I had the opportunity to speak at length with Michele Rowan, industry recognized expert on home agents, not too long ago. She related some very interesting statistics to me: 1) the home agent market is growing at over 30% per year; and 2) for the first time in customer service history, the growth rate of home-based agents exceeded that of off-shore agents. For additional insight into home agents, check out Michele's website here: http://www.customercontactstrategies.com/. Subscribing to her newsletter is well worth it.
During the course of our conversation, we naturally discussed the characteristics that exemplify a home agent. Certainly they have to possess excellent communication skills, just like brick-and-mortar based agents. They also need the skills that are relevant for the type of job they are doing - empathy for a customer service position; persuasion and reflective listening for a sales position, for example. However, home agents need some skills in greater supply than center-based agents. Without an IT staff just around the corner, they need to possess technical and troubleshooting skills. They also need to be more self-motivated. It's easier (well, relatively anyway) to be energetic and enthusiastic when surrounded by several hundred associates every day than it is to be confined to a home office with the cat.
When starting a home agent program - or expanding an existing one - companies need to address a broad spectrum of issues that are unique to home working: virtualization, sourcing, scheduling, technology, supervision, compensation and awards, among other things. Some of the best-known brands in their respective industries have home agent programs. Companies like Marriott, Verizon, Delta Airlines, just to name a few support home agents. Others, such as Arise Virtual Solutions, employ the use of home agents exclusively. With the home agent market far outpacing any other segment of the customer contact market, finding unique and innovative ways to source and manage these workers will be increasingly important.