Perpetuating a Complete Agent Life Cycle

Hiring and coaching contact center agents correctly is a tremendous issue in an industry where attrition and dissatisfaction at times run rampant. Chelmsford, Mass.-based contact center solution provider Aspect Software believes it has found a cure with the latest enhancement of its PerformanceEdge suite, reintroducing e-learning and adding job-screening software to its medicine cabinet of applications.

As a suite, PerformanceEdge now offers the following:

  • workforce management;
  • recording and quality management;
  • performance management;
  • campaign management;
  • coaching; and
  • e-learning.
Robert Kelly, vice president of the PerformanceEdge Group at Aspect, says his organization has two main goals for the suite: best-of-breed functionality (or close to it) and creating what he calls a "synchronized environment" so users can gain more value from each individual application. While Kelly maintaining that the suite was already a quality offering, Kelly says Aspect wanted to do more. "We began looking at what we [could] do to increase the capabilities to provide best-of-breed e-learning [capabilities] for PerformanceEdge," he says, adding that the company started this process six to eight months ago.

Aspect ended up partnering with Atlanta-based contact center solution provider Knowlagent because of the latter's strength in e-learning. "It's the original innovator of the [contact center agent e-learning] idea and using infrastructure to deliver this in short periods of focused content," Kelly says. According to information provided by Aspect, the new e-learning functionality enables training at times when agents are not needed answering calls, and supplies training material targeted to specific needs rather than general lessons.

As Aspect worked with Knowlagent on bolstering the e-learning capabilities of PerformanceEdge, there was an added benefit, Kelly notes. "We discovered they were just launching a new application in contact center agent hiring," he recalls. "We were very interested because it allows us to complete our ability within PerformanceEdge to improve the productivity of the business results for our customers in their entire agent life cycle."

Officially known as PerformanceEdge Job Match, Kelly says the new offering provides screening capabilities that improve the selection-and-hiring process of agents by identifying candidates with the best aptitudes and skills. According to Kelly, this will provide three main benefits:

  • an increase in recruiting efficiency;
  • a reduction in attrition; and
  • improvements in new-hire productivity.
"Contact centers need to start by hiring agents with the right skills and personality traits," he explains. "[Customer service representatives require] a unique set of skills you don't find in a lot of other jobs."

Paul Stockford, chief analyst at Saddletree Research, believes that, with Job Match, Aspect is providing a service sorely needed in contact centers today. "It's been overlooked for so long, and I'm really glad to see a company like Aspect step up to the plate and make what appears to be a very good screening-and-hiring product available to the industry," he says. "This is the first tangible evidence that I've seen that companies are really ready to buy into this and take it to market."

Stockford says that many vendors have tried to offer hiring software to contact centers in the past -- to no avail. "They've just thrown up their hands in frustration and run away," he laments. Aspect, however, is already well-established in the industry, he says -- and having a player of this magnitude make such a strong move may help change the way contact center managers have viewed technology's role in the screening process. "I think the old sales adage of 'the best prospects are current customers' is true here," he says. "You've got a company like Aspect -- with a great reputation in the industry and a strong, recognizable name -- so there's already a trust factor going into the process."

According to Kelly, another point of differentiation is in the delivery model for these enhancements. This is the first time, he says, that Aspect -- which primarily delivers its solutions with an on-premises, perpetual license -- is directly providing hosted services to customers in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. "This is our first foray," he says. "We're definitely looking at extending [SaaS] into other parts of our Aspect Unified IP and PerformanceEdge products."

Stockford says that he sees the move toward SaaS as extremely significant, particularly for e-learning. Saddletree, he says, conducted a survey with 125 end-user members of the National Association of Call Centers this past February and March and found nearly 50 percent of respondents had no interest in evaluating or purchasing an e-learning solution in 2008. The negativity, according to respondents, was primarily a reflection of e-learning's low priority in many organizations and the difficulty in getting it through the capital-evaluation process. Because hosted solutions are paid for as operating expenses rather than as capital expenses, Stockford says e-learning can be easier to justify this way. "That makes it an entirely different matter, even if an organization still views its contact center as a cost center," he says. "This is a pretty good idea -- I think Aspect may be onto something here."

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. To contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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