To a More Cost-Efficient 2018

FROM THE JULY 2017 ISSUE

A More Cost Efficient Contact Center in 2018
Illustration by Nick Barrett

Many of you reading this are likely in the throes of it right now: the annual budgeting process. You are being pressured to “do more with less,” and you will be held accountable for everything you agree to during this period (and yes, even some things that you never agreed to). It’s a hectic period, but one that requires patience and precision.

Everyone has ideas for cost-cutting in a contact center, and some of them are actually viable. Typically, though, the best ones require a lot of planning, investment and time. While there is nothing wrong with these larger projects, they aren’t going to get the job done for 2018. We are looking for things that can be identified, designed and implemented in no more than six to nine months. Any longer, and we just won’t have enough time left in 2018 to see any real budgetary value. So with that framework as guidance, we will take a look at three options that offer potentially significant cost savings, yet are often overlooked in a contact center. And since everyone loves a five-star rating system, we will give each one a rating based on three criteria:

  • Savings potential
  • Speed of implementation
  • Authority/control

With the ground rules in place, let’s look at the options.

Put Your Calls on a Diet (5 Stars)

Handle times continue to increase year after year. Part of this is simply the mathematical outcome of handling simpler requests via self-service, leaving the more complex calls for agents. But if you take some time to listen to calls, you’ll find they’ve taken on a little added weight over the years. Where has this come from? Here are some examples:

  • Can I get your phone number (in case we get disconnected)?
  • Would you like to add a mobile number to your account?
  • Can I get your email address?
  • You may receive a survey after the call… (followed by instructions).
  • Any myriad number of disclaimers, based on the industry.

I know, many (if not all) of these are “requirements” dictated by other departments—marketing, legal, product development, etc. Dig below the surface, though, and you find that the request came years ago, and no one can really point to any value being derived from the effort. And of course, these other departments never offered to fund the extra handle time, so you are basically picking up the tab for extra chores that no one is showing much interest in. If you revisit these requirements with these departments, chances are you may be able to eliminate the extra work all together, or at least limit it to certain situations.

So what makes this a five-star opportunity? At most centers, I’m able to identify 10 to 30 seconds of these extras per call. That’s an enormous opportunity, it can be implemented quickly, and the only investment is the loss of the information that is probably not being used. It’s a no-brainer.

Refine Your IVR (4-1/2 Stars)

Too many organizations view an IVR as nothing more than a portal to deliver self-service. That’s short-sighted, and such a view keeps other great opportunities hidden from view. The IVR plays a key role in authentication, and greatly impacts the agent-to-agent transfer rate. Both of those metrics can improve cost efficiency if you get them moving the right way (push authentication up, and bring transfer rates down).

Of course, a wholesale redesign of the IVR is not going to fit our six- to nine-month framework—so that’s off the table. What we can do, though, is limit ourselves to a few changes that require only a small amount of effort and can be agreed upon by all. There are three items that will fall under that umbrella at just about every contact center:

  • Elimination of menu options
  • Increases in natural language synonyms
  • Script rewording

Of the three, the biggest opportunity may well lie with the rewording. Language and customers change over time, and what was understood five years ago may be confusing today.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes, then listen closely to your IVR instructions—you will likely identify some wording changes that improve clarity. Then take those IVR scripts and give them to customers, colleagues, family members, etc.—and you will likely learn of even more opportunities. Yes, it will take a little bit of work and coordination with IT resources (thus the half-star penalty), but even small improvements in authentication and transfer rates can yield big dollar benefits.

Address the AHT Outliers (4 Stars)

Every contact center can point to 10% to 20% of the staff that deliver good quality and customer satisfaction results, but take a longer time to get there than other high-performing reps. Yes, these are good people and they are delivering value—but with a little dedicated coaching, they could be doing more.

The trick here is to keep the quality while adding some speed. That won’t happen with “fly-by” coaching (the kind where a supervisor drops off a report and tells the agent to “do better”), so your supervisors need to be equipped to deliver these kinds of results. That’s a six-month project to help these frontline leaders identify coaching opportunities, present the information, and develop individual action plans that get results. Not every coach will be able to meet the challenge, and not every agent will have the skills needed to improve—thus this is just a four-star opportunity. But it is a win for everyone involved (including the customer), so if you can only deliver on half of the potential it still a worthwhile endeavor.

Take Steps Now to Reduce Costs

Significant cost-cutting in a contact center requires the involvement of multiple departments and the addition of improved technology. But there is no sense in just sitting back and waiting for those things to come together. There are plenty of steps that can be taken now, in 2017, that will bring down expenses next year and help you hit those targets that otherwise seem out of reach.

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