A VoIP Alternative
One of the benefits of VoIP is scalability, that is, the ability to add CSRs without having to install extra phone lines. Multichannel merchants 1-800-FlOWERS.COM and Vermont Teddy Bear have dealt with issues of seasonal scalability by working with Golden, Colo.-based Alpine Access, a provider of home-based CSRs.
Vermont Teddy Bear, for instance, finds that its sales spikes come around Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, with each holiday rush lasting only about two weeks. While Chris Powell, contact center manager at the Shelburne, Vt.-based gift merchant, triples his in-house staff during this time, he still needs more reps to answer phones, especially as radio ads offering next-day delivery are broadcast closer to the holiday.
Powell adds additional CSRs on demand, by providing Alpine with a staffing model that indicates how many reps he thinks he’ll need on a day-to-day basis. Rather than a traditional call center model that provides a fixed number of reps for the hired period, Alpine uses home-based reps who log in to the company’s system for only a few hours each day. If call volume routed from Vermont Teddy Bear is high, Alpine taps additional reps who are added to the system right away. If call volume dips, Alpine reps jump off the system, ensuring that Vermont Teddy Bear pays only for the reps it needs, Powell says.
As an added bonus, Powell notes these home-based reps often perform better than other outsourced partners have in the past. That’s because Vermont Teddy Bear can provide Alpine with a portrait of its ideal call center rep. “If you’re selling a specific type of widget,” Powell says, “Alpine lets you find an agent whose hobby is using that widget.”
The home-based operation gives 1-800-FLOWERS.COM “a better quality agent,” says Lou Orsi, vice president of vendor and service center relations for the Carle Place, N.Y.-based multititle gift cataloger. “There are a pool of people out there who for whatever reason can’t make it in to an office atmosphere,” he says, “but are very intelligent, hard-working people.”
Orsi values the relationship with home-based reps so much that he employs Alpine reps year round, with the equivalent of 15 agents working full time for 1-800-FLOWERS.COM. When the Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day holidays come around, he bumps that number up to 225 concurrent agents, with 1,200 agents trained and available if needed.
Alpine CEO Chris Carrington says that a basic program can be set up for about $10,000, with ongoing costs varying depending on whether the cataloger is paying per agent-hour, per call answered or as a percentage of sales.