Mike Weatherspoon didn’t create his Duke Room for watching Duke University Blue Devils basketball. It’s for taking calls as a senior customer service virtual care specialist at Duke Energy.
“Some people have man caves,” he said, “but I have a Duke Room.”
Weatherspoon, known to his co-workers as Mike Spoon, was one of the first customer service specialists in Charlotte to participate in a Virtual Customer Care Program where employees are based at home. This work-from-home setup is benefiting employees who enjoy a reduced commute, but it also helps customers.
Instead of spending 30 minutes getting ready for work and driving 25 minutes to the office, Weatherspoon and other home-based specialists are available to handle outages that require extra help, and they’re able to respond in minutes.
“Whether it’s down in Florida or up in the Midwest,” Weatherspoon said, “they know that we’re here, and we can get on the phone within 10 minutes.”
Virtual care specialists are on call about one week each month, compared with four to five times a year expected of office-based call center employees. Since Weatherspoon relocated his office to the second floor of his home in June, he said he has responded to about three on-call requests.
“Since you’re already at home,” he said, “it’s no problem at all.”
Duke Energy employs about 1,000 customer service specialists at eight call centers, and about 70 are in the Virtual Call Center Program. Kelly Polo, manager of the Bayside Call Center in Florida and lead of the Virtual Customer Care Program, said the company would like about 20 percent of those employees in home-based roles.
The program began when the company closed its Greenville Call Center in South Carolina in 2014. Employees had the option of relocating to Charlotte, taking a severance package or participating in the pilot virtual program. Most employees chose to work from home, and Polo said, the program has been a great retention tool and motivator.
“A lot of care centers are virtual now,” Polo said. “It’s something our employees have been asking for, and with some of the technology changes we’ve made recently, we have been able to offer it.”
Polo said employees with at least one to two years of experience and excellent performance records are invited to participate as positions become available. Their offices must be quiet, non-communal and approved by a company representative. Duke Energy provides employees with a computer, phone and internet service, and employees provide their own ergonomically correct workstation.
In addition, offices must have a locking door and a locking cabinet or drawer to store any customer data. Weatherspoon, who has worked for Duke Energy since 2012, has a locking filing cabinet for his documents and placed his workspace in front of the window.
“I sit in front of the window and act like I’m in my high-rise building downtown,” he said.
So far, Weatherspoon said, the only downside is having to make his own coffee.
“It’s really been enjoyable. The opportunity to work from home is pretty much everyone’s dream. It makes our lives easier, and it’s benefiting customers as well.”