Cheaper, Better Customer Service? Try ‘Homeshoring’

When DigitalBridge Communications launched its broadband wireless services company in 2005, the company decided to use home-based, outsourced virtual customer service agents instead of a site-specific, company-managed call center. It saved a bundle of money.

“Homeshoring,” as contracting with home-based workers is known, shaved 40 percent off the price of hiring folks to handle customer calls, says Kristen Kizer, director of customer care for the Ashburn, Va.-based startup that provides services to rural and underserved communities.

Contracting with Arise Virtual Solutions Inc., to supply home-based agents was the easiest, and most affordable, way to manage customer service.

Outsourcing saves the overhead costs associated with operating a call center, which is one of the major advantages of homeshoring, says Stephen Loynd, a telecommunications analyst for IDC, of Framingham, Mass.

The other advantage of homeshoring is the kind of people it attracts.

Agents buy their own equipment and pay for monthly Internet service. And for the most part, the home-based agents set their own schedules, which attracts more qualified agents, such as stay-at-home moms, idle retirees and college students, Kizer says.

Homeshoring Takes Off

JetBlue Airways was one of the first companies to use homeshoring. In 2000, the budget airline’s own agents began taking calls from home; it now has 900 home-based reservation agents in metro Salt Lake City.

The practice has caught on. In 2006, there were an estimated 140,000 outsourced at-home call agents; that number is expected to reach 300,000 by 2010, Loynd says.

“The whole pie for outsourcing is growing,” he says. “That means more work will be offshored but at the same time there will be more work that’s homeshored.”

Some are quick to say that a rise in homeshoring reflects a desire to keep jobs in the U.S., but that’s not necessarily true.

“In some cases, you have companies that are not happy with foreign call-center agents for whatever reason – rates of attrition or cultural differences,” Loynd says. “But at the same time, offshoring is still growing. Companies are choosing to break up their global delivery.”

Offshoring took off a decade ago, when General Electric moved its first call centers to Delhi, India. Before that, domestic customer-service calls were answered by its U.S. operations.

Sometimes, a Better Way to Quality Customer Service

We’ve all had a bad experience with a stressed-out customer service agent – one stuck in a windowless room with dozens of others, phones ringing without letup. Homesourcing, though it may not eliminate high-volume stress, likely makes the agent happier, a key to your customer’s experience.

Kim Perez answers calls for LiveOps, which provides call-center outsourcing services to hundreds companies, because she wants to be home with her three children while still contributing to the household income.

“Some weeks, I work just 10 hours and some weeks I work 30 or 40,” says Perez, who turned a spare bedroom in her Westin, Fla., home into an office with a corner desk, computer, printer and phone.

While her kids are in school or asleep, Perez answers calls for a variety of LiveOps clients, including 1-800-Flowers.

“This has been a tremendous turnaround in my life,” she says. “I went from corporate America, working 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., where my family came second. Now my family comes first, and I coordinate work around family.”

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