By Matt Harless
If you believe call centers are statistics driven, then you are right on the money. Today’s fantastic CRM (Customer Relationship Management) packages allow management to gain a complete grasp on performance in the call center. In turn, these platforms benchmark past, present, and future opportunities. Minimum requirement standards become established and ongoing analysis is conducted. It is no longer a case of wondering how campaigns or people are performing. Today’s stats, blended with people, can form a winning combination in the call center.
There is a challenge, however. So often call center agents, who represent that critical link between organization and customer, believe they are being measured by statistics. They worry constantly about whether management is going to tap them on the shoulder and discuss call length or after-call time. They feel the job is purely a statistical win or loss. Yet, equally often, they don’t know exactly which categories are being measured. In addition, they can’t recall exactly the last time they were presented with their statistics. Moreover, they can’t tell exactly with any confidence what their statistical objectives are.
If this sounds familiar, your organization is not alone. In fact, across the board, call center management realizes that statistics demonstrate clear patterns of who is doing well and what is working (and not working) in the call center. Yet there are so many statistics that agents are confused, and management does a poor job of helping agents find common ground.
So, what is the solution? What numbers are the right numbers to monitor for your situation? How can statistics become a necessary positive, not a necessary evil, for call center agents? How can management deliver benchmarking to agents in a simple and concise platform? Here are some tips:
Make Your Agents Aware of Their Numbers and the Center’s Goals: No kidding, I would venture to say more than 50 percent of the agents in any organization could not tell you their statistical goals. Nor do they regularly see their numbers. From day one, it is critical that management share with their agents every possible statistical objective available for interpretation as well as the goals that the call center management requires. Yes, you did do this during new hire training. So, do it again. Every quarter, make sure it is done. Agents will only remember what is reinforced. Most of the time, agents have no idea of what is required. Repetition works.
Present Statistics and Results to Agents All of the Time: Statistics mean very little unless they are utilized to drive renewed performance in the call center. Unlike other departments, which may not require hands-on assessments every week or every month, call center agents will get better at producing results if they are coached throughout the process. Therefore, it is incumbent upon call center supervisors to present statistics to agents every week or every month and benchmark agent results against their peers and their history.
The key is in displaying the statistics. Through one-on-one meetings at the beginning of each month or during follow-up assessments at the midpoint, agents must understand their results in order to be accountable for their performance. That means that supervisors should post statistics on a board at the midpoint of the call center or email statistics via a spreadsheet to agents on a regular basis. It does not matter how supervisors convey statistics, they just need to be presented.
Focus on Two Key Objectives for Inbound: The inbound call center can rely on dozens of pure statistical measurements in order to create call center performance. Depending on what types of calls are being received, such as sales or customer care, measurements will differ. With that said, two key objectives are universal across all inbound divisions.
- Number of calls answered: The primary goal for departments and agents is to answer calls. This, however, should be balanced with burning through calls and handling them poorly simply in order to answer more calls, so management must benchmark expectations. If the “calls answered” number should be eight an hour, than agents with four or fourteen answered calls in the hour need ongoing coaching. By identifying the “calls answered” objective, the entire division can also begin doing a better job of staffing and planning for future events.
- After-call wrap-up time: This category slips past some call center’s management. It is one of those few numbers that can be directly related to high abandoned rate, long wait times, and low numbers of calls answered. The time after a call is completed but before the agent becomes available to take another call is critical. If an agent is not trained properly and is slow on the order-entry side, this time goes up. If agents are proficient with the job and recognize what their goals are, this key measurement goes down. After-call wrap-up time is one statistic where human behavior plays a large role. This statistic can be measured and managed in order to improve the performance of the entire organization.
Focus on Two Key Objectives for Outbound: The outbound division is an entirely different breed than inbound. Very few statistical measurements blend between both divisions, although after-call wrap-up time is one measurement that does swing between inbound and outbound. Measurements for outbound divisions matter by project (such as a sales or survey program versus a follow-up call program). It also matters if technology is being utilized, such as a predictive dialer, or whether the outbound campaign is B2C (Business to Consumer) or B2B (Business to Business). B2C calls involve less talk time and more dials per hour than B2B calls. With that said, management should consider these two key objectives because they are universal across all outbound divisions.
- Number of dials: Outbound is very simple to measure. If call center agents stay on the telephone and dial, they will meet their goals and become successful. Literally, this is the secret ingredient to outbound performance: Stay on the telephone and dial. Because it is the overriding factor in execution, the number of dials per agent and as a division tends to be the number one statistic to measure. I am asked all the time, “How does outbound telemarketing work well for companies?” The answer is simple: Dial the telephone enough times per hour, and science dictates that success will follow.
- Talk time: Call center agents who know when to talk and when to move forward to the next call become very successful. Unlike inbound calls, where the caller is leading the way by initiating the conversation with the organization, outbound calling is initiated by the organization and therefore is led by the organization. Sensing when to ask questions, when to hang up the telephone, and when to call back at a better hour is critical to outbound dialing. Therefore, talk time is critical. Once call center management benchmarks an acceptable goal, and presents that goal to call center agents regularly, the agents will become capable of doing a better job managing their own talk time.
Conclusion: Statistics and measurements are critical because they help the call center management team coach agents to become better at their jobs. In turn, this sheds light on which minimum requirements need to be met in order to hit objectives. When agents know their numbers, understand their goals, and realize what is expected of them, short and long-term objectives become easy to manage and measure, results and culture improves, and training becomes successful.
Management must constantly evaluate their statistics and measurements. They should explain these goals to agents. They should display results via one-on-one and group settings. It’s the only way that statistics and measurements will drive call center performance.
Matt Harless is vice president of sales for PhoneWare, located in San Diego, CA. PhoneWare is a service agency with expertise in outbound and inbound sales and customer care campaigns. Contact Matt at 800-243-8329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[From Connection Magazine – March 2008]