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Ideas for Leaders #142

Homeworking Beats Outsourcing: a 6 Step Model

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Key Concept

The use of homeworkers as call centre operatives can benefit both businesses and homeworkers. For companies, common advantages include cost savings, increased flexibility, reduced absenteeism and improved customer satisfaction. But there are also potential problems to overcome. By adopting a six-step model, business leaders can plan homeworking projects effectively, identifying the key areas they need to address.

Idea Summary

In the early 2000s, there was a rush by organizations to outsource and offshore many call centres because of the significant cost savings that could be achieved. But offshoring has often led to a reduction in customer satisfaction, so businesses are increasingly bringing their critical customer service call centre operations back ‘onshore’.

At the same time, developments in communications technology, such as the availability of high performance broadband, have opened up new possibilities when considering where call centre operators should be located. This has led to ‘homeshoring’ or homeworking – where agents can work from their own homes. This approach has provided benefits both in terms of cost savings and customer satisfaction, and is becoming more widespread.

Agent homeworking has been used widely and successfully in the US, and this research suggests there is little to stop homeworking in the UK becoming just as successful.

The research reviews the current homeworking market and looks at previous research into the sector. Based on interviews with key managers in organizations that use homeworkers (homeworker project companies – HPCs), and homeworkers themselves, it then outlines the issues and opportunities from both sides.

The findings clearly demonstrate that cost savings, increased flexibility, reduced absenteeism and improved customer satisfaction are common among the HPCs. The homeworkers are also generally very happy with the arrangement. There are, however, issues that both the HPC and the homeworker must address, such as keeping the homeworker from feeling isolated.

Business Application

The following six-step framework will help business leaders to implement a homeworking project effectively:

1. Decide on your strategy

  • What is your goal for homeworking numbers and how will this affect existing contact centres?
  • What function will the homeworkers be asked to perform?
  • What skills are you looking for in homeworkers?
  • Will you be employing the homeworkers or will they be self-employed?
  • Does senior management support the project?

2. Select strategic partners

  • How is technology going to be provided to homeworkers?
  • How will recruitment be managed? Will you relocate existing staff to their homes or employ new homeworkers, or both?
  • Will you manage your homeworkers or will you use a partner? If the latter, how will you align your team with theirs?

3. Establish clear policies

  • Be really clear on what you want homeworkers to do and how you want them to handle calls. Have good documentation about processes.
  • Have you prepared scripts or other aids to help them manage transactions?
  • How will homeworkers be supervised? Consider the procedure for them to get help with difficult calls.
  • How will you measure the performance of your homeworkers? How does performance link to reward? If you are working with partners, what service level agreements will you put in place?
  • What contractual conditions do you want to put in place? If you are using self-employed homeworkers, will you impose restrictions on those who wish to offer their services to other companies as well?

4. Manage stakeholders

  • Gain the ‘buy-in’ of in-house staff for the homeworking project, so they don’t see it as a threat. Consider offering opportunities for current staff to become homeworkers.
  • Managing a homeworker team will require training for managers in a different approach.
  • When working with partners, make sure that your management teams have aligned objectives for mutual benefit.

5. Implement

  • Start with a proof-of-concept or pilot trial or both, before committing to full implementation.
  • Communicate with homeworkers continually, providing them with updates about services, supervisory activity, feedback on performance etc. Also, consider providing homeworkers with the opportunity to connect with co-workers.
  • Communicate in-house about the homeworker project so that the internal and homeworker teams can all see the big picture and the part that they play in it.
  • Communication with customers may also be necessary to offset any concerns, particularly regarding security, that they may have about dealing with homeworkers.
  • Develop accurate scheduling to avoid homeworkers having too much or too little work.

6. Learn and review

  • Continuously monitor and improve your homeworking processes. Once implementation is successful, further expansion can be considered.
  • Assess the capabilities of homeworkers, who may have a considerably wider range of skills than currently utilized. The challenge is to make best use of these for the business and to provide sufficient variety to the homeworker to keep them engaged.
  • Consider what processes could be managed by homeworkers.
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Authors

Institutions

Source

Idea conceived

  • 2011

Idea posted

  • May 2013

DOI number

10.13007/142

Subject

References

Homeworking, Harrington. A, Clark. M, The Henley Centre for Customer Management. The full paper can be obtained via The Henley Centre for Customer Management.

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