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'Til the Call Centers Come Home

Outsourced, off-shored and back again. It seems that the call center industry has finally set its sights on bringing agents back "home" permanently. And, in some cases, quite literally.

According to a press release issued by the coalition on August 4, 2011, Jobs4America, a new coalition of business leaders in the contact industry, has that announced their goal of creating 100,000 American-based jobs over the next two years. This goal is fueled by the affects of the recent recession on the American job market, as well as the rise of more reliable broadband-enabled technologies.

The decision to bring call center employees back to U.S. soil seems to be a growing trend: Prior to the coalition's creation, Delta Airlines and US Airways, LLC separately announced plans to bring their call centers back to the States. On August 31, 2011, AT&T announced a proposed merger with T-Mobile USA which would result in "bringing 5,000 wireless call center jobs to the United States that today are outsourced to other countries."

Putting it into Practice

The coalition has asked each of its members to set their own goals for creating jobs in America in the next two years. The coalition boasts an impressive roster of "key" members – The American Teleservices Association (ATA), ACCENT Marketing Services, Aegis Global, Alpine Access, AnswerNet,Back Office Support Systems, CallAssistant, Etech, NOVO 1, the National Telecommuting Institute, Sprint Nextel, and QCSS Inc – who are charged with setting a example for these efforts. Mary Murcott, CEO of NOVO 1, told ICMI that in addition to the new facility that just opened in Holland, Mich., they are planning to complete a brand new call center in Texas, expected to house approximately 350 agents, by the end of 2011. Aegis Global publicly announced their membership in the coalition, as well as their plan to create up to 4,000 jobs in the United States in the next two years. Sandip Sen, Aegis President (Americas) and Global Chief Marketing Office, Aegis also commented on the company's plans to hire both seasonal and temp to perm positions, and offer benefits for employees that meet the company’s tenure criteria.

Does the Agent of the Future Work from Home?

In recent years, having employees work from their own homes is a trend that many industries worldwide are benefiting from. But, are home agents a fit for the call center? Whether or not to employ home-based agents is a long-debated subject, one that is supported by ICMI certified consultant Jean Bave Kerwin. Bave Kerwin believes that the return of off shore contact center jobs holds potential for higher-quality service and better customer access. However, with this movement it will be more important than ever to make sure that all pieces of your call center are running smoothly, and in tandem. She told ICMI, "With this effort, it will be more important than ever to assure that the basics of contact center operations are well understood and applied; effective staffing resulting from better precision in forecasting will be essential to assuring that on-shore jobs are cost effective for U.S. companies. Certification of professional competencies will be an important part of this requirement for success." ICMI consultant, Gina Szabo, agrees with Jean, adding that a particular focus on supervisor-specific training should be a main ingredient in the home agent model's recipe for success. Szabo said, "this is the group that has the biggest impact on the success of the contact center (whether on or off shore) and most often receives the least amount of training." So, if it was very important for agents and supervisors to be "on the ball" when they shared the same space, it's even more important when that relationship shifts outside the call center walls. If you're considering hiring home agents, you may want to make sure you've got some strong lines of communication first. Jean Bave Kerwin also points out that home agents are pretty good for the environment, too. Home-based agents are not only are they a cost-savings for the company, but by eliminating their need to commute cuts down on carbon emissions and traffic congestion.

Moving thousands of agents back to American soil, or into their home office, seems extremely promising. But are we ready for it? Can we handle the new resources and training that this movement will require?

ICMI will continue to examine the impact that this coalition will have on the global call center industry.

For now, I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this new coalition and the jobs it promises to create. Does your call center employ home agents? If not, would you consider it? Please share your thoughts with us here.

Christina Hammarberg is the former associate editor at ICMI.