Start to trust! – Choosing the right home call centre worker
Alternative Workplace Strategy for contact centres
The contact centre industry faces ongoing challenges in delivering high quality customer support, finding qualified agents and increasing flexibility of its services. Contact centre managers continue to wonder why there is no solution. Fortunately, the trend of Alternative Workplace Strategies offer opportunities for a chain reversal. The only thing to be needed is contact centre managers which have the guts to give agents the confidence they deserve!
The Alternative Workplace Strategy is indisputable the trending topic of 2010. Flexibility, working independent of location and at times the employee wants, are characteristics that apply to the labor market of 2010. The contact centre sector lends itself like no other for this ‘new' way of working. After all, everything is measured by Intelligent Customer Interaction Management (CIM) platforms, where the status and performance of agents is monitored every second. It makes no difference whether the agent is working in the office environment, is working from home or perhaps at his holiday address. However, contact centre managers are still reluctant to integrate this new model into the daily practice of work and continue to operate with traditional approaches that no longer do match with the demand of flexibility by agents and customers.
Technology is not an obstacle
For location independent working is nothing more is needed than an internet connection. Of course for remote access to the customer contact environment some technical efforts are required. Any application must be accessible to the agent, including the telephony platform. As the internet is available everywhere, just like the electrical outlet is, handling customer contact from anywhere in the world becomes possible. The required contact centre platform is now available as Software as a Service (SaaS) solution. Actually nowadays a “contact centre as a commodity” can be realized, which of course can be used from home.
Full virtual chain
If the performance of customer contact and work are completely virtual, another challenge is to digitize the complete recruitment chain. In the ultimate home model, agents do not physically come to the office. In order to gain maximum advantage of the benefits of home from work, the recruitment and selection process should be location independent too. This means that all processes such as having an interview, assessment, training, planning and coaching should be virtualized too. This implicates that agents have no physical contact with their employer: in fact it is highly undesirable that they physically appear ‘at work'.
The step from a fully controlled contact centre floor towards a process that is complete virtual seems huge, but offers many advantages. Some specific attention is required, although most monitoring mechanisms can be recognized in the traditional operation of the customer contact industry.
Important is to make arrangements upfront when the agent starts working. The operating hours of customer service departments, as well as the call flow process throughout the day are fixed values that one still has to estimate in advance. It is necessary that there are clear agreements on working time and that compliance is monitored. Linking sanctions on violations of these agreements is a must. Flexible working in this sense, is limited to pre-agreed arrangements. There is a commitment between agent and employer, the employer can count on the hours of the agent and the agent is guaranteed to work.
Flexibility can be found in the determination of availability in advance. Agents with children, who have to pick up their kids at child care, can make arrangements with the employer by means of self-planning systems: at specific moments of the day the agent can't schedule himself. It is important to set up a pool of qualified agents to achieve a minimum level of flexibility, both in terms of employability skills and all the necessary requirements. Only then this working model will be feasible for the employer.
In addition, home workers should meet specific additional competence requirements. They must be self organizing and should have a high sense of responsibility. The agent is self fulfilling to a much larger extent and will have to look by himself for the right answers. Still it is important to explain where he can find the right answers. A consequence is that knowledge should be made available by means of an online knowledge base and that the agent should be able to communicate directly with his team.
This autonomous approach stimulates that knowledge will be retained better. Finally, the knowledge and the quality of the contact will improve. Also the physical absence of a supervisor will have a positive impact on the autonomy of an agent. The virtual supervisor will be confronted less often with questions compared to the situation in which the team coach physically is present in the contact centre. Asking a question to a team coach who is walking around, is apparently much easier than starting a chat session with a virtual coach.
Furthermore, the agents should be good team players, which are capable to motivate their colleagues online. They are part of a (virtual) team, which is dedicated to a campaign where -within the available communication module -knowledge is shared with team members. They have a mission in common: to optimize customer contact handling. To communicate effectively with each other and to motivate each other is very important. This is encouraged by common goals, which offer criteria for earning bonuses and rewards. Agents should be able to give each other feedback and should be rewarded based on their commitment to the team goals. The agent is able to monitor the KPI's at his desktop, so he and his team can improve performance. This simulates an agent to cooperate and to help weaker team members.
Virtual team coach
Within the virtual platform the status of each agent is monitored. Working on a campaign, visiting the bath room, details on handling time: everything is recorded in detail. Obviously it's important for team coaches to manage the agents. For leaders, other skills are required. They should start with leading by trust and should have the ability to create and to commit to remote teams. The effective use of social media and communities is an important competency. The community in which all agents communicate with each other and recognize each other for the activities they carried out, is important as a basis. For the home based agent, affinity and experience with web based applications and social media is important too.
Employee in the driver seat
It's all about management trusting the agents, combined with agents who have a clear sense of responsibility. People who are capable of working independently, self developing and who are curious, have a good starting point for becoming a home worker and to develop themselves as a professional home worker. When agents communicate about their availability and their skills are expanding, then the chain is reversed: no longer agents are asked for working in a project, but agents themselves select the projects they would like to work for. It is up to employers rather than to the agents to promote themselves: the most attractive projects with the highest rewards or most flexibility will be carried out by the best contact centre professionals. Dear contact centre manager: your contact centre agent is in the driver seat! You can and should count on that!
Radboud Heinink (1969) has more than ten years operational experience in managing customer-focused business processes. Heinink worked in various technical and operational roles at companies like Speedlinq, Telfort and HP. In the summer of 2010 Heinink joined VANAD Work from Home as Customer Contact Manager. At VANAD Heinink is dedicated to roll out the innovative concept of the homebased customer interaction centre. More information can be found at www.vanadwfh.nl.
The contact centre is the heart of a modern organisation, reaching out to current and future customers across multiple channels of communication. As simpler, routine communications are performed through self-service, the calls contact centre agents take are more complex and difficult to resolve.
80% of companies believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8% of their customers agree. Bain & Company
In an ever more competitive world, the importance of delivering an exceptional customer experience is greater than ever. How your customers feel about you is crucially important – a key part of your overall contact centre business offering.
- at the heart of business strategy,
- driven by contemporary management thinking,
- focused on offering ever more valuable expertise,
- delivering maximum business advantage.
75% of consumers say they would do business with a company based on a great Contact Centre experience. Genesys, Global Consumer Survey, 2007
Making the Connection
In your role, you have to quickly build a rapport with each new customer, and ask them questions to establish key facts and then resolve their issue. As more customers remove themselves from marketing communications, it’s increasingly part of a contact centre agent’s job to persuade customers to take action, buy services and perform tasks. To achieve this, they have to be able to hear the caller clearly and also rise above any chatter in the contact centre.
Simply Smarter Communications
With more of your calls being of a complex nature, you therefore need robust tools that can you can rely on to withstand constant daily use and are comfortable to use for long periods of time. These tools have to be able to reduce background noise, protect against sudden loud sounds and also provide crystal clear audio quality for you and your customers.
With the rise in complex calls and legislation, contact centre agents regularly have to escalate calls to colleagues both inside and outside the contact centre. The ability to see who is present and available to take calls makes it much easier for them to connect with others quickly. Being able to make a three way conversation between an agent, an expert and a customer, helps improve their knowledge and helps you deliver first call resolution.
86% of companies are planning Unified Communications in the Contact Centre
Far from its traditional ‘factory farm’ image, the modern contact centre is now a model of advanced Human Resource practice. People are its means and also its product. Delivering human empathy along with effective service calls for new ways of working and different styles of leadership.
- Motivation of people through greater trust and empowerment.
- Liberation in the workplace.
- Harnessing modern technology to improve productivity and standards.
- For a loyal and effective workforce
The opportunity to deliver is now. Engage your contact centre professionals in the most rewarding ways – and transform the customer experience.
The importance of design /2: workplace design and employee satisfaction
How important is your working environment for your well being as an employee? New technologies like mobile devices and cloud computing are emerging. Our work/life balance and working styles are gradually changing and therefore influencing our preferences. Because of these changes it becomes more and more important to assess employee engagement related to workspace.
The Leesman Index measures employee satisfaction and engagement with the workspaces provided for them. It provides insight in how well the environment supports different aspects of their work and captures their satisfaction with the physical features of the space. We spoke with Tim Oldman, founder of Leesman, about the meaning of design.
Tim Oldman: “Excellent prior work by many established HR specialists shows us that an ‘engaged' workforce is without question a more ‘productive' workforce. Generally speaking, a more productive workforce is a more profitable workforce. So at Leesman, we are trying to establish what connections exist between the workplace and employees' sense of engagement. If we can observe a connection between the environment design and engagement then we can move closer to proving a connection between environment and productivity.”
The Leesman-survey is distributed by the project sponsor via an email link that connects individual respondents directly to their own online e-questionnaire. Respondents insert their email address and a unique “project code” to start the survey. They are then taken through three stages of the survey starting with their personal business profile, followed by the Workplace Effectiveness section (rating their workplace against a number of outcomes we would expect a good workplace to achieve) and then a Workplace Attributes section (rating their satisfaction with the physical aspects of their workplace). It usually takes about ten minutes for an employee to complete the survey. Responses are anonymised and aggregated before being collated into an output report for the project sponsor or commissioning agent. Oldman: “We collect data in a number of areas, but simplified would say that we are posing questions designed to examine the ‘activity profile' of an individual and how well their workplace supports those activities.”
Are there differences between individuals when asked about preferences in working environment designs? Perhaps younger people do have different preferences, compared to older people. “Since we only launched our methodology in July 2010, it is far too early for us to start reporting or trends or findings,” Oldman states, “but I can say that what respondents rank as important, does seem to consistently cluster differently in the upper and lower age demographics.” Oldman explains that it is still too early to see what kind of general trends the aggregated data show. It is also difficult to say whether there are specific factors in work typologies (e.g. project based working, or contact center work that are determining the work environment design. “But other research we have conducted for the British Institute of Facilities Management would suggest that we are seeing a greater displacement of workforce, suggesting that the corporate office will become a bee hive that the worker bees simply flit in and out of as collaboration requires.”
Focus on auditing
Oldman says that until now research shows that in smaller contact center facilities aspects like acoustics, technology and relaxation space rank fairly highly as areas requiring much greater attention for those staff. “Our role is clearly defined in this respect -we only provide the results of the survey and do not consult with a client on what those results might suggest. We believe that this is the role reserved for the workplace strategist or workplace designer. We are auditors only. Perhaps a good medical analogy is to consider us the radiographer -we take the x-ray or scan prior to a specialist consultant addressing the problem that we may have exposed.” New technology is influencing our preferences and working styles. Early results of the surveys carried out show a great dissatisfaction with the volume or types of spaces provided for people to go to away from their desk, Oldman says. “As the tethers that tied us to a desk are being cut by increasingly mobile technologies, people want to be able to seek out space that best fit the activity that they are undertaking at that point. The challenge for the employer and the workplace designer is to decide what these spaces are.”
About Tim Oldman
Tim Oldman started his commercial interior design career in 1991 in transport design, cutting his teeth on the multi-million pound capital projects at Victoria Coach Station in London and the Buchanan Bus Station in Glasgow. In 1998, he carried out a workplace design project as part of the BT Workstyle 2000 consultant framework. In 2006 he joined Vitra to forward their workplace strategy objectives, commissioning several milestone research projects. Early in 2009, Tim established a consulting firm to further focus on the dynamic alignment organization's work patterns and practices within workplace environments. This led to the exploration and the development of new models, tools and theories and ultimately to the founding of Leesman. More information on http://www.leesman.co.uk/
Education for contact center professionals
The evolution of the contact center industry has resulted in a wide range of training courses and educational tracks for contact center professionals. It varies from short tailor made training sessions to longer standard courses with a broad range of subjects. Governmental approved courses are mainly focussed on operational jobs. In several countries however educational tracks for higher management positions have been developed too. In this article an overview.
Training and educational institutions in The Netherlands as well as in other countries offer both short training courses and long term courses, both as a off the shelf and tailored. One could choose from a wide range of front-, mid- and backoffice functions. Subjects that are covered vary from knowledge, skills, behavior on all operational and management related activities that occur within the contact center environment. Some tracks are specifically designed for detailed knowledge on implementing applications like CRM, WFM or quality monitoring.
Often training is offered by means of tailor made education. In this case, the training institution will develop a training program based on the specific needs of the organization and the professionals that should be educated. Such a program can therefore focus on the needs of agents and supervisors or on supervisors and mid level management. These programs can be expanded with training and coaching on the job and sometimes train the trainer sessions are included.
An important advantage of tailor made training programs is the level of adaptation towards the organization and the dedicated group within. Tailor made training gives the opportunity to reduce time and costs related to travel and stay, by providing the training sessions in house. More important is the direct relationship between the content of the training program and specific daily practice -which can be realized by using cases, examples, et cetera. This increases the transfer of knowledge and skills. The initial costs related to program set up might be slightly higher, but in terms of ROI evidence shows that tailor made programs are more effective and efficient which results in long term cost savings.
In the past few years the professional level of different contact center positions has been under fire. In The Netherlands, ECABO, the national agency of profession related education, has developed a system regarding vertical job positions within the contact center industry, including educational levels:
- contact center employee: someone who is responsible for contact handling
- team leader: manages a team of agents
- supervisor: manages a group of team leaders
- manager: manages a team of team leaders and/or supervisors including support functions
- director: manages a group of managers
Acknowledged training programs
In The Netherlands a differentiation can be made into branch acknowledged programs, general programs that are acknowledged by the training institute and programs that are officially approved by the government and therefore are combined with officially acknowledged certificates and or diplomas.
In The Netherlands SECC and CITO both are responsible for certificates, but these certificates only cover the domain of the lowest job level, contact center employee.
The only educational program that officially is approved by government is also designed for contact center employees. The program, which can be provided on two initial levels, takes two years and is part of a professionalization program which combines both work and education at the same time. Institutions that want to offer these both levels, need to have governmental approval.
Advantages of approved programs
Besides advantages like optimal results and a improved labour climate, acknowledged programs for employees lead to certificates which are widely accepted within the contact center industry as well as in other sectors. Attrition rates are reduced because employees who follow a course generally strive to get final certificate. For employers it's guaranteed that the professional levels of employees are controlled. Furthermore employers might make use of fiscal arrangements.
The European Social Fund (ESF) is supporting investments in education. ESF subsidizes up to 40 per cent of the investment that is needed. Requests can be done via the national educational agencies in each country, but one should take into account that a certain amount of time and effort is necessary to process a request. Conditions and regulations that should be met indicate that making use of ESF-arrangements are only feasible when a minimal number of employees is involved, starting with numbers of several hundreds of agents per year. Companies that would like to make use of ESF-arrangements should consider additional costs for advice. The ESF Equal program offers European programs for the enrollment of handicapped and unemployed people.
Higher education on managerial and executive level
On executive level educational programs are acknowledge exclusively by the education providers themselves. Master programs are offered by business schools as well as universities. The highest level of professional education is called European Master for Contact center Management. This program is designed specifically for contact center managers and company executives and is officially approved and accredited by FEDMA, the European Federation of Direct and Interactive Marketing Associations. This course is also offered by the Dutch Philipse Business School. Certificates are acknowledged in all European countries. The program covers two years and 60 European Credits, which is equivalent with 1680 hours of study time. In other European countries (France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom) FEDMA-accredited courses are available too.
Anja Hulsenboom is Business Director of Philipse Business School (http://www.philipsebusinessschool.com/).
Working at a contact centre: the past few years this was not a good opener at parties, birthdays or at the café when someone asked about the job of another person. Everyone seems to have a negative experience with contact centres that call during dinner time with a fantastic offer of green energy or a loan with an interest rate that you just cannot refuse.
A perfect match
Contact centres have had difficulties finding the right employees partly because of this negative image, but in the current economic situation it seems more and more interesting to start working in this sector. Looking for the right agent that fits the company is very important, since he'll be the business card of the company.
In order to match the right candidate with the job, it's very important that the candidate knows where he stands. Does the candidate have a good picture of the contact centre sector and the job? Is the job temporary or of long standing and is the candidate able to conform to this? In an interview with the candidate it becomes clear whether or not the candidate has prepared himself, but it's equally as important to provide the candidate with sufficient information before starting the interview. The information can be given in the form of an informative leaflet that explains the job as well as the organization. Another good idea is giving tours of the contact centre; this way candidates can “hear and see” the possible work environment and thus already decide beforehand whether or not this is the job for them.
The best agent is not always the one with the most experience. The CV is only a paper version of the candidate's career. The job interview is therefore equally important. During the interview, one can check whether the CV fits the person or not. 50% of the CV's contain one or more “mistakes” about past working experiences or schooling. Candidates feel the need to distinguish themselves, especially in these times. Checking references, after approval of the candidate, stays an important item of the procedure.
The usage of tests, especially online, as a means of recruiting has increased sufficiently over the last few years. These tests are mainly about knowledge and skills, include personal questions and take up positions. The test can also help to create more depth for the job interview. The results of these tests, that were taken over a longer period of time, can also make predictions about the value of the employees' stay. The danger is that these results become the goal instead of a means; tests are an addition to CV's and can form the basis of the job interview.
Checking a CV
The recruiter's task during the interview is to see whether the CV fits the person and whether the person fits the company (and vice versa):
- What is the candidate's motivation to react to the vacancy?
- Were the listed previous employers really the employers of the candidate?
- Is the past work experience relevant for the job?
- Are job title and job content the same?
- Are the data stated on the CV logical and chronological?
The area of tension between the right candidate and the fastness with which a vacancy needs to be filled is clearly present in the contact centre sector. Before a new employee is able to talk to the clients of the contact centre, he needs to follow different trainings and succeed with success. The recruiter needs to assess whether or not the candidate will see through the first 3 months on the basis of tests, the CV and job interview. Experience learns us that these 3 months are a determining factor of whether the employee will stay for a longer period or not.
Working at a contact centre is a job with a future, something that is carried by the entire sector and suppliers like employment agencies. More than ever, investments are made for the training of contact centre personnel, quality certification (COPC) and making the job of contact centre employees more attractive by offering career opportunities. It's because of these things that ever more contact centre colleagues talk with pride about this fantastic sector!
Video chat in businesses: a toss-up
“When I'm surfing the internet after work hours, I always check who's also online. I stay in touch with my friends in Barcelona via Skype, Facebook and Live Messenger. Sometimes we throw in some images. That is more personal. I also chat with my sister on a regular basis. She lives in Australia and gave birth to a son recently. When he's awake, she puts him in front of the webcam. This way, I can watch my nephew grow up almost live.”
This quote, from a 36-year old Dutchman, shows that (video) chat has been totally established these days. As far as technology standards go, Europe lags behind the United States a few years, but chatting -whether with images and sound or not -is something we all do. Who living in 2009 does not have a fast internet connection, a fairly good webcam and the knowhow to install a free chat programme? Even digital newbies chat with the same ease as they do using the telephone or email. At least, with family and friends.
Client contact settlement via chat: why?
Chatting with companies is something most people are not so familiar with. As opposed to America, where customers ask their questions via chat more often, European companies still find it scary to talk to their customers this way. The anonymity, the fact that it is easy accessible, doesn't that cost more than it brings in? The benefits of live web chat are often still seen as disadvantages in the ‘Old Europe'.
The phenomena of ‘video chat' seems too futuristic for most companies. Video chat slowly starts to persuade people in the United States, partly because the distances between people are often large. In the Netherlands the first pilots came to nothing a few years ago. Mail order company Wehkamp, and financials like ABN AMRO, MoneYou, Postbank and Rabobank -they all gave video chat a chance about three years ago. After a trial period of a couple of months they each came to the conclusion that client contact settlement via video chat is no sinecure.
No rocket science
The software was not the problem. Video chat is not exactly rocket science; the technology was right. But Dutch customers and call centre employees were not really waiting for video chat. This raises the question: is it still useful to investigate the possibilities of video chat in a business environment? The answer is yes. But video chatting in a business environment can only be successful when it offers an added value. Private persons use video chat because it's cheap, easy accessible and personal; in a business setting it's all about money.
Benefits: goodwill and transparency, nice in dark times
The biggest advantage of video chat is of course image. You push a button and all of a sudden you can see the person you're chatting (or calling) with. This is a decisive factor for the benevolence that the client has for the salesman or call centre employee. This is shown by the famous “7% - 38% - 55% Rule” of Albert Mehrabian. In 1971 this psychologist came to the conclusion that direct (“face-to-face”) communication consists of tone of voice and body language.
According to Mehrabian, the sympathy for the person trying to transfer something (the messenger) is barely determined by what that messenger says (words: 7%), but by the way he says it (tone of voice: 38%; body language: 55%). That's good news for video chat, the only client contact channel (apart from physically meeting the client) that gives body language a chance. When on the telephone, chatting, e-mailing of text messaging, body language is invisible. Those who manage to take on an open attitude during a video chat conversation, exude reliability.
Reliability is exactly what customers are looking for in bad economical times. Only a button with the text ‘Click here for live advice in image and sound' can gain the trust of online visitors. Whether the video chat function will be used a lot, can thus be seen as inferior. Of course video chat needs to work perfectly, if not, video chat will lead to a bad reputation instead of an image boost.
Disadvantages: uncertainty in the call centre, and always delayNot all call centre employees feel called upon to pose in front of the webcam like confident models. Their appearance -until then totally unimportant -is all of a sudden part of the branding of the company when video chat is used. A smooth look, nicely combed hair and a shirt-collar are highly appreciated.
Video chat may lower barriers for the client, but this is certainly not the case for the call centre. Especially when choosing for the one-way option. Video chat can take shape in a one-way or two-way form: at the second form, the call centre employee sees the online visitor, at the first form he does not. Then the employee reveals himself without knowing to whom.
Second disadvantage: even though every internet connection is sufficient enough to deal with video chat, there is always a small delay between the sent and received data. No matter how small that latency is, it can soon become irritating. And the technology for easy accessible video chat (without plug-ins) will not improve in a short term period. That revolution will keep us waiting for another couple of years.
Business video chat in practise
Video chat certainly is hip. So hip that even television companies in the Netherlands claim to use it. Viewers can mail questions to the editors and then the nicest questions are chosen, which the host or hostess then presents to the television guest. Image is of course present, but it is certainly not video chat.
When can video chat be used like it was meant to? When selling products where ‘giving' is concerned like financial products no one feels anything for. Whether a customer chooses supplier x or y often has a lot to do with the ‘click' between customer and supplier. When there is no click, the customer continues shopping. The products all look the same anyway. In that case, a positive experience via (one-way) video chat can be the deciding factor.
Image can also offer an added value when the online visitor wants to show the call centre employee something (or the other way around). Think about care: with two-way video chat the patient can show his swollen knee. On basis of that image, one can decide whether a visit to the general practitioner is advisable. The possibilities are endless.
At least, when the customer is ready for video chat, and that starts to be the case now. When co-browsing also takes hold, video chat will become really interesting. Then the offline world can be translated to the ‘online' world. Seeing and hearing each other, giving a presentation, offering a folder or showing products... Without image these experiences miss an important dimension.
Success Unified Communications is highly dependent on process and knowledge understanding of contact centres
Unified Communications seemed to be a hype for a long time. More and more companies start to realize that orchestrating communication and cooperation at different locations, times and channels can bring in big advantages. This is certainly the case for contact centres, where communication and cooperation are key activities. But many companies are not aware of the fact that they already use Unified Communications technology for their contact centres (no matter how small or big). An overview of the (im)possibilities, advantages and conditions of Unified Communications for contact centres.
Unified Communications bundle real-time and not-real-time applications for business communication. Examples of these applications are speech and video telephony, conferencing, cooperation, speech and video mail, instant messaging (IM), e-mail, agenda and contacts. Users can call upon these applications via different devices, like pc, telephone and PDA. Even though advanced technology is an important foundation for Unified Communications, the importance of it lies more in the possibility to communicate and cooperate more efficiently with this technology. Because employees, customers, partners and suppliers cooperate better via all possible channels, they benefit from different advantages -a better customer experience, more productivity, efficient cooperation and lower costs. This eventually leads to a competition benefit.
So far for the theory. But how does Unified Communications work in practise and more specific: in contact centres? In order to get an insight to that, first an outline of the current situation. The number of communication channels is very big these days. We call via our mobile telephone and fixed-line, we e-mail, chat, web and videoconference and send a lot of text messages. If someone cannot be reached via the fixed-line of mobile telephone, we leave a voicemail message. Almost everyone has multiple e-mail addresses, IM-names and phone numbers at the main office, at a different company location, at home and via the business and private mobile phone. This multitude of communication possibilities makes for more complexity. It is getting more difficult and time-consuming to communicate on a business level. This is of course not intended to happen in an era where the fast sharing of information and optimal customer service are more essential than ever. Also contact centres can be reached in different ways and they communicate in different ways. Agents answer customer questions via telephone, e-mail and chat and they can consult colleagues via IM. This is already a form of Unified Communications. A lot of contact centres already combine the skills and expertise of an agent with his or her availability via Unified Communications technology. The caller is automatically routed to the agent who can answer the question in the best possible way.
First line solution
The possibilities of Unified Communications go farther. Via Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) it is for instance possible to smoothly switch between communication methods. While an agents is on the phone with a client, he can call upon a specialised colleague via IM to answer a complex question. Big advantage is that one immediately sees how the colleague can be reached (presence-functionality). Should the colleague not be able to answer the question, then it is also possible to set up a video conference call with another specialist. By using this method, companies stimulate one of the most important attention areas of contact centres: first line solution. Customers do not need to be transferred again and again before their question is answered. This gives customer satisfaction a big boost.
Unified Communications also offers extensive possibilities for up-selling en cross-selling. The integration of telephony and pc makes sure that agents always have insight in the needs, interests and order history of the customers. Because of this they are able to present tailored offers. A car insurer can for instance also offer a passenger insurance or another extra service. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is also part of Unified Communications. Via IVR customers can via self-service prolong an insurance or carry out another standard task over the phone. This increases agent productivity and makes agents available for conversations or questions. Customers do not need to wait very long.
Text messaging and chat
The possibilities of Unified Communications are thus countless. Still, a lot needs to happen in most contact centre environments in order to get the most out of the technology. Unified Communications also integrates communication channels like text messaging and chat. Customers use this in their private life and also want to communicate with their suppliers via these channels. Apart from that they expect an immediate -or at least fast -answer. The contact centre that knows to integrate these alternative communication channels in its operational management best, will distinguish itself from the competition.
The current generation of contact centres is more and more structured and managed. Via IVR and other technologies one first determines who calls and with which question. Then the caller is automatically routed to the right agent via technology. This is already a form of Unified Communications. In order to make the most of the full potential, companies with contact centres can best go over these steps:
- Thoroughly look at what Unified Communications contains -multimedia, mobility, presence and integration of business processes.
- Take a close look at contact centre processes and determine how they can be streamlined with Unified Communications.
- Provide insight in knowledge and specialism. Which agent can answer what kind of questions?
- Map out bottlenecks and investigate how they can be solved with Unified Communications functionality.
- Choose the right technology/functionality and find a partner who can implement this.
In which phase of Unified Communications a contact centre may find itself, companies need to realise that also in this case technology has a supporting role. The customer needs, agent roles and processes are always at the centre and form the basis for using technology. Only then will contact centres get the most out of Unified Communications.
The IT infrastructure of a call centre
What are the most important points of interest regarding the IT-infrastructure when equipping a call centre? A lot of companies immediately start with setting up the hardware and software components. A more logical approach is initiating the equipping of a call centre from a business point of view. By doing so, one does not pass over some crucial questions and choices that form the basis of a call centre.
Atos Origin works in conformity with the ‘Consult -Build -Operate' principle. This approach stresses the correlation between business and IT. This also includes the famous make-or-buy decision: do we want to keep our call centre activities ‘in-house' or are we going to outsource? The market for outsourcing call centre activities is pretty mature. It can thus be a good choice to have an external party take care of the call centre activities. The business analyses gets closed with a set of requirements. This forms the starting point of equipping the call centre.
PABX versus VoIP
A specific choice, concerning technique, that needs to be made when equipping a call centre is the use of PABX (Private Automatic Branch eXchange) combined with ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) versus the use of VoIP.
A PABX is actually a switch that makes a connection between the public telephony system and the internal telephony system. VoIP uses the internet or another IP network to transport telephony. The choice for one of these two is connected with some other things. First of all the geographical spreading plays an important role. When using VoIP there is no quality loss due to big distances, something that can be the case when using PABX/ACD. Using PABX means having a (big) number of translation waves; every translation wave means loss of quality. When the call centre is only used within the boundaries of one country, this issue expires. The benefit of VoIP is that you can transfer it native.
Secondly the costs of VoIP can be much lower than those of PABX and ACD. If the call centre mainly has a regional function then PABX combined with ACD (about 20 agents) can suffice. For bigger call centres and an international scope the choice for VoIP is obvious. The call centre can be run more structured and speech can use the data network.
Hard versus Soft phones
A next hardware choice is the use of telephone or PC (respectively ‘hard phone' and ‘soft phone'). Both alternatives require a headset. It is obvious that buying hard phones results in extra ‘out of pocket' costs. Using PC's (so soft phones) can cut costs since every PC has a sound card at its disposal.
Data management and back-up facilities
A call centre needs to store a significant amount of data that concern call processing. It goes without saying that it's important to transfer these data to disc/tape regularly. Important questions are: for how long do the data need to be stored? What are the legal consequences of data storage? Redundancy is an important requirement for back-up facilities. You also create a so-called ‘Disaster Recovery Plan' for the call centre. This plan describes the process and procedures that are necessary to guarantee the continuity of the critical IT-infrastructure in the case of incidents. The back-up facilities need to be physically separated so that divergence is possible in case of an incident.
The ‘buy' decision plays an important role here. Apart from the possibility to buy all the software needed, it's also possible to buy the software as a service. This process is known as SaaS (Software as a Service). The benefits of SaaS are that it asks for a low initial investment and that an organization needs a only a limited knowledge of software. But it is so that this creates a strong dependency on an external party (for instance for updates and new features). Because of the standard SaaS supply, organisations may have a hard time distinguishing themselves from the competition (this wish can stem from the business analysis with regard to the positioning of the organisation and the call centre).
Integration of the call centre software with other corporate information systems is recommended. Especially integration of, if present, a CRM-system is very important. A link can lead to an agent being able to identify the caller, automatically select an agent with algorithms (on the basis of client data) and start, for instance, an automated voice service.
Reports provide insight in the performance (quantitative as well as qualitative) of call centre agents and make adjustment and a learning organization possible. These measurements can also be used to make a planning for the future. In order to receive good reports it's necessary to have a tool that can perform measurements and analyses. Such ‘metrics & analysis' tools are often part of the standard call centre software. But it's important to check whether the tool can handle standard reports as well as client specific reports. Quantitative data that are necessary are, for instance, service level, acceptance percentage, handling time, first time fix and the number of sales. For qualitative data these are, amongst others, the quality of the agent's conversations and the way the supporting systems are used.