Maintaining Contact Center Security in the Age of “Work at Home Agents”

By Ben Rafferty, Global Solutions Director

Everywhere you look, companies across all industries seem to be experimenting and, in many cases, implementing flexible telecommuting and work-from-home structures.

In theory, and in practice, an increase in work at home agents (WAHA) is excellent for many reasons. For agents, the flexibility and stress-free “commute” can be a big productivity booster. Call center research published in the Harvard Business Review found that at-home workers completed 13.5 percent more calls than those in the office. With no commute, no traffic and no wasted time, most agents can get more work done.

For businesses, this flexibility for agents often eliminates the need for investment in huge contact center spaces. Additional cost savings can be found in removing the need to provide agents with small, but expensive, items such as parking spaces, desks, monitors and more. Ultimately, the cost savings can be enormous. WAHA can also have a huge impact on average handling time (AHT). As long as business managers invoke effective workforce management tools to engage and maintain organization among WAHAs, remote agents can be an incredible asset for improving AHT. They can respond faster during peak periods and have proven to be more productive and effective in their work. And, with lower AHT, comes additional cost savings – agents can speak with more customers and effectively “do more” with less.

However, these benefits of WAHA do not come without their own unique security complications. The data that call center agents are asked to handle is not secure in individual agent homes. I might be going out on a limb here, but I assume it would be difficult to install CCTV in 1,000+ agents’ homes. Without the secure boundaries provided by contact center office walls, how can a business ensure that customer data is safe? And how can they expect their customers to trust them with sensitive information?

It is difficult enough for companies to support and employ a strict a BYOD (bring your own device) policy within an office, impose a slightly easier to manage CYOD (choose your own device), or, the most frustrating of all for a workforce, a COPE (corporate owned, personally enabled) policy. Forget having to manage the security of an entire workforce using their own devices and their own spaces in their own homes. An ideal situation for a business managing WAHAs would be the ability to allow remote agents to use their own devices, while logging into secure endpoints. And, this does work. Sensitive data can be managed via agents through secure web technologies, apps, “containers” on tablets and more. However, these approaches to secure remote data do not ensure that data that comes from a customer is safe.

No matter what, customers need to provide sensitive information to call center agents… this is a given. And, many still require callers to read their credit card numbers, names, dates of birth and more out loud. The complications of this occurring in a WAHA environment are obvious. How would you feel about piping customer data “in the clear,” i.e. unencrypted, into hundreds or even thousands of agent homes throughout the country, or even internationally? You simply wouldn’t do it.

The only way to ensure that this information is safe, is to secure it before it ever even gets to a call center agent’s individual home and work space. They should never have it in the first place. Fortunately, there are ways to do this, and they can improve both productivity and AHT as well. At Semafone, we have created a way for payment card information to be securely transmitted directly to payment providers, removing call centers from the scope of PCI DSS compliance and ensuring greater data protection. Work-from-home agents cannot put customer data at risk if they never have it in the first place. And the benefits of this are two-fold – as customers enter payment card information using their phone’s touchtone keypad, agents stay in full voice communication but are free to handle wrap-up tasks, greatly improving the speed of transactions and the overall customer experience. Plus, because the customer manually enters his or her own card numbers, there is no chance that the agent will mishear or miskey the information, which can result in failed transaction charges for the call center. Overall, the transactional element of the call is more streamlined, thereby lowing AHT to realize additional cost savings.

Work-at-home agent models do not need to be a liability. As long as sensitive data never touches a remote work environment, WAHAs can be an incredible asset to a company’s productivity and growth –improving AHT, cutting costs and maximizing employee performance, all simultaneously.