Like many credit unions, Stanford Federal Credit Union ($1.1B, Palo Alto, CA) operates its own call center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time to serve members. The agents work scheduled shifts, interact with their fellow agents, and are coached by their manager. The twist? Of the six employees and one manager, five employees and the manager work from home.
The at-home agents visit the credit union headquarters just three times a year for company wide meetings. The one agent who works on-site does so because she prefers not to work at home. , "Having at-home agents has been successful for us", says Ali Shafai, vice president of eCommerce. "It's also quite useful in recruiting." Approximately 18 months ago the contact center lost a few agents, but since then there has been no turnover. Shafai acknowledges the strained job market has helped dampen attrition, but says the contact center's work flexibility doesn’t hurt either. "Our agents enjoy their jobs and like having the ability to work from home."
Agents undergo a robust training plan, regardless of intent to work in-office or remotely. "We want them to be independent, knowledgeable and resourceful" Shafai notes. "In the contact center, agents get bombarded with almost everything since it is the first phone call for members. Our agents are expected to be knowledgeable generalists. More than anything, we help them get to a point where they know who to ask if there's a specific question and what systems to access."
It can be difficult for some agents who have not worked in a remote environment. Physically they don't have anyone around them. To combat that, Shafai credits the credit union's use of instant messaging. "If you need something quick or email isn't the perfect channel, an agent can instant message any of the other agents working or their manager to describe the situation and ask for help" he says. "Then through our phone system, the manager can join the call, whisper in the agent's ear without the member's knowledge or take over the call if necessary."
Having agents away from the credit union headquarters has also helped with business continuity. In February, a small plane crashed into power lines within the city of Palo Alto. The entire city, including the credit union headquarters and branches, was without power for 10 hours during the work day. "We had a web presence as our servers are housed off-site, and a contact center presence" Shafai notes. "So we were able to continue to serve members with little disruption."
If a credit union wants to transition to at-home agents – whether one or many – Shafai recommends starting with a basic question: What paper do they touch? If the contact center touches or handles physical paper, the credit union needs to refine those processes before moving agents remotely. "We found that agents were doing a lot with paper that couldn't be done in the home environment" Shafai says. "We evaluated our processes to refine, eliminate or transfer the paper to another department."
After that hurdle, the process becomes easier: "What does your infrastructure look like?" Shafai asks. Are you able to support various connections through your bandwidth? It's not as difficult as some may think. Then finally, are your agents capable enough to work independently?"
Learn more from Shafai about at-home agents in the webinar, Retaining Your Best Call Center Reps - Strategies to Reduce Attrition.