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.