While technology overtakes the workplace, it is also affording mobility options to some companies’ customers and employees. For the Hertz Corp., this mobility means transitioning traditional brick-and-mortar call centers into the home — the agent’s home.
Hertz’s home-based agent program, now operating for more than three years, has call center agents working from the comfort of their own chairs and desks to answer calls for many of Hertz’s programs. Hertz Chief Information Officer Joe Eckroth says the many limitations of traditional call centers — and the benefits of a decentralized workplace — motivated implementation of the program.
“Bricks and mortar is an expensive way to go and it can also limit the geography in which you can source talent,” Eckroth says, adding that consolidating operations under one roof increases risk when it comes to natural disasters, a power outage or other service disruptions. “I now have immediate capacity and redundancy because I have my workforce spread out geographically and on many different circuits,” he says.
An ‘Employee-Friendly’ Program
Through the home-based agent program, Eckroth says he has been able to tap into an expanded workforce around the company’s call centers in Oklahoma City and in Mobile, Ala., where it is not uncommon for workers to have one- or two-hour commutes. And with gas prices rising, “Working from home is like getting a raise,” Eckroth says, adding that it gives the employees flexibility to meld the job into their lifestyles.
Compared to employees working in a call center, Eckroth reports that employee satisfaction scores are often the same if not better, and are consistently higher every year.
Since the start of the program, the call agent attrition rate has improved by 40% with no difference in customer files per hour. “The metrics speak for themselves,” he says.
Finding the Talent
Employees who are appropriate for the home-based agent program require a different set of aptitudes than those in the tightly supervised atmosphere of a call center. Eckroth looks for employees that are self-motivated, self-healing and can fix their own technical issues. While Hertz gives the at-home agents special training, “You do have to be a bit more industrious,” he says.
In narrowing in on home-based agents, Hertz tests these qualities by putting the agent in an “incubator,” where the company can observe the agent and see if the employee can set up the equipment without trouble, for example. And it’s always the employee’s choice to take the at-home position or remain in the call center.
Currently, home-based agents account for 58% of Hertz’s U.S. reservation sales specialists — a majority of whom work out of the Mobile, Ala. office.
Difficulties in Decentralizing
Eckroth has learned that each home-based employee must still feel like a part of the company. This inclusion means that home-based agents can’t be located too far from a main office, where training and meetings can take place, though Eckroth says that this is most often done virtually.
“It’s a cultural change,” he says. “Decentralizing can be immensely scary. It starts to be a little nerve-racking because you’re taking what was tightly controlled and putting it out to hundreds of locations.”
He says that besides finding the right employees who will thrive at home, he makes every effort to make them feel a part of “something bigger” than just their home offices. “The last thing you want is people who are touching our customers every day not to be included in the culture,” he says, adding that he is constantly thinking of creative ways to include the at-home agents.
Leveraging the Decentralized Workforce
The Mobile, Ala. office is located adjacent to one of Hertz’s off-airport locations and is used as the hub for face-to-face communications with agents in the surrounding area. Hertz is looking at opening other regional training centers, Eckroth says.
Hertz is also looking at using the regional centers, or call center hubs, as a base for video agents for the company’s ExpressRent video kiosks.
“It’s a progressive strategy around a different way to attract, retain and get the best and brightest people in these jobs,” Eckroth says, adding that with so many call center-like jobs in the country, by having the option to be a video agent or one that works from home, “You’re really giving them the opportunity to work the way they want,” he says.
And one more benefit of home-based agents and the ExpressRent kiosks is “the whole sustainability thing,” Eckroth says. Through the home-based agent program, Hertz says it saved more than 8 million pounds of carbon emissions in 2011.
Hertz’s next step is to take both programs overseas. As of this writing, 29 video kiosks will be installed in London’s Heathrow Airport by June or July, Eckroth says, and starting a home-based agent program is also on Hertz’s radar for its Dublin call center.