Focus on outliers; creating benefits for customers, companies and costs

Artist: Eric Broms
Artist: Eric Broms

Interesting post at source: by Wim Rampen (who happens to work as a consultant for me)

I do not agree with Mr Rampen’s statement that operational managers do not focus on costs and quality (and especially not during the greatest Depression of the last 100 years). But his approach with regard to outliers is interesting and could benefit customers, employees and costs. Moreover, althought his approach is limited to contact centers, you can apply it for all services. And being a metrics fan, I would advise you a six sigma approach.  Create a context in which costs and quality are important and create the foundation for the innovation in your working field.

Productivity in Contact Centers – The dirty word –

The mainstream discussion on the best way to reduce costs of customer services seems almost entirely focused on topics like Social Media, WOCAS, Voice of the Customer, Customer Experience and The best service is no Service.

Nowhere in the discussion around quality up & costs down (which is the basic philosophy of any of the themes mentioned) driving productivity increase is mentioned in a positive way.

Stronger even: quite often we see the argument that one should focus on the effectiveness of Customer Care processes and not on the productivity of the transaction. One could say that Productivity is The Dirty Word of today’s word of mouth around Customer Care & Customer Contact.

I would like to argue here that productivity management is as much a tool for quality management as is quality monitoring. If executed in the right way productivity management can contribute as much to decreasing volume as self-service-robots. I even dare to state that productivity management is the cheapest and fastest way to get better results on First Contact Resolution, Customer Satisfaction and Customer Experience.

Why? In my blog ”How do I understand Why” I stated: ”CEM (Customer Experience Management) is about taking it back to where it all starts: The Customer places a Call.….And ask yourself: WHY?” The same applies here:

Productivity is about taking it back to where it all starts: The Customer places a Call…. And ask yourself: WHY does it take so long (on average, because that is what we contact center professionals look at) ?

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Again this question is rarely easily answered. At best there is some form of skill-based routing (do not overdo that) and few fully multi-skilled agents. This enables the organisation to assess what type of contacts (and processes/customer experiences driving these contacts) are complex, take more time to handle and would require improvement first (on experience, quality and productivity). Also most contact centers do not have fully multi-channel CTI-connected and integrated systems which would enable full contact type productivity analysis on an individual level.

To cut it short: In main-stream contact center-life there is very little insight in the reasons why AHT/productivity is what it is. The result of which is that contact centers managers continuously have to explain why it has gone up over that week, month etc etc. And of course they hardly ever have good founded answers and start tracking ICT-problems and other department failures and alike to cover their [Dirty Word Here].  That’s part of the reason why productivity management is the pain in the [DWH] of today’s customer care and contact center business. Other reasons are: Productivity management is not sexy & Productivity management is not making you popular and liked.

Why is Productivity Management the cheapest and fastest way to increasing quality?

In my humble opinion and experience there is a clear relation between customer satisfaction and the average length of a call. In my past experience as Business Unit Manager of a Contact Center Outsourcing Service Provider I was, among other Clients, responsible for a part of the first and second line tech support for one of the world’s leading Game consoles. I say part, because this business is multi-vendor outsourced as well as multi-regional executed within my former company.  There was a very clear focus from the Client on Customer Satisfaction (top 2 Box on a scale of 9) and First Contact Resolution (measured by customer feedback). Because of the multi-regional set-up there was intensive (healthy) competition and best practice sharing between the sites. In the last year I worked for this company my location showed best (above target) CSAT (and almost on target FCR)  results throughout the entire year worldwide. At the same time our AHT was lowest within the company I worked for.

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This “proof” brought me to dig into the details and I discovered that not only AHT was lower on overall average, but at the same time the variance in AHT between the different agents was much smaller compared to the other projects running on “my” site. When I asked the responsible manager(s) to explain to me what, in their opinion, made the difference it became clear to me: Productivity management is not about managing AHT, it is (again) about managing the way the agent approaches the call and guides the customer through the process of problem/question resolution. If you know what makes a good call (and really it is not about mentioning the customers name three or more times and also not about 6 critical errors out of 12 error opportunities) and you have the ability to teach and coach your agents how that is done, and you empower your agent with the right systems (access) and authority, you will get the shortest contact possible with the least risk of repeat calling This will also be the call with high customer satisfaction and good to great customer experience. Although the latter might be because others are not doing that well in general ;-)

A practical approach to improving productivity and increasing quality at the same time

To conclude what you could do to make quick and cheap results on quality and productivity with one and the same measure:

  1. Get a list of all employees and their respective AHT and define the agents that have AHT > 15 % above overall AHT (do not be surprised if this is more than 30 % of you agent population)
  2. If possible cross-check (and correlate) with quality monitoring results (and you will establish the correlation yourself)
  3. If monitoring results are not available start monitoring these agents and establish any gaps in knowledge or behaviour they have adopted that does not aid to delivering the best for your customer in a call
  4. Develop an awareness, training & coaching program focusedon How do I approach a call for this group only (at first, to keep it cheap and quick) and train on any knowledge gap if applicable.
  5. Train – Monitor+Coach – Monitor+Coach – Monitor+Coach – Train – Monitor+Coach with high intensity for several weeks to a few months and you will see:  quality monitoring results will go up and AHT (for the respective agent and overall) will start dropping significantly. At the same time you should be able to track a drop in repeat traffic (if the agent group you are attacking is of a significant size and takes a significant number of calls of course).
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What you should keep in mind:

  1. Do not make this program about AHT reduction for the agents involved (not even for the coaches/teamleads involved). Make it about improving their ability to help the customer in a pleasant, effective and efficient way and make it about customer satisfaction.
  2. Your second step should not be about repeating the first, but about the agents with AHT more than 15 % below the overall average. You will definitely find some rotten apples in there that you need to get out too.
  3. When you do individual productivity analysis make sure to also keep track of hold-time. Excessive hold-time is a clear indicator that there is a lot of feedback asked from others (or time spend waiting for others to help) or that too much time is spend on performing analysis. In all cases there is a gap of knowledge you need to close.
  4. There will be hopeless cases: empower and support your team managers to get the best out of everyone, but you should also be willing and able to empower to lay-off someone (which might be legally easy outside Europe, but not in most countries inside Europe) even if this will cost you some.

To conclude: you can start with this today, do not spend lot’s of money on (selecting) new systems, but focus on the customer experience that counts: The Call with the Customer.

Have fun, and please share your thoughts/experiences.

Artist: Eric Broms
Artist: Eric Broms
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One thought on “Focus on outliers; creating benefits for customers, companies and costs

  1. I am very pleased to ascertain that other experts, like Tripp Babbitt, in the meantime made it clear that AHT (Average Handle Time) is very oldfashioned (rooted in the “Command and Control thinking”, a productivity mindset of over 100 years old), has completely run it’s course and is no longer tenable in Contactcenters !

    Please go here (Ctrl + click) :

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