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Improve Call Center Agent Productivity and Customer Service

By Francis Carden

November 2009

Increasing contact center efficiency has always been a clear path to cutting costs during any economy. While increasing productivity and doing more with existing resources is more important than ever, cutting call center costs does not have to result in a decrease in customer service.

Unfortunately, many contact center professionals in the trenches believe that delivering a truly superior customer experience comes with too high a price tag, particularly against the backdrop of a global recession. Efficiency and its associated cost savings are perfectly compatible with high satisfaction levels; it's inefficiency that causes much of the dissatisfaction in the first place. Here are five tips for raising contact center productivity and improving the customer experience.

Tip 1: Do away with copy and paste: Agents are often forced to copy and paste data across applications, putting companies at risk for mistakes that cost time, money, serious compliance penalties, and cause repetitive strain injuries to agents. Automation technologies exist that can streamline a number of manual workflows. Examples include automating repetitive application login processes, automatically synchronizing data across systems whenever a record is changed, and automatically opening and navigating a knowledge management system for certain call types.

Tip 2: Present personalized up-sell and cross-sell offers: Despite initial enthusiasm for up-selling and cross-selling, these are falling out of favor with contact centers because attempts have been frustrating to both agents and callers. This is a huge missed opportunity. Most callers appreciate it when an agent knows enough about them to offer them something they truly need or can save them time or money.

By automating the offer look-up process and presenting the offer to the agent in real-time at the proper stage of the call flow can dramatically improve up-sell performance.

When the potential of this is grasped, simple yet creative solutions can emerge. For example, a client's website may already present customized up-sell or cross-sell offers in a pop-up window. By extending this approach to the call center, agents can suggest up-sell and cross-sell offers without having to research what is appropriate for the caller based on their status and buying history. In addition, real-time feedback on the success or failure of an offer is now available.

Tip 3: Create a unified view of client and caller data: Contact center agents often need to interact with different applications in order to properly service callers. Considering that each application has its own unique user interface and navigational logic and that many were not designed for contact centers, it's no wonder that agent productivity and caller satisfaction suffer in this environment.

In the past, integrating these applications has been complicated, time-consuming, and expensive - which is why in many cases it simply hasn't happened. The technology used to build these applications varies dramatically (such as Java, .NET, C, C++, C#, PowerBuilder, and COBOL) and the applications themselves often reside in different places (installed on a desktop, delivered via the Web or mainframe, or streamed via Citrix or another hosted system).

Desktop-level integration tools are now available that allow IT professionals to quickly build a single contact center agent "dashboard" that unites all these applications into a single screen and shares the data across them so information only needs to be entered once and all other systems are updated. This speeds access to important customer data, shortens call handling and wait times, streamlines agent training processes, and ultimately improves caller satisfaction.

This can be especially valuable for outsourced contact centers that service a number of clients. Instead of training agents on a client's processes across a myriad of applications, a unified user interface can dramatically improve productivity, especially if there is a need to shift an agent from one client to another.

Tip 4: Automate compliance mandates: Complying with client and government mandates introduces a number of challenges for agents and call centers alike. Compliance mandates such as accurately capturing and logging call activity, reading mandatory disclosure statements, and performing necessary credit or other types of verification checks add complexity to a given caller interaction. This often requires an agent to remember and correctly follow defined business rules that may vary from one client to another. From an organizational perspective, it is often difficult to track the activity of every agent to know that compliance requirements are being met.

By automating compliance-related agent workflows, call centers can streamline agent productivity, improve adherence to important compliance processes, and improve the ability to track and report on compliance performance. For example, consider automating the presentation of government-mandated disclosure statements. Whereas an agent previously needed to remember that a statement was required based upon a particular address location and then needed to look up the location-specific statement, now, based upon the caller's address, automation does the necessary look-up and presents the agent with the specific disclosure statement at the proper stage of the call flow. Another automation requires that the agent confirm completion of the compliance process before the call can be closed.  This way, call centers can ensure compliance and have the proper records to back it up.

Tip 5: Auto-navigate applications: Inbound support calls result in a significant amount of wasted time and effort. Although computer telephone integration (CTI) or softphone applications pop up with basic caller or telephone information, the agent may need to launch additional applications and navigate to specific pages within them. Integrating CTI, or softphone applications, with the core agent applications and automating the navigation to the correct customer record within an application improves agent productivity and drives caller satisfaction gains.

Following these tips can help improve call center efficiency while contributing to overall caller loyalty and client satisfaction.

Francis Carden is the founder and chief evangelist of OpenSpan, a provider of business user productivity software.  OpenSpan enables enterprises to integrate applications, service-enable legacy systems, automate business processes, extend functionality, and build new composite applications.

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