At first glance, sourcing agents from multiple call centers—which mix in-house, remote, and outsourced call center agents to create a distributed, virtual call center—would seem to promise cost savings and flexibility. Agents from across town or across the globe can be quickly added to or subtracted from the call center agent pool to respond quickly to changing business needs.
A closer look, however, reveals underlying risks that can actually undermine the objective of better and more flexible customer service. Sourcing from multiple centers can damage customer loyalty and brand as well as jeopardize cost savings, especially when the call centers lack a common hosted infrastructure. Without a common hosted infrastructure:
- Agents can't deliver consistent customer service because they lack the same set of tools, often driving a company's most valuable customers to take their business elsewhere.
- Companies face unpredictable, unmanageable response times.
- Management's lack of complete agent visibility creates the inability to reconfigure and reallocate call distribution in real time and when needed, which keeps cost per call artificially high.
Companies like American Express Incentive Services (AEIS) minimize the risks and maximize the rewards of customer service through multi-sourced call centers with a common hosted call center platform.
Improving service availability
One of the attractions of multi-sourcing is reduced risk of call center downtime. Disparate platforms cause each agent pool to be invisible to one another and to call center management, necessitating the blind distribution of calls. This lack of visibility reduces the company's ability to view problems at outsourced locations and to respond to them with timely remedies.
For instance, AEIS runs four major call centers in the United States and the Philippines that handle several hundred thousand calls per month, with call volumes seasonally increasing to nearly triple that amount during the fourth quarter. Prior to implementing a multi-site, multi-sourced hosted contact center in all its locations, AEIS couldn't shift excess capacity from one center to another because it didn't have visibility of all its agents. AEIS was penalized for overstaffing in one call center while another center had call-abandon rates of 30 percent.
With a common hosted platform, AEIS dynamically routes calls to the best available agent location, based on the current status of all agent locations and queues. No matter what location, skills-based routing coupled with complete agent visibility ensures calls are routed seamlessly and answered promptly. As the environment changes, call distribution automatically adjusts to the new realities.
In addition, because call center managers with a common hosted platform have real-time visibility into the status of the entire agent pool at all locations as well as the entire call queues, they can perform load balancing and maximize asset utilization to deliver a higher level of service at a lower level of staffing.
Achieving service consistency
Companies running disparate call centers risk delivering inconsistent customer service. Tool deployment delays, business intelligence obstacles, and other differences among call center platforms mean service levels can fluctuate on a call-by-call basis, depending on which pool of agents a caller reaches.
When these systems are out of sync with each other, the in-house, remote, and outsourced agents risk giving callers conflicting or contradictory information. Worse yet, customers do not get their first call resolved and have to make a second call to the contact center.
With a common hosted call center platform, multi-sourced agents at all locations use the same systems and tools, and have access to the same data, scripting tools, and the threaded business intelligence through the complete integration with the company's enterprise systems and databases. As a result, customers receive consistent answers and prompt treatment no matter which agent pool they reach.
To meet service quality and agent availability goals, companies running multi-sourced call centers often staff them beyond optimal and cost-effective levels. They end up shouldering additional costs—both direct and indirect—when they deploy service enhancements across heterogeneous multi-sourcing environments.
As call centers migrate toward a distributed agent model, companies also need to consider how these dispersed resources can be most efficiently managed to maximize the cost savings without diminishing service quality and availability. A common hosted call center platform is essential to fully realizing the benefits of call center multi-sourcing.
Leading companies that adopt this strategy will be able to deliver unmatched customer service with unmatched contact center efficiency. System-wide visibility into the status of all agents; the ability to provide them with shared tools, data, and business intelligence; and the capability to manage them in real time with unified reporting and controls will enable these service leaders to deliver consistently excellent service regardless of where the agent resides.
About the Author
Bruce Dresser is chief marketing officer for Echopass, a provider of IP-based on-demand call and contact center solutions for mid-to-large enterprises and government agencies. Learn more at www.echopass.com.
Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.