|CIS: SYMON has been involved with the contact center industry for many years. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing contact center executives today?
Ansley: Today's contact center managers fall into two categories ' those who drive their business using taillights and those who drive by their headlights. Historically, this industry has driven with the taillights ' that is, making business and operations decisions based on historical information. In today's competitive market, that's not good enough.
Three years ago, we were introduced to business moving at 'Internet Speed,' and today most of it is still moving at that speed. Cycle times are shorter, resources are scarcer and everyone is forced to manage on a razor-sharp edge. Successful contact center executives today have the ability to accurately forecast future business demands and needs and are prepared for what lies ahead before it actually happens. The biggest challenge these managers face is putting into place the right people, processes and technology to drive by their headlights, day in and day out.
CIS: How can driving with headlights translate into real value for contact centers and their customers?
Ansley: The ability to look and plan ahead benefits both the contact centers and their customers. The age-old dilemma in this industry is how to provide customers the quality service they deserve and still remain profitable and growing. The answer lies in putting into place the right support mechanisms to better allocate resources, drive efficiency and maximize productivity consistently in real-time. To do that managers need access to accurate, up-to-date, relevant data ' data they can analyze and quickly turn into information upon which to base their business decisions.
At SYMON, we focus on providing real-time productivity solutions. Our products and services are designed to address all aspects of contact center productivity ' from real-time reporting to workforce management to performance tracking and more. We recognize that it's not 'one size fits all' out there. We've put together offerings that mirror industry work processes and that are specifically designed to overcome inefficiencies that cause centers to operate at less-than-optimal levels.
CIS: Can you provide an example of that?
Ansley: Yes. Effectively managing people is arguably the most difficult task contact center managers face. Employees are a center's largest cost and greatest asset, and they control the quality of service customers receive and, many times, the bottom-line profitability of the enterprise. Managers in the past tackled all the people productivity issues ' hiring, firing, scheduling, training, motivating, performance tracking, etc. ' based almost entirely on information that was, at best, a week or two old. By the time the reporting system caught up with them, the workforce could be seriously out of balance or many times it will have turned over. This leads to either overstaffing or understaffing ' both serious impediments to customer service and/or profitability.
At SYMON, we have developed a workforce management system that is 100 percent browser-based to allow all employees to be involved in managing workforce issues. For the manager, our COMMUNITY product offers forecasting, scheduling, tracking and intraday planning, and effectively eliminates second-guessing on staffing issues. But the magical moment occurs when individual agents begin to access COMMUNITY to monitor and track their own performance.
With an open view to real-time performance metrics, and with input into staff scheduling decisions, agents begin to feel like an integral part of contact center operations. This minimizes the serious problem of attrition ' which, by the way, has reached an overall industry average of 20 to 40 percent, depending on whose numbers you rely on. With the cost of hiring a new agent hovering between $6,000 to $10,000, you can quickly see the value of taking the 'headlights' approach to workforce management.
CIS: What role does technology play in this new way of managing?
Ansley: Today's managers want information in real-time. No longer content to wait for a weekly report, they look to their computers, cell phones and PDA devices for instant access to updates regarding staffing levels and performance. At SYMON, we have developed advanced communications systems that deliver a fast, reliable, steady stream of real-time, audience-specific information delivered by the recipient's preferred method, be it desktop, wallboard, panel, pager, e-mail, Web page or large monitor.
Managers want to be able to communicate with their employees instantaneously as well. This is a far cry from early days when the only communications tools managers had were simple wallboards that were not flexible and could not be easily updated. Today's Internet technology brings to the desk of each employee a wealth of real-time information that allows them to make course corrections and split-second decisions that have a very real positive impact on the enterprise's overall productivity and profitability.
Our newest product, VISTA, is a perfect example. With VISTA, a Windows- and browser-based software application, real-time reports, scorecards and dashboards can be delivered from multiple data sources to everyone in the contact center, including managers, supervisors and agents. And the information can be delivered in useful and familiar formats, including simple text, gauges, charts and tables. Now, instead of looking to the past for performance metrics, call centers can access real-time views that shine the light on the next decision to be made along with the real-time information to base it on to deliver effective and efficient contact center operations.
CIS: Why should contact center managers take this headlights approach to heart?
Ansley: Because every call center executive is at the proverbial 'fork in the road.' Most companies will have to make the decision this year ' or if not, then surely in the very near future ' whether to outsource contact center operations or locate operations in a center where they have total control along with total costs. The outsourcing choice is becoming more complicated by the mushrooming of offshore options. Truthfully, whatever choice they make, managers will face the same need to gather and analyze the data necessary to drive down costs and improve customer service. If they do outsource, they must demand from their vendors a real-time dashboard of operations, because the bright light of performance will still be on those same executives to get the job done.
What is not an option is 'business as usual.' Contact centers that continue to rely on yesterday's news won't survive. Those that embrace new processes and technologies, that learn to turn disparate data into valuable information and that operate from the strength of looking forward rather than gazing backwards will be the centers that thrive and rise to positions of industry leadership in the marketplace of tomorrow.
To The April 2003 Table Of Contents ]