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Customer Inter@ction Solutions
April 2007 - Volume 25 / Number 11
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First Call Resolution: Good For You, Good For Your Customers

By Tracey E. Schelmetic
Editorial Director, Customer [email protected] Solutions

It's a generally accepted piece of conventional wisdom that in the call center, what's good for you — lowering call handle times, offloading more live calls into indifferent, inexpensive and generic self-service, replacing skilled agents with anything that can be loosely considered a carbon-based life form with a pulse, offshoring customer care to foreign lands where call center workers are happy with less salary than it would take for a U.S. agent to feed the cat with — is not good for the customer. It works both ways. What's generally considered good for the customer — a highly skilled, highly trained agent, over-staffing of the workforce to ensure there are no wait times for customers, perfectly integrated call center systems, superior skills-based routing and high-quality self-service that can only be gotten through advanced natural language processing techniques, among other things — will generally sink a call center in terms of costs, not to mention force the board of directors and shareholders to put a hit out on the company's COO or whoever is ultimately responsible for the contact center.

Today's call center managers are faced with a seemingly impossible task: improve the call center's quality while lowering its costs. It's a little bit like being told to do more driving, but use less gas, or to reap more in investment income, but use less capital.

This is why the concept of first-call resolution in the contact center is garnering so much attention today. The less a call center has to "touch" a particular customer contact, the less it costs, in general. The less a call center has to "touch" a particular customer contact, the happier the customer is. Customers want quick, valid and consistent information regardless of how and when they contact your company. Agents want customer interactions to be fast, easy and not likely to cause problems for them in the future. Supervisors want customer interactions to be over quickly, take up few resources and leave agents available to service more customers. Managers want to keep customer loyalty high and costs low.

Sounds like everybody's in agreement.

As with every other seemingly simple solution, the framework that needs to be built before the concept can be achieved is a little trickier than writing "achieve first-call resolution" at the top of your to-do list (just under "get a perfect gym body by spring" and "implement world peace by the end of the year.")

I spoke recently with Rob McDougall, President of Upstream Works (www.upstreamworks.com), a provider of advanced call center solutions. Rob provided me with his vision of the eight steps to achieving true first-call resolution.

1. Implement screen pop on your inbound calls. Many companies shy away from using interactive voice response (IVR). That's because they don't want to burden their callers with a bad IVR system. Simply prompting your customers for an account number and then forwarding them to an agent allows you to ensure that the customer gets appropriate treatment from your automated systems. You can increase their satisfaction and reduce your costs at the same time. But — and this is important — once you've asked them for information, you need to make sure you don't ask them for it again. Repetitive requests for customer information is one of the biggest sources of customer anger and frustration.

By collecting customers' account numbers and delivering that information to the agent along with the calls, you eliminate repetitive information while providing the agents with the information they need to best handle the call efficiently.

With screen pop, you will not only provide better customer service, you will increase your efficiency by about 10 percent in a busy call center.

2. Provide agents some context for the incoming call. In a perfect world, a service center would use a single application for everything. But an average contact center uses six applications to provide service. Some use as many as nine. A few have been clocked in at 12.

When an agent gets an incoming call, he or she knows nothing about the call or the caller and must determine this information from scratch every time. If you pre-determine who is calling and (potentially) why, you can help guide agents to the correct application.

If a caller is contacting you to inquire about the shipping status of an item, it doesn't make sense to deliver that call to a CRM application if the agent probably needs only the legacy shipping application.

Even if agents are asking the reason for the call, providing them easy access to the right record in each of the applications they use will save them time, hassle and the need for additional training. Providing some context around each call helps them prepare sooner and react more naturally. It gives customers a sense that they are recognized and valued. Guiding agents to the correct application will allow them to provide better and more efficient customer service and eliminate key clicks from the call, and it will allow the customer to carry away a greater sense of satisfaction from the transaction.

3. Contact history. Providing a concise history of a caller's contact with your company will help your agents deal with callers. It shows the agents why a customer called, who dealt with the caller, and even if the caller abandoned his or her last call attempt. By providing a history across all contact media, an agent can reference not only voice calls, but also e-mails and chat sessions. Providing this information to agents allows them to use their brains in determining the best course of action for the call. Was this not a first-call resolution? Having this information available to agents at their fingertips helps them cope with any situation intelligently. This improves customer service dramatically, and also improves productivity by empowering the agents with the information they need to do their jobs easily. As with every other seemingly simple solution, the framework that needs to be built before the concept can be achieved is a little trickier than writing "achieve first-call resolution" at the top of your to-do list (just under "get a perfect gym body by spring" and "implement world peace by the
end of the year.")

4. Automation. Your agents will often need to deal with multiple applications on a single call. This may be due to the caller having multiple reasons for the call, or it may be due to the agent solving the customer's issue and moving on to upsell them to new products.

In many instances, information must be manually re-entered into several different applications. Agents will make mistakes in transcription; in other cases, they will not update every application due to time constraints in the call center. Human nature will ensure that a contact center will end up with incorrect information in some applications as a side effect, a situation that will cause a ripple effect into the future of that customer relationship. Providing agents with the ability to easily share information between applications will save the agent time and provide more efficient customer service. It will eliminate errors and ensure that the tediousness of retyping information is eliminated from the agent's daily work flow, a factor that will have a positive effect on agent retention, keeping costly churn down. Automation will give you more accurate information, as well as more efficient calls, saving money and increasing revenue as a result. Human nature will ensure that a contact center will end up with incorrect information in some applications as a side effect, a situation that will cause a ripple effect into the future of that customer relationship.

5. Adaptability. Service center personnel are often the last people in a company to find out what's going on. Marketing or manufacturing will often do things that have a direct effect on the center without considering the impact. When these initiatives arise, the center must track items such as quality-related calls or commercial responses and, in every case, the center needs to react quickly. Since IT overhead is usually heavy, these data will often get tracked and correlated manually, leading to information that is incomplete or incorrect. By implementing a technology solution that can quickly and easily adapt to changes in market conditions or business initiatives, you can ensure that you are actually increasing the value of the center to the overall business while not adversely affecting your bottom line.

6. Information access. Do your agents know where to get the information, and if they do, is it easy to access? If agents can't find the information they need, the customer's needs are not met, which can lead to multiple calls, or worse, a lost customer. It can also lead to agent burnout, which leads to high turnover.

Even in cases where information is available, if it's not "handy," a well meaning agent may rely solely on his or her memory to provide an answer — introducing a potential for errors or inconsistent information provided to the customer. Agents need to have all pertinent information about that customer available to them quickly and easily to ensure that it's timely and correct for the caller. Knowing how and where to find the answers to questions can quickly eliminate major blocks of call time, such as fruitless network searches, conferencing other agents in or finding a supervisor.

7. Measure everything. You've heard it before: if you can't measure it, you can't manage it. Unfortunately, most call center measurement is based on telephony information and does not capture a business view of the effectiveness of the agents. By correlating "customer saves" with talk times, you can find out who your best agents are. By measuring the center in conjunction with other business information, you can start to get a clearer picture of how your call center is performing as a business unit rather than as a call center.

Remember, your customers aren't calling your center; they are calling your business. If they have to wait in queue five seconds less but have to call back several times to get an issue resolved, you aren't meeting their expectations. Measuring your center's performance won't in itself save you any money. However, it will allow you to identify what areas need improvement.

8. Ready, Set, Go! You have a lot riding on your agents. They're your gateway to your world of serving existing customers and thousands of possible new ones. You've invested a lot in your agents, so it's a good idea to make the effort to ensure that they've got all the right tools and resources that they need to be performing at their best. Having a happy and productive staff doesn't require massive changes, just a few smart steps.

What should be entered into the new call center "conventional wisdom" book is that what makes your customers happy generally makes your agents happy. Crabby customers lead directly to crabby agents who are likely to give you sub-par performance in a best-case scenario. Worst-case scenario is they quit, which means all the (substantial) capital you spent on training has just gone out the window, and you must spend even more money to recruit, hire and train that agent's replacement.

Some studies have shown that customers whose problems are dealt with quickly and efficiently in a call center are even more receptive to upsell offers than customers who never had problems at all. Think about that for a moment. A customer calling in with an issue may turn out to be your best friend and most loyal customer IF you can deal with his issue in the most picture-perfect way possible, which happens to be first-call resolution.

Next on your to-do list: that gym body and world peace. But you're on your own in accomplishing those.CIS

By Tracey E. Schelmetic
Editorial Director,
Customer [email protected] Solutions

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