3.2 Management guidelines for a productive call center
Call centers need to tread the thin line between improving service, sales, and revenue on the one hand and controlling costs on the other. When the proper balance is struck by effective management of the call center, the result will be a company that is more efficient and more productive on all levels. To achieve these dual objectives, the cost of hiring, training, and measuring the performance of CSRs needs to be managed carefully.
The significant contribution of the human element to the success or failure of a call center operation, and the statistics just described, present call center managers with the following human resource challenges:
Hiring competent, skilled CSRs
Establishing competitive salary ranges
Motivating and retaining CSRs
Measuring CSR performance
Maintaining CSR skills through appropriate training
This chapter focuses on the management aspects of call centers, including workforce management practices and processes, including CSR monitoring and performance measurement, call center structure, outsourcing resources, operator scheduling, and contingency and disaster recovery planning.
Chapter 4, "Selecting and Training Call Center Staff," provides insight into and more specific guidelines for another human resource aspect of call center management—staff selection and training—and the application of proven management techniques to ensure a productive call center environment and the effective management of the all-important human resource.
Workforce management systems (WFM)
One of the most important tools available to call center managers is the workforce management system (WFM). However, despite the wealth of technology available to manage call center operations and the critical nature of workforce management, workforce management systems are used in only about 10% of call centers, according to industry sources and surveys conducted over the past few years.
The first WFM applications were relatively unsophisticated compared to current products; however, they significantly reduced the time required to do simple agent scheduling. These applications were fed data from the ACD but were normally stand-alone solutions with limited or no integration, which meant the call center scheduler did not have a particularly accurate picture of what needed to be done. The WFM system did not improve the call center managers' knowledge so much as it assisted them in reaching similar conclusions more quickly.
Workforce management in the call center has been defined as "the art and science of having the right number of CSRs available at the right time, to answer an accurately forecasted volume of incoming calls at the desired service level, with quality." A number of software products are available to accomplish this objective, and their capability to accurately predict call volume and then staff accordingly is very attractive. More call centers should incorporate this software tool to make the task easier. The 10% of call centers that do use workforce management software are among the most advanced call center operations, with high call volumes, extensive use of technology, and high productivity levels. There are reasons why many centers do not use these productivity products, however, including the following.
WFM can be expensive; systems that predict call volume and match staff schedules to that volume can cost between $50,000 and $100,000 or more.
The perception that a fully configured WFM system requires scheduling, feeding data in, going over the data that comes out, and providing full-time supervision of the system may be true in some cases. When a system is complex, more training is required to run it, especially when scheduling and predicting are required across multiple sites.
Greater market penetration faces "cultural" barriers, in this case, the culture of the traditional call center where more emphasis is placed on managing the call and its flow through the system than on managing the workforce.
Limited promotion of WFM product capabilities
Companies that develop and supply WFM software have not provided a complete description of the benefits, perhaps because these vendors do not see the need, or because they do not have the level of competency or industry experience to appreciate the need.
The disparity between the actual complexity required to develop the best possible schedule and the apparent simplicity of creating a schedule is often not recognized.
Call center managers have a range of options for creating a schedule, from a manual, back-of-the envelope calculation to using formulas in a simple spreadsheet with a special calculator to input the center's variables to ultimately using a five- or six-figure full-fledged computer program. Achieving the highest level of workforce productivity does require some powerful software, and it will be expensive.
Workforce management systems for multimedia centers
WFM solutions will become a key CRM-enabling technology in the multimedia call/contact center. It is an application that may provide a solution to both agent attrition and multimedia staffing. Businesses will be able to provide the right agents to the right customer and to leverage customer segmentation for a superior level of customer service. Without a means of accurately forecasting how much human resource will be needed to keep customers and agents satisfied while keeping costs to a minimum, businesses could have every sophisticated e-application available but fail to reach an acceptable service level.
The cost of running a contact/call center is considerable in most enterprises, and the center traditionally has been viewed as a cost center—a necessary evil. This perception has resulted in keeping expenditures on technology, people, and business processes to a minimum. The advent of the CRM approach and its impact on call centers, and vice versa, have meant that leading businesses in sectors such as financial services, retail, and telecommunications are beginning to view their contact centers as profit generators. Revenue growth is encouraged through cross selling and upselling support, and costs are kept low through implementing solutions such as IVR, predictive dialers, and other technologies that have been developed to streamline call center operations.
In the multimedia contact center, as in the traditional call center, the aim of workforce management software is to have the right agents available to help customers at the right time. A sophisticated yet easy-to-use solution, this software has become one of the most useful tools currently available to a call/contact center manager, from both the customer satisfaction and agent retention perspectives. Although WFM is not a total solution, it enables the business to resource the center as it wishes. The key attribute of superior workforce management software is its flexibility, particularly in a multimedia environment. The advent of CRM and multimedia customer contacts means that WFM is destined to play an increasingly important role in most major call/contact centers, supporting both the management of multimedia interactions and also allowing businesses to focus on customers' needs and resource the center effectively.
As previously noted, despite a relatively low profile in the past, interest in workforce management solutions has begun to grow. Leading companies are learning that there are major savings to be realized with WFM as well as opportunities to increase customer and agent satisfaction in a relatively cost-effective manner. Before WFM became available, call center managers spent days at a time working out agent staffing schedules with only a computer spreadsheet to help. A complex task requiring a great degree of skill to perform, the schedule was prone to error through last-minute changes of circumstance, lack of historical data, or plain human mistakes. Even when successfully accomplished, the level of detail and accuracy in the schedule often left something to be desired.
Advanced WFM to support multimedia and CRM
The primary reason for implementing a new workforce management solution in a call/contact center operation is multimedia contact and CRM. There is much more to implementing a multimedia contact center than simply offering e-mail and various flavors of live CSR assistance. In terms of cost and service levels, if a corporation is not able to support the new channels adequately, it would be better to offer only telephony. (see Figure 3.2) Similarly, a business determined to become CRM-focused must be aware of how it will be perceived by its customers if it promotes the use of new customer contact channels but does not maintain them.
Figure 3.2: Cost comparisons for different media channels.
One of the most interesting and important aspects of these new channels, from a call/contact center management viewpoint, is that they are outside traditional telephony queue theory. Multichannel and multidevice interactions—for example, those initiated by a phone call but requiring e-mail and Web collaboration to be completed successfully—mean that interaction management has suddenly become more complex.
Many companies invite customers to contact them by e-mail and then treat this channel of contact much as though it was an eye-catching postal address on correspondence. If these companies then fail to support the channel, then 70% of customer mail ends up in the dead letter department! Workforce management systems offer a very important solution to the challenge of providing and supporting superior levels of service across every channel.
The workforce management cycle
Fulfilling service levels while managing costs is an iterative cycle that requires several key processes to be completed. Feedback secured from each stage allows the enterprise to continually improve its efficiency and become more confident about its predictions. (see Figure 3.3) Workforce management systems should offer the following functionalities to support the modern customer-focused enterprise:
Scheduling to meet service levels
Reporting and forecasting
Virtual contact center/multisite support
Compliance with employment law, rules, and union regulations
Web-driven interfaces and tools
Figure 3.3: Workforce management cycle.
Scheduling to meet service levels
Scheduling is not as simple a process as it may appear. Knowledgeable organizations take CSR preferences and skill sets into account when scheduling. The "warm-body" approach to solving human resource issues—regarding one CSR the same as any other—will cause both agent-satisfaction and customer-service problems. Most companies using advanced workforce management software will have between 6 and 9 skillsets to work with, although a few contact centers use as many as 50. Business needs must come first, however, so a scheduler needs to find the best way to match the company's requirements with the skills of its employees. Scheduling can get particularly complicated in a multimedia environment, which usually has CSRs with multiple media-handling skills—voice, e-mail, text chat, and so on—and multiple business abilities such as sales, service product knowledge, and languages. Businesses must look for a solution that does not oversimplify the scheduling process, yet retains usability and the flexibility to make changes.
Prior to planning staffing resources, an organization needs to have an understanding of past history. A WFM system that provides historical data from all customer contacts, based on input from CTI as well as the ACD, means that scheduling can be more realistic. The WFM solution should enable organizations to factor in exceptions that affect staff workload—advertising campaigns, training, public holidays, and other special events and occasions—and determine the best time for a meeting or training session, as well as measure the impact on the overall operation of the center. Thus, an important factor in assessing the capabilities of WFM tools is flexibility in forecasting functionality, because situations can develop very quickly that make forecasts useless without the ability to alter schedules to reflect reality.
Adherence is the ability to compare forecasts with reality and to use this information to correct problems. Sophisticated scheduling and forecasting is useless without the opportunity to improve the process through adherence monitoring. Real-time adherence allows managers to see exactly what is happening and can alert them to deviations from the expected activity, allowing them to make changes before problems occur. Adherence allows a business to fine-tune its call/contact center activity; the more it is used, the more accurate the forecasts and schedules will be.
The objective of call/contact center managers should be to look for a solution that is simple to understand so the staff will feel comfortable using it and that has the power and functionality to help the center manager understand what has happened and to make necessary changes quickly.
Reporting and forecasting
The ability of managers and supervisors to see exactly what is happening via real-time reports is key to the workforce management process. Reporting provides a measure of success in achieving targets. Standard reports that are important for determining efficiency include
Speed of answer
Average call-handling time
Talk plus Not-ready plus Non-ACD
Delay before abandon
E-mail handling time
Percentage of calls abandoned
Number of interactions waiting
Workforce management systems can be excellent for gauging the efficiency of a center and also forecasting results, but including CRM-focused measures, such as customer satisfaction, increase in market share, and improvement in loyalty levels, is more difficult. These metrics are just as important as the queue-centric reports, and businesses should make sure they capture and extract this information from their systems. The more statistics from various sources that can be brought together consistently, the more accurate the view of customer-focused activity. There is no point in striving to achieve high levels of efficiency if customers remain unhappy with the service provided or unknowledgeable about products they should be buying. Taking into account and reacting to business metrics, as well as the service-level measures that workforce management systems are so effective at providing, is important to assessing the overall performance of the center.
One of the most useful tools for call/contact center managers, particularly in a multimedia environment, is the ability to see what will happen to service levels if an event occurs, before that event occurs. Sophisticated workforce management systems allow managers to try out what-if scenarios, at no risk to the center's operational ability, by providing a way to model various scenarios.
Using these modeling techniques, the contact center manager can, for example, understand how the center workload would change if the following events occurred:
A new advertising campaign increases call volumes.
A large number of untrained agents start work at the same time.
A new multimedia channel becomes available to customers.
A key product line is offered at a discount.
What-if scenarios are very useful in directing long-term strategies, such as planning, budgeting, and recruitment.
Virtual contact center/Multisite support
An increasing trend in some global enterprises, especially in larger markets such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France is to have several call/contact centers servicing customers. This operational model has been driven by a number of developments, including
Rapid call/contact center growth in particular areas that has caused recruitment and retention problems
The increased number of call/contact centers for businesses involved in acquisitions or mergers
Teleworking and remote call center locations that mean CSRs may never see their parent center
The preference of some companies to offer a "local touch" to customers by basing centers in their area
Improvements in networking and telephony that make it easier to establish virtual centers
The increasing need of companies to serve global customers, requiring either operating contact centers in different time zones or paying overtime to CSRs to work covering hours
The possibilities of operational redundancy and disaster recovery with multisite centers
Combining multiple smaller centers into one large center can provide significant economic benefit through simple economies of scale. Correctly staffing five 100-seat call/contact centers is generally more complex and less efficient than staffing a single 500-seat operation. This is especially true when skills-based routing via a universal queue is being used. All agent competencies are displayed to the scheduler, who can be more flexible simply because the available resource pool is so much deeper.
Compliance: union rules, regulations, and the law
Different countries have different labor laws, and a superior workforce management system has to be easily configurable to take into account union regulations, laws, and other rules applying to businesses. For example, companies based in the member states of the European Union must take into account the Working Time Directive, which specifies that employees must work no more than 48 hours per week and restricts working nights, holidays, and breaks. The monitoring of CSRs is regulated by law in Germany, where monitoring by name is considered to be an invasion of privacy. An evaluation of WFM systems needs to include whether or not a solution can be easily adapted to each specific country's regulations.
Workforce management systems provide a significant benefit to call/ contact center managers by answering one of the most urgent questions center managers ask themselves: How do I staff my multimedia contact center? Many so-called contact centers simply give agents a few e-mails to deal with when call volumes decrease, but when call volumes rise, e-mails are forgotten. Contact center managers may be quite capable of efficiently managing telephony-only call centers. In many cases, their experience allows them to make good judgment calls on these operational issues, based on years of experience. However, managing the multimedia contact center challenges even the most seasoned call center manager, because multimedia contacts and transactions are fundamentally different from telephone calls and must be handled differently. This is a situation that can lead to staffing issues, for the following reasons:
CSR competencies have to be considered. Good telephony CSRs may not have the skills required to be good at handling e-mail or text chat contacts, where quick typing speed is required along with strong technology skills and correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. CSRs good at written customer service may not have the listening or verbal communication skills required for telephony service.
Customers have different levels of expectation depending on the channel they are using. Most customers expect a response via e-mail within 24 hours, whereas a typical telephony service level is 80% of calls to be answered within 20 seconds.
Standard responses using e-mail can speed up the process considerably.
Batch customer requests—e-mail, fax, and letter—are, by definition, not interactive. Additional resources may be needed to deal with incomplete requests.
Telephone queues are essentially self-managing. If the phone is not answered quickly enough, the call is abandoned and the phone queue decreases. With e-mail, contacts back up until they are dealt with, a situation that can present serious problems.
E-mails may get "stale-dated" because the customer loses interest, gives up on the e-mail, and calls the center for a verbal response. This leads to a nonproductive, time- and resource-wasting cycle of answering dead e-mails while live ones go unattended until they too go out-of-date!
Costs increase as the unsatisfied e-mail customer rings the contact center to find out what happened to the e-mail. Where e-mails are held separately from transactions—that is, in organizations where the universal queue and universal routing are not being used—the e-mail may remain live even after the issue has been resolved. (see Figure 3.4)
Figure 3.4: Universal routing and the universal queue.
In the early stages of multimedia contact implementation, extra time should be allowed for each nontraditional transaction. CSRs will still be adapting to the process and the time per transaction should decrease as they become accustomed to the new environment.
Customers also need time to familiarize themselves with new contact methods such as text chat and Web collaborations.
Experience has shown that many customers using Web collaboration for the first time enjoy the experience so much they spend longer than needed with each CSR.
Sales-focused call/contact centers will notice a rise in calls after a marketing campaign. In addition to the spike in calls after TV ads,
E-mail advertising will produce a similar spike in inbound contacts with a range of different patterns.
Interactive digital TV will produce major spikes in e-mail activity after TV commercials, which may well extend to text chat and Web collaboration as well, depending on how many channels the enterprise opens up.
Different patterns of usage emerge from these new channels. Interactive TV is used more in the evenings, when most people return from work, whereas direct e-mail campaigns are likely to get an immediate response depending on where people access their e-mail.
The call/contact center manager has some advantages when handling e-mail, because supporting e-mail is not dependent on the time of day. This means the scheduler has a considerable amount of freedom in trying to reduce the backlog. For example, some contact centers bring in students in the late evening to answer e-mails when most of the full-time CSRs have left the center. Others can answer e-mails through the night by employing people in other time zones—India, the Philippines, and Australia. In addition, the cost of e-mail is not location-dependent, given the resources available to the World Wide Web. It costs as much to route an e-mail around the globe as it does to send it to the person next door. And although telephone calls still have an associated long-distance cost, the difference between the two channels will become even less when VoIP becomes used globally. All of these points need to be considered when scheduling and forecasting for nontraditional types of contact. Additionally, how multimedia contacts will be handled must be decided. Will they be handled by dedicated agents or by blended agents, a process that could be more effective in a universal queue model and that has very positive effects on agent satisfaction?
A large number of operational headaches in call/contact centers are caused by not resourcing tasks correctly. New-generation workforce management systems will go a long way toward helping managers run things more smoothly and efficiently. Next-generation workforce management solutions will focus strongly on allowing call/contact center managers to plan long-term strategies. They will use these tools to model their operations based on various assumptions (for example, agent turnover at 20%, fixed agent career paths, 25% of workload being e-mail). Rather than having to react to external forces, the center manager will know how to resource the operation effectively before events actually happen as well as understanding their effects on the business.
WFM tools are very useful in assisting managers to prepare for sudden changes in call volume and other peaks and valleys that often come along without warning. For these situations, WFM can provide a warning, and it is often intuitive enough to see patterns in call histories and discern peaks and valleys that even experienced call center managers could not anticipate. A good example is holiday scheduling. Holidays bring together two divergent elements that most directly affect the call center. Calls surge up in unusual ways; however, they are predictable if the patterns that drive them are recognized. At holiday time, employees tend to have a variety of counterproductive demands, such as days off, flexible schedules, vacations, and time with families. WFM software predicts the call load for a given day from historical data. It provides information about how many calls are going to come in at any moment and allows managers to match that load effectively to the human resources available, even at times of unusual call patterns. Thus managers can act quickly to handle any divergence between people and calls, either days ahead of time or within a shift.
The preceding are just a few of the examples of improvements in efficiency and optimization of resources that WFM tools can provide, factors that take on new significance in a multimedia center. The following sections summarize the benefits of WFM and provide some guidelines for measuring the results obtained from WFM.
The major benefits of WFM
The major benefits of WFM tools are
More efficient scheduling—managing changes in complex schedules and optimizing schedules
Significant cost savings through efficient staffing levels and use of equipment
Managing unexpected call-volume fluctuations
Other benefits of WFM
There are a number of other less tangible, but nonetheless important, benefits of WFM that also need to be considered when deciding to incorporate this tool into the call center, and at what level and cost. These benefits include the following:
Provision of threshold alert
Supervisors have instant information about intrashift variations that could cascade through the day and cause problems later. Schedules can be adjusted "on the fly."
Reporting on performance evaluation
Workforce management systems are not the only means of collecting performance data, but can be a means for making all the data coming from the ACD most relevant and meaningful. Coordinating the real-time and historical (short-term) views of activity is better than spreading that information and its analysis among different software tools, which creates islands of information that are harder to put back together later.
Discovering why service levels are not being met
WFM can provide information related to questions such as was an entire group's abandon rate higher because someone took lunch a little too early or because there were too few CSRs on hand for an expected spike? Or were there too many CSRs with a perfect service level at an unacceptably high cost? What would happen if 10 people were added to that shift? It can minimize unnecessary overtime payments, and provide calculations to justify making more CSRs available.
Coordinating among multiple sites
Integrating call center sites by pulling together agents from multiple sites into one virtual center provides all the workforce efficiencies obtainable with a single center with greater economies of scale.
Empowering CSRs by providing information
Schedules can be worked out to allow CSRs to understand the hows and whys of the decision-making process. Accurate call volume predictions and an automated scheduler that optimizes break and time-off preferences fairly lead to fewer complaints.
Simulating conditions and changes
Workforce management systems, when combined with simulation software, take existing or historical conditions and allow managers to adjust the parameters to conduct what-if scenarios. They can determine the effects of adding or subtracting people, changing group dynamics, and adding different technologies to the front end.
Providing competitive advantages in the workforce environment
The power to react to changing circumstances is a significant competitive advantage. Having a handle on costs, call volumes, and other variables in the call center operation mix can be a valuable aid to call center management. As well, it will ensure a better-managed, more-informed, happier workforce, making the call center more attractive as an employer, particularly in regions where skilled workers are hard to get and keep.
Currently, the penetration of the WFM tool in the call center workplace is so low that simply installing the software automatically confers a technology advantage over the competition. Although WFM tools may not be as fancy a technology tool as Web/call center technology combinations or VoIP agents, they work well, have been proven over time, and can reduce costs and aggravation.
Simulate conditions: Use the software to create scenarios, for example, having two CSRs on vacation simultaneously, adding a part-time CSR for a few hours on Mondays, increasing call volume. Using software to simulate what-if scenarios lets you know how abandoned calls will increase and how long callers will be likely to wait in queue. Simulation will demonstrate the effects of changes.
Use reports wisely: Try segmenting CSRs into workgroups based on similar salary levels and other attributes so that you can compare how each one is performing relative to others in the workgroup. Reports provide analytical tools.
Rationale for implementing WFM
In many companies, workforce management systems are not considered to be an essential element of call/contact center management resources in the initial setup of the center, despite the compelling rationale for installing these systems. When the pressure to cope effectively with the growth of customer interactions builds on the center, business users and operational staff must make a decision about which variety of WFM system is required.
Analysis of the cost and benefits of WFM systems indicates that the average time to breakeven on initial expenditures for workforce management solutions is 12 months using traditional workforce management systems in a telephony-based call center. Workforce management systems in multimedia contact centers will reduce the time to breakeven by about 50%, meaning that it will usually take six months from initial implementation, rather than 12 months.
The intangible returns must also be considered, because the call/contact center is an environment that can thrive or not depending on how well intangible aspects are managed. Happy, satisfied employees, reductions in recruitment and training costs through lower agent attrition, and increased upselling because of increased customer satisfaction are examples of intangibles that are important to the organization and that need to be considered by call/contact center management.
Review of functionality and benefits of WFM tools
Here is a summary checklist of features and functionality previously described that organizations evaluating workforce management systems need to consider. The WFM system should support the following features:
A core component of any WFM should take account of past operational data and be capable of assisting managers to plan exceptions.
Resourcing and supporting a skills-based environment is a critical function, and CRM-focused organizations have to take into account agent preferences and abilities.
Key characteristics of effective WFM tools enable managers to see quickly whether activities are going as planned, and if not, to change them before it is too late.
Where remote working and "hot-desking" occur in a center operation, browser-based access via an intranet is a useful feature.
Real-time reports are critical to the effectiveness of center operations, and flexibility and rapid report capabilities should be considered.
What-if scenario planning
Where major changes are anticipated—adding many new agents, channels, or advertising and marketing campaigns—what-if scenario functionality means testing the waters before embarking on a full-scale campaign.
An important functionality to look for in new-generation WFM solutions is the capability to schedule and forecast across multiple channels and ensure service levels throughout the organization, especially at every customer Touch point.
Virtual contact center, multisite support
Allowing for growth and expansion to multiple centers should be a part of the WFM system. Running a virtual center rather than several stand-alone operations can increase the CSR competencies available and improve service levels.
Compliance with employment law, rules, and union regulations
As noted earlier, companies based in Europe, for example, must comply with the Working Time Directive. The selected WFM solution should be capable of easy adaptation to a specific country's requirements.
Available WFM systems
This section reviews the general characteristics of vendor offerings in workforce management tools, in particular, monitoring systems. A listing of specific vendors and the products they offer is contained in Appendix A, "Call Center Vendor Resources—Product and Service Offerings." This very robust and advanced area of technology offers a variety of products to serve different call center characteristics. A major contributor to advances in this area is the growth of the Internet, a technology that has made it easier to store and retrieve information across networks and in a variety of different media formats.
Monitoring is a critical part of the process of teaching a new CSR how to deal with customers, how to handle difficult situations, and simply how to follow a script and read a screen full of complex information. Feedback is important to improving the performance of CSRs. Even CSRs that have years of experience need constant skill assessment and additional training to update their phone skills and to keep them up-to-date on new technologies and how to use them.
Some telephone switches have a monitoring system built in, and some vendors provide sophisticated software for combined monitoring and quality assurance programs. Typically, these software tools collect data about agent performance and assess that data over the short or long term. Some products also automate the scheduling of agent monitoring for later review. Managers don't need to be present to monitor or to set up tapes.
Training headset models are also available that have a second jack on the amplifier to accommodate a "no-microphone" headset that a trainer could wear when sitting beside the trainee. A low-budget monitoring system can be incorporated by plugging a tape recorder into the jack.
Pros and cons of monitoring systems
There are two basic criteria for quality measurement in call centers:
Ensuring the center has the best CSRs available, operating at the highest level they can personally achieve
Enforcing a consistent standard of quality for customer contacts from the customer's point of view
Monitoring CSRs is still the best way to achieve quality in terms of both criteria. If handled with sensitivity, monitoring can be a benefit to CSRs because it helps them define and reach career goals, assess strengths and weaknesses, and make progress according to realistic standards. One technique used by some organizations is to involve senior management in the call center process. A call is monitored by a senior executive so that this individual hears directly the "voice of the customer." Although monitoring does have some negative implications, if properly presented to CSRs the benefits to both the individual and the center become obvious. The proper instructions for using monitoring products emphasize the benefits to both parties of performance monitoring.
One obvious benefit of monitoring, assuming that it is performed in the right atmosphere, is that it creates an objective standard of behavior that can be measured and one that can be repeated. It helps ensure delivery not only of good service but also of consistent service from each and every CSR. From a CSR's viewpoint, monitoring creates a way to measure performance that can be described in advance and critiqued intelligently. Results can be quantified and reps can see improvement over time. As well, it allows management to benchmark standards and ensure that all CSRs are treated fairly and by the same standards.
Excesses in monitoring
Some monitoring tools go too far in assessing CSR performance and can be a detriment to improving productivity. As noted previously, call centers typically have the problem of high turnover; one product that has a voice analyzer that dynamically analyzes the speech flow of either the CSR or the customer during a call would probably make this problem worse. The product advises supervisors about how CSRs are "feeling" during the call by reporting on stress levels and other psychological indices, the theory being that this information could then be used to enhance the management of customer relations within the call center. The vendor thinks that this product could be used in conjunction with a monitoring application that stores calls and then retrieves them on demand and runs them through the analyzer. It includes a suite of tools that can diagnose both real-time and offline stress.
The types of data that are routinely captured by "quality monitoring systems," include, along with an audio message, the agent's screen activity or the Web page that the caller was looking at when completing the transaction. These data are combined to bring a new level of detail to the verification and quality monitoring process. Products such as these tread heavily on CSR sensitivities and they are very unlikely to enhance a CSR's performance. All CSRs experience stress, but there are a number of other, better ways from a human resource perspective to measure performance and reduce tension in the call center workplace. For example, some vendors offer screen monitoring and screen recording systems that provide tools with which supervisors can evaluate the interactions between CSRs and customers, evaluate CSR performance, and train new agents. Supervisors using these products have several monitoring options: They can view in real time one or more CSR PCs at the click of a button to see how they use the script and if they are using the system correctly. Or they can do a "round robin" among multiple PCs on the network, using a cycle mode, to systematically monitor a group of agents. There is also a "stealth" monitoring capability that lets supervisors monitor an agent's PC screen undetected. Supervisors can record any agent's screen at the click of a button and view and record one or more screens simultaneously. Later, they can play back these sessions, search to any point in the recording, and play back at any speed. These sessions can also be archived to accurately document performance on outsource contracts and to provide "proof of performance."
Selecting, installing, and using monitoring systems
Several useful guidelines, discussed in the next section, for monitoring systems should be considered before selecting a system and installing it in a new or existing call center operation. The newest technology tools are broad-based and make it possible for call center supervisors and managers to combine streams, allowing performance trends for both individual CSRs and groups to be analyzed from a variety of perspectives. Such an analysis can be scaled up to look at an entire center or groups of centers. Add information from accounts receivable, order entry, and other areas and a picture emerges that describes several characteristics about CSR performance. Thus, information on how much money a CSR or group of CSRs generates and whether a particular campaign is in trouble can be accessed.
Important guidelines for using quality monitoring systems
Here are three key pointers based on the experience of call center managers who have installed monitoring systems:
Select current recording and conversion technology
Two improvements in recording technology have occurred in the last decade. First, digital recording replaced analog, making it easier to store and retrieve specific calls; second, CTI links have made it possible to convert digital recording into data and combine it with other information about transactions.
Select software that works in tandem with core recording systems
Software products are available to help solve the problem of accessing disparate information throughout the enterprise by serving as a central repository for information from many sources, such as workforce management, human resources, predictive dialers, and ACDs. Combining, assessing, and exploring information from multiple sources is critical as call centers evolve into customer contact centers, because no one source has sufficient information to provide a complete performance picture.
Select an appropriate monitoring frequency
A CSR should be monitored for quality as frequently as is dictated by criteria such as how long that CSR has been on staff, what kind of traffic the CSR handles (inbound or outbound, sales or service), the sensitivity of the kind of customer interaction (i.e., financial services would monitor at a higher rate than telemarketing, etc.), as well as what kind of technology is used to do the monitoring.
In a Spring of 2002 survey of call centers, Call Center Monitoring Study II Final Report, a majority of call centers (93%) reported monitoring CSR calls, reflecting a 5% increase in the number of centers conducting monitoring two years earlier. According to this study, conducted by Incoming Calls Management Institute and A. C. Nielsen Co. of Canada, and based on a survey of 735 North American call centers, 4 out of 10 call centers monitor e-mail responses, 1 in 6 monitor fax correspondence, and 1 in 14 monitor Web text-chat sessions. This is a significant increase in the monitoring of e-mail and Web text-chat over two years ago, which no doubt reflects the increased popularity of these two channels.
Other key findings of the report are
There is a wide variance in the number of calls monitored per month per agent. The most popular frequencies are 4 to 5 and 10 or more.
More than one-third of call centers devote 1 to 5 hours per week to monitoring, and one-quarter devote 6 to 10 hours weekly. Larger call centers (200 or more agents) devote significantly more time per week to monitoring and coaching than the smallest call centers (fewer than 50 agents).
Four in 10 call centers monitor both voice and screen. There appears to be a strong relationship between the size of the call center and monitoring voice and screen. As the size of the call center increases, the likelihood that it will monitor both mediums also increases.
Overall, two-thirds of call centers surveyed share monitoring data/ customer feedback with other departments within their company. Of the call centers that share monitoring data/customer feedback with other departments, almost one-third distribute this information on a monthly basis. One in 7 share monitoring data/customer feedback on a quarterly basis, and 1 in 10 on a weekly basis.
The two most frequently cited reasons given for sharing monitoring data/customer feedback with other departments are "to improve quality of calls" and "to measure performance."
In general, call centers should tackle optimization and measurement questions based on a reasoned assessment of how the center relates to the rest of the organization and what the company expects from the center in relation to the competitive pressure in the rest of the industry sector. Expectations can vary across sectors. For example, airline call centers measure different performance characteristics than catalog order takers, and financial institutions have their own measurement criteria.
It is important to think in terms of results that impact on the call center objectives and how those results affect revenue. Call duration, for example, can impact both costs (telecom transmission charges) and customer satisfaction if the call is used to sell the caller some new product or service. Overall call center performance can be measured by using a workforce management system and keeping track of adherence to schedule—the closer to the predicted schedule, the more optimally the center has been staffed. This analysis helps to keep costs from ballooning out of proportion. The performance of individual CSRs and groups can be measured by tying it to actual customer information. (This requires some CTI and/or backend integration with customer data.) It is possible to generate a revenue figure for each group or rep that weighs call length or number of calls taken by how valuable those calls are. A CSR who handles fewer calls involving premium customers with a high lifetime value to the customer is probably more effective than an agent who handles more calls in a shorter time with low-impact customers or callers who are not customers at all. (see Figure 3.5)
Figure 3.5: Benefits of multimedia channels.
Web-driven interfaces and tools
In today's call/contact center environment, managers and CSRs are not always in one central location. The existence of virtual multisite centers, teleworking, or dispersed call/contact center operations does not mean that workforce management systems cannot be employed. Businesses should look for a workforce management system that can be operated by remote users, if required. One approach is a browser-based application linked to the organization's intranet or the Internet, allowing scheduling, reporting, and management from any PC at any location with communication resources. In this configuration, CSRs also have the ability to access schedules, enter preferences, and request vacation time seamlessly and remotely.
Browser-based publishing tools also make collecting and sharing customer data within the call center and throughout the enterprise as easy as accessing a Web page. Call centers can publish customer contact information in a browser page format or "Web desktop," thus simplifying the transfer of customer information from the call center to the enterprise.
Departments outside of the call center can use these systems to get customized access to data necessary to make more strategic and timely business decisions. Data that can be accessed include digital call recordings and call center performance reports. Executive management, marketing, and product development, for instance, can track customer response to promotions, monitor service quality, and query customers through this system. Products such as these are part of an enterprise call center suite, an automated call monitoring system that collects and publishes information about customer contact with a company's CSRs.
Core elements of these Web tools include call evaluations and graphical comparisons of individual versus group performance. Supervisors can also add training tools, provide productivity reports, publish department-specific issues, and highlight morale programs, such as "CSR of the month," incentives, and other events.
Monitoring: summing up
The more automation, in theory, the less human monitoring is required because there is a better opportunity to obtain a true, random representative sample. If CSRs are convinced that monitoring is truly random, then their behavior smoothes out and they are less likely to vary their responses between calls. The controversy over monitoring—how often, what tools, and how to address the issue with CSRs—is ongoing. Monitoring is essentially about judging people and their performance. Technology alone cannot make the monitoring process a success. Informed judgments need to be made by supervisors and managers, who must supply humanity to the application of technology tools.