Technology for the Front-Line Agent

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Perhaps the benefit of technology that's easiest to recognize is the cost savings through labor reductions and increased efficiency. But other benefits are improved quality and increased output. That's the true power of employee-development technology, which is currently the buzz of the call center industry.


This latest wave of automation indicates that the technology life- cycle has finally reached front-line agents, assisting them to become better employees. It cannot happen soon enough with employee turnover in the outbound calling segment reaching beyond 300 percent. Call centers are eager to find ways to better educate, coach and retain agents - and improve their performance in an industry that prides itself on ever-increasing expectations.


The call center is a key source of customer communication. As customers demand new ways to communicate with agents - such as Internet and e-mail - and greater competency from agents, the call center finds itself searching to meet this need while remaining profitable and coping with employee attrition.


If used to its potential, employee-development technology can meet that need. Such technology is also referred to as "quality-monitoring software" and it encompasses an integrated suite of scheduled voice recording, synchronized agent screen-capture software and agent-evaluation software. The suite is a powerful tool not only because of the cost savings it provides relating to employee monitoring, but because of the improved employee training and coaching it delivers.


The functionality of this product suite is simple. It allows a call center to digitally record and store a percentage of an agent's calls for evaluation purposes. It also captures the screens the agent references while communicating with the customer as well as data entered by the agent. At the completion of the call, a sampling of the agent's customer interaction is captured and retrieved via agent evaluation software that allows the supervisor to evaluate the interaction in a prerecorded observation mode.


In its simplest form, this technology provides tremendous advantages to a call center's support cost structure. Time spent conducting observations is more constructive because idle time waiting for calls in a live monitoring environment is eliminated. In fact, if it previously took a supervisor one hour to listen to and evaluate five calls with a three-minute average call length, it will now take only 20 minutes to evaluate the same call volume. This is a time savings of more than 67 percent.


Time savings, however, can be a double-edged sword. If the only focus is on saving money, the call center sends the wrong message regarding the value of the observation function. But what if observation is perceived as the most powerful coaching tool available? And, what if employee-development technology can actually take a call center to new levels of coaching?


This can happen if your technology focuses on the key factors of employee development and your emphasis is on improving results and profitability through skill-set development and better management.


Until now, the emphasis for this technology has been solely on reducing the time spent evaluating agents and to allow for such observations to take place "when time permits." This emphasis exists because of our typical and reasonable need to justify the cost of capital expenses. When completing a cost-benefit analysis, savings as well as potential revenue increases are generally considered. However, when evaluating the cost benefit of quality-monitoring software, we enter a component of a call center typically managed by soft metrics.


How does a company quantify the increased production of a call center through its coaching and training programs? There is perceived value in improved quality, and perhaps the case can be made that improved quality equates to customer and product-sale retention. But can the link be quantified?


To do so, technology companies must truly understand the workings of a call center and how each management function serves the production goal. Instead of viewing training and quality monitoring as independent support functions, consider them key management components that provide insight into production statistics and service levels.


Imagine if one quality-monitoring technology could:


• Quantify the best skill sets for each call center application.


• Quantify reasons for call lengths and determine which skill sets require training to improve call-handling and service levels.


• Benchmark trainer performance by skill-set results.


• Quantify customer objections, effective sales strategies and the needed skills.


• Provide for linear coaching, regardless of reviewer, to build upon agent improvements.


• Drill down to root causes of skill-set deficiencies to target coaching and training.


With this technology, a call center can determine whether global tools - such as training materials, call guides, customer demographics and call-flow screen configurations/access - are negatively affecting production and service levels, or whether it is the agent's skill sets and selection process that must be addressed. Additionally, specific coaching can be delivered because root causes are identified. Because such data can now be quantified, it can tie support functions directly to production statistics.


By providing quantifiable facts regarding agent performance, we can assist a portion of the supervisory staff that is managed according to soft, and sometimes intangible, objectives.


The bottom line remains maintaining proper service levels for inbound centers and maximizing outbound sales efforts. If your quality-monitoring software can tell you how agents' quality scores affect your average call lengths and how you can reduce call lengths to better service your call volume, then agent observations move from a passive activity to a forefront tool.


The key to such analysis is quantifying the agents' screen movements by analyzing them via screen capture, analyzing skill-set selection via quality score benchmarking and quantifying the delivery effectiveness and retention of training. The result is insight into how to improve the quality of your poorest performers and adopt new criteria for your hiring process.
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