Packing off your call centres to somewhere hot, cheap and far, far away is so passé. Rather than running the gauntlet of hacked-off customers and cross politicians, American businesses would be far better off keeping their call centre workers at home literally.
U.S call centres could save $2.5bn a year, or the equivalent of $10 a head, if they were simply prepared to be a bit more imaginative and adventurous about allowing people to work from home, or "homeshoring" as it is now being called.
What's more, a study by software firm Exony has suggested, homeshored call centre workers are more productive, less likely to leave and more diverse, as it opens up the work to stuck-at-home parents, disabled or other disadvantaged workers.
Homeshoring works by call centres equipping their staff to work remotely from home rather than working out of a single central office located in, say, Bangalore.
Currently, according to researcher IDC there are some 112,000 home-based call centre "agents" in the U.S, a figure that it has predicted will rise to 330,000 by 2010.
But even that, said Exony, will only represent a little over a fifth of the total estimated three million call centre workers in the U.S.
Working on the calculation that the average cost saving from homeshoring is 32 per cent, U.S. call centres could therefore save more than $2.5 billion annually simply by increasing their reliance on homeshoring workers from 11 per cent to 15 per cent, said Exony.
There would be additional benefits from lower attrition and higher retention rates, improved morale, environmental benefits and increased opportunities for the disadvantaged in society, it added.
Homeshoring is a concept already being embraced by a number of U.S. operations. Airline JetBlue for instance uses 1,300 home-based call centre agents for its telephone reservations.
Homeshoring is less politically contentious than offshoring, an issue that has caused much hand wringing in Europe, particularly.
The Exony survey found attrition continued to be a real issue for the industry, and was currently running at 22 per cent, a figure that could be significantly reduced by increased homeshoring.
"Although the US market is ahead of all other countries in its adoption of homeshoring, it is way behind in terms of enabling any more than a tiny minority of contact center workers to operate from home," said Exony chief executive Ian Ashby.
"Combining technologies such as broadband, enabling employees to both handle calls and connect securely with the corporate network, with tools to measure and manage agent and call performance in real-time, allows contact centers to reap more benefits from homeshoring," he added.
"Breaking down the barriers toward more widespread adoption of homeshoring is the first step towards more effective contact center operations. It is time for the market to wake up to the benefits and commit a larger share of resources to this way of working," he concluded.
Disabled workers, older people or new parents, who would all find commuting difficult or impossible, would be more like to be able to work in this way, bringing their skills and experience to benefit customer service, it added.
There would also be environmental benefits from reduced commuting and energy costs leading to a lower carbon footprint.
The four million call centre workers currently working in U.S., Canada and UK produced more than six million tons of carbon dioxide each year.
"Businesses will have no option but to introduce smarter working practices, of which homeshoring is one example, if they are going to be able to recruit and retain the staff they need in the future, and increase productivity and competitiveness to be able to meet the challenges emerging from economies such as India and China," said Ashby.
"Changing working practices and working smarter will not only increase business productivity and competitiveness, but also reduce transport congestion and pollution, improve health, assist disadvantaged groups, and help workers balance their work and family commitments," he added.
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