Call Center Week Summit: Day 1

Gina Scanlon

The first workshop of the morning, It’s Not Just a Contact Center – It’s a Business, led by John Bardwell, Managing Director of TMG International Inc. in Canada, concentrated on how to improve and perfect your company’s mission statement, specifically crossing over and proving effectiveness within multiple channels such as the web.

A lively and engaged group of call center professionals and participants addressed concerns such as how to balance their customer experience, while evaluating more realistic aspects such as cost effective metrics. Customer Experience is certainly a buzz topic this year, and is now taking center stage over ‘customer service,’ the once standardized term for the industry.

Weighing in on the session afterwards, Bardwell said he found that the participants were learning that firms need to become more revenue focused, and struggle with how to get there. He also noticed that social media is having an impact on the call center business and has "become the mantra for young customers."

As younger generations enter into the workforce and grow older, it will only expand, making call centers more competitive. Despite the growth and popularity of social media, Bardwell said he didn’t see contact centers going anywhere and were an "excellent channel for revenue development." "Social Media channels can’t probe customer needs as well as contact center agents," he added.

A panel of presenters conducted the workshop Best Practices for At-Home Agent Program Success. Patrick Botz, Vice President of Workforce Optimization for VPI, started off the discussion by discussing trends and brainstorming with participants on key at-home agent financial and effectiveness gains. According to case studies, the main perks to having an at-home agent staff are a happier workforce and increased productivity, as well as providing operational continuity.

Botz also discussed At-Home Agent demographics. 80 % of the current at-home agents have college level experience and 40 % have management experience. The average age is 38+, and 30 % are bilingual, where as only 30 % of brick and mortar agents have college-level experience, and the average age is 23.

The panel gave tips on how to recruit for these roles, how to get the word out and where the competition lies. The workshop covered best practices for at-home agent training and solutions, including virtual training methods. 1/3 of at-home agents prefer live with instructor via webcast, 1/3 prefer a virtual lab with a ‘buddy’ and 1/3 prefer self-paced e-learning.

Mohan Nair spoke about management best practices, and emerging technologies Optimizing interactions with desktop analytics, a system that allows the manager to monitor an at-home agent’s computer.

Patrick was pleasantly surprised by the ‘business’ focused audience, as opposed to a more technically inclined one and Mohan was a little surprised at how serious the workshop professionals were about expanding or starting an at-home agent clientele for their contact centers.

"It used to be a thing of the future, or wishful thinking," Nair said after the workshop. "But now it’s a realistic, cost effective option." Although he and Patrick both see the demand for at-home agents increasing, they don’t see it eliminating the need for brick and mortar businesses.

Steve Kraus, Senior Director of Product Marketing and Chris Mauer, Contact Center Business Consultant for Pegasystems, gave the last workshop of the evening entitled In a Time of Increased Service Complexity, Realize Your Customer Service Vision.

Big topic of discussion was whether or not to use the cloud to store information, and it seems to be where technology is going. The pair also touched on another popular topic of the day, the multi-channel service system, and how to determine and measure what your customer’s preferred format of communication is, and how they want to get through to you.

Certain topics and questions to assess your business by are, for example, whether or not the customer’s problem can start being solved on one channel, and end being solved on another, as well as access to analytics that prove all channels your call center is using are effective. The participants agreed that multi-channel access is becoming increasingly important, and that the ability for the customer to choose their channel was equally valuable.

On the subject of optimizing profit and introducing 1-to-1 marketing in your business practices, Kraus made the case for its importance. "Customers are tired of being treated the same," he said. So personalizing the customer experience through marketing is becoming more prevalent online. "When the change comes, will you be ready? Because it’s going to come," he added.

More to follow!