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.
I’m always a bit wary about ways to improve efficiency in the call centre.
A focus on efficiency tends to end up with a focus on quantity rather than on quality.
I think that efficiency really comes from motivated employees and making the call centre a fun place to work.
I truly believe that adopting a ‘systems’ (socio technical systems – not IT systems) approach to a contact centre can provide huge cost savings and improve the customer experience.
I think it’s important to elimiate the ‘waste’ that occurs in the process. Why is a customer calling in the first place? What are they asking for? How much of that is value? And how much of that is waste?
Eliminate the waste – save money – happier workforce.
It’s very difficult to have a highly motivated workforce and create a fun place to work if the processes are inefficent. We didn’t recruit unhappy people – we made them unhappy by asking them to work with an inefficient process. Unhappy staff lead to poor morale, leads to inefficiencies, leads to poor customer service.
Fix the waste – solve the problem.
This is an excellent article, but the best way to become efficient in the Call Centre is to increase the Job Satisfaction of the agents and increasing the value in sales terms in each call, by giving them real knowledge of who is calling by CRM Screen Pops and by having return callers speak to the same agent.
Just a screen pop will reduce the agent call time by 20 seconds and if the agent can take more calls a day because of this and become more productive, everyone is quids in – less churn too.
Along the way, why not lose the costs of maintaining your ACD, integrating your hardware and IT costs for CTI, by using a pre-integrated system.
Make sure you have your agent fees pay as you go for concurrent agents rather than licence up front x 100 – this gives you so much more flexibility.
All this could save you 60% of the ongoing costs of providing a contact centre. If you are going to have a real try to iron out inefficiences, it makes sense to go this route – ie hosted. Need I say any more!
Your ARTICLE is Superb
I have been given the task of improving productivity in our call centre, and it has been said that if I do, then this will directly impact on salary increases for the telesales agents in the call centre. It means alot to me for this project to actually get off the ground and become successful, as this then means that the staff at the call centre can now get a good salary increase and can be happy with their jobs as they are currently not. However, my challeneg as to work and be mantained ….”I have to improve on productivity”
The problem is I dont know where to begin…
I need some guidance in what steps I need to follow and what important points I need to follow in order to get this task to actually work.
I will welcome as many thoughts and ideas that I can get.
In reply to the request for help from Trish Daniel.
Good luck with you project Trish, some people will tell you it is about the people, others it’s the technology and/or the procedures you have in place, unfortunatley it is not just one of these factors it is ALL of these factors. You can have the best technology in the world but if it is not embraced by your staff and the correct procedures implemented then nothing will change (apart from a large cash outlay on the equipment!)
You need to focus on one area at a time to ensure you get maximum gain from any changes you implement, I would not suggest wholesale changes overnight as this could have a detramental effect.
I would suggest start by re-training your staff on the basic’s, set them targets/goals which are achievable thus building confidence and moral.
I wish you all the best in your project and would recommend you look at the solutions in the recent call centre helper article ‘Top 10 Call Centre Software’.
I would say that you may list in one side what do you think is going wrong and on another side what is OK, well and very weel done.
After knowing the “environment” make a specific questionnaire, see the “ergonomy” of the place of work (to make the necessary changes) and I would interview all the staff to see why they do not perform (what they do not understand, their own problems, their sickness or stress, etc..)
See if a budget will suit the necessary changes for EFQM assessment. See if the “managers, sub-managers, directors and team leaders” are motivating their staff in a “sustainable way”.
its is very important to have clear procedures especially in call centres that depend on second or third parties to resolve a customer compliant. the break down in procedures or indeed the lack of it, usually makes the call centre agent appear inefficent and disorganzied, thereby frustrating the customer.
As a trainer and business consultant I work with many different clients, and have worked with both in & out bound tele-based centres.
I believe that the article provides a good foundation for areas to focus on if efficiency or attrition issues exist. This is because it looks at business processes, people – in terms of psychological contract, HR planning and development, and a small mention of environmental analysis in the form of reviewing why your inbound centre is actually contacted in the first place.
I feel that a review of mgt style could also have added something to the mix as this very much influences the behaviour in others as they discover what is acceptable behaviour within the business. Looking at diversity, especially in terms of age, could add some benefit because typically older people are statistically more likely to act responsibly and less likely to move on from their positions (unless things are really bad), than younger employees.
The comments left by other are also interesting and useful. Unlike the person who left the first comment though I do not believe that quality, quantity and efficiency are linked in the way described. I feel that efficiency and quantity can be improved dramatically without a sacrifice of quality.
An example can be seen in the automotive sector. The introduction of new working methods as developed by the Japanese had a huge impact on the industry and as a result efficiency, quality, and quantity increased.
The person who left the first comment also mentioned motivated workforce and fun working environment as key, and I do agree with these.
All in all I’ve been impressed with the website and the people who view it.
How can i improve my call centre agents call quality over the period of time so that i can achieve target of 85% call quality. what are the parameters of call quality
I am working for a contact centre which deals in banking. After analyzing the top call drivers, it has come to my notice that we have customers calling in mainly to check their credit card statement balances even thought his information is available on the IVR & online servies. We also have our agents driving customer to make full use of the above services, however, this doesn’t seem to help.
Is there any way of dealing with this situtation as this particular call type constitutes to 40% of the call volumes on a daily basis?
Great article. Will use some of it in our forthcoming operation changes.
We are a financial contact centre dealing with Banking, Credit & Charge Cards, Insurance, Finance and Unit Trust – all under One roof. We have an issue with efficiency and greatly impacted by the economic crisis. Spending has been cut & management are demanding higher performance results not to mentioned call volume has pick-up month after month. Therefore we have decided to change our approach to customer. If before we are very much product minded, now we are going into customer demand approach. Whereby our IVR will be base on i.e., product enquiry instead going by Banking, Credit & Charge Cards, Insurance, Finance and Unit Trust. We then train all our members how to serve customer on Acct. Enquiry as our front-end system is able to provide a holistic view of the customer. By doing this, we will have instead of 70 agents – we are suddenly have 140 agents to spread the calls. This will reduce cost, spread the calls evenly to everyone & meet mgmt expectation. Hopefully everything works out.
The devil is indeed in the detail… Efficiency in a call centre is acheived when processes are constantly and consistently improved to suit customer needs using the most appropriate resources available.
thx for your useful informatin. we apply those informations in Iran.
Well, to keep the quality, and even to improve the service for the customer, while cutting the costs and thriving in a though economic situation, contact centres need a way to automatise low value tasks, improving the CSRs experience, and allowing them to focus on the customer and the higher value adding tasks! Win-win!
how answering calls it help during improvement process?