Scenario - bxp and The Evolution of a Contact Centre

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1 How it starts

Most companies who provide service will have two general reasons for providing a phone number for getting in touch - sales and operations / service. When you start a small business with a few calls then one or two phone lines are easily managed.

One of the main challenges is missing contacts. As your business gets busier and more contacts come in, it's important to have enough phone lines and / or people to manage the contacts.

So what options are available?

  • Expansion (More phone lines and more people)
  • Outsourcing

Each option comes with pros and cons. Deciding what is best for your business should be a choice made on criteria.

Expansion Outsourcing
Control For most managers this is a preferred solution as it allows you to have complete control over everything. However, it can be a mistake if personal inability to relinquish control overrides sensible business decisions. Passing control to an outsourcer requires you to know what process you're passing over and the rules involved. You need to know what you want them to do and how to do it. Outsourcers will be very focused and manage the process you outline and will return whatever information to whatever controls you specify. If you’re unsure of your process then outsourcing may not be for you yet.
Cost Costs will come under the headings of infrastructure, labour, consumables, management time and potentially consultancy. A lot of this expenditure will be capital expenditure (once off purchases that you would expect to get a number of years of value from). The same costs will exist for an outsourcer but will be more of an operational expenditure cost (renting of a service). This will result in a lower cost to get up and running but leave you with no assets. You must also recognise that an outsourcer will charge slightly more in all costs between 10% and 20% which is where they make their business profit.
Time This is the slower of the two options as diligence and setup lead times can cause project setups to span months. If speed is an issue, outsourcing can provide more robust answers in a short space of time, but this does have a cost impact.
Space Physical location and office space will be a factor now, and as your solution grows. Keep in mind where the equipment and people will go. Limitless. This option is ideal for where space is limited or a rapidly expanding scale model is required. The flexibility of outsourcing until you reach a stable size model, can make this option far more useful.
Knowledge If you know your process inside out and you have a working knowledge of your technical and personal infrastructure, then this is generally not an issue. If new to contact centers, outsourcing can inadvertently provide you with the training and background to give you the knowledge of setting up a sustainable solution. Many in-house solutions began as outsourced solutions and were brought in house when the knowledge had been transferred and the model had matured.
Experience Running a contact center requires someone who has some management experience and understands what it is like to work with inbound contact. If you have these skills and experience in house, it is often far more cost effective to use these skills than pay to outsource your solution. If there is a lack of experience, similar to a lack of skills it is often far more practical to outsource and learn through your outsource partner who will definitely have the skills. You will pay for their experience though.
Capacity Closely linked with space, capacity is examining the telecommunications infrastructure, physical office space and equipment infrastructure and also closely understanding the human dimension of not only to do we have enough staff in this location but will be able to recruit / attain more in a sensible time and cost frame. An outsourcer can provide the capacity you require as this is the primary selling point on which most outsourcers base their sales proposition.

It is possible to use hybrid versions such as starting with an in house contact center and allowing overflow to a contact center, or vice versa. However, this could cause more of an issue than a solution for an early stage or inexperienced company.

The biggest mistake of all in the early stage is to base the decision on “remaining in control”. It is often a small business owner with delegation issues which could mean a bad decision is made early.

Getting call centers to quote for work / tender can provide a framework for you to build up to.

2 The Primary Focus

With so much terminology, change and expense along with usually quite pressured deadlines, it is easy to lose sight of why a solution needs to be put in place. What is the primary focus of the exercise and why should you be putting in contact center facilities?

To provide the customer with an excellent experience with an emphasis on encouraging repeat business

  • So if you ring a sales line as a customer, you should not only get the product / service you want and also be encouraged to return again.
  • If you ring a customer service line as a customer, you should get the service you require and be encouraged to return again.

  The main failures to this service are all based on a failure to, or inability to communicate:

  • Customers having to wait to speak to agent as there are none free
  • Being put on hold as the service agent goes to get an answer / perform a process
  • Inability to provide the product / service the customer requires
  • Speaking to a service agent who does not have answers
  • Speaking to a service agent who has difficulty understanding the problem or does not understand your language

Apart from providing your product / service you must have plans for dealing with all of the above issues.

3 The Elements

3.1 Communications Tools

N.B. For everything that follows in this section, please remember to start small and you can add to the process later when you have one process end to end fully up and running. The first thing you’re going to need is to decide how your customer will communicate with you.

  • In Person
  • Phone
  • Fax
  • Email
  • White mail
  • Website
  • SMS text message
  • Social media
  • Live chat
  • Live video call

Each of these methods of communication comes with a completely different set of infrastructure and procedural requirements:

  • In person : Requires a service counter / outlet
  • Phone: Requires a telephone. If you have a lot of calls (more than 2 people’s worth), then a phone system will be required
  • Fax: A fax machine or fax server if you’re very busy
  • Email: An inbox can take many emails. To distribute the emails efficiently in high volume scenarios you will need a distribution system.
  • White mail. Small amounts of post will be opened manually. High volume amounts are best scanned to make them electronic documents and then distributed via email or distribution system.
  • Website. The website will have a distribution system or turn the contact into email.
  • SMS message. The simplest version will have a single dedicated mobile phone. High volume will require a distribution system.
  • Social media. For low volume, simply logging in will suffice for management. For high volume, converting contacts to emails and managing via email is usually the most efficient process.
  • Live chat. This will require a chat engine built into your website. These usually come with distribution engines, e.g. LiveChat.
  • Live video call. This is the current emerging support method which will require advanced distribution tools.

A simple phone line will handle calls, but modern phone systems have evolved to distribute not only calls but also emails, live chat and even live video calls. Being clear on what communications lines you need, will dictate what distribution tools you’ll need.

A “unified communications” platform is one that describes a phone system that can distribute more than just phone calls.

A call center is one that just takes calls. A contact center is one that can handle calls and other communications mediums, such as all the types mentioned above.

When there are other processes to happen at the end of a contact, like sending letters or brochures, or other administrative tasks, then this is called wrap up.

If a contact center is willing to perform administrative tasks as well, such as processing paper and other back office functionality, then the company becomes a business process outsourcer (BPO). They are capable of performing any of your business process, not just calls or contacts but a full array of administrative tasks.

3.2 Infrastructure

The next factor is a space and the equipment around which to build your processes. Phones need to go on desks. Headsets are used in the phones to free up both hands of the agents.

The people who work on the phones are called agents, Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) or Customer Service Agents (CSAs).

These agents will need desks to sit at. So a desk, chair, appropriate light and heat will be required. For efficiency each agent will need a computer to record information as opposed to writing everything down on paper. It is not vital to use a computer but a computer can make reporting and data sharing far easier.

If you have the staff you will also need to provide health and safety training and facilities. First aid and sanitary requirements are legal requirements. Tea and coffee making facilities as well as lunching / kitchen facilities are also usually required.

There are also other considerations such as fire, manual handling, alarm and security considerations as well to be managed.

Depending on the types of communications infrastructure you go with, there will be “on premises” or “in the cloud” infrastructure requirements. “On premises” will require you to have a communications room / area established, “in the cloud” removes this need.

For both solutions, a huge decision is the communications connection type. You will need communications lines. Phone lines, ISDN lines, broadband connections of various mediums are all available. Different locations and providers require that you carefully investigate what communications options are available for the site your office will be in. This area alone is huge as the number of combinations and options are enormous.

If your communications lines fail your entire contact center will be unable to speak to customers. A primary and secondary set of communications lines should always be in place.

3.3 People

Now with desks, computers, phones, communications lines, communications distributions solutions all in place, it is now time to put the people in place. There are a number of skills required to deal with customers on the phone which are very different to dealing with the public face to face, or through white paper only. The skills on the phone are called “soft skills”. The ability to deal with irate customers or customers giving out, must be either trained or the agent must have those skills from prior experience.

Teams will usually range from 1 to 20 agents. Each team will require a team leader / manager to deliver against operation goals.

The biggest challenge with people and the operation is scheduling. For contact there are often peaks and troughs. A peak is where a lot of customers all call at the same time. Troughs are where very few customers are contacting. Peaks and troughs are part of the contact center equation. Excess staff ensures the ability to handle peaks, however are the most expensive resource in the center. Too few staff and all the communications challenges mentioned at the top of the article can occur.

As your operation grows you will require more and more staff. Interpersonal challenges can be very difficult to manage. You will require strong management to be able to deal with challenges effectively. Outsourcing the people challenge is a huge advantage from a time and management point of view. Though it may cost more, overhead in management and the time saved by your organisation in not having to manage the people can be an operational life saver.

3.4 Operational process and procedures

Now that you have the idea, the tools and the people, it is important to formalise how your operations work. Processes and procedures is the writing down of all the jobs and how the tools work to deliver those jobs. This task in itself is often overlooked and considered a waste of time. Without process and procedures, some tasks are only known by certain individuals which ties the business to that individual. e.g. Paul learns process X. Only Paul can delivery it. What happens when Paul is sick, busy with something else or decides to leave the organisation?

Having a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) manual can also help with quality processes to ensure delivery is consistent.

3.5 Data

The next piece of the puzzle is the data. Data is a vital part of any contact center operation. How data is stored, made available and used can have enormous influence on your SOPs.

There are a number of sets of data which will have different tool kits:

  • Prospective customers: Sales Pipeline Management
  • Existing customers: Customer Relationship Management
  • Invoice and Billing data : Accounting Software
  • Learning and Development : Learning Management System (LMS)
  • Human Resource Management software
  • Operational Data : Phone system software, Clock cards, Sickness reports, Absence reports
  • Quality Assurance results : Quality Control Management System

This is where bxp software can help as it can provide the tools and also the integration to bring the data from all these sources together into a single reportable output.

3.6 Reporting and Business Intelligence

Now with all of the data and systems available and reporting on operations, it is possible to add intelligence to the offering. Given the feedback of customers what offers work best, what processes work well and what needs to be improved. Operationally review how every aspect of every process can be improved. This review process is referred to as Six Sigma. A further enhancement of Six Sigma, is Lean Six Sigma. Finding more and more efficient ways of delivering a process.

4 Operational Expansion

At this stage of the evolution there is an organisational solution which works in place and is delivering to known deliverable targets. Many companies use this position to provide services to other businesses in similar non competing situations (i.e. different geographies or in different complimentary verticals).

Use of consultancy at this stage can also help to bring about further improvements as industry "best practice" can be applied to all aspects of the above.

5 Summary

The directors of All n One have experienced every stage of this evolution from numerous perspectives. The operational delivery team have seen these operations in numerous blue chip companies throughout Ireland and are perfectly positioned to improve your operations or deliver against your needs in outsourcing or delivering through in-house operations. bxp software as a toolkit provides everything a business could require from operational software and a lot more in the development of improved and refined processes.

All n One and bxp software are the perfect partners for any contact center operation, in consultancy, software provision and operational excellence. Find out how we can help you today... just give us a call on +353 1 429 4000.