A story about Contact Center Software

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Why are some call centers a success and do others drag along?

A good question, isn't it - why are some call centers a success and do others drag along?
I have seen many a call center and it seems that some of them are a big hit - highly visible in the company, wildly successful, and loved by their customers, while others are terrible - bad stats, disgruntled agents and customers running away, screaming. Let us explore some of the challenges that play an important role in creating a successful call center.
We will start with looking at it from the outside. I always like that - look at it from a customer perspective. When would you say that you have received an excellent service? I mean - when would you recommend a call center to your friends?
Hmm, let me think - I'd say that a call center is excellent when they answer me fast and good. Yeah, that is it. No more and certainly no less! Fast and good.
There you have it. Throw away the 5 pages per-agent-statistics you get on a daily basis, and start over again. Fast & Good. That's the spirit. But what does that mean, Fast & Good? How can you measure it?
It is not that hard to measure it. To measure Fast & Good - you measure fast and you measure good:
  • Fast: Pick up yer telephone before the 3rd or 4th ring (or 20 seconds waiting music)
  • Good: Solve all issues at the first call
Now, we know that this of course is not possible. We cannot pick up all telephones that fast, and we certainly can't solve all problems directly? But you can aim for the impossible can't you? So, your SLA should be something along the lines of:
  • We answer 90% of our calls within 20 seconds (answered by a person, that is)
  • We handle 90% of our calls to satisfactory completion (by the customer that is)
So Speed of Answer and First Call Resolution, are important - agreed?
Now why did I say again that you should throw away the 5 pages of statistics you get every day? Because they don't mean shit. Sorry - I mean, they don't mean very much. They provide you with how many calls were abandoned and the average wrap-up time; call volumes and longest waiting time - very good if you have a black belt in statistics - but what you don't get out of there is what your call center is doing for your business. Is it a cost center or a profit center? What is the bottom line - are you adding or substracting to the general pot of gold?
If you don't know that then you get the wrong reports!
You need to think business.
Now, getting back to business :-) why is First Call Resolution paramount? Let me explain it to you:
  • If you can't resolve it on the first call you are adding extra work for yourself - because
  • You need to schedule a call back
  • You need to research the issue
  • This research is for the current client only (Why? There must be more clients with the same issue - it should be in the FAQ's)
  • You need to call back the client (with the possibility missing it and again scheduling a call back, adding even more work)
  • And of course, the client, who is already aggravated, will call back (even more work, because the two cases need to be linked) or not buy your services / products (loss of money).
Thus when there is no First Call Resolution - you lose money. If the case would have been done at the first call, all this work could have been prevented... Hence the importance of the FCR!
So, KPI #1 (answer 90% of the calls within 20 s.) actually depends on KPI #2! When you resolve more issues on the first call, you will be able to answer more calls within the service level time. Life can be amazingly simple, can't it?
Let's get briefly back to the customer. What is it that he wants again? Fast & Good. Let's also add Personal there. I'd not like to be passed around from person to person in a company - I want one and only one person to handle my problem. What does the call center representative need to be able to do this?
First of all, he will need a good system that allows a 360° view of the customer. He will need to know all the ins and outs about this customer that are available in the different computer databases.
Furthermore the representative should know the company culture, rules and procedures by heart. Needless to say that he or she already knows the products and services that the company offers and is kept up to date whenever changes arise.
Communication training! For those who don't believe that it works I have one question - why are you reading this article? Everything (including this article) is communication and you(r agents) should learn how to do it. Communication is the skill they should use 110% of the day - so train them and let them exercise it!
Let your representatives quickly cut through the red tape in your organisation - give them authority to cut across functional areas and resolve a case quickly. This seems simple but is one of the difficult ones to do right. Let me repeat that. This is the hard part. Those corporate 'rules' are put in place because management knows what best is for the organisation, and most of the middle managment functions are created around managing these rules.
I'm not advocating that every representative should be able to do whatever they like - but in a lot of cases the agents know from their experience what will happen in a certain scenario. Wouldn't it be in the clients' interest when they can take this decision? After all, the call center is there so serve them, right?
Team leaders and supervisors will need to check on how these cases have been resolved, of course, so that they can adjust the decision of the agents - but do this after the resolution, not before. You will probably lose more money when constantly transferring calls from an agent to a team leader when a minimal decision needs to be taken. Unless, of course, your call center handles multi-million dollar bank transfers.
Think of it. Agents will feel valued, so they don't quit; Customers feel valued as decisions are taken instantly and Team leaders are free to do the task they should do - leading their team. This brings me to the next point.
Pick your team leaders and supervisors with care, and support them with adequate training. Don't 'promote' the agent that is there the longest to become a team leader, just because of that. I certainly don't hope your company doesn't do the same when picking a CEO... Being a team leader has serious responsibilities - he should guide the team, discuss the previous week, analyse the stats and look at the decisions taken by his agents.
Put in place a quality monitoring programme to evaluate individual agents and teams and publish these results. This is a touchy subject as we are entering here; it is easy to become lost in the I-am-better-than-you evaluation and certain agents will always be better than others. What I propose it to establish a baseline for every agent and for every team and to monitor and to publish the deviations from the baseline. An example. Agent Alice has a baseline of 0,7 meaning that 70% of the issues are resolved on the first call. Agent Bob has a baseline of 0,64. In the past week Alice has had 87 calls, of which 57 were FCR calls. Bob had 86 calls of which 56 were FCR calls.
A small calculation shows that Alice performed not so good: 57/87=0,655% divided by 0,7 = 0,94, i.e. 6 percent under her normal performance while Bob performed quite well: 56/86=0,651%, divided by 0,64 = 1,02 so 2 percent above his performance.
The absolute figures need to be retained for salary increase and quarterly one to one meetings, they don't need to be public. The relative numbers (Alice -6%, Bob +2%) can be published either as is or weakened (as in Alice - Bob +)
And of course an awards program (think of it as a frequent flyer program for agents) for those agents that have a high First Call Resolution behaviour and attitude. When you think long and hard enough you will come up with something that will fit in with your company culture. A dinner for two, a balloon flight, a golf course, whatever you think they would like. Or better yet - let them decide. Make the budget and let them come with suggestions.
What is in it for me? Or rather, for my call center?
When you implement these measures you will find that you will get:
  • Up to 15 % less calls - because an amazing 15 % of people will call again when they did not get the answer they were looking for
  • Less complaint calls. Did you know that a complaint call (handled by the supervisor) costs 4 to 5 times as much as a normal call?
  • Less claim calls. Needles to say, claim calls (without the cost of the claim) already cost 6 to 7 times the cost of the normal call. Plus that customer is lost. Forever.
  • Less unhandled inquiries. An unhandled inquiry costs 3 to 4 times as much as an issue that is handled on the first call.
Other people are estimating that 25 to 30 % of the call center operating cost is spent on issues that do not have a FCR. I believe them. An amazing amount of money wrongly spend. Just imagine that you wouldn't need to spend this money. Or - let's be realistic. Let's imagine that you would be able to solve half of those issues on the first call. This would effectively that
  • It would look like your budget would increase 10 - 15 %
  • Your clients would be happier
  • Your agents would be more satisfied
A dream scenario, isn't it? Some people will tell you that this is impossible. They can be in your organisation. The first thing to do is to ignore them. It is possible. I have seen it.
Here is how you go start. You need do two things. First, you need to make a detailed map of all the processes that exist in your company (or all the processes that, even remotely, touches your call center). Second (and I mentioned this already above, you need to have a unified view of your customer. Because it is so important I will state it again.
Unified. View. Of. The. Customer.
Let me tell you a small story - make that two. Let me tell you two small stories of telephone calls I made. Once was recently and the other one was some time ago, but they are still valid.
Story #1. I ordered some goods on a website and something went astray. I ended up with something I didn't want and couldn't remove it - in short, I needed help. So I called the call center. I was greeted by a friendly voice and I explained my problem. The lady told me that indeed she saw it, had no idea why it went wrong, but she could remove the goods so I could start over again. I told her to do so and after the telephone call, my basket was empty and I continued shopping.
Story #2. A year ago I decided to change energy providers. After some research I chose one and filled in my data on their website. After pushing the final submit button I got the confirmation e-mail and saw that I made a mistake; I applied for the wrong tariff. I looked at the website again, but I couldn't find out how to make changes, so I called the call center. The friendly voice in the other side told me that "he couldn't see that order and I needed to call back tomorrow, or the day after", because, "It sometimes takes a couple of days before we can see the order". I called again, within a week. To cancel my order, of course.
Unnamed company #1 has a unified view of their customers while unnamed company #2 does certainly not have it. Perhaps their employees also only have a number... I'm sure that with those stories the importance of having a unified view of the customer has become clear.
Now, to come back to the detailed map of all of the processes. You (and your agents) will need those when an issue needs to be resolved. They need to be aware of all those processes - they don't need to know them by heart, but they need to have them readily available, so that things can be put in motion. In stead of answering the customer "I don't know, I will ask (and hope for the best)".
Furthermore, you will need to extend your quality monitoring and call evaluation system towards a quality management system. With such a system it is a breeze to convince your management of the importance of the First Call Resolution and the Actual Value Created for the business. Without such a quality management system? Forget it.
Do you want to improve your call center? Have a chat with me.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Have you ever thought about how the customer thought about you?

What do your customers think of you(r call center)? You don't know? Well, why don't you ask them? What do you say, you don't want to spend resources on that? Silly you - you don't need to spend valuable people on that. Listen to me and learn a method on how to ask your customers about the quality (or the lack thereof) your call center and have them answer honestly.
It is very important for you to know what your customers think about your call centers. A client of me has the following proverb above his desk: "What you don't know, you can't measure, and what you can't measure, you can't improve." I guess he's right. You need to know before you can measure and improve.
So how can you know, measure and improve the quality of your call center without spending tons of resources on it? Normally to assess the customers attitude you don't need to ask them a lot of questions. Three or four will be enough. Also, in order to be able to make calculations over the results, there should be no free fields. Lastly, the customer should feel free to answer, and not be hindered by the agent he just talked to. Now, how can we combine all these requirements?
It is easy actually - let the IVR do the work. Let me explain myself. Normally you use an IVR at the beginning of the call to gather information and devise a routing strategy. But the IVR could also be used at the end.
Let me say that again. We are not going to use the IVR at the start but at the end of the call. So in stead of hanging up the call, the caller is transferred to an IVR where he can answer some questions about the quality of service. People will reply more honest to an IVR than to an agent. Of course, you don't need to do this for all of your callers; a certain percentage would be OK.
We have done this for a customer; it works as follows.
Someone calls to the call center and the IVR picks up. Based upon some calculations, it decides that this call should or shouldn't go to the IVR after the call. When it should go to the IVR after the call, this is announced to the caller, and the caller need to confirm that he will participate.
Then the call is sent to the agent (who does not know whether the caller will be queried lateron) and when the agent clicks on hangup, the call is not hung up, but blind transferred to the IVR with the questionnaire.
The IVR asks its questions (how was the service, was the agent nice, etc.) and this data is lateron merged with the data from the call center. Which agent, what time, type of question, etc..
Now you know how your clients are thinking about you. And once you know - you can measure it - and improve it. Why not start off with sending me an e-mail to start a discussion about it?