COMPUTER BUSINESS REVIEW

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Issue Date: October 2006

The contact centre's migration from efficiency to effectiveness

October 2006
Dave Paulding

Efficiency will never go out of style in business. But in an industry that is largely transitioned from one-dimensional call centres to e-mail, web chat and the full-fledged multimedia contact centre, making a contact centre more efficient is not enough to make it competitive.

As technology continues to empower consumers with e-services and multimedia interaction options, efficiency-driven metrics such as average talk times do not always gauge an agent's actual performance. Nor do they reflect the customer pulse needed to improve service levels across multiple channels or the business processes behind them. With the growing importance of multimedia agent skill sets and offering quality service no matter what media a customer chooses, the expanded role of today's contact centre workforce commands far more attention than just filling seats and improving call statistics.
Enhancing agent effectiveness
Without question, a qualified agent staff is any contact centre's most valuable asset. Unfortunately, with the 35% agent churn typical in most centres, it is also the greatest expense. Whether they look at their workforce as a benefit, an area of needed improvement or both, contact centre managers are learning that putting agents in more integral roles can improve performance as well as attitudes and retention. Give agents greater incentive and better tools to help them succeed, and they take a more vested interest in the service they provide.
Contact centres across every industry are realising they need to make agents more effective and are putting performance management at the top of the objectives list. However, making agents better front-line ambassadors also means leveraging key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure business strengths and market opportunities across all media channels, and to optimise multichannel service processes by monitoring them with metrics for quality and satisfaction. In conjunction, contact centre managers and IT chiefs are looking more closely at workforce management applications, automated satisfaction surveys and new quality monitoring tools like screen recording to supplement call recording and agent scoring.
Call the migration from efficient to effective a new trend or paradigm, if you will. We simply call it good business for any contact centre. Here are some things to pinpoint in making your agents more effective and becoming a highly competitive, profit-generating value centre.
The muddy waters of acquisitions
First, two words about some of the 'all-in-one' communications solutions now showing up: be careful. Given the industry's widespread convergence-through- acquisition practices lately, the vendor waters are a bit muddy. There are many examples of this 'growth through acquisition' credo in the business news recently. The rule of thumb for many vendors seems to be, 'To add functionality, go buy it and figure out how to integrate everything with the other stuff you have later'.
True all-in-one platforms and 'suites'
Admittedly that knock on the industry's acquisition players is a harsh one, but only because companies like Interactive Intelligence have always built an all-in-one platform, as do others that do not carry the big-name banners. They have accomplished this from the ground up because they know that in the IP telephony software space, a single architecture and integrated application suite offers a far better solution than acquired functionality.
Assessing the industry for the long term, the analysts at Gartner said it best when they concluded that "a few best-of-breed vendors will remain, but the suite providers will bear the bulk of the investment". Essentially, Gartner cautioned contact centres and enterprises to listen closely whenever a vendor uses the term 'suite', as many bundled offerings now on the market actually consist of acquired components that were built using a variety of tools. As a result, these offerings are more 'portfolios' than they are suites, resulting in countless system administration environments, support complexities and overlapping functionality that is both unnecessary and costly.
In making agents and business processes more effective, contact centres should thoroughly evaluate a vendor's platform architecture and determine their time frames for 'true' suite availability. It is best to look at a pre-integrated platform and application suite from a single vendor, which largely eliminates the complexities of acquisition-based systems.
Three key effectiveness components
1. Workforce management. WFM provides the strongest agent effectiveness building block by addressing the scheduling problems that have plagued call centres and contact centres for years. If simple maths says anything about successfully handling interaction loads, it is that a contact centre must have enough agents scheduled and at their workstations every minute. Fortunately, applications such as Interactive Intelligence's Interaction Optimiser and similar solutions help do just that. In Interaction Optimiser's case, contact centres can accurately determine demand forecasts based on historical ACD data, develop schedules accordingly, and monitor schedule adherence across the workforce in realtime, at all times.
2. Quality monitoring. Give contact centre supervisors a realtime dashboard to monitor queue activity, listen in on calls, view web chats and e-mail messages, detect problems when average thresholds are exceeded, and coach agents via whisper coaching and chat suggestions, and they are better able to determine each agent's effectiveness when interacting with a customer.
Also using voice and screen recording, supervisors can record agent-customer interactions to score an agent's product knowledge, verify how the agent answers customer inquiries and much more. Screen recording is especially useful in that supervisors can instantly capture the activity of agents handling web chats and e-mail as well as calls, while getting a synchronised playback of audio and workstation activity for more complete quality monitoring.
Listen closely whenever a vendor uses the term 'suite,' as many bundled offerings now on the market actually consist of acquired components that were built using a variety of tools.
3. Metrics for performance management and measurement. Performance management leverages key performance indicators to measure strengths and market opportunities in a particular business segment. Contact centres can use KPI-related tools such as recording-based agent scoring questionnaires to analyse metrics and improve service level quality - along with associated business processes - across customer touch points (telephone, e-mail or a website).
For calls and e-mail (and reasonably for web chats), companies can use metrics for efficiency such as the percentage of calls answered in 20 seconds, average talk time, number of e-mail messages handled and average time to respond to e-mail. But there are also other factors that target an agent's effectiveness, such as first-contact resolutions, the number of upsell/cross-sell opportunities, leads identified and the accuracy of orders. For actual call and e-mail QM metrics, management can group an agent's scores for product knowledge, technical knowledge, communications skills and problem-solving skills, followed by satisfaction metrics based on incremental realtime surveys of customers as well as field sales staff and partners/distributors.
Whereas efficiency still matters in a contact centre, the overall effectiveness of agents and the processes they utilise to serve customers have taken centre stage.
Dave Paulding, regional sales manager,  Interactive Intelligence UK & Africa
Dave Paulding, regional sales manager, Interactive Intelligence UK & Africa
For more information contact Dave Paulding, regional sales manager, UK and Africa, Interactive Intelligence, +27 727 375 216, dave.paulding@inin.com


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