• September 4, 2007
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Defining the High-Performance Contact Center

If you ask customers what they want from their telephone interactions with companies, the answer is almost always going to be satisfaction. The people who control the contact center don't have the same response. Corporate goals and workforce realities can pull the contact center in conflicting directions, leading to decreased customer satisfaction, according to a new report from industry research firm Frost & Sullivan. The report, "High-Performance Contact Centers: Aligning WFM With Corporate Goals for Maximum Strategic Value" -- the "WFM" in the title stands for "workforce management" -- suggests steps for aligning contact center strategy. Metrics such as queue length, talk time, and average handle time were among the first to be employed to measure contact center effectiveness, and are still in use today. But there is a loud and growing call "to measure and define success with more value- and outcome-oriented metrics," the report states, adding that it's not only the force behind the surge of interest in first-call resolution, but "also apparent in the movement towards recognizing the 'voice of the customer' through postcall surveys and other tools." Contact centers have struggled to establish statistical baselines for new metrics, according to the report, but "it has become apparent that 'performance' as the organization defines it goes well beyond the traditional telephony measures the call center works with." Frost & Sullivan notes three criteria that distinguish top-performing contact centers from the average performers:
  • The contact center and the enterprise work in tandem to balance cost controls with efforts to realistically measure service quality. It is not enough to simply declare a policy of valuing the customer experience. In a high-performing center, specific goals and objectives must be set for achieving realistic customer experience benchmarks within the context of an efficient allocation of resources;
  • individual front-line workers are set clear performance goals, and those goals are constructed to reflect actual business objectives. These can be expressed in traditional call center telephony metrics (hold time, calls handled, etc.), but they must originate in or be aligned with organizational goals (profits, revenue, customer retention and churn, etc.); and
  • the flow of information into and out of the center is controlled and channeled so that appropriate managers and analysts can interpret the raw data and use it to create specific prescriptions for change that improve performance. This can include an emphasis on root-cause analysis, scenario simulation, and the proactive creation of responses before deep problems can fester.
Cumulatively, the report states, these three criteria are "a way to articulate to the rest of the enterprise the true value of the customer interaction infrastructure to company health" -- and workforce management (WFM) is how achieve them. WFM, while rarely deployed in the 1990s, has grown to serve two-thirds of contact centers today, according to Frost & Sullivan's research. The solutions currently available are far more robust than their ancestors, able to handle forecasting and scheduling across multiple sites while providing a framework for management to make effective decisions based on collected data. WFM and performance management applications also allow dynamic routing based on agent skills, improving the overall customer experience as well as the likelihood of first-call resolution. "Without the baseline WFM data at heart of the system, very little strategic (or even tactical) recalibration can go on through performance management or any other tool," the report states. "It is the keystone to operating at the highest performance levels." But what does that mean? "For a contact center, operating at the highest levels doesn't mean processing the most calls in the shortest possible time with the smallest possible headcount," the report states. "What it does
mean is that a center makes tactical decisions (in training, call handling, and resource allocation) that are in tandem [with] and informed by the strategic decisions made by other relevant departments." The contact center's infrastructure should be integrated in such a way that agents can work efficiently while managers analyze performance in real time; the center then produces information that aids other departments in making subsequent strategic decisions; and all facets provide useful feedback. "These principles, when properly applied, will improve a company's ability to retain customers and put the contact center into a stronger strategic position within the organization as a whole," the report says. Related articles: Doubling Down on Quality Management A new report says the market for quality management/liability recording suites--essentially workforce optimization--more than doubled in 2006. Workforce Management Grows Up A new study shows that WFM and WFO technologies have come a long way, and will go even farther in smaller contact centers with software-as-a-service. Feature: Intensive Care Learn these WFM lessons to breed the best contact center forecasting, scheduling, and managing efforts. CCPM Market Is Poised For Progress Market penetration has been slow, but the benefits of contact center performance management applications to the contact center and other enterprise departments are expected to help spur growth. QM Saunters to Continued Uptake The quality management and liability recording market is projected to exceed expectations, thanks in large part to the space's competitive landscape and product innovation.
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