Call Center Execs Address Agent Attrition, Quality and Customer Demands
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Call Center Execs Address Agent Attrition, Quality and Customer Demands

At ICMI’s fall 2011 Executive Summit, more than 40 contact center executives said that agent attrition, quality and changing customer demands are top challenges for their operations. Here, we highlight these and other challenges, as well as innovative ways that leading brands are tackling these issues today.

Agent attrition, quality assurance and customer satisfaction remain among the top challenges that call centers face today according to attendees of ICMI’s Executive Summit at Call Center Demo 2011, where call center and customer care leaders from a multitude of industry verticals and companies of all sizes gathered to share leading practices as well as top concerns. While these challenges aren’t new, ICMI did uncover some innovative ways that progressive contact centers are meeting them.

Agent Loyalty – A Culture Club

You might think that today’s economic conditions would be keeping call center agents in their seats – but you’d be wrong. The question is, especially if yours is one of the centers experiencing high agent turnover, how do you get good agents to stay? SXC Health Solutions Inc. and Coca-Cola Enterprises’ Customer Development Center have answered that question. At Illinois-based pharmacy benefit management firm SXC Health Solutions Inc., agent attrition is down by half compared to 2008. The reason, says Kelli Barabasz, the company’s senior manager of customer care, was a carefully implemented change in culture.

In 2009, SXC rolled out the Fish! Philosophy, based on the film FISH! Catch the Energy Release the Potential, about Seattle’s world-famous Pike Place Fish Market, where producer John Christensen — current CEO aka: Playground Director at ChartHouse Learning — uncovered that even in a workplace where fishmongers spent stinky, grueling 12-hour shifts stocking, selling and packing fish, remarkable results were possible. What do you have to do?

  • Be There for their coworkers and customers
  • Play
  • Make someone's day
  • Choose the attitude you bring to work

To make the culture shift – and achieve the dramatic reduction in agent attrition – SXC rolled out several changes, including:

  • Leadership became visible, approachable and more interactive with call center agents, or customer care professionals
  • Employee Satisfaction survey results were published and analyzed by the leadership team for immediate areas of opportunity
  • Long-term strategic planning was developed to create, maintain and track desired outcomes
  • A department newsletter, company intranet and cork boards throughout the call center to include added visibility for attendance, quality scores and customer compliments.
  • Added spot recognition programs (Everyday Hero, Token of Thanks and more)
  • Created career-pathing folders for all customer care staff, and implemented delivery of monthly one-on-one’s.

Improving the Quality of Customer Contacts

Contact quality can impact customer satisfaction and loyalty and operational efficiency – even liability. That’s certainly the case at the Canadian Medical Protective Association’s (CMPA) call center, and when this small call center allowed agents to have a voice in the quality assurance process, it saw big results, say James Watson, manager of Contact Centre Services, and quality analyst Irina Dascalu.

When CMPA revisited its QA program and identified ways that it could be updated and improved, leadership realized that the success of the new program was dependent upon three things:

  • Agent buy-in: This was achieved by allowing agents to have a voice in designing the quality monitoring forms
  • Communication plan around the change: Setting expectations was critical to getting the new program up and running successfully
  • Support mechanism: Monitoring and coaching processes were developed to make sure that the new QA program’s goals are consistently met

The result is that 91% of agents have met the new quality standard in 2011 and another 2% of agents are above standard. Additionally, CMPA’s customer (member) satisfaction scores show the payoff, with 967% giving the center to 1 and 2 box ratings.

Balancing Call Center Efficiency with Customer Satisfaction

Striking the balance between operational efficiency and customer satisfaction is a challenge for many call centers, but it’s one that BlueCross BlueShield of Nebraska and the outsourcer Convergys have tackled with good results.

“Every second counts,” says Dee Kohler, vice president of customer service at BlueCross BlueShield of Nebraska (BCBS), and that applies to efficiency and customer satisfaction. For this insurance provider, the verification of identity (VOI) process was stretching average handle times and customer patience (as well as opening the center to liability). Among the possible solutions were:

  • Adopting a shorter VOI questionnaire: If agents were unable to complete VOI, they’d have to provide the caller with options on completing a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) form or verifying through verbal authorization with the member on the phone
  • Automating the VOI process with a voice response unit (VRU): This would require technology investments & time and would involve a careful (possibly unachievable) balance between ROI and customer satisfaction

BCBS chose to adopt the shorter VOI questionnaire, and after just three months, the center has seen a 25% reduction in AHT and significantly less caller confusion (which translates to higher satisfaction).

At Convergys, manipulating the agent desktop environment proved to be the key to improving agent performance and productivity as well as customer satisfaction – without having to alter its outsourcing clients’ underlying system, says project manager Tonya Labarbera.

Business process outsourcers (BPOs) must work within technology framework prescribed by their clients, and usually are unable to modify those applications. Convergys used a desktop optimization tool to remedy several call center ills that impact efficiency and customer satisfaction:

  • Redundant data entry (cut and paste, call notation)
  • Excessive manual processes (look-up in spreadsheets)
  • Inefficient workflow (search multiple systems)

These process issues aren’t unique to outsourcers; they’re present in any center where integration interfaces are lacking or nonexistent; IT roadmaps are restrictive or nonexistent; or where remediation would be too lengthy, complex or costly a process.

Topics: Workforce Management, Learning & Development, Site Operations, People Management, Culture & Morale


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Marta Kelsey — 11:09AM on Oct 28, 2011

It is great to see companies not only focus on agent loyalty but agent development. Just implementing a few of the things SXC did would reap benefits.

Rose Polchin — 9:31AM on Nov 2, 2011

I am so excited that our ACCE conference will be back in Seattle this year because seeing the FISH philosophy in action is so incredibly inspiring!


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