President Donald Trump wants to bring more jobs back to the U.S., and lawmakers have asked the Trump administration to pay particular attention to the call center industry. This year, senators began planning to introduce a bill aimed at discouraging federal contractors from offshoring these jobs, a measure that would propel a trend in recent years that sees more of these jobs remaining in the country.
According to George McDonough, vice president of client relations at call center software company IntraNext, these efforts are forcing U.S. companies to examine their strategies. For many firms, that means facilitating work-from-home call agents.
“More and more companies are going to move towards the at-home model, because there’s a calling to bring more of these jobs back to the U.S.,” he recently told PYMNTS.
One of the biggest proponents of this strategy is Amazon, which hires work-from-home call center agents as full-time employees. Last February the eCommerce conglomerate also reportedly began developing a suite of cloud-based call center solutions, to be offered via Amazon Web Services, to help other businesses manage their own customer service and call center strategies. Just weeks later it announced Amazon Connect, which uses the same technology Amazon deploys for its call centers and can support businesses with their own desires to hire at-home call center staff.
There are a lot of benefits to enabling work-from-home professionals in this field, McDonough says. It saves employees time, for one, as they no longer have to waste valuable time traveling to and from a physical call center. It also frees businesses from exhausting the talent pool limited by geographic location.
“When you have an at-home strategy, it doesn’t matter where the person is located, so long as they’re trainable and they have the right resources available to them,” he said. “Think about it: Traditionally, they have to drive to a location, exercise that time to get to the center. They work for eight hours with shift breaks and then leave work. An at-home agent can jump on a call, address peak-hour call volume, get off, go about their day, and in the evening maybe jump back on and take calls when there is another peak in call volume. There’s a lot more flexibility.”
But this trend has led to uncharted territory for some businesses that may be weary of a work-from-home workforce.
“From a friction perspective, the challenge has always been the technology,” McDonough explained. ”First it was how do we get reliable high-speed access to the home?”
Internet companies have largely solved this issue, he noted, which means employers have moved onto new challenges. One of the largest is security – of the company, of the at-home agent and of the customer they’re servicing.
”In the past, there was no way to manage that individual contact center agent at home,” he said.“There was no oversight from a supervisor.” This led businesses to rely on recordings of those calls that would then have to be reviewed at a later time, ensuring at-home agents were following protocol and the like.
Businesses would also have to send employees devices, including PCs, monitors and phones that would have to be set up and secured. Another major challenge for companies is securing sensitive information that a customer may have to relay to an at-home agent. The BYOD movement is a “big issue” for call centers, McDonough added, as businesses work out how to secure an agent’s device not issued by the employer.
“Traditionally, contact centers will route these calls [with sensitive customer data] away from at-home agents,” McDonough said. “They don’t have the security and oversight in place to make sure those agents aren’t writing down credit card information on a pad of paper and then keying into a system, or taking photographs of that credit card information.”
This exposure of sensitive data can be detrimental to a business in more ways than one. For instance, the executive noted, a company will certainly suffer from customer mistrust and a hurt reputation. Non-compliance with Payment Card Industry (PCI) data security standards, too, can place a company in jeopardy.
Technologies like virtual desktops, though, mean a business can safeguard devices even when they’re in a remote location, and even if a call agent is using her own device. Progress in how businesses support BYOD has been especially helpful in promoting call agents who work at home.
McDonough cited research presented at the 2017 Remote Working Summit held in March that found 80 percent of devices issued to employees are eventually returned after employee termination – meaning a 20 percent shrinkage rate that can get expensive and expose a company to leaks of sensitive information.
“With BYOD, you no longer have that shrinkage,” the executive said. “You can get at-home call agents up and running much faster. They just plug-and-play, load the software, and they can be up and running within a few hours, as opposed to having to wait until equipment gets to a location and setting it up from there.”
McDonough said IntraNext has been enhancing the security of at-home call agents, too, with its iGuard technology, a way for customers on the phone with an agent to be able to key in data like credit card information. That way, agents don’t even have access to that data.
“That’s expanded the role of contact center agents that can be working from home,” he said. “They can have the same level of security as if you were in a physical contact center.”
Enhanced security is key to enabling work-from-home call center agents, the executive noted, a trend he says will only continue to grow in the coming years.
“This is going to grow,” he said. “Now that you’re able to lock down the technology and prevent an agent from data exposure, it’s opened the door to embrace the at-home strategy.”