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How to Overcome the Call Center Conundrum
Time management, customer knowledge, Web self-help, knowledge management, and embracing opt-in automation are the keys to improving efficiency.
For the rest of the October 2003 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Master Time Management Each day customer service representatives at BancTec Computer and Network Services field roughly 5,000 telephone calls that average 14 minutes and may go as long as an hour--and need to. So when company executives put on the pressure to cut costs and realize efficiencies, Jackson had to be creative. BancTec provides PC tech support for some of the largest computer manufacturers in the world. Tech support often requires a lot of hand-holding. So although cutting talk time seems like a valid solution, for BancTec it's a nearly impossible task. And moving customer support to the Web isn't an option, because of the very reason customers are calling. Instead of reducing talk time, Jackson chose to address the most unproductive part of the call: customer wait time, or the time customers are on hold until the next agent becomes available. "It's such a mathematical game," Jackson says. "If you want your customers to wait zero time, you have to have a lot of people sitting there doing nothing. If you want employees working all the time, customers will wait a long time." Balancing the two became overwhelming, so Jackson turned to Aspect Communications for its workforce management solution. BancTec had already been using Aspect call center solutions for 13 years. So the decision to buy Aspect's workforce analysis tools a year ago was a natural progression. Prior to using Aspect's workforce analysis tools, Jackson estimates that only 60 percent of agents were complying with their assigned schedules. The Aspect solution helps BancTec track what percentage of the time agents actually work the schedule assigned to them. Now, even after shift changes, breaks, and lunches are factored in, compliance levels have jumped to 95 percent, Jackson says. "That's a 35 percent increase in employees doing what we pay them to do," he says. In July 60 percent of calls were answered in 30 seconds or less. However, because of the sudden employee attrition rates in August, the average speed-to-answer climbed to roughly 130 seconds, Jackson says.
Nonetheless, when his staff is fully operational Jackson expects to see average speed-to-answer stay below 40 seconds. And as important as that metric is to both maintaining customer satisfaction and meeting corporate goals, Jackson says the biggest benefit is a soft return on investment: the sense of fairness that agents feel now that they are doing what they should be doing. (Compliance numbers are shared with the agents.) "Before," Jackson says, "people wondered, 'Hey, am I the only one taking calls while the others are goofing off?'" Know Thy Customers (Before the Call)Use Web Self-Help for BASIC QUERIES If Forrester Research's estimates are correct that a telephone support call costs on average roughly $33, imagine how much a company would save by reducing incoming service calls 14 percent in one month. That's what Greg Phillips saw after professional health publishing company Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW) implemented a RightNow Web self-help solution. Phillips, a customer service director at LWW, admits that his company's productivity was poor prior to the RightNow solution. The four LWW service reps handling email were simply not prepared for the sudden surge in emails that came as a result of LWW making its 275 medical journals available for free online. Within seven months email volume soared from 1,500 to 6,500 emails per month. The added volume translated into a significant drop in response time: LWW service reps took nine days, on average, to answer emails. "In a traditional call center it's very hard to deal with spikes, because a finite number of agents have a finite amount of time to deal with spikes. Any time spikes exceed [maximum capabilities] you're going to deliver poor service. That's just a fact," says Greg Gianforte, CEO and founder of RightNow Technologies. "So when complemented by experts in a call center, self-service can deal with repetitive questions and knock the tops off the spikes." When LWW launched the RightNow solution in November 2001, the results were immediate, according to Phillips. With so many of LWW's customers finding answers online, email and call volume dropped. Now, about 90 percent of email queries are answered within 24 hours, and 99 percent are answered within 48 hours. Telephone support calls dropped from 25,000 per month to roughly 22,000 per month this past summer. "Every month in 2002 our phone volumes decreased," Phillips says. "In January 2002 our phone volumes were lower than January 2001, and that trend continues today." Archive Agents' Expertise Web self-help tools aren't just for customers. They're also important to help agents resolve customer support issues. But when agents can't find what they need in a knowledge management system, the extra work involved in obtaining the answer usually includes such disruptive tasks as an email blast, instant message interruption, or asking a colleague. A recent study by Collaborative Strategies LLC states that 32 percent of the typical workweek is spent helping others resolve questions. This stalls productivity. That's why some vendors now offer expertise-management solutions, designed to provide more efficient ways to answer questions, find expertise, or obtain necessary information in a timely fashion. These solutions not only help guide agents to the best resolution for each customer, but also tap into agents' expertise to add to the knowledge base. "Eighty percent of the time you can use the low-cost automated solution. It's the 20 percent of the time that you have to use the expertise-management solution to effectively use 80 percent of the resources. That can happen anywhere in a company," says David Coleman, managing director at Collaborative Strategies LLC. To improve its call resolution process, in July computer security company Network Associates deployed Kanisa Support Center to more than 450 support agents. The Kanisa application guides agents through a personalized resolution process by directing them to the appropriate solution to each customer's problem, based on factors like product type, case information, and problem type. A unified knowledge management platform culls content from multiple, disparate knowledge sources, including legacy knowledge bases, virus information libraries, case notes, product documentation and manuals, and FAQs. Although specific ROI numbers are not yet available, already Kanisa Support Center enables agents to help customers more effectively, says Matt Kochan, senior vice president of worldwide technical support and customer service at Network Associates. Embrace Automated Opt-in Solutions Some companies have discovered that support doesn't have to be reactive. Opt-in solutions enable companies to become proactive with customer support by reaching out to customers to provide relevant product and service information. This helps turn support into a two-way interaction that offers customers the information they need when they need it. Opt-in solutions automate outbound communications with customers by triggering automatic alerts for such purposes as account and warranty renewals, collections, schedule changes, or product recalls. Companies can alert customers via email, wireless handheld device, or mobile phone. Opt-in solutions are taking off with United Airlines. Last spring United introduced its Automated Schedule Change Notification, powered by Centerpost. As part of United's EasyUpdate communication platform, the service enables United to quickly communicate with customers affected by schedule changes. According to Chris Bowers, United's senior vice president of sales and reservations, Automated Schedule Change enables United to reduce costs while improving customer satisfaction. The solution, he says, provides full itinerary details to customers who have been rebooked, eliminating the need to phone United's call centers. All customers receive this service free once they provide their preferred choice of communication (home phone, cell phone, or fax) during the reservation process. The Centerpost service can track call completions and is capable of multiple call attempts to customers, which enables United to reduce the time required to complete call outs and increase the time for United's agents to focus on inbound customer service calls. Contact Senior Editor David Myron at dmyron@destinationCRM.com
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