It's Time for New Teleservices Technology

The old adage “time is money” may be overused, but nowhere is it more true than in the teleservices industry. Since I started out in this business 20 years ago, all kinds of technology has been introduced and embraced with the ultimate goal of increasing productivity. Certainly, the predictive dialer changed the entire industry. Better list management, scripting packages and reporting software have all made call centers more efficient. But the fact is, those technologies have done little to address one of the biggest challenges in the industry: how to track, manage and ultimately, reduce the amount of dollars paid to telephone agents for non-productive, non-billable time. With labor costs increasing at an alarming rate, finding ways to close the gap between “what you pay for” and “what you get” is the key to achieving operational efficiency and increased profitability.

Here's how a typical agent can spend time: Judy, a fictitious TSR, arrives at 8:27 a.m. for her 8:30 a.m. shift, proud that she got to work on time. By the time she waits in line to punch the time clock, stops to talk about last night's “Ally McBeal”, hangs up her coat, grabs a Coke and gets her assignment from her supervisor, it's 8:45 a.m. As the day progresses, Judy takes a few minutes before and after every break, extends her lunch hour by a minute or two and makes her last call 10 minutes before punching out. At the end of the day, you've paid Judy for a lot of wasted time. Now, multiply that by 50, 100 or 500 folks in the call center, and it adds up to non-productive time that ticks away as fast as the National Debt clock.

Today, technology is available that can virtually eliminate paying agents for non-productive time. Called time management technology, these software systems generate revenue by increasing the percentage of paid-time to billable hours; increasing productivity by eliminating manual time tracking, and substantially improving the process and accuracy of payroll production.

Simplistically, time management systems work by creating a complete end-to-end solution that builds a dynamic link between the agent's workstation at the front end, the predictive dialing system and the call center's internal or third party payroll, human resource and financial reporting systems.

Some call centers have created their own time tracking system using the log files from their predictive dialer and pay agents only for time on the dialing system. Unfortunately, however, this method has fallen short because time is not recorded when the dialing system is down, the dialer locks-up, files are corrupt, or when agents are in training, on paid breaks or performing other administrative tasks. Conversely, fully integrated time management solutions accurately track the time and duration of all TSR activities throughout the day, including calling time, training time, breaks and lunch time – as well as allow for information to be recorded that details the various reasons for down-time or other systems problems.

Time management systems eliminate time clocks and punch cards. Once collected, the data is transferred electronically to a payroll administration system so that payroll can be produced with less staff, with greater accuracy (up to 99 percent) and with less chance of fraud. I was surprised to learn that it isn't unheard of for one TSR to clock in another TSR who may arrive for work several hours later — or worse, for an agent to punch a time clock, leave for the day and come back just in time to punch out. While hopefully rare, these “phantom” TSRs could be costing the industry thousands of dollars. With automation of the time/payroll process, it is impossible for either of these situations to occur.

Payroll production is also increasing in complexity as call center's offer more enticing and competitive pay programs. A good time management/payroll administration system should automatically calculate incentive pay plans based on such variables as agent tenure, client campaign or the day of call. In other words, if you want to pay Judy an extra dollar per sale for calling on Super Bowl Sunday, you shouldn't need a whole football squad of payroll clerks to do it. In fact, one user of time management automation cut his payroll staff from 20 clerks to five within months of implementing the system.

Time management systems offer numerous reports to aid in the management of the entire call center operations, from producing daily attendance rosters, to ratio reports and schedules. Management gains access to a wealth of information to make faster, more informed decisions regarding staffing, employee management, operating profitability, billing policies and more. Most importantly, the financial folks can easily track and manage paid-time to billable hours and often that's where the “rubber meets the road” in the “time is money” clichÈ. Users of these new time management systems report that a three to five percent increase in paid-to-billable time can mean thousands of additional billable hours and substantial labor savings.

It's been a while since a technology has come along that can have such a positive impact on the teleservices industry. Cutting labor costs, increasing payroll accuracy and curtailing fraud by just a few percentage points each can have a tremendous impact on a call center's bottom line. Increasing billable hours will mean more time available to satisfy customer demand. Until now, there hasn't been a good solution to many of these issues. I guess it's about time.

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