Learning Guide

Call Center Manager Learning Guide

This guide helps call center managers better understand the most critical issues in today's call centers -- from strategy to technology. The contemporary call center is more complex, but at the same time it is becoming a more strategic part of the enterprise. Therefore, today's call center managers have more to learn than ever before. Navigate through the sections of this guide to find exactly what you need for call center management, whether it's strategic advice, metrics information, performance management help or outsourcing calculations. The Call Center Manager Learning Guide offers advice, resources and call center management ideas on how to leverage technology and build strategies that will result in success.

Table of contents:


Call center management strategy

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Overview of call center software
Managing call center agents
Utilizing call center metrics
Call center outsourcing decisions
Case studies of call center best practices
More CRM learning tools

 

  Call center management strategy  

In this section, learn where to begin with designing call center management strategies and the most important things to consider during the planning stage. Find information about budgeting for the call center, designing a service-level agreement (SLA), measuring success and more. Once you've gathered some ideas for designing your call center strategy, move on to the next section of the Call Center Manager Learning Guide to learn more about call center technology.

Call center budget

Call center budgeting can vary greatly, depending on the internal accounting and organizational structure. There are several fundamental elements to consider first in terms of what costs are allocated to the center. Labor -- customer service representatives (CSRs) and call center supervisors -- is a given. These should be loaded costs, including all benefits. Then you need to consider technology, network, facilities, utilities, HR (e.g., training, recruiting), real estate and other overhead costs. Often there are chargebacks for technology, and sometimes other areas.

Once you know what elements are the responsibility of the center, then you can develop the budget line items in each of those areas, or determine the chargeback costs. There are tools, such as Primary Matters "The Guide", to help with financial analysis and budgeting.

While call centers were considered "cost centers" for many years because of the money they cost the organization, expert Donna Fluss believes that within five to 10 years, call centers will become one of the most important revenue-generating departments in most enterprises. In a recent column, Donna explained how some enterprises have begun to try to figure out how to improve their customer experience while keeping costs down. She claimed that the enabler will be analytical applications and the beneficiaries will be enterprises, their customers and even call center agents, whose jobs will become much more rewarding.

Preparing a service-level agreement (SLA)

Service-level agreements (SLAs) for the call center should include commitments for response, escalation and resolution time whenever possible, and should break down the different types of issues. Vendors often have categories predefined, such as major and minor outages. Some companies also break down internal issues to troubles (something isn't working) versus service (i.e., a new feature or capability, or a change). When preparing a call center SLA, include information on who to contact. Internal SLAs under support models should also include documentation and processes that clearly show responsibilities.

When setting call center targets for a service-level agreement, there are three key considerations:

1. You need to set call center targets based on many factors about your business -- goals, the products/services you offer and support, the call center role, budgets, staffing levels, caller tolerance for delays, competition, alternative channels, etc. The most important thing is to understand your customers, your market, your business goals and your resources.
2. You can consider some benchmark data or best practices data, available through Prosci, Benchmark Portal and other resources. I wouldn't let this dictate the right service level for your company, but it is another data point that can help your thinking.
3. You can do some modeling using Erlang tools to show the headcounts required for the volume of contacts you anticipate and the various service levels you might consider.

This combination of resources should help you hone in on the right service level for your business.

Planning for data security, disaster recovery

A recent survey in the U.K. found that 50% of organizations aren't doing enough to control the use of customer data in the call center, noted Richard Snow, vice president and research director with San Mateo, Calif.-based Ventana Research. Employees are unfamiliar with laws surrounding customer data or they believe that complex nondisclosure agreements are protection enough.

The first solution, Snow said, is better screening, followed by better processes and agent monitoring. Make it clear that protecting customer data is the responsibility of call center agents.

On the other hand, when it comes to disaster planning, a 2005 survey of 369 contact centers in 2005 from Dimension Data plc, a Hauppauge, N.Y.-based IT services firm, reported that North American operations rank as some of the least prepared in the world. Only 29% of North American centers have tested disaster recovery plans in place, compared with 45% of Asian contact centers and 49% of contact centers in Africa and the Middle East.

Dimension Data recommends four steps in disaster and recovery planning. First, an organization needs to understand the business impact of a contact center that isn't operating, whether it's for hours, days or weeks. It should then determine the areas in which it is vulnerable.

"What are the points of weakness?" Diemont said. "Patch management? Access control? Call routing? Go through a long list and see what you need."

The third step is to determine which option works best for the business, whether it's a standby remote site, an arrangement with offshore outsourcers or a load-sharing arrangement if the business has multiple sites. Finally, the plan needs to be reviewed and tested regularly.

Predicting call volume and call center staffing

Predicting contact center call volume can be difficult. According to Lori Bocklund, the best bet is to allow good flexibility in staffing initially, and I bet you will see a new pattern settle in fairly quickly that will then allow you to staff appropriately.

Erlang tools and modeling is at the heart of call center staffing -- determining the right number of employees for any given call center. The inputs you need are call volume, handle time and wrap-up time, and target service level. Then, using Erlang tools, you can calculate the number of call center agents needed to handle the offered workload while meeting your performance targets. That will tell you number of "butts in seats" for any given interval. Then you need to roster up to account for resources that won't be available for calls because they are on break, at lunch, in training, out sick, or otherwise unavailable. Your scheduled call center staff will be higher than the calculated number of people that need to be logged in and on calls, in wrap-up or available.

Measuring success and customer satisfaction

The increasing complexity of today's contact center isn't only changing the way that businesses interact with customers, it's also redefining the way that call centers themselves measure success.

All enterprises should use customer surveys, address the identified issues and share the results and benefits with customers and senior management. All surveying is valuable because it is the only way to determine what customers think about a company's performance. Companies can get excellent results to benchmark service from traditional surveying processes and tools, but real-time surveying takes the process one step further by empowering companies to respond almost immediately to issues impacting customers. This increases the benefits of surveying initiatives by giving companies critical, actionable information as quickly as possible.

Aspect Contact Center Satisfaction Index, released in December 2005 and conducted by Westford, Mass.-based Aspect Software Inc. and Leo J. Shapiro and Associates, a research firm and consultancy based in Chicago, said that customers preferred a technology that streamlines a connection to a human being rather than replacing it altogether. The disconnect between call center managers and customers was profound throughout the results. For example, call center managers place more weight on a consistent company image and providing follow-up to make sure an issue is resolved than customers do.

The appropriate productivity metrics for any call center should be based on its business strategy and drivers, and the functional responsibilities. So for example, if you're an insurance sales center, and are a company looking for significant growth, productivity metrics might focus on successful sales closure or upsell. If you're a service center handling claims, and your focus is on customer relationships to differentiate and build loyalty, your productivity measures would be different than a service center for a low-cost insurance provider. Call center metrics should be developed with a careful eye toward alignment with business goals, driving appropriate behavior, and ensuring a balance across efficiency, quality, financial, and other goals.

As call centers learn how to calculate customer satisfaction, they may see a drop in satisfaction levels. The Global Contact Center Benchmarking report found that customer satisfaction levels dropped from 82% in 2006 to 68% in 2007. However, that might be a good thing, according to Cara Diemont, editor of the report.

"We think it's not so much because customers are not happy, but because contact centers are doing a better job of measuring satisfaction."

Table of contents:


Call center management strategy
Overview of call center software
Managing call center agents
Utilizing call center metrics
Call center outsourcing decisions
Case studies of call center best practices
More CRM learning tools

This was first published in May 2007

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