This is a “Beaglier” and his name is “Duke” but we call him “Duke Man”! We believe he wants to be a Remote Agent!
Implementing Remote Agents and Contact Center Multi-Sourcing in the Cloud is very possible and can make business sense!
Many companies are moving to multi-sourcing for contact center agents, largely in pursuit of the cost savings that can come from flexibly tapping into a variety of labor pools. The trend is also growing because multi-sourcing enables contact center resources to be rapidly scaled in either direction to align with business growth, call volumes and seasonality. Still, multi-sourcing is not without peril—particularly the risk of negative impact on customer service and, thereby, damage to customer loyalty and brand. Nor are all companies that have adopted multi-sourcing realizing the expected levels of savings. A single overarching problem is often the cause when multi-sourcing delivers disappointing results in service and savings: the lack of a common infrastructure across multi-sourced call center resources. While many contact centers have all of their in-house agents on a centralized platform, their multi-sourced agents—working at various outsourcer locations or at home—may be using a hodgepodge of systems.
Differences among these systems can result in problematic performance issues:
- Agents—whose workflows are shaped by the systems they use and by various degrees of access to data and tools—are unable to deliver consistent customer service. Problems stemming from lack of a common multi-sourcing platform aggravate and accentuate other inconsistencies, in agent skills, training and management, which companies are trying hard to eliminate. A company’s most valuable customers are often the first to notice these inconsistencies, and are put at risk for attrition.
- Companies and their customers struggle with unpredictable and largely unmanageable response times. Because managers lack real-time visibility into the status of all their multi-sourced call center resources, they are slow or unable to react to problems—from carrier outages to volume spikes—that affect agent and system availability.
- Poor asset utilization keeps cost per call higher than it should be. The inability to reconfigure and reallocate call distribution as situations change may result in one agent group experiencing light volume or sitting idle while agents at another location are inundated. To avoid customer service impact, companies may over staff beyond optimal and cost-effective levels.
- Multi-site deployments, upgrades and maintenance stall time to market and drain savings. Return on investment from new products, technological innovations in call center infrastructure and service enhancements are delayed and diminished by the complexities of roll-outs across the heterogeneous platforms used by multiple outsourcing vendors. Companies then pay for unnecessary and redundant maintenance in their aggregate outsourcing bills.
There is some good news
It doesn’t have to be that way. Companies moving to multi-sourced contact centers can avoid these problems and maximize their savings and other benefits by adopting a common hosted contact center platform. Hosted platforms flexibly extend across any number and variety of outsourcing resources—and rapidly scale to meet changing call volumes and business strategies. They enable companies to deliver consistent, high-quality customer service transparently to their customers while taking advantage of the growing range of outsourcing options. This article describes how a common hosted contact center platform fits into a multi-sourcing environment. We show how this type of hosting strategy enables companies to avoid the pitfalls of multi-sourcing while fully realizing its potential for delivering appreciably better service more economically than ever before.
Achieving Service Level Consistency
When customers are interacting with a call center agent, they’re interacting with the company—that’s how they see it. The company’s ability to support this perception through technology that makes service delivery mechanisms transparent to customers is, of course, the key enabler behind contact center multi-sourcing.
The problem for companies adopting multi-sourcing without benefit of a common hosted platform is that the transparency of the delivery mechanism is far from 100%. It shows itself through the numerous inconsistencies that disparate agent platforms and user interfaces cause in contact center processes and workflow.
Customers who frequently interact with a contact center—often a company’s most valuable customers—certainly notice these inconsistencies and soon become disappointed and frustrated by unsatisfactory and unpredictable experiences.
Inconsistent service can also turn off one-time callers, if they have an experience below the standard of quality they had expected of the company. And, unlike frequent callers, these customers may never give the company a chance to change their negative opinion.
There are numerous ways platform differences can create differences in call center treatment. These discrepancies may be as subtle as the way agents transfer a call or as significant as the number of questions customers are asked during a transaction and the time required to complete it.
Consider these examples:
- Tool deployment delays. An in-house contact center develops a new scripting tool that allows for greater structure in the call and therefore better compliance with company service policies. The tool is usable immediately on the in-house platform, but deploying it on the platforms used by multi-sourced agent groups takes additional time since some custom coding is required. While the outsourcers eventually get up to speed, it isn’t long before the company wants to make another tool enhancement, and once again its multi-sourced agent groups fall out of sync with the in-house group. Over several years, in fact, they are out of sync more often than not. During this time, repeat callers are apt to get contradictory answers to their questions, leaving them with the impression that the company isn’t well managed.
- Business Intelligence obstacles. Competitive pressure and poor showings in quality of service surveys have lit a fire under a company’s senior management, which now wants better results ASAP. Call center management decides to elevate service levels by introducing threaded business intelligence from its CRM system and enterprise databases into call center applications. The project becomes immensely more complex, expensive and time-consuming, however, when the question of whether outsourcer platforms can support these integrations—and keep in sync with CRM and database changes and modifications going forward—is considered. The company opts for a phased rollout, initially focusing on its in-house call center. Agents in this facility get CRM screen pops that provide all the necessary information to handle calls efficiently and accelerate transactions—information agents at other locations still have to rely on callers to provide. Customers notice, and in the next quality of service survey, the company’s scores continue to dip, which is a huge frustration for senior managers after the hefty investments made in pursuit of improvements.
These types of delays and obstacles, with their resulting inconsistencies, should not be accepted as a “necessary evil” of contact center multi-sourcing. Common hosted platforms resolve such problems, ensuring that contact center management—not the outsourcer or the outsourcer’s technology—determine business processes, policies and workflow. They enable companies to establish a common baseline of capabilities for all their contact center resources, to provide all agents with a common user interface and to leverage service introductions, integration and scalability across the entire agent population. They also increase visibility and interoperability between agent groups, facilitating call transfers, including warm transfers when necessary.
Improving Service Availability
Any number of events—power outages, weather conditions, network interruptions—can affect contact center agent availability, often without warning. One of the attractions of multi-sourcing is, of course, reduced risk of contact center downtime, since events affecting one location are unlikely to affect others. Still, the very fact that multiple locations are involved increases the potential for exposure to service-disrupting and service-slowing events, since the “virtual footprint” of the contact center may encompass a wide range of geographies, climates and governmental entities.
Companies that engage in multi-sourcing without a common hosted platform are exposing their contact center operations to heightened risk. Disparate platforms cause each agent pool to be invisible to one another and, in most cases, to contact center management, necessitating the blind distribution of calls. In fact, this lack of visibility reduces not only the company’s ability to perceive problems at outsourced locations, but to respond to them with timely remedies.
Here are two examples:
- Disaster recovery can be close to disastrous. A multi-sourced contact center is using in-house and outsourced agents with disparate platforms and varying levels of high-availability protection. Suddenly, one of its outsourced agent groups becomes unreachable. The center has enhanced 800 service, so calls are automatically rerouted by the carrier to other agent locations. This rerouting is based on preconfigured rules, however, and does not take into account the current status of the agent groups. There’s no awareness of the fact that one location, where capacity is low because several agents called in sick and several others are on lunch break, is overloaded. Another location, which has a large number of highly skilled agents who complete transactions quickly, could take on more of the burden, but there’s no awareness of their availability. Customers experience needlessly higher wait times, blocked calls and substandard service from frazzled agents.
- Poor asset utilization can increase costs and diminish service. A contact center has outsourced to multiple vendors and distributes calls to each location according to percentages based on historical call volume. These generalized percentage allocations don’t correspond to current call volumes, so when situations change, callers can end up being deeply queued for one agent group while agent groups in other locations are available to handle the calls.
- Contact center management can’t do better with load balancing because there’s no global visibility into agent queues and no unified reporting to support system-wide control. The company ends up paying for resources it isn’t using—resources that should be providing its customers with a better service experience.
I think “Duke Man” might be slacking? But do you have the systems to make that determination for remote agents?
A common hosted platform dynamically routes calls to the best available agent location. It makes an intelligent on-the-fly routing decision for each incoming call based on the current status of agent locations and queues, and can also take into account agent skill level and other specified factors. As a result, when an agent location suddenly becomes unavailable, calls are rerouted in a way that is optimal given the current status of all contact center resources. As the situation changes—as more agents become available at one location, for example, and capacity drops at another—call distribution automatically adjusts to the new realities. At any moment in time the contact center is using all of its available resources to deliver the very best service possible to its customers. And with this kind of capability, disaster recovery is effectively replaced by disaster prevention.
Contact center managers with a common hosted platform also have visibility into the status of the entire agent pool, including all agent locations and queues. They can therefore marshal their resources and perform load balancing in a fluid manner that responds to actual conditions and shifting call volume patterns. Seeing queues lengthen in one location, for example, managers might shift a group of agents from making outgoing calls to taking incoming calls. They might bring more home-based “on-demand” agents online. With real-time visibility, the contact center can maximize asset utilization, so that it is able to deliver a higher level of service at a lower level of staffing. In addition, unified historical and trend reporting provides contact center management with the comprehensive and detailed data necessary to make accurate planning and staffing decisions.
The truth is, contact center multi-sourcing should never be the source of increased risk. It should always reduce risk, and a common hosted multi-sourcing platform is the only cost-efficient way to ensure this. Hosted common platforms should also provide a high-availability “always-on” contact center infrastructure that encompasses all resources.
Finding Efficiency in Numbers
By multiplying the number of contact center outsourcers they use, companies are saving money—but not necessarily through greater efficiency. In fact, savings—from lower wage labor or reduced facilities expense—are usually being achieved today despite reduced efficiency.
As we’ve pointed out already in this paper, companies that adopt contact center agent multi-sourcing strategies are often forced to staff up beyond optimal and cost-effective levels in order to meet service quality and availability goals. They end up shouldering additional costs when they deploy service enhancements across heterogeneous multi-sourcing environments. Even when the direct expense of such upgrades is borne by outsourcing partners, the company still pays indirectly for the redundant IT work going on at multiple locations.
Looked at from a certain perspective, all this inefficiency is good news. It means there remains plenty of opportunity for companies to increase the cost savings from multi-sourcing even further. And unlike the initial sources of savings, which can be affected by mega forces such as unemployment levels, interest rates and regulations, these incremental savings are something companies can address and control.
Ongoing savings, in IT and outsourcing fees, come from the ability to use shared tools, applications and services across the commonly hosted multi-sourced environment. In addition, since disparate systems no longer force variations in contact center workflows and methods, the cost and time required for agent training is dramatically reduced. Companies can even perform consolidated monitoring, evaluating and coaching of all agents.
Many companies have made tremendous strides to improve the service they provide their customers, as well as enhance the management and cost control of resources across the call center. Now, as contact centers migrate toward a distributed agent model, it’s important to be thinking beyond the physical agent location alternatives. Companies also need to consider how these dispersed resources can be most efficiently managed to maximize the cost savings without diminishing service quality and availability.
A common hosted contact center technology platform is essential to fully realizing the benefits of contact center multi-sourcing. Companies that adopt and implement this strategy will be able to deliver unmatched service with unmatched efficiency. System-wide visibility into the status of all agents, the ability to provide them with shared tools, data and Business Intelligence, and the ability to manage them in real time with unified reporting and controls will enable these service leaders to deliver consistently excellent service regardless of where an agent resides.
Your customers expect easy everything anywhere anytime so why not your remote agents, contact center management, and IT?
Great CX Solutions can enable your contact center and your customers with easy everything anywhere anytime!
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“Duke Man” is off the clock!