A few weeks ago, Joe Staples chatted on this blog about the trade-offs between efficiency and customer experience. In his post, The Answer to the Contact Center Debate Over Efficiency vs. Customer Satisfaction, he discussed a personal experience with an airline that seemed to value efficiency over customer experience. His observation is that companies tend to gravitate toward one primary goal while relegating other goals to a secondary place; in the airline’s case efficiency was the primary goal and customer experience seemed to take a backseat.
But there are always exceptions to the rule (and Joe posited this in his post). The obvious airline counterexample is Southwest Airlines, which has embedded in its workforce a culture of fun, empowerment, and efficiency. When doling out peanuts, you might get them tossed to you (which is both efficient and fun), and man, can they clean and turn an airplane around quickly between flights, and the experience is pretty cool.
When I think of the trade-offs between customer experience and efficiency in a contact center, my mind first goes to the workforce management process. A hyper-efficient workforce management process would define very efficient, but agent un-friendly work schedules. It would crack down on agent schedule non-adherence, and mandate real-time agent flexibility, resulting in a lot of forced overtime or time off. A workforce management process like this would be efficient, but it would intrude on a culture of delivering top customer service.
In the contact center, you cannot have both a hyper-efficient workforce management process and a happy and customer-focused workforce at the same time—the agents (and management) would feel the inherent conflict and would react, probably by not providing excellent customer care.
So what is the fix? There are ways that you can improve efficiency behind the scenes without ever letting on that you are doing it; improving the customer experience and providing a more consistent agent work-life. You can add efficiency without disrupting the workforce by creating a well-developed capacity planning process, and by using capacity planning software to manage it.
The capacity planning system is the process by which hiring plans and budgets are created. Since contact centers are highly seasonal, determining how many agents you need is pretty complex. Volumes are seasonal, of course, but so are handle times, agent sick times, customer experience scores, right party contact rates, agent attrition, and many other important items. For this reason, these metrics—and their seasonality—need to be recognized and forecasted to determine the demand for call center agents.
The best week-over-week staff plans incorporate true mathematical optimization to determine when and where to hire, when to offer vacation and training, and when to offer overtime and under time. If this is done well, and especially if it is developed optimally, we ensure that the exact number of staff members show up to work every Monday morning. This means, of course that service delivery is spot on—always hitting service level goals—but also that agent occupancy (how hard the agents are working) is also consistent week-over-week. (The whitepaper, “Executive Summary: How much staff do you need, and how do you know?” will give you more insight into how to determine agent requirements.)
Consistency of service is a big element of customer satisfaction. Consistency of workload is a strong driver of agent satisfaction, and hence, customer experience.