Before you embark on a search for a new call center site, you may wish to consider other options, especially if you arepressed for time or if you have difficulty with locating adequate and affordable space within plentiful labor markets.
Among the alternatives to choosing new sites are outsourcing to service bureaus and enabling agents to work from home or
from other convenient locations outside your main center.
Site selection consultants Robert Engel, principal of Engel, Picasso (Albuquerque, NM), and Ron Cariola, senior VP with
Equis (Chicago, IL), cite the following pros and cons of outsourcing and teleworking:
- Rather than requiring you to wait months to set up a fully-functional new center, an outsourcer can get your program or
project started within a period of weeks.
- Outsourcing is less expensive over the short term than running an in-house call center. That's because outsourcers
operate within greater economies of scale than many in-house call centers when they buy or rent space, which frees them to
select locations where labor is more readily available and where labor costs are lower. Given their resources, outsourcers
can also buy advanced call center systems that may not be within your capital budget.
- You can take advantage of an outsourcer's specialties, which include setting up new call centers and recruiting,
training and retaining agents. By having outsourcers handle calls, you free up your facilities for your company's core
"The outsourcing choice makes sense if the business application is relatively simple and does not require extensive
training, product knowledge, or cross- or up-selling skills, and when it is important to develop a call center quickly with
a very small capital investment," Engel points out. "The owned center choice makes the most sense where the product or
service is proprietary, requires heavy agent training investment and where your development strategy employs strong
cultural integration and loyalty among employees.
Outsourcing isn't for everyone, however. Although an outsourcer works for you, you do not directly supervise the agents who
work for the outsourcer, nor do you always have immediate access or control over the information an outsourcer gathers
about its interactions with your customers. Your decision to employ a service bureau ultimately depends on how much your
company intends to distinguish itself in the way it relates to customers.
"From my experience, firms seeking a competitive advantage by stressing customer touch should not outsource," says Cariola.
"However, if you mass market products and services, then such relationships are not as important and can be outsourced."
Engel adds that turnover tends to be greater among outsourcers than among in-house centers, which can sometimes lead to
higher training costs, a greater frequency of errors and lesser-quality labor. You run the risk of not being able to detect
problems on your own until they have already affected large numbers of customers and leads.
"Problem resolution relies on contract disputes and legal backups, rather than on internal policy and conventions," he
Outsourcing may also be more costly than opening and running your own center over the long term. Cariola says that
outsourcing is most appropriate for projects that run fewer than three years.
"You have to ask yourself if this is a short-term project or a long-term need," he points out. "If the project is over the
short term, your startup costs will be less, but over the long term, the recurring costs, like the outsourcer's expenses
and profits, commonly outweigh the savings realized by avoiding up-front capital investment in a new center."
Besides outsourcing, the other alternative to choosing new sites is teleworking. Instead of having agents take or make
calls on your premises, they do so from home or from sites that are closer to their homes than your primary call center
operation. There are many products available for switching calls to agents who work from remote locations and for
monitoring these calls. High-speed data services, such as data digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable services, also make
teleworking even more feasible. Some outsourcers, such as Miami, FL-based Willow CSN, employ teleworking agents.
Here are additional advantages of teleworking:
- It frees up workstations and facilities, which saves money and reduces the amount of space you need to set aside for
- It lets you tap into potential employees who cannot easily commute, such as single mothers with very young children,
seniors, the mobility-impaired and college students.
- When you need a peak evening shift filled, more workers are willing to handle calls at night if you can offer them the
safe and convenient option of working from home.
- If your center is in a metropolitan area whose air quality exceeds Federal standards, teleworking helps your company
comply with laws that can limit the number of agents you hire who have to drive to work.
- Teleworking can help agents be more productive during their scheduled working hours. Commuting times and delays can be
long in many suburban areas near large metropolitan regions such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, the Dallas/Fort Worth area,
New York City, the San Francisco Bay area, the Seattle/Bellevue area, Southern California and Washington, DC.
Teleworking presents several operational challenges. You have to know your staff well enough to determine which agents can
function best away from your direct supervision. Among the agents who indicate that they want to telework, you need to
select only those who have sufficient training and experience, who demonstrate that they can manage their own time and who
know how to resolve problems with customers on their own. After you make your decision, you have to adapt your managerial
approach so that you can supervise and train agents whether they work inside or outside your center.
Beyond management and staffing issues, teleworking also introduces technological issues and expenses. For example, you
often have to provide agents with special equipment and software so that they can handle calls and collect information
about customers as though they were in your main center.
High-speed data services, although useful for teleworkers, have their weak points. The more common DSL services are only
available for agents who live within a mile of the DSL provider's nearest central office. Cable systems that provide access
to the Internet or to virtual private networks can be drained if many people use them at once unless the cable lines are
equipped with booster feeders to ensure consistent bandwidth. Both DSL and cable services are expensive to install and
operate, although costs for these services are coming down.