Selecting Technology to Create a Leading-Edge Call Center

It’s estimated that a full-time employee in a call center costs a company about $40,000 per year. Therefore, even a 5-percent drop in labor costs through improved scheduling and work force management can dramatically improve the bottom line.

As catalog call centers utilize inbound, outbound and e-commerce capabilities, performance and profitability take on even greater importance. With widely varying patterns for inbound (voice and e-commerce transactions) and outbound calling, buying call center technology can be challenging.

Today, catalog call center managers demand systems that reliably forecast call volume, schedule employees and analyze operations, all in easy-to-use formats. They also want systems that predict the skills and staffing required for any call type, prepare budgets, manage a blended environment and determine optimal staffing of full-time and part-time employees.

Often, when up-grading call center technology is discussed, the first response is, “Buy an ACD.” A full-featured automatic call distributor is needed – and much more. A call center manager also needs an efficient way to leverage the call center’s most important asset – people.

Managing personnel is the secret to making a call center a success – and that means a work force management solution. However, choosing such a system can be complicated, especially when dealing with a blended, skills routing ACD environment and/or multiple sites. The one that’s best should solve the business issues most vital both today and tomorrow.

Here are some key questions that can point the way to choosing an ACD and a work force management solution:

• Will the ACD(s) be used for inbound calls only or mixed inbound and outbound calls?

• Will the ACD include a skills-based call routing capability? If so, a skills scheduling enabled work force management solutions is a must. The work force management solution should solve the complex issue of how many agents with multiple skills to schedule.

• How large is the call center and how large is it expected to grow? Single site, large multiple sites or network sites demand greater power and flexibility in system design. The best systems integrate with and constantly talk to intelligent, pre-answer call routing.

• Will the call center be set up with multiple shifts (part-time vs. full-time, expanded hours or days of operation, rotating shifts, preferred days off, changing start times, etc.)? Be leery of work force management software with restrictions.

• How strategic is the business transaction that will be conducted through the ACD? The more strategic the transaction, the more important call processing speed and quality of the hardware and management systems become. Place more value on systems that provide accurate information to all users instantly, and deliver high-quality performance.

• What is the vendor’s reputation for after-sale support? Does the vendor provide periodic maintenance releases? What is the vendor’s history over the past two years? No releases, or too many, may signal vendor problems.

• Can the vendor be counted on to move the product forward? Will the vendor draw on its technical and human resources to meet each call center’s unique needs?

Answers to these questions (and many others) will help you select the work force management system that is the best match for your call center.

One work force management system may appear to be very much like another. But beyond the fact that most systems meet certain basic requirements, such a view is flawed. Long-range planning demands not only forecasting and scheduling but budget planning. A manager must be able to choose planning options, such as variables for special events throughout the year, customer type or day of the week. A sophisticated, flexible work force management system should offer all this and more.

An entry-level system is all too often the wrong answer. It may not be able to perform the managing, budgeting and planning tasks desperately needed or may require so much time and effort as to be counter-productive.

To be effective, managers need all the information they can get about what to expect for the balance of the day, week or month. And that’s what a work force management system provides – a sophisticated way to use today’s or yesterday’s information to point the way to effective future actions and solutions.

No work force management system can predict how many calls will come in at any moment. But it can give managers a game plan to follow to forecast, schedule and budget effectively.

In stand-alone or networked call centers, a work force management solution must understand and help control productivity. In networked call centers that use intelligent pre-answer call routing, the pre-router and work force management solution should share data and interact to ensure optimal use of human and network resources.

Buying inbound and outbound call center technology is an art and science. The challenge is to decide what best fits your unique situation today and in the future. Not all systems are equal, and one size definitely does not fit all.

What’s the reward for patient research and managerial wisdom? An efficient, full-function ACD and work force management system that produces the quality and profits your catalog call center needs.

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