While the call center has been talking about virtualization for years – home-based agents working over IP networks, taking calls and handling customer service queries are the norm, not a new trend – it would appear that the concept is spreading outward as more service providers recognize the advantages.
The businesses that will benefit the most are those that need to scale up quickly a few times a year to meet seasonal needs. Think tax professionals.
Storefront tax preparation company, H&R Block runs a very seasonal business. Before, during and just after tax times, the company needs to hire an army of short-term workers to prepare millions of Americans’ tax returns. These workers need temporary offices, which are pricey.
For this reason, H&R Block is reportedly moving to a more virtual model that will eliminate the need for office space. By launching a service that will connect taxpayers to a tax professional online (the taxpayer simply uploads all his tax documents and then works with the tax preparer virtually), H&R Block can offer customers the services they need for lower cost. Certainly, for lower cost to the company: after all, tax professionals can be located anywhere in the country (or in the world, for that matter), and tax preparers can be paid per return rather than by hour they spend sitting in a storefront tax center. Customers can be urged to collect more of the information they need by self-service, cutting down the interaction time between the worker and the customer.
There is a benefit to the tax preparer, as well. Not only is he or she saved from having to set up shop in an unfamiliar office for a month or two, saving on commuting costs, but the preparer can also benefit from more flexible hours, since the virtual service could theoretically be offered 24/7.
Todd Hixon, writing for Forbes, wonders where else the model could apply outside of the call center.
“I suspect there are similar economic and customer value creation opportunities in many kinds of professional service and brokerage businesses: accounting, law, real estate, insurance, areas of medical practice,” wrote Hixon. “Any professional service that does not require physical interaction (or pay for very high touch service), and which is complex enough to benefit from more than a phone call, is a good candidate.”
Thanks to the call center industry, all these new horizons for virtual working already have the systems, solutions and best practices put in place by an industry that has been doing it successfully for years. Who knew that call centers were so cutting edge when it comes to entrepreneurial spirit?
Edited by Brooke Neuman