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In an ideal world, contact centers would run with clockwork predictability. Calls would come in with perfect regularity, and omniscient agents would answer every inquiry quickly and accurately. The real world is a much more complicated place, with customers who have complex needs which rarely fit into just one or two neat categories. Of course, your customers have little sympathy for your travails. They expect a quality experience each and every time they reach out to your agents. Your challenge is to keep the complexities of your contact center from becoming a fragmented, disjointed collection of ringing phones, ensuring that each connection is a productive, satisfying one for both the customer and the agent.

Transforming The Operation
Running away from complexity is not an option — being successful requires sophistication, and sophistication requires diversity, flexibility and a wide base of knowledge. But complexity need not be complicated. The diverse needs of your customers and the demands of your company’s range of products and services can be brought under control to create a contact center that is both effective and optimized. Bell Canada Holdings is just one of many companies which has committed to transforming a fragmented, complicated operation into an optimized, multi-functional contact center, after recognizing the inefficiencies of functional silos.

Callers expect three things from your organization — to be helped promptly, knowledgably and passionately. Fail to deliver on these expectations, and you risk sacrificing your entire brand image in your customers’ eyes. Therefore, it is imperative to keep complexity from sabotaging your ability to deliver a quality customer experience. Quality is meaningless without consistency, and a diverse contact center cannot deliver consistency without the ability to accurately assess the past and build operational forecasts for the future.


Workforce Management: The Cornerstone Of A Successful Operation
Just as a tiny stone in the center of a pond can ripple all the way to the banks, minor scheduling inefficiencies can sink a contact center’s operational plan. A robust workforce management solution should be at the heart of the forecasting process, but it is equally important to ensure efficiency in the workforce management function itself. Bell Canada recognized that it had 50 workforce management staff scattered across 15 offices, each focused on different contact centers in stand-alone lines of business and each using a different set of planning tools. By better defining the workforce management role and introducing a uniform set of tools and procedures, Bell Canada transformed its WFM jobs. Rather than relying on manual labor and guesswork, Bell Canada’s workforce planners now have crucial, up-to-the-minute insight into the state of the company’s agent workforce and call demand, leading to more accurate plans and better intraday changes.

Focus On Key Customer Demands
Once your forecast and schedule delivery processes are up to speed, you can focus on the three key customer demands. The first, speedy service, starts with an accurate forecast. Depending on the size of the organization and the expectations of your customers, missing by as few as two agents can significantly undermine your service levels. To make those forecasts work, however, the workforce must be scheduled properly. Specifically, effective scheduling can include flexible and rolling shift starts and stops, staggered breaks and lunches, and the ability to quickly transition agents from off-queue activities such as training and post-call work back to live caller interaction. Adherence monitoring helps ensure that agents are truly contributing in the way the plan expects. Those are not characteristics of a simple contact center, but with the right processes and technology in place, implementing them will make achieving your goals easier.

Make The Agent Experience More Predictable
Like many companies, Bell Canada had to manage agent anxieties as it migrated to longer hours of operation with more flexible scheduling and an increased focus on adherence. The key to securing agent buy-in was emphasizing that clearly defined scheduling is not used to complicate lives and monitor employees, but to make the agent experience more predictable and productive, with efficient windows for activities such as training and coaching which would minimize disruption by taking place during off-peak periods. Bell Canada also gained agent trust by pointing out that its new workforce management solutions enabled performance metrics to be analyzed more accurately from live results and objective peer group assessments.

Your agents may not all work under the same roof. Labor pool limitations, language requirements, hours of operation, acquisitions and a host of other reasons make it expedient for many companies to operate more than one contact center. Although it may seem simpler to operate each facility as an island, the fact of the matter is that an integrated, multisite contact operation makes far better use of available resources.

Operating with fewer call queues, but a unified pool of agents, gets customers to the best representative for the task at hand with the smallest amount of delay and fuss, regardless of location and without requiring clients to memorize a laundry list of contact numbers and different hours of operation.

Bell Canada’s requirements for multi-language operation and its wide customer footprint make multisite operation a natural choice. Even as it recently tightened up the linkages between its several contact centers in Ontario and Quebec, Bell Canada was able to identify opportunities to consolidate some locations. By sharing call volumes among the remaining centers, Bell Canada can address all callers better and faster, whether they are repeat callers with a long-standing issue, or a “zero-out” caller who simply needs a quick fact from a helpful agent.

A Positive Customer Experience Requires Knowledgeable Staff
Accurate forecasting and multisite coordination can get a live voice on the line promptly, but without a knowledgeable agent, the customer experience falls short. Proper scheduling requires the right staff to execute the plan, and contact center agents can no longer be treated as completely interchangeable parts cut from the same mold. Customers are more demanding than ever, and the growth of self-help tools, IVRs and online research mean that someone picking up the phone to call your organization may well have a very complex issue — and asking customers to simplify their requests is not an option.

It is not enough to merely anticipate the breadth of your customers’ needs. You must also grasp which agents within your organization are best suited to handle each call type. Building your operations around multiskilled agents allows the most efficient use of each active seat, permitting you to take advantage of the primary and secondary skills of your agents and route calls to the most appropriate agent to handle each call. This ensures both higher agent productivity, and greater customer satisfaction.

Using Workforce Management To Develop Multiskilled Agents
In order to ensure the best available agent knowledge, training must evolve as well. Used to its fullest potential, workforce management can be used in the development of multiskilled agent training plans, with just-in-time modules available directly at the agent’s desktop, at the appropriate schedule interval. Managers and agents can work together to review organizational needs, quality monitoring and performance management scores and create appropriate skill development tracks for the agents. Mastery of a new subject area can be easily incorporated in future multiskill scheduling plans, creating new opportunities to deliver the best service experience possible to each customer. Bell Canada found a significant improvement in agent satisfaction when it changed from frantic, hurried training sessions which pulled agents off the queue with little to no warning to clearly scheduled training times, complete with interactive pop-up reminders.

Empower Agents With Self-Service Tools
The final component of a quality experience is a passionate workforce, starting with motivated and responsive agents. There are a number of intangibles in employee relations, from parking spaces to overhead lighting, but workforce management can play a significant role in tangibly improving an agent’s quality of life, and by extension his or her investment in exceeding customer expectations. Some companies have made the mistake of allowing complex operating procedures to bury the needs of their agents, stripping them of any voice in scheduling and planning and making them feel like a disposable cog.

Instead, embrace the possibilities a more sophisticated contact center presents. Advanced operating platforms open up new possibilities for clear communication and disclosure, along with enhanced schedule bidding, time-off requests which are governed by consistent and fair rules, and opportunities for early departure and overtime which can be quickly communicated to the entire agent population. Self-service tools used for schedule bidding, preference changes and intraday alerts significantly empower your agents, which creates a work environment they help control, rather than simply react to. Agents with ownership of their work environment can focus better on the job at hand, a quality customers notice.

Achieve Tangible Results
After its workforce management overhaul, Bell Canada can now provide its agents with schedules three weeks in advance, a step up from the uneven days of old when schedules were provided as little as one week out. The company also provides a detailed performance metrics portal for agents so they can view their own performance and that of their team in real-time, rather than rely on infrequent and incomplete statistical handouts. The clear, concise scorecards and reporting make agent self-correction and peer motivation easier, as well as making the role of coaching and supervisory advice clearer.

Whether it is corporate performance, competitive pressures, or merger activity fueling the expanding needs of your contact center, change and growth should not be feared. Change is never simple, but it can be rewarding—Bell Canada’s contact center transformation has produced a long-term ROI of over $4 million. By putting your depth and breadth to work for your customers, you can build a contact organization that is the envy of your rivals and a true asset in the eyes of both customers and the executive board. CiS

Theresa Hull-Clarke serves as an Associate Director-Contact Center Specialist for ICT Bell Canada Solutions. She has more than 20 years experience contributing to Bell Canada, with 16 of those within the contact center. She may be reached at [email protected]

Rick Glew is VP of Marketing at IEX Corp., where he leads the strategic communication initiatives for the company’s workforce management and performance management solutions, which are part of the NICE SmartCenter offering. His e-mail is [email protected].

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