Off Center




While many call centers struggle to adapt to new contact channels, RDI has taken customer support to the text level.

Chat is where it’s at with RDI, a leading provider of call center outsourcing services. The company added web chat to the mix a few years ago to provide customers with a more dynamic and real-time e-support option than email. Since then, RDI has helped a broad range of corporate clients greatly enhance customer loyalty and reduce costs. 

Jim Borum, Senior Vice President at RDI, feels chat is quickly transforming from a “nice-to-have” to a “need-to-have” service option in today’s customer care environment.

“As the younger population – prolific at text messaging – has entered the business age, chat has become more and more important,” says Borum. “It’s not a ‘stand-alone’ interaction channel – it’s all a part of giving customers the opportunity to contact you any way they want, whenever they want.”

RDI’s seven contact centers collectively handle between 3,000-5,000 chat sessions with customers daily. Most of the sessions are handled by dedicated chat agents, though several agents serve a more “universal” role, handling chat in addition to phone and email contacts.

Finding Agents Who Have the Write Stuff

Much of RDI’s success with chat can be attributed to the company’s comprehensive hiring program, which is designed to ensure that the center is forever staffed with agents possessing solid writing skills and plenty of web savvy.

“Hiring and training changed significantly after we introduced email years ago, and it changed even more when we added chat,” Borum says.

While RDI still embraces such key traditional applicant assessment methods as phone screening, personal interviews and reference checks, the hiring process these days also includes tests for grammar, spelling and computer/online proficiency.

Borum points out that all agent candidates at RDI undergo such assessment tests – not just applicants gunning to be e-support specialists. Why? Because chat at RDI serves not only as a customer contact medium but also as a powerful internal communication method. “Agents are expected to be able to use text chat as a workplace tool – whether that’s to access a supervisor, a team lead, a subject matter expert or somebody in management,” Borum explains. 

Practical Chat Apps, Impressive Performance

Even with high-caliber agents ready to tackle customer’s text-based transactions, chat will fall flat without efficient and effective chat routing, tracking and reporting in place. To help with all that, RDI uses a potent chat management solution by Interactive Intelligence. The system is equipped with such features as:

·      Skills-based routing – ensures each customer chat request is handled by the most qualified agent available, thus helping to increase issue resolution rates.
·      Response templates – help agents provide quick and consistent answers to common inquiries. (Though RDI agents still customize each response to avoid creating impersonal “canned” answers.)
·      Web collaboration tools – enable agents to assist customers with filling out online forms, finding pertinent web pages/information, etc.
·      Multichannel integration – lets the call center integrate chat with self-service, phone, email and other methods of customer interaction.

In addition, RDI’s chat management solution features comprehensive reports providing detailed data on contact volume and chat-handling performance.

And oh what performance it is. RDI consistently achieves an ambitious chat service level objective of 80/15, meaning that agents provide a first response to 80% of all chat inquiries within 15 seconds. Naturally, such a high service level means a low abandon rate (customers abandoning the chat interaction before an agent’s first response). According to Borum, RDI maintains a very enviable chat abandon rate of under 2%.

Ensuring Chat Quality Inside and Out

Of course, getting to customers’ chat inquiries quickly means little if the service provided is poor, which is why RDI carefully monitors chat transactions internally. QA personnel not only regularly observe agents handling chat sessions live, they also evaluate a random sample of transcripts for each agent to ensure accuracy, professionalism and good grammar. Soon after a QA evaluation, the agent’s supervisor meets with the agent for a coaching session. During these sessions, agents get a chance to self-evaluate their performance in addition to receiving timely feedback.

As Borum explains, “The transcript audit allows us to sit down with the rep and show them in black and white, ‘Here’s the interaction – what do you think you could have done better? What tools are you missing? Did you give accurate information?’ They get scorecards just like they do for phone interactions.”

Quality assurance goes beyond mere internal monitoring of chat transactions. To get a more “customer’s eye view” of the chat experience, RDI selects a random sample of customers who’ve recently interacted with an agent via chat and emails them a concise survey. In addition, customers can request to complete a survey immediately following their chat session.
To further ensure high quality and positive customer experiences, RDI doesn’t push agents to handle multiple chat sessions concurrently. The average is about one and a half chats at a time per agent. On occasion, an experienced chat agent will handle up to three sessions simultaneously, but only when each customers’ inquiry/issue is of a basic nature.

“Productivity can never be gained at the expense of quality,” says Borum. “When you have agents handling four and five chats simultaneously, it’s easy to get sloppy, and all you do is create more inquiries via some other channel. Customers handled poorly via chat will just contact you via phone or email.”

And won’t hesitate to do so, Borum adds, pointing out that patience runs a bit thin with chat. “A chat customer, if they become frustrated, will abandon the interaction more quickly than will somebody on the phone or in another medium. They’ll click off the chat session and either try to text chat with a different rep, or, in most cases, they’ll contact the center via a different medium. So we work really hard to have that not happen.”

Start Smart with Chat
Jim Borum of RDI provides the following “start-up” tips for call center professionals who are considering implementing chat as a customer contact channel:
·       Implement with a select group of agents trained on your chat tools and practices
·       Limit hours for text chat
·       Consider limiting the roll-out to premium customers only
·       Overstaff for chat the first 30 days
·       Emphasize quality over quantity.
·       Set metric goals realistically
·       Survey customers on chat experience
·       Actively promote chat option (via IVR, agents, website)
Source: RDI (

RDI – the Big Picture:

Location: Four centers in Ohio and one each in Arizona (bilingual), Nevada and Mexico
Hours of operation: 24/7
Number of agents: 1,200 
Products/services provided/supported: Customer service and support for customers of corporate clients in a wide variety of industries, namely Utilities, Financial Services, Telecom, Pharmaceuticals and Retail.
Channels handled: Phone, IVR, email, chat, web self-service  
What’s so great about them? Have mastered web chat to provide cost-effective and dynamic e-support with a high level of quality and customer satisfaction. 

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