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What It Takes to Manage an Effective Call Center: the Cloud, the "Bouncer," and the Capacity Planner
Picture an ocean. The waves. And notice that there’s a certain rhythm to the madness of how the sea moves.
A Contact Center Is Very Much Like That: an Ocean
It’s important to manage those waves, know when to focus on productivity and when to focus on quality. A call or contact center thrives on both at different times, during seasonal peaks and valleys of call volume.
That’s why capacity planning and analysis are so important to a contact center. This type of business strategy according to Interactive Intelligence focuses on project management from a manpower and efficiency aspect:
- Do You Have Enough Staff to Handle Call Volume?
- Do You Have Enough Resources in Your Office?
- Do You Account for Agent Sick Time?
- Do You Repeatedly Devote Attention to Customer Service Quality?
In essence, if you’re riding those waves and falling off the surfboard a hundred times, you’re not being particularly efficient. Capacity planning and analysis teach you how to ride that board right and catch the big kahuna.
There Are Three Important Tips to Keep in Mind
It’s not all cut and dry, though. Here are techniques you learn, making your contact center that much more efficient, utilizing capacity planning and analysis.
Tip #1 – Plan Well Ahead of Time
Think long-term. Remember: this is an ocean we’re talking about. Statistically when considering those valleys and seasonal peaks of call and contact centers, you’re looking at an annual analysis, not just an overview of a few months.
To truly know where the high call volumes hit, you need to look at an entire year, maybe even two, to determine when you need to make sure your employees are doing the daily grind and handling those calls when they come in.
Obviously, the benefit is you save money. Capacity planning ensures you’re not overusing employees and resources – or under-using them, which sacrifices your quality of service and decreases your productivity and cash flow for the business.
Tip #2 – Forecast the "Weather" Well
You end up loving the meteorologist for getting the right prediction and hating that same person for being completely off the mark. So a big part of analysis is making sure it’s accurate like in meteorology. The call center business is much the same way.
Move from standard Erlang C-based spreadsheets designed for corporate analyses to simulation-based systems. What are those?
You’re actually simulating your workweeks based on specific numbers, prior numbers from prior seasons, forecasting what could possibly happen in those same seasons and getting as accurate a number as possible in terms of actual call volume, call handling time, manpower, and resources.
There’s no plain guessing here. You’ve got to be very clear and thorough about what’ll happen in the next few months, and the next few months after that. This is mainly why you have to plan so long ahead for a contact center to determine the best possible outcome based on gathered statistics. In many ways, it’s a team effort.
Tip #3 – Forecast for Disaster, Too
In a way, this is an absolute must. Think of hurricanes, twisters and floods. We don’t like them. We like to know they’re coming as soon as possible, so we can prepare or head out of town for greener, safer and more silent pastures.
The same goes for call and contact centers. Planning ahead for possible shrinkage issues will help continue a contact center toward success even through unavoidable and unexpected down times.
It’s a common mistake to assume that agent shrinkage – a concept termed to describe issues like illness, training time, and vacation – is a consistent metric every single week. It’s not.
Statistics show that there are seasons with peaks and valleys heightened generally by agent shrinkage. Think about it. If you’re looking at the cold/flu season, that can increase agent shrinkage by considerable numbers, because many of your call handlers may end up sick. Summertime typically is a time when many of your employees may take vacations.
In other words, definitely analyze the entire plan of your contact center division to determine when agent shrinkage maximizes during the year.
When those storms hit, you’ll be prepared – hiring temps to take over, reorganizing staff, increasing or decreasing hours, etc. etc.
It’s an Intensive Job
But someone has to do it. People have to take those calls. You’ve got to be completely prepared. It is a contact center. The people who call expect to contact someone who will help them.
And it’s your job to make sure that happens.
Which Is Why I Think You Might Also Need What I Call a "Call Center Bouncer"
Checking the list: that’s what they do. You’ve seen them before when you’re in line at one of the hottest nightclubs in downtown. Buff, clad with bling, sometimes wearing shades, and they kind of look a little menacing.
That’s their job: to look menacing. They’re called bouncers. They’re crowd control. They decide who gets to go in and who doesn’t. They decide who gets to get thrown out and who gets to stay in.
More importantly, they keep everyone safe.
Why Not Do the Same Thing for Your Call Center?
Prank calls, sales calls and other useless time-wasting transactions over the phone can really do a number on your time management and productivity. The industry standard refers to it as the abandonment rate, which is typically 8 to 10 seconds per call. Call centers categorize these calls as “abandoned” calls due to their nature – wrong numbers, maybe even pranks, and other calls nowhere near associated to the calls the center generally handles.
The statistics show that for business efficiency, that 'abandonment rate' metric most definitely must be kept to a minimum, or the productivity suffers. Because everyone knows this – effective work at a call center revolves around numbers. If your associates are taking more calls fitting into the abandonment rate metric, they're losing time in handling the “good” calls in a timely manner, which also affects customer service satisfaction.
If you were ever put on hold for several minutes at a time just to talk to one live person on the phone, you'd probably be a very unsatisfied customer. There have been studies actually showing that.
There you have it. Know that if the first category, “Reach An Agent Quickly,” didn't measure up to positive numbers, you're looking at major poison for a call center.
So what do you do?
You can employ the use of a “bouncer” to filter out all the "bad" calls.
How Does It Work?
It is a type of software, just to be exact. No, this isn’t a hulking muscular juggernaut ready to toss idiots out of the club. But you can make a fair assumption of a metaphor.
You’ll find call blocking software by the dozens with all sorts of features, such as:
- Call Recording – A feature typically utilized to enhance ongoing training, analyzing calls and to pinpoint weaknesses in delivery of service.
- Call Screening – Not only does this service screen the good and bad calls, it also prioritizes calls in terms of urgency, thereby maximizing productivity and customer satisfaction by standardizing the major factor in call center success, which is expediency in taking calls.
- 80MM-List Call Checking – This takes traditional call screening and transforms it into a long-term database center of number checking, not only keeping a watchful eye on phone numbers known to be “wrong” numbers or sales calls, but to also maintain accuracy of changed phone numbers, added phone numbers, etc. etc.
- Customer Exemptions – As efficient as call blocking software can be, sometimes the software can block legitimate callers reaching the service in question, so this feature seeks to ensure that certain phone numbers aren't blocked despite tracebacks and records.
- Featured PBX – A handy and very essential feature allowing a call center to utilize a routing system where all calls go through the PBX and then get routed to the phone company's central office. Essentially, this reduces the cost for multiple lines at any given time, because the PBX allows for only one line designed to route all calls directly. Not only does this save the call center money, but also time in handling a large volume of calls.
The benefit to all of this is that all bad calls are ignored, never reaching the queue for the call center; and the good calls screened by the software go through as they should.
Many professional call center services providing these features include:
- Active Network
Do the research and you’ll find that these cloud services and other services available online do have features allowing you to block certain numbers, block 1-800s, and any other numbers you’d like for your business.
It’s worth it.
Because in a Call Center, Time Is Money
“Hire” a good bouncer to check the list in front of the door to your very own nightclub, and watch the line sit and wait as you ensure the best possible leads enter.
You don’t want anyone messing with your money by wasting your time. Protect your call center.
Especially When Your Call Center Will Flourish Up in the "Cloud"
It’s no surprise that the world seems to be getting bigger. How? Thank cyberspace for that. Thank the internet. Of course, the entire world’s population is also expanding. So what does this mean for something as simple as a call center?
More Volume, More Work, More Service to Offer
Calls will be increasing. Call center services are being outsourced everywhere else all the time now. Call centers are even getting bigger. And that sometimes can play a hazardous role to the quality of work and professional life for your employees.
Thankfully, there’s a way to utilize that change to your benefit. The way it’s been with IVR systems – interactive voice recognition – is that they’re commonly used for call handling during peak hours.
This means all your automated technology operates during specific times of the day where analysis has shown the most people call. It’s been that way for decades.
The internet has also provided efficiency to the corporate marketplace in droves. One benefit is the simple cloud, utilizing services online rather than in the office.
This is particularly important given that IVRs nowadays aren’t utilized just for handling calls during those peak hours. Businesses now use the IVR systems to….
- Conduct Personalized Transactions
- Expedite Call Resolutions
- Improve Customer Experience
People these days look not just for a solution, but a good experience. They want to feel that they’ve been actually helped in a personable way and not just given a quick fix.
Traditional call and contact centers now handle all these aspects at a great cost. More hours, some less pay, sometimes businesses outsource to other companies who charge less than hiring people who need a stable job. Those on-premise IVR systems are quite expensive to maintain, upgrade and finance regularly. They’re no longer assets to a company; they’ve become expenses. Expenses that many wish could be erased.
Thanks to cloud technology, call and contact centers can move from an on-premise situation to an on-call automated online system customers can go to and get their service as well as their answers quickly and efficiently.
Costs go down. Hours get flexible. Employees get happier.
Some Features Available With Cloud-Based Communication Systems
Generally, these cloud-based call systems provide agents with the ability to review customer history data in literally minutes, allowing them to achieve better up-sell and cross-sell prospects, which increase a return on investment.
How does that translate? More profit for the call or contact center. More benefits for the agents and employees.
That’s something traditional IVR systems can’t do. A way to think about it is this: traditional IVR is like AM radio, and cloud-based IVR is like satellite! The cloud operates 24/7. Traditional IVR operates only during those peak hours, which in this day and age aren’t relevant anymore.
That feature mainly works as a “screen-pop” application designed to let the agent know that this customer called on this day or that day for this reason, giving the agent a much better idea of how to handle the customer, take a proactive approach and offer the customer service without waiting for calls.
This couldn’t be truer given that there was a recent study of contact center performance and operations suggesting that only 8% of respondents stated that agents truly understood the situation at the time of the call. Small number.
With cloud technology, that percentage goes up given the fact that agents realize the caller’s situation well in advance before actually handling the call.
Upgrades and enhancements are also much more possible on the cloud, because they’re typically offered with account tenure and install immediately right there in cyberspace in a matter of seconds. Traditional IVR systems generally offer any upgrades or enhancements at an extra cost due to delivery and installation.
And That’s What It’s About: Saving Money
Because the world is getting bigger. Call and contact centers do need to grow with it. Thanks to the cloud technology available, call and contact centers are converting to online operation.
It’s a sign of the times. And it’s a good one. You just better get that capacity planner in place as well as the "bouncer." Because once you're in the CLOUD.... Sky's the limit.