AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
For nearly 10 years, Tangela Hamilton, a 33-year-old Dallas resident, had worked in traditional contact centers. Her life, however, took a monumental shift when she took in her niece, citing a difficult family situation. "My whole life has changed since she's come in," Hamilton says, adding that she had never raised a child before. "I have to make sure she's at school every morning. Working in a brick-and-mortar contact center, I either had to get her there super-duper early or make arrangements."
Consequently, in January 2007, Hamilton started to look seriously at options to become a work-at-home agent (WAHA). It wasn't until November, after months of searching on the Web, that she landed a position with Working Solutions, a virtual contact center provider in nearby Plano, Texas. Eleven months later, she's a supervisor in charge of 350 agents--from the comfort of her own home office. She says she wouldn't have it any other way. "My piece of mind is priceless," she admits. "My ability to be able to take care of the things I need to, including being home when my kid gets out of school ... [it's] priceless."
She's not alone. In fact, with IDC predicting that we'll have 300,000 work-at-home agents by 2012,Hamilton is part of an exploding market with tremendous potential. ("Exploding" may be an understatement: Independent research firm Datamonitor predicts a 36.4 percent compound annual growth rate for the WAHA field through 2012.) "This [homesourcing] model just continues to grow in popularity," says Frost & Sullivan Strategic Analyst Michael DeSalles.
Like any new market or industry segment, though, WAHAs have to be seen as a viable, high-quality option--and they're beginning to be. But what makes people want to be part of the customer service ranks from their living rooms, and how is the service they provide different than that found in traditional contact centers? As with the customer service industry itself, the answers are more complicated than they seem.
FLEXIBILITY AND FAMILY
Tim Houlne, chief executive officer at Working Solutions, says his company did an internal survey of its agents to find out why people were really working from home. "We originally thought it was to earn extra or additional income," he recalls. "However ... it was the flexibility as to projects and hours they could work."
That flexibility primarily revolves around family. Joell King, a 53-year-old resident of Blairsville, Ga., is an agent for Santa Clara, Calif.-based virtual contact center firm LiveOps. King worked as an assistant manager and trainer in a brick-and-mortar contact center facility on a seasonal basis for two years, and wanted a change. "My mother doesn't live in the same state as [me]," she explains. "I just enjoy being able to go down and see her and help her out when I need or want to."
Christine Meade, a 47-year-old resident of Ocala, Fla., also wanted to stay at home so she could take care of family. Now, she's a home agent for West at Home, a division of Omaha, Neb.-based outsourcing and consulting firm West Corp. "I knew it would just work for me better if I could find something that I could do from home on a regular basis," Meade says. "That way, I could meet my family's needs and take care of the kids because I have a handicapped child."
Juggling family priorities drove two more Working Solutions agents, Mary Lenci and …