Call Center Technology Optimization

Call center technology optimization

Call Center Services:

We have a wealth of technology in the call center, but companies frequently underutilize it or poorly apply it to business needs. Now is a great time to review your deployments and find ways to optimize their business value – through technology, process, and/or people changes.

Call center software

Many elements play a role in routing, including the network, IVR, ACD, and potentially CTI
and databases. Call centers need to review or define a call path carefully, end-to-end, to apply the technology properly. Skills capabilities allow agents to handle various call types and priorities, and conditional routing makes “if…then…” decisions for each call. Most centers focus on phone calls, but also “route” emails and perhaps fax, mail, or even text chat as part of contact handling.

Call Center Skills:

So as we look at routing and skills, we also need to consider it across media. Many problems in contact centers are due to overly complicated routing and skills. Making skill structures too granular makes it difficult to effectively route, track, manage, and optimize.

It puts customers through needless gyrations to call different numbers, navigate prompts, and bounce around queues. “Command center” staff move calls and/or agents around to try to match resources to workload, rather than letting the technology work on their behalf.

And in the end, callers often end up in the same place in spite of all these efforts. At the other end of the spectrum, some centers suffer from overly simplified routing and skills. They put everyone into one bucket and expect their “super agents” to do it all. They wind up with a high transfer rate and low first call resolution.
Each call center needs to strike the right balance, applying technology effectively to meet business needs.


Call Center Success Factors:

Keep it simple: Define end-to-end routing with the customer in mind and ease of
management as a complementary goal. Define channel use (toll-free numbers) and
prompts (whether in the network, IVR, and/or ACD) carefully to match skills while
minimizing the burden on the customer. Define skills only to the degree needed for
the call types – not for tracking, not because you can break it down that much. Finally,
define routing paths with the right conditional options but not too many gyrations.
You don’t want “spaghetti routing” where you can’t decipher what goes where (and
why) or what works and what doesn’t.

Use the technology: Set up appropriate conditionals and skills to find the best
available resource – including looking at backup skills or other sites. Use a routing
tool for email – whether it’s a function of your ACD or CTI, or a separate email routing
engine. You’ve got to be able to route, track, and optimize more than just phone calls.

Make changes when necessary, and with purpose and understanding. Part of getting
routing and skills right is continuous improvement; few environments are truly static.
Use your reports to monitor results, and analyze, assess, and optimize based on what
you learn. (Stay tuned for our next column which will address reports)
Tie routing and skills technology into the process and people aspects as well.
Training is key to aligning skills and contact types. You can use routing and skills to
help define career paths and create opportunities – across products, customer types,
media, or other dimensions.

If I were to poll a cross-section of call center leaders, I’d probably find a love-hate relationship with reporting software. They love the technology for cranking out tons of data and reports. But they’re not crazy about how difficult it is to find the meaningful nformation
among all that data. Since reporting is the key tool for assessing the health of the center and identifying areas for improvement, and one nearly every center invests in, let’s talk about how to get the most out of that investment.

First, I hear and appreciate the frustration with many vendor reporting packages. One hundred or more standard reports can be overwhelming. It’s tempting to provide access to lots of reports for fear that a useful insight might otherwise be lost. It’s equally tempting to avoid the overload by using a few reports for a few simple things or worse, the wrong things, thus missing the opportunity to create the focus on the business goals.

Apparently, the strongest temptation, because we see it so often, is dumping data into Excel or Access, presumably to get it into a manageable form in a familiar tool. The latter may “work,” but it’s not a good long-term strategy. It pains me to see clients spend tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on management reporting packages to accompany their routing and skills capabilities and then deploy small armies to manipulate data in spreadsheets. Beyond the obvious hit to the bottom line, it’s a time-intensive, error-prone coping mechanism that doesn’t scale.

The mysteries of these one-off reports result in second guessing and data distrust, and sometimes independent calculations that reap different results. Heaven forbid one report (which we’ve even heard referred to by the author’s name, such as the “Bob Report”) from one data manipulation guru – I mean analyst – says something different about a crucial performance indicator than another report.

I’m also concerned about folks who focus almost exclusively on historical reports and the “I know what happened” explanation that comes with it. Real-time reports offer the possibility of doing something about what is happening, addressing key performance requirements such as Service Level. Reports aren’t meant to be yesterday’s news. They are calls to action – both tactical and strategic.

Here are some actions you can take to optimize reporting technology and its application in the center:

1. Define a metrics strategy to focus on the right key performance indicators for your business and operational goals. Then specify what information should go to whom, how often, in what form, via what channel. Create a consistent focus across the organization and use reporting to reinforce and optimize performance.

2. Create a business analyst role to maximize the value you get from your real-time and historical reports. Define “triggers” to address performance issues in real-time along with appropriate action plans. Use trending and analysis to define strategic changes in processes, staffing, technology use, and more. Work with routing and skills analysts, quality monitoring staff, training, and IT to institute changes and track results.

3. Use the systems on which you’ve spent the big bucks. Invest in training so your people know how to use the tools and customize only when necessary. Make sure your front line supervisors and managers work effectively with the information they receive. And help CSRs understand how the information can help them balance productivity with quality service to the customer.

4. Define governance for report creation and distribution to avoid becoming slaves to the system and constantly creating unique, little used reports. Have a business reason for creating new reports, adding new metrics (more is not always better), and distributing more information to more people.

Call Center Quality Assurance

Scorecards and dashboards present a tremendous opportunity to focus everyone in the call center on what truly matters to the business. In the best case, the technology and associated processes operate like a nervous system, sensing and reporting key information
about the current environment and stimulating coordinated action by all affected parts. In the worst case, they fire off the wrong responses, overwhelm the receptors with too much information, fail to warn of impending danger, or some combination of all three.

There’s no doubt about it: It makes good sense to give thoughtful consideration to the design, presentation, and use of this technology. Whether built in-house or purchased off-the-shelf, scorecards and dashboards provide a snapshot of performance for the organization, teams, and individuals. In their most basic form, they provide daily, weekly, and/or monthly views of key metrics, as well as real-time displays for selected operating statistics. Higher end solutions use color coding to compare actual performance to targets and highlight trends. They equip users to slice and dice the data and/or drill down for additional detail. And analysts, team leaders, supervisors, and CSRs get custom views on their desktops tailored to their specific needs

As cool as they are, scorecards and dashboards can get muddied up by technology, process, and people issues. Home-grown solutions fall prey to the too-much-of-a-good-thing syndrome in which more and more data gets crammed onto scorecards with little regard to the stats that really matter. And with the high risk of human error that comes with this kind of reporting, unsuspecting users may get toomuch-of-a-bad-thing! Vendor tools have their own Achilles heel: poorly applied bells and whistles due to lack of strategy and context. No matter who does the development, some common threats are:

Call Center Threats:

• Poorly defined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which lack context within business strategy

• Limited diversity in the scorecard data – mostly repackaged ACD stats, perhaps with a dash of QM – which fails to account for voice of the customer, IVR performance, schedule adherence, cost/revenue numbers, and other KPIs.

• Too many KPIs (“Just measure them all!”) and/or conflicting KPIs with little concern for how the data drives – or fails to drive – performance.

• General confusion by the team about what the metrics mean, why they’re important, and what the team should do about them, compounded by an absence of coaching to stimulate peak performance. If these pain points sound familiar and you’ve got a hankering to enhance your operational nervous system, here are some suggestions for optimizing your scorecard and dashboard technology and its application in the center:

1. Develop a metrics strategy tailored to your primary business objectives such as revenue generation, cost control/efficiency, or relationship building. Identify a few targeted KPIs that have particular relevance to your objectives. Measure staff productivity across all media and the efficacy of customer-facing technologies such as IVR. Distinguish between metrics with specific targets and those to simply monitor for trends and anomalies. Finally, define who gets what, with what frequency, and through which media. As shown in Figure 1, a good strategy provides folks in the trenches with frequent, granular data, while senior
management’s role is to understand the “big picture” and resist temptation to dive into the weeds. A strategy provides the focus and alignment everyone needs to do their part.
2. Choose the right data from the right sources to create a balanced view of the center’s performance, along with each individual’s contribution to the collective. Paint a comprehensive picture, but don’t inundate the viewers with too much information.

3. Take time to educate the team on the metrics strategy and how it relates to the center’s business objectives. Communicate how and why the metrics were chosen, what they mean to the center and the individual, and how they’ll be used to monitor and enhance the team’s performance.

Create business processes to specify who does what under what circumstances with information provided on scorecards. Address real-time operational protocols to meet critical metrics such as service level. Provide opportunities for feedback, coaching, and personal development to help individuals raise their skills and competencies. Note trends and root causes that affect the whole organization and engage the training, IT, and process optimization folks to launch performance improvement initiatives. Use results to recognize individual and team successes.

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