Stop the Contact Center's Revolving Door

Consistently delivering a better customer experience starts and ends with front-line employees. Although our industry almost unanimously agrees with this assertion, most contact center operators struggle to engage and retain their agents. Agents are starving for the individualized training they need to succeed, yet according to the Ventana Research Call Center Agent Productivity Poll, only 29 percent of contact centers hit their training goals. Agents yearn for face-to-face coaching and better personal relationships with their supervisors; however, only 37 percent of contact centers have set targets for the amount of coaching time each agent should receive. This leaves agents feeling that their employer doesn't care enough to invest in their success. As a result, the revolving door in the contact center keeps spinning. According to Everest Group Research, the approximate financial loss for a 500-person contact center due to agent loss and recruiting can reach $2 million in one year.

Businesses in every sector agree that customer experience is a priority and that agents are the key to their success. Yet these same businesses continue to appear helpless when it comes to serving their employees first so they can serve their customers well. Why?

As is often the case, time and money play a major role. In a recent seminar, I asked audience members how many of them ranked improving customer experience as their number-one priority. The majority raised their hands. I then asked how many of them had received more budget or head count to make it happen. Two hands remained up. (Kudos, Home Depot and CapOne!) In many cases, increased resources have not accompanied increased expectations of service. Companies need to innovate to resolve this paradox.

The heart of the solution lies in a combination of technology to modernize operations and more effective agent training and coaching. Even the most well-run contact centers have inefficiencies that present opportunities. For example, the average contact center agent spends 11 percent of his time idle waiting for his next call, a total of up to five weeks a year! Innovative contact centers are leveraging technology to harvest this idle time during slower periods. This is just one example of how efficiency gains can be reinvested into your agents.

Technology that can help contact center operators turn mountains of real-time data into immediate front-line optimization should react in real time to optimization opportunities such as periods of lower or higher call volume, imbalance across interaction channels, overstaffing, understaffing, and individual adherence issues. A more agile front-line workforce is better able to adjust throughout the day to deliver a dramatically more consistent customer experience, at lower cost.

Marketing services company Harte Hanks, for example, needed to make sure it had 7,000 agents trained and "on-boarded" ahead of a launch for a major sports entertainment media company. Call volume was expected to hit more than 2 million calls in one day. In prior years, the company would have attempted to schedule agent training by adding head count to account for this off-phone work. By using an automated solution, it was able to take advantage of dips in call volume and trigger short training sessions without adding head count. The impacts were dramatic in terms of productivity, cost, and agent engagement and preparedness.

Changing the way training and coaching are delivered in such a situation is a great start. However, considering that the average monthly idle time for a contact center agent is almost 20 hours, most centers are missing out on the chance to capitalize on additional optimization opportunities.

In today's customer-centric market, companies need to leverage new technology to develop and coach agents and do more than just fill contact center seats. When organizations gain momentum in this practice, they're one step closer to creating an agile front-line workforce equipped to deliver a dramatically more consistent customer experience.

Matt McConnell is CEO at Intradiem.

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