Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Merced Systems on the Advantages Today's Performance Management Solutions Bring to the Contact Center

January 16, 2008

Today’s performance management software solutions for the contact center are having an overwhelmingly positive impact on agent performance and, in turn, customer satisfaction. These powerful solutions are playing an increasingly important role in the contact center “software ecosystem,” and are radically improving contact center operations, not only by ensuring that agents meet performance expectations -- as per business rules, metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) -- but also by uncovering hidden operational inefficiencies and disparities in performance which in turn can then be addressed through agent training and coaching.

Performance management is basically a "subset" of workforce optimization, which also includes workforce management (i.e. scheduling), call recording/monitoring, analytics, and eLearning as its main components. Therefore, the effectiveness and value of any performance management solution is improved exponentially when it is working in concert with these other pieces of software. However, that’s not to say that performance management doesn’t have high value as a standalone application!


As a very general example of how today’s performance management solutions are used in the contact center, consider the following scenario:

An agent working in outbound sales can have a “dashboard” on his or her desktop which displays charts or other graphics showing the sales “goals” which are to be met for a particular day, week or month (or shift). The agent can use these displays to track his or her productivity -- in real time -- and immediately compare that directly to the sales goals which have been laid out. In addition, the agent can compare his or her productivity against other agents within the group, or against the average of all the agents working in the center. At the end of a shift, the system is also used to deliver an agent “scorecard” which summarizes the agent’s performance for that day.

If the agent fails to meet a particular goal or metric, the system can send an alert to the call center manager or supervisor, who in turn can address the agent’s performance problems through targeted coaching or training. In this sense, agent performance issues can be addressed immediately, while the context in which they came up is still fresh in the agent’s mind. Furthermore the training can be specifically tailored for the individual agent, since the system tells the call center manager or supervisor which specific issues need to be addressed.

In addition, today’s performance management systems can be used to deliver training modules directly to agent desktops automatically -- usually via an eLearning system -- in the event an agent isn’t able to deliver on key metrics. For example, if a particular metric isn’t met, near the end of an agent’s shift, the software might automatically send a training module which the agent will be required to complete before they go “off the clock” (or perhaps at a later point in time). Today’s systems can be programmed to deliver specific types of training modules, depending on the particular performance metric the agent is failing to meet (for example, the number of calls handled per hour, first call resolution, call duration, etc.). And it’s not just about how well the agent is handling interactions over the phone, but also how well the agent is handling the other forms of contact, such as email and Web chat, and how well the agent is making use of the software and systems that are available to them to assist customers.

(It should be pointed out that many of today’s performance management systems are designed to be flexible enough to be used in all different types of call centers -- outbound, inbound, or blended -- and in practically every type of industry imaginable. However, it should also be pointed out that they come with specific feature sets, and therefore companies need to consider all of the features being offered and carefully select the one solution that best meets their specific needs.)

But today’s performance management solutions have benefits that go far beyond simply “policing” agent performance. For example, they can enable agents to “take control” over their own performance and address their own performance related issues before a manager or supervisor needs to intervene and take corrective action. When agents can see, graphically and in real time, how they are performing, it gives them the impetus to improve on their own. As such, they tend to “take ownership” of their job within the center and view themselves as being an important piece of a collective whole. This is what many organizations now refer to as “agent empowerment,” and it has become a very important aspect of call center operations. That’s because “agent empowerment” leads to reduced employee turnover, and reduced employee turnover leads to better customer service, and better customer service leads to higher customer satisfaction, and higher customer satisfaction leads to higher sales. (It seems simplistic, but it’s true, and there are testimonials supporting this theory going all the way back to the early days of the industrial revolution!) In this sense, today’s performance management solutions have the ability to transform the entire culture of the contact center: Agents become more productive and have a higher propensity to support one another and help each other meet their individual goals, as outlined by their managers, because they have a much clearer picture of what is expected of them.

To learn more about how today’s performance management solutions are improving contact center operations, ContactCenterSolutions recently interviewed Mark Selcow, co-founder and president of Merced Systems, a leading supplier of performance management solutions to the call center industry. What follows are selected responses to our questions:

TMC: Explain in general how today’s performance management solutions for the contact center are being used to improve agent performance. Explain the various ways these solutions utilize KPIs, business rules and performance metrics to improve the overall performance of the contact center and deliver on an organization’s mission.
 
MS: Performance Management is an initiative to enable better, more consistent fact-based management through the use of data. It requires an equal combination of people, processes and technology to transform a culture, change employee behavior, and drive more consistent execution at every level of an operation. As the key enabling technology, Performance Management Applications deliver highly personalized KPI’s to influence employee behavior, integrated workflow to establish and track critical business rules, and operational performance metrics to guide strategic decisions.
 
One of the most common uses of CCPM (Contact Center Performance Management) is high-impact coaching. Most call center organizations treat coaching as important, but don’t have the process or technology investment to make it a first class effort. To do this, innovative CCPM users segment agents (using business rules) into high priority groups who get coached more frequently, based on a clear set of KPIs delivered to the Supervisor daily. They then track coaching activity, get agent confirmation of the messages delivered, and measure downstream improvement to determine Supervisor/Coach effectiveness. A powerful CCPM tool automates much of this process to leave Supervisors to focus on the content of the coaching message – the critical person to person task. The end result is improved agent performance on the key metrics that matter, like FCR, customer loyalty and sales.
 
TMC: Performance management software is by no means standardized in the industry. In fact, different vendors define what performance management is differently, depending on which types of call centers they sell into. How do you define performance management for the contact center and what are its key hallmarks?
 
MS: Performance management is the process of enabling business improvement through the use of data to drive behavior change in an organization. More specifically, performance management is the use of data to define and clarify goals, deliver information to all users in an organization, measure performance, and drive actions to improve results.
 
As the critical supporting technology to any performance management initiative, contact center performance management applications have three hallmark ingredients:
 
--Data integration – consolidating data from across an operation to create “one version of the truth”
--Personalized delivery of information to large user populations – ensuring data is relevant and actionable to every employee in the operation
--Action features through integrated workflow – guiding and recommending specific activities based on data (an example of this is high impact coaching)
 
TMC: What is the market penetration for these solutions – i.e. by your best guess, what percentage of call centers are now using these solutions? What are the common barriers to adoption?
 
MS: The adoption of Performance Management applications, like Merced Performance Suite, continues to accelerate. Until 2005, innovators and early adopters were the primary users of CCPM. Now that the business impact has been proven in operations of all sizes and functions, adoption rates are dramatically increasing and usage is becoming widespread, even among more conservative organizations. It remains characteristic of CCPM customers that they are pursuing a “differentiation through service” strategy in their markets, and consider delivering excellent call center operations to be critical.
 
Unfortunately Merced Systems does not have any specific market penetration information available, but has customers across many vertical industries. While each organization has a unique set of adoption challenges, our experience has shown that management’s commitment to using data consistently and systemically is one of the most critical components to the success of a Performance Management initiative. More specifically, Merced Systems believes an operation’s management must:
 
--Empower every employee with accurate relevant data to make better “data-driven” decisions
--Drive accountability – no more excuses – everyone knows what they are responsible for and how they are performing against their goals
--Create a culture of continuous improvement – management must be committed and open to examining and re-engineering all processes (e.g. hiring, training, quality, coaching, etc.)
--Experiment – Performance Management is an evolutionary process so metrics and measures will evolve and change over time as business priorities and strategies evolve
 
TMC: What are the top advantages these solutions bring to the call center (please list)? Are there advantages beyond just training agents and improving their interaction skills? Are they more than just dashboards and scorecards?
 
MS: The most common benefits of performance management can be placed in four key categories:
 
1. Increased Agent Productivity, FCR skills and Revenue Generation driven by:
--Increased self-correction through frequent viewing of performance data
--Increased coaching time and supervisor effectiveness
--Increased retention through transparent objectives and improved supervisory management
--More effective agent bonus and incentives
 
2. Increased Supervisor Productivity driven by
--Reduction in administrative activities, such as data gathering for reporting, coaching or performance appraisals
--More efficient and impactful coaching due to availability of agent performance data
--Transparency into supervisor performance for managers and directors
 
3. Improved Analyst Performance driven by
--Substantial time savings due to automated data integration and cleansing
--Business-driving insight due to focus on analytic tasks vs. rote report generating tasks
--Improved strategic decision making
 
4. Culture Change driven by Executives, through
--More fact-based, data-driven decisions
--Performance-based environment without subjectivity or perception of management bias
--Transparency into performance of the business, across all roles and departments
 
Performance Management is more than metrics and reports on a dashboard. Fully-integrated products like Merced Performance Suite enable managers to transform their entire culture. Specifically, through integrated workflow (Alerts, Messages, Tasks, and Forms), operations can script supervisor level activities, establish management best practices, and for the 1st time track activity compliance. With highly personalized goals and incentive plans, individuals know exactly what is expected of them and their level of achievement, influencing specific employee behaviors. And finally, with a holistic view into performance, managers can align employee goals with strategic objectives in order to improve operational performance.
 
TMC: What is the relationship between call recording/call monitoring/speech analytics and performance management software? Is it possible to achieve performance goals using only performance management software – or must it be used in tandem with recording, monitoring or analysis in order to be successful?
 
MS: Each of the above is a separate class of product. Uniquely, Performance Management Applications provide a holistic view of performance – integrating data and information across all operational systems including call recording/call monitoring/speech analytics information, plus telephony, CRM, HR, WFM and many other systems. As a result, operations typically include call recording, call monitoring and occasionally speech analytics information with their Performance Management Applications in order to evaluate agent, team, center, and operational quality performance. The goal is to track these in context with other key measures such as productivity and sales, which only CCPM can do. With the ability to balance quality with revenue and productivity measures, an operation can appropriately balance quality activities with productivity and sales based goals to meet their strategic objectives. It is generally critical that quality data from a monitoring solution be a data source to CCPM, but speech analytics are not required and often have separate uses, such as in call categorization or keyword detection.
 
TMC: By your estimate, what percentage of call centers are now recording their agent/customer interactions? Of these, how many are recording all of their calls, as opposed to only a percentage of them? How is the recorded call data stored? Are there standard formats for recorded call data? What are the general benefits of using call recording in the contact center?
 
MS: Merced Systems is the largest vendor in its category, with a focus on large call center operations (>500 agents). While Merced Systems does not track the percentage of call centers recording agent/customer interactions, our experience in the large segment of the market shows that a vast majority of operations regularly record agent level interactions. It is difficult to calculate the number of operations recording all of their calls versus a percentage, but Merced Systems has observed that the percentage of operations recording all of their calls continues to increase, often for regulatory reasons. However, even in environments where most calls are recorded, relatively few are evaluated and used in performance improvement initiatives and for coaching.
 
Similar to productivity and sales information, quality data evaluated from call recording information is important to evaluating individual and operational performance. It is important to note, only by measuring and evaluating quality data in context with productivity and sales information can an operation truly evaluate an individual’s performance against strategic goals.
 
TMC: Explain how speech analytics is being used to identify agent performance problems and how speech analytics works in concert with performance management solutions to improve agent performance.
 
We have not seen many operation-wide deployments of speech analytics to date, however given the fast rate of growth, we expect to see much more. The application of speech analytics in agent performance is mainly in tracking call categories and quality by call type, as well as in ad hoc investigation into problems, and some use in word and emotion detection. Given much of this use is not “productionalized,” it is yet to be incorporated into CCPM at large scale.
 
In the future, we believe tracking the above issues on a daily basis across a large volume of calls lends itself to powerful KPIs for coaching and improvement.
 
TMC: Is performance management software a “must have” for any high quality contact center? Why?
 
MS: Performance Management Applications are a “must have” to any organization that is pursuing a “differentiation through service” strategy, driving significant sales in their call centers, or aggressively pursuing a culture of accountability. By providing highly personalized information at all levels in the organization, performance management applications provide the information and tools for every employee to execute with greater impact, and provide management with greater strategic control.
 
CCPM operates by raising the level of play of everyone in the operations. Given high variability in performance, and the impact to sales and customers of interacting with bottom performers, a systematic effort to drive total quality execution is essential to drive out errors, defects and damaging customer interactions. CCPM delivers against this promise.
 
TMC: How difficult is it to integrate performance management software in the contact center? Is it better to get it as part of a suite of contact center software, bundled together, or is it just as easy to buy it separately and integrate it as a stand alone app?
 
MS: Most call centers with >500 agents already have a range of systems that are working and in place. For this reason, wholesale change (e.g. deploying a Suite) can represent more risk and cost than sticking with best of breed vendors. Advanced best-of-breed products, like Merced Performance Suite, have dozens of large projects under their belts, with hundreds of production integrations at scale. In many cases, pre-built connectors to major systems (ACD, quality, WFM) exist to make integration faster and lower risk than suites, which are often optimized for that company’s data sources and not external ones. Add to this pre-built content and defined best practice workflows, and there can be a real advantage.
 
Finally, standalone applications can offer flexible deployment approaches – e.g. on premise or hosted, subscription or license, with a range of managed services – which can be highly valuable to making projects move more rapidly and at lower risk.
 
TMC: Where do you see the market for performance management software solutions heading? Will we be seeing significant growth for it in the call/contact center industry or has it plateaued? Why?
 
MS: The adoption of Performance Management applications, like Merced Performance Suite, continues to accelerate. Several years ago, operations were cautious to adopt the new technology, but now that the business impact has been proven, adoption rates are dramatically increasing, usage is becoming widespread, and the applications is being viewed as mission critical along with a WFM, QM, and ACD.
 
We expect to see expansion of the category beyond call centers and into adjacent sectors of customer operations. This would include Back Office, Field Service, Branch Network and Sales. The logic for the category to expand this way is compelling, as all customer touch points need to be operationally managed for a superior experience. Execution across functions matters as much as within each function, and we expect to see more customers push the boundaries of CCPM this way.

For more information about Merced Systems visit www.mercedsystems.com.

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Patrick Barnard is Assignment Editor for ContactCenterSolutions and Associate Editor for Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. To see more of his articles, please visit Patrick Barnard’s columnist page.

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