When People Equal Profits
AT A GLANCE
Product: Blue Pumpkin Director-Enterprise 3.0
Vendor: Blue Pumpkin Software Inc., Sunnyvale, Calif.
Problem: Scheduling and staffing contact centers to reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction.
Solution: Blue Pumpkin Director-Enterprise 3.0 solution uses mathematical modeling to help companies schedule and analyze employee scheduling to ensure it is efficient and affordable.
Cost: $100,000 and up, depending on the size of the call center.
In today's economy, where every customer interaction counts, prudent staffing, customer satisfaction, and profitability are inextricably linked. Customer satisfaction is especially critical in contact centers, where a few extra seconds on hold can determine whether a client ever calls back.
Even so, companies cannot afford to overstaff. Good service costs money. GartnerGroup predicts that staffing will soon account for up to 80 percent of contact center budgets. For that reason it is crucial to strike a balance between adequate staffing and runaway personnel costs. Striking that balance is what Blue Pumpkin Inc. is all about.
"It's the people who ultimately create the highest level of customer satisfaction," says Bill Seawick, chief marketing officer of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Blue Pumpkin, a five-year-old workforce management software developer for contact centers whose clients include AT&T Corp., Kaiser Permanente, KitchenAid, TimeWarner Cable, and Verizon Communications. The company's new enterprise software, Blue Pumpkin Director-Enterprise 3.0, uses mathematical modeling to help companies determine exactly how many employees are needed to deploy any given contact center at any given time of the day, taking into account what skill level each employee needs to have.
Blue Pumpkin Director also is designed to help in the compilation of data needed to generate crucial reports. Information, like real-time agent status and contact-volume statistics, makes it possible to drill down into the performance of a single agent or site, assess trends, spot problems, plan strategies to support growth, and deliver information to justify staffing recommendations. "Blue Pumpkin really spans the different levels within the organization," Seawick says.
Blue Pumpkin plugs in quickly to just about any existing operation--including Siebel Systems and Cisco Systems iQ Ecosystem--allowing managers access to multicontact forecasting and scheduling designed to improve response times, as well as control costs. But employees benefit, too. Using Blue Pumpkin's Web-enabled, self-service solutions, employees can make use of time-off management, agent preference, and shift-swapping options. That means they can help plan their own schedules in a way that also meets the needs of the company.
Borders Writes the Book on Productivity
Sometimes those scheduling needs can get complex. Seawick recalls Blue Pumpkin's work with Borders Group Inc., a leading global retailer of books, music, and movies. During the 2000 holiday season the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based retailer found that calls and e-mail to its two call centers increased by as much as 35 percent. Some of that volume was the result of sales clerks calling from Borders' Waldenbook locations to confirm customer points on Walden's Preferred Reader discount program. Borders.com customers also contacted the center directly, looking for information on Borders.com products.
Borders wanted to hire enough call center employees to handle the increased volume, but not so many that they would end up paying people they did not need.
The company had two primary obstacles to overcome in finding the right mix and the right number of contact center agents. First, when hiring, Borders looks for people who are skilled in any number of the 15 skills required to serve its customers. These skills include fluency in such languages as French and in-depth knowledge of various music genres and authors. Second was the issue of scheduling. Borders originally staffed their call centers from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.; some times were busier than others.
To solve these problems, Borders' management began looking for a workforce management solution that would fit the retailer's particular needs.
It did not take long for Borders to select Blue Pumpkin. "Cost-wise, they are fairly competitive," says Charlie Moore, Borders' director of customer service. Blue Pumpkin was also quick to deploy. "Ease of use definitely came up," Moore says. He says the company's
latest Blue Pumpkin upgrade was launched in about a day and a half. "It was the fastest we had ever seen," he says. In fact, they were up and running in only a few days.
Using Blue Pumpkin, Borders was able to improve customer satisfaction by 5 percent to 10 percent while increasing productivity 53 percent, with a 33 percent reduction in expenses.
"What we were able to do is really forecast," Moore says. "We created what we would call a ghost agent and we would go out, in say, 15-minute increments, based on the previous year." Using those parameters, Borders was able to add different variables, deciding how many calls the company wanted the contact center to respond to in the first 30 seconds. Borders also used the model to predict how many multiple-skill employees were needed at any given time, and how many shifts could be filled with employees proficient in just one or two skills.
Based on that modeling, Borders hired staff and then used Blue Pumpkin to compare the predictions to what was actually happening. As a result the company reduced its contact center hours by about three hours, a decision that ended up saving the company a bundle of money. Call center agents also have been pleased with Blue Pumpkin, Moore says, because Borders has been able to implement more flexible scheduling. "It really helped us optimize our costs," Moore says.
Borders' Productivity Boom
Problem: Borders needed to combine the right number of agents per shift with the right mix of the 15 skills customer service representatives need (e.g., languages and music knowledge) to best serve customers.
Solution: Using Blue Pumkpin to manage its staffing concerns, Borders improved customer satisfaction by 5 to 10 percent, increased productivity 53 percent, and reduced expenses by 33 percent.