There are three main reasons why it's cheaper to outsource work to WillowCSN Inc. than to do it in-house-even though Willow doesn't ship the work off to India, but keeps it in the Unites States.First: Willow's agents work from home as independent contractors, so there are no office costs or benefits expenses.

Second: The Miramar, Fla.-based company's agents are paid by the call, not by the hour, so a company doesn't need to pay for downtime.

Third: Willow's agents pay for their own training and equipment. This is a big departure from a traditional call center, where the insurance company pays for everything.

The result: Costs that average 30% to 40% below typical in-house call center costs.

On top of that, Willow's agents are a high-quality demographic-80% are college educated, 75% have sales experience, and 50% have management experience, according to the company's CEO Angie Selden.

That's a total of 3,000 agents in the U.S. today, 100 of them licensed property/casualty insurance agents. Turnover is less than a quarter of that at a typical call center, and 35,000 people are applying for 7,000 positions this year.

WILLOW'S POPULARITY

The primary reason these people go to Willow is they can pick their own hours and work locations, according to Selden. This is a good deal for military spouses, the disabled, people providing care to children or elderly parents, and those who live in small, remote towns with few employment options.

"We estimate there are 10 million people in the U.S. who would find working from home an attractive alternative to the job they have today-or to the fact that they don't have a job," Selden says.

The calls are monitored to make sure that crying babies, television or barking dogs don't spoil the customer experience, she adds.

"We have zero tolerance for an unprofessional work environment," says Selden.

NICE Systems, an Israel-based company that provides Internet telephony solutions to call centers, estimates 150,000 call center agents work from home, out of a total of 5 to 6 million call center employees in the United States.

"The trend is picking up," says Eyal Danon, NICE Systems' vice president of global marketing. "We see it all over the place."

According to International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass., other homesourcing-or homeshoring-vendors include Alpine Access, Aspect Communications, IntelliCare, West, and Working Solutions.

IDC estimates that the number of outsourced homeshoring jobs will reach 330,000 by 2010.

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