6 things you can do today to boost contact center quality and efficiency


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Over the past decade, contact centers have devoted significant resources (staff and money) to increasing customers’ self-service efforts. The ultimate goal? Reducing call volume by enabling IVR, web, or mobile applications. Much of the potential ROI was delivered under the auspices of reducing head count, increasing capacity, or improving margins by reducing the cost to support a client’s need for information. But did it work?

While we have reduced the absolute number of agent-handled calls, we have actually increased the average handle time (AHT) due to the complexity of the calls that ultimately end up with agents. That’s because the “simple stuff” is being taken out of the mix of our random call arrival patterns, replaced by calls that either can’t be self-served or are so complicated that the caller prefers to talk with an agent rather than struggle through the required IVR or web-based workflows.

So what does this mean to those of you left struggling with handle time, staffing, and call avoidance objectives? It means finding ways to more efficiently and effectively handle what you end up with because – surprise! – you are still being asked to cut costs and improve quality and customer satisfaction. An impossible task, some of you might say (and many of you might mumble to yourself silently), given the current state of pressure on costs and CSAT you all face.

One approach is through your quality program. Quality is a mainstay of many operations, and may give you extra bang for your buck if used the right way. Analyzing the quality and call data you already collect in a new light can uncover impactful opportunities down that path to higher quality and efficiency without increasing cost. Targeting your quality efforts based on those areas most tightly connected to your business goals may also provide insight into new ways to look at your business model. Correlation analysis can provide insight into those operational areas outside your control that are causing pain and misery. That is an incredible way to work toward common objectives to directly impact the bottom line.

There are many paths to quality and efficiency, but I’m going to focus on just a few that are all within your grasp. These aren’t untested concepts that are costly and resource-intensive. These are steps to start today.

1) Targeted coaching. Instead of focusing on the bottom 2.5 percent or on pure handle time nagging for the bottom 33 percent, look for specific skills, knowledge, and behaviors that are reducing overall quality and coach to them. Using your analytics — whether anecdotes from call observations or statistics from your speech analytics data — can fuel your coaching efforts to significantly improve your performance bell curve without spending any more time coaching.

2) Evaluate the evaluator. Do a quick time and motion study of your evaluators, especially team leads and supervisors. Let them tell you how they think they spend their time and consider resetting supervisor/evaluator priorities based on what you hear. Do they say they spend 10 hours a week in meetings, 10 hours taking escalated calls, 10 hours acting as agents during peak? How much time does that leave them to actually coach and develop their teams? Do you need to look for opportunities to adjust their efforts to better focus on their primary task – actually improving their teams?

3) Uncover nuggets. We all have basic call data that points to agents with longer handle times, longer hold times, or increased hold volumes. Use that as the starting point to find those nuggets of performance improvement information. Use anecdotal and automated speech analytics to uncover unnecessary calls (and pinpoint the external force or department driving that volume). Use the same analytics to discover which calls are too long or require lengthy holds because the workflow, desktop applications, or process guidelines are outdated or out of sync with your business and operational objectives.

4) Call part analysis. How much time are your agents spending on the primary “sections” of a call? Why are some spending 50 percent in problem definition and others handling that in 10 percent? Why are some spending 60 percent documenting outcomes after the call when the best agents complete it during the call? Call part analysis, whether manual or system supported, can provide amazing insight into call flows and process improvement opportunities.

5) Remove authentication. The call part analysis will likely show that the longest segment of the call that can be automated is customer authentication. Callers’ voices are recorded. You have authenticated many callers from the past. Forget “your mother’s maiden name” and start evaluating voice biometric technology, which can trim every call by 45-60 seconds. If you have 250 agents handling six-minute calls 45-50 times per day, that means about 3 million calls per year. Take just 45 seconds off those calls and you save more than 37,500 hours every year, increasing capacity by 12 percent without touching the rest of your workflows.

6) Guide the agents. Consider real-time guidance software (yes, this one might cost a little money and effort). Turn-by-turn, on-screen guidance that will help sell, support, save, and swerve through the complexity of customer requests and your tools. This type of software can shorten training, will certainly improve agent accuracy and compliance, and can reduce repeat calls, which obviously drives caller satisfaction.

What to do next

Think about what research you can do to get a high-level snapshot of where to start.
• Use calibration sessions to compare notes on anecdotal findings and use the results to target any issues and coach the coaches.
• Look for low-hanging fruit from anecdotal data to find quick wins in process improvement and reduce unnecessary call volumes.
• Do some back-of-the-napkin call-part analysis while evaluating, and if you have a team of agents you’re observing, do a time and motion analysis to find any outliers.
• Make sure you are fully utilizing your call recording solution to eliminate as much non-value-add effort as possible and free up more time for actual coaching work.

The bottom line is the more calls you can listen to (remembering that speech analytics can essentially listen to ALL of your calls for you), the more data becomes available. Collaborating on those findings increases the value yet again so make time to share your findings. Finally, think big picture: New business cases will help you justify that next solution purchase or allow you to bring in a consultant to make sure you are using what you have to its fullest potential.

David Johnson
David Johnson is a Senior Business Consultant for NICE Systems. David draws on more than 25 years of contact center and customer service experience to optimize performance management and operational efficiency at both the agent and management level. He enhances customer experiences, promotes business development, and drives revenue by emphasizing high-quality contact center processes, interactions, and employee training. He has built and managed single-site, multi-site, and multinational teams of 3 to 350. Prior to NICE, David held management positions in blue chips and start ups, at companies


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