• May 1, 2002
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Cutting Call Center Costs

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Ignoring agent inefficiencies in a call center environment will only make a bad situation worse. Take talk time on the phone, for example: If an agent's average talk time is 10 minutes when it should be six, calls get backed up, resulting in longer customer wait times and lower customer satisfaction ratings. A Band-Aid fix might be to simply hire more agents to reduce the waiting time, but that just costs more money. "The contact center industry is in a very competitive mode because of the economy. So finding ways to further reduce operating costs is extremely critical, because people are reaching for ways to become more profitable and more competitive," says Tom Sultenfuss, vice president of customer development solutions at Spherion Corp., a call center outsourcing company based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. That is why Spherion started looking for a way to improve agents' productivity and, in turn, alleviate costs. Spherion is not alone. In fact, a recent study by Frost & Sullivan, called Strategic Benefits of Improving Agent Performance, stated agent optimization technologies achieved revenues of $420 million in 2001 and could show double-digit growth through 2005. However, finding tools that measure employee performance without making it seem like Big Brother is watching can be a daunting task. Through a twist of fate, Spherion found one in Performix Technologies' Emvolve Performance Manager. In a chance meeting, the director of resource management at Spherion, responsible for staffing and scheduling methodology tools across the company's 10 U.S. call centers, met the vice president of business development from Performix on a plane in the summer of 2000. At that time Performix, which has worldwide headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, was setting up camp in its U.S. headquarters in Burlington, Mass. Conversations ensued between Spherion and Performix, and after comparing the Performix product with a similar solution from Witness, Spherion opted to install the Performix Emvolve Performance Manager by the following October. "Witness had a similar offering, but it didn't have the install-base or the reporting that Performix had," Sultenfuss says. In addition to monitoring and notifying agents of their talk time, the Emvolve Performance Manager provides quality monitoring of agents' soft skills and rapport with customers. These metrics can be measured against a company's historic averages and current team averages--all of which can be reported back to executives for analysis. Additionally, the software can produce schedule adherence reports to determine whether agents arrive on time, take the allotted amount of breaks and time off for lunch. "You need to do this to make sure your staff size can balance the calls at all times. That is very critical to us," Sultenfuss says. Thanks to the Performix solution, Spherion reduced call-length time by 10 percent in its Victoria, Texas-based call center, which is owned and operated by Spherion. After seeing how well Emvolve Performance Manager tested in Spherion's own facility, the company is also currently talking to customers about bringing the solution its customer-owned call centers.
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