The call center industry is famous for offshore outsourcing, sending jobs overseas to places like India or the Philippines. While outsourcing cuts costs for a call center, it often comes at the expense of customer satisfaction. Luckily, call center jobs have been returning to the U.S. in large numbers throughout the past decade, thanks in large part to a trend called homeshoring.
What is homeshoring?
Homeshoring is the process of using at-home agents to achieve both cost savings and a high level of customer satisfaction. Offshore outsourcing typically achieved the first objective but failed miserably at the second. Customers regularly reported language barriers or difficulty understanding agents' thick accents. In addition, agents in other countries are not always subject to the same requirements as those in the U.S., raising concerns about security and privacy. To solve this problem, call centers employed technology to allow agents to work remotely.
Traditionally, call centers have been located in office buildings with hundreds of cubicles and buzzing phone lines. In the U.S., where workers tend to be highly educated and demand more pay to meet the relatively wealthy standard of living compared to much of the world, this setup was costing call centers a fortune. Hence, offshore outsourcing began in earnest. As technology developed, however, it became feasible to get the benefits of a domestic home-based agent – accent-neutral with a high level of education – at a fraction of the cost.
"The basic beauty of homeshoring is that you're able to tap into a talent pool with individuals who are highly educated," said Peter Hargittay, former vice president of marketing and sales operations at Arise Virtual Solutions, one of the companies that pioneered the homeshoring movement.
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The benefits of homeshoring for call centers
Broadening the geographic scope in which a call center can search for customer service agents improves its chances of finding quality talent. Moreover, when agents work remotely, a call center doesn't have to lease a large space for workstations. A virtual call center with at-home agents results in cost savings for the business.
For employees, homeshoring provides more than just employment opportunities. Agents have flexible working schedules while they work remotely. For those who work as independent contractors, how much they work depends on how much they want to earn. There are also virtual call centers that do employ full-time remote customer service agents. These agents are entitled to the same kind of benefits a customer service agent in an office would receive. However, many home-based agents are considered independent contractors rather than full-time employees. If a homeshoring call center employs independent contractors on an as-needed basis, it doesn't have to offer additional benefits or abide by certain regulations that apply to large companies.
Homeshoring also offers benefits to the caller, as they will be speaking with a native English speaker over a stable phone connection. According to Hargittay, Arise can route calls to the nearest available home-based agent so that the caller is connected with someone in the same region or even the same state.
"The idea is to provide localized service and use local talent," Hargittay said. "If you're calling in from Louisiana, we want to have that call routed to as close to that location as possible."
Routing calls to home-based agents wherever they might be located also helps call centers in a natural disaster. Incoming calls to a business affected by a storm, for example, can simply be routed to an at-home agent outside of the affected area.
In this way, homeshoring has emerged as a win-win-win for the call center service industry. The call center cuts costs, the at-home agent has more flexibility and employment opportunities, and the customer connects with a domestically based customer service agent. Of course, homeshoring isn't limited to the phones, and as call centers have expanded their scope of work to include other channels, homeshoring has become indispensable.
"The end goal is to provide excellent customer service," said Aaron Kannowski, former marketing and media manager at Working Solutions, "and in order to do that, you pretty much have to step up."
Working Solutions brought the trend of homeshoring to additional channels rather than simply focusing on the call center. It was an early adopter of homeshoring for social media management and communication with customers in comments sections. Today, as many call centers rebrand themselves as more comprehensive contact centers – omnichannel services that manage phones, email, social media and live chat – homeshoring has grown beyond the phone lines.
Homeshoring bringing call center jobs back to the U.S.
The call center industry was once infamous for offshore outsourcing, specifically sending jobs to India or the Philippines. While the Philippines surpassed India as the leader in offshore call center services, the U.S. has started creating domestic jobs in the space once again. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are nearly 2.8 million customer service representatives in the country today. That number is projected to grow by 5% through 2026, a sign that call centers are creating more jobs. While the BLS does not track how many of those customer service representatives are home-based agents, it's a safe bet that homeshoring has played a role in growing the U.S.-based call center industry once again.