Looking to Cut Contact Center Expenses? Forrester Serves Up Its Top Ten

Contact center managers – like their counterparts in sales, marketing, executive management and finance  – have their hands full confronting an often seriously challenging operating environment. Budget cuts have frequently been leveled across the board, agent morale is probably suffering and there is intense pressure on middle-management to squeeze out efficiencies at every turn. Operating with leaner staffs or reduced budgets is not a recipe for business performance improvement, but it is often in these times that innovative, crafty efficiency-building practices take hold.

Forrester's Elizabeth Herrell

Forrester's Elizabeth Herrell

Forrester’s Elizabeth Herrell and her colleagues have put a top ten list together (CRM Central  Loves These Sorts of Lists – You Will Continue to See More of Them) of ingenious ways to step up performance, reduce attrition, work in ways to improve automation and live up to the core purpose of what we all do – listen and learn from the customer.

1. Improve call resolution rates with knowledge bases and accessible experts. Most contact center managers lack sufficient data on the number of repeat calls for the same request and the number of times a caller is transferred. Because agents often lack knowledge on certain topics, the caller will hang up and call back later. This increases call volume and the cost for servicing your customer. A knowledge base with a good search engine helps agents find the right answer quickly, reduces call transfers, and supports high first-call resolution rates. Another way to improve first-call resolutions is to provide real-time access to experts who are external to the contact center but available to consult with a caller. Both knowledge bases and experts make a sizeable reduction in repeat calls and the duration of the call. eGain Communications, KANA Software, and RightNow Technologies provide knowledge base applications as a hosted or software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution. Avaya, Cisco Systems, and Genesys Telecommunications are among the providers of software for expert access to agents.

2. Eliminate the need for the call with proactive outbound communications. Most contact centers experience traffic spikes when certain events trigger a large number of incoming calls, such as changes in billing or promotional events. When you reach out to your customers with information of interest before they call into the contact center, you significantly lower incoming call volume, while improving customer satisfaction. With proactive outbound communications, you can send email or phone alerts to your customers and allow them to respond automatically over the same channel. Automated outbound transactions typically cost under $0.20 per event
and eliminate the need for a much more expensive agent-assisted call later.

3. Reduce agent attrition with eLearning and performance management tools. High agent turnover represents a major cost for contact center budgets. Agent attrition incurs costs for recruitment and training, as well as lower agent productivity during their ramp-up period. Tenured agents may also become overworked when taking on more calls due to high attrition rates. You need to consider steps for promoting agent retention that include ongoing desktop training to improve skills, career paths within the contact center, flexible scheduling, and performance reports that set individual goals. Packaged solutions, such as those offered by Aspect Software, NICE Systems, and Verint Systems, bundle their eLearning and performance management solutions as part of their workforce management offerings to provide greater value.

4. Create a virtual workforce with a remote agent program. Remote agents offer contact centers more flexibility in scheduling agents during peak traffic times and evening shifts. They save on infrastructure costs because they work from their home, with a secure connection for their office. Remote agents also serve as emergency support staff when the main location becomes inoperable due to an emergency condition. Companies that have launched remote agent programs frequently report they have lower absenteeism and longer tenure compared with agents who work in a centralized office.

5. Develop a single, consistent support model with improved Web content. For many organizations, Web development efforts to support customer interactions are separate from contact center operations. This results in different support models for Web-based customers and telephone customers. You need to develop a single, consistent model for customer support regardless of the channel chosen by the customer. Additionally, Web sites that are difficult to navigate or don’t have adequate information result in more calls coming into the contact center.

6. Offer online customers live assistance through chat and co-browsing. Online tools such as chat and co-browse help customers get better acquainted with the Web site; they also reduce the number of customers who only do research on the Web but don’t complete their transaction. While chat and co-browse applications incur higher costs than self-service due to the involvement of an agent, they foster increased use of the Web as a primary source of information.

7. Upgrade your interactive voice response (IVR) to support more complex transactions. Companies that continue to use their IVR primarily for call steering miss many opportunities for allowing callers to complete their transaction without assistance. Older IVRs are costly to maintain and offer limited transaction support, but standards-based IVR platforms provide a valuable business tool for automating more complex transactions with speech. Flexible pricing models, such as hosted and SaaS solutions, allow organizations to gradually add speech applications for customer support and take advantage of higher automated transaction completions. IVR vendors include network providers such as AT&T, Tellme Networks, Verizon, Voxeo, and West Corporation, and premise or hosted solutions providers such as Avaya, Cisco Systems, Genesys Telecommunications, Intervoice/Convergys, and Nortel Networks.

8. Engage the entire organization with continuous communications. Customer satisfaction is not the responsibility of just the customer service department but the entire organization. There needs to be continuous communications between departments regarding events that generate calls, such as unexpected shipping delays, billing changes, or product recalls. It’s important for department managers to take accountability for ensuring that issues are resolved quickly. Collaboration with business units allows customer service managers to anticipate events that will affect their operations and better manage the situation.

9. Listen to the voice of your customer by using speech analytics software. Customer service managers monitor agents for quality assurance and compliance, but they don’t know what the customer is saying while conversing with an IVR or an agent. As a result, they lose valuable customer information, including why callers opt out of the IVR prematurely. Speech analytics mine customer conversations to allow you to capture customer conversations and quickly identify important issues to give you valuable insight into your customer’s behavior.

10. Improve multimodal capabilities to include mobile phone, smartphone, and kiosk support. Many customers today prefer their mobile phones and smartphones for contacting companies. As the volume of traffic increases from mobile devices, you can shorten phone calls by responding to customer requests with information sent in the form of a text message or email to your customer’s smartphone. For example, if a caller wants directions, you could send a map to their mobile device rather than having them speak to an agent. Additionally, well-placed kiosks, such as those in retail stores or banks, let you support customers by sending video clips to guide the customer or provide more product information. Extending services to multimodal devices creates higher value interactions and delivers information more cost-effectively than speaking to an agent.

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