Why Chat Isn't The Right Solution
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Why Chat Isn't The Right Solution

This article addresses the internal use of chat tools, or chat-like tools, to facilitate communication within the call center and to direct queries to subject matter experts to affect an increase in calls resolved, lower or eliminate time-on-hold, and reduce talk times.

In order to improve resolution rates, and reduce on-hold time and talk time, many call centers have implemented a chat tool, or taken advantage of the company’s chat tool.  Chat offers a number of advantages in the call center environment, and indeed centers can make some progress towards improving the aforementioned metrics.   Simple chat tools work in a one-on-one fashion, where SMEs, or Subject Matter Experts, are named individuals with identified subject matter skills, available to chat.  To make finding them easier, they might be given chat names like “George Billing SME”.  When a front-line agent needs help moving a conversation forward, he or she initiates a chat with an SME.  Presumably the SME is better able to answer the question, and in real-time can provide an answer to the front-line agent who is on the phone or perhaps in an external chat with a customer.  This eliminates the manual hand-raising or flag waving for a supervisor that may or may not be an SME for every type of call, or the placing of the caller on hold while the agent tracks down someone who can provide an answer.  Many chat tools can also support chat ‘rooms’ so that an agent can join a chat room and have access to several potential people who can answer the question.  Chat rooms are also a much better approach than the one-on-one nature of simple chatting.  No longer does an agent need to find out who is available right at the moment to help with a billing question, whether it is George Billing SME, or Sally Billing SME for example.   The agent just knows that they need to go to a Billing chat room and some SME will be scheduled to be in the room available to answer their question.  Chat tools can also be one-to-many as in the case of broadcasts.  This is typically one-to-every however, as typical chat tools don’t allow for the logical grouping of chat users, such as all agents with Outlook skills.  So, chat is a solution for communication in the call center, but is it the right solution?

The short answer is no.   Implementing a chat tool in the contact center is akin to bringing a knife to a tank battle.   Many chat tools would like to be a full communications solution, but they simply fall way short of what is needed in the call center.   Do you have reporting available with a chat tool that tells you how many chat requests were answered within 30 seconds?  How many were answered successfully?  Can you tell which agent or agents are using chat most often and for what reasons?  Do you know the percentage of time your chat rooms were unoccupied (no SME)?  Real-time assistance is a process, and as a process it needs to be managed from an operational and quality point of view.  Real-time assistance also interacts and supports (or should support) other processes, such as Quality Assurance, Knowledge Management and Training.  Reports from your real-time assistance application should be able to tell you if particular agents need more training on a specific topic, and should be able to tell you if the knowledge article for a recently announced new service is readable, understandable, and leads to a positive outcome.  Transcripts of chats should be available for the QA process, just as ticket details and voice recordings are.   Only with this information can the process linkages be enhanced and contribute to more robust process improvement.

The ideal real-time communication application should be able to route requests based on the value associated with center-defined attributes such as call-type and skill-level-needed.   This powerful attribute-based routing will enable a very close match between the agent with a question and the right SME.  For example, one SME may be skilled for handling home cable modem questions from tech-savvy consumers whereas another SME may be skilled for handling the same type of question from a non tech-savvy consumer.  A typical call center environment is not simply a one-dimensional operation.  The vast range of the types of calls received, the skill level of the consumer, the geographic location of the consumer, and perhaps even the age and gender of the consumer, all make for a highly complex operation.  SMEs are essential, and getting the right communication to the right SME at the right time drives a quality operation.

To summarize, chats are really real-time communications and should be governed (measured and managed) to achieve operational and quality objectives.  Simple chat tools do not support governance and will not support the linkage between real-time communications and other processes in the call center, such as call quality management, knowledge management, and training.

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