By Brian Gagnon, Lisa McLane
Today’s workplace environment looks different than the traditional in-office structure that has historically shaped the American workforce. The desire and need for remote work has grown exponentially, with the pandemic serving as the catalyst (Pew Research Center, 20221). The customer service industry is no exception to this shift. Organizations continue to realize the benefits of cutting overhead costs and the ease at which employees can perform their job from the comfort and flexibility of their own remote workspace (Fortune, 20222).
To compete in today’s highly competitive post-pandemic environment, the customer service industry must rethink its workforce model and migrate to a virtual contact center model. Those that continue to operate under the traditional structure risk having disengaged employees, outdated service solutions, and elevated capital expenditures. Here we discuss the benefits of virtual contact centers, its impact on the future of work, and how to start the journey.
With the switchboard and rotary dial as predecessors, call centers became popular in the 1960s (TCN, 20223). Since then, call-center infrastructure has only grown more diverse, complex, and technologically capable of handling tens of thousands of calls on any given day (PTP, 20204). Call centers today feature more than just telephone capabilities. Many call centers have rebranded as “contact centers,” tying in other customer services features like central and specialized inboxes for customers to email their questions or concerns, live-chat or chatbot options, and more (CMS Wire, 20225).
We often envision contact centers in large office buildings, with rows of cubicles and agents adorned with headsets. For this reason, brick and mortar centers often face large infrastructure expenditures (Site Selection Group, 20146). As technology has advanced and computer software capabilities have expanded, new options exist outside of traditional brick-and-mortar contact centers.
In 2020, much of the U.S. workforce shifted to remote work amidst the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, many companies and workers abruptly transitioned to teleworking, out of necessity and safety. The merits of remote work continue to be realized by employers and workers alike, with 17% of Americans working from home five days or more per week (Statista, 20207). Employers across all industries must now decide whether to continue embracing a teleworking model, potentially on a more permanent basis.
As organizations realize the value of virtual contact centers, the cloud-based contact center market size is projected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 21.3% by 2030, according to Straits Research. Cloud-based solutions offer scalability with minimal capital investment (Straits Research8).
While migrating from a traditional model to a virtual call-center model can seem daunting, here are key considerations and potential risks to plan for:
Staff Accountability — When all of your agents are in the same room, it is easy to tell what they are doing. However, in a virtual environment, organizations need to use different tools to monitor staff attendance, and performance. Selecting the right tools, that are easy to use for both staff and management, is essential.
Information Security — Most contact centers handle some form of Personal Identifiable Information (PII). In a virtual environment, PII security requires more than just a lock on the office door. Software and processes must be carefully considered to ensure customer PII and other critical data are not compromised, lost, or stolen.
Staff Communication — Delivering urgent messaging or guidance to agents who are in the same room can be as simple as writing a message on a whiteboard in the front of the room. Cascading communications in virtual environments require different mechanisms and processes. Organizations should develop plans for how they will communicate both routine updates and urgent messages to a staff that is operating virtually.
By adopting a virtual contact-center model, organizations can not only cut costs, but also mitigate some of the challenges that the customer service industry has traditionally faced. Sourcing employees is no longer limited to the physical proximity to an organization. Rather, candidate pools can span city and state lines, providing optimal coverage for call centers by crossing multiple time zones. A virtual contact center model can help organizations increase employee satisfaction and reduce turnover, as workers enjoy the flexibility and comfort of working from home.
Attrition has been a long-standing issue plaguing call centers, with average turnover rates as high as 45%, according to Harvard Business Review. More alarming, the average customer service representative between ages 20 and 34 stays on the job for just over one year (Harvard Business Review, 20219). This level of turnover is extremely costly. According to Gartner, replacing one customer-service representative costs more than $14,000 on average (Omale, 202110).
Despite the high attrition rates, 38% of organizations are investing little or no effort in the retention for customer-service representatives (NICE, 202211). As a result, only one-third of customer service representatives report being engaged on the job, according to Gartner (Omale, 202110). To reduce turnover, organizations need to prioritize employee experience and increase engagement.
A virtual model is a key perk that organizations can offer to better serve their employees. The appeal of remote work can help organizations improve customer-service representative engagement, thereby reducing turnover costs. Establishing an experienced, motivated, and engaged customer service workforce will enable organizations to deliver excellent customer service.
Guidehouse’s Virtual Engagement Guide provides a roadmap for retaining talent across multiple virtual contact centers. This framework ensures that employees feel connected and supported, even while working remotely. We have developed processes to continuously monitor employee performance, rapidly escalate issues, and provide one-on-one virtual mentoring. Along with creative virtual programming initiatives, these strategies promote high levels of job satisfaction, which minimizes costly attrition. Prioritizing meaningful engagement in a virtual environment has enabled Guidehouse to deliver world-class customer service to its clients.
Guidehouse has extensive experience navigating the challenges of virtual contact centers. Since April 2020, Guidehouse has built numerous virtual contact centers. Guidehouse partners with clients to deliver high-impact solutions driven to maximize the customer experience. The cloud-based model of a virtual contact center provides scalable solutions, with security protocols customized for a virtual environment.
To effectively manage contact-center operations in a virtual environment, Guidehouse developed a comprehensive set of tools, processes, policies, and procedures derived from industry best practices. This strategic approach equips Guidehouse to execute quickly and accurately to deliver high-quality services with agility and precision.
Co-authors: Joe Kueny, Jeff Alter, Elizabeth Bell and Sarah Hadi.
1 Parker, Kim, Juliana Menasce Horowitz, and Rachel Minkin. 2022. “COVID-19 Pandemic Continues to Reshape Work in America.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. Pew Research Center. February 16, 2022. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2022/02/16/covid-19-pandemic-continues-to-reshape-work-in-america/.
2 Aman Kidwai, “How much money employers can save when they switch to remote or hybrid work,” August 15, 2022, Fortune,
How much employers save when they switch to remote work | Fortune.
3 TCN, “A Brief History of Call Center Agents,” Nov. 14, 2022, https://www.tcn.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-call-center-agents/#:~:text=Call%20Centers%20Originate%20in%20the,were%20housewives%20in%20the%201950s.
4 PTP, Contact Center Technology 101,
5 Lesley Harrison, “What Is a Call Center? How They Work,” Feb. 27, 2023, CMS Wire,
6 King White, “How Much Does It Really Cost to Set-Up A New Call Center?” Feb. 17, 2014, Site Selection Group Blog,
7 Justina Alexandra Sava, “Change in remote work trends due to COVID-19 in the United States in 2020,” Statista, Feb. 16, 2022,
8 Globe Newswire, “Cloud Based Contact Centers Market Size is projected to reach USD 82.43 Billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 21.3%: Straits Research,” Sept. 7, 2022,
9 “Here’s What Happens When You Focus on Employees to Better Serve Your Customers - SPONSOR CONTENT from SALESFORCE.” 2021. Harvard Business Review. August 2, 2021. https://hbr.org/sponsored/2021/08/heres-what-happens-when-you-focus-on-employees-to-better-serve-your-customers.
10 Gloria Omale, “Gartner Says Only One in Three Customer Service Jobs Are Engaged on the Job,”
June 28, 2021, Gartner,
11 Contact Centers – From Attrition to Retention: 2022 NICE WEM Global Survey Report,
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