New directions to the successful virtual contact center.

Author:Baker, Wade

Virtual call centers need help. Widespread adoption of the concept is hamstrung by a number of factors. Without an infusion of fresh technology and reliable training and skills assessment, the concept may be forever consigned to "last resort" status next to fully staffed and centrally managed customer contact centers--whether these centers are corporate-based or outsourced. While infrastructure advances such as VoIP, ACD and high-speed VPN make remote call center employment technically feasible, a number of quality assurance and customer-care issues remain unresolved. Without a "total-care" solution--from infrastructure to employee training and customer satisfaction--virtual call centers may fail to meet the needs of most corporations with customer-focused businesses.

But let's not throw in the towel just yet. Virtual call centers have far too many benefits to abandon the concept.

* First and foremost, virtual call centers allow corporations to reduce the cost of doing business. Virtualization frees the company from large office rental costs, fixed-rate utility charges, office furniture and equipment--the list of infrastructure savings is lengthy and well documented in the industry. Companies can dump the bricks-and-mortar and hire contract workers as virtual agents. But savings on infrastructure, no matter how substantial, can be wiped out in a heart-beat if customers are driven away by poor service.

* For a variety of reasons, too many corporations are leery of outsourcing highly sensitive customer care services overseas and see virtualization as a means to keep service "close to home" yet not in the building. In many cases, companies have transitioned their existing call center employees to virtual contract employees, to the benefit of both parties. The reassigned contact center professionals now have a lucrative home-based business, and the company has reduced its infrastructure and HR costs. But this talent pool of experienced agents is limited, and even expert remote workers need periodic retraining and consistent supervision.

* A compelling economy for virtual call centers is the ability to expand as needed; the corporation can bring on agents in remote locations during high-volume periods or as business expands, without the constraints of a permanent, full-time staff. This concept borrows much from "just-in-time" (JIT) inventory-control processes that have made large retailers and suppliers hugely successful. But hiring remote agents in an ad hoc fashion is more complicated than ordering a fresh batch of widgets only when there is demand for them.

* Another key benefit for virtual call centers lies outside the...

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