The Case for Virtual Agents

By Kathleen Schroeder, Product Marketing, Aspect

The nature of work is changing. Instead of long commutes into a centralized contact center environment, more and more individuals want to “commute” to another room in their residence, turn on their computers, and start their shift. This trend is becoming so prevalent that in December 2011, Jabra and Frost & Sullivan conducted a survey of 250 contact center managers and found that nearly eight out of 10 contact center managers saw the advantages of being able to employ qualified personnel throughout the country and across time zones. ¹ Alternative workplace environments have been in existence since the late 1980s. So, the question remains, what has changed? ²

A Changing Workplace

Two factors are primarily responsible for this shift in attitude –

External influences. Rapid globalization is forcing companies to provide a more flexible and responsive workforce to address changing demand and market conditions. Advancing technology and social collaboration tools can help close these gaps.

Internal influences. Finding qualified agents continues to be a challenge. Employers are faced with growing pressure for more flexible and sustainable work environments.

To address these challenges, the number of U.S. companies using virtual agents is predicted to increase to 80 percent by 2013. It is no longer a matter of “why” virtual workforces make sense, it’s simply a matter of finding the right model and determining “when” to implement.³

Making Virtual Contact Centers a Reality

Implementing a virtual agent model is not difficult as long as these factors are taking into consideration.

Choose staff wisely. Since the virtual work environment is different, the traits employers look for in agents need to be different. Virtual agents perform well if they are comfortable working alone, well-disciplined, not in need of constant direction from managers, demonstrate high degrees of integrity and, are content having a job with little face-to-face interaction.

Workforce management is key. It is important to ask yourself if you have the right workforce management tools in place. Workforce management solutions can help reduce attrition rates to less than three percent, improve service levels 20-30 percent, and reduce agent labor and operational costs by 16 percent. With an estimated 50 percent growth rate in virtual agent deployments in the next 12 months, workforce management solutions help ensure that organizations fully realize opportunities to reduce attrition, improve service levels, increase productivity and lower operational costs.

Put the right tools in place. Virtual agents should have the same tools as on-premise agents. The contact center also needs to consider how IT will support remote applications. One good way to ensure things run as smoothly as possible is for IT to provide every virtual agent with the exact same technology set-up as on-premise agents. It may make sense for IT to build a sample virtual set-up, making it easier to troubleshoot virtual agent technology and connectivity issues.

Apply the same rules to all agents. Contact centers need to be able to schedule, manage, and measure virtual agents in the same way as on-premise agents. Optimizing performance and tracking productivity in a virtual model can be challenging, so contact centers should consider implementing workforce management and quality management tools to ensure virtual agent performance is aligned with business goals.

Comply with applicable laws. The company and each virtual employee must comply with local, state, and federal labor and privacy laws. Security and privacy issues are a major consideration, particularly depending on which type of business processes the agent handles. Customer data, such as credit card transactions or Social Security numbers, needs to be secured. This prevents theft of valuable customer data on the part of the agent and ensures the agent’s family or friends can’t breach the database.

Start with a pilot program. Test out several deployment scenarios. Lessons learned from these initial exercises will help refine the deployment processes and training on the various applications. During this period, it is important to build time into agents’ schedules to document their experience and provide feedback. This has the dual benefit of helping agents feel engaged in the process and allowing them to provide good data on technology and the experience of being a virtual agent.

Have a backup plan. If there is a partial or complete outage at the virtual location, the contact center needs to have a plan in place. The plan needs to define how the agent should respond and how the central contact center will manage calls that would normally have been routed to that agent.

Taking these factors into consideration before implementing a virtual contact center will help ensure success. As more companies institute virtual work environments, they will find themselves benefiting from a more diverse, more highly skilled, and happier staff. Virtual agents can mean a huge difference to the bottom line for companies that do it right.

Learn how Alaska Airlines utilized Aspect Workforce Management to successfully deploy a virtual workforce solution. Register for free our webinar: Making Customer Service Soar: Optimizing a Virtual Workforce and download a copy of this case study today at Aspect Workforce Management Solutions.

  1. Callcentre Helper, Remote Agents, the Next Big Trend for Contact Centers, June 20, 2012
  2. Joe Aki Ouye, Ph.D, Knoll Workplace Research, “Five Trends that Are Dramatically Changing Work and the Workplace,” 2011
  3. www.gohome.usa.com, Michelle Rowan, Consultant – Customer Contact Strategies

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