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Retail Call Centers: Improving Efficiency and Productivity

30th October 2020

Retail call centers are an important step in many customer journeys, and for online customers they may be the only human interaction with the brand.

Retailers have multiple ways to operate to fulfill the customer need. Should they be in-house or outsourced? Offshore or home-based? How do you expand capacity for business peaks?

Whatever route a brand takes, it’s important that the call-center operation is productive and efficient. Modern work-study techniques help brands get a rounded view of their operation, which helps them get below the top-line metrics and identify opportunities to improve. Here are the questions you need to ask.

Related story: 8 Proven Ways to Boost Store Efficiency on Black Friday

1. What really happens during a call?

Detailed study of a customer call from the start to the end, including post-call notes, creates rich insight into what’s making a call longer than it needs to be and quantifies opportunities to improve efficiency.

Typical issues include system delays and slow connections that agents have to work around, double entry of data on successive screens, and incomplete customer records that mean the agent has to revert to a different system or even a second line support team. The level of detail in the studies creates a clear picture of exactly what the barriers are and how often they occur — just the information you need to prioritize and action improvements.

Studies also highlight best practices. Inconsistency can be seen in some call centers in how post-call notes are captured. The best way solve that problem is to use a template that’s added to throughout the call.

In another study it was found that 10 percent of total team hours were being spent on transferring calls between internal teams. The study identified a type of query that the teams weren’t experienced in handling, creating wasted time for both customers and agents. The training need was identified and addressed to improve efficiency and eliminate waste of 10 percent of time.

2. Is your team the right size?

A diagnostic efficiency study creates a snapshot of how time is spent by agents over the course of a day and week. Graphing colleague time vs. call demand and capturing when downtime happens creates insights into how well resources match demand, and how efficiency varies over time. Typical findings include teams being imbalanced over the day — e.g., more agents are working than needed in the evening as well as poor planning of breaks creating longer-than-needed wait times for customers. Studies in a smaller retailer call center saw one team had 30 percent of their time in downtime working alongside an overstretched team. The answer is to train agents across multiple skill areas so they’re able to be flexible in how they meet customer demand and support each other

3. How do your leadership teams add value?

Role studies track a manager over several shifts. The analysis quantifies how much time is spent on internal emails and admin vs. making a difference with their team. In one study an assistant team leader role had been added to the structure without clear role objectives, and therefore colleagues in the role had slipped into filling their time with admin.

For a retailer with a mix of in-house and outsourced call centers, role study showed that team leaders at their in-house call centers spent three times more of their time coaching their teams, which produced higher customer scores and improved key performance indicators.

Call centers are an essential part of today’s customer journey, and getting them right for your customers and your business is an increasingly important part of your operation.