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Call Centers Best Practices ...


12 Steps to Loyalty
Automated Customer Care
Behavioral Aspects of Change
Being a Better Manager
Being a Resource
Call Centers Best Practices
Coaching Staff
Creating Value
Customer Centricity
Customer Loyalty
Decisions For Call Centers
Privacy Policy
Enduser Training
Developing Stakeholders
Being a Better Manager
Multiple Channels Interaction
Service Desk Tiering
Reference Library


More Samples of My Opinion

Automated Customer Care
Solutions for Helpdesks
Being a Better Manager
Customer Support Management

Highlight From My Past Employment

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Design Engineer
CRM Specialist
CRM Glossary

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 helpdesk. 

Key Issue of discussion:

How will users plan, design and implement client/server voice/call processing?

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 following practices:

  •  Call wait time: average 20 seconds or less.

  •  Calls abandoned: less than 5 percent.

  •  Overall availability: 99.9 percent, enhanced with "safety nets" for increased levels of reliability (e.g., data backup for computing and telecommunications equipment).

  • 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.

  •  Training: 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 monitored.

Other Methods to Improve Call Center Performance

"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 characteristically   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 and call  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 in place.

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    workers.

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 be:

1) customized for each call center,
2) reviewed frequently and
3) benchmarked against other similar implementations.

Acronym Key

ACD     Automatic call distribution
CTI     Computer-telephony integration
IVR     Interactive voice response
VRU     Voice response unit

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