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BPO Journal

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Outsourced to the Den

The Wall Street Journal, in a recent article, reports on an emerging alternative to offshoring. Instead of sending call-center work to India or the Philippines, a growing number of consumer-products and -services companies, from Office Depot and J. Crew to Wyndham Hotels and Sears Holdings, are outsourcing work to people in their homes here in the U.S. To support, a survey last August of 350 U.S. and Canadian call centers by Yankee Group found that 24% of agents, or 672,000 workers, are now based in their homes. IDC, a Framingham, Mass., research concern, sees the growth continuing, with home agents increasing at a rate of 24% each year from 2006 through 2010.

And why not? Research firm Gartner Inc. says 70% to 80% of home-based agents have college degrees, compared with 30% to 40% of workers in call centers. Most are in their 30s or 40s, older than the average call-center employee, and they often have management experience, say outsourcing firms. Mark Frei, a senior vice president of West Corp., Omaha, Neb., which operates both home- and office-based call centers, says home-agent turnover is only about half the 40% to 100% attrition in traditional call centers.

The cons? The Journal reports:
The pay for home agents is limited, and most jobs come through outsourcing firms and lack benefits. Also, the work -- such as taking telephone orders for things ranging from airline reservations to workout gear -- can be wearying, repetitive and stressful.
Yet, they're a boon for individuals who're constrained to work from home, including people who care for children or elderly family members at home and the disabled. And this is reflected in the significant unquenched demand for agent positions. Willow CSN will probably accept only about one-fifth of the 34,000 applications it expects to receive this year, says CEO Angie Selden.

And heck, a closer analysis of the stay-at-home demographic might enable outsourcing firms to look beyond call center work. For example, ARO Outsourcing of Kansas City, Mo., employs 225 home-based auditors, insurance salespeople and underwriters, says Michael Amigoni, chief operating officer. He adds, "A lot of other kinds of jobs could be workable under this model."

And finally, Shekhar won't have to be trained to call himself Sebastian.

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