Critical Competencies needed for work at home vs brick & Mortar Stores

A widespread and ever-increasing trend within the contact center industry is to allow service representatives to handle customer contacts from the comfort of a home office. The growth of this virtual contact center workforce begs at least two questions:

  1. what are the key competencies people need in order to succeed in a home-based service representative role, and
  2. are those key competencies any different than those required of service representatives in a brick-and-mortar contact center?

The answers to these questions may seem obvious–or at least easy to find–but the reality is that very little information is publicly available on this topic. Below, I highlight key evidence and insights from FurstPerson’s extensive job analysis research that paints a very clear picture of the most typical and unique demands of a home-based role.

Key Competencies of Successful Representatives

We all know that in order to identify qualified candidates for any particular role, you must first understand what it is that makes a candidate “qualified” for the role. In other words, what are the critical competencies that candidates must possess in order to be successful as a new hire? An understanding of these critical competencies should be gained through a targeted and thorough job analysis process. FurstPerson’s Contact Center Job Analysis Survey data from more than 1,600 service representative job experts indicates that, regardless of the environment in which the job is performed – brick-and-mortar center or at-home – the following competencies are most critical for success:

  • Compliance with rules and procedures
  • Dependability to follow through on commitments
  • Accountability for actions and results
  • Composure and Tact in even the most difficult interpersonal situations
  • Listening and Oral Communication skills
  • Integrity and Professionalism in all actions
  • Learning Aptitude to absorb and apply new information quickly

Given the nature of a contact center representative role, these competencies make perfect sense. They indicate a need for agents to be highly conscientious, to possess strong interpersonal and customer-service related skills, and to get up to speed readily on new and rapidly changing information.

Key Competencies of Successful Representatives in a work at Home Environment

So if all of those competencies are critical regardless of where the job is performed, then aren’t home agents and brick-and-mortar agents essentially interchangeable? The answer is a resounding “NO!” Too often, contact center organizations take their most successful brick-and-mortar representatives and allow them to work from home as a reward for their success, only to see them then crash and burn in a home office environment.

In order to succeed in a representative job in a home environment, our research shows that candidates need all of the above competencies … and then some. Not only must home agents be able to do all of the same things that brick-and-mortar agents can do, but they also must possess the following characteristics and to a significantly greater extent than required for brick-and-mortar agents:

  • Autonomy: Home agents must be able to work comfortably and confidently on their own with little or no supervision and without needing the social interaction that comes in sitting face-to-face with one’s coworkers for several hours of the day.
  • Perseverance / Task Focus: Home agents must possess the self-discipline to maintain consistent focus on their work activities, without being easily distracted.
  • Time Management: Home agents must be able to manage their time effectively on their own in order to maximize achievement of work activities during their shift.
  • Computer Skills: Home agents must display strong working knowledge of how to use computers and troubleshoot basic technology issues on their own without having to reach out to technical support for every little problem.

Selecting the Right Representatives for a Home-Based Role

The bottom line is that before you can build a pre-hire assessment process to identify successful candidates for any job, you must first understand what you need those assessments to measure. And it’s not just about the key competencies required to succeed as a Service Representative; it’s about the key competencies required to succeed as a Service Representative in a home office environment.

It does your home agent program no good to identify candidates who can successfully perform the job itself, but then fail to take into account whether they will be miserable, lonely, lost, unproductive, or too easily distracted in a home environment. In fact, the quickest way to lose some of your best agents is to remove them from the very environment in which they are most successful and place them in a new environment without considering whether or not it’s a good fit for them.

Before you decide to reward your high-performing agents by allowing them to work in a home-based role, you must first consider whether they will potentially succeed in that role, or whether you are setting them up for failure by removing some of the very factors that help them to succeed in the first place (e.g., structure, socialization, supervision). Instead, the decision to move an agent into a work from home environment or hire a job candidate for such a role should be based on the results of a well-designed selection system that assesses the key worker competencies specifically for the at-home role.