Those who aspire to call center management
Communication —writing, speaking, and interpersonal communication with all levels of management
Project management —the ability to manage several projects at the same time
Training —understanding the importance of training and the various training methodologies available
Leadership and management
—the ability to develop trust in
Performance assessments —the ability to review and assess employee performance
—the ability to analyze statistical
Call center managers who successfully meet these challenges have significant opportunities for advancement. As noted previously, call center management has become a recognized management position and has cross-industry applications and thus the same job mobility opportunities as other industry management positions.
In addition to a skillset, there are some other attributes which might be called
These are personal experience and background characteristics that might round out the
Staffing and scheduling
Random call arrival
Systems and software
Ergonomics and workplace environment
Staying in tune with industry developments through attendance at conferences, call center associations, and
At the heart of effective incoming call center management is the principle of
A service level objective can be used to determine the resources required and the effectiveness of the center in its impact on the corporate business goals. Here are some of the questions that can be
How accessible is the call center?
How much staff is required?
How does the center compare to the competition?
Can the center handle the response to marketing
How busy will the CSRs be?
What will the costs be?
Service level is often referred to by various terms. In some call centers, it is the
telephone service factor,
or TSF. Others refer to it as
grade of service
(GOS), although this may be
The most widely-accepted definition of service level is based on the percentage of calls answered in a given time frame, for example, 90 percent of calls answered in 20 seconds. Some managers define service level as a percentage only or as an abandonment rate. Others refer to the percentage of the time the service level objective is met, whatever that objective may be. And there are those who define service level as "average speed of answer" or longest delayed call.
The various interpretations and other definitions of service level often lead to misunderstandings and mismanagement. By its nature, service level should be defined as a specific percentage of all calls answered in a specific time frame, as previously noted. Planning should be based on achieving this target. Choosing an appropriate service level objective is one of the first steps a call center manager should take to ensure effective planning and management of the operation and to establish
Establishing a service level helps to link resources to results and measures the degree to which customers are being transferred and handled by a CSR. Service level is a
In addition to the "immediate response" category, most incoming call centers are required to handle transactions that belong in a second category, those that don't have to be handled at the time they arrive. Some examples of these transactions are
Postal correspondence (
These transactions allow a larger window of time for the call center to respond. It is as important, however, to establish specific response time objectives for these interactions as it is for the first category of transactions. All categories of transactions can contribute to meeting the service objectives of the call center if appropriate priorities are established.
Average speed of answer (ASA), another
Considering call abandonment rates alone as a measure of whether staffing levels are appropriate can be quite misleading. A high abandonment rate is probably a symptom of staff problems. But a low abandonment rate doesn't
One important consideration about service level is what happens to calls that don't get answered in the specified service-level time frame? Most Erlang C and computer simulation software programs can calculate the answers to this question and others. For example, for a service level of 80 percent answered in 20 seconds, experience indicates that about 30 percent of callers end up in the queue, that the longest wait will be around three minutes, and that the average speed of answer will range from 10 to 15 seconds. This example points up the obvious fact that different callers have different experiences with call centers, even if they are part of the same set of data measured by service level, ASA, and other measurements. The reason for this is "random call arrival," a reality of call center operation and a factor that needs to be
There are two major categories of inbound transactions, with two priority levels, that a call center needs to handle:
Those that must be handled when they arrive (e.g., inbound calls)— Performance objective: Service Level
Those than can be handled at a later time (e.g., correspondence)— Performance objective: Response Time
Establishing a service level based on calls answered in a specified time as opposed to percentage of calls answered or percentage of calls abandoned or even average speed of answer provides a
Agent burnout and errors
Levels of lost calls
Links between resources and results
Focus on planning activities
It is important that service level be interpreted in the context of call blockage, that is, calls not getting through. Any time some portion of callers is getting busy signals, no matter whether generated by the system resulting from a limited number of staff and lines during a busy period, service level reports only report on the calls that are getting through.
Service level is obviously a time-dependent parameter, and daily service level reports may often conceal important information. Service level may be down in the morning; however, if staff levels improve and every call in the afternoon is handled immediately, the daily report will look very good against service-level objectives. On the other hand, the level of service from a callers' perspective is a different story. It is not difficult for managers accountable for daily reports and meeting service-level objectives to "fudge" these reports or call center activity to make the situation look better than it really is. If the morning service level was low, they may keep CSRs on the phones through the afternoon when the call load
Consider this: If daily reports are
There are a number of alternative methods to calculate service level using ACDs. Following are some of the most common calculations used, although some ACDs allow users to specify other definitions of service level using a variety of other call center parameters:
Calls answered in Y seconds divided by calls answered:
This is a very simple but incomplete measure of service level. It is not recommended for a definitive analysis because it considers only answered calls. It is an incomplete recognition of call activity and, therefore, not a good measure of service level. For example, call abandonment is entirely ignored in this calculation.
Calls answered + calls abandoned in Y seconds divided by (total calls answered + total calls abandoned):
For most situations, this alternative is preferable because the calculations include all traffic received by the ACD; therefore, it provides a complete picture of call center activity. The combination of total calls answered (TCA) plus total calls abandoned (TCB) is often referred to as
Calls answered in Y seconds divided by the sum of (calls answered + calls abandoned):
This alternative tends to be the least popular among call center managers because calls that enter the queue but then fall into the abandoned category drive service level down. It is appropriate in situations where calls enter a queue after callers receive a delay announcement. It is not recommended in situations where callers enter a queue before they receive the delay announcement.
Calls answered before Y seconds divided by (calls answered + calls abandoned) after Y seconds:
With this calculation, abandoned calls only impact service level if they happen after the specified Y seconds. This measurement provides a way to avoid "penalizing" the service level due to callers who abandon quickly, without ignoring abandoned calls altogether.
As many call center managers have
Relay the wrong information to callers
Make callers upset
Fail to accomplish call center objectives
Record incorrect information
Service level is a limited measure of overall call center performance because it indicates only that "not too many callers had to wait longer than a certain number of seconds before reaching a CSR." Unfortunately, service level measurement devices such as those provided in an ACD cannot measure whether callers and the organization achieved their mutual goals. It is important not to play the "
Optimizing service level with quality is an ongoing consideration in every call center. If service level is the only characteristic that is being measured and managed there can be too much emphasis on it. A good service level is an
On the other hand, a poor service level
The impact of a poor service level will ultimately be felt in the quality of service offered. When CSRs are overworked due to constant congestion in the queue, they often become lazy and can also become less "customer-friendly." Callers are telling them about the difficulties they had getting through to the center, and CSRs make more mistakes under these conditions. These mistakes contribute to repeat calls, unnecessary service calls, escalation of calls, and complaints to higher management, callbacks, and so on—all of which drive service level down further, again illustrating that a poor service level is the beginning of a vicious cycle.
Based on this discussion, it is apparent that quality should never be considered as an attribute that is
The number of staff needed to handle transactions and the schedules should flow from the service-level objective. (see Figure 3.6) Imagine that the call center receives 50 calls that last an average of three minutes in a half-hour period. If there are only two CSRs answering calls, the delay time for most callers will be long, and abandonment rates will be high. Adding CSRs will reduce delay times. An acceptable rule of thumb is reduce the queue to an acceptable level for both the call center and the callers. The number of CSRs required to provide this degree of service then becomes the service-level target and defines the correct level of resources to meet that target.
Figure 3.6: Customer inputs to a multimedia call/ contact center.
There are no generally accepted industry standards for service level, but there are several factors, mostly
Value of the call
Fully loaded labor costs
An industry standard would have to be based on all call centers placing the same values on these factors, which would be difficult, if not
It is reasonable to conclude from the discussion here that the correct service level for a call center, apart from legal regulations, is the one that meets the following conditions:
Keeps abandonment to an acceptable level
Meets caller needs and expectations
Minimizes agent burnout and errors
Is agreed upon and supported by senior management
There are a number of methods for determining service-level objectives, but the following four approaches have been distilled from the collective experience of call center managers:
Take the middle of the road—follow the
Relate to competition
Conduct a customer survey
Each approach requires some
No single service level would
How motivated callers are to reach the call center
What substitutes for a telephone call are available
The competition's service level
The caller's expectations based on past experiences
How much time the caller has
The conditions at the locations callers are calling from
Who is paying for the call
The first approach to choosing a service-level objective
The "middle-of-the-road" method defines service level as
percentage of calls answered in so many seconds, for example, 80 percent answered in 20 seconds.
The 80/20 objective has been cited in some ACD manuals as an "industry standard." However, it has never been recognized as such, even though many early call centers used it. The 80/20 objective is still
Another popular method for choosing a service level is to benchmark
A more formal way to determine the potential impact of abandonment on overall costs is
incremental revenue analysis,
a variation of the benchmarking approach. Traditionally, this approach has been used in revenue-generating environments, for example, airline or railway reservation centers and catalog companies, where calls have a measurable value. It is more difficult to use in customer service centers and help desk environments, where the value of calls can only be estimated. In incremental revenue analysis, a cost is attached to abandoned calls and assumptions made as to how many calls would be lost at various service levels. CSRs and trunks are added as long as they produce positive incrementals, either marginal/additional revenue or value, after paying for the initial costs. As long as the assumptions are clearly
A fourth method for choosing service level is to conduct a customer survey. This involves analyzing caller tolerance.
It is always a good idea to know what callers expect, but random call arrival means that different callers have different experiences with a call center. Even for a modest service level such as 80 percent answered in 60 seconds, over half the callers will get an immediate answer. Some may still be in the queue for three to five minutes (
There are variations in customer survey methodology. Some managers take samples of individual callers and then compare the responses to the actual wait times for their calls. Others conduct general customer surveys. These samples