From Brian's Desk

Contact Center Excellence – Stand Out From The Crowd

Saving $ Through Efficiency

Dictionary.com defines efficiency as “accomplishment of or ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort”.   We can therefore maximize efficiency by minimizing the time spent on a task and/or the effort spent on the task.  By maximizing effciency, we lower cost.  The task, in contact center terms, is the interaction. Time spent on the task is time handling the interaction, and effort is the agent’s effort handling the interaction.  The distinction is made here between the two as the agent time spent is directly impactful on the customer’s perception of the interaction.  A call that is longer than it needs to be keeps the customer on the phone for more time than they believe is necessary, and eMail that goes unanswered for three days keeps the customer from getting an answer to a query or a problem addressed for a longer time than they view as necessary.

Agent effort is more indirectly impactful for the customer.  They may or may not understand when an agent is struggling with their technology or searching through an ineffective collection of knowledge, especially in an offline channel (eMail).  However, I contend that for phone, chat and SMS channels, effort spent is pretty well correlated with time spent.  The reverse is not so well correlated.  An agent can spend too much time trying to reach an engagement score on the QA scoresheet by simply, pardon the technical term, chit-chatting, and spend no more real effort than an agent sitting alongside that is much better at engaging a caller.

Minimizing the effort spent during an interaction means, quite simply, making the resources an agent needs to use during an interaction more robust and easier to use, and more supportive of the expected flow of the interaction.  Unfortunately, contact centers don’t have a good measure, or even any measure, for effort other than correlating with time, and hence efficiency is measured as Handle Time (Talk Time + After-Call Work Time).

There are a variety of resources an agent must utilize when handling an interaction.  There may be multiple back-office applications or databases, one or more knowledge bases, and the CRM or Trouble-ticket application. There may be hard or softphone controls to start a recording, place a call on hold, or transfer a call.   There may be a chat or SMS interface, an eMail system or fax viewer the agent needs to utilize.

It is easy to visualize how all of these resources can contribute to chaos on the agent desktop (or multiple desktops; I have seen to many instances of this), with multiple signons, toggling back and forth between resources, and copy/cut and paste of data.  A unified desktop that brings order to the chaos is very effective at reducing effort.  Effort is reduced with a single signon, mash-up screens within the unified desktop that bring together data from multiple back-office applications and databases and presents in a way that supports the interaction.  All resources, available in an easy-to-understand single desktop can dramatically lower the effort an agent needs to spend to handle an interaction.  As an aside, a unified desktop can also cut your training bill in half as agents have a single interface and a single application to learn.

Another key component to effort reduction is having a well-structured and robust knowledge base, a single knowledge base that can return search results within the context of the interaction.  For example, if the subject of the interaction is billing, a knowledge search for ‘bill’ should not be returning records from your corporate phone directory of people named Bill.  Likewise, a search for “bill” for a call for a company contact should not be returning records for an overdue bill.

I said that the principal measure of efficiency used today is time-based.  This is not entirely correct.  Most QA checklists or scorecards I have seen incorporate some measure of the agent’s familiarity with and efficient use of their resources.  Unfortunately, the measure is less objective than Handle Time and therefore requires frequent QA calibration to portray a level of accuracy.  It is also resource-intensive to measure as it requires a QA person to listen to the recorded interaction and watch the screen-shots.  Agent-behavior can have a significant impact on time-based measurements.  How adept the agent is at listening and controlling the conversation, how adept the agent is at portraying empathy and how long it takes the agent to establish engagement all drive the talk time for a given call.

One approach I have used with some success is to have all agents handle eMail (offline interactions) in addition to phone calls or chats (online interactions).   Comparing the handle time of the same type of phone and eMail interactions will give you a better indication of whether the agent is struggling with the resources or with the conversation.

By implementing a unified desktop, a robust and context-sensitive knowledge application, and by understanding and adjusting agent behavior, you can easily get a 10-15% reduction in operating costs.

So, let’s here it!  What other ways have you found to increase efficiency?

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