What Contact Centers Need to Do

The contact center industry, after years of deploying technology to empower agents handling customer communications, is now facing several systemic challenges that will result in a shift to self-service and automated technologies to handle the bulk of those customers, according to an analyst firm's recent findings. The exceptions, says Steve Morrell, founder of ContactBabel, a U.K.-based analyst firm, will be the instances in which a customer truly requires talking to an agent directly -- a situation that will become increasingly rare. Even then, Morrell says, the subsequent customer-agent interaction will be optimized far beyond those occurring today. "When a customer needs to talk to a live agent, he will be able to do so immediately, and talk to someone who is supported by a knowledge base and unified desktop who can answer the question the first time," Morrell says. What's really necessary, according to Morrell, is the ability to automate as many interactions as possible while connecting complex calls with an agent who can actually resolve the issue -- rather than simply transferring the call to a supervisor. The need, he says, is driven by the rising challenges of staff attrition and inadequate customer satisfaction. Average agent attrition rates have grown to 32 percent in the U.K., marking the fifth straight year of increases, according to ContactBabel's UK Contact Center Operational Review. The biggest reason for the decline, according to the report, is low pay and salary competition from other contact centers (cited by 22 percent of survey respondents). Other top reasons cited by contact center workers for leaving a job were:
  • repetitive work (19 percent);
  • pressure and monitoring by management (16 percent); and
  • lack of opportunity for promotion or improvement (13 percent).
Those in the finance and insurance industry were more likely to cite low pay than their peers, according to Morrell, though there could be frustration with the technology in the work environment as well. According to a study from Sabio, a London-based provider of contact center services and solutions financial institution contact center agents spend far too much time logging onto different internal systems and jumping between applications, keeping callers waiting on the phone. This is a direct result of the complexity agents face when having to use anything between five and 10 separate applications when trying to meet the day-to-day needs of their banking or insurance customers. According to ContactBabel's U.S. Contact Center Operational Review, the contact center agents spending the greatest proportion of time on a call are employed by the financial services industry (77 percent); on the other end of the scale are agents in the healthcare industry (40 percent). The industry average is 61.2 percent. Effective measurement of customer satisfaction is vital to the success of a contact center. In fact, 38 percent of ContactBabel's survey respondents said that customer satisfaction measurement is the most important priority for U.S. contact centers, followed by process optimization/workflow (30 percent) and self-service (29 percent). "Once the majority of customers live in a world where their direct interactions with customer service agents are much reduced, this will have an impact on the business' ability to grow a profitable, long-term relationship with the customer," Morrell says. "In a future environment, when knowledge of other companies' costs and production costs is so easily available, reducing customer defections will be critical to a company's success." Successfully meeting the contact center challenges will be the critical factor in reducing those defections, Morrell adds.

Related articles: Feature: Checking the Pulse of the Contact Center Contact center performance management provides a holistic view of agent performance; use that data to spur desirable behaviors that will help reps beat center and corporate goals. Dragging the Contact Center into the 21st Century Contact centers can't be stodgy. They need to keep up with the kinds of technologies -- email and IM -- their younger customers rely on. Defining the High-Performance Contact Center A new report identifies the key factors in call center success, and they require looking beyond the benchmarks. Feature: 6 Common Contact Center Mistakes We tapped contact center industry experts to discuss common gaffes and ways to avoid them and get back on track. Viewpoint: Altering the Contact Center Take it from cost burden to strategic asset. Feature: 12 Ways to Boost Productivity What's new in enhancing contact center productivity? Presence Management in the Contact Center: What's the Holdup? The next level of instant messaging applications can improve agent performance.
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