Do Agents Need to Be Scheduled?: Page 2 of 2

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Meeting a New Array of Requirements

Admittedly, remote, scheduleless work is a bit of a radical concept for contact centers, and one that won't take hold overnight. However, the tech and employment environments have changed, so it deserves a look. Let's examine some of the obvious objections and requirements.

The most consistently heard objection is security. Agents often require access to confidential personal information, so companies argue that a freelance economy simply isn't an option. But in fact, employment model and location are separate from confidentiality. If a contact center can vet agents as on-site employees, they can vet them as remote contractors.

The second big objection is economies of scale. Sure, Uber can do this, but how can a single contact center attract enough agents for this model to work? Here, note that Uber was once small and is still expanding into new markets.

It's also important to note that scheduleless is not an all-or-none proposition. For example, a contact center may operate with a core scheduled staff, applying a scheduleless model for capacity swings. A scheduleless approach could also serve as a solution to retain talented agents who might otherwise retire or opt for part-time employment. Scheduling tools aren't eliminated, but a scheduleless model would dramatically simplify the functionality required of them.

Putting the Pieces Together: Making Scheduleless Work

A few must-haves make a scheduleless environment work. The potential pool of agents offers a clear and simple way to monitor load (or opportunity). Like Uber, this would be a pay-per-service model. Uber drivers don't get paid for being available, but for serving customers. A contact center could easily communicate service load via an app or even text messaging.

Uber also attempts to influence the available supply of drivers with its surge pricing model. The company pays more to drivers when demand increases in order to attract more drivers to become available. This too could be accomplished with contact center agents.

Uber has clear requirements for onboarding, and an effective training program. Uber requires drivers to have a valid license, pass a background test, and have an acceptable vehicle with insurance. It handles most of its onboarding and training through automated tools.

A contact center would likely require agents to pass an on-demand screening and training process. Speech technologies can evaluate clarity and language skills. On-demand training modules train, track, and test agent skills.

A subtle but critical aspect of Uber's model is rapid payment. Driver-partners get paid soon after completing the job. In an on-demand model, there's little tolerance for the archaic "week in arrears every two weeks."

Regarding equipment, like Uber, it would be reasonable that call-center contractors provide their own equipment and bandwidth. This likely means Web-based agent applications for the contact center. Regardless of who pays for it, an at-home agent may only need a Chromebook and headset. The contact center could even offer this equipment under a rental program. That's an investment of less than $500 -- considerably less than a reliable sedan.

Another interesting twist could be the development of agent-as-a-service offerings from contact center providers. In this case, the provider itself creates a global network of on-demand agents. The service not only could include training and vetting, but also even the required seats and other system resources -- all wrapped up as an OpEx service.

The contact center market is rapidly moving toward cloud-delivered services. There's an opportunity to do more than revise the deployment model. The limiting factor in the contact center isn't technology, but mindset. We need to reimagine interactions and free ourselves from the cost containment goals that have frustrated so many.

The technology available allows open-minded staff to re-explore possibilities to achieve desired outcomes. There will be, as there always are, tons of objections to overcome -- training, supervision, data privacy, and more. But if they can be overcome in a traditional contact center, they can be overcome in a modern environment as well.

Changes to customer engagement are coming, and they will happen quicker than many expect. It took Uber just a few years to hire more than three million driver-partners. It took Walmart about 55 years to do the equivalent.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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