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European home-agent dynamic begins to take shape

The adoption of home-based agents has been a very US-centric contact center phenomenon.  This is a business model that has proven effective in driving strong levels of customer experience for enterprises across sectors. But, despite a solid track record, it has been slow to spread in Europe.  However, the tide may be shifting, as front-office BPO providers look to homegrown application of the virtual agent model in the context of European customer experience delivery.

The application of home-based agents in modern US contact center operations has been oft-discussed. Frequently identified drivers of success include lower attrition rates, an educated or experienced agent pool, and reduced overhead costs.  Coupled with some very referenceable enterprises using work-at-home agents as part of their customer experience strategies, there is every reason to believe that this business model should transcend borders.  However, legacy industry watchers know that this is not the case.

In Europe, there have been numerous attempts by outsourcing providers experienced in remote working to transpose this delivery model across the Atlantic.  However, to say that the reception has been cold would be an understatement.  This is surprising, given the ongoing growth of telecommuting by companies doing business in Europe, which can be in excess of 50% in countries like Sweden.  But to date, the application of home-based agents has gained little traction in Europe.  Granted, there are exceptions such as UK-based outsourcer Sensee, which has been one of the leading European voices for remote contact center working.  For those providers interested in re-visiting the European virtual agent opportunity there is no time like the present, but the right approach must be followed.

Using a carbon copy of the US work-at-home experience is a non-starter in the European context.  While some American lessons may be applicable in Europe, each national market’s nuances must be considered when selling clients on this business model and in sourcing labor.  With so many Europeans looking to avoid commutes and embrace a green living lifestyle, not to mention the work-life balance that is crucial in many European countries, work-at-home is a pragmatic way of finding agents that can deliver high-quality service.  Certainly sourcing specialized talent from concentrated pockets, such as Switzerland or Northern Ireland, is also an option for providers in Europe looking for agents that may not otherwise work in a contact center.

Equally important is how work-at-home is applied in European customer management.  In the context of Europe, a great example would be to build a remote network of niche language speakers across a region or country in order to save on contact center costs and hassle of centralizing functions in a bricks-and-mortar facility.  This could also be used in the context of hard-to-find functions, such as health care services or insurance management.

There will of course be challenges in developing the home-agent model for Europe.  Recently, there have been reports of home working falling out of favor in the eyes of employers. In addition, overcoming cultural resistance in some countries to the concept of remote working may be a short-term obstacle, as will be managing the implementation of the GDPR and ongoing information security worries.  However, providers need to tap what could be a potential bonanza of opportunity by using home-based workers in a market that is ripe for growth.

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