The Call Center Self-Service Effect


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The call center self-service effect is increasing the percentage of problem calls that agents are handling. Customers have tried self service, but weren’t able to solve their problem and finally contacted a live agent. One of the top three banks in the country says that seventy percent of the calls that get through to their agents are problem calls, almost double what it was five years ago. Calls that are getting to agents are a lot more intense. The caller in most cases has already tried to solve the problem through self service. As a result, these calls are much higher risk.

The self-service effect is making first-call resolution even more important than before. Preparing your agents to deal with these sophisticated issues and solve them effectively is critical to handling these calls.

If first-call resolution is important to handling the self-service effect, if we all agree it is critical, then what’s holding us back from improving it?

What we find in our research is that less than one-third of call centers are providing as much training as they are targeting. Only twenty-nine percent of call centers are able to get as much training done as they had targeted. It’s significantly less than what we would like. Nearly three-fourths of us say that the reason that we’re not getting training done is because of the service needs, not surprisingly, of those pesky customers. We’re not able to get our training and communications and coaching and all those things done because of the service levels in our business. We just aren’t able to complete that much training.

How are we using agents’ time?

The Contact Center Shrinkage Survey drilled into how agents spend their day, on average, across call centers and industries. Sixty percent of their time is handle time. Eleven percent of their time is locked away time or idle time, where they’re logged into the ACD but they’re not on a call. Then, the remainder of their time is shrinkage. That’s the time your agents are spending not logged into the ACD.

Shrinkage is broken into primary loss and secondary loss. Primary loss is paid breaks, tardiness, absenteeism and things like that. Secondary losses are all those activities that you’re doing off-phone and that you’re asking your agents to complete off-phone. This is what that looks like. Twenty-one percent of the time you’re spending off-phone is on training, 17% on coaching, 16% on team meetings and so on. Those are the big chunks. There are a lot of things that fall into these other categories. Paperwork, white mail, order entry, all these things that you’re asking your agents to do off-phone.

The net-net is that we’re asking our agents to do a lot more than take calls. The way we think of it is, it’s just an additional cost of doing business. twelve percent of the time, of our agents’ paid time, is spent doing these offline activities. The way we think of it in a contact center is that it’s pure cost. We are doing considerably less than we probably want to. That’s what the earlier data showed. We’re asking agents to do a lot already. Based on the amount we’re actually getting done and how much we would like to be getting done, it’s not as much as we would like to do.

How do we use the time more effectively?

Would you believe me if I told you that your agents have 17 hours per month, or five weeks per year, of idle time that you could take advantage of–time that you could use to improve the service that your agents are delivering?

They do indeed have 16 to 17 hours a month and five weeks a year. According to the Contact Center Shrinkage Survey, the average agent spends 11% of his time waiting for the next call. That adds up to 48 minutes a day, which adds up to 17 hours a month, which adds up to five weeks per year, completely idle.

The problem is that this idle time shows up two minutes at a time. That means that the average agent has 24 two-minute breaks a day or 5,760 two minutes breaks a year. Think about losing five weeks, two minutes at a time. I would refer to that as water torture. Even though it adds up to 16 hours a month, because it’s showing up two minutes at a time, we’re powerless to convert that time into productive time.

How do we convert idle time into productive time?

Some of the best contact centers are starting to be more proactive by implementing intraday scheduling and task management systems. These systems convert unproductive, choppy, idle time into usable productive time, better known as active wait. Active wait allows you to complete activities you would have done off-phone and would have had to schedule incrementally into your schedule.

Here’s how it works. Every agent gets an activity queue. It’s just exactly like any other queue in your contact center, except that it’s a prioritized list of activities: coaching, communications and training that you want your agents to complete. As service levels begin to drop off, you’re focused on the first priority that you want your agents to do; maybe that’s a new product announcement.

The system reads the ADC stats every 15 seconds to identify these down times. For example, instead of having 25 agents idle for two minutes you would have two agents with prioritized content that they need to complete and 23 agents with 32 seconds of idle time. You’re aggregating time together to give bigger chunks of time to people who have need for some of this content.

On average, we’re finding that contact centers are able to convert two to four hours of idle time into active wait a month. A major US telecom said they get more training done in five days, than what used to take them a month. It’s a speed of change issue for them. Within their current budget, they found the time to complete more hours of training. Communications and coaching with agents increased 400%.

Not only did they get more completed, they improved their first-call resolution and improved their ACSI, the American Customer Satisfaction Index, rankings faster than any company in the history of that measurement. Clearly, finding more time with their agents had a big impact on first-call resolution.


You have to make time to improve service. There are 17 hours a month you’re already paying for that, with technology, you can make productive. Think of those off-phone activities you’re doing today as being able to be put in a queue, just like everything else in a call center, and deliver that during down times. As you get more done, you change behavior and you improve first-call resolution.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt McConnell
Matt McConnell is President and CEO of Intradiem. He co-founded Intradiem with the vision to help clients improve the performance of customer service agents with performance support software and services. Today, Intradiem is a leader in its market with more than 330,000 call center agents around the world using Intradiem every day.


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