “remote access capability enables you to deploy staff that is either unable to attend the office on a particular day or alternatively on a permanent basis.”
The range of benefits and challenges when it comes to recruiting and managing staff in remote locations varies from traditional contact centres. One organisation that specialises in the development of remote and home-based agent contact centres is OurTel solutions operating out of Melbourne, who were finalists for the Telstra Business Awards for 2011.
OurTel provides BPO and Contact Centre Services to a range of industries, with a particular focus on not-for-profit organisations. Ruth Mackay, managing director of OurTel solutions, comments “Geographically, we’re not restrained like traditional contact centres. We can select the very best of agents from all over Australia to work on a particular campaign or project. As long as they have the required Internet connection to work with our virtual platform, we can select the best of the best regardless of where they happen to be.”
This approach gives organisations access to a much broader pool of candidates for recruitment. You might not be able to find sufficiently qualified or skilled staff within commuting distance of a bricks and mortar facility. Using remote or home-based agents allows you to tap into a global workforce if necessary. However, MacKay advises, “You do need to find agents who can take direction well without the need for constant supervision or eye-to-eye contact. All of our training is done via a virtual classroom, so the people you select need to be very well organised”.
“We rely extensively on word of mouth”, says MacKay, “where our existing agents will recommend one of their friends or family member. We have found this approach to be far more effective than traditional employment methods. It has allowed us to develop teams of people in particular locations or hubs, where they can meet each other and have coffee, and engage socially in the same way as people working at a centralized location.”
Virtual contact centre knowledge workers or agents can be literally working from anywhere. It’s reinforcing the idea that work is a thing to do, not necessarily a place to go. So why drag the workforce to a centralised place to work when with the Internet and the communications technology available today you can take the work to the workforce.
OurTel makes extensive innovative use of Skype and other Internet-based technologies to provide their services. The use of such technologies dramatically reduces the startup costs associated with a contact centre utilising traditional client/server technology.
Utilising virtual contact centre infrastructure via the cloud can greatly increase the scalability and flexibility in the capacity of your existing contact operations. “As a virtual contact centre we are able to handle demand quicker than traditional centres, where we can bring on more agents more quickly as the demand requires. This is particularly so when facing natural disaster situations. If an area is affected by floods or bushfire or some other disaster, we can easily switch calls being transferred and handled by agents in other locations”.
Rather than having seats sitting vacant or having backup facilities lying idle to handle overflow or high workflow situations a virtual contact centre can scale up or scale down as necessary without having to install equipment or furniture.
Traditionally deploying a call center across multiple sites and geographies required long lead times, expensive specialised infrastructure, and a dedicated IT staff. Now, the work and the technology can be delivered instantly to where the staff is located, reducing costs but increasing flexibility, quality and scalability.