Operations and Management

Creating Winning Performance

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  July 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

Contact centers need to work even harder to create winning performances. A slow-growth economy, financial pressures and rightfully demanding customers are forcing the bar upwards. To coach the centers, Customer Interaction Solutions interviewed several leading experts and firms, asking questions on: 

  • Emerging trends and drivers, including on metrics
  • Issues faced, among them back office impacts
  • Best practice methods

Here are the highlights of these interviews. A complete view of them can be found on TMCnet (insert URL).

Envision  Rodney Kuhn, CEO

The contact center is being asked to do more and being stretched in many areas. While technologies, such as the Web and self service, have provided outlets to customers for simple customer service inquiries, the contact center is being asked to handle more complex transactions. This places significant focus on the agents’ performance and capability to handle customer issues arising in a number of different mediums including calls, e-mail, chat and now social media.

Many performance measures, such as first call resolution, are still in place and make sense. However, additional measures of how agents are driving performance around customer satisfaction, cross selling and customer retention are now in play. And more frequently, companies also begin to directly connect contact center performance to sales, recognizing the strategic importance of the contact center.

A solid coaching program that provides agents with the information they need to perform optimally is critical. Incorporating topnotch coaching during idle time, utilizing social media and other methods need to be embraced by organizations if they are to achieve their objectives. Contact centers should continue to utilize workforce management (WFM) to forecast scheduling and also have technology in place to allow for identifying changes in the assumptions that drove the original forecast to ensure adequate staffing after the forecast. Technologies such as speech analytics and business intelligence (BI) provide the metrics contact centers need to be agile and to provide the best customer service while staffing correctly.

Frost and Sullivan  Keith Dawson (News - Alert), principal analyst

Contact centers have already reached a high level of performance and productivity in terms of operations.  They have recently been asked go outside – to handle different channels, customers with vastly inflated needs and desires and mobile customers. This has created an explosion of complexity.

The way contact centers measure performance is no longer sufficient to accurately indicate what is going on in the centers and to give decision makers outside of them an accurate view. Firms are now looking for value metrics: those that concern themselves with customer information, customer revenue, longevity and churn, that can be different based on their verticals. Those metrics are not the ones typically captured by contact centers. The system that measures average speed of answer is not the same one that tells you customer longevity or value. Instead, these metrics gauge performance, not just on call handling skills but on the ability to identify and execute on a cross-sell opportunity that might not be apparent.

Social media has introduced an enormous wild card into ensuring contact center performance. Traditionally agents have the information; when a customer calls in and raises issues the agent looks it up in the knowledgebase with a certain amount of leeway to deviate from that and manages the customer’s issue.

Today when a customer calls in they may have information picked up from social media that may or may not be true, but they think is true. This creates performance issues with agents through what the agent knows and what the customers know. And it is hard to reconcile those realities; the contact centers’ hands are tied. Social media management is at present highly uncoordinated in many outfits. You have marketing departments in charge of brand management who are manipulating the social stream without coordinating with the contact centers. This can lead to damage control or unwitting damage creation; marketing staff can say something that unwittingly leads to a flurry of calls that impacts center performance.

Another element is technology. If contact centers do not have SMS/text or social media tools on their agent desktops, in a controlled environment, the next generation of agents may go rogue to solve customers’ problems on their own devices. This will have introduced a whole new variable into the service equation, one that cannot be tracked or vetted.

Contact centers will be subjecting agent performance to a much richer, more sophisticated set of analyses. They will be asked to use different kinds of skills to handle new channels, identify and capitalize on sales and revenue opportunities and to track different kinds of variables during calls, rather than relying on simple scripts and prompts.

Contact centers also need to collaborate with peers in other departments, such as marketing, to know if there is a social media issue that could lead to a flood of calls or e-mails. Collaboration has another benefit – joint use of the same analytics tools. They are expensive to deploy and it is hard for call centers to make the case on their own. When they can bring in marketing, the ROI from understanding real voice of customer goes up, and the more likely the request for analytics will be approved.

Alcatel-Lucent (Genesys (News - Alert))  Randy Brasche, director of Product Marketing

We have seen two main trends affecting every contact center and customer service operation. I like to call them “O2 (News - Alert)” or “oxygen for customer service”: Outcomes and optimize.

Outcomes: In today’s environment, traditional contact center performance metrics (average handle time, number of calls) provide limited business visibility on which to make decisions or set objectives. As a result, performance must measure business outcomes associated with traditional contact center metrics. For example, if 100 calls were processed in the past hour, how many of these qualified for the new promotion and how many were successfully converted?

Optimize: Empowering resources to provide the best customer service is a priority for every company. As a result, companies have embarked on WFO initiatives to measure performance and provide the tools and training to close identified skill gaps. At the same time companies are trying to “do more with less.”

Contact centers and customer service operations must incorporate business outcome metrics associated with their traditional operational metrics. So, visibility that incorporates revenue, sales or business performance metrics helps guide the business decision making process. 

We are also seeing the emergence of analytics. Companies want to mine the plethora of data produced by the millions of phone, web, social media and mobile interactions for the golden customer service nuggets. Speech, cross-channel and next-best-offer analytics are uncovering key insights to help illuminate new metrics and customer service behaviors affecting companies. 

Today, every Global 2000 organization is adopting a mix of WFO methods and solutions to ensure superior performance. These include WFM, quality monitoring (QM) and management, coaching and eLearning, performance management, speech analytics and surveys. These technologies/solutions definitely improve the lives of both customer service managers and agents. However, companies should create a well-integrated operation across these tools and processes; each of these systems and processes are highly interdependent. For example, QM should immediately determine what training modules an agent requires. The WFM system should automatically schedule the appropriate training. Once the training is complete should automatically update agent skill sets, which should influence interaction routing strategies.

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi