Beyond Efficiency: The Integration of People and Technology in the Call Center



Stephen Dawson
09/08/2009

In recent years, the drive for efficiency has been a major factor in business decisions throughout the United States, and perhaps nowhere has this trend been more evident than in call centers. The economic downturn has made the need for efficiency even more acute, driving call centers offshore and increasing the use of self-service tools and technology as means to reduce costs. Such moves are key to remaining viable in times such as these, but if not done properly, they could yield short-term gains and long-term losses through a loss of customer trust and acceptance.

The call center may serve multiple purposes for its customers or parent companies—inbound/outbound sales, customer service, etc. While it is vital that the call center operate efficiently in all aspects of work, it is vital that the call center keep in mind the goal that the American Teleservices Association has described in recent years as delivering the Ideal Customer Experience (ICE).

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Reducing call center costs today at the expense of the long-term relationship with the customer is a sure way to guarantee that companies will not reap the benefits from a broader economic recovery in a manner the call center hopes to achieve.

There is a myriad of call center technology available to assist call center management in assessing the service provided to the call center customers, from post-call Interactive Voice Response (IVR) surveys to speech analytics to automated call recordings and many more. All call center technology requires an investment of time, labor and money to implement—making call center technology a harder sell to senior management than ever before. How, then, should agencies in the teleservices industry balance the needs of the customer and those of the balance sheet?

Call center technology must be properly integrated with your people process.

1. Heed the Voice of the Customer (VOC). Consumers, whether in a B2B or residential environment, do not always "vote their pocketbook" in their buying decisions.

Customer loyalty is now more important than ever, and the call center must recognize that any piece of call center technology that allows customer feedback on their experience with the call center is helpful in several ways. The first is that the customer will feel better about the company for having had the opportunity to voice any concerns they had about their interaction with the call center. Leveraging call center technology for customer feedback shows concern for the customer’s input and improves brand loyalty. Other powerful call center technology includes post-call surveys, whether through speech, Interactive Voice Response, or live interaction, can yield customer feedback that allows the call center to recognize the need to make any needed to training, scripting or call center processes, all of which will improve future customer interactions.

2. Allow the customer to contact the seller in the manner they prefer.

Younger customers may prefer to interact with contact centers (which is what a call center really is) via Web site, chat or other media. Some customers prefer automated Interactive Voice Response systems to speaking with live agents; others, the reverse. The more options the customer has, the greater the likelihood they will continue to be long-term customers for the seller, since they will appreciate being able to use the communication method they prefer instead of what the seller prefers they have.

3. Remember that training never stops.

The point of call center technology including speech analytics, surveys and other quality control metrics is not just to measure how efficient the call center representative is. These call center technology tools exist to provide information for management—specifically, the front-line supervisor—to use in coaching the call center representatives in how to improve their performance. Consistent feedback to the call center representative regarding his/her performance, accompanied by regular coaching sessions that reinforce the lessons found in the data, are what drive improved performance. The wealth of call center metrics and call center data can overwhelm call center representatives, so it is incumbent upon the call center supervisor to make these sessions concise and consistent, and to provide positive feedback for improvements since the previous session.

By keeping these guidelines in mind, the call center can position itself to take advantage of the benefits of the call center technology available by focusing on the needs of the customer and driving efficiencies. At its heart, the call center’s relationship with the customer must be served through call center technology and through human interaction. To ignore one at the expense of the other is an approach the call center takes at its peril. However, by using what Jim Collins and Jerry Porras called in Built to Last "The Genius of the And," call centers can use these guidelines to improve both customer loyalty and efficiencies simultaneously, clearly the ideal outcome in times such as these.

First published on Call Center IQ.