Off Center
Every 30 seconds, a contact center agent somewhere breaks a hand after punching a computer monitor.

Only YOU can prevent shattered knuckles.

How? By providing agents with a desktop that actually allows them to do their job and take care of customers. Unfortunately, such a desktop isn’t what’s gracing the workstations in most contact centers. According to recent industry research:
  • More than one in three companies cite disconnected and complex agent desktops as a key obstacle.
  • Agents are forced to navigate an average of five screens to handle a typical customer interaction.
  • Agents estimate they waste more than 25% of their time (during customer interactions) searching for relevant data across different systems.

Spend a day toggling between various applications, asking customers to repeat information, and keying in redundant data on multiple screens, and see if YOU, too, aren’t overcome by the urge to put your fist through your computer monitor. If such disparate and uncoordinated systems are causing this much frustration on the frontline, imagine how your customers feel. Actually, you probably don’t have to imagine – I’m sure every day they’re letting you and your agents know how they feel… through their sighs and obscenities, and their ‘1 out of 5’ ratings on post-contact surveys.
Make the Move to a Unified Desktop
Leading contact centers protect agents’ hand bones and elevate the customer experience by investing in a unified desktop (a.k.a., ‘intelligent desktop’, ‘dynamic desktop’, ‘a desktop agents don’t want to assault’). Such desktops take all the existing systems and applications agents need to access and place them all behind a single intuitive interface. Every resource the agent might need – regardless of contact channel – is organized and presented together on the desktop. This includes all the customer account activity and history as the contact arrives, including any information a customer may have provided to the center’s IVR prior to being routed to the agent. A typical unified desktop also features: user-friendly knowledge bases; dynamic rules-based screen pops; text templates to help agents seem less illiterate when handling email, chat and social media contacts; and other helpful tools and applications.

So, those are some of the key features of a unified agent desktop. Now let’s take a look at something even more enticing – the benefits that those features make possible. Talk to just about any contact center that has moved to a unified agent desktop, and they'll tell you how it has enabled them to do the following:

Reduce Average Handle Time (organically!). Naturally when agents aren’t fumbling around different applications and keying in stuff they had to ask customers to repeat, calls (and chats) go a lot faster… without anybody feeling rushed or spontaneously combusting. A large contact center outsourcer, Group O, reportedly reduced overall AHT by 36 seconds after going the unified desktop route. I’ve heard of other companies shedding as much as a minute or more off of handle times thanks to a more dynamic agent desktop.     

Increase First-Contact Resolution. Having a complete view of the customer’s activity and immediate access to relevant applications/knowledge bases means agents don’t look like morons during interactions and can better resolve customers' specific issues. Telecom company Blue Casa reportedly increased FCR by a whopping 25% after implementing a unified desktop.

Increase sales. It’s much easier for agents to sell to a customer (and not feel dirty doing it) when they can see the customer’s purchase history and preferences, and when dynamic screen pops alert agents to ideal sales opportunities. Just ask Servicemaster, a large home services company that reportedly DOUBLED sales conversion rates due to the enhanced customer info and context-specific cross-selling suggestions provided by their unified agent desktop.

Increase C-Sat. Highly personalized service and quick issue resolution make customers fall in love with agents and your company. Your agents might even receive some marriage proposals. My own wife has walked in on me professing my love to an agent who rocked my world during an interaction. By the way, Group O (that same company that realized big AHT reductions with a unified desktop – see above) also reported an 8% jump in their Customer Satisfaction rate – proof that organically lowering AHT directly and positively enhances the customer experience.      

Increase agent engagement & retention. As an agent, having customers profess their love and propose marriage several times a day makes you feel valuable and special. So does having everything you need to thrive at your job right at your fingertips.    

Reduce training time. I know of a large cable company that reportedly shortened new-hire training by three-weeks after moving to a unified agent desktop – saving the company $5 million annually. Of course. that huge profit gain didn’t stop the company from raising its rates, but if you ignore that part, it’s a lovely success story.

Save the Knuckles
Recent research shows that less than a third of contact centers are currently equipped with a unified desktop; however, many other centers report that they are in the process of implementing one. For those of you that don’t fall into either of these camps, I recommend you at least consider investing in a padded desktop – to limit the number of ruined agent knuckles in your center. 

In this age of social media, sound bytes and ADHD, people love quick and catchy stats. Unfortunately, in the contact center and customer care space, there seem to be only a handful of snazzy stats in circulation. The same ones just keep getting regurgitated over and over (yes, that’s redundant), especially on Twitter.

This is perplexing considering how dynamic customer care is and how much contact centers have evolved. It’s actually worse than perplexing – it’s depressing. Every time I see someone tweeting the old chestnut , “Satisfied customers tell only 3 people about their experience, while dissatisfied customers tell 8-10 people” (or some variation of this), a part of my soul dies. I even wept a little just now while typing that stat.

Rather than just complain about the lack of statistical variety being promoted by self-proclaimed customer experience experts in the Twittersphere, I aim to remedy the situation. Following are several fresh and captivating stats about customer care and contact centers that I believe you and everybody else will feel compelled to talk and tweet about:

  • 86% of customers would be willing to pay more for better customer service. 100% of contact center managers would be willing to pay more for even mediocre customer service.  

  • 70% of contact centers list Average Handle Time among their key performance metrics at the agent level. Of those centers, 100% need a clue.

  • Only 17% of contact centers really mean it when they say “Your call is very important to us”. Of the remaining centers, 38% feel “Your call is somewhat important to us”, 24% feel “It’s surprising how unimportant your call is to us”, and 21% feel “It’s hilarious that you are still holding for a live agent.”

  • 73% of contact center managers claim to know how to accurately measure First-Call Resolution. The remaining 27% of managers are telling the truth.

  • Engaged customer service agents are 35% more likely to provide a positive customer experience than are customer service agents who are already married.

  • The top three criteria contact center managers consider when selecting work-at-home agents are: 1) Past performance; 2) ability to work independently; and 3) body odor.

  • Every time a caller must provide his/her name and account number to an agent after having just provided that exact same information via the IVR system, a puppy dies.

  • 97% of contact center agents fantasize daily about sending a hungry Bengal tiger to the home of abusive callers. The remaining 3% of agents fantasize daily about sending a hungry Siberian Tiger.

  • 81% of contact center agents are empowered to do exactly what their managers and supervisors tell them.

  • Each year, over 150 customer care professionals die from overexposure to acronyms.

  • 50% of managers feel their contact center is highly unprepared to handle social customer care; the remaining 50% do too.  

  • The three people that satisfied customers tell about their experience are Sue Johnson, Dave Winthrop, and Bud Carter. All three are tired of hearing about these experiences.

  • 42% of contact center managers say they will not hire an agent applicant unless said applicant has a pulse and/or can work at least one weekend shift a month.

  • Four out of five agents represent 80% of all agents. In contrast, the remaining agents represent only 20% of all agents.

  • The average agent-to-supervisor ratio in contact centers is 20:1. The odds that this is enough to provide agents with the coaching and support they need to succeed is 2000:1.

  • 100% of managers destined for greatness and wealth purchase a copy of the Full Contact e-book. 0% of managers understand why the author of said e-book looks so angry and aggressive in the photo on the book cover.

Conversations about contact center metrics often cause controversy – especially if you are having that conversation with me, and especially if I’ve been drinking at a conference cocktail reception. Drinking brings out the bold truth in me, and the bold truth (ok, my bold opinion) about metrics tends to stir things up amongst contact center folk. It’s one of the main reasons why I’m rarely invited back to industry events.

But I’m not looking to make friends – according to my Facebook page, I already have four. If what I write here results in me receiving hate mail or having things thrown at me by detractors, so be it – as long as the customer care industry as a whole improves.

In the interest of time and space, I’m not going to expound on what I feel are the most critical contact center metrics (Service Level, C-Sat, FCR, Contact Quality, Forecast Accuracy, Adherence to Schedule, and E-Sat). Instead, I’m going to discuss three popular metrics – those that have been coveted in our industry since its inception  – that I feel need to be clarified and brought back down to earth once and for all. These metrics certainly have their place – just not at the top of the heap.

1) Average Speed of Answer

No doubt that tracking how many seconds on average each caller is forced to wait before reaching a live agent is important. Then why isn’t ASA listed among my metrics A-list? Simple: It gets trumped by service level – a mightier metric that gives managers key information that already includes an ASA component.

ASA is like the unstable cousin or brother of service level – closely related to SL but much more likely to cause problems, mess things up, or get drunk and start a fight at a family wedding. What ASA lacks is the “X% in Y seconds” attribute of its blood relative, thus it does not always give the most accurate representation of what callers experience when trying to reach an agent in the contact center. ASA is a straight average, and many managers when seeing an ASA figure – say, 30 seconds – make the mistake of assuming that this figure is indicative of how long most customers waited before getting to an agent. However, the reality is that many callers get connected much more quickly than 30 seconds while many other customers may get connected after much more than 30 seconds.

So if you are looking to more accurately gauge what is happening to individual callers and not just hang your hat on a sometimes unreliable average – one that could conceal a host of irate callers who have access to social media and know how to use it – then it’s best to keep service level as your main accessibility KPI.

However, there is no need to disown ASA. It is still a useful metric in its own right – it can help in calculating trunk load and serves as a solid back-up measure to service level (since it comes from the same set of data as SL). Just remember that it can be dangerous to fully embrace this somewhat unstable metric or to invite it to important family functions.

2) Abandonment

When I say abandonment, I’m talking about the accessibility metric, not the feeling that contact center managers experience after asking senior management for a budget increase.

A contact center’s abandonment rate is the percentage of callers who hang up before their call is answered by a live agent. This data can be obtained directly from ACD reports. The most common formula used for calculating abandonment is:

Total # of calls abandoned ÷ (total # of calls abandoned + total # of calls answered)

While abandonment is an important metric and one that should be tracked on an interval basis by all contact centers, it is not an ideal measure of accessibility. True, high abandonment rates usually indicate a problem with the center’s staffing levels – but not always; sometimes conditions beyond the contact center’s control result in higher than usual abandonment rates, and sometimes a large group of callers are just cranky and impatient because their football team lost the day before.

Another problem with relying primarily on abandonment as an accessibility measure is that a low abandonment rate – while certainly the goal in any contact center – does not automatically signify smooth operating. Again, different conditions often affect how long a caller will wait in queue before hanging up. For example, on a typical day, a contact center may achieve a respectable abandonment rate of, say, 1.5% and everything is fine with regard to service level and customer satisfaction. However, the next day let’s say that the company runs a “limited time” online promotion (“Call now and receive a…”); the center will likely receive a flood of calls and few customers will hang up because they have an incentive to wait – for long periods of time. So abandonment may be less than even 1%, but does this mean that service level is good, costs are contained, and that customers aren’t getting perturbed? Nope. Nope. And nope. 

3) Average Handle Time

Back in the pre-historic era of call centers, when cost reduction/efficiency was the only real objective, AHT ruled the land of metrics. But customer contact has evolved rapidly over the past couple of decades; and in the best-run organizations, so have the performance metrics. Top contact centers today, while still keeping an eye on AHT, focus more on quality, call resolution and customer satisfaction. It’s the Age of the Customer Experience. And though it’s still important to control costs and be efficient – just as it is in any business or industry – winning organizations realize that they stand to make a lot more money if they focus on their customers first to create lasting loyalty and advocacy. 

Contact centers should certainly not do away with such traditional productivity metrics as AHT and number of calls handled per hour/shift. After all, the center needs to have an idea about how many calls a typical agent is handling and how long those calls are lasting to help pinpoint any scheduling adjustments and/or special training/coaching that might be required. But the best contact center managers don’t set strict “hit this target or else” AHT objectives. For one, they recognize that many factors influencing handle times are out agents’ direct control – e.g., call complexity, caller mood, electric shocks from cheap headsets, etc. And secondly, these managers know that if they do set and rate performance based on a strict AHT target, agents will do what it takes to hit that target, which may include rushing calls, sloppily inputting data, and yelling “fire” before hanging up on customers and running out the building.   

Instead, managers in leading contact centers set acceptable ranges for AHT and only really focus on the numbers when the center’s or an agent’s AHT falls far outside the normal range, which typically indicates a problem with staffing levels, agent adherence or agent skills/knowledge.

Progressive managers view AHT reduction ultimately as their responsibility, not that of their agents. They realize that it’s up to them to make sure that the center’s forecasting and scheduling processes are sound and that agents receive the coaching and training needed to handle calls efficiently and effectively. What smart managers do hold agents accountable for is adherence to schedule. Agents can, for the most part, control when they are in their seats ready to take calls. And when they are where they should be, things like AHT and other productivity metrics tend to take care of themselves. No whip-cracking nor threats of physical harm to agents or their family are typically necessary.