Think differently about running contact centers

There are age-old assumptions about running contact centers. You may be experiencing some roadblocks in your center. You may be trying the same old tricks and getting less and less and less out of them. You may be behind a goal and worried about how you’re going to make it. If that’s the case, it’s time to think differently about the assumptions you have about running contact centers.

Unplanned Events

Unplanned events affect and impact every business, whether it’s severe weather, inventory shortage and outage, high call volume, or other unplanned events. Even tardiness can create unintended consequences and unplanned events in a business. Consider how absenteeism impacts your call center. Or suppose that a product issue arises that drives call volume.

In the contact center and in business generally, the general response to unplanned events is very manual. This results in a lot of waste and missed opportunities. Workforce management teams spend nearly 50% of their time responding to these intraday surprises, sending people home when volume is low or alerting supervisors when an agent’s handle time is too high or scheduling and rescheduling training because it gets interrupted by call volume.

Given this unpredictable nature of the contact center, your business would be better off if you could be more agile, or dynamic and flexible. Instead of building  a static and fairly rigid single-tasked group of people, you can set up your center to be prepared to roll with the changes and shift from one type of work to another when things change.

Common practice in call centers is to strive for an 80% service level. Centers staff queues of 80% to deliver an 80% service level, which guarantees that customers will have to be on hold. But that’s not the experience that customers want. Customers want speed and accuracy.

Centers don’t staff to peak because, if they do, they will be that much more overstaffed in the valleys when there’s no work to do. But what if you could quickly staff to your peaks and then quickly staff down as volume drops, or deliver another type of work to remain productive during the valleys? That’s agile. That’s dynamic. That is staffing to peak to give customers the speed that they want, without the drag of down time in the center.

Intraday Management Technology

Embracing this agile approach is made easier with the use of technology. Changing as conditions change intraday is what intraday management technology is all about.

Staffing

With intraday management technology, you could write rules to automatically staff, approve voluntary time off, or approve voluntary overtime based on metrics like service level threshold. The management tool could automatically offer voluntary time off or voluntary overtime based on your needs, reducing the time it takes to complete the task to five minutes, instead of the average hour and a half it would take to organize it all manually. You might even create a rule to offer voluntary time off to the highest performing agents first, which can encourage the lower performing agents to improve their performance. But no matter who you decide to send home first, this kind of approach protects the customer experience. You can staff to peak at all times, ensuring quicker responses to customers, without the hassle of hours of work to change your staffing arrangements throughout the day.

Imagine if you could promise your customers that they will never experience hold times when they call your center—that their call will be answered no later than the third ring. If you staff to peak and have a dynamic and agile intraday management approach, you could make that promise to your customers and outshine your competition. That could be invaluable from a competitive advantage standpoint.

Queues

What if every queue was continuously updated and aligned with the ongoing changes in agent skills based on performance? You could limit queues to agents based on agent skills recorded in skills tables. These tables could be updated based on training, experience, and certification tests. Imagine creating rules in your software that automatically make changes to the skills table when an agent completes an assignment or increases competency. Imagine that it would then sync with active queues, allowing that agent to take calls on queues where they’re now qualified. If you had the capability in your business to adjust to the changes that are happening with your personnel throughout the day, your customers’ experiences would be greatly improved.

Training

Intraday management technology can also help with training.  You want agents to receive enough training to be prepared to deliver a stellar customer experience every single time, but maybe your trainings get cancelled and it takes a month reschedule. Customers suffer as a result.

On average, agents sit idle for about 17 hours a month (assuming 160 hours of work). This is referred to as “available time,” and it accounts for about 11% of an agents day. That time is fragmented, showing up two minutes at a time. You’re paying agents for time that you can’t use because it’s fragmented. Instead of wasting that idle time, you can push tasks like training into that time.

Intraday management technology can make those 17 unused hours each month productive by organizing those little 2-minute slivers of time into larger 12- or 15-minute useable blocks. There’s plenty of time in 17 hours to prepare each of your agents to provide great customer service.

Three Tactics for Managing the Customer Experience

You can manage the customer experience and make huge leaps forward by thinking differently.

1)  Ensure that more than enough agents are available for your customer enquiries. Customers want speed. Give it to them. Stop thinking about the valleys as unproductive—staff to peak and make the troughs productive by pushing training, back office tasks, and e-mails into those valleys.

2) Improve your queue management to immediately allow agents who are qualified to resolve customer enquiries. This will improve speed and also improve your accuracy. Match your best performing people to your best customers. Give your customers that speed and accuracy.

3) Make more of your performers using the time you already paid for. Don’t underestimate the value of pushing things like back office tasks and personnel development into the downtimes of your contact center agents. Your enterprise will get a greater degree of productivity, as well as loyalty from your customers and your agents.

Intraday management can allow you to think differently about how your business works, instead of thinking in a rigid environment limited by old technology. You can use new technology to become more dynamic in how you run your contact centers to make giant leaps forward. Intraday management technology is good for your customers, your agents, and your bottom line.

About the author

Matt McConnell

Matt is chairman, president and CEO of Intradiem. Matt co-founded Intradiem in 1995 with a vision of helping companies increase the level of customer service they deliver by improving the performance of their agents. Today, Intradiem is a leader in its market with more than 300,000 call center agents around the world using Intradiem every day. Matt is the author of the book Customer Service at a Crossroads and holds 11 software patents. He graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in industrial and systems engineering.

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