Off Center
By guest blogger, Matt McConnell

Does your contact center have a front office and back office? If yes, then it’s time to do some renovation. Are your front and back offices actually located in the front and back of the building? Maybe they’re on different floors, different sections of the building or even different buildings in different regions. Or, possibly they are in the same space but divided by an invisible wall. Whatever the case, it is time to pull out your metaphorical sledge hammer and tear those walls to the ground. Better yet, pull out hundreds of metaphorical sledge hammers and give them to every agent, supervisor, manager, executive and customer, because this renovation is for each and every one of them.

As matter of fact, let’s not call it a renovation but a revolution. A revolution to free back office management from being forced to scramble to staff up when changing regulations call for more

paper-pushing. A movement to free agents from monotony. Most importantly, an undertaking to remove hassles and hurdles that hinder customer service.

The future demands one office made up of blended agents. One office reduces cost, increases morale and improves the customer experience. Let’s take a closer look at each of these three big benefits:

Cost savings. Many companies face unforeseen changes in business conditions that cause workload increases. For example, an insurance intermediary recently faced a workload increase caused by changing regulations that required customers to submit proof that they had no claims in order to receive discounted policies.  Before regulations changed, insurers conducted more of a spot check – maybe 20 percent of policies. To protect against fraud, regulations changed and drastically increased the workload of the back office. Such an additional workload meant significant costs for adding headcount and labor hours to process these claims.

For one insurance contact center, this was the driving force for blending the front and back office activity. The company employed roughly 800 front office agents and over 100 people in the back office, and the back office handled 30 or 40 different back office processes. Verifying customer paperwork for the no claims discount would become the biggest of those processes. The company estimated the new process would require them to hire 25 extra back office workers. By blending the front and back office, they didn't need to have additional headcount. All of that work was absorbed by front office contact center agents resulting in big savings for the company. 

Agent morale. Agents speak to a lot of people during the course of a day, and those people aren’t calling to chat about their grandchildren or offer a weekend getaway at their timeshare. There's a good chance that some of the people agents talk to are not all that happy – they may be impatient, angry and/or depressed. After all, most people who pick up the phone to call a contact center are typically calling about an issue or problem they couldn’t solve on their own. Agents need a little break from this on occasion. Routing paperwork or claims processing for agents to process in 10 to 15 minute breaks that can be completed during slower call volume provides the agents with the job diversity and variety they need and crave.

Customer experience. Having customers interact with agents who are privy to what’s happening with back office processes can certainly have a positive impact on the customer experience. Let’s take the paperwork needed to qualify for a discounted insurance policy as one example. The insurance company recently had a customer who bought two insurance policies, submitted the required paperwork, but received a notice that only one of the policies was discounted.

Here’s what happened. The customer purchased two policies on the same day with the same provider, and mailed the proof for both policies in the same envelope. After the customer received a letter asking about proof for one of the two policies, the customer called to inquire. The agent discovered that the proof for both policies had been scanned but only for one of the policies. In the pre-blended world, the agent wouldn't have understood the back office processes well enough to identify the error and would have told the customer to follow up with another person and department. The customer would have to do the legwork to send out the email and wait for a response, and there is no guarantee it would have been resolved quickly. With one office, the issues was immediately identified and a positive customer experience was preserved.

Join the Revolution

This is one office. The revolution has begun. Your contact center can embrace one office or be left to wither away in the past. Get out those figurative sledge hammers and start reducing costs, increasing morale and improving the customer experience.

About Matt McConnell: Matt is chairman, president and CEO of Intradiem. Matt co-founded Intradiem in 1995 with a vision of helping companies increase the level of customer service they deliver by improving the performance of their agents. Today, Intradiem is a leader in intraday management technology with more than 450,000 agents and managers around the world using Intradiem every day.

In the eyes of many customers, self-service is not a compound word but rather a four-letter one. It’s not that there’s anything inherently bad about IVR or web self-service applications it’s that there’s something bad about most contact centers’ efforts to make such apps good.

Relatively few contact centers extend their quality assurance (QA) practices to self-service applications. Most centers tend to monitor and evaluate only those contacts that involve an interaction with a live agent – i.e., customer contacts in the form of live phone calls or email, chat or social media interactions. Meanwhile, no small percentage of customers try to complete transactions on their own via the IVR or online (or, more recently, via mobile apps) and end up tearing their hair out in the process. In fact, poorly designed and poorly looked-after self-service apps account for roughly 10% of all adult baldness, according to research I might one day conduct.

When contact center pros hear or read “QA”, they need to think not only “Quality Assurance” but also “Quality Automation.” The latter is very much part of the former.

To ensure that customers who go the self-service route have a positive experience and maintain their hair, the best contact centers frequently conduct comprehensive internal testing of IVR systems and online applications, regularly monitor customers' actual self-service interactions, and gather customer feedback on their experiences. Let's take a closer look at each of these critical practices.

Testing Self-Service Performance

Testing the IVR involves calling the contact center and interacting with the IVR system just as a customer would, only with much less groaning and swearing. Evaluate such things as menu logic, awkward silences, speech recognition performance and – to gauge the experience of callers that choose to opt out of the IVR – hold times and call-routing precision.    

Testing of web self-service apps is similar, but takes place online rather than via calls. Carefully check site and account security, the accuracy and relevance of FAQ responses, the performance of search engines, knowledge bases and automated agent bots. Resist the urge to try to see if you can get the automated bot to say dirty words. There’s no time for such shenanigans. Testing should also include evaluating how easy it is for customers to access personal accounts online and complete transactions.

Some of the richest and laziest contact centers have invested in products that automate the testing process. Today's powerful end-to-end IVR monitoring and diagnostic tools are able to dial in and navigate through an interactive voice transaction just as a real caller would, and can track and report on key quality and efficiency issues. Other centers achieve testing success by contracting with a third-party vendor that specializes in testing voice and web self-service systems and taking your money.

Monitoring Customers’ Self-Service Interactions

Advancements in quality monitoring technologies are making things easier for contact centers looking to spy on actual customers who attempt self-service transactions. All the major quality monitoring vendors provide customer interaction re­cording applications that capture how easy it is for callers to navigate the IVR and complete transactions without agent assistance, as well as how effectively such front-end systems route each call after the caller opts out to speak to an actual human being.

As for monitoring the online customer experience, top contact centers have taken advantage of multichannel customer interaction-recording solutions. Such solutions enable contact centers to find out first-hand such things as: how well customers navigate the website; what information they are looking for and how easy it is to find; what actions or issues lead most online customers to abandon their shopping carts; and what causes customers to call, email or request a chat session with an agent rather than continue to cry while attempting to serve themselves.

As with internal testing of self-service apps, some centers – rather than deploying advanced monitoring systems in-house – have contracted with a third-party specialist to conduct comprehensive monitoring of the customers' IVR and/or web self-service experiences.

Capturing the Customer Experience

In the end, the customer is the real judge of quality. As important as self-service testing and monitoring is, even more vital is asking customers directly just how bad their recent self-service experience was.

The best centers have a post-contact C-Sat survey process in place for self-service, just as they do for traditional phone, email and chat contacts. Typically, these center conduct said surveys via the same channel as the customer used to interact with the company. That is, customers who complete (or at least attempt to complete) a transaction via the center’s IVR system are invited to complete a concise automated survey via the IVR (immediately following their interaction). Those who served themselves via the company’s website are soon sent a web-based survey form via email. Customers, you see, like it when you pay attention to their channel preferences, and thus are more likely to complete surveys that show you’ve done just that. Calling a web self-service customer and asking them to compete a survey over the phone is akin to finding out somebody is vegetarian and then offering them a steak.      

It’s Your Call

Whether you decide to do self-service QA manually, invest in special technology, or contract with third-party specialists is entirely up to you and your organization. But if you don’t do any of these things and continue to ignore quality and the customer experience on the self-service side, don’t act surprised if your customers eventually start ignoring you – and start imploring others to do the same.