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Article : Bridging the Gap: From Theory To Results In Call Center Efficiency

Many call centers face a deluge of information that can preclude steady, proactive management and decision-making. One solution is better data management and the automation of time-consuming manual processes through the appropriate application of technology. The results can include measurable increases in efficiency and cost savings.

Call Centers Today
Today's call center is all too often a harried environment. Constantly updated data streams in from all sides: hold times, average speed of answer figures, help desk messages, network updates, meeting reminders, sales figures, overall site and regional statistics, and more. Technology, which can do almost anything, gives us almost everything. Some of this information is important; some of it is irrelevant.

Much of it may only be useful to some people; while certain pieces of data could easily be important to all call center personnel. How do these people — agents, managers, floor supervisors, executives, help desk technicians and more — handle this flood of information?

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They handle it the only way they can: by constantly watching the numbers to pick out the critical data figures, or changes, or trends. They manually scan this data. Not all of it — there is too much — but as much as they can, glancing from a whiteboard to a bank of monitors to their in-box to a memo pad, trying not only to keep up with the data as it changes, but to winnow out what they need from the deluge of what they don't need.

Managers, busy watching data for important changes, don't have the time for face-to-face coaching and problem-solving. Meanwhile, agents have no clear way of knowing how well — or how poorly — they, the site and organization as a whole are performing, beyond the frown or smile on their manager's face, if they can even see it.

"Something must be done!" cry the experts, the consultants, the IT team, managers and agents alike. The answer? New IT applications. Or new CRM solutions. Or both, overlapping in upgrades, new policies and redundancies until the beleaguered call center faces a patchwork of applications with even more data streams to monitor. Except now it's not just the information stream that's the problem, but the instability caused by these technology changes alongside the uncertainty of a market ripe for M&A: if the call center is bought or sold, the entire information management network, redundant applications and all, could potentially be re-created from scratch, resulting in even more confusion and inefficiency.

The call center continues to improvise. Agents react to the latest problem-of-the-minute. Managers try to deal with short-term fires; there is no time to consider long-term strategy. This is not management, it's survival. Call center personnel are treading water, not moving forward.

Dealing with time-consuming and repetitive tasks leaves managers unable to respond to the critical and unpredictable issues for which they were hired in the first place. Agents feel unsupported and unmotivated. Chaos feeds inefficiency; inefficiency feeds lower numbers. Revenue drops. Morale drops. Costs rise as turnover increases. Trouble looms, but in the blur of day-to-day chaos, it is rarely acknowledged or even noticed.

A Solution
This is a simple problem with a simple solution. It appears complicated because it causes complications; it causes confusion; it causes inefficiency. But the problem is simple: too much information is available, with no way of filtering out what's important. And what's important will differ from person to person.

How do we get out of this situation? The same way we got in: through technology. Not necessarily more technology, but better technology.

The confusion and noise of this stream of data can be reduced and filtered if the technology processing is intelligent enough. If the technology is sophisticated enough to replace all that time-consuming manual data-scanning across multiple applications and multiple sites. If the technology applies the appropriate filters and automatic redirects for the information.

Technology can thread through the muddied patchwork of old and new applications, separating out the important data to send where it's needed, archiving or disposing of the rest. Technology such as LED wallboards displaying live data, individualized performance statistics streaming directly to an agent's desktop, and — most important — the intelligent software to run it all. Software that enables personnel to set prescheduled messages, automated alerts when data thresholds are reached or crossed, and more.

The right tools, applied to an evolving environment, can help increase the visibility of critical information, and get the right data to the people who need it. And this can be done automatically, rather than manually. But these changes need not be drastic to have significant results, much like the analogy that chaos theorists use to illustrate the effects of accumulated change: a butterfly fluttering its wings in Madagascar eventually causing a typhoon in the Pacific Ocean.

The Better Way
Attacking the problem — information bloat — at its root has a ripple effect. Manual processes are reduced or eliminated altogether, as intelligent software applies business rules and logic to the streaming information.

Managers are unshackled from the grueling work of constantly monitoring multiple data sources. They are available for what they were hired for in the first place: special projects, troubleshooting, coaching, building rapport, leading a team. These are the processes that can't be automated, and they are what that managers do best. The things they didn't have time for before.

Cleaner, more directed information goes to the agents. With a more visible front end, agents can easily keep tabs on their performance indicators and progress toward goals.

The result is increased efficiency. Not just in the intangible sense of a smoothly flowing call center, but in the concrete sense of slowly accumulating, measurable improvements in cost savings, agent and supervisor productivity, customer satisfaction and more. And these changes — often as subtle as they are quantifiable — can have large and very positive effects on efficiency and cost savings.

For example:

Call centers that install LED wallboards along with the intelligent firmware to filter and re-direct the mass of data often see an average 4% increase in productivity2 from agents and managers, as the time previously spent scanning multiple and largely irrelevant data fields is now available for more effective tasks such as working with a customer or leading a team.

4% is not much — not even 2½ minutes every hour. But it can add up to an annual savings of over $150,000.

Or consider the abandon rate, an indication of customer satisfaction and, indirectly, retention. An average-sized call center can see an annual savings of over $65,000 by reducing the abandon rate only by 1%. And 1% is just an average; we have seen call centers lower their abandon rate by as much as 75%, with the accompanying cost savings at the end of the year.

The technology is available right now to do this. From wallboards displaying live data, to individual agent statistics streamed directly to specific desktops, to "command views" displaying data from multiple sites for supervisors. From pre-scheduled messages and automated data filters to threshold-triggered alerts that are set to broadcast messages whenever pre-defined data values are reached or exceeded.

This is the way out of the reactive, inefficient, complicated and redundant call center described above. This is the flutter of the butterfly's wing developing into a whirlwind of benefits. It is not revolutionary, though it is powerful. And at its core lies the simple proposition that getting the right information to the right people, when they need it, sets in motion ever-greater increases in efficiency and cost savings.


About Frank Ortiz:
Frank Ortiz has demonstrated leadership and profitability in start-up and restart corporations since 1986. Frank is Inova’s VP of Sales and Marketing, leveraging his sixteen years of industry experience to develop and deploy strategic and tactical initiatives.

About Geomant:
Company LogoGeomant has two principle areas of business activity. Contact Centre Integration - Geomant has a strong foundation in CTI and provides specialised services including Solutions Architecture, Systems Integration, Consultancy and a full range of Professional Services for resellers and customers of Contact Centres and Unified Communication technologies. Geomant is an independent provider of professional services to Avaya partners worldwide. Unified Communications - Geomant develops application products in the Unified Communications technology space. The UC product range is tightly integrated with Microsoft's OCS platform and enriches the Microsoft environment to drive communication enables business processes through integrated mobile presence, workforce management, SMS services and a range of presence driven enterprise productivity tools.
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Published: Thursday, August 8, 2002

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