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Tips for starting a home-based call center

I am starting a home-based call center. Can you give me some advice for getting started? What can I expect in terms of start-up costs? And how can I find companies that might want to outsource to my business?

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To provide any type of call center service, including remote agent support, you will need call center infrastructure. Purchasing a product will run about $2,500 to $5,000 per seat, depending on the features that you want. You can also choose a hosted call center product instead. Hosting costs anywhere from $15 per agent/seat/month to $150 per agent/seat/month. The call center products in the market are very different, so you will need to decide which services you want to provide and then select the solution that satisfies both your functional needs and your wallet.

Actually, the easiest part of starting a home-based call center and handling remote call center agents, is the technology. Internet Protocol (IP)-based solutions are mature, so there is a great deal of knowledge in the market about how to implement and manage them for call centers. Using IP makes it easier to connect to the technology at each agent's home site.

The more challenging aspect is managing remote call center agents. When you can't see agents, it's hard to know if they are working on their assigned activities. It's also challenging to train and "nest" agents when they are in remote locations. ("Nesting" means that agents who have recently completed training are assigned to a specialty group with a low agent-to-supervisor ratio to ensure that they get the support they need.) Both of these issues, along with many others, can be properly addressed for remote agents, but this requires non-traditional approaches. I suggest that you take a look at a white paper I wrote on this topic, At-home Agent Business Case and Best Practices.

Finding customers is an ongoing challenge for many of the leading outsourcers. You need to make many decisions, such as whether you are going to compete on price or on value. Getting the first customers is often hard for a new business, since they lack a track record and reference accounts. I suggest that you analyze the players in the market and then try to find your niche. Try to identify industries/functions/organizations where you can bring some special expertise or have connections. There are close to 80 active outsourcers in the North American market and many additional competitors offshore.

Once you find your niche, you will need to do what every business does to attract customers – constantly prove your value. Good luck.

This was first published in March 2008

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