Set Clear Goals to Decrease Contact Center Complexity

Maybe you remember Avril Lavigne's hit song "It's Complicated." With an abundance of "uh-huh, uh-huh" it was a little short on lyrics, but Avril's basic point that life can be pretty complicated at times is perhaps even truer today than it was in 2002 when the song was released. Consider just some of the things that have already happened halfway through 2020.

  • An extended heat wave drove the temperature in Verkhoyansk, Russia—north of the Arctic Circle—to 100.4 degrees on June 20.
  • Due to COVID-19, handshakes and warm embraces have been replaced with elbow bumps.
  • Thirty million people were collecting unemployment, and the stock market was still booming !! (go figure)
  • Mom and Dad are working at home, and the kids are driving each other crazy.
  • Zoom dating has been found to be a poor substitute for the real thing.

As a contact center professional, you know a few things about complexity. A short list includes multiple channels of communication, new regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act, changing demographics, advancing technology, and perhaps most challenging of all, shifting priorities for the contact center.

To simplify matters, we first have to identify our core mission. Contact centers have a lot of objectives, and trying to address all of them with equal vigor and tenacity will only make things more difficult. It's better to identify the one core objective that overshadows all of the others and focus most of your energies on that. The other less-pressing objectives can be addressed but at a lower priority level.

A clearly stated objective should be precise, measurable, attainable, aligned with broader corporate objectives, and largely within your department's control. Let's take an example. Enterprises with the highest reliance on contact centers are financial services, insurance, and telecommunications providers. What do these types of business all have in common? They rely on customer loyalty. The most critical key performance indicator for the entire organization is customer retention. Therefore, an appropriate contact center objective could be stated something like this, "Maintain customer retention at 80 percent to 82 percent for the next 18 months." Why maintain rather than improve? It is because customer retention is dependent on a whole host of factors. The contact center alone cannot reverse a long-term downward, but stopping the bleeding is an achievable goal.

To get to the how part requires a careful analysis of every process in the contact center and the subsequent identification of processes and technologies that can alter or perhaps even reverse the flow of customer defections. Below are a few things to consider:

Initial response to customers calls: The first thing the customer encounters is the interactive voice response system. Have the menu choices been updated recently? Given all that has happened already this year, it is very likely that the reasons people are calling are different and more varied. Speech analytics is a great tool to monitor call reasons. More advanced systems can categorize and quantify queries by reason.This provides a firm basis for identifying menu choices and even providing appropriate self-service replies.

Authentication: Challenging the caller's identity is not a great way to start an interaction. For some businesses, authentication is essential for fraud detection and compliance (think financial services, insurance, government, and health care). It can be something simple like asking for the last four digits of the caller's Social Security number, but this still introduces a small hurdle that has to be overcome. Wouldn't it be great if the authentication step wasn't at all intrusive? You can do this today with voice biometrics technology. Voiceprints are as unique as fingerprints and the caller never has to remember her mother-in-law's maiden name.

Quality management: Quality evaluations are an essential though inherently inefficient process. As commonly practiced today, supervisors or quality monitoring specialists review tiny statistically insignificant samples of agent interactions and complete evaluation forms based on objective and subjective criteria. Automated quality management software can sort through 100 percent of agent voice interactions and assign ratings based on objective and consistent criteria.

Scheduling and forecasting: This is where things really get complicated. Determining future staffing needs requires analysis of numerous variables, some controllable and some not. In addition to service levels, occupancy, adherence, and other familiar variables, analysts also have to take into consideration agent preferences, labor laws, skill levels, local customs, and sometimes even the weather. Leading workforce management system vendors use more than 40 algorithms to develop schedules and forecasts. How do you choose the right algorithm? This is where artificial intelligence paired with deep analytics prove their worth. Artificial intelligence can automatically scan data in real time and determine which models are best suited for the time and circumstances. Analytics can digest complex information to assess cause and effect.

The contact center is arguably the most complex environment in the entire company. It is also crucial in achieving corporate goals, particularly brand loyalty. I've summarized just a handful of proven technologies that can greatly simplify daily management challenges. But technology is only a tool. Far more important to achieving corporate goals, such as improved customer retention, is the quality of customer-facing employees and the judgment of contact center management.

Dick Bucci is founder and chief analyst at Pelorus Associates. He can be reached