The Call Center, Declassified

Customer relationship management is in the wake of a transformation, with both technological and generational forces at play. Evolve IP has, in the realm of a special agent, decoded organizational change in this era through its 2016 North American Call Center Survey. The survey results provide key insights into call center trends and the market landscape.

Data in Deep Cover

Agents generate huge quantities of data in a variety of systems, which could be turned into significant business intel. However, for most organizations, it remains essentially encrypted. Organizations are lacking the actionable knowledge about their call center performance and staff productivity, plus critical customer insights.

When asked about their biggest call center challenge, the number one response was insufficient reporting and analytics. Twenty-two percent of survey takers found this issue to be very to extremely challenging, and another four in 10 found it challenging.

The second biggest challenge was improving agent productivity, where nearly half of respondents noted it as challenging or very to extremely challenging In the age of budget cuts, approximately 50 percent agreed that reducing costs was challenging or very to extremely challenging.

Sixty-seven perrcent of survey respondents felt that addressing regulations and compliance was not at all or slightly challenging. Similarly, slightly more than half felt that enabling agents to work remotely and outdated technologies weren't a significant concern.

Going Dark

In the world of spies, going dark means going silent, generally to protect yourself from harm. For a call center, however, it can equal disaster, causing immediately lost revenue and frustrated customers. Going dark isn't uncommon; six in 10 call centers reported downtime of their telephones or call center technology in the last 12 months.

Additionally, 21 percent noted they were dark for between six and 30 hours, and 5.5 percent were down for 31 hours or more. One in three experienced a loss of operations from between one and five hours.

For call centers that went down for a significant amount of time, one solid option would be to enable agents to work from home. However, just slightly more than half, 53 percent indicated that their agents were able to be fully functional from home.

Rogue Agents

Respondents, like business leaders, have concerns about what agents do when they are working from home. The main concerns are:

  • Inability to properly monitor agent activity (40 percent);
  • Agent morale/productivity (40 percent);
  • Protection of confidential/proprietary information (32 percent);
  • Having the right technology in place (32 percent); and
  • Technology support (25.5 percent).

Despite some trepidation around remote agents, it is generally agreed that having agents out in the field and working from home holds great promise for organizations. While some call centers have implemented a work-from-home program leveraging new technologies, others revealed that the program is discussed only in private. Hurdles for implementing a work-from-home program center on trust, isolation, and a lack of monitoring.

Top Secret Operation Priorities

When call center leaders put their budget request in for this year, they probably found themselves looking at requests for integration instead of the latest gadgets. According to the survey respondents, the top three investment priorities for 2016 are the following:

  • Customer relationship management (35 percent);
  • Customer satisfaction surveys (34 percent); and
  • Workforce management (28 percent).

While the top two priorities are designed to provide significant amounts of business intelligence, the actual investment in BI reporting tools was low, with 13.5 percent noting it as a priority. The investment in tools that provide integration and reporting is lacking, which represents an area of significant value to contact centers and contact center business intelligence providers.

Maximizing Agents

According to the survey, organizations are looking to improve efficiency and productivity, and to do so they are placing more operatives (agents) in the field and plan to increase their levels. When asked what was keeping agents from being fully functional outside of the office, 40 percent indicated that they were unable to get leadership approval. A lack of agent monitoring technology was cited by about one in three respondents. Insufficient hardware and software, along with insufficient teleworking policies, were also noted as preventative in implementing work-from-home agents.

Double Agents

Multichannel solutions that handle applications like chat, email, fax, SMS, and social media have gained significant traction in the past several years. Nearly six in 10 call centers now interact with customers across multiple channels. The majority of respondents (59 percent) now have a solution in place.

Many call centers are now deploying double, or blended, agents available to answer both voice and non-voice channels simultaneously. Those agents are now used by 50.5 percent of survey respondents; however, of those deploying these select agents, one in three have less than 10 percent of their teams handling both channels, while 8 percent have enabled 100 percent of their employees.

Of those not blending both channels, a third cited their decision as strategic in nature, and about a quarter noted that non-voice interactions were handled by specific agents. Twenty-nine percent noted that their technology didn't support the initiative.

The Operation

This blind, Web-based survey was conducted by Evolve IP during April. It featured 168 respondents in North America who are directly involved in the operations of their organizations' call centers. Eighty-one percent of the respondents came from companies with a focus on business services, while 19 percent were from the not-for-profit, education, and government sectors.

Mission Debrief

"How can I help you?" This phrase, a common opening for call center agents when a customer calls, is also the question that call center leaders are asking their leadership teams, according to the survey results. This has produced an increased focus on business intelligence, cost reductions, and productivity.

While call center leaders desire deeper analytics and more reporting, they struggle to integrate other applications that could prioritize business intelligence services.

Rich Fox is vice president and contact center practice leader at Evolve IP.