The high price of call handling times

I was at a large telco last week chatting to the manager of a 1,000 seat call centre.

We were talking through the inconveniences that agents have to go through in terms of navigating through a variety of systems just to give the customer what they needed, in this case upgrading their contract.

The problems were obvious in terms of the corporate systems.  Like any other enterprise, these were divided into functional silos paying little regard to the business process.  However, additional difficulty had been added by the use of complex spreadsheets as workarounds for missing system functionality.  Am I painting a grim picture?  Not at all – I see this in every large call centre, not to mention back office.  This is the norm for operational managers – they come to expect it.

The manager volunteered that he was looking at ways of reducing average call handling times and had concluded that improving agents’ interaction with systems would be a way of achieving this.  As an example, he showed me a simple process where the agent had to do some nimble cutting and pasting between systems, whilst holding a conversation with the customer.  I was just thinking that automating that small piece of process would only probably save 10 seconds when I was advised that each second of call time equates to one FTE (full time equivalent employee).  So a 10 seconds reduction equates to approx £250,000 p.a!

What’s more, there were numerous examples of where these savings could be made.

Major IT projects had come and gone and tried to address the major issues.  The problem with such projects is that they focus (necessarily) on the major issues and forget the local problems, indeed sometimes actually create the local problems.  Furthermore, every major project I have ever seen has been de-scoped at some point due to cost and time pressures.  This leaves inflexible hardware and software infrastructures attempting to support demanding and frequently changing business processes.

Sometimes incremental improvements are the way forwards.  Major projects frequently don’t deliver promised advantages.  Smaller packages are more easily controlled and deliver benefits more reliably.  They also pay back more readily since investment is also incremental.  And it doesn’t take too many incremental improvements at £250k p.a. each to add up to a significant total gain.

Businesses need to be more agile than their fixed infrastructure allows so they can continuously improve customer service, efficiency, and compliance.  In this case, lower call handling times not only save money but also dramatically enhance the customer experience, and that is starting to look like a competitive advantage worth having.

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