With a vast portion of the world’s commerce now conducted electronically via the World Wide Web and telephony applications, the importance of the corporate call center increases steadily month after month. More call centers are being established around the globe each year, abetted in no small part by the explosive growth in business process outsourcing (BPO), where domestic business organizations can become international entities in the blink of an eye. For many companies, the call center now serves as the first line of contact for a large majority of their customers. For better or worse, the call center functions as their virtual ambassador.
The critical nature of today’s call centers cannot be overlooked. A bad or mishandled phone call to customer service can result in a lost customer for life. And there are few things that can be as potentially damaging to a business as a disgruntled and harshly vocal customer. Firsthand word-of-mouth endorsements or disparagements are still the most effective or most damaging forms of advertisement.
A well managed and efficiently run call center can make for a huge competitive advantage. Customer loyalty and brand reputation are perpetually on the line—every call is important; every call has the potential to make a positive impact on the bottom line. Any broad measurement of customer service and customer satisfaction must include a variety of performance indicators and statistics that originate wholly from the corporate call center.
Aside from the customer service angle, companies can gain a huge amount of customer-focused business intelligence from their call centers. Here they can glean insight on customer behavioral patterns, wants, likes, dislikes and brand loyalty, which can be mashed together with macro-level consumer trends across an industry or product segment. This information can have a tremendous influence on a business organization’s strategic goals and planning.
Where there is a successful call center, there will be a robust digital dashboard that tracks and synthesizes a wealth of information about each phone call to the center. The best of these dashboards offers extensive business intelligence (BI) capabilities that go far beyond typical operational functionality. After all, for most call centers, “business as usual” should mean that a massive amount of data is being generated each day, setting up an attractive scenario for a multitude of data mining initiatives.
Today’s call center dashboards must empower call center agents and supervisors alike to make critical customer service decisions in real time at any point in the call lifecycle. Above all, this will be accomplished through the ability of the agent and supervisor to easily and transparently interact and solve problems together as a team. When the call center dashboard fosters camaraderie between call center agents and supervisors/managers, customer service will ratchet up several degrees. When call center agents have the ability to mutually see and share their performance statistics against those of their peers - and when they can engage in a healthy competition against one another - a magical quotient of employee motivation materializes.
The most visionary of call center dashboard vendors have started to introduce customized on-the-fly coaching materials into the operational rigor of the call center. For example, call center supervisors do not always have the bandwidth to intervene when one of their agents is underperforming or is unable to properly service a call according to standard; but by providing the dashboard with the ability to automatically generate and deliver “just-in-time” eLearning content to the agent in the form of tips, ticklers and training reminders, potentially troublesome calls can turn into successful ones.
Call Center Performance Metrics
Call center reporting consists of information collected from the relentless stream of inbound and outbound calls. From the most rudimentary perspective, call center reporting will cover such objective items as number of calls escalated, calls completed, calls dropped, average talk time, average hold time, and other measures of agent performance and efficiency. Based on such measures above, a clear picture will emerge on how well a call center is functioning. Though just as important, subjective measures, such as the attempt to rate the “outcome” of a call, will be better left to the discretion of a supervisor and cannot be electronically tracked by the intersection of telephony infrastructure and the call center dashboard.
A major threat to properly interpreting the holistic performance of a company’s call center operations is that call center resources are often spread out around the world. Agents may be dynamically handling customer calls in India, Canada, Ireland and the United States all at the same time. Because of the global complexion of call centers, gathering performance metrics and consolidating those metrics for KPI reporting can be a disheartening chore due to things like data latency, and data definitions and semantics. With data coming from distributed locations around the world, more than a few iterations of changes (via a concordance and conformity process) to core KPIs may be the norm. In addition to the inevitable wrestling with logical and physical call center data, before making a large investment in call center dashboard infrastructure and data warehouse technology, a lucid data architecture must be defined and mapped to current/future-state IT infrastructure so that success may be assured.
Call Centers Meet the Cloud
Networking technology has enabled the call center labor force to function in a much more distributed and location-agnostic manner, as call center agents and their supervisors often operate simultaneously in different continents. One challenge that many call center dashboards have failed to adequately respond to is the seamless handling of "dynamic switchover," which involves the transferring or escalation of a customer’s call to different external location. Many times this is a location that is overseas from where the call was originally taken. With many call center agents now working out of their actual homes, the issues surrounding switchover have been exacerbated even more.
But there is good news: The move towards cloud computing models promises to fix many of the internal communication and call routing problems that have plagued the call center industry. Thus, most of the major vendors of call center dashboards have positioned their products and services to be “cloud ready,” helping their customers to better avoid some of the more harsh expenditures of call center infrastructure and equipment. The cloud computing exemplar of “pay for what you use” fits the operational paradigm of the call center perfectly. A flexible model of cloud-hosted services and infrastructure ensures that call centers are not spending money to run idle infrastructure at times of non-peak call traffic. Furthermore, during peak periods, they will have unfettered and unlimited infrastructure capacity that scales to handle heavy volumes of traffic.
About the Author
William Laurent is one of the world's leading experts in information strategy and governance. For 20 years, he has advised numerous businesses and governments on technology strategy, performance management, and best practices�across all market sectors. William currently runs an independent consulting company that bears his name. In addition, he frequently teaches classes, publishes books and magazine articles, and lectures on various technology and business topics worldwide. As Senior Contributing Author for Dashboard Insight, he would enjoy your comments at email@example.com
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