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When a sociable working environment comes with the territory, how do you make sure efficiency remains a priority? It’s a longstanding challenge faced by contact centre teams; whose people skills are a perfect match for their job. And in a world where shopping over the phone and online is playing an increasingly important role in our lives, it’s a question we’re helping clients to answer.
Contact centre work can be stressful and repetitive. Agents need patience, empathy, and the ability to stay positive, so managers will often prioritise an informal office culture to boost morale. They can face a difficult balance keeping their teams happy and making sure they stay focussed. Combine that with the challenge of having exactly the right number of colleagues available to answer calls at the right time, and companies could end up paying for their people to be hanging out instead of working.
Another factor in the mix is a reliance on technology to do the job. Agents get most of their information from their screens, so every moment spent waiting for a page to load is time that could be used to answer more contacts or streamline rotas.
Compared to in-store shopping, customers on the phone are less forgiving when they’re kept waiting. They can’t see the end of a virtual queue, making drop offs more likely. When they do reach an agent and it takes a long time to sort their request, it’s much easier for frustration to creep in if they can’t see the person they’re dealing with. In the ongoing battle for customer loyalty, bad experiences are difficult to reverse, and inefficiency comes at a high cost.
All of this is notwithstanding the typical challenges a company will face: providing a consistent customer experience across different teams and making sure leadership roles are different enough to justify the extra investment. In short, there are huge opportunities for time and money to be wasted or saved – and customers to be won or lost.
A DIY retailer asked us to build a detailed picture of productivity in their contact centre after we took a close look at their stores.
Our analysts studied seven different contact centre teams for five days. They meticulously timed and calculated averages for every activity carried out – from answering calls, emails, and social media queries to adding notes and escalating problems. And they scrutinised what was happening on each call, noting when agents contacted another department for example, or used Google.
We also looked at how teams split their time between dealing directly with customers, on essential activities like admin or training, and on activities that weren’t adding value. Our analysts measured how that changed at different times and on different days and mapped it against the number of people on shift versus customer calls waiting.
Although the retailer suspected some of their contact centre teams were pushed harder than others, they were surprised at the extent. For one team, time spent not working, on breaks or waiting for customers took up nearly half their day. The answer was adjusting the size of the team, transferring agents to help colleagues in a team overwhelmed by calls, and training them to take on more multiskilled work.
We highlighted a mismatch between resource and demand; sometimes there were too many people at their desks waiting for calls, while at busier times there were virtual customer queues that often coincided with agents’ break time. It indicated a need to build rotas and plan breaks more effectively.
Outdated processes were also costing valuable time. When customers called to cancel orders, agents had to contact the trade counter, which took at least 20 minutes. We recommended upgrading agents’ systems so they could cancel orders directly. To save multimedia teams from spending hours watching their screens for customer activity, we suggested introducing alerts for new social media messages. And, after identifying that nearly 20% of calls related to stock queries, we spotted an opportunity to add a message to the phone system encouraging customers to check stock online – a small change with a potentially big pay-off.
Alongside quicker wins came suggestions for longer-term adjustments. We highlighted that at weekends, when calls were more likely to come from less experienced DIYers, using more experienced agents could help keep call time down.
It gave the contact centre leadership all the detailed evidence they needed to make improvements and inform strategies.
We’ve worked with a global telecoms brand for several years, tracking performance in their stores. Like the DIY retailer, they recently saw the advantage of turning the spotlight on an important area of their business.
They wanted to compare how time was spent in their outsourced and in-house contact centres, and gain insights about what happens during a call. Their systems were already giving them some information about call times and resolutions, but there was plenty of scope to dig deeper.
Our workstudy analysts spent six days across four sites, embedded in different teams. As well as measuring call times to produce robust averages for all the different call stages, they looked closely at leadership roles and the differences between them and clocked how advisors spent their time throughout the day. Our analysts made observations too, spotting opportunities to streamline tasks and keep people focussed.
The brand knew there were differences between their in-house and outsourced centres but didn’t have a full understanding of the underlying factors, or the impact they might be having on productivity and revenue.
We showed that although outsourced teams were keeping call times down and saving valuable seconds, they weren’t upselling to the same extent as in-house teams, whose managers spent much more time coaching their advisors and holding one-to-ones. It revealed the potential benefit of spending time coaching teams, and the opportunity to improve consistency so all customers can have the same brand experience.
We saw plenty of opportunities to save more time for both customers and the client. Misdirected calls were eating up precious minutes, as were complicated calls that were being passed around to different teams before being resolved. Quantifying the impact of these issues on the operation enabled the leadership team to prioritise improvement efforts.
If they’re not addressed quickly, tech problems and slow systems can easily become part of the norm, and it often takes an outside perspective to hold them up to the light. We found that slow-loading databases were dragging out customer call times, as advisors waited for pages to open. Inefficient systems also meant advisors were having to type the same information on multiple pages. We pinpointed the most sluggish systems, priority areas for upgrade and places where auto filling text could make a big difference.
We know data only becomes useful to a business when it’s given context, properly analysed and used to create actionable next steps. That’s why we turn our insights into a list of improvement options. We quantify improvements with an estimate of time saved, so clients can clearly see the benefit of making changes and prioritise those that make the biggest impact.
We showed that improvements to efficiency in our clients’ contact centres could save them approximately a fifth of their time and create a more consistent experience for customers.
Prioritising efficiency in contact centres really can pay off. It’s just a matter of understanding the full picture so you can make the right calls.
“ReThink’s professional team gave us a lot of great useable insight into our business. All of which we have been able to use to drive the business forward.”
ReThink contact centre client