Best Practices for Call Centers and Helpdesks
When possible, call centers should use "customer-driven"
analysis methods to determine best practices - as an example, benchmarking
customer service to determine progress - to facilitate service efficiency
improvements. In this executive level overview I will suggest some concepts to
be adopted as standard practices for a small to mid size call center of
Key Issue of discussion:
How will users plan, design and implement client/server
When I worked for Gartner they called the leading adopters of new
technology Type A organizations. From my experience these aggressive
organizations learn through trial and error to adapt to new concepts and strategies.
Through innovation, recognition of success, belief by the executive, proper
funding and tenacity, those organizations soon become "best-practice" survivors.
These companies are the leaders and innovators in the service and support
industry; they take the risks to be first to market, and try to stay ahead of
the curve. In my opinion Best-practice call centers excel and are frequently measured in
four major areas: the percentage of callers whose needs are satisfied in a
single call, system availability and reliability, minimal response time, and
ratio of added-value talk time to lower-value time.
"My Default Contact Center Best Practices"
These are my guidelines and suggestions regarding Best
Practice Guidelines for Call Centers. I suggest adopting the
time: average 20 seconds or less.
abandoned: less than 5 percent.
availability: 99.9 percent, enhanced with "safety nets" for
increased levels of reliability (e.g., data backup for computing and
Average talk time upon connection to agent: four minutes
for 80 percent of calls (length of call
will vary depending on application).
Response time: sub-second response at the call center
agent's desktop and real-time
electronic access by customers.
Average low-value time on a four-minute call (e.g.,
confirmation of caller and wrap-up): no
more than 20 seconds to 25 seconds - and the remainder of
call has value-added content.
Intelligent call hand-off: when caller must be passed to
a more highly skilled or different
agent, the caller's files and present situation
history are accompanied by an explanation (possibly via "whisper," or
silent-message technology) or an immediately accessible voice or E-mail
message which should be interpreted by the new agent before he/she is
introduced to the caller.
"One and done" call handling: the goal is for one agent
to handle all aspects of the call to a
caller's satisfaction. Exceptional customer
service achieves closure on first contact 95 percent of the time and
the remaining 5 percent during the
second contact. Internal help desks should
achieve closure on first contact 75 percent of the time.
Empower the caller by providing choices: reintroduce IVR
to provide additional information while
the caller is in wait mode - e.g., suggest
leaving a message with a 30-minute call-back commitment if the total
caller wait time exceeds three minutes.
Ensure adequate staffing levels to handle call volumes: Best-practice
call center managers
recognize this major challenge and manage it well. Use of
call center software management tools can contribute significantly to
enable enterprises to achieve optimal levels of staffing.
Best-practice call centers provide comprehensive initial
training and ongoing follow-up training. These call centers' agents are
encouraged or given incentives to obtain advanced training on product
knowledge and customer service skills. Computer-based training and use
of expert systems are key ways to
increase value-added talk time. Failure to
deploy adequate training for call center agents can lower call center
productivity and service levels by as much as 17 percent.
Silent monitoring: A requirement for larger centers,
silent monitoring can deliver feedback
immediately after (or assistance during) a call.
Monitoring must be perceived as having a positive overall effect for both
the agent's and call center's functionality (i.e., improves agent skill,
identifies product/service knowledge deficiencies and assists agents with
difficult situations or callers), rather than being considered spying.
Monitoring capabilities are provided via "listen-only" mode for
supervisors and trainers. In some states and provinces, legislation dictates
that callers must be informed that conversations may be
"IT, telecom and business unit managers will find that
attending trade shows, executive forums and specific conferences about call
centers will be useful for exposure to new practices." - Marcus Ball
Although each call center must determine its own
requirements and service levels, I have
learned that defining and adhering to measurements like
those above. By benchmarking these measurements, an enterprise can
identify and track changes within the customer service environment to
determine progress and direction, enabling the call center to improve
service efficiency and effectiveness.
Organizations with successful call center operations
employ leaders with the vision and the ability to accept the challenges
that accompany the execution of innovative ideas. These leaders will
expose employees to new ideas and approaches, identify superlative
performances, ensure that operating targets are met and strive to raise
the level of maximum performance whenever possible.
Incentives: Many best-practice call centers we have studied offer
incentives for performance based on quantity and quality of calls. These
include awards presented by senior management or peer recognition, cash
awards, days off, trips or time-limited company perks (e.g., dinner or
special parking allowances).
Flexible work options for personnel: Flexibility can
be achieved through
telecommuting or "flex hours" - e.g., split-shifts, early-morning or
late-evening shifts or extended work days (10 hours/day for four days,
followed by three days off). Best-practice organizations also ensure that
stress levels are moderate and remain under control by keeping the work
interesting and challenging.
Technology: Use of well-designed ACD, IVR, CTI, VRU
management/tracking systems; ergonomically designed and current telephone
sets, systems and workstations; and wireless headsets contribute to
creating a successful call center. Best-practice call centers ensure that
current databases are accessible and disaster recovery/back-up plans are
Measurements: High first-level resolution rates and
(for outsourced call
centers) service-level agreements must be in place. Customer satisfaction
surveys, utilizing immediate verbal feedback or request for written
responses after the transaction has been completed, are extremely useful
for measuring call center excellence. Measurements should be compared (or
benchmarked) to similar-size/-functionality centers. Superior customer
service requires response time tailored to the expectations of the
customer, based on different message types (E-mail, voice mail, fax and
traditional telephone messages).
Facilities: Call centers agents should be situated
in modern, individual
cubicles and have ergonomically-designed workspaces and furniture. The
call center should be located in an easily accessible, safe location for
Bottom Line: Most call center managers are oriented
around one primary
goal: to answer "X" percent of calls in "Y" seconds, or to have an
average speed to answer (ASA) of "Z"
seconds. A common goal/objective as a measure
of achievement is that 95 percent of all calls are answered within 15
seconds. Metrics vary by call center and industry, therefore they must
1) customized for each call center,
2) reviewed frequently and
benchmarked against other similar implementations.
Automatic call distribution