Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Customer Service is the 'Unaffordable Budget Cut:' HyperQuality

January 26, 2010

The recession has ended and recovery has started. These welcome events should prompt companies to put away the budget knives but alas they have not.

Unfortunately, reports Chris Coles, president and CEO of customer service solutions provider HyperQuality, on many firms’ carving boards are customer experience/service programs. This is despite he says that there is direct linkage of delighted customers to retention, growth and margins. Also, many companies have dramatically reduced marketing, sales and PR budgets, which mean there are fewer new customers being won over. Retaining existing customers is an obvious must.

“The bottom line is that anything less than a great customer experience can be detrimental to your organization,” Coles points out. “A reduction in your customer service quality will only frustrate customers and may result in a decision to take their business elsewhere.”

So, the million dollar question the HyperQuality senior executive raises is how do contact centers continue to provide a high quality customer experience in this economic environment?

To maintain, or improve the level of service provided and retain customers, he offers the following key strategies to be considered:
1. Raise executive team awareness on the value of providing exceptional service

Executives may not understand that even a small percentage increase in customer satisfaction can mean substantially increased revenue. What happens when that customer satisfaction number goes down? That’s right. The company will start losing revenue.

2. Provide regular feedback to call agents

Invest in a good quality monitoring program. Providing regular improvement feedback to agents leads to a better experience for customers. According to Erin Pauley-Ackman, Senior Manager of Customer Operations at Covad, with the combination of agent evaluations and customer surveys, Covad increased customer satisfaction by 19 percent, first-call resolution by 29 percent and total problem resolution by 18 percent. They credit their quality monitoring program with moving their business to new performance levels.

The feedback provided to agents can also result in incremental cost savings and increased revenue. For example, a quality evaluation program can uncover ways to reduce average handle time and first call resolution, improve selling skills and reduce the time it takes to train agents. Additionally, regular feedback motivates agents and improves agent attrition, further reducing recruiting and training costs.

According to Mark Steinweg, corporate director of Carlson Leisure Travel Services, by simply increasing the frequency of monitoring and coaching, the company significantly increased the revenue generated on calls and reduced average handle time at the same time.

(Ed. Note: Both Covad and Carlson are HyperQuality Customer Success Storries published Sept.2007 and April 2006 respectively)

3. If faced with reducing costs, consider outsourcing QA program or further leveraging an outsourced team

No matter how hard contact centers try, many may be faced with the daunting task of reducing employees. Various industries continue to face the problem; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, at the end of 2009 the U.S. unemployment rate was holding at a staggering 10 percent.

So before cutting agent positions, consider outsourcing QA. Then a vendor can do the heavy lifting of listening and evaluating calls, emails and chat sessions. Vendors like HyperQuality will provide the quality evaluations and feedback directly to agents and supervisors for much less than a traditional in-house quality assurance program. With this solution, the supervisors can spend their valuable time coaching and training agents and can also be leveraged to handle rising call volumes when needed.

According to a survey by TechWeb Research, three-quarters of companies say that they have successfully transformed a business process that they have outsourced. The survey further found that the leading driver for outsourcing is to reduce costs.

If cutting agent positions is a must, consider an Interactive Voice Response system, a more cost-effective home-based agent model and Speech Recognition, which can handle more of the customer interaction with automation.

4. Automate as many manual workflows as possible

There are numerous processes in the contact center that, when done manually, are very cost and labor intensive. Processes like roster management, calibration sessions, auditing and escalations can all be automated through low-cost software solutions.

5. Manage by the numbers

It is imperative to maintain a strong reporting system. Contact centers need a solution that allows managers to easily understand what is happening in the contact center and how to make changes that will impact the customer experience.

“Now that 2010 is in full swing and a complete economic recovery may be years away, it’s time to take a look at customer service plans for the year,” says HyperQuality’s Cole. “Customer service can’t be lumped into the overall budget cuts – because customer satisfaction scores are tied directly to market value. However, adapting quality assurance practices to lower spending is possible with key tools, processes and above all, effective coaching to front-line personnel. All can contribute to solving the riddle of doing more, and better, with less.”

Brendan B. Read is ContactCenterSolutions’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Patrick Barnard