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Call Center Productivity vs Call Avoidance

In this article, we look to share our experience in addressing both approaches and understand how the deployment of specific technologies can be of assistance in both scenarios.

Call Productivity:

In a traditional call center, most operations look to deploy the latest technology solutions and implement the best management practices to ensure that their agents can handle calls efficiently, courteously while achieving and maintaining a positive customer satisfaction rating. Dependent upon the markets they serve, the technology deployments can range from a relatively simple automatic call distribution (ACD) system that handles calls on a simple “next available agent” basis to some of the more sophisticated operations that deploy skill-based routing where calls are routed to specific agents based on their product knowledge, language skills or a variety of other criteria. We have also deployed Computer-Telephony Integrations (CTI) to ensure that the customer’s profile is presented to the agent when the call is received and eliminating the need for the customer to have to provide their profile information before the agent can start working on resolving their issue or answering their questions. In some cases we have deployed a simply Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system that allows the calling party to interact with a prerecorded announcements and offer the customer calling options and the ability to select how they want their call to be routed.

Regardless of the technology introduced, the call center management are looking to measure the productivity of their operations in terms of a few standard metrics:

– number of calls handled per hour
– average speed of answer
– average call hold time
– average call abandonment rate
– average call length
– first call resolution

Although the majority of our projects focus on handling voice calls, the advent of omni-channel communications has expanded the breadth of the call centers to include being able to support SMS/text, chat, emails and social media. While today we are seeing approximately 50 to 65% of the call center traffic supporting voice communications, the introduction of the other media is increasing and is expected to continue at a rapid rate.

Regardless if the call center is handling voice or a combination of voice and omni-channel communications, the focus of our call center managers is on measuring and reporting on their agent productivity and being able to demonstrate the fact that the customer calls are being handled expeditiously and with the highest level of efficiency.

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Call Avoidance:

In some technical support operations, where the demographic of the customer base consists predominantly of under 30 years old’s, these customers typically don’t want to talk to an agent and given a preference would rather not make a call into any call center – no matter how productive it might be! What that means to the call center managers is that call avoidance is their goal and they look to deploy solutions that allow them to handle as many inquiries as possible with the least number of agents.

Enter the age of self-service support using advanced knowledgebase systems that are built to automatically interact with a customer, providing them with the ability to describe their problems through a webform, to find a solution to their problems and retrieve a pre-built resolution that resolves their issue. Several knowledgebases or KM systems exist that are standalone applications and many are prebuilt and integrated with the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Support Management systems.

While the concept of avoiding a call entirely might seem to be contrary to the principles of good customer support, for many customers, being able to avoid making a call completely and being able to solve their own problems through the use of smart technology is ideal.

The key call avoidance metrics are relatively simple:
– number of search queries initiated
– number of inquiries resolved
– number of cases open (unresolved inquiries)
– number of cases closed
– number of escalations to an agent

The introduction of Artificial Intelligence and advanced Search functions is improving the effectiveness of self-service solutions and will continue to spread the adoption into other non-technical support markets. Imagine the scenario where a consumer can enter a website, research a product of interest, ask questions about the product performance, read product reviews and ultimately order the product without ever having to speak to an agent and also do all of this in any language! We are not that far from this being a reality.

Which is Better?

Which approach is better depends entirely on the demographics of your customer base, if you are supporting a sales, service or support program and what your customer’s expectations are at all stages of their interaction with your company.

Before working with our customers, we define those expectations and before introducing any form of technology, we outline what the specific objectives are and what success metrics will be measured over time. The key to success will always be having a deep understanding of your customer’s needs and preferences and ensuring that the systems you put in place are flexible enough to meet their requirements today and over the next 3 to 5 years as your customer’s expectations change.

Author: Bob Tatemichi has been in the call center and software application business for over 25 years and currently works as an IT consultant with Xcel Services Group focused on deploying call center and voice-based applications with key customers throughout North America.

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