Contact Center Strategies, Part 3: Quality and Performance Management

Most consumers intuitively recognize the value in a great customer experience. They want to interact with brands that deliver it, and they recommend those brands to their friends and family.

ContactBabel’s new study, “The US Contact Center Decision Makers’ Guide 2016,” addresses how customer satisfaction has evolved in recent years to become the No. 1 indicator of success for contact centers. As such, improving this metric should be a part of your contact center strategy for 2017, along with other items, some of which I’ve already covered in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

The study states that customer satisfaction consistently ranks even more important than increasing revenues or decreasing costs. Historically, though, contact center success was measured more in terms of efficiency, e.g., call throughput, average handle time, calls per hour and the like. Part of a stellar customer experience still hinges on that metric, especially as it applies to the amount of time customers spend in the queue, and whether inquiries are addressed by Communicators quickly and decisively.

Nowadays, this applies equally to any telephony or Web-based self-service, or other pre-call activity such as customer authentication.

Forty-two percent of ContactBabel survey respondents gave customer satisfaction top billing when asked which areas of their contact center they consider most in need of improvement. Yet, 30 percent selected productivity and efficiency as a priority. Unfortunately, this indicates that the years and dollars that the contact center industry has invested in cutting unnecessary costs and time to serve customers has not paid off substantially.

So, what are the next steps contact center decision makers can take to work out quality and performance issues that still exist?

First of all, know that the study reveals that most respondents feel that their contact center quality assurance (QA) is very effective in terms of Communicator performance, with only 10 percent saying it is ineffective. Yet, across the nine QA areas, including providing customer insight for other areas within the organization and driving customer experience improvements, results were lukewarm. As such, ContactBabel concludes that QA is currently used far more effectively as a tool for Communicator productivity and skill than as a driver for strategic business improvements. In other words, there is a major disconnect between correlating QA with customer feedback.

The greatest challenge to managing performance and quality is reported to be caused by insufficient time to analyze and use data, with 83 percent of respondents calling it a problem in some form and 37 percent labeling it a major problem. This was particularly relevant for medium to large operations. The second-greatest challenge was identified as a lack of skilled personnel to both coach/train and to get the most out of the QA solution.

This suggests that a greater level of automated analysis and insight is required from quality and performance solutions. E-learning could also help relieve the strain on resources produced by traditional forms of one-to-one and/or mass coaching.

Here are some additional steps, as I promised above, to help your contact center thrive in the age of the customer:

Implement multidisciplinary customer experience strategies: Transform operations to deliver high-value, personalized experiences. Customers will reward companies that anticipate their individual needs and turn away from those that require them to repeat basic information at every touchpoint.

Operate at the speed of disruptors: Accept that disruption is now normal and will accelerate going forward. Invest in a culture that will fuel a more agile market response. Leadership structures may need to change to win in a customer-led, digital space.

Become technology-savvy: Organizations that develop digital expertise—not just a digital façade—will differentiate themselves from less-savvy rivals. Plus, focus on big data and analytics as a competitive asset to help you deliver personalized services across all digital channels.

The more you obsess about quality and performance improvements that lead to greater customer satisfaction, and the faster you respond to market disruptions, the better off you’ll be in 2017 and beyond.

Hosted Contact Center Market Set to Flourish

Contact centers, both in-house and outsourced, help enterprises in many ways—from providing a better customer experience to increasing productivity to providing the latest technologies for generating valuable business intelligence. When the contact center is hosted in the cloud, additional benefits abound, such as assured disaster recovery, ease of compliance management, and greater scalability and flexibility.

Company reliance on various technologies and the Internet to operate profitability is expected to intensify, with a corresponding increase in cloud-based contact center market size. According to a new report from MarketsandMarkets, the market is expected to grow from $5.43 billion in 2016 to $15.67 billion by 2021, at a compound annual growth rate of 23.6 percent.

This growth is also being fueled by a high demand for outbound dialer systems and outsourced contact center services. Advances in dialer technology, especially features such as dynamic filtering—search indexes that control which leads are called—and do-not-call list management, are popular because they increase Communicator talk time, leading to greater productivity.

Outsourcing the contact center function enables companies to reduce spend on networks and IT. Cost benefits will drive companies to outsource customer services across the board—from inquiries to order processing to technical support. Plus, the increase in the number of an organization’s functional areas (e.g., sales and marketing) being served by contact centers has increased the complexity of deploying in-house contact centers.

Another key to cloud-based contact center growth is the role the contact center is playing in the e-commerce space. Innovation and the proliferation of digital technologies have changed customers’ interaction with retailers; they are now using different channels such as live chat and self-service options. The vendors in this vertical market rely on the cloud environment to attain customer loyalty all along consumer touchpoints such as retail stores, Web catalogs and the contact center.

The only growth inhibitors for the cloud-based contact center market are an ongoing fear of data risk and initial deployment costs. Enterprises are mitigating the potential data risk, however, by side stepping total cloud immersion. They are bridging the gap between low-security public cloud and high-security private cloud by creating hybrid cloud networks. This gives them the scalability and flexibility of the cloud while retaining secure computing environments on-premises.

Enterprises that make customer satisfaction and experience a priority are strategically using contact centers to maximize their success in these areas. Outsourcing contact center functions to a managed service provider can help in this regard by providing crucial elements of high-quality customer service without all the infrastructure complications of on-premises solutions. As the cloud-based contact center market grows, consider ways in which you, too, can leverage the cloud to push your business to the next level.

Contact Center Strategies, Part 1: Multichannel Workforce Management

By now you know that your contact center strategy must be focused on the methods and solutions you employ to improve the quality of the customer experience. What this means for your 2017 strategy is more of the same: more insights into each customer and Communicator so you can better meet their needs and grow your business.

Findings relayed in a new report from ContactBabel, “The US Contact Center Decision Makers’ Guide 2016,” will help direct your efforts to improve contact center performance in the new year. We will address some of its key points in a series of blogs. This Part 1 will address how workforce management (WFM) solutions can help supervisors and Communicators cope with the new complexities of multiple customer service channels in the contact center, specifically for traditional purposes like forecasting and reporting.

WFM solutions for the multichannel contact center

Managers must not only make sure their contact centers are staffed appropriately but must also accurately schedule staff across both multichannel (e.g., Web chats and email) and voice interactions. To satisfy customers, managers will need to develop new pools of in-depth knowledge and explicit skills among Communicators, including product-specific and technical expertise.

WFM solutions are increasingly being used in contact centers as part of overall performance optimization. While advanced WFM tools such as quality monitoring, speech analytics, HR management and training have emerged, traditional workforce features for forecasting and scheduling, as well as adherence and reporting, remain critical to contact center operations.

Here’s how traditional WFM solutions are continuing to help contact centers respond to customer needs in a multichannel environment:

Forecasting: The WFM employs historical data to assist contact center managers with realistic scheduling, allowing them to factor in exceptions, such as holidays, training and marketing campaigns. They can even use the data to conduct “what if” scenarios to test how staffing across multiple channels will impact performance. Automated forecasting gives businesses the flexibility to alter schedules to accommodate staffing issues as they arise. For instance, staff can put in requests for certain shifts and vacation time, which empowers them and spurs morale.

Scheduling: In a multichannel environment, more than ever, managers must be able to take Communicator preferences and skill sets into account when scheduling. Otherwise, expect that Communicator and customer satisfaction levels will drop. Most companies use advanced WFM software to manage between six and nine skill sets, though some use many more.

Adherence and reporting: Comparing forecasts to actual scheduling adherence is mandatory to improve contact center performance. The adherence monitoring provided by top WFM solutions gives managers the opportunity to learn from experience. It also sends them alerts when activities deviate from what was planned, enabling them to act before problems arise.

Advances in WFM software allow managers to receive real-time reports on schedule adherence through Web browsers and mobile phones, even if Communicators are working remotely. Automated schedule changes are even beginning to relieve managers of daily personal attention to the system.

According to ContactBabel, WFM systems are common in contact centers, with a penetration rate of 48 percent industrywide. Small contact centers (10 to 50 Communicators) are much less likely (19 percent) than large ones with 200 or more Communicators (80 percent) to have implemented WFM software.

Respondents reported using their WFM solutions predominantly (95 percent) for forecasting, reporting (86 percent) and real-time adherence to scheduling (81 percent). Yet, of the 221 contact center managers and directors who participated in the survey, more than half said they also used their WFM systems for higher-level strategic initiatives like “what if” scenarios and long-term planning.

In 2017, make sure your contact center has the tools to improve the customer experience along multiple channels.