The home-based customer care market — a small but quickly growing niche of the contact center industry — could triple by 2010 to 300,000, according to a new report by IDC.
“Current estimates put the number of home-based agents at 112,000, so that is a strong growth rate,” Stephen Loynd, senior analyst for IDC’s CRM and Customer Care BPO service, told CRM Buyer.
The study, “Home-Based Agent 2005-2010 Forecast and Analysis: Converging Economic Forces to Drive the Expansion of Homeshoring in the United States,” marks the first time IDC has quantified the market. In its previous look at the sector, the research firm examined the business case for using home agents.
The Case for Home-Based
Though still in its nascent stages, it has been clear for some time that home-based customer care could change the business case for the contact center, Loynd said. “There are a number of situations in which using a home-based agent model is more appropriate than outsourcing customer care to a center staffed by agents,” he noted.
Briefly, these include lower overhead costs for the contact center, greater flexibility in filling peak call times, the ability to attract a more qualified workforce and less turnover.
“These factors are even more important now with the higher energy costs,” Loynd said. “Having to drive long distances to work is definitely a drawback.”
The Tech Factor
More importantly, the technology enabling agents to work from home — namely, IP telephony and Web-based softwareapplications — has made significant leaps and bounds over a short period of time, he explained. Also, a number of new vendors have entered the space in recent years offering interesting combinations of technology, sales and training services.
“Many of these companies have introduced tech platforms specifically for the home-based agent,” said Loynd.
Avaya Proactive Contact 3.0, a predictive dialing software application released in September, can support home-based agents, for instance.
LiveOps provides another example. Its on-demand contact center application offers companies a hosted tech platform that supports distributed agents. One of its strong selling points is that it can integrate with existing systems, such as scheduling or workforce management, CEO Bill Trenchard told CRM Buyer.
“We have integrated not just the telephony components but the entire suite of applications to manage an agent network remotely,” he explained.
The growing trend among contact centers to use home-based agents is fueling the company’s growth, Trenchard said. Launched in 2001, it has doubled its headcount and size every year since.
Home-based agents are quickly becoming an accepted part of outsourcing, Loynd said, now that there is generalrecognition that they can reduce the cost of a contact center’s workforce — the most expensive item in its budget — and technology is up to speed. Ironically, they may even rehabilitate the practice’s tarnished reputation, as it becomes a source of job gains instead of losses.
Five9, a provider of on-demand call center applications, points to its contract with the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) Service Foundation, a veterans organization dedicated to combat-wounded veterans, as an example. Late last year, Five9 announced that MOPH selected its Virtual Contact Center to train veterans to work from their homes as helpdesk advocates, service coordinators and customer research technicians.
“We wanted the virtual training experience to be as realistic as possible and to mirror the pace and volume that veterans can expect from any call center organization,” said said Ken Smith, Program Manager, MOPH Service Foundation. “We needed a call center solution with predictive dialing technology that we could use for these virtual home-based agents.”
Other vendors or providers active in this space include Alpine Access, Aspect Software, Intellicare, LiveOps, VIP Desk and Willow.