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Remote / Homeworking – the Natural Solution for Cost Effective Call Centre Expansion.

In my last article written for Call Centre Helper, the third in a series of five that I have been asked to write on the subject of disaster recovery / business continuity planning, I addressed the possibility of call centre operators establishing a home-working policy which would enable call centre Agents to work remotely from home in times of strife – which will become particularly relevant should we be unfortunate enough to suffer the much heralded ‘flu pandemic. But why not consider implementing a home working policy on an “all day every day” basis – which may also facilitate the expansion of your business?

In his article entitled “home-working: what you need to know before you start” featured in call centre helper’s August 2006 newsletter, Gene Reynolds provided an excellent high level overview of the many aspects that have to be carefully considered before embarking on a homeworking strategy, and as Gene Reynold’s explains, the technical issues previously preventing home / remote working have now been overcome. In this article I will concentrate on the more technical issues of how call centre operators can expand their businesses to commercial advantage by deploying leading edge ACD and enabling technologies to facilitate more flexible ways of working by incorporating them into a call centre’s normal day to day operations – either as a means of providing in-built resilience to the continued operation of a call centre following an outage, or a means of expanding an established call centre’s existing business by drawing upon a much larger, disparately located workforce.

With very few exceptions the long established ACD/PBX manufacturers have resisted change and maintained their focus on adding additional functionality to their already expensive legacy solutions. And given the fact that out of the approximately 5,700 call centres in the UK, more than 90% now have less than 250 Agents – with 80% having less than 100 Agents and some 60% having less than 20 Agents it is clear to see that call centre operators are not focusing their limited budgets on expanding capacity on their expensive legacy systems but looking for more powerful, cost effective modern solutions suitable for smaller call centre operations – and which should also be capable of facilitating more flexible ways of working on an all day every day basis.

So how are we going to do this? As touched on in last month’s article there are now many ways of achieving this with specialist technology solutions which focus solely on delivering comprehensive ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) functionality, including full skills based routing and comprehensive call statistics at a fraction of the cost of the old established legacy systems which were, and still are, designed to be located within a conventional call centre building – no longer applicable, I would suggest, in this modern world of flexible working.

This can be achieved by either overflowing inbound calls from your existing call centre into a new, more cost effective, network based, dedicated ACD solution used to re-direct inbound calls to any number of remote Agents or, if you are contemplating setting up a new call centre without incurring the high overheads of a traditional call centre, by enabling all of your call centre Agents to work remotely, then it would be extremely advantageous to consider one of the network based solution currently available. Many of these solutions can be procured on a fully managed service basis by paying an all embracing monthly charge to include lease purchase costs and all maintenance and support costs rather than have to incur a high initial capital purchase cost. After an initial three year period, operators now own the equipment and can elect to either relocate it to another carrier’s network or continue with a lesser monthly charge simply to cover the annual support and maintenance charge. With these options call charges are billed at standard rates. Other solutions charge an initial set-up cost and then simply roll-up all of the ongoing costs and charges into a much higher pence-per-minute charge over a term contract – which can prove to be expensive if call volumes increase significantly – which is what you no doubt intend if you are intent on expanding your business – with no cap or known maximum cost for the service. It should also be emphasised at this point that all of these network based solutions are also capable of providing comprehensive statistical reporting via downloads into any number of reporting packages.

Another technology which is a “must have” in the modern call centre environment, is the provision of trunk side secure voice recording of all inbound calls to, and outbound calls made by, your Agents including calls to and from your home / remote working Agents – and yes, technology is now available from certain specialised equipment vendors which facilitates the recording of both inbound calls to and, more importantly outbound calls made by, home / remote workers. As with traditional ACD/PBX technology, the cost of secure voice recording technology has been perceived to be expensive, but today this is no longer the case. And with many call centre outsource customers requiring calls received and/or made on their behalf to be recorded, failure to incorporate same into your “virtual call centre capability” will put you at a sever disadvantage to win future business.

And how do you facilitate the expansion of your existing call centre to incorporate any number of disparately located home / remote workers with the delivery of both inbound and outbound calls as well as connectivity to centralised office systems and customer databases? By the use of ever faster Broadband connections of course.

The advent of Broadband in its increasing number of formats, here in the UK at least, is probably the fasted developing enabler of remote working technologies where extensive competition is driving capacity up and prices down. The most common form of Broadband currently available here in the UK is ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) which transforms a normal BT telephone line (or any other directly connected telephone line from another carrier) into a high speed Broadband (data) connection. It is “Asymmetric” because it provides much faster “download speeds (from the internet to the user) than upload speeds (the user sending information via the internet to another user). This is probably the most mis-understood aspect of broadband where providers talk about 2Mb, and increasingly greater, download speeds – forgetting to mention the restricted upload speed of, until recently, only 256Kb. Furthermore Broadband is commonly “contended” (shared) with a number of other users with BT’s standard home user package being contended at 50;1 – so lightening fast if used by a single user at any one time, but painfully slow if all 50 subscribers are using the connection at the same time – which is why Broadband connections invariably “slow up” after 6.00 pm. It is of course possible to pay more than the standard published charges for lower contention rates – as low as 5:1 which obviously provide much quicker download speeds but the same 256Kb upload speed.

For those users who wish to benefit from the same upload speed as download speed then SDSL (Symmetric Digital Subscriber Lines) can be procured – but at significantly extra cost. As in everything these days, you pays your money you takes your choice!

Greater speeds are now becoming available with ADSL Max offering “a downstream speed of up to 8Mb” and up stream speeds of 832 Kb for business connections and 448Kb for home packages with ADSL2+ on the way offering speeds of up to 24Mb. HOWEVER as with all of these new technologies, nothing is “guaranteed” and all of these speeds are often distance related (the further your home is from the connecting exchange the slower the speed) and can also be affected by the quality of the connection – which may have been broken and repaired several times over the years – something to seriously consider when thinking about the deployment of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) but more of that next month.

And finally, we need to consider briefly the use of a PC or laptop by your, now fully enabled, home workers. The need for ever greater security to prevent viruses, worms and other cyber attacks affecting your centralised office systems means that you have to be even more vigilant and security conscious where the use of homeworkers is concerned. Consequently, it is strongly recommended that dedicated PCs or laptops are provided by the company for work use which can only access centralised office systems via the most stringent of firewalls. The use of home PCs should not be permitted unless the same levels of firewall security have been applied to the home PC.

Next month, the final article I the series I will be looking at the viability of using VoIP as a means of effectively working from home in either a business continuity or normal “all day every day” working environment as an expansion to your existing call centre.