Four Keys to Creating Value in the Contact Center

By Anna Convery

In the past, the contact center was simply viewed as a sizable operations expense:  a black hole of personnel, training, IT infrastructure, and support costs that was necessary but could never be recouped. Today, contact centers are more often viewed as strategic business units that can drive financial performance and separate a company from its competition.

In order to get the most out of your contact center, your people, processes, and technologies must be in alignment. Here are some of the tactics that forward-thinking organizations are employing to achieve this alignment in their contact centers.

Advanced Training Techniques: In the contact center, training is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, proper training is critical to achieving optimal customer service. On the other hand, this training is often completed in a classroom setting, which means that agents are not taking calls and serving customers. This traditional approach to training is costly and inefficient.

From speed-training sessions to peer-mentorship programs, companies are exploring new ways to add new employees more quickly and with decreased overhead. Some companies have eliminated classroom training completely and have replaced this practice with a structured online curriculum agents take in short increments during their first week in the contact center. Another approach is to implement a peer-to-peer training program, where a new employee spends time during their shift shadowing a more experienced colleague.

Intelligent Desktops: Whether by mergers and acquisitions or just the regular adoption of new technology solutions, many enterprises tend to collect a number of disparate applications and technologies in their contact center. While these technologies have been customized to work in such heterogeneous environments, they are often not optimized to the needs of the contact center agent. The result is that agents struggle with having to navigate a maze of applications on the desktop in order to perform simple tasks like accessing customer data, processing transactions, fulfilling orders, and delivering information to the customer.

Many corporations utilize process improvement software to untangle the maze of applications and streamline agent activity. User process improvement typically involves three steps:

1)     Understanding how the agent interacts with the applications on the desktop

2)     Identifying process breakdowns, technology deficiencies, and efficiency opportunities

3)     Deploying intelligent automation and agile interfaces that remove complexity from the agent desktop

“We wanted our agents to work smarter and provide faster, higher quality service,” said Paul Flemr, director of operations for Group O, a business process outsourcer. “Our project began by eliminating manual, repetitive tasks and providing a more comprehensive customer view. These elements contributed to a decrease of average handle time, and our agents are now better equipped to engage in higher-value customer interactions. These interactions are more profitable, too, as the agents have more knowledge about the customers and are able to assess program eligibility and apply promotions more accurately.”

Agent Specialization: Not all customers are created equal. Yes, they should all be treated well and with the utmost respect. However, they come to your contact center with different sets of problems, and some customers contribute more revenue than others.

Forward-thinking enterprises are doing a better job of analyzing incoming customer requests and routing them to certain agents based on experience and specific areas of knowledge. One leading financial services company implemented a real-time alert system that notifies the agent or bank teller when they are dealing with a high-value customer. Some companies also set up special systems designed to present expanded promotions to these customers. Having real-time guidance and access to customer data allows agents to expand their capabilities beyond basic customer service into other important corporate initiatives.

Gamification: The job of a contact center representative can be a high-pressure, unrewarding job. Motivating agents and keeping them engaged and focused on the company’s core goals can be equally difficult.

A number of companies are experimenting with new gamification techniques to lighten the job while keeping agents focused on key performance indicators. The incentive-driven millennial generation has now entered the workforce, and their culture is causing companies to rethink the way they reward performance. Gamification is an emerging trend within contact centers to incentivize employees based on specific behavior traits that produce desired outcomes, whether they are process-driven or revenue-driven. Another example of gamification is using real-time guidance to track progress toward specific up-sell or cross-sell goals.

A number of contact centers sponsor sales contests, manually tracking results on paper or in a spreadsheet. Some companies are taking this to the next level and charting up-sell and cross-sell activity online so agents have real-time knowledge of their contest scores. This breeds a competitive culture and gets agents involved in a fun and interactive way.

According to the International Labour Board and the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are an estimated 30 million contact center agents in the world, and that number is growing rapidly. With the proper tools, training, and techniques, these agents can be a productive and revenue-generating resource for their organizations. Hopefully, this article has provided some fresh ideas on how to achieve the right balance in your contact center and align your organization for success.

Anna Convery is the executive vice president, strategy, for OpenSpan, where she oversees global market development and strategic initiatives. An industry expert in customer service technologies and solutions for the enterprise, Convery has been named a “Woman of the Year in Technology” by WIT and has received numerous awards and recognition for her business leadership and vision. She is frequently quoted in trade publications and often speaks at industry conferences.

[From Connection Magazine October 2013]

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