My research into Customer Experience Management shows that four of the top five factors that influence a customer’s experience in dealing with a contact center relate to agents: their attitudes, understanding of the customer’s issue, ability to resolve issues the first time and general knowledge (third on the list was average queue times). The research also shows that the largest volumes of actionable interactions are still phone calls to a contact center; social media interactions perhaps generate more in pure numbers, but many of these are complaints about the way consumers are treated during other forms of interaction. In any case, there is no doubt that agent performance has a fundamental impact on the customer experience.
To address the four main factors identified above, companies must look beyond what is called agent workforce optimization, which tends to focus on increasing the time agents spend on the phone and on their internal quality scores. Instead they should concentrate on agent performance management (APM), which includes call routing, call recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, training and coaching, compensation and analytics that are focused on the agent. Each of these can affect the customer experience. Call routing can transfer the call to the best qualified agent to handle the customer. Call recording captures what the agent and customer say. Workforce management can optimize agent utilization. Training and coaching give agents the skills, knowledge and ability to resolve customer issues. Compensation management can help motivate and reward agents for achieving their objectives. And analytics can reveal how well everyone is performing.
Finding a vendor that can support all these requirements is no easy task. To assist organizations in that, earlier this year I used our APM definition above to create the Ventana Research Value Index for APM. The project used the insights from my benchmark research into this topic to create a high level request for proposal (RFP); we then asked vendors to tell us how they matched up to those requirements. Among the vendors we invited to participate, 13 took part in my final evaluation: Aspect, Enkata, Envision, Genesys, inContact, InVision, Knoahsoft, LiveOps, Merced Systems, NICE systems, OnviSource, Verint and VPI. In our exacting scoring system, the scores ranged from InVision at 72.9% to NICE systems at 90.4%, and shows high levels of quality in all the vendors that took part.
The rankings are based on seven categories: adaptability, functionality (capability) manageability, reliability, TCO/ROI, usability and validation (case studies etc.). For functionality, we basically had two categories of vendors: those that provide a suite of products that cover most aspects of APM and niche vendors that only cover one or two categories. In general terms, therefore the suite vendors came out ahead of the niche vendors, filling the top seven slots, including the four vendors that made it into our highest – Hot – category: in order of ranking, NICE Systems, VPI, Aspect and Envision. In this respect two of the niche vendors, Merced Systems and Enkata, which both focus mostly on quality monitoring, training and coaching, and performance management, reached the second highest category – Warm - and companies looking for solutions in these areas would do well to include both on their list of prospective vendors. The only vendor to fall into our Cold category was InVision, which focuses entirely on workforce management. Again companies looking for a solution just in this space would do well to include it on their list of prospective vendors.
One aspect of the assessment for the Value Index was the supply model the vendors support. All my research shows that two thirds of companies still prefer to purchase systems as licensed, on-premise products. But especially in these fluctuating economic times, many companies are looking to less costly models where the software is provided by a third party as an on-demand, software-as-a-service, or cloud-based service that now one fifth of companies prefer according to my benchmark research. Even hosted by the supplier is important with 28 percent indicating that as a preference but over a fifth of organizations indicate no preference at all. Several of the vendors we evaluated are increasingly offering at least part of the solution in the rented software as a service cloud computing approach, and companies that would prefer this option we advise to look at OnviSource, inContact and LiveOps; OnviSource and LiveOps also offer outsourced call-handling services.
Agents are often the external face of companies after customers have initiated business. They are vital to creating good customer experiences and optimizing interaction-handling. Choosing solutions to ensure you get the best out of the agent pool will therefore play an important part in achieving these goals. The Ventana Research Value Index can provide you with a guide to start evaluating products and suppliers to finding the one that best matches your needs. We are eager to receive feedback on whether you find it useful, so please let us know after you read the executive report and the race to become a hot vendor in our Value Index is already heating up for the assessment next year.
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Richard Snow – VP & Global Research Director