Home Outsourcing Home-based agents pick up outsource contracts at expense of contact centres

Home-based agents pick up outsource contracts at expense of contact centres

More industry sectors are turning to outsourcing by using outsource agents working from home, according to a new global report which says the number of home-based outsourced agents will soon exceed 100,000 globally.

According to analyst firm Ovum, the variety of industries that are availing themselves of the home-based outsource agent business model is expanding, while the agents are starting to diversify beyond strict customer care functions to “managing more complex enquiries across multiple channels.”

“The long-time benefits associated with third- party home agents, such as competitive pricing and labour quality, have been determinants in helping to foster this significant growth,” says Peter Ryan, principal analyst in Ovum’s IT Services practice and author of the report.

According to Ryan, the total number of home-based agents will increase from just under 84,000 to nearly 160,000 by the end of 2017, with the expansion occurring at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.5% through this period, “which is approximately twice the rate of the bricks-and-mortar contact centre outsourcing market.”

“Despite the strides made in growing the outsourced home-based agent sector, this expansion has been limited both in terms of the industries that opt for this business model and the geographies where it is deployed. To a large degree, lingering perception issues (notably data security and supervision concerns), broader cultural concerns, and infrastructure worries surrounding home-working are hampering the ability of outsourcers to grow prospective clients.

“For the vendors of these services to be successful, they will need to address these matters with non-users, and familiarise themselves with the shifting enterprise expectations of virtualised agents,” Ryan suggests.

Ovum reports that outsourcers providing home-based agents are predominantly performing customer service functions, which Ryan says have traditionally accounted for the majority of horizontal work supported using this business model.

Ryan says, however, that the provision of technical support is likely to see pronounced growth over the next four years due to a need to recruit agents that are able to provide assistance for more specialised products/services, and which “may otherwise not be attracted to working in contact centre facilities.”

Ovum forecasts that the healthcare vertical will be the most aggressive adopter of outsourced home-based agent services between 2013 and 2017, increasing from 8% to 13% of total agents through this period.

And, the analyst firm also says that the financial services sector poses an interesting challenge for outsourced home-based agent vendors, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that firms in this space are already using the virtual platform, but are doing so in-house.

“It will be difficult for clients to move this work to outsourcers due to the heavy compliance requirements in this sector, which explains why the proportion of total home-based agents associated with financial services is slated to only increase from 11% to 13% between 2013 and 2017,” Ryan says.

“Ovum’s recommendations from the study encourage enterprises to understand the risks of adopting an outsourced home agent strategy. The use of third-party home agents is an excellent alternative to traditional delivery methods for some firms, but this move requires significant reflection on the part of prospective enterprises,” Ryan cautions.

“For vendors on the other hand, one of the successes of home-based agent outsourcing has been the ability to recruit large numbers of high-calibre agents. However, there are signs that attrition within this contact centre segment is starting to creep up. To maintain a sizable pool of available agents, Ovum recommends that outsourcers seek out otherwise unexplored potential pockets of workers.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).