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You've got AA friend at home!

The AA's virtual call centre has increased productivity, reduced property costs and improved staff retention

Being more efficient, improving recruitment and retention, and helping staff with their work-life balance: these were the motivations for the AA when they first piloted their virtual call centre in the Leeds area back in 1997.

All the AA’s call centres are UK-based and the homeworking team are no different. In all there are 250 home-based staff handling emergency breakdown calls, based around Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff.

Kevin Horgan, the AA’s Head of Emergency Breakdown Call Handling, is an enthusiast for the new way of working.

“We saw it as a way to expand the opportunities we were offering to our people. Like any call centre we’re always exploring new avenues to help deal with attrition and retention. We consolidated our call centre operation in Leeds a number of years ago, and then ran a pilot for existing staff there to see if homeworking was a viable option.

The benefits were manifold. It provided the business with an opportunity to achieve productivity gains from people working split shifts and it gave our employees the opportunity to work in their own environment without the cost and inconvenience of commuting. It works from everyone’s point of view. ”

Achieving the benefits

The AA expanded on the pilot, and now virtual call centre work has been mainstreamed. According to Kevin, there’s been no reduction in the levels of service provided – quite the opposite in fact - thanks to increased staffing levels at drive time:

“It’s enabled us to improve our management of peaks and troughs of demand throughout the day and we’ve reduced attrition. Our productivity has definitely increased with the quality of customer service always high on the agenda.”

The AA provides all the furniture, technology and telephony, replicating the facilities to be found in a call centre. The automatic call distribution works in the same way across their geographically dispersed workforce. The only thing a new recruit needs to provide is a dedicated room in which to work.

“Before we recruit someone we carry out a thorough assessment to make sure their home is suitable and they’ve got a separate room,” says Kevin. “Psychologically that’s important. You want to be able to shut the door.”

At the outset staff undergo a 10 week training and coaching course, and there are regular get-togethers for briefing and feedback.

“My challenge is to make sure that people who work from home are not the forgotten people. They have regular contact with their manager - it’s very much based on team work - with audio conferencing and a lot of face to face contact. We try to give people as much stability as possible as well as flexibility. We roster 3 months in advance, so our employees know well in advance what their shift pattern looks like and what’s required of them. Work is flexible, but it’s also highly structured as we have a demand to meet. We manage performance in the same way as in the physical call centre,” says Kevin.

“Working from home isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea but it is appealing to more and more people. It particularly appeals to those who want to be on hand to manage childcare better, have some time flexibility and prefer to work in their own environment. “

A recommended way to work

Home working in the virtual call centre is one of the range of flexible working options offered by the AA. Kevin is confident that this kind of working has many advantages and is set to grow in the UK:

“There’s a massive untapped potential. We expect homeworking to increase by 40% over the next 5 years. It’s a fantastic opportunity for people who would like to explore working from home. At the AA, we’re currently recruiting to our homeworking team and we’re always on the lookout for people who want to work this way. I’m sure that in the future, we’ll see many other jobs carried out in this way too.”



No need to be in an office to answer the telephone

If you call the AA when your car breaks down, there's a good chance the person you're talking to is working from home.  The AA has pioneered 'virtual call centres' and believes they bring benefits all round.

Andy Lake interviewed Kevin Horgan, the AA's Head of Emergency Breakdown Call Handling to find out how and why they do it.




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