Remote Agent Stations: Easing the Pain of Scheduling

By Les Bidewell

The difference between a 20 second versus a 60 second hold time on inbound calls can either build customer confidence in your company or cause great customer dissatisfaction with your operation. The management problem of every call center is that you have to staff according to the “average” or the “typical” call volume that you are experiencing, and at the same time take care of the spurts and peaks.

Whenever a call comes in, you want to successfully distribute it to the CSR (Customer Service Representative) who has the appropriate skill level, knowledge about the account, and the availability to answer in less than 18 seconds (3 rings). You’ll also want your CSRs to process the call readily and pleasantly. It’s that simple. Or is it?  If you have understaffed your call center, overworked CSRs will not be able to answer within 18 seconds and they will not be pleasant on the phone. If you have overstaffed, you hurt your bottom line and your CSRs get paid for doing nothing.

There are several software solutions that can take care of shift scheduling. Some call center equipment also offers performance reports that can help in decision making. However, spurts and peaks in call traffic are often not predictable. To keep up CSR performance, my solution is remote station access. That is, CSRs in different locations all connected together through one central switch, so that inbound calls can be answered anywhere within the operation. Individual remote stations can provide a faster “add-on” to your staff roster as backup or heavy call volume relief. Individual remote stations may also be a good means to keep your experienced staff working for you.

Most call center equipment suppliers can provide remote station access. All you need is one with stable software and a switch robust enough to support several locations of call centers remotely. Your client information is stored in your own database. CSRs available in different locations will level out the highs and lows in call traffic. With more efficient use of CSRs, your bottom line improves.

What is the value of this setup to your business? Could this reduce customer churn? How many dollars would that mean to you?  I cannot predict the monetary benefit for you, but I can guarantee that any improvement shall fall directly to your bottom line. For example, our current operations consist of five call centers, covering the major cities in the province of Alberta, Canada. Each of these cities is a few hundred miles apart from the others. Our call center equipment is centrally located and installed inside a telephone company’s central office. We have about 40 remote stations distributed among the five cities. Our CSRs in every city are trained to have access to all the accounts. Our difficult and complicated accounts are “scripted” to make them easier.

Our call center switch has nine T-1 circuits, where calls from all cities are terminated. Inbound calls from each of the cities are routed back to their own location and dispatched to the CSR who has the right skill for that client. When the local waiting queue exceeds our pre-defined limit, calls are distributed to the second and third back-up choice for that client. The biggest advantage in this approach is staffing optimization, which results in higher efficiency, less stress for our CSRs, higher quality of service, and an improved bottom line.

The configuration of our new equipment is 100% remote access. This is going to help take our organization to the next level in client service. Remote station access is definitely a viable, if not the most accepted, solution to the challenge of staff scheduling in call centers.

Les Bidewell is the President of Select Communications, Select Call Centers in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Select Communications is a user of Szeto’s Call Linx TAS System.

[From Connection Magazine May 2006]

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