Improving the Performance of Your Outbound Call Center

Outbound call centers can be broadly classified into two distinct types based on the nature of the calls being made. In each classification, the agents are either mostly engaged in campaign management or in collections management. This essay focuses on outbound call centers engaged in collections management and looks at some of the ways in which performance improvement can be achieved in these centers. Though this essay primarily concentrates on the logistics of the collections end, bear in mind that the principles discussed with respect to technology can be successfully adopted into any type of outbound calling protocol: collections, campaign management, sales, even customer service.

Right Party Contact Rates

Right party contact (RPC) rates are a critical measure of success for a collections-oriented call center. This is because the law prevents discussing credit matters with even family members, and thus call centers have to devise ways in which RPC rates can be improved in order to maximize collection efficiencies.

When RPC rates are improved, your collection costs come down in two ways: 1. You can reach the right person with fewer calls, thus bringing down the telecommunication costs; and 2. You can reach the same number of customers with a smaller staff.

Following are some of the steps to be taken to improve the overall performance of your outbound call center and, specifically, the RPC rates.

Invest in technology. It is extremely important to invest in a good automatic predictive dialer, which can dial the numbers and connect the call to a live agent only when someone answers the call at the other end. This will significantly save the live agent time that might otherwise be spent listening to a busy signal or a ringtone. On average, a predictive dialer will reduce the length of an outbound call by seven seconds by virtually eliminating polling time. With an average expected outbound call volume per agent close to 60 connections (or calls), a better dialer can increase efficiency by raising your outbound tolerance plus 10 in a given interval.

Get the rules right. Instead of randomly scheduling calls, it is important to use a sophisticated algorithm that can help improve RPC rates. Typically, call centers would repeat calls to a customer at the same time of day, even when calls go unanswered. This is one of the biggest sources of inefficiency in the outbound dialing process and a huge waste of time. There has been significant research done in this area, with "greedy" algorithms written and implemented that schedule calls in a near optimal manner based on factors such as capacity of agents and most successful time to call based on individual customer account information. Implementation of the latest technology that is equipped with these intelligent algorithms has been shown to improve RPC rates significantly. The rule base also needs to be configured correctly to identify the highest priority customers (most delinquent) based on business objectives. Ideally, different sets of rules with regard to number of attempts, scripts used, etc., should be used for different classes of customers in order to improve the results.

Simulate before you roll out. Today there are really good simulation tools available, which allow you to simulate your call center environment, including agent leaves, break times, and different outgoing call patterns. While an outbound call center has more control over scheduling than an inbound call center, it is still important to simulate a new rule base before you roll it out so that you can identify any potential problems in meeting SLAs up front,and adjust the algorithm accordingly. If you are a techie, think of this as VMware for your call center. Today's simulation tools allow you to see the effect of changes before implementation.

Test and tweak. Every call center has its own unique aspects when it comes to agent skill sets as well as customer profiles. Therefore, it is important that the result of the rule base put in place be constantly evaluated. Your rule base is unique and needs to be tweaked to provide the maximum benefits to the call center. Often, minor changes in the rule base can result in vast improvements in performance of the call center, provided you know which metrics you are trying to optimize.

Following the above recommendations should result in increased efficiency without clumsy "trial and error" call center management. With the tools we have at our disposal today, call centers that adopt the right technology are increasing their efficiency while decreasing their staff.

Nicolas D'Alleva is the CEO and founder of Specialty Answering Service, a Pennsylvania-based contact center and telephone answering service provider that works to help businesses stay competitive and reduce operating costs by making customer service as an outsourcing option affordable and accessible.

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