June 23, 2005, 12:00 AM

At call center provider Alpine Access, the workplace is at home

The 6,000-plus agents employed by Alpine Access work out of their own homes. Using a secure Internet connection and secure phone switch, the company supports retailer clients with home-based agents in 42 states.

Contact center company Alpine Access takes the virtual workplace to a new level: 100% of its 6,000-plus employee agents work out of their homes, connecting to clients’ incoming customer phone calls via a secure switch at Alpine Access, and to Alpine’s call center applications and client’s systems via a secure Internet connection. “It’s as if the agent were in a brick and mortar call center and using the same applications. But they are being provided to the agent via the Internet versus a physical wide or local area network,” says COO Jim Farnsworth.

The part-time, Internet-enabled, home-based model removes constraints on traditional call centers, with the result that the agents Alpine hires deliver higher than average conversion rates for Alpine’s clients, according to Farnsworth.

“It removes the barrier to finding highly skilled, technically advanced people because it removes the barrier of geography," he says, noting that Alpine employs call center agents working out of their homes in 42 states. “I can be much more choosy because I can recruit from anywhere.”

Farnsworth says the company seeks agents that balance technical skills with their own interests and the desire to work from home. One agent on Alpine’s account for client 1-800-Flowers.com, for example, competes in flower shows when she’s not on the job. Farnsworth also notes that the model removes physical barriers and that a sizeable employee population of Alpine’s agents are physically challenged.

Employees bring to the job their own computer set-up that must meet certain compatibility requirements, and the ability to be on a fixed-line phone and live on the Internet at the same time. Farnsworth compares the cost of that equipment to the cost of commuting to a brick and mortar location for work, and notes that the individuals Alpine seeks as agents typically have that level of technology installed already.

Agents also log onto the secure web connection to post their availability to work and to check a rolling eight-week schedule for the on-duty hours assigned to them – a proprietary application Alpine uses to match agent availability with client needs. Currently, estimates Farnsworth, about 50% of the company’s businesses is providing call center support for retailers.

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