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October 2008 | Volume 27 / Number 5

My Top Ten

By Brendan Read
Senior Contributing Editor, Customer Interaction Solutions

The fall is when one harvests what has been sown and grown. It is appropriate, therefore that we reap the insight and knowledge gained from managing customer interactions via contact centers with the ‘Top Ten Ways to Reduce Call [Contact] Center Costs While Improving Service’.

Here’s my Top Ten based on observations and reports:

1) Take a fresh look at automated speech recognition (ASR). As demonstrated by JetBlue in the September issue, ASR is more affordable and practical than you may believe. It is also the only viable self-service solution for interacting with customers and employees who are driving

2) Make your Web site truly customer friendly with clear designs and easy, intuitive navigations. Meet the needs of those who are accessing your products and services while on the go with mobile-friendly or separate mobile-sites. Tap into the new automated chat technologies that emulate the bricks-and-mortar customer service experience at lower cost

3) Go home and stay there. There is no reason why contact center agents and supervisors need to be warehoused in organization-subsidized offices. All of the inhibiting issues surrounding home-based agents: recruiting/screening, training, voice/data connectivity, monitoring, quality, scheduling, day-to-day management and teamwork, and security, have been resolved.

Requiring staff to commute shrinks their budgets and yours, limits labor markets, and adds to traffic congestion, pollution, and healthcare costs. In contrast, home working saves money, increases productivity, reaches a much larger employment market, lowers turnover and sick days, supplies business continuity, and results in better service along with a cleaner environment

4) Go hosted. There are increasingly fewer reasons why contact centers need to sink huge sums for customer premises solutions (CPS), both hardware and software, along with the computers and the wiring and real estate they occupy, plus the heavy IT support. Hosted solutions now offer comparable if not better performance to CPS with greater flexibility, faster upgrades to newest versions, and increased security without the investments and the expenses

5) Focus on customer-important quality metrics like first call resolution (FCR) and on customer retention. Track and archive interactions from all channels, not just voice, so that if there is a customer-agent issue it can be quickly resolved and steps taken to ensure that a similar occurrence does not arise again

6) Smart-recruit and promote your staff. Select only those people who truly have innate, best-in-breed skills and attributes whether for billing/ collections, customer service, help desk, and sales. Look for maturity, resilience, and reliability, and experience in similar fields such as retail.

Smart recruiting especially goes for your supervisors. They are the NCOs of contact centers: the chief petty officers and sergeants who relay the orders to the line staff, and who listen to and inspire loyalty and effort from them. Talent-scout and hire right: i.e. looking for natural leaders, such as those who coach sports in the off-hours, rather than those who are good agents, and your center will succeed. Hire wrong, like promoting those individuals because they are good agents or have seniority or know someone, well you know the rest…

7) Empower your agents with decisionmaking abilities, position that as customer care professionals, and recruit, train, and supervise them accordingly, to resolve issues.

This is multi-win all around. FCR rates and customer satisfaction and retention, and ultimately revenues jumps, turnover, and hiring and recruiting drops, and productivity increases. Agents come away feeling that they’ve actually helped others, which makes them more satisfied with their work, and look forward to working.

8) Knock down the data silos. Link the interactions. Enable your agents to easily gain access into different databases such as checking and credit card information. Capture and transmit chat and e-mail interactions to live agents for resolution in calls.

9) Plan for the unforeseen, and test your plans. Don’t be left to panic, which injuries and kills, when the next disaster happens, which is only moments away…

10) Avoid the need for customers to contact your organization for service and problems by making your products, services, pricing, delivery, installation, and repair, the first time.

This advice harkens back to the old saying “a stitch in time saves nine” or in this case the $7-$9 per transaction that problem calls can cost, not to mention the loss in future sales from annoyed customers.

If you are unveiling new models or features, do so only after thoroughly testing them. If you are phasing offerings out, like calling or Internet plans or software, let them die a natural death by no longer accepting new customers, rather than killing them off. Both sets of techniques prevent waves of angry and cost-ratcheting calls and contacts, not to mention bad press that together doesn’t do much to attract and retain buyers.

Yes, many of these matters are beyond the control of contact centers. Yet timely communication between you and your other operations and clients on ensuring that everyone is up to speed on quality saves money and keeps and attracts customers all round.

To give you leverage you need make sure though that your operations are the best they can be…such as by following the other nine suggestions.

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