Friday, May 15, 2009

Managing your Contact Center’s Telecom Costs

The economy is in decline, jobless numbers and unemployment are growing and companies are being asked to cut costs operate more efficiently. Call centre managers, used to “doing more with less” are now being asked to “do more with none”. Where can a manager turn in their efforts to improve the efficiency and reduce the operating costs in their call or contact center?

There are a number of cost centers within a contact center, including: labour, technology, service costs and overhead. In this article we examine the opportunities to save costs on telecommunications expenses. Telecommunications costs are one of the most significant cost areas in any contact center after labour. Telecommunications is also the second highest non-operating expense for the average Fortune 1000 firm. This cost includes local and/or long distance service fees, lines, circuits and features.

Telephone usage and service invoices always appear to be written in some arcane language regardless of the company issuing them. Instead of words and descriptions that can be understood telephone companies (telco’s) instead employ codes like ARX-325 to describe an off premise extension or tie line. The very language and structure of the invoices make them unintelligible to mere mortals. Some Telephone companies issue separate invoice for services and for equipment, which doubles the confusion. As a result few companies can genuinely verify if there invoices are correct and accurate.

In reality all companies should check their phone bills. Most telco invoices are inaccurate, often 30% of the charges are incorrect, and in some organizations the figure is even higher.

So in examining your phone bills the first place you need to start is with an inventory of the phone lines and circuits that you have installed and are using. If you receive separate equipment and services billing then the equipment invoice is the best place to start. Make a list of all of the lines and/or circuits, T1’s, PRI’s and equipment. For each line list the features or service that should be associated with the line/circuit. Look at the lines and circuits that show usage. If there is no usage on a line or circuit and you don’t understand why, then investigate. It is not uncommon for lines that have been removed to still be on the invoice, complete with the features and services that were associated with that line.

Usage, long distance, toll free charges are generally easy to identify as they show activity and likely someone is already reconciling these activities. Long distance fees may be significantly less today than they were a decade ago, but you need to track and reconcile activity to ensure that you are getting what you paid for. More difficult to identify are feature fees that are only a few bucks time. These fees add up and quickly. Check your contract, and see what the rates are supposed to be charged. Are these the rates you are paying?
Back billing or billing for services outside of the period of the bill happens. While not often it happens enough that it can come as a nasty surprise. Some jurisdictions and tariffs allow for back billing of up to 7 years. Telcos have to charge or recharge based on bills they themselves get from other carriers. Or they find something for which they forgot to bill or in very rare cases where they overbilled. This gives some leeway to you for going back through the bills and finding where you were overcharged. One case we know of got credit for 5 years of charge for circuits billed but not installed, in another case a refund for more than 3 years of circuits billed but not installed. These two situations resulted in the organizations receiving refunds of more than $500,000 and over $100,000. This also explained why the center was always experiencing a blockage problem.

Another area where charges can sometimes be found is for past Yellow Page ads you may have run. Compare the markets and locations where you believe the ads are to run and ensure they are. Also check markets where you advertised in past and see if the ads are still running or if you are paying for ads you don’t want or don’t have.

Analyzing your phone bills is something you can do, but there are also companies that will do this for you, generally for 50% of the saving they find.

Paying for services you don’t receive is just one way that organizations can pay too much for telecom. Many companies pay above market rates for services. Ask for prices from at least three providers for all of your telecom services. Check with your friends and acquaintances in the trade. There is almost certainly a lower price to be had. Almost as bad a paying too much for services is buying more services than you require. Most companies poorly configure their requirements and are motivated to ‘make sure they are up’ and the person responsible for telecom is often severely criticized for any ‘down time’. The motivation isn’t to ‘buy right’, but it is to ‘play it safe’. This contributes to an environment that results in over buying and overpaying.

Employees expect 100% up time all the time. Of course employees can also represent a source of inappropriate telecom usage. Most people have made a long distance calls from their companies. Some have made personal long distance calls and a small few regularly make extensive use of the company’s telephones to call friends and relatives half way around the world. A single call is not likely to break the bank. Hundreds or thousands of such calls will represent a significant expense. Worse, if the abuse is significant and on-going, it can actually blend into the business activity and mask the abuse. Implement Call Accounting and Best Available Routing selection. This way the phone system will route the call to its destination at the lowest possible cost and track who is making these calls. This technology is available on most telephone systems though a surprisingly small number of organizations actually employ them. Your use of these applications can be limited to employing account codes for staff long distance or up to blocking access to locations where you do not have business contacts. This approach will minimize potential costs should your system be compromised.

But internal threats are not the only ones your telephony systems may face. IP telephony systems are designed for remote access and to support remote workers. The remote workers access the IP telephony system through a login and password process. When a company access port is identified it is a relatively simple task to crack most 4 or 5 digit passwords. Once access has been secured hundreds of thousand of dollars of long distance costs can be incurred in calls to exotic locations. There have actually been reports of a black market in compromised phone systems that can be used for ‘free’ long distance. The telco can and will demand payment for these charges. So change your voicemail logins frequently and don’t use simple logins and passwords.

Telecom costs can be challenging to manage given the nature of the invoices and codes they contain. This complexity can also mean that savings are there to find. All you need to do is just dig.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Using Customer Reach Article for Training Call Center Agents

Just received a note from one of the subscribers to Customer Reach, with Sam's Club that liked one of our articles so much that they want to use it as a part of the contact center agent training.

While I would like to take all of the credit for this achievement the credit belongs to Deborah Chaddock Brown who wrote the "Will you use your powers for Good" article. check out the article and newsletter at

Monday, April 20, 2009

Motivating Without Money…Doing More with None

Motivating Without Money…Doing More with None

Motivating agents in a contact center is a perennial challenge for virtually every contact center manager. Just how can we motivate staff to excel? We know that engaged and motivated staff perform better and create and support a healthy culture within the call or contact center.

Traditionally money has been the primary and in some centers the only answer to this question. Money always seems to be the right size and colour to address motivational issues. But is money the best or only solution to a motivated workforce? And if we are going to employ financial compensation as a motivational tool how can we best manage this to get the maximum ‘bang for our buck’?

Lets look at how most contact centers employ money as a motivational tool: often they will establish specific targets or thresholds: calls/hour, orders per day, AHT, quality scores etc. and then associate a dollar value on reaching these thresholds. This approach is tried and true; it has been employed in centers for decades and does improve motivation; at least for some agents.

Not all agents have the skills or the experience to reach the thresholds or to achieve them consistently. I have seen some centers where overall performance and motivation actually decline or are eroded through some ‘incentive’ programs. Ask the agents in these centers and they will quickly tell you why: “the same handful of agents will get all of the incentive comp”; “I can’t win so why should I try”. As you can see this type of program can actual act as a disincentive and de-motivate staff. This clearly is not the outcome we are seeking.

Of course monetary programs can be tweaked to expand there scope an application, basing opportunity incentives not on achieving fixed thresholds, but based upon percentage improvement for example. However even this approach can back fire, are we incenting and rewarded staff who do as little as possible to keep their jobs each day, but work harder when there is cash on line, over staff that work hard every day and on the whole are much more valuable staff.

So monetary rewards are less than perfect and in today’s economy more and more contact centers have moved from ‘doing more with less’ and are now being asked to ‘do more with nothing’. Non monetary motivational tools and tactics are increasingly the only options open to many centers. As a result a number of Contact Center Managers are now in unfamiliar territory as they have only ever employed money or ‘stand ins’ for money (movie passes, restaurant certificates and gift cards etc.).

What guidance and advice can we provide these managers to help them navigate these difficult waters? First, the manager needs to understand that they while non-monetary tools can be effective, they generally require more planning and structure than cash incentives do. Most cash based motivational or incentive programs are either: Tactical or Ongoing.

Tactical programs are a short term incentive to improve performance opposite a specific KPI, goal or objective, i.e. increase revenues by 5%, reduce handle time to 300 seconds, achieve quality scores of 95% or better, etc. Ongoing programs tend to revolve around commission sales structures.

Similarly non monetary incentives can also be tactical or structural. Tactical non monetary motivation is not ongoing, though may be term based: Employee of the Month, Most Improved Agent etc. are both examples (which could include a monetary aspect) of term based motivational programs. Other engagement programs that can deliver positive motivation would include point program and/or shift swapping.

Point based programs are modelled after frequent flyer or loyalty programs allowing agents to earn points through various activities and/or achievements: one point for perfect attendance, 10 points for a quality score above the target, 25 points for a kudos letter form a customer etc. Such point programs then allow agents to redeem their points for preferred shifts, days off, preferred parking, gift certificates etc.

Your agents are adults, or we hope they are, so treat them as adults. Let them schedule themselves and swap shifts when required based upon the rules set down. These rules may include program or technical knowledge tenure or points accumulated through a point based incentive program.

Structural non cash motivation should actually be woven into the structure and culture of the center itself. There can be success with tactical applications of non-cash motivation. Centers, however, achieve superior and more sustained results from a holistic integration of non cash motivational elements into the underlying contact center operational structure.

At this point I am often interrupted as a manager will then suggest that they already employ Recognition within their center. The conclusion that one draws here is that recognition is the only non cash way to motivate staff. Of course recognition is a valuable tool and can motivate staff. Recognition is not just recognizing the agent with perfect attendance or a well handled call that should be acknowledged. Recognition should be a fundamental tenant of the contact center operating strategy. Research (The Neuroscience of Leadership by David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz) has shown that engagement is a key driver of staff motivation and recognizing and celebrating a job well done is a great way to engage with your staff.

Often effective contact center employ monetary program (tactical and/or on going), but they also employ recognition programs that value their agents contribution. The best practice contact centers layer these motivational initiatives on top of a structure that supports employee engagement and motivation. We are not just speaking of a manager trying to motivate their staff, but of a contact center environment and culture where the agents are motivated themselves and motivate those around them.

Creating a structure that supports this type of culture requires that each aspect and element that relates and impacts on the agents employment within the contact center is aligned to create motivated and engaged and effective agents.

If we look at the agents experience of the contact center from their moment of being hired and then chart that experience through to being a productive and engaged member of the contact center team we can see a number of opportunities to create a motivational culture within the center and to create and hire agents that support and grow the culture.

The environment that staff are hired into has an impact on how engaged the staff feels and how effective and motivated they are to perform. The first element on a career progression is the recruitment or hiring phase.

Hiring staff that possess the skills, competencies and attributes to perform well in a contact center environment results in staff that function better in the center. They are more motivated to perform. Still today far too many a center relies on previous call center or customer service experience as a stand in for demonstrated real skills and competencies. Then they wonder why their center is dysfunctional and the staff unmotivated.

When we look at the skills we desire in staff no two centers are the same. On top of keyboarding skills, attention to detail, sense of ownership and responsibility which are common to most skill & competency maps created, some centers add stress testing and resilience, or interest in yoga or meditation. Some seek those who will fight for the customer at all costs. Perhaps most famously, Zappos asks all applicants to demonstrate how they are ‘a little weird’.

You must look at the type of culture you wish to create and the type of performance you seek. Mirror these in the hiring and recruitment processes. Of course these attributes must be testable. You will need to verify that those who claim these attributes and skills actually have them.
Pre employment testing should include: typing, spelling, attention to detail, logic exercises which may include personality tests to determine if the person is a high ‘I’, a peacock or a tiger. The name of the game is to hire staff that can succeed and by succeeding improve to centers performance and reinforce the culture you have set out to create.

Job descriptions should set out exactly what is expected of an agent in terms of KPI’s. Staff can motivate themselves to achieve and exceed these goals once they know what you expect of them and how they will be measured or assessed.

It is critically important in this economy and in this ‘age of entitlement’ that staff understand that they are primarily responsible for their own career. By telling them what is expected of them and by telling them you only hire those who can succeed you establish a good basis for motivation and engagement.

By extending this through a vision of their career path you cement the goals and hurdles that agents need to meet before they can proceed within the center. One model employed is the ACM model or Adequacy, Competency and Mastery. This model recognizes that when an agent is hired and trained they are Adequate. That is to say that there is no reason to fire them. Over time with experience coaching and learning they will proceed to the second stage in their agent career: competent. Now they are valuable members of the agent pool, they can perform most desired tasks and can regularly meet the desired performance metrics and KPI’s. The next stage along the way is mastery, here the agent have become the ‘go to’ person for knowledge, help and assistance. They are likely subject matter experts within the centre and they likely coach and mentor other staff. These staff are poised to move in a supervisory or specialist role and will likely have completed special projects or worked on various teams.

By defining and publishing what skills, competencies, achievements and performance criteria are required to move ahead in the center and in their career, agents self motivate and self identify. A self motivated and engaged agent is the ideal to be sought in any center. Of course any career progression with defined performance criteria requires commensurate increases in compensation. Ideally the pay ranges should also be published. They should include an element of re-earnable incentive compensation in addition to a base salary. By requiring agents re-certify their performance annually it ensures that they stay engaged and motivated and prevents them from becoming lackadaisical or ‘resting on their laurels’.

Into this career progression adding peer feedback is valuable. In a center with an engaged and motivated culture agents want and seek input and feedback from those around them. Peer quality reviews as a component or in addition to your formal Quality program creates this feedback. Let the staff review each others calls, provide kudos and feedback to the agents, select the best calls, the most improved agents etc. This empowerment motivates not only those recognized, but also those involved in the selection process.

Money is and has been the easy answer to staff motivation in the past and while money alone can improve performance building a culture of engaged and motivated agents will produce results long after the money has run out.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Shouldn't 911 calls be answered?

911 call centers generally have a service level of 100/5 that is to say they answer 100% of calls within 5 seconds. This is the level of service that everyone expects when we call a 911 center.

A news story on the week end told a different story. In Harrison Township Ohio they recently launched their 911 center, but on the 26th they were experiencing problems…calls not being answered, calls dropped, calls transferred to wrong extensions and departments and then transferred back. In any call center this would be a problem, in a 911 center this could be a fatal catastrophe.

In this particular case more than 15 phone calls were placed to report a fire, some of these calls went unanswered, on others agents couldn’t even spell the street name. The fire department responded to the fire in 4 minutes once they received the dispatch. Unfortunately the dispatching took more than 10 minutes from the time of the first call to 911.

The house was destroyed by fire, but fortunately no one was injured.

Sheriff's Department Captain Rob Streck stated that the problems were caused by a ‘computer malfunction’. In the news video I saw on CNN referenced ‘problems’ with their new Nortel phone system. The new center performance was still summed up by the Captain Streck who said “the first day in the new center went smoothly”. This attitude is and should be unacceptable.

Now I don’t have any special or unique insight into this Harrison Township 911 call center, but I have seen similar problems and challenges unfold in other call and contact centers. Symptoms of: dropped calls, missed transfers, transfers to unmanned extensions, and uniformed agents, all of which have been reported to have occurred in this situation, are due to a lack of planning, lack of training, and a fundamental lack of appreciation for the complexities inherent with this type of a technology upgrade that is bordering on negligence.

I certainly hope that the individuals who were responsible for this call center implementation are never allowed anywhere near a call center I rely on.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lots of empty call center space out there

According to King White at Site Selection LLC, there are more than 200 empty call centers on their database in representing more than 1.3 million square feet. By my calculation this would also represent approximately 75,000 empty seats and 100,000 jobs lost. This is one of the clearest indications that recession is biting in the contact center space.
So where have these jobs gone? By and large these went offshore.

From Great to Gone- Adobe technical support

First let me say I love Adobe, not just the products but the company is one I admired for many years. Their products were great and the support if you had a dumb user question, which I can be prone to, was fast, helpful and professional.

Over recent weeks my opinion has been sliding. Now while I like the product I don't do a great deal with it other than create pdf documents from Word files, so I have been quite content with the capabilities of Adobe Acrobat Professional 7.0 and have no real reason to upgrade. A couple of months ago however i started to get a message telling me that my computers configuration had changed and that I need to reactivate. This process was done on the web, so other than a "that's interesting" thought I ignored it and carried on. Then I had a new window pop up and tell me that I had exceeded the allowable re activations and I had to phone in to activate. So I called, waited on hold the requisite 8 minutes and got this done. The third time I had to call I asked why, I had purchased the product why did it keep shutting down. What I really wanted to know was if this was a thinly veiled tactic to annoy customers until they upgraded to a new version. I was informed that this was a bug and that there was no way to fix this. OK fine, but I still hadn't discarded the "this is a way to annoy me till I upgrade" thinking.

Two days later and I am back needing to phone to activate and here is where the fun begins. Again the requisite 8 minutes on hold before an answer. Once connected to an agent the audio quality was my first clue, it was poor, lots of 'clicking' sounds. I walked through the same diagnostic process, expecting the same answer I usually received. But this time the same symptoms resulted in a different answer. I was told I needed to download a patch that would correct this problem. As I had now been on the phone for close to thirty minutes I asked if it could be emailed to me as I had a conference call I needed to attend. I was told the agent couldn't send me an email. Aha, the penny dropped inability to send an email is often code for an offshore call center. That fit with the agents accent and when I asked it was confirmed as a call center in the Philippines. I quickly noted the download site and ended the call so I could attend the conference call.

After I completed the conference call I went to the download site (tinyurl) and downloaded the patch. I followed the instructions and with the compulsory reboot fired up the application. In thirty seconds I was told I need to reactivate. Great the patch didn't work. Back on the call to the call center, eight more minutes and another agent tells me I was directed to the wrong file. Again and with increasing frustration I asked if they could email me the patch and after sitting on hold for 3 minutes while the agent checked with her Supervisor and miracle of miracles now they could send me an email.

I received the email in minutes and rather than the application it contained a link to another file. Once again I followed the link and directions. As I write this, the problem still exists and I need to call the call center again. But I have been thinking about why I have had these problems. What could the company and call center have done differently to assist me? I help companies streamline and improve contact center efficiency and effectiveness everyday so I have good familiarity here. First Agent training. The fact that I could make many calls over many months and keep getting the same wrong answer tells me that agents are not well trained and probably not tested for comprehension. Second Empower the agent. The agents are "not allowed" to send emails. This is not uncommon in outsourced offshore center and can be rationalized as saving agent time, but in practice that is often not the case. The real reason for this restriction is that the company doesn't trust the outsourcer enough to allow email access. Great they don't trust their own partner, but I am supposed to trust them! Third Quality control. The download site had few instructions and no confirmation after install that the problem was corrected. QA should have identified the inaccurate file reference and the vague instructions. QA should also have identified audio quality issues that were evident on two of my calls. Fourth Demand management. It is clear to me the the targeted ASA ( Average Speed of Answer) is 8 minutes, as each of my calls were answered in approximately this time-frame. When 8 minutes? Is the the most cost effective ASA, the balance between the degree to which it will tick off a customer, before they hang up and buy a competitive product? Fifth, product upgrade. This still could be a tactic to get customers to upgrade. I can envision the planning meeting dialogue..."Yes we will erode the usability in older product versions until the customer upgrades". While I don't seriously believe this is the case, the accessibility, quality and the sheer amount of time spent dealing with this makes me wonder. Sixth Metrics. I don't know what they are measuring in this center, but I suspect that First Call Resolution (FCR) isn't one of the key metrics.

Of course poor service can actually cost more than good service. A quick answer and an email including the patch, (instead of the link), could have solved my problem in less than 2 minutes. Over my last two calls I spent more than 50 minutes on the phone and I still don't have a solution. What has that 50 minutes cost the company versus the 2 minute process I suggested?

Adobe has great products and they used to have great support. It's a good thing that the product is high quality, because the support or lack thereof will not win them any fans. As is evidenced by my experience my opinion of Adobe has changed significantly based on these calls. My opinion today is much worse than before I called. This opinion erosion is linked to customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and intention to repurchase.

Poor service can provide a false economy in appearing to reduce support costs, but if it costs you customers this can be a dangerous double edged sword. A company really needs to understand this relationship before they make significant change to their support service.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Is Customer Service the deciding factor as to which companies succeed or fail in this economic downturn?

Just received my copy of the Call Center Openings & Expansions Report from King White at Site Selection Group and for the first time I can remember there are no new builds or expansions in Canada. Nor are there any in India either for that matter.

The numbers show a dramatic slowdown in the job creation with 2,930 net new jobs created- down almost 70% from a year ago, of those 2,560 are located outside of North America. The majority of the increases occur ed in the outsource BPO sector with new centers in the Philippines and expansions at home.

2,143 jobs were displaced in 16 contact centers in US and Canada in January.

The fact that the market is tightening up isn't a surprise to anyone. We are bombarded by horror stories in the media every time we listen to the radio, watch or read the news. What is surprising to me at least is how resilient the contact center industry is proving to be.

In January 598,000 workers in the US and 129,000 workers in Canada lost their jobs. That adds up to a staggering 727,000 people looking for work. Yet in a sector much maligned the net of hiring and firings were about break-even. That's a lot better than the banks or automakers fared.

Now its possible that the axe just hasn't fallen yet as job cuts work through organization and the customer facing call and contact center positions are just coming into the cross-hairs.

Or maybe organizations are recognizing that in a downturn where cash is king, getting a customer to part with their cash is becoming increasingly difficult. Good service, as infrequent as it often is may just be the key to prying open the purses and wallets of customers. Service can be a key differentiator between organizations.

In tough times we all choose between alternatives, buy this, pass on that, maybe later or not at all. In days of plenty we would have bought it all. So how will and I make decisions? I postulate that increasingly the service we receive will be viewed as a part of the purchase or transaction. When customers view the customer service experience inherent with making that purchase as a part of the buying experience and capable of increasing purchase satisfaction, then savvy companies and organizations will embrace true customer advocacy, and all of our customer service experiences will become significantly more effective, more efficient and above all more enjoyable.

Of course this may just be me looking for a silver lining...but it is a happy thought.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Be careful what you wish for

They say you need to be careful what you wish for because it just might come true. Well just a few days ago I was discussing our new business pipeline with my team and we wondered exactly where our meals would be coming from in March. I wished out loud then that "it would be wonderful, if we could just close client x,y and/or z". Then we secured a new engagement with that client. We celebrated, then we secured another client and another. All in the space of a few days. Downturn, what downturn. My concern over too little business quickly became how do we ensure the quality of what we do for our clients with this additional work. So much for a recession.

The solution to the problem is, as always, is to deliver superior service and to exceed the customers expectations. We have brought on-board additional resources to help us meet our requirements and exceed what is expected of us.

Exceed expectations, delight your clients, Make the client the star within their own organization and always give more than is expected and you will be judged by your accomplishments and by your network of friends and fans.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Customer Satisfaction Surveys for Contact Centers

I was recently asked about considerations and best practices for customer satisfaction surveys and I realized that customer satisfaction surveys are one of the most challenging activities for contact center management to sell to the rest of the organization. Often other executives rely on omnibus corporate satisfaction surveys, which can be great for assessing brand satisfaction, but do little to tell you how the contact center is impacting on the overall brand and customer experience.

To be effective within a contact center assessment environment, customer satisfaction surveys must focus on a specific interaction with the contact center rather than be generic opinion poll on the organization. A survey completed within 48 hours of a contact is ideal. The key elements that generally the survey should address will generally include three areas:




Access will deal with timeliness of answer, service hours, hold times, transfers etc. Professionalism will relate directly to the agent...were they professional, courteous, did you feel they were genuinely trying to assist you. Satisfaction should surface satisfaction on a few different levels: were they satisfied with the call outcome ( some people we simply cannot help, due to policies, procedures or their expectations), with the agents effort and with the overall experience. This latter segment can easily be addressed through a top-box and/or net promoter style impact on intentions to refer type of question. All of this can be developed in a 10-14 questions survey and can even be shorted with some of the content being rotated based upon the calendar month or period.

You should also look at the channel(s) you employ to deliver of complete the survey. Web and email surveys can be the most cost effective and post call automated phone surveys can be very appealing, but both suffer from an increased percentage of self selection than occurs in phone surveys. This self selection can skew the survey results.

We generally recommend establishing a baseline with live voice surveys and the move to an automated format once the variance between the two channels is established. Phone surveys are generally repeated once annually thereafter. It is valuable to align your internal and external satisfaction measure (QA and CSAT) as they both strive to measure how well we are doing meeting our customers needs. A study we conducted found up to a 30% variance between internal and external sat measures. Let me know if you would like a copy of this document.

Friday, February 6, 2009

AllTop- a Great Resource

I was speaking with Deborah from and we discussed using LinkedIn and specifically a note I send to all new connections and she mentioned the high ranking this blog has on for Customer Service and I was blown away. I had previously kicked the habit of checking my own rankings long ago when I realised there were a million plus more interesting or relevant sites.

I checked out and there this blog was...above the fold!. What I also discovered was that there are a lot of really excellent customer service blogs out there. If you haven't visited Alltop, do yourself a favor and check out their 'magazine rack' of blogs, it is truly incredible.

I also recommend Deborah's LinkedIn article at

Thursday, February 5, 2009

January Issue of Customer Reach®, now available

Ten times a year The Taylor Reach Group, Inc. (TRG) publishes our call and contact center newsletter Customer Reach®. The January issue marks our 6th year of publishing the newsletter. This issue was sent out to 10, 488 senior call and contact center executive around the globe. Customer Reach® has been described by Frost & Sullivan as “A great newsletter” and by other industry leaders as “the best contact center newsletter out there". A readership study indicated that more than 54% of Customer Reach® readers implemented change in their contact centers based on what they first read about in Customer Reach®.

In this months issue we address creating community and the value of small talk, Dells' recent move to offer premium domestic call center support services, and a review of the recent IQPC Call Center Summit in Orlando Florida. In addition we feature call center news and views from around the globe.

We welcome your input, comments and suggestions on how we can improve our publication. So please email your feedback to us at

Colin Taylor

Thursday, January 29, 2009

IQPC Call Center Summit- Review

Call Center Summit in Orlando just wrapped up and it was a bit of a disappointment. Attendance was about 150poeple (down by about 20% I am told from last year) with 15 or so exhibitors (also down from last year).

The show was O.K. a lot of recycled content and too little original material, but that is normal for most shows. A couple of very good sessions on on 'Maintaining Control in a Virtual Contact Center Environment', by Prem Uppaluru of Transera. The completeness of the Transera solution for integrated management of numerous disparate outsource centers is quite impressive. If you employ multiple outsource agencies with multiple locations you really should look into this solution to improve management and reduce costs.

The session by Steve Sullivan of CIT on 'Optimizing Contact Center Resources During Tough Times' was really mislabeled as it focused almost entirely on outbound IVR as a cost effective tool to improve communications and preempt inbound calls. While Steve's focus was from the collections industry the information has application to every contact center operator.

As with most shows of this kind there were too many commercials thinly veiled as presentations, too many "look at me I'm smart" case studies and the show management itself had some challenges with technology, a guide that didn't identify session rooms, incorrect titles and associated speakers and a keynote that turned into a webinar.

Personally, I don't think the show was worth the cost $2500 to attend, but as they say "you only need one idea you can use to pay for the conference"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Shoemakers children...

I had reason to call the Disney resort reservation line yesterday to extend my stay next week at the IQPC Call Center Summit. If it wasn't so sad then the following would have been quite comical...
I called to add one day to my stay to accommodate additional meetings that I had scheduled. The call took more than 3 minutes before it was answered and then the security questions took 3 more minutes. The volume at the start of the call was about a million decibels and by the end I couldn't hear the agent. After more than 8 minutes of talking at cross purposes, the agent confessed he could help me and that I need to call another number. No he "wasn't allowed to transfer the call", but he did wish me a nice day and asked if he had resolved my reason for calling. I started to explain that, no he and I had concluded that he couldn't help me, but I came to my senses before that happened. I was the n connected to a post call survey which was heavy on touchy-feely agent engagement questions, but ignored topics like resolution, timeliness of response and the quality of the connection.

The entire experience was poor, long wait time, no resolution, no early qualification to determine if they could help and ridiculously long security process (none of which was repeated when I spoke to the correct person). The agent wasn't eager, helpful or touchy-feely.

Now I know better than many the challenges of working in and/or operating a contact center and the dangers of judging a center based upon a single snapshot or interaction, but let me tell you my opinion of Disney declined immensely due to this interaction. The fact that I was calling regarding a call center event does add an element of perverse humor.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dell to charge for US based support calls

So Dell believes they have found a solution to the level of dissatisfaction that customers feel when dealing with their offshore contact centers. For just $13/month or $99 a year you can speak with US based support agents with a wait time of two minutes or less. Those customers who do not enrol in the 'Your Tech Team' service will continue to handled by offshore centers. See original article here .

So is this really a solution? Will customers enroll in this new service?

Well it may represent a solution for Dell as they struggle to balance the cost savings associated with offshore centers (estimated at 20-30%) with the ire these very centers raise with their customers.

To answer the second question, yes, I believe that customers will take advantage of the service, in part to gain what they perceive to be better service, but also for patriotic reasons. Patriotism as a rationale may surprise some of you, but certainly we have heard the rhetoric about bringing back American jobs and the evils of outsourcing from politicians and in the business and mainstream media. But this sentiment resonates well with many Americans and this has been recognised by some service companies. Jitterbug a company that provides cellular phone service to older Americans states in the television ads that they have "US based customer service". and shows a headset draped in a US flag. Jitterbug has included or 'buried' the increased cost of domestic contact center services in their pricing.

Contact Centers of America (CCA) is an outsource service provider with a mission to to 'bring back Customer Service jobs to America'. Their advertising and marketing material is clearly designed to invoke a patriotic response. Now CCA does have a strategy to offset in part the higher cost by co located their centers on/near Universities and Colleges and partnering with these learning institutions to provide job training, Co-Op and student employment at lower and/or subsidized rates.

So CCA reduces the base cost of US based service through partnerships, Jitterbug includes it in the price and Dell offers pay for service.

None of this is really new, the same thing has occurred in the UK starting five years ago. With a backdrop of weekly and almost daily horror stories in dealing with offshore centers. Banks and insurance companies specifically began touting UK based call centers in their ads on television and in print. In fact a UK based call center was positioned a reason enough to move your bank account, since the actual products all banks sell is virtually the same.

Dells shift may just be the thin edge of the wedge as companies look for ways to improve customer loyalty and retention. Clearly forcing customer to deal with a contact center where the customer has difficulty understanding the agent can be frustrating. Frustrated customer do not align well with improved loyalty or repurchase

Monday, January 19, 2009

FCR adpotion and utilization

First Call Resolution or FCR as it is known is arguably the most significant and important metric in use in contact centers today. Yet this metric is infrequently used and when employed internal approximations or 'stand-ins' often have to be employed. A recent study completed by at Ascent Group ( of more than 100 companies in 14 industries found that in companies that are measuring FCR only 44% are competing this measurement based on customer feedback, the balance or 56% employ approximations or 'stand-ins' such Call Monitoring (20%), Agent assessments (8%) and internal calculation (27%).

It is critical to all contact centers to not only know why customers are calling (call types), but also whether and how well the call/contact center performs at resolving the inquiry. Without measuring FCR an organization cannot know how well they are meeting their customers' expectations. In addition at The Taylor Reach Group ( we have encountered numerous organizations that have been able to reduce operational expense while increasing customer satisfaction by implementing FCR in conjunction with Root Cause Analysis (RCA) and process review to increase resolution rates significantly.

If you are not measuring FCR today, you need to start immediately. The most accurate measure is to ask your customers at the end of each call if you have resolved their 'issue' or reason for their call. (Of course if they say no, you must be prepared to revisit the issue.) After all the customer knows why they called and what their expectations were regarding resolution. If you ask your customers you must be prepared to track the results in your CRM or CIS system. In addition you must validate the results periodically through recorded call verification...this will stop/reduce agents improving their own scores by answering the question for the customer. If you don't have a CRM or CIS then most likely you will employ a stand in such as a second call from the same customer within 48 hours as an indication of FCR not being met on the original call. Depending on the nature of the call and the type of center you operate the time metric of 48 hours may not be appropriate and 24 or 72 may be better. This may also take some fine-tuning to improve the comfort with the result.

If you would like additional information on FCR or other critical metrics in contact center operation please drop me a note at

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Nortel files Chapter 11

My how the mighty have fallen. Nortel shares once traded at over $124 each, yesterday fell as low as 8 cents apiece. Frankly they are likely overvalued at that. Please don't misunderstand me I don't believe the company is wothless, just that the current shares are likely to be effectively wiped out as Nortel goes through their reorganization.

For the employees it is business as usual. Those who are still there, about a quarter of the staff that Nortel had just a few short years ago, will carry on and to a large degree so will the company. Seeking bankruptcy protection allows Nortel to avoid making interest and other payments and plan a structured return. The plan will likely involve selling off assets and whole business units.

Nortel has good products and customer base, but I suspect that they will lose some deals due to uncertainty about the future. If you are spending millions on telephony you want to know that the vendor will be around to support their equipment.

I expect Nortel to survive, but it will be a much smaller shadow of its former self.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Inadequate Training Costs

Thomas Noftall thought he was a big winner with four scratch and win tickets totalling $135,000. Originally the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) said the tickets were misprints and and not winners. Mr Noftall however phoned the OLG call centre and asked if there would be a payment made if there was an error, and he was told there would be. According the OLG CEO Kelly McDougald "that was an erroneous statement."

Because of that "direct miscommunication," OLG "made him a payment in acknowledgment of that pain and suffering."

The amount paid to Mr Noftall was not disclosed.

This story underscores the importance that all agents in a centre understand the policies and procedures and also the risks of inaccurate communication.