Mona Davis of Senatobia has, like just about every other American, experienced the frustration of calling a service center or technical support and getting someone from a foreign country with a thick accent.
“There’s nothing I personally hate more than calling a 1-800 number for customer service and getting an agent I can’t understand,” Davis said. “I think everybody’s gone through that at some point in time.”
Many people have also been concerned about the outsourcing or offshoring of American jobs like those at call centers to India and other foreign countries. But have you heard about “homeshoring”?
Davis works in a home office as an independent agent for the company Working Solutions (www.workingsol.com), whose focus is on “homeshoring,” bringing back jobs to the U.S. for companies who have found the lower costs of relocating call centers to India and other countries aren’t worth the dissatisfaction of customers.
Davis has been an agent with Working Solutions for five years working for a variety of well-known national companies. She has five children, including twins who were only a year old when she started with Working Solutions.
Davis is “absolutely” glad she has the job instead of someone in India. Since working for the company, she has done tasks ranging from data entry to booking hotel reservations, taking orders for flower deliveries and helping people with prescription discount programs.
“I like the variety,” she said. “There’s always some new projects going on, which is good. It keeps things interesting.”
For a busy mom, the flexibility is wonderful. She doesn’t have a time-consuming commute or the hassle and expense of a business wardrobe.
“They let you set your own hours,” Davis said. “I can make sure I’m available to get the kids ready for school, and available when they get home. I work regular office hours. I don’t work at night because of the children. But many people who are single or whose kids are older, it might be easier to work at night.”
She also appreciates the tax advantages. By filing as an independent contractor, the office portion of her home and office expenses are tax deductible.
But what about missing the office camaraderie?
“I have friends who have worked for Working Solutions longer than I have,” Davis said. “Some I consider my best friends, and they live all over the country. I have never met any of them, but I have talked to them every day for years.”
While it may be cheaper for companies to go overseas, Davis said her company provides superior quality. And she likes Working Solutions because it is keeping American money at home.
“Mississippi needs the work,” Davis said. “Anyone who would be interested in working for Working Solutions, I would absolutely encourage them.
“I’ve never had a problem getting paid. That is a big issue. Many companies out there, you have problems getting paid or they have limits. There are companies who only pay you for talk time. Working Solutions is the only company I’ve found that has a guaranteed hourly minimum. That is priceless to me working from home with small children. Working Solutions is always concerned with making sure agents are taken care of.”
Working Solutions has been in existence since 1996, and is the first organization to begin doing this in the U.S., said Nedra Harris, public relations and marketing specialist for Working Solutions, Plano, Texas.
“Kim Houlne, our president, started the business in 1996 doing consulting and research for different companies,” Harris said. “She discovered there was a huge need out there for companies to have people do independent work for them.”
As Internet services became much faster, the technology enabled people to work remotely. Harris said that didn’t happen before 1996 because the fast-speed access just wasn’t there.
The company has clients that are some of the largest companies in the country as well as small business clients. Houlne started out with small group that has grown into a community of 76,000 agents.
“What this does is that people can work from home anywhere for any company and at any time,” Harris said. “I think that is mindboggling. It is a zero commute. You could work for a company on the other side of the continent. The benefit for companies is that it means they can recruit anywhere there is high-speed Internet, so they aren’t limited to people who can actually get into their offices.”
Working Solutions agents include military spouses who relocate on a regular basis. Agents also include people with handicaps and stay-at-home moms. There are agents in all 50 states and now extending into Canada. Approximately 80% of its agents have some college education, and 20% are bi-lingual. The company averages several hundred job applications per day.
Sometimes a very narrow skill is needed, very specialist job skills. For example, one company currently wants French Canadian speakers.
“The amazing thing about this setup is we can recruit from anywhere for our clients and they can get the very best quality workers,” Harris said. “We have some people with advanced job skills who live in rural area where there is no call for their skills.”
Agent equipment needed is a PC capable of running the company’s security program and a phone line with a high-speed Internet connection. More important than having the equipment is the skill sets.
“Call centers and customer service experience is very important,” Harris said. “And every once and a while we will have a project that requires, for example, medical experience. We may be looking at nurses who want to supplement income with extra hours working with us part time.”
The trend towards homeshoring is increasing dramatically. Harris said many of the companies who tried to go overseas to save money found they were alienating a lot of their client base.
“There were differences in dialect, differences in culture and problems with customers getting someone who could understand them and their issues,” Harris said. “They are finding the value in bringing their calls back home, and homeshoring is less expensive than the traditional call center you would find in many cities today in the U.S. Instead of spending millions on brick and mortar, there is another alternative.”
Every call center fluctuates in call volume. For example, in fashion, more is sold at the beginning of seasons. Travel companies do more business in the summer and for holidays.
“What you find with our service is we provide an elasticity for companies that don’t want to hire and train a lot of people and then let them go,” Harris said. “It costs money to keep a desk and equipment for peak and overflow, and then it is empty. We may not be taking all of their calls, but companies might be using us for their peak and overflow calls.”
Working Solutions agents schedule their own hours.
“We don’t tell them, they tell us the hours they want to work,” she said. “And they pick the projects they want to work on. We actually have a scheduling system where they go in and sign up for the hours they want to work.”
Depending on the complexity of the project, agents average between $10 to $16 per hour, and some are paid as high as $30 per hour. Agent work has quality checks just like a regular call center.
“Supervisors listen in on calls from time to time plus the technology is there to show us when they are on calls,“ Harris said. “And you know what? They don’t need to be babysat. These people are highly skilled professionals.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.