Call or contact centers are run according to numbers, most of them related to the efficiency of the operation: average queue lengths, number of calls handled, average call-handling time, agent occupancy rates and others. My research into agent performance management highlighted the paradox that despite many companies’ claim that the most important driver in their contact center is to improve customer satisfaction, customer satisfaction scores are only the sixth-most important performance metric.
My experience and the research I have completed over the last five years show that this simplistic approach to contact center performance management leaves companies in danger of producing bad experiences for customers and high turnover of agents. Instead, I believe that they should think of contact center performance management in terms of three parts: operational insight, agent performance and customer intelligence. I’ll explain the basics of each.
Operational insight focuses on understanding and improving operational performance and thus is largely about efficiency – in the contact center, that includes making sure the voice and data networks are performing to service level agreements (SLAs) and making the correct profiles of agents available to match expected inbound call patterns. It complicates issues that everything happens in real time, and in response mature companies have implemented operational business intelligence systems that can extract data from the required sources, such as automatic call distribution (ACD), data networks and agent status records, in real time and present operational managers not just with reports and analysis but also alerts when key metrics fall outside set boundaries.
Agent performance focuses on how well agents handle interactions and therefore is not just about efficiency but also effectiveness – how to achieve the highest percentage of expected outcomes from different call types. Mature companies take an integrated approach to agent quality management, agent workforce management (creating and monitoring agent work schedules), training and coaching to ensure best practices are shared by everyone who handles interactions, and reward management so the people who achieve the best outcomes get rewarded most. An integrated approach includes integrating data from multiple sources to get the full picture of how agents are performing. The most mature companies extend their examinations to sources such as desktop usage (using desktop analytics), call recordings (using speech analytics) and the content of activities such as customer surveys (using text analytics).
Arguably the most important insights come from customer intelligence, often called the 360-degree view of the customer. It reveals the outcomes of how centers and individuals are handing customer interactions and the quality of experience they are providing to customers. This is the most complex type of intelligence; to produce it requires everything from operational insight and agent performance, plus sources such as social media sites. Customer intelligence also is required in multiple forms and has to be produced at various speeds, for example, in real time for agents to resolve customer issues during interactions or in the longer term as analysis to help improve interaction-handling processes and provide customer segments with differentiated service.
Overall the key to improving contact center performance is to address all three aspects of it and to emphasize effectiveness over efficiency. This holistic approach should be coupled with an extension of the key performance metrics the company uses to monitor and assess interaction-handling performance, and that in turn will require companies to invest in some of the new contact center-focused analytics products that are available.
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Richard Snow – Global VP & Research Director