Analytics Pays Off in the Contact Center
Analysts say the partnership between Nexidia and Merced Systems will make agent incentives more objective.
Posted Dec 3, 2009
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Customer service agents, in many cases, are tasked with achieving particular key performance indicators -- including average handle time (AHT), first call resolution (FCR), and overall customer satisfaction. Some may even be paid or given bonuses based on these statistics.

With customer service in general increasingly becoming the face -- and entry point -- for many businesses, agents are being called upon to also cross-sell and upsell customers when they call. By adding on the sales professional aspect to the job, they must be incentivized accordingly. Doing it objectively, with a complete look at all relevant analytics, is key.

Looking to bring more detailed analytics onto the scene, speech analytics player Nexidia recently teamed up with sales and service performance management applications vendor Merced Systems to integrate Nexidia's Enterprise Speech Intelligence product with Merced Performance Suite and Merced Incentive Compensation Management.

According to executives from both vendors, the two camps have been collaborating informally for some time, and felt that the benefits of a productized integration for both the vendors and end-customers "sealed the deal." "Nexidia is more about business process improvement and understanding via speech analytics the issues occurring in the contact center at a more macro level, including AHT, FCR issues, and repeat call patterns," says Jeff Schuleter, vice president of marketing and business development for Nexidia. "We hadn't done as much in driving down to specific agent performance management, and Merced is focused there. This allows us to do more work at the agent level in terms of coaching and improvement."

Mark Gally, director of marketing for Merced, explains the productized collaboration will integrate more data that is critical to giving contact center leadership a full picture into what is going on with its agents.

Particularly when it comes to incentive compensation, Matt Katz, vice president of business consulting for Merced, says that this will enable a more balanced score, a more objective way at looking at which agents should actually be incentivized for their work. "There are different levers managers pull with respect to changing agent behavior ... performance management and incentive compensation are two of these," he says. "The primary challenge is that this has gone wrong in too many places in the contact center world. They don't use a balanced approach, incent the wrong metric or one they think will help but leads to undesirable behavior."

One example of poorly leveraged metrics, Katz says, is blindly using AHT to incent agents. They may cut the calls short, but that could mean they are not cross-selling or upselling enough, he says. Another example is referring unqualified leads to the sales group just to make a quota. "You're then paying the rep on unqualified referrals," he says.

This is exactly the problem that 33 percent of companies actually incentivizing agents based on sales management -- according to a recent Ventana Research survey -- face. "If you look at the world credit crunch, if you dig into it, the root cause of it was that salesmen were compensated in the wrong way for making sales," says Richard Snow, vice president and research director, customer and contact center performance management, at Ventana. "The danger is that if you do it in isolation or in the wrong way, you're ending up with call center agents making inappropriate sales and doing more harm than good. The process needs to be managed very carefully."

Moving forward, Merced executives believe the integration will greatly benefit its travel and financial services customers that are tasking contact center agents with additional sales responsibilities. For Nexidia, Schuleter sees opportunities in the collections vertical as well as technology -- highlighting EarthLink's use not necessarily for cross-selling and upselling, but for churn management and retention. Both sides acknowledged overlapping customer bases, but did not disclose exactly how many are shared between them.

Snow also believes the partnership, in addition to meeting a need among more agents cross-selling and upselling, helps to unlock data and analytics frustrating companies for the last 20 years. "The biggest sources of data in the contact center are call recordings," he says. "They have gone to waste ... my research finds in a typical environment companies only listen to 1 to 2 percent of those calls to assess performance of agents in a relatively subjective way. Nexidia's automated call analysis means you can make use of 100 percent of that data -- it's a huge step forward."

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