Improving Performance, Productivity, and Profitability

By Matt McConnell

It’s an old adage, but it still rings true: Time is money. And in today’s call centers, time is a very scarce resource.

Today’s customers are more educated about products and services and able to answer most of their questions by doing research online. When they do pick up the phone, often it’s because they have a problem they can’t solve on their own. Agents are expected to be knowledgeable enough to handle complex customer inquiries efficiently and effectively, while providing outstanding customer service at all times. This requires ongoing training and coaching of your agent workforce, which requires time.

The profitability of your call center ultimately depends on the productivity and performance of your frontline agents. As a result, many technologies have emerged in the call center that are dedicated to improving these metrics. Workforce management (WFM) forecasts staffing needs based on historical data; automatic call distributors (ACD) distribute calls to agents in real time; and other systems like learning management systems (LMS), quality monitoring, and performance management focus on making sure calls have better outcomes.

Yet despite all of these technological advancements aimed at improving overall call center efficiency, there never seems to be enough time to devote to improving performance and the typical agent still spends around 11 percent of the day sitting idle at his or her desk, waiting for the next call. Even more maddening, this waiting time often comes in two- to three-minute increments and is rarely productive.

The newest wave of call center technologies is aimed at turning this unproductive, idle time into productive time that agents can use to complete tasks and activities designed to improve their overall performance – without negatively affecting service levels or requiring advance scheduling.

Making Use of Idle Time: In every center, no matter how well run, agents and managers are being asked to do more with less. Take more calls, faster, and with fewer agents; up-sell and cross-sell more with less training; and improve performance with fewer coaching sessions.

Most of these restraints revolve around a lack of time in the call center for agents to effectively do their jobs while at the same time get the training and coaching they need to satisfy customers and keep service levels high.

Technologies to improve operational efficiency – such as ACD and WFM – have been in place in most call centers for some time. But agents need even more time to complete critical tasks and activities without negatively affecting customer service.

New technologies are now going after the largest segment of un-utilized time – idle time – by identifying all of the small, two- to three-minute pockets of time between calls across the center floor and aggregating them to create larger, more usable blocks of time for groups of agents to complete assigned activities.

These activities can include anything that can be completed at the agent desktop – online training sessions, coaching, knowledge base reviews, or after call work. When blocks of idle time become available, agents are prompted to begin work on activities in their queue. When call volume spikes, they are prompted to return to answering calls.

This technology is possible through integrations with existing call center technologies such as:

  • ACD: A call center’s service level compliance at any given time is determined by monitoring key customer-identified ACD metrics in near real time. When service levels are in compliance, a prompt is sent directly to one or more agent desktops, instructing agents to complete an assigned activity. If service levels drop, agents are sent back to taking calls.
  • WFM: Training activities, coaching sessions, and other off-phone work is delivered only during acceptable times and not allowed to conflict with higher priority scheduled activities such as lunches, breaks, or the end of a shift.
  • LMS: Not only are assigned learning sessions delivered to agents, an extra layer of transparency is added by enabling managers to track both session delivery and agent completion of assigned tasks.

These new technologies also integrate with other call center systems, including quality monitoring, coaching, knowledge bases, and intranets to deliver assigned activities and tasks to individuals or groups of agents.

More Time Produces More Productive Agents: Even the most efficient, technologically advanced call centers experience downtimes in call volume. And in every center, there are activities agents must complete that take time away from handling customer interactions but are necessary to help them do their jobs better.

While some off-phone activities must occur at certain times – such as lunch, breaks, and vacations – many other activities can take place during natural idle times between customer interactions if centers can dynamically respond to call volume.

By being able to identify natural downtimes for agents to complete important off-phone activities that improve individual performance, call centers can make the most of an agent’s workday and ultimately increase overall productivity and profitability.

With more productive agents on the floor, it really is possible to do more with less. Centers can take more calls with the same number of agents – or the same number of calls with fewer agents – and agents can receive more training and coaching by finding more time in their days.

Matt McConnell is the chairman, president, and CEO of Knowlagent. More than 300,000 call center agents are using Knowlagent every day around the world. Matt is the author of the book Customer Service at a Crossroads, and he holds eleven software patents.

[From Connection Magazine September 2012]

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