Tried and true techniques for cutting costs in your call center

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TechSee describes how to cut costs at the call center
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Contact centers are always looking for ways to reduce expenses. This is particularly true during periods of uncertainty and economic downturn, when cutting costs contribute to business continuity. Since most of a contact center’s operating costs are related to staffing, the easiest and quickest ways of tightening the belt are to cut headcount or shut down live support channels. However, these drastic measures are usually short term as they negatively affect CX and employee morale. Contact center leadership must think strategically and find sustainable call center cost reduction strategies that do not compromise the quality and efficiency of the brand’s service. This is especially relevant in today’s customer-focused marketplace, where expectations are high, and customer service excellence has become a competitive advantage.

The Best Call Center Cost Reduction Strategies

Instead, contact center leadership should focus on three key areas that have been proven to cut costs effectively over the long term while improving CX.

  • Volume – rapidly address the most common issues that drive most inbound customer contacts
  • Time – help agents resolve customers’ issue faster
  • Staffing – make sure agents are utilized as efficiently as possible

Techniques to reduce call volume

Slash inbound inquiries with self-service

Identify three to five issues that drive most of your inbound customer contacts. These are often requests for assistance with common, uncomplicated tasks such as operating a device, changing a password, or simple troubleshooting. Implement self-service channels to reduce the volume of these requests by enabling customers to help themselves, without compromising service quality. Self-service options include informative hold messages, a robust FAQ section on the company website, and conversational AI assistants. Aside from alleviating pressure on staff, the savings are significant. The Harvard Business Review indicates that the cost of each self-service transaction is negligible, while the average cost of a live service interaction runs to between $7 and $13. Customers will jump at the opportunity to help themselves – 90% of respondents in a Microsoft survey say they expect brands and organizations to offer a self-service option.

Reduce second-time calls with better FCR

First contact resolution (FCR) is one of the most critical KPIs used to gauge the quality of customer service and the overall efficiency of a call center. As FCR improves, and there is less need for customers to call back about the same issue, the overall cost of providing support decreases. According to research and consulting firm Service Quality Measurement Group, for every 1% improvement in FCR, a call center reduces its operating costs by 1%. In addition, failure to provide a timely resolution to a customer’s issue is an important contributor to customer dissatisfaction. A recent study on this topic found that customer satisfaction (CSAT) ratings are 35-45% lower for customers who must make a second call about the same issue.

Reduce the need for followup with next issue avoidance

Next issue avoidance (NIA) is a KPI used by a company’s customer support department to measure  success in predicting and preventing future issues related to the current case. It uses data-based projections, brainstorming, and common sense to preempt customers’ next questions by thinking laterally and anticipating future problems the customer is likely to experience. With 40% of all calls considered “next issues” following initial contacts, taking a couple of minutes to ask customers a few extra questions at the end of a call could save the contact center several lengthy calls in the future. According to CEB, “Companies practicing next issue avoidance dramatically reduce the likelihood of another 3- to 5-minute phone call (with an upset customer, no less) by taking an extra 15 to 30 seconds to simply forewarn the customer.”

Techniques to optimize time

Improve AHT with knowledge bases

Average Handle Time (AHT) is a traditional contact center KPI that measures the average duration of a communication between an agent and a customer. Ensuring a low AHT is associated with cutting expenses in the call center as it allows agents to deal with more calls during a shift. According to McKinsey Global Institute, the average agent spends almost 20% of their time finding the information they need on internal systems or asking colleagues for help with specific tasks. To improve AHT, develop a robust knowledge base and use cheat sheets that explain specific handling protocols to ensure faster resolutions. Incorporating intelligent search functions into a contact center knowledge base can enable it to learn over time to deliver the most valuable information relating to each specific search query.

Enhance new hire training with clear workflows

Make sure all your contact center agents have sufficient knowledge, training and resources to adequately address customers’ needs. This starts from the first day on the job. Ensure new hires are crystal clear on best practices and ideal workflows so they can do their jobs efficiently and limit the number of escalated issues – reducing cost per call. There are a wide range of techniques that address individual agents’ skill gaps while boosting cost and time efficiency, such as collaboration, gamification, visual assistance, and whisper coaching.

Accelerate resolutions with AI-powered agent assistance

Investment in artificial intelligence (AI) has been a key focus of customer service departments across almost every industry over the past decade. Many AI-based platforms offer agent assistance, providing real-time guidance during customer interactions, freeing them from the burden of remembering workflows, troubleshooting processes, and rules. For example, AI platforms can present proactive knowledge suggestions to agents while they are on the line or in a chat with a customer. These suggestions often appear as pop-ups, offering agents pertinent knowledge that enables better customer assistance without requiring manual searches or long wait times. When employees have access to these tools, call center costs are reduced as agents can resolve issues as quickly as possible.

Techniques to optimize staffing

Improve agent utilization

Agent utilization is a core KPI that measures the percentage of an agent’s total shift spent on call-related activities. It excludes time devoted to team meetings, After Call Work (ACW) activities, or completing other administrative tasks not directly related to serving customers. Raising your agent utilization rate allows your organization to get more done with fewer team members, increasing productivity and profitability while minimizing cost per contact and keeping operational expenses in check. There are several strategies that contact centers can use to improve agent utilization, including improving their engagement, rewarding performance, employing video-based support, optimizing the software they use and streamlining processes.

Enhance performance with motivation

Ensuring the agent representing the company is in the best possible position to facilitate a successful interaction is the key to developing a high-performing and efficient service organization. Finding ways to keep your agents engaged and motivated to succeed in their jobs will create a positive atmosphere in the call center and ultimately reduce agent attrition, a significant drain on the organization’s resources. Monotony can be alleviated by changing scripts or desk placement, for example. Agents can be assigned to different channels, such as voice, email, chat, and social media. Employee motivation can also be achieved through gamification and incentives, or through innovative technologies that enhance agents’ abilities to resolve issues and engage with their customers.

Use automation as a force multiplier

Digital transformation has impacted numerous contact center processes, with a Forrester report discussing how AI trends transform agents’ roles in the contact center by giving them the tools they need to succeed. Automated workflows simplify repetitive daily tasks, such as auto-populating information on specific screens or sending followup emails after each call. Management benefits from automated scheduling, which streamlines time-consuming tasks by using AI to process agent availability, business hours, and other rule-based parameters to ensure there are no gaps in agent coverage – increasing productivity and optimizing costs.

Measurement is key

Call center cost reduction strategies are imperative – especially now – but whether financial goals are achieved by reducing call volume, helping agents resolve customers’ issues faster, or ensuring staff is utilized in the most efficient manner possible, the change must be continuously evaluated to ensure ongoing positive results. Feedback can be collected regularly from staff; agents are well placed to highlight any roadblocks or barriers to success. In addition, continuously checking levels of agent and team performance will ensure that the change has not led to a negative impact on contact center KPIs, and that it has optimized contact center costs while enhancing customer experience.

This post was first published on the TechSee blog.

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