5 Steps to Successfully Transform your Call Center

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 Zelus Consulting Group Call Center Maturity Model describes the typical phases a call center goes through in its evolution.


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.

Steady State

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

Common AI solutions include chatbots to resolve common questions and help customers with self-service transactions, assisting agents to identify customer sentiment in real time, automating routine tasks and workflows, automating routing interactions, monitoring queues in real-time, and analyzing large quantities of data.

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.

This image shows the key performance indicators to focus on based on the level of maturity of the call center. The individual metrics are explained below.

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. Lowering the ASA and Abandonment Rate  requires additional staffing levels, lower AHT, reduce repeat calls and/or self-service options.   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. Carefully analyze Average Handle Time performance. Do not be too quick to encourage agents to reduce their talk time.  Complex topics may require a longer handle time.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 and First Contact Resolution require a robust CRM, mature self-service options, and careful definition.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.

Want to dive in deeper?

We are business transformation experts and would love to have a conversation with you about performance at your company. Click the button and share your information with us so we can connect and learn more about the unique challenges you’re facing and how our diverse experience can help improve your operation and customer experience.

Discovering the ‘Can Do’ Path in a ‘Can’t Do’ Environment [Live Webinar Replay]

Discovering the ‘Can Do’ Path in a ‘Can’t Do’ Environment [Live Webinar Replay]

Well, that was different and a lot of fun! This morning we went live and shared our thoughts on discovering the ‘can do’ path with all of the ‘can’t dos’ surrounding us right now.

If you scroll down you can watch the video replay or play the audio.

Key Takeaways

The majority of our discussion focused around these 5 themes.

  • Our approach for removing barriers
  • How to engage people
  • What defines effective communication
  • The role culture plays (How the team feels about the work)
  • The critical nature of working in iterations – and teaching others how to iterate

Our favorite part of any live discussion or panel we participate on is always the Q&A section – that held true yet again today.

Live Q&A

Here’s a quick recap of the questions we answered live (these start at 29:00 in the video if you want to jump there):

  • Quick tips and ideas for boosting morale when you have a team that can’t step away from the work to get together
  • How to get employees and customers to realize the barrier isn’t the actual virtual learning tool and how to promote the positive ‘can do’ mindset while using these tools
  • Some things that didn’t work (and how to move forward and keep trying new things)

Session Video

Session Audio

Unfortunately one of many lessons learned with all of these virtual communication tools is that the quality of Zooms cloud recording isn’t always super crisp – we’ll adjust and adapt, like we always do, for the next time!

We’ll be going live again very soon and if there is anything you’d like us to discuss just reach out to us or leave a comment below.

Working from Home Quick Tips for Success

As many of you know we’re pros at working from home, or really just about anywhere to be honest. We’ve run Zelus as a virtual company since our start in 2004. As we onboard new hires, especially those that have never worked at home, we suggest the following:

  1. Know your work priorities.
    • Create a daily checklist and be mindful of your due dates.
  2. Reach out to your colleagues when you have a question.
    • We tell our staff not to “tread water” meaning don’t dwell too long on how to do something.
    • Reach out for a quick chat or call to level-set how to proceed.
    • This is not only a good way to stay connected to colleagues, but it also invigorates and promotes productivity.
  3. Encourage your teams to connect and participate; especially the introverts in the group.
    • Make it firm guidance that all are expected to participate, not just observe.
  4. Take a physical break.
    • Get up and walk around the house.
    • Or go outside for a walk – my best “noodling” time is when I am away from my computer and out in the fresh air.

There are a ton of tools and systems out there that will also help you become a productivity rockstar when working from home but be cautious about adding too many new things into the mix at once. It’s easy to focus on learning and software and get distracted from the real work you need to accomplish.

Tackle the day with gusto and collaboration and stay focused!

If you have any tips that make you successful when working from home, share them with us in the comments below. And if you think this post can help anyone you know please share it!

Evolved Journey Mapping and Accelerated Learning

Leveraging journey mapping differently and focusing on training to instill empathy allows your agents to collect and leverage sentiment in real time and create lasting relationships with your customers.

Before I share our approach to journey mapping read my last post on Building Human Connection and Why Sentiment is the Core.

Journey Mapping

Since 60% of organizations report having journey maps, you likely have seen or built journey maps already. The challenge with the vast majority of journey maps we encounter is that they are request based, not member focused. The assumed commonality in these journey maps immediately moves us away from the critical factors of empathy: Critical Listening, Conversation, and Investigation. We need to create journey maps that get down to the agent-customer connection level.

Efficient transactional processes will not help your customers view you as a trusted advisor.


In the contact center, it all begins with the probing questions your agent asks at the start of the call. Most probing techniques used today are all about us. For example, what’s your member id? Your date of birth? What question do you have? This series of questions is well intentioned to allow the agent to move to an answer quickly. However, this takes sentiment as a tool we can leverage away.

In our new approach, we open a call by asking, “How can I help you”? This shift allows your customer to share their issue quickly and have control over the content of the call. They will start talking about their problems immediately. They may say something like, “I thought this was all handled, my son is still sick, and now I have a huge bill.”


From here, when appropriately trained, an agent can extract a lot of information.

  • The question: Why did my claim get denied?
  • Insight to who the call is about: dependent male member
  • Level of stress and mood
  • Understanding the feeling of financial pressure
  • Level of knowledge about the plan and process
  • The real question they didn’t ask: Do I have to pay this bill?

With a new approach to probing we can respond with “gee I think I have your sons record right here, can you confirm the member ID?” We’re getting the information we need but in a very different way and once we’ve allowed them a moment to vent.

In the traditional approach, we would have been talking about why the claim was denied but have left the real question on the table.


Now your agents have a unique opportunity to guide the sentiment. We believe that empowering agents with the tools they need to hear the sentiment right away and move to a place where it can change leads to drastically higher levels of success in the contact center.

This change occurs within the call, not after it ends. Venting is something we’ve been scared of for years. When a customer starts venting, you feel you’ve lost control of the call. In our old approach to measurement, this meant a long call, getting a supervisor involved, threating to take business elsewhere, etc. We’ve been afraid that venting changes the amount of time it takes to complete a call. But if we can start to think about venting as a way for customers to express themselves and deliver clarity of sentiment to us, we have an opportunity to engage and measure differently.

Probing through journey mapping allows a lot of learning. The benefits of this learning are that we no longer have to guess if we’ve made an impact – we immediately know! However, this approach takes a different level of skill and therefore shifted approach to training.

A Different Agent

To become an advisor, you need a different type of agent in your contact center. In healthcare specifically, this agent is made up of the following:

It takes different skills to create a different type of agent.

You never want to practice on your customer. You have to look at your agents as superheroes. But you can’t just walk down the street and buy superheroes. You have to build them. Building superhero agents are where your in-house learning programs become mission critical. Having technical expertise and empathy at the same time is very complicated.

The Zelus PACE™ program

The PACE™ program stands for:

  • Proficiency
  • Accuracy
  • Confidence
  • Empathy
How the PACE™ program curricula compares to traditional training programs.

This program changes the agent’s progression. Here is what the curriculum looks like and how it compares to standard curricula.

We deliver the PACE™ program in the same or less time than typical programs. If you want to see what the full 10-day journey looks like or some specific improvement metrics from this program, let us know.

Part of what allows the PACE™ program to accomplish incredible results is that we teach soft skills and industry-specific skills in unison. In complex industries, you don’t have the luxury of training these things in isolation.

Check out the recorded session that Jenny led here which covers sentiment recognition, a case study, and even more insights into journey mapping and our PACE™ program and how it can help organizations like yours.

Building Human Connection and Why Sentiment is the Core

How do you build meaningful emotional bonds and a human connection with your customers? How do you understand the status of your relationship?

To accomplish this and become a real advisor to your customers you have to make customer intent and sentiment priorities of your organization.

The outcome of your entire organization is visible in the contact center. And contact centers expose everything that’s going well and not so well to your customers across every department of the organization.

When your agents are empowered to build human connections, you can deliver the brand experience you want to put into the marketplace and create a powerful feedback loop across all teams.

Why does customer sentiment lead to human connection?

The ultimate goal of all the metrics you invest time and energy into tracking is to understand whether or not you’re meeting the needs of your customers. There has been a long evolution of contact center metrics. From the simple measurement of handle time, accuracy, resolution to customer satisfaction (CSAT) and net promoter score (NPS), for instance.  None of these metrics can be ignored or avoided. However, they are all giving you generalized, rear view mirror feedback on how your customers feel about you.

Sentiment is entirely different, mainly if you can capture it in real-time. And customer sentiment is the only metric that is about them!

Beyond Measurement

To create a real human connection you have to go beyond measurement and metrics. And sentiment gives agents a different kind of power if they hear it as it unfolds.

To get there, you need a different approach to probing – this puts empathy on the table. It starts with listening. Are you determining the spoken and unspoken questions and concerns they’re expressing? What is happening in the course of the conversation? It’s not transactional. It’s a two-way dialogue. You’ll never become an advisor to your customer if you’re transacting.

Human Connections are based on Emp-A-ThyInvestigation is the final component. Now the agent has listened, conversed, and connected. Next, they must know enough about the subject matter to answer the spoken and unspoken questions of your customer. When an agent can deliver this experience, with empathy, your customer will have established a human connection. They will believe that you are capable of advising them and completing the story.

Read part two of this post where we dive into journey mapping and building your training programs around customer intent. You can also check out a recorded session that Jenny led here or learn more about our services here.

Your Company’s Brand is heard in the Contact Center

Health insurance plans are more focused than ever on evaluating and maintaining their brand. Most plans are working to be more than simply a low-cost provider of healthcare or the plan with the biggest network.  For years now, we’ve seen that singularly focused strategies like that don’t work.  One of the biggest opportunities plans have is to emerge as the health plan of choice for members by choosing to deliver a personal connection in every member interaction.

This personal connection starts in your contact center.  What’s interesting though, is that the push for Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) to take over customer service entirely isn’t what members really want. Members want our Contact Centers to be MORE human! And for those humans to be enabled by technology. We’re seeing this desire for a human touch in every industry but especially in healthcare. It’s one of the main reasons we created a proprietary training program to assist health plan contact centers.  When Zelus trains contact center agents we always incorporate empathy, we use a simple, yet comprehensive, approach:


I’m looking forward to speaking more about this at the upcoming 9th Annual Medicare Market Innovations Forum in San Diego, CA. on a distinguished panel.  The panel will be focused building a year-round branding strategy that extends beyond Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period (“AEP”).  Zelus will also be in the Exhibit Hall at the Conference, so stop by and see us.  We’d love to talk about your challenges and what’s working in your organization to deliver that consistent brand experience! If you need a push in the right direction talk to us about our PACE™ program.  We built a comprehensive healthcare contact center program to marry proficiency, accuracy, confidence, and empathy seamlessly. There is nothing like it in the marketplace.

We’re working on an upcoming webinar with Contact Center Week about connecting with customers on a human level, learn more and register here.

Human Connections

Learn more about our suite of services and the additional benefits of partnering with Zelus for your training needs here or contact us to discuss the needs of your operation.