Darwinian Call Centers: The Evolution of Modern Contact Centers

By Dennis Cox

Darwin would have felt at home in a modern contact center: He would have been able to study its constantly evolving nature and observed his theories in practice. Call centers have always been in a state of evolution; however, technology has accelerated the process. Sometimes the rapid pace of technology seems overwhelming as organizations try to keep up with the latest solutions, all of which promise efficiency and improved service that lead to increased bottom line revenue.

With the advent of at-home agents and hosted solutions, the old concept of call centers now has a new face. Centers have become more flexible, and previous constraints – such as high turnover due to low agent morale, burdensome oversight of agent adherence by supervisors, and large capital expenditures for hardware installation – have been mitigated or removed by technological advances designed to streamline operations and enhance profitability. Consider these breakthrough areas that benefit agents, supervisors, and organizations:

Web Access: Online productivity tools empower agents to manage day-to-day activities as well as personal performance. Agents in both the front and back office are able to view schedules and changes in real time, submit change requests and trade shifts, view KPIs through a notification system, manage vacation time via automated requests, and communicate through a bulletin board system. The result is streamlined communications and process automation critical for organizations to enhance employee morale by providing necessary tools to perform day-to-day tasks.

Mobile Access: Mobile access gives supervisors flexibility to stay abreast of agent activity while out of the office. Users equipped with smart phones or tablets can check agent status at a glance, modify schedules with a click while in meetings or off-site, send messages and notifications, and view reports from hundreds of miles away. Supervisors can log changes such as sick days or early releases, view agent schedules, and send pop-up and email messages with a click from the same grid without navigating to different screens.

Real-Time Adherence: Bottom line revenue is decreased from time lost when agents are out of adherence. Real-time adherence (RTA) is a key ingredient in improving overall productivity of workforce management and delivering industry standard KPIs. RTA untethers supervisors from their desk and expands oversight to a new level, giving them the ability to effectively oversee agents by:

  • Proactively monitoring adherence on a real-time basis by comparing scheduled activity to their actual state information
  • Eliminating the need to babysit an RTA screen by automating alerts to agents and supervisors when adherence thresholds are broken
  • Distributing industry-standard adherence KPIs and management dashboards to agents in real time
  • Providing mobile-adherence views so managers can view reporting and real-time adherence through Web and smart phone access

In the multi-site world, management can quickly drill down to any center at any given time. Drill down capabilities can be set by an individual site to find the root cause of adherence issues. Conversely, global functionality allows views to be configured any way needed by looking at a roll-up of adherence metrics. Notifications and alerts are set up to provide quick and actionable adherence changes to meet organizational objectives.

At-Home Agents: There are four primary reasons companies implement remote agents:

1) Lower Center Costs: Operating costs associated with at-home agents include lower starting wages and reduced benefits, less need for brick-and-mortar facilities and support staff, increased labor pool with flexible scheduling options, and reduced training costs associated with increased agent retention.

2) Better Customer Service: At-home agents have demonstrated their ability to create a better customer experience, resulting in increased customer loyalty. Customer loyalty due to improved service translates to increased revenue. Remote agents are able to take customer service to the next level and increase customer loyalty.

3) Greater Productivity: In-house agents encounter interruptions throughout the day that affect productivity. At-home agents are proven to be more productive than in-house agents, with reported increased productivity of up to one hour daily. Working in an environment without disruptions allows agents to focus on meeting service-level objectives and customer service.

4) Improved Employee Satisfaction and Retention: Agent turnover is an inherent problem for contact centers, and replacing agents is a major cost consideration. Recruiting and training costs can significantly affect a company’s bottom-line profit margin. Retention rate for at-home agents is 80 percent, versus 25 percent for in-house.

Hosted Solutions: Almost 70 percent of organizations are currently using, or considering, cloud-based hosted solutions for contact centers. As the trend moves toward the cloud, the argument for spending money and resources on a premise-based workforce management solution may be diminishing, especially in a challenging economy.

There are seven compelling reasons for choosing a hosted solution:

1) No Hardware or Software to Install: All hardware and software is installed and maintained by the vendor.

2) Flexible Subscription Costs: Billing is based on the number of agents scheduled.

3) P&L Benefits: Hosted solutions are treated as an operating expense only, as opposed to a large capital expenditure.

4) No VPN requirement: Hosted solutions allow for access anytime, anywhere, eliminating the need for a virtual private network (VPN), which is designed to allow employees to securely access their company’s Intranet while traveling outside the office.

5) Flexible Contracts: Part of the cost savings of hosted solutions is the ability to pay as you grow, not as you go. Most vendors provide month-to-month subscription options, and the cost increases only when you decide to expand services.

6) Vendor IT Management: Most IT requirements are managed by the vendor. One major advantage of a hosted solution is that it allows you to focus on managing your business and leave the IT infrastructure to your vendor.

7) Decreased Costs: Enterprise software capabilities are available at a much lower cost. With hosted solutions, most vendors offer a full suite of enterprise software capabilities without the associated cost. Upgrades are offered as part of the package. You only pay for what you need, but the full enterprise capability is available when and if you need it.

The Results: Technology is constantly challenging organizations to be more profitable through implementation and utilization of solutions of the future. The evolution from call centers to modernized contact centers incorporates a range of solutions for both the front and back office, enhancing KPIs and enabling service objectives to be met more efficiently. Darwin would approve.

Dennis Cox is the managing director of Pipkins, UK. Pipkins Inc is an American company and a supplier of workforce management software and services to the call center industry. For over thirty years, Pipkins has created and delivered workforce management products for contact centers of all sizes with thirteen applications, including their premier product Vantage Point. For more information, visit www.pipkins.com.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2015]

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