How to Optimize Skills-Based Routing Using a Virtual Queue

By Eric Camulli

When you implement skills-based routing in your contact center, you are trying to put your best foot forward. The idea is to match your customer’s needs with an agent who has the specialized skills to efficiently resolve the issue or handle the inquiry. Many contact centers use the First Call Resolution (FCR) metric to measure customer satisfaction and gauge operational efficiency.

An unfortunate reality for contact centers is that there are rarely enough specialists to meet incoming caller demand and as a result, queues form. When this happens, management usually takes the attitude that it is better to answer calls more quickly with less skilled agents than to have callers wait for many minutes before being greeted by a specialist. When put in this predicament, it is no wonder that the focus changes from First Call Resolution (FCR) to the Average Speed of Answer (ASA) and Service Level Attainment (SLA) metrics to measure overall performance.

But what about the caller?  Think about how you would react to each of these two situations: 1) your call is answered quickly, but the agent cannot resolve your issue; or 2) your issue is quickly resolved, but only after wasting a long time on hold. The better of these two situations is debatable, but it would not be a stretch to say that callers find both situations frustrating.

When a customer is passed around to different specialists before ultimately reaching a resolution, not only does it lower first call resolution, it wastes precious resources. Training and staffing specialists are expensive endeavors, and each time a specialist handles a customer and does not resolve the issue, that time and expense is squandered. Also, training agents to become specialists is resource intensive; it may take months or years before you have enough specialists to handle caller demand during peak calling times.

This problem is a common occurrence in contact centers: trying to manage queues to maintain performance metrics and achieve customer loyalty initiatives, while at the same time trying to control the costs of hiring and training specialists. Is there a solution?

The answer is, yes. There is a technology that some contact centers have been using successfully for years, but is just now starting to become well-known; it’s called virtual queuing. A virtual queuing solution interfaces with the PBX/ACD and the skills-based routing solutions. When a new call arrives, virtual queuing evaluates the Estimated Wait Time (EWT) for a specialist. If there is no specialist available for a few minutes, the system quotes the EWT and allows the caller to hang up while the system saves his place in line.

While waiting in the virtual queue, the caller is free to go about his business. When it is the caller’s turn, he will receive a callback within the time quoted. When his phone rings, he is connected with a specialist who has the right skills to handle the call. Virtual queuing has been shown to:

Increase Agent Efficiency and First Call Resolution: With a virtual queuing solution in place, you achieve a greater return from your skills-based routing investment. This is true because you send fewer calls to agents who do not have the skills to handle the request. Agents are, therefore, not wasting time on calls they cannot properly handle. With virtual queuing, you are, in essence, reserving a specialist for your customer and increasing the likelihood of first call resolution.

Reduce Abandons: During periods of peak call volume in your contact center, virtual queuing immediately educates your callers with the EWT and with options for managing the wait time. Callers who reserve their place in queue and request a callback cannot hang up out of frustration because they are not actually on the line. Additionally, reducing abandons increases first call resolution and decreases the number of repeat calls.

Increase Customer Satisfaction and Service Level: By offering callers options, you demonstrate respect for your customers’ valuable time and elevate the level of service you offer. In addition, it is truly remarkable how the perception of time changes with virtual queuing.

To people waiting on hold, ten minutes can seem like an eternity. With virtual queuing, however, people are not tied to a phone listening to hold music. They can continue to be productive, engage in a conversation with a coworker, get that second cup of coffee, or attend to their hungry baby – all the while knowing their place in line is secure. Ten minutes is gone before they know it. When called back in the time promised, you take caller trust and loyalty to an unprecedented level. It is quite rare that a company calls back in the time promised, so when your company does, it makes an outstanding impression.

Improve Agent Morale: Happy callers mean happy specialists. When callers utilize virtual queuing rather than waiting on hold for extended periods of time, they are much happier when they speak to specialists. This removes the scolding that specialists tend to get by callers who had to wait on hold, and in turn maintains specialists’ morale.

Reduce Toll and Labor Expenses: For every call that enters the virtual queue, the contact center is saving toll costs because it is not using telecom resources. In addition, because virtual queuing is activated when there are spikes in call volume, it is not always necessary to staff extra agents to accommodate for traffic peaks. This saves hiring and training expenses.

When choosing your virtual queuing solution, it is important to make sure that virtual queuing is actually taking place, not just simple callbacks after a timer has expired. Virtual queuing is fully integrated into your existing queuing strategies to ensure that skills-based routing is maintained. Also, it is critical that the system can secure and maintain the caller’s position in the queue; otherwise, there is the risk of creating a “stall” or “chase” condition within the queue. This could lead to a significant loss in agent productivity, stranded calls, and unhappy callers.

Eric Camulli is director of technology of Virtual Hold Technology, a company specializing in virtual queuing solutions. He may be reached at ecamu@virtualhold.com or at 800-854-1815. [An independent study was conducted by Forrester Consulting to measure the ROI of deploying virtual queuing in contact centers.]

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2007]

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