Change for the better

Since the Varney report was first published the UK has been suffering an economic downturn and consumer spending and behavioural patterns have changed over the last 12 months. 2010 will perhaps see a change in government but, whatever the outcome of the next election, the public sector will undoubtedly be asked to do more with less.
Now is the time to look at steps you can take to improve your operations without incurring major capital expenses. Here are some useful pointers:
Optimise the processes: Ensuring the uniformity of tasks, documents and processes will allow the organisation to examine work methods and identify how more could be done with less. The clearer and more defined these elements are, the simpler the optimisation process will be.
Workforce management (WFM): If you have a workforce management tool, it is crucial that you use it to its full potential. Your management and planning team have certainly evolved since the tool was implemented, but did new training options and updates follow? It may be time for your contact centre to establish a training budget to increase the benefits that the tool could potentially yield.
If you don’t yet have a WFM tool, it’s time to invest in one, especially since 70 per cent of call centre costs are directly linked to resources. A planning tool makes it possible to better target the periods during which you need resources, and the return on investment can be significant.

Call quality
Quality management (QM) tools: Centres that have not begun to monitor calls will have to do so very soon. In addition to ensuring service uniformity, call quality has also become a key factor. Call quality and resolution on first contact reduce call volumes and enhance customer retention since clients are immediately satisfied.
Examine the planning process: Long-term planning is the foundation, while short-term planning (scheduling) makes it possible to get a head start on attaining objectives and minimising costs. The key is real-time, and the actions taken to manage contact volume fluctuations, absences and all of the other inputs that impact the results. It is important to understand that real-time does not mean next-day results assessment, but rather immediate interactions, decision making and schedule rearranging to meet the needs of the day.        
Improve call resolution rates with knowledge bases: Many contact centre managers lack enough data on repeat calls or the number of times a caller is transferred. If the agent lacks the knowledge to answer the enquiry, the caller will often hang up and call back later which increases call volumes and the cost of servicing. A knowledge base with a good search engine helps agents to find the right answer quickly and reduces call transfers.

Initiate contact

Reduce unnecessary calls by introducing pro-active outbound communications: Most contact centres experience traffic spikes when certain events trigger a large number of incoming calls (changes in billing for example). To reduce or eliminate these, consider sending e-mail or phone alerts to your customers with appropriate information before they make a phone call to the centre. You can allow them to respond to you using the same channel you have used to contact them thereby reducing incoming call volume and increasing customer satisfaction.
Reduce agent attrition: High levels of staff turnover are a major cost in contact centres so consider steps to improve retention such as desk training to improve skills, career paths within the contact centre, flexible scheduling and performance reports that set individual goals.
Consider introducing home-working: Using agents working from home introduces more flexibility during peak traffic times and evening shifts and they can also serve as emergency support staff if the main centre becomes inoperable because of an emergency event. Home working can also reduce attrition and absenteeism.

The importance of websites

Develop your web offering: Develop a single consistent strategy for customer service regardless of the channel chosen by the customer. Websites that are difficult to navigate or don’t have enough information generate more calls into the contact centre. Good websites allow customers to serve themselves and move more traffic to self-service.

Introduce chat and co-browsing: These tools will reduce the number of customers who only do research on the web and will generate increased use of the web as a main source of information. Of course, it is important that when you offer on-line chat you always have an agent available to respond immediately.
Upgrade your IVR (Interactive Voice Response): Using IVR simply to direct calls around the organisation means that you are missing the opportunity to allow callers to complete their transaction without assistance. Standards based IVR platforms provide a valuable tool for automating more complex transactions using speech recognition.
Improve communication across the organisation. There must be continuous communications between all departments that generate calls such as unexpected delays, billing changes or service interruptions. It’s important that managers take accountability for resolving issues quickly and excellent communication across all departments will allow the contact centre manager to anticipate events that will affect their operation and to manage the situation more effectively.

Social media
It is clear that social media has emerged as a prominent platform in the Web 2.0 revolution with a direct impact on how organisations engage with their customers. Their comments about your products and services are easily shared and visible to more and more people so often carry a lot of influence.
Contact centres must therefore develop a skill set to tap into and respond to this powerful new channel. Contact centres can embrace social media to get closer to customers, spot trends, identify influencers, and create customer advocates, but they must align with social media norms that reflect an understanding that their organisation does not own these sites.
The boundaries between fixed and mobile communications, between communications and computing and between information and entertainment will continue to blur as services converge and more powerful devices emerge.
Some companies, Apple amongst them, are beginning to do more than just listen to their customers. They are working with customers on the co-creation of their future products and services; all facilitated by the internet and social software tools.
A UK wide survey commissioned by the Institute of Customer Service in July this year reports that customer satisfaction has continued its upward trend reaching 74 per cent overall but with local public services at 71 per cent and national public services at just 70 per cent there is still a long way to go.

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