IO in a call center environment

By IORG member Nitin Badjatia

While we often think of the productivity loss of information overload from an individual perspective, aggregating the impact of lost productivity across a large group can lead to some astounding realizations.  An example of this in the call center environment.  Over the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing and observing process flows in dozens of customer service call centers across North America. 

Most of these operations are at the ‘forgotten’ end of a product cycle, often times considered a cost center, enduring year after year of reduced headcount and shrinking budgets.  The same successful companies that spend vast sums of money to optimize their supply chain and partner network, overlook the lowly call center as a place to radically increase productivity through some simple process and systems enhancements.  Much of this productivity increase can come from simplifying the dizzying array of systems and databases that agents are required to interact with.

I’ve sat with agents who had to deal with a dozen applications or more, sometimes on the same inbound customer call.  Tabbing through screens at lighting speed, while under constant pressure to manage to an average handle time target, it’s no surprise that the attrition rate at many call centers can exceed 60% per year.  In many instances, this frenetic behavior could have been avoided by spending a few dollars upfront to integrate systems and simplify agent workflow.

By building a consolidated, trusted system organizations can reduce the number of places that agents need to search to find the right resolution.  In one instance, we identified an integration that shaved 30 seconds off the average 4 minute call.  Multiplied by each call for each agent, across a year, the savings were in the millions of dollars.  Now, that accounts for the savings, but it also had a radical impact on agent retention.  Agent retention increased by double digits as they felt less overwhelmed while handling customer exceptions.  They now had a trusted system, one location that they could rely on for most issues.

A second order affect of building a trusted system is that agents can be trained to process, and not to products.  Much of the information overload in call center environments comes from the constant flow of new products and services that organizations release.  As these products are pushed out the supply chain, agents are often sent – usually via email – ‘fact sheets’ or briefing documents on the new products.  In many environments, this can be a dozen or more new products and enhancements per week.

Trying to remember all of this new information can be a daunting task, if not impossible to master.  By building a trusted system, a single source of truth if you will, agents can be trained to trust the process of accessing the trusted systems for the best answer, instead of having to remember the best option.  This simple tweak in process flows has a major impact on agent productivity and reduced stress levels.

The return on investment for these two approaches, building a trusted system and trusting a process, is fairly quick.  I’ve seen successes with these techniques in many customer service environments, but there are still many opportunities for improvement.  With the massive expansion of data that we’ll see in the coming years, information overload will continue to be a major sore spot for organizations that don’t recognize the productivity loss in their call center environments.