Managing customers is a hugely complex task for large corporations. In fact, the larger the organization is, the more removed decision makers become from customers. There is a complex maze of service and product offerings that customers wish to talk about. Their communication may have begun in the shopping or pre-sales mode and moved into the sales/purchase cycle, the after-sale service and billing questions, and then perhaps the ongoing support questions. Products and services are becoming more complex. Faced with this complexity, customers and companies must look for management and operational practices that carry more impact.
The two most effective ways to improve contact center performance are as follows:
• Establish a work volume forecasting methodology; and
• Establish staff schedules that meet customer demand.
Establish A Work Volume Forecasting Methodology
Forecasting is complicated by the abundance of customer communicationBy Doug Tanoury
Customer Interactions Consulting (CIC). channels and the need to have a blended staff capable of handling customer interaction across multiple media, such as:
• Inbound telephone calls; • Customer walk-ins; • Inbound e-mail; • Inbound faxes;
• Instant message requests; and • Web callback requests.
The one thing that all the above communications channels provide is rich reports of historical data and arrival patterns in short intervals ranging from 15 to 30 minutes. These data may change based on day of week, date within the month or seasonal factors. There is only one factor that makes any type of forecasting workable, and that is repeatable patterns. Every Tuesday from 2:00 pm to 2:30 pm, the same overall percentage of daily requests will arrive. If you look at that same interval over the previous four to six Tuesdays, you will be able to predict work volumes in the interval for the next Tuesday with amazing accuracy. As Figure 1 shows, the arrival pattern is amazingly constant, and every Tuesday will look like every other Tuesday. In fact, it occurs with such uncanny regularity that it takes a natural event such as a blizzard, earthquake, hurricane or flood to alter it significantly.
In the same way that call arrivals fall into patterns by day of week, call volumes fall into regular patterns as well. Every Tuesday looks like every other Tuesday unless some special event causes a change, such as a normal billing cycle, a holiday, a system failure or a product recall. Figure 2 shows regular Tuesday call volume throughout the month.
Establish Staff Schedules Based On Customer Demand
Managing contact centers is unlike managing any other type of organization; in fact, it is more similar to managing a manufacturing plant than an administrative office environment. Not many managers today understand the dynamic nature of production environments. Production environments were the vast engines that drove the Industrial Revolution. In the early days of the twentieth century, production environments were fuelled by pools of human labor. Only in the last 25 years have these labor pools been replaced by robots and automated machines. Customer contact centers, using telephones, interactive voice response (IVR) systems, instant messaging applications and e-mail, handle in piecework fashion the interactions of the largest corporations with individual customers.
The unique characteristics of production environments include:
• Production environments by their very nature are inflexible and rigid, especially in the demands they make on the workers;
• Processes must be consistent and uniform;
• Process variation must be managed to very low levels;
• Robust quality management programs are required to measure non-conformance or process failures; and
• Real-time tools to monitor quality and production are required.
The points above are true for describing both a manufacturing plant and a customer contact center. At the process level, production-is-production-is-production in the kitchen of a fast food franchise, at an airline ticket counter, a supermarket checkout counter, an assembly plant or a customer contact center. The dynamics of success and failure are remarkably similar.
Production environments that render or produce services are striking similar to environments that produce products. Imagine a factory environment where workers can leave the assembly line at will to take a break, make a phone call, visit with coworkers, come in late, take an extra long lunch on occasion and perhaps leave a bit early. The pace of production is inflexible, and the individual workers must conform to a rigid schedule. Not following a strict schedule causes production and quality to suffer and costs to rise.
As we have seen, if the contact volume by half-hour interval can be predicted with a great deal of accuracy, so too can the staff required in each half-hour interval. Three key components come together:
If I know how many total calls I will get on a given Tuesday in May,
If I know the percentage of total calls I will get in each half-hour interval on a given Tuesday in May,
If I know how long on average it takes to totally process a contact on a given Tuesday in May,
I can predict how many staff members are required per half-hour interval on a given Tuesday in May.
Table 3 is a staff schedule by half-hour interval that shows incoming units of work. It also shows the staff required versus the staff available by half-hour intervals.
What Results Can Be Expected
The results of establishing a work forecast and staff schedule will be immediate. All of the quality metrics that contact centers track can be improved, for example:
Managing contact centers is unlike managing any other
type of organization; in fact, it is more similar to managing a
than an administrative office environment.
• Service levels will improve;
• Customer wait times will be reduced;
• Customer satisfaction will increase;
• Customer abandonment rates will fall;
• Staff productivity will improve;
• Cost per contact will be reduced; and
• Employee satisfaction will improve.
All these improvements can be obtained without any capital investment, new technology or lengthy development projects. These benefits can be obtained simply by changing current management practices and managing contact centers like the true service production environments they are. CIS
Doug Tanoury is widely regarded as a customer management expert who has dealt with all aspects of people, process and technology across all front office business applications. Doug has held both operational management and consulting roles for EDS, MCI, eLoyalty,
Siebel Systems (News - Alert)
and Customer Interactions Consulting (CIC).
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