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While customer service agents are traditionally grouped in buildings outfitted with workstations, cafeterias and so forth, a virtual contact center model is an alternative that's making a tremendous impact on the contact center market.
A virtual contact center is a customer service call center in which the representatives are geographically dispersed in a variety of work locations, with no central facility. In many cases, agents may work from home or in small remote teams. Virtual contact centers have become increasingly attractive to companies because they offer the opportunity to reduce the costs associated with renting a facility and paying the fixed costs associated with contact center infrastructure -- rent, among other things. Some companies have found that a virtual contact center can reduce employee turnover in an industry dominated by high attrition rates.
Some of the key benefits of these new virtual contact centers include the following:
- The ability to take advantage of economies of scale. Contact center software can now treat agents, regardless of where they are located, as a single workforce.
- The ability to hire agents with specific skill sets. Skills such as language requirements can be more easily addressed because agents can be hired from different geographic locations.
- Expanded hours of operation. Agents working in various time zones enable organizations to expand hours of operation and possibly provide 24/7/365 coverage.
- Improved business continuity. When working from home, for example, agents may not have to commute during adverse weather conditions and can work even when they are not feeling 100%.
At the same time, the benefits of the virtual contact center don't automatically materialize with new technology. Supporting processes must also be changed to support the new business model:
- Hiring practices must be revamped. Characteristics of successful virtual agents, especially those who work from home, must be identified and targeted for successful talent acquisition.
- Training processes must be adjusted. Classroom training materials, tools and delivery must be converted into a virtual methodology. Agents may also need to be more regularly tested and retrained, given the dispersed model.
- Employee engagement must be revisited. Employee engagement, driven by factors that include items such as feeling like part of a team and receiving timely and effective feedback, must be re-engineered for virtual agents.
Technology is a critical enabler of change in the contact center market, but organizations must remember: Technology alone cannot succeed in creating a successful virtual contact center.
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