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Customer Inter@ction Solutions
June 2007 - Volume 26 / Number 1
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Call Centers Are The Communication Nucleus Of Any Business
Create A Nimble, Reactive Call Center To Gain An Advantage

A Special Editorial Series Sponsored By Strategic Communication Systems

 


What do they have in common? Both Fred and Ann are trying to find a way to retain qualified staff while cost-effectively meeting internal and/or external customer demands. Ensuring high-quality performance while minimizing risks and balancing the budget is not a simple task even for a multi-talented professional. The basic element both managers face is they need to find a way to do more work with the same or less personnel each year.
Cost is always an issue when evaluating calling needs. Whether you operate a call center inside a major corporation, run an independent call center or have a small center inside your business, there is always pressure to achieve more. A call center helps maximize profits. The trick is to ensure management views the call center as a profit arm and not an expense to control. Efficient handling of inbound service calls translates to a good reputation and brand enhancement. Effective outbound calling stimulates revenue.

The call received or taken often sets the tone of the customer’s lifelong relationship with a company. The impression left can create a positive energy or a lasting negative spin. Even small efficiency gains can produce large results in the right operation. A company will spend millions of dollars on branding that can be wiped out in minutes with a bad call.


Like most entities, a call center evolves over time. They developed a process that addressed their initial needs, but then needed to adapt to meet new customer demands, regulatory changes or other moving targets that were not in place when the initial solution was designed. The center can become challenged by regulatory or technical changes or changing business needs. There are several potential obstacles a call center can encounter:

Legacy investments. These are locations where so much has been invested in the existing system that making a change is unthinkable. This is a trap many companies fall into. Sustaining a legacy may be important in some areas, but in business, the legacy should be the perpetual drive to improve profits.

The current solution is not fully depreciated. Why hold onto a solution, even if it is not fully depreciated, if it is holding you back from achieving mission-critical goals? Writing an old system off may make better financial sense if the solution replacing it can bring the productivity needed to achieve today’s financial metrics.

Acquisitions and mergers. How does an organization integrate two or more call centers that may exist when an acquisition or merger occurs? Is selecting one of the two existing solutions the right choice or can benefits be gained for both call centers by choosing a new application to unify the new operation? The cost of modifications to either legacy system may be more than the cost of one new integrated solution suite.

Capacity-strained centers. Moving from one physical space to another is an expensive and time-consuming task that in the end results in a higher fixed commitment to rent. When a business hits a perceived physical capacity limit, it should step back and look to see if it can realize a 25 to 50 percent productivity gain by revisiting the current solution driving the center. Moving or expanding may not be what is needed to fix the increased demand for space.

Emerging entities. These groups often do not even know they are a call center. Calling is critical to what they do, but if they use manual dialers or some form of customer relationship or contact management system, are they really allowing callers to do their job properly? Are they still experiencing operator intercepts, busy signals or other “dialing”-related obstacles? Are incoming calls being appropriately routed by using an IVR to the proper first-level response agent?

Calling, whether it is inbound or outbound, is a money management decision. Call efficiency goes deeper than surface labor dollars. There are at least three major intangible items that affect every call center:

Customer retention. Whether you operate an inbound response center or outbound group, the goal is to have an efficient, productive call. You may be the internal support group for a company or contracted to sell or support another business’s clients, but the target is to achieve a high satisfaction or sales rate. The call center solution can be the driver to make agents more productive, which can reduce employee turnover. Turnover increases hiring and training costs, affects employee morale and makes it harder to achieve goals. Every caller who leaves drains profits and creates emotional stress.

Caller effectiveness. Callers learn as they go. The more they are exposed to, the more potential they have to learn. In an outbound center, if an agent is experiencing 30 connects per hour and has the opportunity to make 60 connects per hour, that agent will exponentially refine his or her calling style, which should produce better results in a shorter time. Ideally, an outbound center would like to see the number of connections begin to drop in correlation with an increase in sales. Automation and tools create the proper setting to optimize calling results.

Risk. What is said, how it is said, the offer made, the words used and other factors all add to the potential risk in operating a call center. What level of call monitoring is conducted? Are calls being recorded to ensure employees are following procedures and to protect agents from being accused of something they did not say? Beyond FTC do-not-call concerns, there are other exposure areas that reside in a call center. In today’s litigious society, the ability to monitor, train, record and intercept are good options to have and practices to deploy.

What is in place today is not as important as getting to where you need to be tomorrow. If you have an existing call center solution, it may seem difficult to consider replacing it, but you need to ask if you are getting the type and volume of responses needed? Look at the different types of call center challenges from above. Does a legacy system do what it needs to do today? The cost of personnel and client acquisition or satisfaction should far outweigh the decision to hold onto a solution that may not be achieving goals. Does the fact that an asset is not fully depreciated mean it should continue to be in use? In a merger, acquisition or space strained location will a new call center solution get you to the next level? Challenge the existing operation to see if better technology and fresh ideas can expand your resources.

To understand what benchmarking questions to ask related to your center, please call us. We find most call centers struggle to understand the alternative value points and ROI potential that exists because they are so deeply ingrained in their current applications. SCS is not the perfect fit for everyone, but we are always able to spend a few minutes helping anyone who calls us. You will talk with owners and key executives who live and breathe the issues of this industry and work with their sleeves rolled up alongside of their customers. Contact Mark Findahl, VP of Customer Support, to discuss your needs at 800-727-4155 or via
e-mail at mfindahl@strategicinc.com.


For Today’s Call Center, Flexibility Is Not Just “Nice To Have”
By Tracey E. Schelmetic, Editorial Director, Customer Interaction Solutions

Let’s face it. The call centers of 20 or even 10 years ago operated in one way only. Agents were hired and trained in the same way, the parameters for call recording had been set in stone years before, IVR menu trees were set up once and the call center was expected to bend to the IVR rather than the other way around. Dialers operated the same way every day and scripts were cumbersome to change. When it came to inbound calls, agents had one modus operandi, and making any changes to it involved circulating paper copies of memos that were doomed never to be read.

Change was about as welcome as a tax audit, and flexibility in day-to-day operations was an urban legend. “Blending” was something that was done for cocktails on Fridays in an attempt to forget the dismal week that had just passed. No matter how hard call center managers, supervisors and agents worked, they would never be anything but a cost liability to the company that contained them.

The good news is, these kinds of call centers cannot exist much longer. Newer and far more flexible technologies are increasingly being adopted to allow organizations to build contact centers (either literally or virtually) that move and blend to meet a company’s needs, not the other way around.

Today, smarter ACDs can be configured quickly to work in the best interests of the contact center at any particular moment. Better IVR solutions (for both inbound AND outbound calls) can be changed quickly and work with the call center’s scheduling software. Dialers can be easily customized to make the best possible use of available resources. Recording can be done exactly how a business needs it, when it needs it, and the results can be stored digitally for easy access. (Once upon a time, the terms “stored calls” and “easy access” could never be uttered in the same sentence unless there was a punch line.)

Best of all? Today’s newer operating model of multiple, integrated call centers can be easily served by today’s more flexible technologies. Multiple sites need not duplicate hardware and software and operate almost independently of one another, but can be tied together with a single solution to operate as a unified whole, invisible as separate sites by customers.

The goal is to give agents exactly what they need when they need it, and customers what they want when they want it simultaneously, a feat that is no longer an urban legend. Because as generations of earlier call centers have discovered, expecting customers and agents to change to suit the call center results in high turnover of both. Building a call center that can change to meet the needs of customers and the agents who serve them yields benefits at both ends: for the contact center that was formerly a black hole for capital but now generates revenue, and for the customers who just want to resolve their queries.

The author may be contacted at tschelmetic@tmcnet.com.

 

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