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Taking the At-Home Agent Model to the Next Level


Academic year: 2021

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Taking the


Agent Model

to the

Next Level

Introducing an outsourced

secure, cloud based approach

to work-at-home agents.

By: Andrew Kokes,

Vice President of Product Management, Sitel Operating Corporation.


“In the United States,

the at-home agent model

continues to generate

headlines and with good


In the United States, the at-home agent model continues to generate headlines and with good reason. Work-at-home agents, which handle everything from hotel and airline reservations to home and auto insurance quotes, represent one of the fastest growing outsourced customer service sectors in the US.

The primary drivers behind this trend are:

• Global expansion of high speed, high quality Internet services coupled with secure and powerful desktop technologies;

• An ever-growing number of industries, from healthcare and travel to banking and insurance, seeking mature, college-educated agents with a working knowledge of their business;

• An older, more experienced diverse workforce that views working at home as a way to balance work and quality of life issues;

But for many of our client companies there were just too many concerns for this new customer service model to work. They found recruiting, training, management, technology and quality issues to be daunting. But at the top of the list was the problem of data security. Now the Sitel Work@Home Solution offers a way to resolve those issues and attain the benefits of a work-from-home customer service model.

For example, sensitive customer information can be gathered by voice services in the midst of a live call without every exposing it to the agent. What’s more, secure cloud services, encryption and authentication technologies remove the worry of misuse or misdirection of data.

Truly the Sitel Work@Home Solution is changing the industry, creating a more flexible and powerful way to provide superior customer service.


Sitel’s Approach

In order for Sitel to produce a best-in-class work-at-home agent model, we combined our years of experience with reliable industry research. The resulting knowledge pointed to 7 important issues and concerns that our clients and the market needed us to solve.

In order to overcome these challenges, Sitel employed the best and the brightest problem solvers to create the Sitel Work@Home Solution®.

This unique approach combines a Center Of Excellence, new technologies and our Global Operating System into a powerful new way to deploy a virtual workforce.

With less experienced vendors still enduring “teething pains,” the at-home agent delivery method is still considered an evolving business model.

A 2010 report by Gartner, Inc., the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company, delivers a blunt assessment: “Creating an effective at-home service requires more than just an agent, a phone and a quiet work space.”

In “Hype Cycle for Contact Center Infrastructure, 2010,” Gartner points out that agents, supervisors and the technology that connect them “must be recruited, trained and monitored, respectively, with a virtual orientation. Putting that type of organization together requires extensive experience, from recruitment and training to agent monitoring and security.”

Sitel’s Work@Home Solutions is built upon its Global Operating System (GOS) - a set of highly defined, world-class standards, processes and procedures based on global call center experience developed over the past 26 years. Sitel’s new Center of Excellence or COE in Omaha, Nebraska has redefined these standards and processes to support a virtual, home-agent environment, one that focuses on technology application, virtual recruitment, training and management, resulting in customer service quality comparable to any of its call centers. The Center Of Excellence, Sitel Global Operating System and the SecurePlus virtual agent IT solution form a robust people process and technology foundation for the Sitel Work@Home Solution.

“The resulting

knowledge pointed to

7 important issues and

concerns that our clients

and the market needed

us to solve”

7 Important Issues

Recruiting and Hiring

Home Agent Technology

Home Environment Concerns

Data Security

Remote Agent Training and Development Quality Monitoring Agent Teaming and Socialization






A virtualized workforce

As little as ten years ago, the work-at-home agent concept wasn’t even on the radar. But technological, social and economic changes have made it a viable business model, especially for experienced outsourcing providers.

According to Gartner, today’s work-at-home agent technology solutions are based on the increased availability of broadband access (DSL and cable modems), better security, voice over IP (VoIP), softphone and thin client hardware systems. Further, the costs and risks associated with these technologies continue to decrease. Two types of “cloud” or Internet-based service applications are employed by work-at-home agent programs: Software as a service (SaaS) and Virtual Desktop as a service (VDaaS).

In a SaaS application, one or two software applications are hosted centrally in a cloud-based server, with users accessing it via the Internet. A VDaaS platform, on the other hand, provides a richer, virtual desktop experience by delivering a bundle of software applications.

Sitel’s VDaaS platform can deliver a complete desktop experience, with all the necessary software applications, anywhere a secure Internet connection can be made. The platform is the result of an integrated stack approach that includes network, storage, and server infrastructure bundled with virtualization, automation, and orchestration software, all of which provides a secure at-home system that can be scaled up to meet global demand going forward.

“As little as ten years

ago, the work at home

agent concept wasn’t

even on the radar.”


The key to at-home outsourcing is that it benefits both the agent and the service provider. The primary provider benefit is the ability to 1) access specialized talent that may not reside within the same geographical area and 2) employ agents for what may be short or seasonal shifts to support cyclical call volumes.

Quality Employees

In general at home agents enjoy the flexibility of working at home especially in geographies where job opportunities are not plentiful. As a result, the industry’s agent attrition rates are 60 to 70 percent lower than tradition call centers. Retaining a greater number of experienced agents benefits the service provider because experienced agents tend to provide better customer service. Absenteeism rates, which average 3-5 percent per day at a call center, are substantially lower too, usually 1 to 3 percent with at-home agents.

A targeted agent pool

Being able to draw from a national labor force – versus the traditional 50 mile call center radius -- means the client can access and choose from a much larger pool of college-educated and/or experienced work-at-home candidates.

Though there is no standard profile, roughly 80% of Sitel’s work-at-home agents have at least some college experience and 40% have some management experience. Many are retirees or stay-at-home moms looking to re-enter the workforce. Others include adult children caring for aging parents, or disabled individuals unable to travel far from or even leave their home.

At the outset, Sitel clients submit an at-home agent profile that often includes industry-specific skill sets. For example, a healthcare company may seek agents with a medical background – perhaps a semi-retired nurse or pharmaceutical sales representative. Sitel Work@Home manages a qualified pool of agents that can quickly fill these needs, thereby reducing campaign start-up timelines by weeks.

“The key to at-home

outsourcing is that

it benefits both the

agent and the service


Sitel Work@Home Solutions

Agent Experience


Experience ManagementExperience




Workforce flexibility

One major difference between a traditional call center and the Work@Home model is in the scheduling. During the application process prospective agents list their availability. Client schedules are then posted to the applicant pool. Those interested in a particular schedule can apply and begin the application process. They agree contractually to allow Sitel to move scheduled start and stop times (with notice) for the hour before and/or after the agreed-upon schedule.

This level of flexibility is especially valuable during peak call times and/or during disaster recovery periods. One end user, for example, supplemented its 10,000 in-house agents with Sitel Work@Home agents who work only during peak call center hours – four hours in the morning, and four hours in the evening. Sitel allowed the client to add staff only when it needed it most. In addition, should a blackout, tornado, snow storm, flu outbreak or other disaster disable a call center, these agents are able to step in and deliver temporary back-up, often within hours if necessary.

Agents with disabilities

The Work@Home model also allows clients to support corporate diversity initiatives by hiring work-at-home agents with disabilities. One of Sitel’s star performers, for example, is quadriplegic. Though the handle times are a bit longer, the agent’s customer satisfaction rating is consistently among the Work@Home program’s highest. Similar results have been attained with agents suffering from agoraphobia, a common anxiety disorder.

Reduced carbon footprint

More work-at-home agents means fewer commuters on the road, thereby reducing the clients’ carbon footprint. Sitel clients can and often do feature work-at-home agent profiles and statistics in their annual corporate sustainability report.

“...should a blackout,

tornado, snow storm,

flu outbreak or other

disaster disable a call

center, these agents

are able to step in and

deliver temporary

back-up, often within hours if



For most end users, outsourcing is preferable to – and certainly a lot easier than -- developing an at-home program on their own. After all, outsourcing customer support activities allows them to focus on their core competencies.

But for many clients, there are still challenges to at-home adoption. Gartner cites management and operational issues, including security and privacy, remote training, long-term agent morale, and developing a sense of team camaraderie: “Companies that don’t specifically build their businesses around work-at-home still struggle with the management of (their) agents.”

Sitel, on the other hand, based its at-home program on its experience as the world’s leading business process outsourcing providers. As a result, it has not only addressed, but resolved the leading at-home agent industry challenges, including:


Security is always a customer’s number one concern. But with the proper infrastructure, call center security can be effectively replicated within a home setting. By leveraging our proven technology, Sitel Work@Home Solutions meet even the strictest customer demands.

Sitel’s first security measure is to ensure that the home agent passes comprehensive background and security checks.

Sitel then employs an on-going multi-level authentication process that ensures the agent is truly the person taking calls. The methodology includes the use of key codes, keystroke monitoring, IP address analysis and multiple passwords. Managers can and do listen in on calls and monitor agent activity on-line, which includes running real-time quality and performance reports.

Sitel can also provide a “thin client” device that must be initially activated by the Sitel Center Of Excellence after the agent is identified at their home. From that point forward the agent must use a security token to login and access the cloud based applications required for their work.

“There is no opportunity

for unauthorized

access or storage.

That’s because we use



Further, when an agent requests sensitive information there is no opportunity for unauthorized access or storage. That’s because we use a technology that allows a customer to give an agent sensitive information using their phone keypad. The agent remains on the call, but only hears masked tones and sees asterisk appear on the screen. This enables your organization to collect credit card numbers, ID numbers, and other information without agents (or those observing recordings) to ever see, hear, or access sensitive customer data.

Infrastructure: hardware and software

Sitel’s Work@Home Solutions security options include two different types of agent desktop configurations, Secure and SecurePlus. With both options a virtual desktop is securely accessed over the Internet from a “private cloud.” The Secure option utilizes a standard browser for cloud access while the SecurePlus option relies on a dedicated thin client sometimes called a “zero footprint” device. Sitel’s highly secured private cloud utilizes a vaulted model where all applications and data are segregated from the “public cloud.” This service is based in multiple highly redundant data centers that are SAS70 and PCI certified.

With the Secure option, the agent provides the home computer system. This computer must pass memory and speed tests conducted by the Sitel Center Of Excellence. Once operational, the virtual desktop will disable the computer’s USB and printer ports, preventing any unauthorized data capture.

In the second option, called SecurePlus, agents use a Sitel provided thin client device to connect to the Sitel “private cloud”. The thin client device provides no local storage capabilities.

For the voice connection agents utilize an Avaya Internet phone with built-in compression and voice stream encryption. This prevents anyone else in the household from listening in on calls.

The agent is responsible for providing a dedicated high speed ISP connection, a secure office location and a monitor.

“Sitel also employs an

on-going multi-level

authentication process

that ensures the agent is

truly the person taking




At-home training is another end user concern, though it needn’t be. A multi-faceted approach to training can provide home-based agents with the same skill sets and familiarity with client products and/or services as is found in a traditional call center.

Employing proven Web-based conferencing and coaching tools like video conferencing and Verint ULTRA, Sitel creates a ‘virtual classroom’ in which agents meet face-to-face through integrated video and audio connections. Virtual break out rooms allow agents to participate in and record mock, client-specific call scenarios as a group and then discuss the results. New products are “shared” remotely by using multiple screens to “pass” the product around the classroom as participants take turns explaining how to use it.

Once the initial classroom training is complete, Sitel’s exclusive Skills Knowledge Enhancement Plan (SKEP) leverages technology further to monitor, record, and evaluate the quality of customer interactions on an agent-by-agent basis. Using pre-defined performance metrics, the program automatically alerts an agent’s manager if his or her performance scores drop below a pre-defined threshold. For example, if an agent’s calls are taking too long, the system automatically 1) alerts the manager and 2) recommends an on-line training course. The agent is then notified and given a certain amount of time to complete the course.

Focused service free of distractions

The Sitel Work@Home Solution has zero tolerance for background noise. At home agents must have a dedicated, secure location within the home, free of noise and distractions. Prior to the initial interview, agents are asked to walk through their home and view it as a place of business. Are there railroad tracks, an airport or firehouse nearby? Potential distractions are discussed well in advance of hiring and agent calls are monitored regularly afterward. If there’s a noise issue, the agent must correct it.

“Sitel creates a ‘virtual

classroom’ in which

agents meet face-to-face

through integrated video

and audio connections.”



Automating the at-home employee vetting process helps service providers find just the right agents quickly and efficiently. To ensure compliance with federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) requirements, the on-line application asks every applicant to submit exactly the same information. All applicants must meet the same basic requirements, including broadband connectivity, a quiet work room free of distractions, and client-specific typing and behavioral skills. There is virtually no chance of a hiring discrimination claim. By the time an applicant reaches the interview stage, they’ve already met or surpassed the end user’s minimum job qualifications.

Creating a sense of teamwork and collaboration

Whether the agent is at home or in a call center, being part of a team is critical. As such, a variety of measures have been implemented to give at-home agents a sense of belonging, including: team newsletters, daily team huddles, shared videos, team portals that allow agents to upload/share personal photos, a chat-based virtual lunchroom and rewards and peer recognition programs.

Regularly scheduled team huddles via a video conference bridge allow agents to gather, watch and discuss new product videos, or congratulate team members meeting certain metrics or milestones. When all is said and done, Sitel diminishes the sense of isolation by enhancing associate engagement – just like a traditional call center.

Motivating and incenting

Sitel’s at-home reward and recognition programs also replicate those found in its call centers. Managers are trained to engage their agents by reinforcing productive behavior – behavior that makes everybody’s job easier. Again, through the use of video conferencing technology managers acknowledge and/or reward team members through incentives or actionable feedback. For example, agents by nature tend to be very good at multi-tasking.

“Whether the agent is at

home or in a call center,

being part of a team is



During a team conference there may be a “virtual” treasure hunt that involves searching the Web for specific information the team needs. The team member who finds the information first may receive a gift card or some other reward. Win or lose, every team member participates in the learning process.

Supporting multi-channel customer contact,

including voice, text and social web interactions

Today an agent working within the Sitel Work@Home Solution can serve all the contact channels required by their savvy customer community. The technologies to make this happen are no longer issues of risk. Instead, customer service executives should be focused on capabilities of the workforce.

A good example of this concerns the changing role of the tier 1 customer service agent. Tier 1 interactions are basic support queries that require a lower level of training and skill. More and more customers prefer self-service options for these simple service needs. However, these simple queries often morph into more complex questions. So a live agent option is necessary to support all self-service applications. Because self-self-service now includes corporate Web Sites and Social Media interactions, agents must be able to work in more complex environments solving more difficult problems. The sophisticated workforce of the Sitel Work@Home Solution is well suited to this environment.

The Sitel Work@Home Solution, enables agents to support all four layers of the social web experience:

1. Participating in the social experience: Social media monitoring to guide customers questions to community connections where product questions can be addressed in a social manner.

2. Monitoring communities: watching popular communities and identifying opportunities to build promoters and cure detractors.

“Today an agent working

within the Sitel Work@

Home Solution can

serve any of the contact

channels required by

their savvy customer



3. Humanizing the self-service experience: leveraging agent

knowledgebase as the foundation for the web search knowledge, so that a customer can get the same answer in a web search as with a phone call.

4. Intelligent engagement: monitoring web digital behavior, scoring explicit activity and engaging customers with the highest

propensity to convert.

At each layer Sitel optimizes for resolution of customer issues, to keep the customer experience online, or for conversion to a closed sale. Additionally, the Sitel Work@Home Solution is perfect for customers that would benefit from human touch during a web experience, as well as the tier two and three support for the increasingly complex live interactions that make their way to the voice channels.

“...the Sitel Work@Home

Solution is perfect for

customers that would

benefit from human

touch during a web



The Sitel Work@Home Solution is well suited for many types of businesses, like; telecommunications, retail, healthcare, insurance, hospitality, travel and technology. Agents who work from their homes are successful in sales, claims processing, service connections, reservations, dispatch, technical support and so much more.

As such, recent industry surveys indicate that close to 90 percent of end-user companies with customer/employee support programs in place are either using at-home agents, or considering it.

A sampling of Sitel’s client base includes:

Satellite TV

A major satellite TV provider has 10,000 in-house agents serving more than 19 million subscribers. Its call center traffic spikes in the morning and evening. With two full-time shifts that overlap in the middle of the day, the company had more in-center agents than it needed mid-day, and not enough during the morning/evening peaks. Sitel Work@Home Solutions resolved the issue by delivering a team of dedicated at home agents who work four hours in the morning, and four hours in the evening. The client funnels two types of calls to these agents: calls in which agents attempt to up-sell to premium service packages, and calls in which agents attempt to discourage customers from discontinuing or downgrading their premium service packages.

Sitel agent performance is consistently in the client’s top 40

percentile in terms of successfully preventing customer downgrades and/or up-selling to premium services. That mirrors and in some cases exceeds the client’s in-house agent performance. Further, the work-at-home attrition rate for this client is nearly 20 percent below the industry average.

“The Sitel Work@Home

Solution is well suited

for many types of


Sitel Work@Home


Cable TV/Internet/VoIP Service

Another client offers residents in several mid-western states cable TV, Internet, and voice over IP (VoIP) telephone service. Work@Home Solutions handles half of the client’s service calls, providing billing, video, telephony, and high speed Internet technical support. In late 2010, Sitel moved 28 agents dedicated to this client from a call center in Texas to at home service. After a short period of adjustment, the agents have consistently scored in the client’s top 80 to 90 percentile in terms of customer satisfaction. The client is especially pleased because the at-home program kept experienced agents in the fold. As such, it often taps these agents for additional hours during peak call periods.

“The client is especially

pleased because the

at-home program kept

experienced agents in

the fold.”

Sitel Work@Home


The trend towards work-at-home agents in the United States is expected to accelerate, perhaps as much as 10 percent annually for the foreseeable future.

The Sitel Work@Home Solutions model makes it possible for businesses to reduce the cost of customer service by outsourcing call center and back office activity in any number of ways. Our at-home agents make it possible to:

• Preserve employees that are meaningful to your business. At-home agent attrition and absenteeism rates are well below the industry average for call center agents. That’s because at home agents appreciate their job. They enjoy the steady, reliable paycheck, flexibility, and the car and wardrobe savings at-home work provides. • Leverage Sitel’s decades of call center experience. Sitel’s

work-at-home solution is built around its Global Operating System (GOS) - a set highly defined, world-class standards, processes and procedures based on global call center experience developed over the past 26 years.

• Remain up-to-date on the latest technological trends. Known throughout the industry for its technological prowess, Sitel leads the industry in its use of cutting edge technology that addresses and resolves security, training, monitoring and other at-home agent challenges.

• Ramp up quickly. Whether you need to add staff for a seasonal campaign, a specific time of day, or a new market, a Sitel virtual workforce represents a rapidly deployable workforce that can actually exceed the performance of the traditional call center resource.

• Stay focused on the customer experience, not the operation. Sitel can remove all the worries about facilities, staff, technology and performance. We have over 26 years of experience providing affordable award winning customer service

For further information about Sitel Work@Home Solutions visit www.sitel.com or call +1.866.95.Sitel

“The Sitel Work@Home

Solutions model makes

it possible for businesses

to reduce the cost of

customer service...”


Sitel is a world leader in outsourced customer care services, including some of the most advanced contact centers in the world. With over 26 years of industry experience, Sitel has twice been ranked as the top overall call center outsourcing provider in Datamonitor’s annual Black Book of Outsourcing survey. Sitel has also been ranked in the “Leaders Quadrant” in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant: Customer Management Contact Center BPO, Worldwide, 2010.

Sitel’s 56,000 employees provide clients with predictable and

measurable return on their customer investment by building customer loyalty, increasing sales and improving efficiency. Sitel’s solutions span 135+ domestic, nearshore, and offshore centers, speaking 36 languages in 26 countries.

Part 4:

Do This Now

“Sitel is a world leader

in outsourced customer

care services...”


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