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Aug 31 2016

Eliminating the potluck aspect of call center service

Twitter: @AlasdhairNOK

We’ve all done it: called into a call center for help and not got a reassuring person or an answer we could trust.  So we hang up and redial, and again if needed until we find someone whose skills we can have faith in and whose answers we believe are credible.  Eventually we get what we need as a customer, but the cost to the fixed or mobile operator is tangible and too high – maybe 3 calls instead of 1.

3 cost centers exposed

Every call center has a goal of eliminating the pot-luck aspect of calling in. Every call center would like to provide consistent service that is high standard, framed according to policy, and satisfies customer needs quickly and reliably.  In addition to paying for the pot-luck callbacks, call centers spend a lot of money on training courses, quality assurance, and supervisor time to monitor agents.

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Despite all the expense and effort, this is not a recipe for success in the complex world of technical support.  Consistency remains an aspiration, not yet an achievement. Agents are usually outsourced, offshored, and typically stay in a job for less than a year. They’re supposed to learn how to handle hundreds of different types of customer problems and  not surprisingly, there’s significant variation in how they attempt to do that.

Another area of expense for the operator is when agents  have multiple approaches to handing the same type of issue. When agents do more or less the same thing, then the process can be improved and result in shared improvements.  However if agents only do what they recall from their training, coupled with what they’ve learned from some memorable calls, and the folklore resolutions that exist in every call center, then any improvement will be blocked.

That’s three areas of expense so far, and none are successful investments in building customer experience.

The first one – calling back until the customer gets a good agent – is a requirement to make all agents into good agents. That is the fundamental solution here. The extra training and quality assurance costs aren’t making a difference. And attempts to improve production and quality metrics don’t work because the agents are not following the process, and may not even know what it should be.

Technical support call centers invest a lot of effort in defining the best way to resolve customer issues. They brainstorm on the solutions, cast them into new agent training, have top-up sessions to reinforce the processes, and sometimes document them in FAQs and flow diagrams for agents to follow.

This means best practices are usually known and often revised over time. So what happens to the agents who are trained, and have the FAQs and flow diagrams to use? The answer is that once the flow has been memorized, or what is perceived to be the important parts of the flow, they will stop referring to it. Unfortunately, this means that any changes to the flow go unnoticed and agents continue to work from that amalgam of early training, selective experience and folklore.

Why processes break down

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It is often cited regretfully by call center managers that the agents who most rigorously follow the best practices are the brand new agents, straight out of training. Over time they tend to drop the best practices and stop following the advised diagnostic and resolution approaches.

There are many reasons for this.  Naturally, if an agent believes he knows the process, he won’t spend time looking up what he already knows.  Secondary is that every call center is under production constraints and if an agent can save time by omitting an action, they will.  The third reason is more subtle but prevalent: agents are measured against specific KPIs, which they learn how  to best optimize over time with actions that may not align correctly with the customer’s needs.

Nokia Customer Care proves that the best way to ensure adherence to best practices is through the deployment of automated workflows. These workflows are the best practices baked into a system that is capable of prompting an agent for information, or if the data can be obtained from a backend system saving the agent and customer both time and effort. Likewise, every agent can attain success similar to that of the best agents.

Adding value by automating workflows

With an automated workflow tool, optimization becomes achievable. Changes can be quickly implemented and measured. If there are several changes in scope, then it becomes feasible to carry out A/B testing to determine which one is best.

Automated workflow supports unprecedented measurement of agent actions – each step, each timing, each branch that is taken, are all measured and reported, which allows for additional levels of optimization.  Perhaps more importantly, the measurement can support analytics and insights for self-help workflows given directly to customers. Lastly, the workflow analysis can identify opportunities for proactive actions to fix issues when detected in the customer environment even before they experience it.

Worth a phone call!

If your call center has challenges with consistency, process adherence and metrics that don’t seem to improve despite best efforts, then talk to an expert team within Nokia Customer Care who has solved these issues for other customers. We’re happy to share reference cases.

Visit our website for more on our Nokia Service Management Platform

Share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – or join the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks using #CEM #CSPCX

About Alasdhair Campbell

Alasdhair Campbell is a leading expert in all facets of large call center, self help, and web operations, with joint focus on the customer experience and financial implications. With an MSc. in Particle Physics from London University and a patent in Customer Communication Service Systems, it’s no wonder he’s a go-to guy for innovative problem solving.

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