Three Call Center Rules to Break, Bend and Ignore

By TMC  |  August 01, 2011

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


Many of today’s contact centers have finally shifted from a pure focus on cost reduction to one of increasing customer satisfaction. But despite customer satisfaction taking a front row seat, reducing operational costs is never too far removed from the big picture.

Businesses want to enhance the customer experience without giving back the gains made in operational efficiencies; for many customers, having their issue handled efficiently – by a knowledgeable agent and in a single call – is a big part of what keeps them satisfied.

Most agree that agent performance is vital to the overall customer experience. The key is figuring out how to improve agent performance and productivity without sacrificing other efficiency metrics.

Knowlagent recently held a webinar with Ventana Research to dig into the customer experience and better understand the typical day for call center agents.  To access the webinar online, go to http://bit.ly/jDK2ly.

Where your agents spend their time

An agent’s workday is typically broken into three major categories: handle time, wait time and shrinkage. The controllable shrinkage is mainly comprised of the off-phone activities – training, coaching, communications and team meetings –that help improve agent performance. Research shows that a significant portion of an agent’s workday – between 12-15 percent – is spent completing these off-phone activities.

Initial findings from a new Ventana Research study indicate that these breaks usually occur in two minute intervals, which is barely enough time for agents to catch their breath, let alone complete any meaningful activity.

Thousands of two-minute breaks are bad for the agent and bad for business. Unproductive wait time costs the industry an estimated $30 billion per year – a cost that is ultimately passed on to consumers.

With the technology available to contact centers in the past, these inefficiencies were simply a fact of life. But times have changed. Here are three call center rules to break, bend and ignore:

Rule #1: Idle time is unproductive.

Bend it. Not anymore. Now idle time can be turned into productive time. Technology exists to take activities such as training, coaching and communications and push them to agents during idle time, creating Active Wait Time. These small increments of time can be collected across all agents and aggregated into 10-15 minutes for a few agents to complete these activities. Active Wait Time typically occupies 25 percent or less of an agent’s total wait time, so it does leave some downtime, but it enables you to make a significant percentage productive. This creates impressive returns for your business and your customers.

Rule #2: High shrinkage is a fact of life.

Break it. This is no longer the case. Though businesses must invest a lot in their agents to ensure a quality level of service, agent improvement activities can now be completed during idle time. If call volume spikes while agents are participating in an assigned activity, the activity is interrupted and bookmarked so that they can return to taking calls. Just moving a few hours of shrinkage per agent, per month to Active Wait translates into measurable productivity gains.

Rule #3: Idle time improves agent satisfaction.

Ignore it. A two minute break is not really a break. Even 5,760 two minute breaks is not a real break. By aggregating idle time, agents receive a longer 10-15 minute break to complete meaningful activities to enhance their performance, and they keep plenty of time to recover between calls. A 10-15 minute break – even if it is to read a knowledge base review – is much more of a “break” than two minutes between phone calls.

There are not many 10 percent productivity opportunities left in the business world. Think about it: you are already paying for five weeks of idle time, two minutes at a time. Why not do something productive with it?

About KnowlagentKnowlagent (www.knowlagent.com) provides the only call center software that increases agent utilization by delivering shrinkage activities during idle time. Knowlagent creates active wait time through dynamically delivered sessions for common shrinkage activities between customer interactions.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi