Boost contact center service without adding agents

Contact center service is critical to customer experience, so companies need to ensure their call center agents have the right tools and techniques for the job. Here's how.

There are numerous ways to improve contact center service without hiring additional agents. The key is a multifaceted...

approach that supports a strong customer experience and allows companies to optimize their cost structure.

High costs of contact centers create a large obstacle to optimization. Additionally, there is the challenge of finding call center -- or contact center -- agents who have the right skills and characteristics for this role.

Three ways to reduce the need for more agents include reducing call center volume, increasing the use of call center agents and boosting productivity.

How to reduce customer requests

There are a number of tactics to reduce the number of requests that contact center agents must be able to handle, including ensuring that customers are interacting because they want new services, not because they have problems with existing ones; ensuring that customer issues are resolved during the initial contact; and giving customers a way to serve themselves.

Customers usually do not reach out to an organization to give positive feedback on products and services; most reach out because they have a problem. Determining the root cause of customer problems and setting out to prevent them in the first place can reduce contact center call volume. Some questions to ask as part of the initiative include the following:

  • Are your products easy to use?
  • Are instructions clear?
  • Do billing statements make sense?
Organizations must understand where agent pain points exist and address them to help agents resolve customer issues quickly and effectively.

The second way to reduce contact volume is to ensure-first call resolution -- which also drives customer satisfaction

It is important to find out why customers have to reach out to the organization multiple times to resolve an issue. This information allows companies to fix processes and practices that prevent agents from resolving a customer issue during an initial contact. Some questions to ask include:

  • Are your agents empowered to make decisions?
  • Do your policies and procedures drive customers to contact you multiple times?
  • Are agents trained to resolve customer issues?

A third way to reduce contact volume is through customer self-service. Customers are comfortable using self-service to answer many of their questions. To maximize the use of self-service channels, they need to be easy to use and available for a broad base of questions across multiple channels. Some questions to ask about customer self-service include:

  • Are self-service channels easy to use and intuitive? 
  • Are there specific inquiries that can be better resolved in a self-service mode such as interactive voice response, website or a mobile site?

Improve contact center service agent utilization

According to sources like Contact Center 411, costs are the largest operating expense, accounting for up to 70% of annual expenses. Contact center managers can increase staff utilization by ensuring agents are scheduled in the most effective manner, when they are in demand and by utilizing creative scheduling techniques.

To do this, managers need to use a system that captures all types of work -- including phone, email and web chat. Spreadsheets may not provide the most efficient staffing and scheduling plans. An alternative is workforce management software, which allows organizations to optimize agent schedules across all communication channels. Many organizations utilize workforce management software solely for scheduling telephone agents, therefore missing a large part of their resource pool.

Providing creative schedules is another way to use workforce management tools. When supporting creative schedules, organizations need to make sure they have the appropriate policies and procedures, technology, and training and communication programs to support the agents who work creative schedules. Some examples of creative scheduling include alternatives to the standard nine-to-five shifts, the use of part-time staff and at-home agents.

Increase contact center agent productivity

Contact center agent productivity usually focuses on the reduction of average handle time (AHT). Strictly focusing on AHT can be dangerous because agents may feel pressure to rush customers off of a phone call. Instead, focus on surrogates of AHT to drive an improved customer experience and appropriate agent behavior.

One way to ensure agents provide good contact center service is to monitor calls and provide feedback on how well they controlled a conversation. In addition to ensuring that agents follow policy and procedure and provide an outstanding customer experience, it is also important to ensure agents control the flow of a phone call and keep the conversation on point.

Contact center managers should also monitor whether agents constantly place customers on hold to look up information. That is usually a symptom of training gaps, challenges searching for information or poor system design. 

Organizations must understand where agent pain points exist and address them to help agents resolve customer issues quickly and effectively.

Next Steps

Ten tips for contact center service leaders

Contact center management do's and don'ts

How to modernize your contact center

This was last published in June 2016

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