HOW DOES YOUR CALL CENTER GROW?

Jul 01, 2001 9:30 PM  By

The rows of tomatoes you plant as seedlings in your back yard or the flowers you lay out every spring in geometric patterns to impress your neighbors take months to come into their own. Like those plants you spend your weekends cultivating, a call center represents a collection of processes, or the natural business activities you perform that produce value, serve customers, and generate income. Managing these processes is the key to the success of your call center and ultimately your organization.

Unfortunately, most call centers — including yours — are not set up to manage processes. Instead they manage tasks. Think about it. Isn’t your company organized around functions — the manufacturing department, the X-ray department, the sales department, the customer service department?

As a result, people tend to focus on local concerns instead of the global process needs of customers. Sub-processes evolve within departments without consideration of other functional areas. Layers of communications and management are created to ensure desired outcomes, thereby adding to costs and lengthening cycle and customer response times. Subsequently, inefficiency and waste become part of the system. They rob your call center of profits, productivity, and its competitive advantage. But there is a way out.

Map it

Process reengineering is a simple yet powerful method of looking beyond functional activities and rediscovering your core procedures. The cornerstone of process reengineering is process mapping. Process maps enable you to peel away the complexity of your call center structure and internal politics and focus on the processes that form the heart of your business. Armed with a thorough understanding of the inputs, outputs, and interrelationships of each process, you can understand how processes interact in your organization; locate process flaws that create systemic problems; evaluate which activities add value for the customer; and mobilize teams to streamline and improve processes.

Properly used, process maps can change your entire approach to process improvement and business management, and they can greatly reduce the cost of your call center operations by eliminating as much as 50% of the steps in most processes as well as the root causes of systemic quality problems.

Species proliferation

Companies often fail to use best practices across their customer contact centers. Typically Fortune 500 companies have several such facilities. Contact centers are the foundation for the new industry buzzword “customer relationship management” (CRM). Any CRM initiative must start with a clear understanding of a company’s call center business processes.

It is commonplace for a large company to maintain multiple call centers performing similar business processes across sales, service, and marketing departments. A company may also have centers within those same departments performing similar business processes. For example, brand-specific service contact centers are common, as are sales or marketing centers set up to sell or promote specific products. Marketing groups may outsource certain promotions even though they could handle these programs internally.

Corporate leaders frequently discover that no one understands the complete contact center capability of the organization across functional areas. To make matters worse, functional areas within the same organization perform similar work differently, which leads to the unhappy phenomenon of customers being treated differently by different groups within the same company.

Generally this occurs because an increase in demands — new service offerings, entry into new market segments, or new product launches — causes a business to create new call centers to handle them. In addition, disparate groups do not communicate and tend to do whatever it is they have always done regarding business processes. This in turn gives rise to a set of common organizational problems. These problems include institutionalization of the “this is the way we have always done it” attitude; redundancy in people, processes, technology, and facilities; more transfers and revisions; and a general failure to share lessons learned.

Natural selection

Contact centers tend to perform one or more of the following business processes:

Service-related processes

  • General information
  • Service provision (warranty, dispatch, referral, reservation, fulfillment)
  • Service modification
  • Program support
  • Employee support
  • Technical support
  • Collections

Sales-related processes

  • Orders (entry, status, fulfillment)
  • Account maintenance
  • Telemarketing
  • Field support

Marketing-related processes

  • Product information
  • Brochure fulfillment
  • Special promotions
  • Lead tracking/management

To reinvent your business requires that you break down your current call center processes, identify best practices, and replicate them across your enterprise. You’ll need two major tools to accomplish this. One is a four-step process reengineering methodology (shown above) and the other is a world-class attribute model (see pages 52 and 54).

The four steps of the reengineering methodology are (1) planning and due diligence, (2) best practice identification/should-be design, (3) implementation, and (4) continuous improvement. The world-class attribute model covers your organization, call center processes, and call center personnel.

Take a careful look at the world-class attribute guide, which covers organization, processes, and people. It includes the attributes for each category and clarifying questions you should ask and answer about your call center. This exercise, coupled with detailed process mapping, will assist you in developing your gap analysis from “as is” to “should be” processes.

You now have at your fingertips the road map to complete the reengineering of your call center with a proven, four-step methodology to use as a guide and the world-class attribute template as a baseline. Because staffing accounting for about 70% of a call center’s operating expenses, process reengineering can be well worth the time and cost.

Barry C. Morgan is a principal and owner of Home Agent, Inc., based in Winston-Salem, NC. He has more than 17 years of call center consulting and start-up experience. He can be reached by phone or fax at (336) 922-4438 and by e-mail at Bmorgan@homeagent.com.

Pretty Maids All in a Row

Below is a checklist for world-class call center operations. Once you’ve cultivated these rows of things to do, you can expect a bountiful harvest of well-trained staff, satisfied customers, and profitable encounters.

ORGANIZATION

  1. Value recognition
    • What value does your organization provide to the company?
    • How is the call center’s impact on customer retention measured?
    • Do agents understand the primary goal of your organization?
    • What are other key goals?
    • Are your center’s goals consistent with the company’s objectives?
    • Are your goals interdependent with those of other organizations?
  2. Stakeholder involvement
    • Do you communicate regularly with other company departments?
    • Do you have an organizational chart?
    • How is the staff organized?
    • How are company managers involved in day-to-day operations?
    • How does company management ensure that the call center is achieving its goals?
  3. Unique functionality
    • Which other units have responsibilities similar to yours?
    • What customers do you serve?
    • What products/services do you handle?

PROCESS

  1. Policies and procedures
    • Are call-handling policies and procedures documented?
  2. Hours
    • What are your hours of operation?
    • Do they match your customers’ needs? How do you know?
    • What options do customers have for doing business with your company (retail stores, inbound call center, Web site)?
    • How do customers know how to contact you?
    • How many toll-free numbers do you publish and where?
    • Do customers always call the right number? If not, why not?
  3. Contact management
    • Are customer contacts tracked? If so, how?
    • Are contacts tracked through provision of services?
    • Is contact management automated?
  4. Quality focus
    • Do you have a quality-monitoring program in place?
    • Do you measure agent performance or customer satisfaction?
    • How is data collected and reported?
    • What action is taken?
  5. Performance measures
    • Are performance measures established?
    • Are the measures linked to customer satisfaction? If not, how do you measure customer satisfaction?
    • What are the trends?
    • Does an agent quality-monitoring program exist?
  6. Call-handling consistency
    • Do agents follow procedures consistently? How do you know?
    • Are call-handling procedures available online?
    • What resources do agents use to handle contacts (manuals, memos, training guides)? How are they updated?
    • Do agents have to search through multiple sources to piece together responses to customer queries or requests?
  7. Workflow
    • What other departments/groups/individuals do your agents rely on for assistance or to fulfill customer requests?
    • How do you track fulfillment?
  8. Managing call volumes
    • Are processes in place to ensure real-time response to changes in call volumes?
    • How do you minimize customer wait times?
    • What methods do you use to review how many calls are in queue?
    • What do you do if calls are waiting?
    • Are readerboards visible to agents?
    • Are the agents required to react to the readerboards? How?
  9. One-call resolution
    • Is one-call resolution a goal of your center?
    • How do you measure one-call resolution?
    • What is your first-call resolution rate? What is the trend?
    • Are there any bottlenecks in the current process?
    • Do you have any recommendations for these bottlenecks?
    • Why are calls transferred? Where are they transferred?
    • Are calls transferred on a blind or warm transfer?
    • How long do transfers take?
    • What percentage of calls is transferred?
    • On average, how many times is a caller transferred?
  10. Issue escalation
    • When are issues escalated?
    • Do agents follow special guidelines to ensure issue resolution?
    • Are dissatisfied customers referred to a supervisor?
    • Is the goal customer satisfaction?
  11. Market intelligence
    • Are product and service issues collected and forwarded to the appropriate departments?
    • Is customer demographic data collected and forwarded to the appropriate departments?

PEOPLE

  1. Hiring profile/compensation policy
    • What is your agent recruitment and hiring process?
    • Describe the agent hiring profile. Is it documented?
    • How long do agents/supervisors remain in their positions?
    • What is the cost of hiring?
    • Is pay performance-based, time-in-title, or pay-for-skills?
    • Do you use team-based bonus programs?
  2. Training/career path
    • What is the training provided to new reps?
    • How do you train call management/customer management/call handling techniques?
    • How much time do you spend on call management training?
    • Do you train customer advocacy?
    • How do you reinforce training on the job?
    • Do agents have to pass a test to graduate?
    • Does each agent have a training plan?
    • How do you measure training effectiveness?
    • What is the frequency of training classes?
    • What is the average size of training classes?
    • How long does training take?
    • What is the cost of training?
    • Do you provide continuation/refresher/on-the-job-training?
    • Do agents receive software training?
    • What career paths exist for reps and supervisors?
    • What is the average time in title/position?
    • What career development programs exist?
    • Is the training staff professional and well-trained?
    • Is the staff focused on customer satisfaction and retention goals?
  3. Attrition
    • Why do agents leave?
    • What is the rate of attrition of agents?
    • Describe your employee recognition programs.
    • What is the policy on full-time vs. part-time employee usage?
    • Are agents hourly or salaried?
  4. Workforce management
    • What system do you use for workforce planning and scheduling?
    • Do you measure agent adherence to the schedule? How?
    • What percentage of the agent’s day is spent on the phone?
    • What activities are completed during non-phone time?
    • Are the activities done between calls or at specific times?
    • How is after-call work measured?
    • What is the estimated volume in each channel?
    • What is the average percentage of occupancy?
  5. Performance standards
    • What are the standards against which agents are measured (call length, hold time, adherence to schedule, etc.)?
    • Do they know that they are measured against these standards?
    • How frequently are agents measured?
    • Does customer satisfaction affect compensation or promotion?
    • Do agents understand their role as customer advocates?
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Silver Bells and Cockle Shells

To bring your call center business processes into full bloom, follow this four-step process reengineering methodology:

  1. DOCUMENT THE STATUS QUO

    Identify process gaps. Lean in the direction of your first available measures and indicators to get started. Conduct on-site process interviews, observations, and focus groups. Map your core work, processes, and call flows (inbound and outbound). Validate and fully understand your “as is” processes, then begin assessing possible “should-be” states with an eye on “could be.”

  2. IDENTIFY BEST PRACTICES AND SHOULD-BE DESIGNS

    Determine root causes. Dig wide and deep to find the reasons for problems (process, people, and technology). Facilitate best-practice identification/should-be design sessions. Maximize the involvement of the organization, especially for those who are going to live with and sustain the new process designs. Evaluate proposed and visionary designs. Validating existing work just spreads age-old problems, illuminating issues and process flaws. Anticipate what all this is going to cost, then multiply it by three. Prepare and arm your team with data prior to engaging in dialogue with other departments (facts remove emotion). Develop a rollout strategy.

  3. IMPLEMENT NEW STRATEGIES

    Establish a plan of action. Carefully plan the changeover, but expect that only military precision will be successful. Realize early your limitations as an organization for the purposes of the change you are about to make. Draft policies and procedures. Develop test scripts and training scenarios. Negotiate service-level agreements. Create documents that define what needs to happen in the process, supported with easy-to-track measurements. Train, test, and pilot the new processes. Make the change — execute the plan, accept no delays, and make it happen.

  4. PREPARE FOR CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT

    Identify process issues. Prioritize challenges posed by the new regime and identify and implement solutions on an ongoing basis.

This methodology enables effective matching of required functional expertise to performer skill sets; offers job accountability that eliminates errors and bottlenecks; and greatly enhances your ability to deliver excellent customer service. The process works whether you are trying to improve existing operations, consolidate operations, outsource, or piggyback process improvements on top of a technology upgrade or package installation.
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