Knowledge doesn’t simply come from books. Technology can also be empowering, giving contact centre managers the opportunity to accrue a variety of information. Handled wisely, this can lead to significant competitive edge. But you must know what to look for, argues Ian Ashby.
All good business people understand that knowing your customers increases your ability to serve them, retain them and grow your base. Business knowledge is power. The challenge facing contact centre managers is how to gain knowledge of their customers, how they are being served by the company’s contact centres and then how to use that information to further improve quality of service and revenues.
There are a multitude of ‘solutions’ on the market that promise a headache-free way to capture and manage all this information, but the sad truth is that very few actually deliver. So, what should contact centre managers be looking for?
While analysing the market in 2006, Exony found that managers in the UK’s 5,000 contact centres are facing information overload, forced to wade through more than 2.3 million reports every day – an average of 450 per contact centre. This means that more than 854 million reports are generated annually, containing more than 10 billion lines of information.
There is no doubting contact centre managers’ commitment to gathering information on their customers and on how their contact centres are performing, but what good is a report if you can’t make the most of the data you acquire? The key to success is usability and having access to the right data at the fingertips of the right person.
Recent research by the Service Excellence Research Group (ServiceXRG) and eVergance highlights that although significant investments are being made to develop knowledge assets, strategies to measure the impact from knowledge remain elusive in the service sector.
When it comes to looking at knowledge management technologies for the first time, the key considerations should be ease of management and ability to achieve consistency of data across operations.
Currently, many contact centre managers have different systems for real-time reporting, intra-day reporting and historical reporting. This creates more systems and data inconsistency for the same underlying information and is unnecessarily complex.
It is key to have all this reporting in one system, so contact centre managers and supervisors should look for technology which offers: reduced number of systems (and hence complexity); consistent data; a built-in roles-based security model – that is, something that ensures contact centre managers can only see what they are allowed to; and an ability to set the context for real-time information.
This last item is particularly important. If you have a consolidated system you can look at the day’s results – for instance, call volumes – against the context of the historical trend results to see if there is a problem or for better resource planning. Do you need more agents lined up at any particular time? Do you need to divert some calls to the branch office or back office workers?
Ease of management is crucial – from both a time management and training perspective. If you have a consolidated system, you need to be able to easily change the reported time period of comparison to gain real insight to help effective business decision-making. For example, for a report focused on Friday 22 December 2006, is your best ‘context baseline’ Thursday 21 December 2006, Friday 15 December 2006 or 22 December 2005 – the corresponding date from the previous year?
The reality is that being able to react swiftly to nip potential problems in the bud enables contact centres to remain fully focused on delivering a high level of customer service at all times. Acquiring a system that enables reports to be generated (or simply edited) easily and with a quick turnaround should also form a major part of your purchasing decision.
How long does it take to get your knowledge currently? If your process looks like the checklist below, it could take anything from three weeks to three months to accrue critical customer or contact centre performance information, by which time it is highly likely to be out of date:
- As a ‘business user’, I want to investigate a particular area / issue
- I need some data / information to help me understand it – that is, I need a report of the key area
- I specify what I think I need
- I hand it to the information technology (IT) department
- The IT department meets with me to try and understand what I want
- The IT department thinks about how they will do it
- The IT department either commits to do it themselves or raises the paperwork to have it done by an external organisation
- The report is created and tested
- The report is delivered back to me (the business user)
- There is a process of iteration (What I receive is not what I wanted, it doesn’t give me the information I need. Can I swap the order of these columns? Can we add in this data as well?)
Does this scenario sound familiar? If so, that’s because it’s how far too many contact centres operate their knowledge management processes. And let’s not forget that in the scenario described here, the key underlying issue has still not been addressed, with all the inherent associated cost, customer experience and agent impact continuing throughout this extended period.
Fortunately, there are now technologies on the market that enable business users to create their own ad hoc reports and have the data they want at their fingertips in minutes, with the added ability to edit or amend any report if they wish. Reports can also be shared with other group managers according to their business area and user ‘rights’. Look for these to help deliver real-time reporting.
Now you’ve ‘measured’, how do you ‘manage’?
Gaining information by analysing your calls and operations is, relatively speaking, the easy part. The question now is what to do with it all.
Typically, many contact centre managers will work out what changes they need to make to their operations, fill out a change request form and then endure a lengthy internal approval process that can take weeks before the key system changes are made. It is the reporting process all over again.
This is especially true in the scenario where the organisation is operating a ‘virtual contact centre’, where the inherent benefits of a single queue together with improved business continuity has the undesired effect of significantly reducing business agility – that is, the ability for contact centre managers to respond to business changes in a timely manner.
With technology available on the market today, contact centre managers and supervisors in both siloed and virtual contact centres can be empowered to make key day-to-day operational changes, such as adding new agents, changing skill groups, shifting agents to deal with queues, or even assigning new phones. This can all now happen in real-time without any dependency on either in-house or third party technical resources, thereby delivering significantly improved business agility to the organisation.
This is what I like to refer to as the ‘closed loop of measure and manage’. First you measure what’s going on. You then take appropriate ‘manage’ actions in response to what you see. Then you go back to ‘measure’ again to see if the changes you have made have given the desired effects.
Knowledge management need not be a chore. It should be a business tool that enables your contact centre to work more effectively, moving ever forward towards becoming a true profit centre. Reducing complexity, achieving real-time reporting and empowering business group heads should be the main considerations when looking at purchasing.
Therefore, the key things to consider when looking in to buying a knowledge management system include:
- Be clear on objectives. Why are you looking at knowledge management? What do you want to get out of it as a business? Aim to reduce complexity and gain consistency of data.
- Ease of use. Look for a single system for real-time, intra-day and historic reporting; ideally easily extensible to include additional data sources, for example, workforce management and customer relationship management systems.
- Empower your business users. Give department heads the ability to create and edit reports securely without dependency on others.
- ‘Measure and manage’. Not only do you need to know what is going on; you also need to be able to do something about it, and in a timely manner. Ensure your solution has the ability to easily make key operational changes in response to the information provided from your knowledge management platform.
Chief information officers often complain that IT investments frequently fail to support their business objectives, so getting it right first time when measuring and managing customer data and evaluating your contact centre is critical to gain a significant competitive edge. Shop around, look at the options following the four basic steps above to ensure you get it right. After all, business knowledge is power.
Ian Ashby is the chief executive officer of interaction management technology provider Exony