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TMC Labs
November 2001

Emvolve Performance Manager Release 1.5

Performix Technologies Ltd.
Burlington, MA
Ph: 877-637-3063
Fx: 877-637-3073
Web: www.performixtechnologies.com

Price: $1,000 per seat (on average)

2001 Editors' Choice Awards

Installation: N/A
Documentation: 4.75
Features: 5
GUI: 4.75
Overall: A

Call centers are usually the first, and often the only, personal contact a customer has with a company. A good first impression is understood to be so critically important that many companies often spend millions of dollars each year on the implementation and upgrade of 'cutting-edge' CRM and CIM solutions. Aside from pricey system upgrades, the issue of high agent turnover also plagues contact centers. It seems somewhat ironic that on many levels, the employees who are so highly valued as 'the company's reflection,' or 'the face of the company' often don't stick around long enough to celebrate their first anniversary.

The role of call center agents has also been directly affected by new and converged technologies. Enterprise CRM solutions are often so adept at 'unifying' information for call center agents, the solutions can notably amend an agent's responsibilities. No longer simply a warm phone personality, the customer service representative of old has, due to technological innovations, been transformed into a multitasking, multimedia business representative with many responsibilities. This has additionally made the call center's immediate management team, coupled with the support of upper management, increasingly crucial to the performance and success of a call center as a team.

Bolstering agent productivity and stimulating a sense of accomplishment through its goal-orientated, skill-focused structure is the means necessary to reduce employee turnover and increase profitability, according to Performix Technologies. The company's Performance Manager system translates company and business objectives into personnel goals, which are ultimately tracked to assess performance on all company levels. This allows agents to monitor and compare their own job performance to pre-set goals, and provides company CEOs with the ability to track business objectives or an individual manager's performance. Ultimately, Performix believes superior customer service is contingent upon the most important and crucial aspect of any call center -- the agent.

Though Emvolve Performance Manager is touted as an 'out-of-the-box' solution, each company's focus and needs vary. It is for this reason that Performix requires an implementation period of approximately six to eight weeks. Larger companies with multiple business functions may require a longer time frame.

Since Emvolve is a Web-based solution, it has some multilevel server and database requirements: Windows NT Server 4.0 and Microsoft SQL 7.0 or Oracle 8I allow clients to view the unified GUI via Internet Explorer 4.0, 5.0 or Netscape Navigator 4.0 Web browsers. Client hardware must be running Windows 95/98 or NT 4.0 operating systems.

Performix says the average resource required from a company is about 20 to 25 person days. Included with that estimate would be the dedicated company resources necessary to assist in the definition of company goals and objectives that would ultimately shape the system blueprint. Included in this time frame is system training for company IT personnel, managers and other appropriate company officers. After system implementation is complete, Performix's customer support center handles support issues. Incidentally, Performix states that all upgrades to the core software are included in the purchase price. The current Emvolve revision schedule includes minor upgrades every six months with a new module or market segment release every 12 months.

Since Emvolve is essentially a management tool aimed at gauging performance of call center agents and their teams as a whole, the agent does not play a large role with the front-end interface -- that is the administrator's job. Since there is not much required in the way of the agent's direct interaction with the GUI, agent training is minimal. The Agent Training manual consists of the basic principles, instructions and definitions necessary to understand and operate the system from an agent's perspective. It also explains the best way for an agent to understand how to monitor his or her performance and make comparisons to the rest of the team and other teams. Agent training also identifies and outlines how to create Personal Objectives, and discusses many of the tools managers use to enhance an agent's personal development as an employee, including positive reinforcement such as Recognition and Rewards.

The administrator's GUI and functions are much more complex, warranting a greater need for detailed documentation. The guide covers many nuances of the system as well as key building blocks such as formula construction and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). System configuration is covered; however, the implementation process will leave a company up and running, needing the Administrator Training Guide for the purpose it was intended -- reference. Additionally, the online help provides much of the same type of content. The standard time frame for onsite training during the implementation process is five business days. Performix's Customer Service department is available during business hours as an ancillary resource, as well.

One of the major functions of Emvolve is bringing the company 'score card' to each employee's desktop via a Web browser. Its structure reveals performance on all levels to personnel with the appropriate access. The configuration tools can be used to define objectives, weights and KPIs while using data parsed on an individual level, delineating a user's performance through use of the applicable permissions directly related to the organization's structure or hierarchy. For example, a team leader cannot view a vice president's performance information without appropriate access.

Key features provided on all levels designed to bolster users' performance include:

  • Individual Performance Feedback. Allows users to view performance results weighed against objectives over defined periods of time.
  • Automated Review and Appraisal. Automates the review process and allows online access to previous appraisals.
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Management. Identifies critical performance areas of the call center such as service levels and total calls.
  • Training and Development Plans. An action plan designed for each user to help optimize employee growth and development. Also details the training and actions required to enhance skill.
  • Reward and Incentive Program. Awards points to individuals and teams for meeting or exceeding target objectives. Points can then be used to acquire notables from the company's reward scheme.
  • Report Manager. Creates customizable reports.
  • Exception Reporting. Root-cause analysis allows the identification of problem area(s) in call center performance

Operational Testing
Performix configured a demo machine for our testing purposes. A third-party application, Emvolve is designed to be integrated with other call center utilities such as ACDs or 'switches,' workforce management solutions and other external systems such as timesheet programs, HR systems and Lotus Notes. To make testing both practical and possible, Emvolve engineers populated a database and set up a system on a machine running NT 4.0. Based on the data populating our demo server, Emvolve was able to process the information and, built on company-focused objectives and benchmarks, provide actual performance statistics at the business, management and call-center agent level.

This information is gathered and implemented by Performix; however, to better understand the product some background information of the system configuration information is necessary. Based on the structure of the company, the hierarchy configuration must be established as one of the first steps in customizing the Emvolve system for any contact center. All levels of personnel and management can be included, as Emvolve Performance Manager is designed to measure not only agents' performance, but overall performance of branch offices, managers and the company's overall performance as well. 'Performance' is defined by each company that implements Emvolve, as it is classified directly by their business and productivity needs. Clear company objectives are established and translated into KPIs. Once the KPIs are established, they become the basis for the much more granular Objectives by which service agents, for example, are evaluated based on a points system. This system, Performix says, aligns the overall business goals with individual employee performance. Drilling down far enough into any KPI will eventually yield a particular job's individual requirements. Hence the term 'performance' is directly defined by each customer's collective definition.

All of the aforementioned levels comprising the Emvolve structure are based on one type of building block, which is the measure of the entire system: the Data Dictionary. The Data Dictionary is the component of Emvolve that acts on the information submitted from all external sources, i.e., ACD and workforce management solutions. Each Data Dictionary entry is a formula engineered to calculate a specific result. For example, routine call center calculations can easily be added to the Data Dictionary to measure call-handling time. Additionally, much more business-specific formulae can be created to calculate, for example, the employee turnover rate in the Dallas office or the call handling forecast variance.

Once all of these and a host of other requirements have been met by the company and the implementation team, the product is ready for use. Since Emvolve is a 'Performance Manager,' it is designed to provide the company and its employees with feedback on previously agreed-upon objectives. This, in turn, allows efforts to be focused in needed areas and builds individual skill sets, which may bolster employee confidence and possibly result in higher pay or a promotion. Success in the workplace lends itself to stability and lower employee turnover rates. As mentioned earlier, it's no secret that most call centers tend to suffer from high rates of attrition. Because of this magazine's space limitations and the complexity of Emvolve Performance Manager, however, we felt the best way to provide readers with an overall sense of the product would be to focus on our interaction with the demo unit and some of the flagship product features.

In the Service Agent's GUI, ratings are applied to each Objective. Performance is rated by Objective, such as AHT (average handling time) service and average calls per HR service, both of which are categorized in the Objective Group called 'Productivity.' Agents are able to view their goal for each objective, called a Target, and what their actual number is for that Objective, called a Result. Icons are assigned to specific ranges of performance results, allowing agents to quickly see how they are progressing. This view can be altered to compile an individual's results over a specific period of time, such as a month or a year. Manual ratings and results can also be applied since workforce management systems and switching equipment are not capable of detecting certain types of Objectives and, therefore, Emvolve cannot automatically perform a calculation. Important service skills such as listening and a pleasant phone presence are examples of these.

Appraisal Manager
The Appraisal Manager is a repository for each agent and team leader to note and share comments about performance, review goals and communicate in writing about personal objectives and goals achieved. The Appraisal Manager, when used effectively, can both motivate and enable communication with employees. The Appraisal Manager provides a much more 'low-pressure' environment as it is minus the intimidation factor that often accompanies a face-to-face, closed-door meeting between an employee and a manager. The Appraisal Manager additionally seems to furnish a safer, more static atmosphere in which employees have access to all of their past records. This greatly differs from a traditional face-to-face biannual review in which an employee is presented with only the selected materials his or her manager has brought to the table. In addition to those potential benefits, it seems to be an effective yet subtle avenue for the provision of steady and timely feedback to an agent from team leader and to team leader from an agent, as it is a two-way portal.

Personal Development
Aimed at bolstering employee performance and aiding in the provision of career direction, the Personal Development tool outlines the skills required to achieve certain job-related objectives. For example, today many customer service representatives are responsible for not only providing comprehensive service, including minor technical support and even troubleshooting, but cross-selling and upselling products. As part of a Personal Development plan, a team leader could incorporate this as an objective for a certain agent who may need to polish this technique to become more effective. Skills that would then be outlined and displayed in the agent's GUI may include issues such as 'the timeliness of introducing related products' and 'probing the customer's needs through casual conversation,' as examples. The GUI would then list the action to aid the agent in becoming more proficient at these skills, such as coaching by a team leader or attending a workshop. A Details and Comments view is also afforded, capturing feedback and important dates.

Rewards And Recognition
As with many service-related jobs, exceptional performance is often recognized with different forms of compensation. Compensation is also just as effective a tool for employees to willingly bolster performance. For example, an outbound area of a call center may also capitalize on this feature to be used as place to house a commission structure in association with sales quotas. However, without speculating further about how certain call centers would choose to use this feature, it should be mentioned that the Rewards and Recognition utility is based on a points system. The utility outlines company perks and compensation for those who exceed the business standard to 'shop' for rewards of their choice. Depending on a predetermined structure a company decides to adhere to, the principle is fundamentally very simple: more points, more prizes.

Room For Improvement
Overall, we did not find much about which to complain. The Windows Explorer look and feel of the Configuration Manager makes it intuitive. One feature we found lacking in the administration department was a list of domain users. As we were creating new agents or team leaders, we found it somewhat distracting to have to reference the User Manager each time a new member was added. Instead, we would recommend a simple drop-down box linked to the User Manager to provide a list of all NT users in the Name and/or NT Sys Name fields. This would ensure the use of correct user name and NT Sys Name and would eliminate spelling and typing variances. Not that it was a hassle for us to add a few users in our product test, but put in the context of this product's target market -- a 500-agent call center, and typing in each new user name could become extremely time-consuming.

Additionally, there was one other administration issue we thought could have used a little revamping. The Configuration Manager, (the admin. GUI) requires a software client to run in conjunction with Emvolve. This is not quite as convenient as the user element, which requires only opening a compatible Web browser, a user name and a password. Administrators then, are restricted to computers running the software client when making changes to the system.

The ubiquitous simulated legal disclaimer is coated with a transparent layer of friendly, 'Your call may be monitored to provide better quality assurance' statements that relay the message that someone could be listening, but then again may not be. The fact is, a team leader or manager responsible for the monitoring is also responsible for 15 to 20 other calls simultaneously. More than likely the call will be recorded and if a customer has a problem, the call might be reviewed.

Emvolve brings employee productivity information to their managers' desktops by providing a repository to note comments and observances, give feedback, identify skills and offer assistance and praise. Aligning company objectives with the everyday responsibilities of its employees, Emvolve Performance Manager provides a unified, single interface for all users, and a reporting tool for management and company officers.

Emvolve is a scalable enterprise solution designed for implementation into mid- to large-size call centers. It is said to have the capability to handle any number of users as Performix has conveyed that stress testing has been performed with the equivalency of well over 10,000 agents in the U.S. marketplace. Overall, TMC Labs' thorough testing of Emvolve Performance Manager yielded some very favorable results. Its simple, Web-based GUI, logical hierarchal design and innovative integration of measurable performance statistics, personal development tools and an appraisal utility are certainly worthy of an Editors' Choice Award.

[ Return To The November 2001 Table Of Contents ]

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