Transforming a call center is no small project. This article shares our top 5 steps to successfully transform your call center operation. We have decades of experience in call center optimization strategies and supporting the operation through digital transformation to improve the customer experience.
#1 – Your Customer is Your North Star
Your customer is your North Star.
Out of the gate, acknowledge your call center as the front line to delivering your customer service strategy. This sounds obvious, but it isn’t. Too often setting up the call center is a reaction, an afterthought. As transformation is taking place, call centers are viewed as a downstream support function. It is time to look at the call center as the heart of the customer interaction. And treat it that way.
Spend serious time thinking about and mapping out what customer success looks like from the customer’s viewpoint. Manage your transformation to meet the customer viewpoint by ensuring the customer experience is driven by what customers need and want. Then figure out how best to design/enhance the business processes and technology to allow easy customer self-service and agent success. When transactions are easy for the agent, the customer wins.
#2 Know Where You Want to Go
Build an actionable roadmap early. Visualize the customer experience. What do you need to provide to your customers? What do customers need to be able do themselves? How do you make it easy for your customers to get what they want and do the things they need to do? Identify and rank the importance of each customer expectation.
For each expectation, think about the ways to provide the customer experience. Think of ways to make this happen in the short term and long term; and what it takes to build and deliver the full solution. Define success and how to measure each expectation. Iterate to get to the best ideas from the customer’s point of view.
The dollars spent building the roadmap will result in a smoother and faster implementation and satisfied customers. This is the beginning of the journey to build the customer experience. Think intentionally about how the call center will enable the experience you are defining. Your Roadmap is your guide that adapts with you along your journey.
Manage the implementation from the roadmap and reference the roadmap regularly. Make sure the Business and Technical Leads are on board and are responsible for delivering to the roadmap. The business processes, technical architecture and tools must drive the customer experience forward. As decisions are made on all fronts, the question must be asked early and often, “Does the approach enable the customer experience we envisioned?”
Don’t skip this step. This does not need to take a long time to complete. Transformation projects that skip this step often never achieve the customer experience desired; or require a “project do-over” which is expensive and leaves customers distressed.
#3 Strive for Optimization Using the Call Center Maturity Model
It takes time and a focused effort to become an effective customer service vehicle, whether service is delivered by people or technology. Understand the Call Center Maturity Model and use it to optimize your call center.
The path to customer excellence begins with the Initiation phase. This phase is full of uncertainty. Leaders with vision, operational experience, and open minds are needed to set and meet realistic, and unified technology and operational plans. Focus #1 is to establish a stable technical environment that delivers foundational services expected by your customer. Focus #2 is the implementation of an operating model that predicts and delivers trained staff for the Day 1 Operation. Recruiting and training are key to hiring and readying new agents to deliver your customer service.
In many implementations, Launch Day is often set in stone. Prioritize the functionality required to meet customer experience table stakes. As you get closer to the launch date, identify what is working and what is not and plan how to service customers based on where you will be. If you cannot technically meet the customer experience table stakes upon launch, plan how to get there quickly while keeping the call center stable. This is typically accomplished with additional call center agents and manual processing. Adding human capital to fill the gaps that may occur allows you to keep the launch on track from the customer point of view.
Launch is a stressful time. Don’t let the stress cloud your perspective.
When standing up a new call center with no prior customer experience, it can be difficult to accurately estimate what can be achieved at Launch. Take into consideration the complexity of the calls, the expected maturity and stability of the technology platforms, and the planned staffing levels to estimate your expected call center achievements from Launch to Baseline.
More complex, less mature, technology solutions and operating models place increased pressure on call center agents to provide a flawless customer experience without the tools needed to accomplish the task. Flawless performance is not a Day 1 reality in any new operation, especially one where the technology platform is complex, incomplete, or experiencing problems and/or the operating model is insufficient.
Continue to identify what is working well and what needs an upgrade. Focus on how customers are using your apps; and collect feedback on what customers like and don’t like. Call center agents can fast-track the collection and identify what is missing. This will tell you what is most important to your customer and employee success and drive your focus there. It most likely will identify critical corrections to your technology and needed shifts in your roadmap.
Use this period to objectively validate and refine your customer behavior assumptions; define additional edge cases and use metrics to right-size staffing. Collaboration with a solution-oriented mindset is critical during launch to rapidly resolve challenges that are sure to arise.
The Baseline phase is all about progress. Use the Roadmap coupled with continuous customer and employee feedback to evaluate and improve your technology, human capital capabilities, and call center processes. Technical stability comes with a strong agile framework that minimizes production defects. Operational stability is achieved through predictable and repeatable results. This requires recruiting and staffing consistency as well as an employee training and feedback cycle to achieve proficiency, practice empathy, and manage attrition.
Strong operational and technical leadership is needed to create effective processes for teams working together to implement new functionality while keeping the operation stable. This is not easy to do. All parties must keep an eye on the Customer, our North Star, to achieve the progress desired, retain employees, and keep customers satisfied.
In Steady State, the technical platform and operating model are stabilized. Customer satisfaction measures are consistently high as excellence becomes a standard part of call center delivery. Staffing, training, and customer feedback processes are highly effective and continually monitored to ensure the customer experience is at its highest levels. Customer trends drive self-service automation. These changes drive a measurable reduction in call volume and repeat callers.
Maintaining Steady State is a full-time job. Remaining competitive requires operational and technical leaders to keep abreast of innovation as well as customer and employee satisfaction.
Best In Class
Best in Class contact centers enable operational and technical excellence resulting in consistently high customer and employee satisfaction. Today, these leaders are embracing AI to enhance their customer interactions, agent performance, and operational processes.
#4: Measure, Measure, Measure
Use metrics throughout all phases of call center maturity. Metrics are a key component to get your call center on track and to keep it there. Like most things in life, excellence is not achieved overnight. As the maturity of your call center grows, performance should improve. Include performance measures for your KPI’s in your Roadmap to provide a mechanism to gauge and grow your success.
Performance measures for each metric should evolve as the call center matures and the team stabilizes the operation. Call volume becomes more predictable and allows for more accurate estimation and staffing levels. Technology improvements often make agent navigation easier improving Average Handle Time, Accuracy and Resolution Rates. These improvements lead to higher CSAT and NPS Scores. AI Sentiment Analysis can lead to an improved customer experience by teaching agents better empathetic and communication skills, improved workflow navigation and how to deliver accurate answers.
Typical KPIs include:
Average Speed to Answer is the average time it takes for a caller to reach an agent. This is a baseline measure and is easily captured via the telephone system. Typical targets for new call centers have agents answering calls within 60-90 seconds 80% of time. Best in Class call centers answer calls within 30 seconds 80% of time.
Abandonment Rate is the average number of callers that hang up before they get to an agent. This is a baseline measure and is easily captured via the telephone system. This metric usually excludes short abandons to eliminate wrong numbers and customer actions that are not an indicator of call center performance. Typical targets for new call centers are 3%-6% calls abandoned. Best in Class call centers target to 3% of calls abandoned.
Accuracy is the percentage of contacts that agents provided a correct and complete answer. This is more difficult to calculate and can be captured through a quality management program using call sampling/manual scoring, or by an AI system. Workflows, standard operating procedures and call type mapping are inputs to implementing both methods. During Launch, this metric is used to develop the baseline for the call center. In a brand-new call center, the types and volumes of calls are analyzed for accuracy and to solidify the SOPs and workflows to determine the metric. As call centers move into Baseline thru Steady State, typical targets are 90% accuracy. Best in class targets are 95% and above.
Average Handle Time is the average time it takes to complete a call. It includes call time, hold time, and after call work. This metric varies based on the complexity of each call type; but typically ranges from 10 to 15 minutes in a moderately complex environment. Trends of higher AHT may point to workflow issues. Expect handle time to be highly variable when infusions of new agents occur.
There is no magic number regarding hold time. Contact centers use outliers to help identify individual performance issues. The complexity of the application portfolio/agent navigation often acts as a significant driver of hold time. While tried and true hold hygiene practices are recommended, open hold protocols are not recommended as it is distracting and difficult for agents to master.
Expect after call work to be higher in contact centers that handle full-service resolution services or complex inquiries. AHT may rise as simple calls are moved to self-service, leaving only complex, problem-oriented calls for agents to service.
Inquiry Timeliness measures how long it takes the contact center to resolve a customer issue. It asks, ‘How long from the beginning of the call did it take to close the inquiry?’ This measure can be driven from simple CRM solutions provided handoffs and turnaround time expectations are clear. This metric is particularly relevant when your contact center can’t complete every inquiry they receive while on the call.
First Contact Resolution (FCR) is the percentage of contacts that are resolved with one contact. First call resolution asks, ‘Was your inquiry resolved the first time you called?’ As the call center matures, the FCR calculation becomes more complex as it must include all contact methods in its calculation including automated self-service options, calls, chats and emails. There is a lot of discussion concerning what FCR rates should be. Research has shown that the industry standard is about 74%. This is highly variable based on the inquiry type, the way the technical platform determines the metric and the industry. It is critical to define FCR to meet the needs of your customer. Generally, FCR rates nearing 90% are considered high, and 40% are “low.”
Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) is used to measure a customer’s satisfaction with a specific agent, call, or event through a survey question ranked from 1-5. CSAT is a percentage. It is calculated by taking the number of customers selecting a 4 or 5 score, and dividing it by the total number of responses. For example, if 72 of 100 responses are rated 4 or 5, CSAT is 72. Eighty is considered a good score.
Net Promotor Score (NPS) was created by Fred Reichheld, Bain & Company, and Satmetrix Systems to measure customer loyalty. Net promoter score is a widely used market research metric that typically takes the form of a single survey question asking respondents to rate the likelihood that they would recommend a company, product, or a service to a friend or colleague on a scale of 0 to 10.
Customers are segmented by their scores as follows: 0-6: Detractors; 7-8: Passives, and 9-10: Promoters. The score is calculated by subtracting the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. For example, if 15% are detractors, 25% are passives (7-8) and 60% are promoters (9-10), the NPS score is 60-15=45. Any NPS score above 0 is “good” because it means that customer is more loyal than not. A score above 20 is considered favorable.
Sentiment: AI is being used to automate the analysis of customer sentiment based on text categorization from calls, texts, chats and emails. Sentiment is the attitudes, emotions, and opinions customers have about their contact center interactions. This break-through technology allows call centers to measure a high volume of customer interactions to measure customer satisfaction, agent performance, brand loyalty and product/advertisement success. When real time feedback is provided to the agent and the agent knows how to adjust the call to account for the feedback, sentiment analysis can powerfully change the course of the interaction and in turn, the customer experience.
#5: Focus on your Workers Happiness
There is considerable marketplace uncertainty in the contact center industry as the world emerges from the pandemic. Workers are re-evaluating their roles by staying home to care for children or quitting low-paying and undesirable jobs.
Contact centers often draw from the same labor pool as the service industry. As wages increase for warehouse, delivery, and restaurant workers, contact centers are experiencing increased turnover.
Contact center work has traditionally been very stressful. Simple inquiries are often resolved using self-serve options leaving complex problems to be answered by agents. Customers are often already stressed when agents greet them making for an unpleasant work experience.
Focus on improving agents’ work lives by continually reducing the complexity of the work and creating a pathway for success. Implement easy-to-navigate apps and workflows, better learning programs, remote work opportunities, flexible scheduling and competitive wages. Hire leadership that motivates and appreciates the workforce. Find ways to make the work more enjoyable.
Remember, employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction are intrinsically linked. Leaders need to be innovative to attract and retain a stable workforce.
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