Monitoring Your Agents, But Not Your Self-Service Applications? Think Again

Although the majority of customer service calls are completed in the IVR without ever reaching an agent, most companies monitor their agents, but not their voice applications. Add to this the fact that many calls reach an agent after frustrated customers zero out of poorly performing IVRs, and one begins to see the logic behind testing and monitoring contact center technology. Companies that monitor their agents--and most do--purport to be doing so in the interest of better quality service. We've all heard the recording while on hold: "This call may be monitored for quality assurance." Yet, companies that only monitor their agent-based calls are gaining a lopsided view of the customer experience. A study performed by Purdue University in 2002 found that 92 percent of U.S. consumers form their image of a company based on their first experience using the company's call center. That same study found that 63 percent of U.S. consumers will stop using a company's products based on a negative call-center experience (that figure soars to 100 percent for consumers ages 18 to 25). Chances are good that these customers will never reach an agent during any given transaction. So shouldn't companies be more concerned with their IVR and voice application performance? Improving the quality and performance of voice applications is relatively simple. Test prior to deployment by duplicating real-world call volumes and traffic, to pinpoint and resolve quality and performance bottlenecks. After an application goes live, monitor the system by dialing in to it the same way a customer would, tracking response times, prompt quality, and other metrics. Immediately alert technicians if performance thresholds are exceeded, so potential problems can be addressed before they affect the customer experience. The trick is to do this at frequent enough intervals and high enough volumes that potential problems are detected and corrected before they become noticeable to your customers. This is best achieved through automation. Companies can purchase products that will enable them to automate testing and monitoring in-house, or they can outsource the work to an experienced vendor. Costs can be as low as a few thousand dollars a month--pocket change when compared with the cost of churning customers. Testing and monitoring can improve contact center productivity in a number of ways:
  • Customers who receive fast, efficient service via self-service channels will be more satisfied and thus less likely to defect.
  • Because routine transactions are efficiently handled in the IVR, fewer calls need to go to agents. This helps reduce costs, as self-service transactions generally cost about 45 cents, versus $5.50 for an agent-assisted call. (In some cases companies can even reduce the number of agents in their center, thus trimming labor costs.)
  • Toll charges can be reduced as customers can complete their transactions more quickly without queuing for an agent and in just one call.
  • Fewer customers zeroing out due to poorly performing automated systems means fewer angry customers for agents to deal with. This in turn can help improve agent morale, and happy employees are more productive.
  • Companies can get more out of their CTI infrastructure investments to ensure that the right call gets routed to the right agent in the right amount of time, and that the screen pop occurs. As the saying goes, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. Ensure that your voice applications make a good one by testing their performance from the customer perspective prior to deployment, and by monitoring them after deployment at regular intervals. About the Author Brian VanLaarhoven, manager of professional services for Empirix, has helped dozens of companies optimize their contact center infrastructures via automated testing and monitoring. He can be reached at
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