What is a Virtual Contact Center?

Karyn Maier

A virtual contact center provides all the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) services that a traditional call center provides, but without a physical brick-and-mortar location. In fact, instead of featuring rows of cubicles equipped with desks and telephones, the virtual contact center is built on technology to link customers to service agents, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). While this model of customer service has been around for several years, it continues to evolve in new directions.

Workers in virtual environments are often more productive than their counterparts in a physical office.
Workers in virtual environments are often more productive than their counterparts in a physical office.

Initially, nearly every virtual contact center setup by U.S. companies was staffed by outsourcing to agencies in foreign countries, such as India. However, in spite of aggressive training of foreign agents in articulating English, subtle language difficulties were still a constant source of customer dissatisfaction. So, despite the cost-saving advantages of outsourcing, many companies shifted to hiring U.S. based independent contractors or permitting in-house employees to work from home.

Virtual contact centers link customers to service agents.
Virtual contact centers link customers to service agents.

Utilizing home-based agents in no way compromises the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of customer care, however. For one thing, home-based agents are far less likely to be late for their shift or to call out sick. For another, allowing staff to work from home eliminates many facility-related expenses. In addition, market research shows that the salary of a telecommuting agent averages about 10 percent less than that of an in-house agent. Finally, staff recruitment for these types of centers usually attracts better-qualified candidates and leads to increased productivity.

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Management practices are also streamlined, in addition to allowing a better range of operation. The need to constantly supervise customer service representatives is eliminated, since productivity is usually measured by performance. Perhaps the most striking benefit to having a virtual contact center is the fact that agents can be located anywhere in any time zone. This means that the company can manage its CRM services on a global scale without the additional expense and responsibility of having employees work late night shifts on-site.

There are certain challenges to operating a virtual contact center, though. The most obvious is employee management simply because agents are out of sight. For this reason, quality control is vital, either by monitoring calls or frequent performance spot-checks. In addition, remote workers must have a means of immediate communication with supervisors for support, either through e-mail, phone, or instant messaging.

While any type of business can benefit from having a virtual contact center, it is probably most practical for those in a high demand market with a global reach. To be successful, the company should seek out a reliable vendor of the technology needed to build its center, such as VoIP software or other hosted application. In addition, thorough screening and training of remote staff is critical, as well as providing virtual teams with ongoing support.

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