With a difficult economic period ahead the Professional Planning Forum looks at how to drive efficiency in your contact centre.
With ideas ranging from removing the need to contact at all to the more traditional multi-skilling approach, we provide some key areas to be looked at when driving efficiency, whilst maintaining or improving the customer experience.
1. Cause of contact
The first and perhaps most effective area in which to improve efficiency is to consider the reasons your customers contact you.
Once you understand why a customer contacts you, you can identify what is causing that need for contact. In some cases processes can be improved to reduce the handling time, in others the need can be removed altogether.
Using data from customer surveys, IVR, call coding or even old-fashioned tick sheets can provide a valuable insight into improving the service your organisation offers your customers.
2. Document your processes
One approach is to look at documenting your processes. This often unearths inconsistency and helps to identify obvious areas for process improvement. Or why not simply ask your employees what processes they think need to be changed? If we can make these changes we can reduce the volume of calls coming into our centres, the amount of time it takes to complete tasks and aim to get things consistently right first time.
Cross-skilling or Multi-skilling has long been seen as a way to drive efficiency. Establishing which skills logically go together, both from a knowledge retention and customer experience point of view is an important first step.
Understanding how employees will retain the skills is important, with many centres adopting a knowledge system to support the employee in delivering good service. The economies of scale that can be achieved through multi-skilling help to reduce the amount of available time required to achieve service levels, therefore reducing the amount of employees needed to answer the calls. However, it is important not to push this too far, as employees will become “burnt out” if they are worked too hard, resulting in higher sickness and then attrition.
The key to successful multi-skilling is to understand how employees will move through the skills as part of their progression and to ensure that the customer experience is not negatively impacted in the desire to be more efficient.
4. Staff retention
Experience and knowledge is important when it comes to providing the customer with the level of service they expect. The excessive churn of employees in some contact centres means they need constantly to bring in new staff and train them to the desired level.
With many centres experiencing attrition rates of 40-plus per cent annually it becomes extremely difficult to achieve a fully skilled workforce. If this can be achieved benefits will be seen in AHT and first contact resolution, therefore driving improved levels of productivity and customer satisfaction. Staff retention starts from the beginning of the recruitment process.
5. Good recruitment procedures
Good recruitment and selection procedures are vital in employing the right person. How this person is then integrated into the culture of the business and trained to do the job will have a significant impact on whether they stay.
Many centres with high attrition rates suffer problems with short term attrition (less than 6 months); meaning that new employees add no value to the business, because just as they become fully skilled they leave. If these issues can be overcome fully skilled, experienced employees are available to the customer.
6. Schedule fit and adherence
The right skill, in the right place, at the right time, doesn’t sound that difficult! The schedules worked by employees must match as closely as possible the demand from customers, whilst still providing the employee with the flexibility they need to have a true work-life balance.
Offering a variety of schedules that cater for the different demands of modern living can provide all the necessary pieces of the scheduling jigsaw. Once the schedules are in place it is then important that employees follow them. To try and avoid a “big brother” approach to schedule adherence, it is vital that each employee understands the role they play in delivering a service to the customer.
7. What gets measured, gets managed
Whether you have a real-time team watching screens, or simply a reporting system that allows employees to be assessed on their performance but that encourages a self-management approach, depends on the culture of your centre. Simply not managing adherence to schedule is a very risky approach.
In simple terms what gets measured, gets managed.
The drive for efficiency is often seen to be at the expense of the customer. The examples given here are aimed at both providing a cost saving, but also at improving the level of service a customer receives. If we can remove the need for the customer to call in the first place we have made significant progress. When customers do have to call, speaking to a knowledgeable employee, who has been with the company for some time and has the ability to deal with multiple queries on one call, will offer the customer a one-stop shop approach to their query. If the employee has been scheduled at the right time and is adhering to that schedule then the customer’s call should be answered quickly, giving a truly good end-to-end customer service.
Steve Woosey is membership director at the industry body Professional Planning Forum.