At the heart of every contact center are its agents, who are the gatekeepers of your company's customer relationships and are a contact center's most valuable ' and costly ' resource. Whether your contact center focuses on collections, customer service or sales and telemarketing, it is essential that you maximize your agents' efficiency and productivity while both ensuring the highest levels of agent retention and maintaining a healthy bottom line. The way to do this is with performance optimization.
Using performance optimization software and associated best practices, contact centers can enhance, measure, track and report agent performance against established performance targets.
But how exactly does performance optimization deliver on its promise? Let's take a look at the components of performance optimization in order to understand how a contact center can leverage this pivotal technology to increase agent efficiency and productivity.
The Building Blocks Of Performance Optimization
There are three building blocks necessary to achieve performance optimization:
' Workforce management;
' Quality management; and
' Agent analytics.
Contact centers can reduce agent idle time while simultaneously increasing customer satisfaction through workforce management solutions. In fact, the leading solutions can produce significant return on investment in a very short time.
Full-featured workforce management solutions are both scalable for growth and modular for expansion, and they can lower operating costs while heightening scheduling efficiency. They can integrate multiple channels from a single server or multiple locations via the Internet, offering a common enterprisewide solution. The right workforce management solution should combine forecasting, scheduling, reporting and planning while fully empowering agents via a Web browser.
As contact centers are increasingly able to handle multichannel customer interactions, workforce management solutions must keep pace, ensuring that the appropriate number of agents with the right skills is available to manage voice contacts, as well as to reply to e-mail and conduct Web chat sessions. Poor workforce management can lead to abandoned contacts or inadequate interactions, resulting in time and money lost, not to mention unhappy customers.
To effectively schedule agents, workforce management solutions need to forecast the demand for work to be accomplished. Most workforce management solutions include the ability to take historical or seasonal data on inbound voice contacts from the contact center platform and then plan staffing requirements accordingly. Forecasting for multiple demand types such as outbound voice, Web chat or e-mail response requires specialized algorithms to address each type of interaction. Statistics can also be used for planning purposes, creating 'what if' scenarios to evaluate policy changes and modified routing configurations, or for varying the mix of agent skills in a contact center.
Once workforce management is incorporated, the contact center must be staffed with an appropriate number of agents with the skills to handle customer inquiries. At this point, it is also important to be able to grade the proficiency level of an individual agent in a particular skill, as agents' proficiency contributes directly to their transaction handle times, which needs to be accounted for by the scheduling algorithm. This is a fundamental step for improving customer service.
For quality management, contact centers need to establish both individual goals and group goals against which performance can be measured, using such criteria as politeness, professionalism and successful resolution of the customer's problem. Once assessed, agents can be ranked, provided with feedback and even recommended for additional training, if necessary.
Other capabilities include assessing agent activity in real time by listening to calls. This allows supervisors to provide the agent with tips or advice via instant messaging, and to take over the call if necessary. Recent advances include the use of speech analytics to mine recorded call data for keywords, the ability to assess call flow, and the use of emotion detection.
Additionally, recording tools allow organizations to compile audio samples of real-time calls to see how agents are handling various types of customer contacts. Once an organization has established a baseline of contact center performance, it can then move into providing better scheduling, analyzing call quality and improving best times to call.
A best practice is to create a library of key performance indicators (KPIs), such as calls handled per agent hour, sales per hour, call handle time or quality scores. Today's best performance optimization software may come with a library of KPIs built-in, and customized indicators for your own center may be added over time. With clearly defined performance goals, the optimization tools can provide an easy 'red light/green light' view at every level of the organization, making it easy to review performance. The technology also provides agents with powerful feedback as to how they are doing against their goals and their peers, creating healthy competition and a motivation to excel.
Organizations should be sure to set goals for different skill and experience levels, while also creating weighted scores to prioritize which behaviors are more important in a specific environment. Each agent should have his or her own skills inventory. For agents who have renewable licensing or certification requirements, such as mortgage brokers who have licensing requirements that vary by state, a record of the effective date range can be useful to ensure the credential does not expire.
With the help of automated skills-tracking tools, baseline performance goals can be clearly set and organizations can continually raise the bar on excellence. This helps ensure the appropriately skilled agent is available at the right time.
Contact center analytics tools can track the performance of voice and data recording, e-mail, Web chat and voice self-service, and can monitor agents' screen activity such as keystrokes, mouse movement and screen snapshots.
In addition, tracking may be in either real time or historical. An example of the latter is creating a report of historical or seasonal data on the number and types of contacts made by customers during a certain period of time. This report will then give contact center managers insight into how the organization's technology and agent resources have been used in the past.
Analytics technologies consolidate enterprisewide intelligence to evaluate performance and also enable centers to adjust or raise performance goals based on those findings. Analytics tools provide insight into both qualitative measures, such as first-call resolution, as well as quantitative metrics, like shorter call wrap times.
This way, managers can see that, after analyzing contact center data from last year's holiday season, they were short agents because call hold times were so long that customers were required to call back several times to get all of the information they needed.
As a result of this analysis, the managers can expect to add more agents in November and December to cope with the busy shopping season, as well as add agent training focusing on first-call resolution strategies.
When analytics technologies are integrated with other contact center technologies, such as predictive dialers and campaign management tools, calling campaigns are markedly more precise and centers significantly more efficient.
For example, best-time-to-call analysis software, which monitors the results of calls over time, uses the data gleaned from predictive dialer call reports to calculate the optimal timeframe for reaching a specific customer. Based on this intelligence, the software places specific campaigns into time slots when parties are most likely to pick up the phone, and it then passes the optimized list back to the predictive dialer to execute. With the help of best-time-to-call software, this process is entirely automated and doesn't require managers to sort through information during dialer optimization.
Using statistics such as average call handling times, performance optimization solutions can create powerful outbound demand forecasting. For instance, the performance optimization solution can assign staffing based on call connect patterns for a telemarketing campaign, ensuring that agents are available to handle the calls of the newly optimized dialer. After all, what's the point of an optimized dialer if there are no agents on the other end?
Keep in mind that performance optimization is an iterative process. Predictive dialers and best-time-to-call software can be configured to remain in constant communication, so the solution knows how many calls have been executed and how many calls remain in each calling hour.
Armed with these data, the system can match the amount of work with the available staff resources. If a situation such as an outage arises in the contact center, the solution can create new job distributions if it senses the dialer is not adhering to the original schedule. The contact center may need to pull some collections agents to handle customer service inquiries, thereby diminishing the number of agents working on the telesales campaign. Working together, the dialer and the analytics technology maximize the productivity of an outbound center's available resources.
Predictive dialers are renowned for their ability to rapidly execute calling campaigns, but best-time-to-call software adds a new layer of precision to a dialer's performance. Working as a team, predictive dialers and best-time-to-call create a marriage of speed and accuracy that can result in improved campaign results, lower telecommunications charges (as fewer calls are needed to reach campaign targets), higher revenues and even increased agent retention, as agents find themselves engaging more with the right parties, in live interactions.
The benefits of implementing strong analytics tools are evident in a variety of applications. For example, collections agencies can accomplish the following: increase the dollars collected per agent hour; absorb portfolio growth without staff increases; and raise agent productivity by implementing predictive dialers with optimization features.
Performance optimization has the power to take a contact center to its next level of potential. It eases the complex process of making sure there are sufficient and appropriately skilled agents available to handle inbound and outbound calls, as well as e-mail and Web chat. The efficiency gained by embracing all contact center application technologies and implementing performance optimization leads to happier and more productive agents, higher service levels and razor-sharp calling campaigns ' all of which ultimately translate into more satisfied customers, increased agent retention and higher revenues. CIS
Bob Kelly is vice president of performance optimization solutions for Concerto Software (www.concerto.com). Prior to joining Concerto, Kelly was CEO of CenterForce.
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