Customer Engagement

World-Class Customer Service

Chris Zaske

Social media, web chat, email and many other customer interaction channels have had a significant impact on the way traditional customer service activities are managed.

Today’s consumers require multiple communication options, which may not always require the voice of a “live” agent.

This blended environment— where personnel perform both on- and off-phone support—has introduced a new layer of complexity to staffing, resource utilization, workflow and customer service operations management.

Add to this challenge the need to address service issues that originate outside the frontline contact center—such as complex back-office processes—and the stakes get even higher from customer frustration and churn, to tarnished company brands and reputations.

Unfortunately, most customer service and processing operations managers simply lack visibility and access to the real-time data that can help them effectively improve processing efficiency, accuracy and quality, as well as employee productivity. Forward-thinking service organizations, however, are now looking at workforce optimization (WFO) strategies and supporting technologies—which include staff forecasting and scheduling, capacity modeling, quality monitoring, desktop and process analytics, performance management and eLearning—to help them overcome these internal challenges.

One especially powerful tool is desktop and process analytics, which delivers a full-service delivery picture, including which desktop applications staff use and when, how they use them and for how long; adherence to schedule; processing protocols, workloads, performance capacity and productivity planning; and quality assessments. Regardless of the customer interaction channel or where within the front- or back-office problems originate, desktop and process analytics can provide insight across all of the people and processes impacting service levels.

Blending Customer Service

In today’s multichannel environment, contact center agents play more than just a “speaking” role when supporting customer service operations. They also work hard behind-the-scenes, handling essential tasks like looking up customer data, entering information, tracking inquiries and more. By only monitoring telephone activity, many organizations today are missing the full picture and lack the visibility to properly manage staff, identify hidden capacity and find opportunities for training.

Particularly in blended customer service and processing operations environments, staff are challenged to work multiple queue items with varying deadlines. For example, in service scenarios, such as the help desk, employees are required to take requests and either properly route tickets through IT and other departments within the enterprise or perform the research themselves to ensure resolution. To effectively meet these deadlines, they need to be scheduled and assigned to work on different queues, balancing a variety of tasks throughout the day. What if one employee takes excessively longer at a task than expected? By not adhering to the schedule, another deadline could be compromised—creating a domino effect of poor performance and lack-luster customer service.

Linking the Contact Center and Back Office

In addition to the off-phone tasks performed by contact center agents, there are daily activities in the back office that can contribute greatly to the success of a business and the customer experience. These same activities can also hinder an organization if not addressed and/or managed accordingly. Every company has back-office functions that are critical to delivering goods and services unseen by customers.

These include the handling of claims processing, customer administration, applications, payments/statement processing/adjustments, loan initiation/ processing, document and case management, order fulfillment/client services, accounting/ billing, inside sales support and transaction processing, and more. These can be as simple as posting a payment. Or, they can consist of complex, multistep, multi-touch processes that span days, weeks or even months—commercial loan applications and fraud case management, for instance.

There is more than mere anecdotal evidence of the association between front- and back-office operations when it comes to customer satisfaction and loyalty:

  • TARP Worldwide, an organization known for its customer experience consulting work, has repeatedly discovered that up to 60% of customer dissatisfaction sources are in the back office (source: John Goodman, co-founder of TARP, at SpeechTek 2006)
  • A Forrester study reveals that 17% of a customer’s loyalty is the result of operational efficiency (Forrester Research’s Consumer Technographics, December 2005 North American Study).
  • Some experts estimate that between 10% and 20% of all the transaction volume in a contact center is the result of execution issues in the back office.

The business objectives of the contact center and back office are essentially the same—to process the work as quickly and accurately as possible, at the lowest cost, meeting service delivery deadlines, and ensuring customer satisfaction. Clearly, where the contact center and back office are linked operationally, it makes good sense to carefully manage both to drive timely and efficient customer service delivery and overall corporate success.

What Are Your Employees Doing Right Now?

Every organization should have a 360-degree view of its customer service operations. Although most managers think they know in general what their staff is doing, most will acknowledge that there are opportunities to improve utilization and processing effectiveness. The challenge is in getting the granular detail that can quantify where these opportunities lie, and present the data in a way that is actionable.

Many organizations rely on employee self-reporting as their main source of data. Unfortunately, this approach can be inaccurate, biased and based on “perceived” versus “actual” activity. The data compiled and reported on addresses only the volume or number of items processed. It does not capture how the work was processed. What was the quality of the work? Were items completed accurately and completely? Was company protocol followed and were all required steps taken?

With desktop and process analytics, organizations can answer these very questions by capturing data from the employee desktop and delivering management the activity, volume and process data they need to affect change and improve performance. This type of technology solution enables organizations to truly capture what their employees are doing during off-phone or idle periods in the contact center or back office by providing visibility into business processes from the point of origination at the employee desktop; across multiple steps, applications, and systems; and on through completion.

Rather than focusing on the outcome of processes, desktop and process analytics examines the processes themselves, so that managers can pinpoint if employees are taking too long to handle a task, following the wrong protocols or entering information incorrectly. This insight allows managers to detect and fix flawed processes, and implement best practices and training programs to correct behavior and improve staff performance.

Even in a contact center that handles a tremendous amount of call volume, managers can use desktop and process analytics to find idle time and help staff perform off-phone tasks more quickly so that they can concentrate on on-phone service activities. Desktop and process analytics installations tend to find, on average, 8% to 15% employee idle time during the initial implementation.

A medical testing equipment help desk, for instance, found that more than 43% of employee time was spent on “unmanaged” off-phone activities. During the time available for phone activities, employee idle time ranged from 10% to 30%. In another example, a global software application help desk found that over 52% of employee time was spent off phone. Overall employee utilization varied by geographic site—ranging from 75% to 83%, which generated a 5% full-time equivalent (FTE) opportunity alone.

In the back office, desktop and process analytics can support staff by providing insight into what processes—billing, claims, payment, order fulfillment, etc.—are going awry and why. Most importantly, it addresses these issues by providing a view into the human component, a capability that most data systems fail to take into account when evaluating broken operational processes for efficiency improvements. Simply put, the result of a properly functioning back office equals fewer calls into the contact center, higher levels of service and increased customer loyalty.

Continuous Performance Improvement

Desktop and process analytics is not just about identifying problems, it’s also includes putting proactive steps in place to enhance operations via training or process re-engineering. By combining information from different functions and sources within the contact center and back office, and then feeding that into additional tools such as staff forecasting and scheduling (workforce management), organizations can benefit from a cycle of continuous performance improvement.

Integrated with a holistic workforce optimization solution, managers can capture of all work volumes and activities—phone and off-phone—for accurate forecasting of demand and employee capacity. The forecast feeds a scheduling engine that effectively aligns resources to demand, decreasing idle time and increasing utilization as part of workforce management tools.

In addition, performance management scorecards allow managers to identify underperformers and gaps for coaching, and peak performers for emulating and disseminating best practices. Overall, the actionable intelligence such solutions enable can yield organizations a sizeable ROI, generally ranging from 200% to 600%. Most organizations justify the investment with only a few percentage points of productivity improvement.

Customer service organizations now have a unique opportunity to transform the way they manage their workforce, both in the front and back office, and during phone or off-phone activities. By using such workforce optimization technology across the enterprise to manage the productivity of their staff, turnaround times become speedier, quality heightens, processes become better, workflow is streamlined or better defined, rework is cut back, customers’ experiences are enhanced, and competitive advantages abound.

Chris Zaske is vice president of the Workforce Optimization Practice at Verint Witness Actionable Solutions.

– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline,

– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline,

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