Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Contact Center Performance: The Secrets to Success

April 17, 2008

Every business, regardless of industry, has made a significant investment in both technology and personnel, with the goal of growing their market share and brand recognition. To that end, the investment a business makes in its contact center technology and agents plays a pivotal role in retaining customers, as well as attracting new ones.
 
It is widely acknowledged that poor customer service is certain to result in customer churn — studies show that as many as 75 percent of respondents no longer do business with company because they’ve received what they feel is inferior service. And fewer than half of North Americans say they are satisfied with the customer service centers they have engaged.
 
Certainly, it’s a matter of perception, but in this case, the perception is what matters. It’s simple: Agents are critical to customer retention. The question call center managers must then ask is, “Have we managed our resources effectively and prepared our agent to effectively engage our customers and increase their level of satisfaction?”
 
Agent Training
To ensure the answer is “Yes,” there are several steps call centers must take. For instance, they must be willing to make the appropriate investment in training and development of their agents. Considering more than 60% of a contact center’s operating costs go into its workforce, the importance of proper agent preparation should be obvious.
 
Agent preparation and training is critical in all contact centers, but perhaps even more so in distributed environments or centers with remote and work-at-home agents. Because not all agents are in a consistent physical environment with the same resources, it is incumbent upon managers to understand how they can adapt training mechanisms to provide consistent and level-specific training to all agents. This includes developing reusable, yet customizable e-learning content and providing the appropriate resources for agents — while still creating training resources that provide maximum training efficiency.
 
After all, while training is important, too much time spent on training takes agents away from their work. So the key is to improve the overall effectiveness of training programs, ensuring that investment provides the maximum ROI. It also means discovering methods for reducing agent downtime due to a reliance on classroom training — in today’s communications environment, there are a number of ways to effectively train and educate agents without pulling them off task for an extended period.
 
Agent ROI
But, taking a step backwards, before actually training agents, contact centers must first put themselves in a position to hire the best candidates for their operations. By doing so, managers are increasing their chances of getting the greatest return on their investment. After all, any training and development is an expense — albeit, a necessary one.
 
Quite simply, the length of time an agent spends with a center directly corresponds to his or her value to the company — and to the customer. With each passing day, they become more entrenched in the specific technology at their call center, they become increasingly familiar with the products and services their businesses are involved with, they gain a general familiarity with the issues their customers face, and overall, their comfort level grows as they interact with colleagues.
 
As such, their value to the call center also rises, not only because of their ability to effectively do their jobs, but also because of the amount of time and capital the center has invested in training them and developing their talents.
 
Consequently, this also makes it considerably more costly to replace them, which is why it is important for centers to implement effective hiring practices as well as training and development programs.
 
Performance Management
But while an intelligent focus on hiring, training, and development is a key component to a successful call center operation, it does little good without the appropriate management tools in place. Managers and supervisors must have the right tools, and they must know how to effectively implement them.
 
For instance, call centers typically emphasize first call resolution — and that’s undoubtedly a key driver of customer satisfaction. This includes call routing applications that help identify the best agent for each caller, and then route the call to that individual or to the next most appropriate agent if the first is unavailable.
 
It also includes call monitoring and recording for training purposes, with the goal of helping agents improve their skills — part of the development process.
 
But isn’t there more to performance management and agent development?
 
Having the data from calls, both inbound and outbound, is one thing, but managers must know what to do with that information. Ideally, as part of a larger organization, they will want to be able to tie their contact center metrics to overall corporate goals, which means not only identifying the appropriate things to monitor and measure, but also how to analyze them so that agents can then be effectively managed and coached.
 
The reaction time within a call center is also an important factor. To increase the rate of agent development, managers need to be able to identify customer issues from analyzed calls and initiate corrective actions immediately ­— not at the end of the day or week.
 
The benefits of being able to recognize operational issues in real time, and to make adjustments on the fly instead of waiting for overnight hours or low-volume periods can also significantly increase overall productivity. As such, ensuring a center’s critical systems are able to communicate with one another is as important as agent preparation.
 
Where to Learn
Hiring, training and development, performance management, and technological efficiency are all factors that contact centers must address in order to ensure they are in a position to capitalize on their investments in infrastructure and workforces.
 
During the past six weeks, the Performance Edge group at Aspect (News - Alert) Software, which provides the tools contact centers need to leverage their agents and technology to provide the best possible customer experience, sponsored a three-part Webinar series dedicated to these very same concerns.
 
The first, Bottom of the Ninth – Can Your Agents Keep Your Customers?, offered insight into training practices that enable agents to more effectively handle customer calls.
 
The second, Hire right, Analyze right, Train right – Secrets to Success for the Contact Center, explored how to identify the right agent candidates for specific environments, how to analyze their needs, and how to convert that knowledge into appropriate developmental programs.
 
Finally, the third, How Do You Analyze and Support Critical Success Factors in Contact Centers?, focused on the manager side of the equation, and how centers can best equip call center managers to use the resources available to them to enhance performance and align agent goals with overall organizational goals.
 
Certainly, every contact center is unique, but the factors that contribute to their success — or failure — are consistent. To provide an understanding of how contact centers can implement the best resources, and how they can then get the most from those resources, archives of all three Webinars are available now.
 
Join Allyson Boudousquie, director of business process marketing, PerformanceEdge Group, at Aspect Software as she takes listeners into the world of optimizing contact center effectiveness.
 
To listen to the on-demand versions of all three events, click here.
 
Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Managing Editor of TMCnet, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to nearly 3,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

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