Interview with Paul Vaillancourt of Support.com
VSM: Outsourcing is the accepted practice in your industry, and building a virtual contact center staffed by North American, work-from-home agents still seems pretty radical even today?
PV: Yes, outsourcing is a general practice for most call centers. The reason the work-from-home concept still seems like a pretty radical idea today is because many in the industry have not really been able to figure out how to do it in an effective manner.
The key is to flip the screening process to evaluate the person more-so than the resume or skill set, a huge departure from typical methods.
Let’s back up: In 2008, after making our initial seven hires (then quickly ramping up to more than 100 agents), we realized we needed a more efficient way to find candidates who could handle this kind of work, embrace a work-from-home model, and were looking for long-term employment vs. a temporary gig.
Being a technology company, we took a technology approach, first acquiring an online hiring system – then scaling the system so it could handle tens of thousands of applicants. More importantly, we figured out how to rapidly filter out non-candidates (today the system uses a combination of a multiple choice test and an essay test which quickly brings the candidate pool down by 80%).
Those who pass the first two phases are given a technical interview, followed by a non-technical interview with a supervisor. Essentially, the system bubbles up people who are comfortable with working from home, are articulate, are capable of doing research, and can self-motivate.
VSM: Why did you opt to build a virtual call center vs. in-house, or outsourced?
PV: The original motivator was that we believed we could provide at least the same levels of quality that you could get with a brick and mortar, but cut costs, which we were able to do. Over time, our platform evolved to integrate CRM ticket management with a guided workforce tool that gives supervisors full access to all remote control interaction.
The end-game then was to leverage this and offer our customers, predominantly large channel partners, a seamless way to drive new revenue streams and deepen customer engagement and loyalty. We do this by rebranding our services and products under our partner brands, which in addition to our virtual agents, includes a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) application suite and our proven expertise in designing and launching very large and complex programs with our partners.
We also offer training as part of a technology services subscription and we offer online self-help tutorial content, which is rebranded for our channel partners.
VSM: What are some of the “Virtual Skills” that work-from-home agents must have? What makes a good virtual agent?
PV: Our virtual agents require a wide range of skills and need to be up-to-date on the latest technical knowledge. We have an array of services we offer our partners such as setting up new devices, optimizing new devices and troubleshooting problems for devices that are already set up and running. Our partners take those services then bundle and market them to their users.
We hire technology experts for their troubleshooting and problem-solving abilities, but also look for agents that can understand issues from the customer’s perspective, and provide customer service in a way that ensures the end user feels empowered and smart.
Net-net there are key skills we look for in all our virtual agents:
- Knowledgeable and comfortable with social media such as chat-rooms, Facebook, etc.
- Someone who is very comfortable doing research
- Someone that is able to navigate around sites and know their way around the Internet
- Inherit problem solvers