From the Trenches
Lori Bocklund, President, Strategic Contact, Lori@strategiccontact.com
Now is the time for process optimization
In the December 5, 2008, issue of "In Queue," one of the ď60 Ideas in 60 MinutesĒ came from a long-time friend and colleague, Bill Durr. Bill talked about the people, process, and technology triumvirate and one of its shortfalls, stating, ďI have never run into anybody who is in charge of process. Are youĒ (Volume 3, Issue 24)? Well, I have run into such people and seen the value they bring. But I agree that it is all too rare. A dedicated process optimization role can have a tremendous impact on both the customer experience and call center performance. There has never been a better time to put such a role in place.
Several clients with whom Iíve worked had this position, and we have helped clients put this role in place. It is part of our ďbest practicesĒ design. These people work closely with reporting and analytics, quality monitoring and assurance, training, and technology specialists, as well as with front-line call center management. They analyze process results, using performance outcomes, focus groups with agents, input from trainers, and observations and time and motion studies to identify areas for improvement. They redesign and optimize existing processes and play a critical role in defining and developing new processes. They are part of a continuous feedback loop with the other support roles to use technology effectively and help individuals and teams achieve performance goals. They work with training and coaching resources to provide the guidance staff need to execute processes effectively and consistently.
Todayís economic conditions intensify the need for and value of this role. ďDo more with lessĒ and ďcontrol spendingĒ are themes of the day. Process optimization delivers both. Improving processes leads to greater efficiency on every contact, lowering costs or enabling a center to handle more contacts with the same resources. Those of you who canít run out and buy new technology to increase efficiency or improve the customer experience can likely find significant improvements by modifying processes and applying the technology you already have more effectively. As your processes improve, you may find that you not only control costs, but drive more revenue through the improved customer experience it creates.
Ideally, such efforts look at end-to-end processes. Contact centers sit in the middle of these processes, impacted by front-end functions (e.g., creating and mailing bills, sending marketing materials) as well as the back-end (e.g., dispatching field support, shipping the package, fulfilling the request). Unfortunately, the end-to-end view requires a cross-functional process team and can feel like ďboiling the ocean.Ē So, even if you canít achieve the ideal, tackle a manageable scope Ė the process elements you fully control within the center.
Donít let a hiring freeze stop you from creating this position. Think about where the process optimization role might fit within your organization. Then figure out where you can repurpose positions, shuffling headcount if you must. Perhaps the trainers arenít training as many new hires, or lower turnover can enable you to increase your span of control for each supervisor. Find a way to do it now to create benefits that will pay off short term and long term.
NACC Annual Market Review and Forecast Now Available
Paul Stockford, Research Director, National Association of Call Centers and Chief Analyst, Saddletree Research, Paul.Stockford@nationalcallcenters.org
The NACC Report ďNorth American Contact Center 2008 Ė 2009: The Year in Review and a Look AheadĒ is now available for NACC members and sponsors. The reportís Executive Summary was published in the last issue of ďIn QueueĒ but part of that summary was inadvertently omitted. In this issue we publish the entire Executive Summary for your review.
The report was written with the contact center executive in mind. It provides something of a reality check for what you may have seen or heard in the market over the past year, and it looks ahead at the important trends that will affect the market throughout 2009, including economic conditions. In addition, much of the data in the report came from you, the readers of ďIn Queue.Ē Throughout 2008 we asked you to participate in occasional surveys. The survey results not only provided us with a feel for the pulse of the industry, they also offered you a means of comparing your knowledge, attitudes, intentions and management practices with those of your peers. Many of these results are included in the report.
Chapter headings and sub-headings in the report include:
ē Industry Trends
o Internet Protocol (IP)
o Workforce Optimization (WFO)
o Speech Analytics
o Unified Communications (UC)
ē Market Trends
o Contact Center Growth by Vertical Market
o Market Polarization
o Economic Conditions
ē 2009 Forecast
o Hiring and Retention
o Web 2.0 and the Contact Center
o Economic Challenges
The Executive Summary of the report follows. For information on becoming a member of the NACC and receiving your own copy of this report, please visit www.nationalcallcenters.org.
North American Contact Center Industry 2008 Ė 2009: The Year in Review and a Look Ahead
The North American contact center industry experienced a relatively quiet year in 2008, tempered during the second half of the year by increasingly apparent economic deterioration. Although it was not exactly business as usual, the industry as a whole did continue to grow as did many of the important segments within the industry.
Internet Protocol (IP) continued to make inroads into the contact center. A 2008 survey among readers of the National Association of Call Centerís (NACC) In Queue newsletter revealed that about 41 percent of respondents currently use IP in their contact center. Surprisingly, the greatest interest in IP for the contact center is coming from those centers configured with 75 or fewer agent seats.
Workforce Optimization (WFO) also saw steady growth in 2008. Defined as a suite of products designed to optimize agent performance and including such solutions as workforce management, performance management, quality monitoring and e-learning, WFO has found its way into the contact center mainstream. Although the rate of WFO implementation has slowed since a burst of activity in 2005 Ė 2006, its demonstrable benefits and proven return on investment (ROI) maintained WFOís attraction as a desirable productivity tool in 2008.
Although unified communications (UC) has been in the contact center industry for the past several years, 2008 saw the understanding of the technology reach critical mass. No longer an experimental solution or a technology in development, UC deployments began in earnest. Although there is still considerable missionary work to be done by vendors of UC solutions, as another 2008 NACC survey revealed, there is momentum in this vertical market segment that should carry it into 2009 and beyond.
2009 will be a challenging year for the North American contact center industry as economic conditions and responses create a ripple effect that will find its way into the contact center. On the positive side, customer service will continue to be a necessary component of any business with aspirations of surviving the current recession.
Beyond economic challenges, the contact center will be challenged by the appearance of Web 2.0 services in the contact center. Web 2.0 will be brought into the contact center by the next generation of workers, commonly known as the Millennial generation. The Millennial generation, about 76 million in number, will eventually replace the Baby Boomers in the workplace and they will bring with them a different set of workplace communications expectations. Contact centers will be forced to change along with the changing workforce or risk being left behind in an increasingly connected world.
The contact center will not escape unscathed the negative impact of the recession of 2009, but it will continue to grow nonetheless. Customer service will remain a critically important component in the battle for customer retention, especially in a recession. For contact center professionals concerned with career security in 2009, the customer service industry will be a relatively good place to be.
60 Ideas in 60 Minutes-Round VIII
David L. Butler, Executive Director, National Association of Call Centers, David.Butler@nationalcallcenters.org
Paul Stockford, the Director of Research for the NACC, asked me to serve on a panel at the ICCM Toronto call center conference in October this year after serving last year as well. Each panelist was given 1 minute to share their idea for improving call centers before the next panelist's turn. Stockford moderated and kept time for 60 minutes. We have recorded and transcribed the session. To view past rounds, visit our In Queue archive at the following link http://www.nationalcallcenters.org/newsletter.php.
David L Butler - Iíd like to talk about self-service again since Bill is talking about service, everybodyís talking about me talking about self service, and hereís the issue. Iím actually writing a book on it and have completed the research over the last couple of years. Carrots work, sticks donít. Airlines and mobile phone companies have tried to use the stick approach and it backfires in their face. These companies then have to back up and next thing you know theyíre issuing press releases to apologize for the customers. Carrots do work, however, but you need to train your reps to train your customers. Donít think you can just open channels to self service and customers are just going to gallop all over there going whoohoooo something neatómost people are pretty conservative in their behaviors, they get into patterns, so you need to give them a little nudge, a little kick, a little carrot to get to that channel, and donít shut the door behind them, always leave it open, that little security measure. Additionally expect about an 18 month transition from your customers using multiple channels before they go almost 100% total self service, so donít think its going to be a panacea overnight where youíre going to ship those labor costs, donít start cutting staff because youíre going to actually need a little bit more during that transition period.
Samantha Kane - Iíd like to talk about reporting. Itís a pretty complicated subject in most call centers, yet itís typically left to the last decision making process when youíre putting in new technology especially if multiple applications are involved. Itís the business rules and the business processes that are going to drive what youíre going to report on, how youíre going to report it and who youíre going to report to. There are a lot of organizations, especially in the financial industries, that have 45 to 80 different kind of reporting services that do not provide summaries and do duplicate information, so what we suggest organizations do is take basic intelligence and the content of the report and teaching what it actually means to the reader. Itís not the number of reports you get, itís the value and intelligence of the report. If you start off with four reports with meaningful content for the reader, and then build it to eight, we typically see better results and use of the information. Interestingly enough call centers are so robust in what information they gather but donít necessarily share or get asked for by the rest of the organization. There are lots of departments such as the marketing department, or lots of folks in the sales department that would probably like to know whatís happening in the call center or something happened that they should know about and it would help them build their campaigns or provide them with real-time business intelligence on the customer they all serve.
Barb Bleiler - I mentioned earlier, mistakes are going to happen. But the one thing that I would like to ask you to do is, are you taking the opportunity to do positive coaching with your reps? When they do something good are you making sure to recognize it and acknowledge them right away? More and more people are coming out saying that they would stay at a location because of a positive reinforcement in their current position. So look in the mirror and say "what are we doing, when I know someoneís doing well am I making sure to applaud them?" I know we had some people in our area that are like "if Iím doing my job, Iím doing 100% let me go, let me do what Iím supposed to do." And there are some like that, but thereís more people that are on the other side of it that are saying, "if Iím doing a good job, tell me, would you let me know, you know I have days where Iím not certain, Iím unsure, Iím not comfortable with what Iím doing." That little pat on the back to say "hey that was a great call you just took, or I just got a compliment from a customer on you," you take that second out if you can and actually give that feedback back to you rep really helps make their day because sometimes their days are hard just like ours, we would like our superiors to come by and say great job.
Beel Yaqub- Resource planning is vital for your contact centre success. Your clients count on you to be there for them when they need you. We also know that schedules are the most talked about irritant for contact centre employees. Having a fair and equitable process is very important. What is equally important is providing your employees with a clear line of sight into when they can achieve a more desirable schedule which can accommodate their life and work balance needs. This is done by introducing mini shift bids which allows you to provide more desirable shifts to your employee base on a regular basis. The bid must reward both performance and tenure. Introducing flex schedules and part time profiles will also allow you to provide your workforce with flexible options in addition to improving you organizations ability to enhance service level consistency.
Vicki Herrell-SWPPfirstname.lastname@example.org - I am going to suggest that you invite vendors to show you their products. And I know what you are thinking, "What we don't need is another call from a sales person trying to sell us something for our call center." But don't think of these people as interruptions. Vendors can be your resources to teach you about the new technologies and products for the call center. Have your managers invite the vendors who have products in your call center to come in and present their ideas, show their wares, and help you keep up to date on what is new and innovative. And you as attendees here at ICCM have a fabulous opportunity to just go upstairs and talk with the vendors in the exhibit hall upstairs and let them tell you what is new in the industry and what is beginning to develop. You don't have to buy anything but it is great way to get new ideas and keep educated on what is out there.
William (Bill) Durr - No, you donít have to buy anything, we are happy to talk to you all day long. Honest. Letís talk about service level and I donít know what your service level is or how you go about getting it, check all the organizations you want and you will find that when the center is below service level there is focused pressure to recover but when the service level goal is exceeded there is backslapping and high fives. Let me offer you this idea, service level is not like profit, more is not necessarily better. Service level is more like tire pressure, there is a target with a minimum acceptable low and a maximum acceptable high. Performance beyond these limits is financially irresponsible. If you over-achieve on service level you have actually incurred higher costs than you were expected to incur for the organization.
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