In the last Indicators post, we discussed one of the most important operational indicators: Average Handle Time or AHT. In this issue, we continue with other operational indicators dealing with the efficiency of the center, i.e. “Service Level”, “Average Speed of Answer (ASA)” and “Occupancy Rate”. Although each indicator provides different information, they are inter-related and must be treated as a single group.
Service level, the most commonly used center metric – is defined as the percentage of contacts that are answered within a specified target time threshold. It is presented by two numbers such as “70 – 30”.
1) The first number indicates the percentage of the calls
2) The second number indicates the target time threshold in Seconds. The threshold is measured from the time that the calls arrive in the queue and does not include any time prior to that (e.g. time spent by the customers navigating the IVR menu).
A 70 – 30 service level, means 70% of calls were answered within 30 Seconds.
In practice, Call Centers set their overall target (both percentage of calls and the threshold) in conjunction with their Work Force Management (WFM) process in order to calculate their staff requirements and scheduling (more on that in later sections). A higher Service Level means faster service (answering the call) for customers. The actual Service Level – achieved percentages within that set threshold – is then reported on a daily/ weekly/ monthly and annual report.
Service Level can be manipulated by an unscrupulous manager through reducing or ‘choking’ the incoming calls and by reducing lines etc. Remember service level is a measure of the percentage of calls answered within a defined timeframe measured over a period of time, so you must ensure that the period of time over which service level is measured is reasonable. When working with service level as an average, the larger period of time over which it is measured the more periods that can fall below the target. For example, service level measured over a 24-hour period can be missed for periods during the day and made up for during the evening or overnight period. Measured over a week could mean missing the service level Monday through Wednesday and making up the service level over the balance of the week.
A third factor or metric is often added to Service Level: that is Abandoned Calls. Abandoned Calls can be defined as the percentage of callers who elect to hang up, or abandon while waiting in the queue before an agent answers the call. A service level of 80/20/<3 would be answering 80% of the incoming calls answered within 20 seconds, with less than 3% of calls being abandoned.
Average Speed of Answer (ASA)
While Service Level indicates the percentage of calls that were answered within the set threshold, it does not provide any information regarding the remaining calls! In practice, even when reaching the target Service Level, it is possible for a number of calls to spend a significant (and unacceptable) amount of time in the queue without impacting the Service Level. For this reason, it is important to look at this indicator that represents 100% of the callers. Average Speed of Answer (ASA) is the average wait time (in the queue) for all the calls answered, in seconds. Obviously, a lower Service Level (lower percentage of calls or longer threshold) produces a longer ASA. Combined with the Service Level, ASA provides a complete picture of the flow of the incoming calls. For example, an ASA of 18 seconds over 100% of calls received along with the Service Level attained of 80-85% (at 20 Seconds threshold) indicates a significant delay in answering calls beyond the first 20 seconds and therefore very poor service for the remaining 15-20% of customers). This is the effect of a long tail of outliers in any set of observations. This outlier effect on the customers’ view of the service is not intuitively obvious to many, both inside or outside the Contact Center industry.
Although not related to the customer wait time, Occupancy Rate is very much part of the WFM process and related to the Service Level. Occupancy Rate indicates the percentage of logged-in time that agents are occupied, performing call center activities (talking to customers and/or performing after-call tasks). The inverse (100% minus Occupancy Rate) is the amount of time that agents are waiting for calls to arrive, also called Availability or Idle time.
A higher Occupancy Rate indicates a more efficient Call Center in terms of WFM and labor costs, however, Occupancy Rates in the high 90% range also indicate extreme workload on the agents – leading to fatigue, poor performance and eventually high turnover. This can also lower Service Level causing longer wait time for customers.
A Low Occupancy Rate could indicate poor planning and/or scheduling (too many agents waiting for calls to arrive). Low occupancy can also lead to poor morale and agent dissatisfaction.
The art of the Work Force Management process is to create a balance between the Service Level and the Occupancy Rate. Practice shows that for most centers an Occupancy Rate of between 75 to 85 percent is optimal.
Target Service Level
Many Contact Center managers assume that a target Service Level of 80 -20 is the industry standard and therefore use that as their own target. While this may be the most common service level for customer service Call Centers, the fact is that there is no industry standard for the Service Level. Each center must set its’ own target primarily based on customer expectations as well as budgetary and staffing limitations. While there are centers that feel a 90 -10 service level (90 percent of callers are answered within 10 Seconds) is not good enough, there are other centers that can reach an excellent customer satisfaction with 80 – 30 or even 70 – 30, although setting the threshold target beyond 30 seconds is not recommended. Keep in mind that this is time in the queue only and a customer may have already spent additional time in the IVR.
Industries with Higher Service Level Standards
Centers such as 911 or emergency set their standards as 100 – 3. If you are calling with an emergency then that level of service is appropriate.
Similarly, technical support centers often have target service level wait times of 3 to 5 minutes for free support. Once again, this is appropriate.
Each center must define what is appropriate for their center and their customers. Your service level targets also have to be reasonable. There is no sense setting a target that is clearly not achievable. Targets must be reasonable and when they are not met the center manager must report on why the targets were not met!
Work Force Management (WFM)
We need to understand how these indicators are used in conjunction with the WFM process. In brief, WFM is a series of activities related to forecasting call/contact volumes -scheduling required and appropriate staff.
Part of this process involves using Erlang formulas to calculate the required number of staff for a given forecasted call volume. The main equation (Erlang “C”) has 4 variables;
1) Call Volume,2) AHT (total of Average Talk Time and After Call Work)
3) Target Service Level
4) number of Agents
The equation requires 3 out of 4 specific inputs while calculating the 4th one. A user provides volume based on forecasting, AHT based on history and target Service Level based on the center’s long-term strategy, to calculate the required number of agents for any given staffing period. If, the number of staff is fixed (or has a limited range) the equation can be used to calculate the potential for the Service Level.
Erlang “C” Equation can also provide theoretical ASA and Occupancy Rate based on the provided inputs. Using a simple Erlang Calculator, one can experiment in determining what should be the appropriate target Service Level.
But, WFM is more than simply employing Erlang to determine your agents for a day-part. You must also schedule lunches, breaks, scheduled training, and vacations, and deal with the 2-3% of staff that will not show up for their shift. If you do not account for all of the above in your schedule then you will not have the correct number of agents available when the forecasted calls are received and the center will miss the service level target.
Improving Operational Results
How does a center improve results as they relate to the Service Level? The most effective approach is a robust WFM process. A competent WFM approach can provide the best and most achievable solution for the forecasted call volume. A well-developed schedule ensures the adequate number of agents are available for any given period matching the requirements for achieving the target Service Level. That said, we must realize that nothing within a scheduling process can compensate for poor forecasting/planning or unrealistic AHT or Service Level expectations!
While a detailed schedule relies on an accurate forecast to deliver the number of calls, it is up to the agents and management to follow the schedule and be available for those incoming calls as predicted. Hence the emphasis on “Adherence” to schedule but that is another story altogether.
Lastly, even with a great forecast and schedule, Call Centers must be capable of tactical adjustments to their operations during the day as the incoming call pattern for the day unfolds. An experienced WFM manager with a focus on “Intra-Day” adjustments can significantly and positively influence the final outcome for the Service Level and the Occupancy Rate.
A little-known tip is to use the doubling point to know when, where and what adjustments to make. This is the point of any day where half the calls have arrived. This is derived historical norms for each day of the week. What point of each day has half the volume arrived? Are there the right agents doing the right activities? What adjustments can the center management make?
Service Level, ASA and Occupancy Rate all provide a view of how efficiently a center is operating. While Service Level and ASA focus on the wait times for the customers, Occupancy Rate is an indication of the wait time for the agents.An experienced WFM manager or Contact Center manager can provide a balance between needs of the customers (i.e. better Service Level) and needs of the organization (i.e. higher Occupancy Rate) while staying within the boundaries of the center’s limitations such as operating budget and resources.
In the next issue, we will discuss the financial indicators such as Cost per Call (or Cost per Minute) and overall operating expenses.
This content was originally created in 2010 and was updated in 2018
Customer Experience and Contact Center consulting firm, The Taylor Reach Group, Inc., is designing an Agent On-Boarding Training Curriculum.
TORONTO (PRWEB)March 13, 2018
The Taylor Reach Group, Inc., a globally acknowledged and leading Contact Center and Customer Engagement consulting agency, announced today that they have secured a Contact Center Agent Training Re-Design agreement with one of Canada’s largest, licensed Medical Marijuana Producers.
The consulting firm will review and revise the client’s Contact Center agent training program to ensure that the Agent Curriculum delivers knowledgeable and skilled agents, improves agent retention, agent recall, FCR, CSAT, and NPS while reducing agent training time, speed to competency and AHT.
“There’s no denying that frontline agents are the biggest asset in any Contact Center in addition to being the largest expense. Retaining a qualified staff has a substantial impact on bottom-line operations, customer experience and quality of service”, according to Colin Taylor, CEO of The Taylor Reach Group, Inc. “Effective agent training programs ensure your frontline staff is well-prepared to meet increasing customer expectations. Additionally, this will support increased customer satisfaction as well as employee engagement and satisfaction”, continued Taylor.
The advisory firm will be implementing an Agent Training Program that will subsequently reduce operational expenses while improving overall service quality in the Medical Marijuana’s Contact Center.
Taylor Reach Group has reimaged and redesigned numerous Agent Onboarding Training programs for clients of all sizes, across all verticals. Taylor said, “Today, successful training requires a multi-modal approach, grounded in neuroscience and adult learning techniques. We are confident that our experience and methodologies on Contact Center agent training and development, will reflect happier and more engaged agents in our the client’s Contact Center.”
About The Taylor Reach Group, Inc.,
Taylor Reach Group is an international Contact Center and Customer Experience (CX) consulting firm that places an emphasis on people, process, technology and methodology to transform and optimize Contact Center operations. Taylor Reach works with Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, not for profits and government organizations to reimagine the call or Contact Center and support its evolution into a strategic business asset. Today, there are 14,000+ agent desktops that employ Taylor Reach designed CX and Contact Center models. To learn more visit https://www.thetaylorreachgroup.com
Media contact: Sarah Hill – Stapley. Email: email@example.com or call 1-866-334-373. Ext. 112
Occupancy Definition: The percentage of your agent’s logged-in time spent in direct contact with a customer or in activities directly following and related to that contact (e.g. After Call Work).
Calculation: Total Contact Time (Talk Time + After Call Work) /Total Logged-in Time
The equation can be applied for any period of time (day, week, month, etc.) for an individual or any group of agents
Example: An agent’s shift is from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm (8 hours) where she has 30 minutes for lunch and 2- 15 minutes break (7 hours or 420 minutes logged-in). During this time the agent handles 150 calls which take two minutes each (AHT = 2 minutes) for a total of 300 minutes. The occupancy for this agent is calculated as (300/420) x 100 = 71.4%.
Let’s say this agent is in coaching for 60 minutes during her shift (Aux for 60 minutes, logged-in for 360 minutes). In this case, her occupancy is calculated as (300/360) x 100 = 83.3%.
Goals for Optimal Occupancy
The optimum occupancy percentage varies by the type of business and by the customer and employee experience goals of the organization. Occupancy that’s too high means that agents are busy and your callers have to wait for an available agent. This also can lead to higher employee attrition (burn out) or agents trying to create artificial free time (expending too much time for ACW or their breaks). But occupancy that’s too low means higher staffing costs (your agents are waiting for the caller). If you’re looking for extremely high Service Levels and very low Average Speed of Answer, you’ll need to run a lower Occupancy rate, to ensure your agents are ready for the next contact. Keep in mind that smaller contact centers have lower occupancy than a larger centers targeting the same Service Level. The larger the center, the easier it is to answer calls efficiently.
Play With Occupancy Specific to Your Organizational Goals
Experimenting with Occupancy can show you the sweet spot for your organization.
Major Financial Institution Upgrading CX and Contact Center Technology with Consultancy Advice via The Taylor Reach Group, Inc.
TORONTO (PRWEB) March 07, 2018
Vendor agnostic, Customer Experience (CX) and Contact Center consulting firm, The Taylor Reach Group, Inc. (TRG), today announced they will be assisting one of the largest financial institutions in Western Canada with their technology acquisition process.
Taylor Reach will assist the financial institution in analyzing the many, varied and complex Contact Center technologies to ensure that the technology selected will optimize customer experience while being easily integrated with the financial firm’s current technologies.
CEO, Colin Taylor, says, “Our technology acquisition program will transform our client’s customer experience and customer satisfaction delivered through their Contact Center. The technology solution will not only meet their organizational needs for today but also proof the center for the future.”
Taylor Reach principals have assisted hundreds of organizations in assessing their technology and telephony needs from a vendor-agnostic stand-point. The consulting firm has helped companies across various verticals, to source telephony platforms, IVR platforms and services, workforce management, email management, chat management, SMS and CRM solutions.
“As consultants, the only organization paying us should be our clients. We recommend the best solutions for our clients and their unique requirements – one size does not fit all. Deep industry connections and our on-going vendor education program ensures Taylor Reach remains current on CX and Contact Center technology innovations and approaching changes.” said Taylor. “Being vendor- agnostic, our focus lies solely on identifying, sourcing and acquiring solutions to meet our client’s needs and requirements. Our technology acquisition projects are unique and based on our clients’ functional, operational and financial objectives.”
About The Taylor Reach Group, Inc.,
The Taylor Reach Group, Inc., established in 2003, provides consulting and advisory services related to customer experience interactions – Contact Centers, Technological Support, Revenue Generation etc. Serving Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and government organizations, Taylor Reach works with clients across all verticals, has completed numerous projects on three continents and won 30+ awards for operational excellence. Today, there are 15,000+ agent desktops that employ Taylor Reach designed CX and Contact Center models. Visit www.thetaylorreachgroup.com for more information.
“What you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Do as I say, not as I do.” Nobody says it aloud. But it’s illustrated every day when people give rules and advice to others that they don’t follow themselves. New supervisors can be especially prone to this, caught up as they are in their newfound success and power with shiny titles and salaries to go with them. Some now see themselves as too important to worry about the rules that used to apply. They’ve waited months or years to put those expectations behind them, to show everybody how the supervisor job should be done and to enjoy the perks.
Start times and break times are more fluid now, so there’s no such thing as being late, right? Time spent talking to co-workers is now part of the job, so if there’s a bit of extra time spent visiting, what’s the harm? Frontline people have statistics to meet, but not supervisors—they’re “management” now, right? The resulting low morale and poor performance on these supervisors’ teams should come as no surprise.
“The true measure of Leadership is Influence – Nothing More, Nothing Less.”
– John C. Maxwell
John C. Maxwell says, “True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that cannot be mandated. It must be earned.”
How do we help our supervisors earn influence with their teams?
First, we need to be thoughtful about the people we promote into leadership positions. Why does the candidate want to be a supervisor? If it’s all about money and better hours, we need to move on to the next candidate. We’re looking for people who truly want to make things better for the organization and their team. Interview questions need to focus more on personal motivation than on technical skills.
When we provide small opportunities for interested front-line associates to gain an understanding of the supervisor job before they apply, they can learn a lot, and so can we. An on-going training program for prospective supervisors creates a greater understanding of what the job entails. Job shadowing shows interested candidates that the supervisor position isn’t all fun and games. I’ve seen potential supervisors weed themselves out of the candidate pool after just a few hours of working alongside a current supervisor, having discovered they aren’t cut out for the responsibilities of the position.
Supervisor training is equally critical. The skills to reach every person on the team, to treat all fairly and still understand the potential of each one, do not come naturally to a new supervisor: they need to learn and be nurtured. The company’s vision, values and code of ethics must be made to come alive, and every new supervisor needs to know how to apply and explain them. We want them acting like owners in the company, and we have to teach them how. We need to help supervisors see their role on the leadership team as one of responsibility and service, not of perks and privilege.
“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
The Example Starts at the Top
Most important is the example set throughout the organization. If an atmosphere of privilege exudes from the CEO’s ivory tower, don’t expect stellar servant leadership from the newest members of the leadership team. Front-line supervisors are going to emulate what they see as success.
Front-line associates want supervisors who understand and appreciate what they do. Earl Weaver never played in baseball’s Major Leagues, although he managed the Baltimore Orioles for 17 years. He expressed his management theory as follows:
“A manager should stay as far away as possible from his players. I don’t know if I said ten words to (Hall of Famer) Frank Robinson while he played for me.”
It’s said that one of his players, when asked what he wanted to give Earl for an upcoming birthday, replied, “A day of playing in the Major Leagues, so he’ll understand it’s not as easy as he thinks it is.” Your front-line people aren’t making Major League Baseball money, but they too want their supervisors to understand how hard their jobs are.
That certainly doesn’t mean you want your supervisors doing front-line work all the time. That’s not why you promoted them. But it does mean you want them to be able to step in when the time is right. I’ve seen supervisors earn major points from their team members by taking customer service phone calls for as little as 15 minutes at a time.
Trust is the Key
Trust is the cornerstone of all good working relationships. Morale and productivity are improved when team members feel respected and appreciated when they’re treated fairly and helped to reach their potential.But how do you know how they feel? You have to ask, and you have to have enough trust built up to get a straight answer.
To build that trust, start by walking around and chatting with people. Ask them how things are going and what’s getting in their way. What’s the biggest issue they ran into today? What’s the first thing they’d change if they had your job? When you hear about something actionable, fix it, and give credit to the front-line person who mentioned it first. If you look into something that can’t be fixed, follow up and tell people why. Open-minded listening, with action as appropriate, will build trust and improve processes.
If a supervisor or manager isn’t living the values of the organization, you want to know. Being available and being trusted means you’ll hear when there are issues, allowing you to take action early. I’ve seen many organizations where top leaders had nothing to do with the front-line beyond paying lip service to “our most important asset.” When a supervisor or manager failed to live the organization’s values, nobody spoke up until serious damage is done. Had a trusting relationship existed between all levels of management and the front-line, issues would have surfaced much earlier, avoiding morale issues, productivity drains, complaints and even lawsuits.
If you want supervisors who set a good example, do the following:
Promote the right people
Train them well
Set a good example at all levels
Stay tuned in to front-line associates
The Taylor Reach Group can help you with Supervisor Development and Training, Front-Line Engagement, Management Coaching and much more—contact us today!
Quality Assurance (QA) is a metric with nearly as many variations as there are companies in the world. Every company has an idea of what they want quality to look like, and each creates a system they believe will bring them to that standard of quality. It’s easy when setting up a QA system to make it too complicated. Everyone involved has something they think is critical to the contact. When all those things end up in one form, they create a jumble of expectations that frustrate agents and supervisors alike.
3 Key Factors for Successful Quality Assurance
1) Simplicity is Paramount
The first key with Quality Assurance is simplicity. How do you want your customers to feel about dealing with you? Listen to some calls or read some emails and chats that you believe embody the customer experience you want. Boil each one down to its essence. What do they have in common? How did it happen? That’s what you want to replicate. Your QA plan should measure each contact against these. Where did they match up? What are the gaps? What actionable steps can be taken to make each contact more like these?
2) Feedback is Actionable
The second key is feedback. How your supervisors and QA staff handle the feedback from the monitoring makes all the difference in how it’s received and put into practice. You’ve created a simple form that agents and supervisors understand. It shows the gaps between the current contact and the ideal contact. It’s actionable. Feedback has to make the desired action clear. A “drive-by” where the form is dropped on the agent’s desk while they’re involved with another customer is not feedback. It’s the supervisor just checking a box, and it’s not moving your company and its quality in the right direction.
3) Monitored and Recorded Contacts for Coaching
Contacts can be monitored live or recorded. Either way, being able to share the recording during the coaching can be useful. I once had an agent swear his call was not as bad as the resulting QA score reflected. I told him to bring the recording in and play it for me. We listened together for less than 30 seconds before he shamefacedly said, “Never mind, I see it now.” We then had a good conversation about opportunities for improvement.
What to Measure
In most cases we design and measure the quality against a predefined set of standards. In this way we can make sure agents are following the right processes and procedures. We can make sure all the rules were followed and the customers were given the correct information (or if there is an issue, what training and coaching is required). But this approach ignores the customer point of view. Were they satisfied with the outcome of the contact? Was the experience effortless for them? Customers may not be familiar with the internal requirements of a contact, but they are the ultimate judges when it comes to rating their experience with the quality of the contact. Your QA program must consider the customer’s point of view.
Today’s best practice QA programs consist of two parts: a) Compliance –an internal measurement against requirements; and b) Customer Feedback – an external measurement based on customer experience with the agent and ultimately with the center.
Quality Assurance is an important part of operating and improving any contact center. A poorly designed or executed QA program can become more of a liability than an asset. Following these guidelines will help your QA program accomplish your goals and improve service in all customer-facing channels in your center.
You know how time moves faster when holidays are coming up, and you have a huge to-do list? It was that time for me about 15 years ago when I realized I hadn’t figured out the holiday parade theme for my Contact Center. In our small city in the hills of West Virginia, we were the largest private employer. Our participation in the parade, which took place around Thanksgiving, was nearly mandatory.
Looking for a different way to gather our employees’ ideas on the subject, I put up, in the main hallway, the largest piece of poster board I could find, with the question:
What do you want our parade theme to be?
I received some good answers, we chose one of them, and many of our 600 employees participated enthusiastically.
But in addition to parade ideas, I received something I hadn’t expected. A few people had thoughts on things they’d like changed, and they wrote them anonymously on my holiday poster board. I had a robust open-door policy, and I was out on the Contact Center floor visiting with people every day, so why were they writing on the board?
It seemed there was an appeal to making suggestions through anonymous graffiti. So I answered them on that same board so everyone could see my replies.
Then I put up a new poster board with this sign:
Changes you’d like to see?
Please write them here and I’ll respond.
No need to sign your name.
Please be respectful.
This was the beginning of a tradition I carried on throughout my career. Each time I would explain it to a new set of supervisors and managers, they’d be appalled. What was I thinking, asking for a free-for-all of feedback? “Everybody is saying these things in the break room,” I told them, “Now they can say them to us.”
And say them they did! I got suggestions for cleaning and painting and lunch vendors. I got ideas that saved the company money. I got complaints about pay or other departments not pulling their weight. Every day, sometimes several times a day, I’d read and respond on that same board for all to read. Frontline people loved it. More than once when I left a center for a new one, I’d have someone say, “You need to take Peg’s Page to your new place—it’s great!”
These Japanese characters stand for Kai and Zen, meaning Change and Good. Kaizen was introduced to the West by Masaaki Imai in the mid-1980s. The Kaizen Institute (ca.kaizen.com) says:
One of the most notable features of kaizen is that big results come from many small changes accumulated over time. However, this has been misunderstood to mean that kaizen equals small changes. In fact, kaizen means everyone involved in making improvements.
Masaaki Imai says “Kaizen means ongoing improvement involving everybody, without spending much money.”
Peg’s Page was kaizen at its most basic: Frontline people articulating obstacles to optimal employee engagement and customer experience, and senior leaders removing those barriers. Over the years, the firm saved many thousands of dollars as a result of improvements originated on Peg’s Page. Even ideas without direct payback had benefits, in better morale, more effortless customer experience, a more comfortable place to work.
Always Go to the Source
In later years, Peg’s Page moved into the 21st Century, and the comments and responses were available online for all to read. But I never gave up getting the original suggestions on paper and responding to them there. If people want to be anonymous, there’s nothing like a blank sheet of paper with a marker attached. Sometimes my response was just “Come see me please” because the issue needed a face-to-face discussion. Often I was answering a question from one that was in the heads of many. Always I was showing the front-line people that they mattered.
The Peg’s Page feedback loop led to kaizen: many small changes accumulated over time. It did this by getting feedback directly from those most involved and affected. Always go to the source.
At The Taylor Reach Group, we have years of experience going to the source to improve employee engagement, customer experience, and process. Please contact us to learn more!
CX and Contact Center Consulting firm working with major retailer to establish the most cost-effective, customer experience focused operational model for the Contact Center.
TORONTO (PRWEB) January 16, 2018
The Taylor Reach Group, Inc. a globally recognized CX and Contact Center consulting firm, announced today that they are working with a major North American retailer to redesign their Contact Center operating model.
Taylor Reach will assist the retailer in analyzing operation models and the costs and benefits of each model. With a model selected, Taylor Reach will then focus on populating the data into the model to provide an accurate Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). The revised Contact Center model will allow the retailer to implement the new model with the costs to the organization to be known and recognized.
“To deliver great service, you must first have a great service delivery model. We have a thorough comprehension and understanding in the Contact Center arena, backed by decades of experience establishing, operating and developing cost-effective Contact Center model strategies – whether it be inbound, outbound, outsourcing, offshoring, nearshoring home sourcing or a combination of these option” said CEO and Chief Chaos Officer of Taylor Reach Group, Colin Taylor. He expanded, “We’re looking forward to working with our client to establish the most cost-effective means of operation for their Contact Center, while still placing an importance on our client’s organizational goals, objectives and of course, the Customer Experience delivered through their Contact Center operations.”
About Taylor Reach Group
Established in 2003, Taylor Reach Group is an internationally acknowledged and leading CX and Contact Center consulting firm. Having assisted hundreds of organizations, of all sizes, across all verticals, TRG ensures their clients’ Contact Center(s) achieve their Contact Center, Customer Experience, and operational objectives. The firm specializes in sourcing strategies, customer experience, customer service/support, and Contact Center Assessments. For more information, visit https://www.thetaylorreachgroup.com
The Contact Center outsourcing industry is a significant piece of the customer service and support landscape. The US market size was estimated by the Everest Group at between $78 and $81 billion dollars annually. Each day millions of calls, emails, chats, SMS messages and social media interactions are handled by Contact Center agents employed by these Contact Center Outsourcing (CCO) firms representing thousands of organizations and brands.
The Status Quo
The operating model for these CCO firms is well established for many years. It is primarily based on labor arbitrage. They source staff, train the staff and assign staff to support clients. The staff labor is resold either on a Full-Time Equivalent (FTE), per hour or per minute basis.
Volatility in the form of volumes spikes, seasonality or increased handle time (AHT) is the enemy. The CCO’s employ forecasts which are matched to the contractual KPI’s, most commonly, Service Level (the percentage of contacts answered within a specified time-period, which often varies by channel), Average Handle Time and Abandon rate.
The contractual agreement between the CCO and the client sets out the parameters and obligations of the CCO in relation to this forecast. The obligations commonly include a responsibility of the CCO to achieve the contractual KPI’s on any volume between 90 – 110% of the forecast volume. On the client-side, the agreements release the vendor from their contractual KPI’s if the volumes on any given day or specified period, are outside of this 90 – 110% window. There are similar terms related to AHT. If the client does anything such as a new website, new invoice design, or new product introduction where it can reasonably be assumed will increase call length, is similarly exempted from the governing KPI’s. Ramp up periods also include exemptions as new staff take time to progress up the learning curve before they become proficient.
The Prophet of Forecasting versus Forecasting Profit
The forecasting process allows the CCO to identify and confirm the number of staff resources required to meet the expected demand, as shown in the forecast. The forecasting process for any given month or period often starts 90 days in advance with the client providing a volume forecast. The CCO then responds with their staffing estimate at 60 days out. There may be some back and forth and ultimately the forecast is ‘locked’ at 45 days in advance to the start of the month in question.
This locked forecast process works very well for CCO’s and for many clients where the volumes are consistent and stable. Organizations with high volatility in contact volumes or where call volume is driven by marketing activities such as flash sales, find this model less than ideal. In one case, a Taylor Reach client only had two days in a 90-day period where the KPI’s guarantees were in force. The volume in the other 88 days was outside of the 90 – 110% range and as such the CCO received a proverbial ‘get out of jail free card’ on attainment of the KPI’s.
This tried and true model is in place today with hundreds of CCO’s serving thousands of companies and brands. So, what is wrong with this model? Well, nothing really as long as the client and the CCO both understand the implications of the locked forecast and exemptions.
The ‘fly in the ointment’ is increasingly becoming the underlying ‘contractual metrics’. The most common metrics included in CCO agreements are all quantitative: Service Level, AHT, abandon rate etc. None of these metrics speak to the quality of the interaction. Over the past decade, there has been a significant increase in client organizations focusing on the quality of the interaction and the satisfaction of the customer or prospect with their interactions via the Contact Center. Clients are seeking contractual metrics focused on Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), Net Promoter Score (NPS) and First Contact Resolution (FCR). Adopting these qualitative metrics, however, represents a significant challenge for the CCO’s.
The traditional approach of matching labor to quantitative metrics with the protection of the exemption regime has worked well for CCO’s. The logic and math are straightforward, tried and true, if not elegant. Replacing the quantitative metrics with qualitative ones is a quantum shift for CCO’s. We all know intuitively that there is a relationship between hiring, training, coaching and systems and the resultant quality, however defined. Exactly what the relationship is between each of the inputs are to the satisfaction or resolution performance is however unknown. The implications and the questions they pose are daunting. What do we need to do to achieve a 92% FCR? How do we ensure that CSAT stays above 87%? This is not a straightforward exercise.
“You can have any color as long as it’s black”
Clients want qualitative metrics and KPI’s. Some CCO’s have responded with limited offerings, such as internal quality scores, NPS, FCR and CSAT metrics that are subordinate to the quantitative KPI’s. One or more of these ‘new’ metrics can be rolled up under the heading of ‘Risk/Reward’. Unfortunately, the way CCO’s tend to deal with this challenge is reminiscent of Henry Ford’s famous quote, regarding customer choice and his vehicles, “You can have any color as long as it’s black”.
To better understand these second-tier metrics, let’s examine each one. Internal quality has been likened to leaving the ‘fox in charge of the hen house’. Now, this isn’t intended to disparage any CCO or their internal quality teams, but it must be acknowledged that there is an inherent conflict of interest in reporting on your own quality when a potential penalty or bonus may be the result.
In practice, no malicious actions need to be taken, as the operational challenges are often more than enough to severely limit any value from this exercise. Consider the following, first, CCO’s ask clients for quality monitoring forms and many clients do not have one of these. So, a default vendor provided form is employed. Does this really assess the key elements and ‘moments of truth’ important to the client and their customers? Well, that is an open question. The CCO’s are the experts after all, aren’t they?
Second, no quality program can be meaningful without alignment between the assessors, both within the organization and outside. Internally the quality assessors can calibrate between themselves. But calibrating with the client is much more challenging. Call recordings may need to be shared, each must be reviewed, and each must be scored against the agreed to criteria. An assessor may need to listen to each call 2 or 3 times, in the course of the evaluation. The CCO quality team and/or its leadership and the client representatives must then get together, review and discuss each of the calls and the evaluations awarded.
These discussions can often devolve into discussions about why something was awarded a 6 versus a 7 or why it is fully compliant and not partially compliant. The sample size of all contacts assessed is infinitesimally small (less than 1% of agent contacts). The calibrated calls become a sample of this small sample. Of course, every time someone on the CCO or client team leaves or moves onto another role, the calibration process must be reset. Similarly, CCO initiatives to capture CSAT (via post-call surveys), NPS or FCR, tend to fall under a limited risk/reward model. These metrics are not core, as with the quantitative ones, they are tier two metrics.
When Risk-Reward is no Risk and All Reward
Risk/Reward structures feel like an old Miller Lite Beer ad, ‘tastes great, tastes less filling’. They appear satisfying on the surface, but the deeper you delve the less value they deliver. To understand this ‘false positive’ better, let’s look at how CCO’s evaluate risk/reward models.
The CCO is focused on known and quantifiable revenues. A risk/reward model introduces a degree of ambiguity that can make the best vendor CFO uncomfortable. To mitigate this situation the CCO will assume that they pay 100% of all penalties 100% of the time. The net result is that the base CCO compensation rates will be based on being penalized 100% of the time. This means a higher base cost to the client and an ironic upside for the CCO if they happen to achieve the reward in any given period.
The preceding has attempted to illuminate the challenges with the prevailing contracting model employed by CCO’s. The next post in this series will address the options available to clients who wish to focus on qualitative measures and contractual terms that improve the customer satisfaction, FCR and NPS scores.
1)https://www.everestgrp.com/2016-07-contact-center-outsourcing-annual-report-2016-the-rise-of-digital-contact-centers-clear-evidence-that-real-change-is-underway-market-insights-21658.html2)Per engaged minute serving a customer.
Outsourcing your Contact Center can be a scary proposition. You feel like you’re losing control. Whether you’ve been providing great service in-house or you’re making outsourcing part of your initial business plan, you can’t afford to let service slip. You’re trusting somebody else with your customers? What are you thinking?
Don’t panic. Your new outsourcer can be a true partner in your business and as invested in the satisfaction of your customers as you are. It’s a question of setting them up for success.
1) Make the right choice: The first step, choose your new outsourcer carefully. Do they have experience in a business similar to your own? Ask for references, and check them carefully. Visit the center where your work will be done. Don’t let the management staff keep you in a conference room suffering death by PowerPoint. Spend time on the floor, sitting among the front-line staff. Sit side-by-side with agents, and listen to the conversation around them. Join a training class and watch the interaction. Wander through the break room and out to the smoking area. You can learn more in 15 minutes in the smoking area than you can in a full day in the conference room. Immerse yourself in the center for a day, and you’ll know if the culture is a good fit.
If your work will be done in several centers, visit as many as you can. There can be huge differences in centers within the same company, based on local leadership and available workforce. When the time comes, negotiate fairly on pricing. Bottom of the barrel pricing can lead to bottom of the barrel service. Remember, you want your outsourcer to be a partner, with both of you succeeding.
2) Plan carefully: Once the decision is made, it’s time to begin planning. Assign a project manager to create a meticulously detailed timeline and to meet at least weekly with the appropriate partner managers. Timelines must be updated every time there’s a change. Project plans must clearly show dependencies and must make it obvious when a deadline is in jeopardy. You and your senior team need a dashboard you can see at any time that shows whether the plan is on track.
3) Provide resources: Solid processes and a good knowledge management system are critical to the success of your new partner. If you’re outsourcing work that’s been done by experienced people, you may find that many processes are in their heads rather than in the system. That knowledge must be clearly documented before it can be transferred. Start by defining all the company jargon that “everybody” understands. This is a good time to take a close look at the processes themselves. Are they streamlined? Do they make sense? Do they all have to be done at all? Are they all documented, into flow charts identifying the process owner and last review date? Is there an inventory of all processes? Approval systems, levels of credit authority, requiring returns of low-priced items, all these things and much more may have bureaucracy and waste built into them. Now’s the time to map processes and ensure they’re effective. A solid, searchable knowledge management system keeps everyone informed and allows regular updating. If you must use paper, you’ll need to be vigilant about updates and create a fool-proof system for ensuring everyone discards the old information and replaces it with new.
4) Training is the foundation: The initial training must be done by your experienced trainers, with full participation of the partner trainers. The partner trainers then take over, with your trainers supervising. Only when your trainers certify their knowledge can the partners train on their own. You’ll want regular updates each time new hires are brought into your program: how many start, how are their assessments, how many finish, and how are they doing in their initial time on the floor? Don’t skimp on training—the price in customer satisfaction can be very high.
5) Support in production: Whether new hires are taking calls, chatting, handling emails and texts or making outbound contacts, they need support once they “go live” on your work. Your experienced agents or trainers are the best choice for this, rather than the partner’s staff, as your people have lived through the odd contacts and once-in-a-blue-moon situations. Depending on the complexity of your work, this might continue for several weeks. In person, support is best, but a temporary virtual help desk can also be effective.
6) Calibrate on quality: You know what your customers need, and your quality system should reflect that knowledge. The partner’s generic quality monitoring is not enough—they need to be following your specifications. Calibration calls help keep everyone aligned. Calibration can be done a number of ways. One of the best is to have everyone listen to a recent interaction and score it separately, then discuss and agree on the correct scoring in a conference call. Separate from calibration, the partner should be regularly monitoring each individual for quality, according to your standards. And you should be able to look or listen in whenever you like. The partner should provide you with a roster that is updated each time someone is added to or leaves the team. Make it a point to listen or look in on each person on the roster. You and the partner need an understanding of how quality concerns are handled, with progressive coaching that could culminate in a person being removed from your program if improvements are not made.
7) Insist on stellar reporting: You’re entrusting your customers to your outsourcing partner, and you always need to know what level of success is being achieved. Wait times, first call resolution, quality, hold times, customer satisfaction scores, and many more key performance indicators may be available for measurement. Focus on those that matter to your customers and make sure you can monitor those in real time. Depending on their operating systems, ask for direct access to your data on the ACD or other systems so that you can do your own custom reports as needed.
8) Create consistent points of contact: You and your partner need to have consistent points of contact. If you need information, want to share updates or have a concern, you don’t want to call a supervisor queue and be handed off five times before you get to the right person. And if your partner needs help, you want to provide that help quickly and accurately.
9) Share the fun: If some work is done in your in-house locations and some is done at your outsourced partner’s, be sure to include both in fun activities like contests, T-shirt giveaways and the like. Walls between your people and your partner’s people don’t serve your customers well, and nothing builds a wall faster than one group feeling left out.
10) Trust but verify: Audit visits that look at front-line performance, training, quality, and reporting are the best way to ensure you and your partner are on the same page. The same sort of interaction as you did initially, visiting with front-line associates, will give you the confidence that your partnership is still on track and serving your customers in the best way possible.
Done correctly, outsourcing can provide savings and staffing flexibility. The Taylor Reach Group can help you make the decision on outsourcing, find the right partner, manage the transition, document and streamline processes, monitor quality, create reporting, field audit teams and much more. Contact us today to start the conversation.
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