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Blended and Outbound Call Centers Series: Managing the Client Experience

This series will explore various aspects of Outbound and Blended Call Centers. While every attempt to give general terms and general examples is being made, the reader should be aware that specifics may be different for every type of call center, business operation or strategic purpose of the center. The articles in this series are meant to be a guideline for those seeking to learn more about Outbound and Blended Call Centers.

Related ICMI Resources:
Blending in the Call Center: Benefits, Barriers and Breakthroughs
ICMI's 2011 Call Center Practices for Pairing and Blending Inbound, Outbound, and Service and Sales Report
Finding Call Center Efficiencies in the Pooling Principle

Managing the Client Experience

In the inbound contact center, the methods we use to measure successful client experience management are fairly well known; percentage of calls answered within an agreed upon threshold is the most common. However, when we move to an outbound call center or a blended call center, how do we measure that same client experience? How can your outbound dialing activities affect the public perception of your company?

These are important questions that every outbound or blended call center must consider when developing their outbound policies and business rules. The aspect that must be considered first and foremost is the local and federal regulations and legislation. It is strongly recommended that each jurisdiction, be it federal, local or international, a center is calling into has been investigated for legislative and regulatory considerations. The U.K.’s Ofcom, which operates under the United Kingdom’s Communications Act of 2003, is the communications regulator for that country and acts as an excellent example. The U.K. has enacted specific legislation in regards to outbound dialing in an effort to limit "nuisance" calls. The regulatory measures that Ofcom has employed have a direct impact on managing the client experience in the U.K. As a result of these legislation and regulations, outbound dialers must offer an agent to a client within a set time. Outbound contact centers must also maintain records for "call abandonment," which is measured based on those clients that terminate the call prior to being passed to an agent

Modes of Outbound Pacing

  • Predictive – The dialer will "over dial" available numbers in an attempt to offer a call to the agent when it predicts they will be available
  • Progressive – The dialer will begin to call all available numbers for the next record once the previous call has ended
  • Preview – The agent will direct the dialer to what numbers to call and when

While the argument can be made for inbound call centers that measuring "call abandonment" may not be an optimum metric to measure the success of an operation (due to the concept that caller tolerance is major factor in the decision to abandon), the same cannot be said for outbound dialing. With inbound call centers, it is fact that calls will bunch up due to random and peaked arrival. This will have a direct impact on abandonment rates and the ability to achieve answering thresholds. However, with outbound dialing, the "arrival" or "calls offered" is under the control of the dialer operator. Based on the speed or "pacing" of the dialer or the dialing pacing mode that is chosen, the outbound call center is able to proactively manage its abandonment rate. It is for this reason that a constant monitoring of the percent of calls abandoned within an interval, throughout the day and monthly, is an appropriate means to measure client experience as they interact with the outbound call center. "Pacing" of a dialer is a strategy used to instruct the dialer when to offer calls to an agent and how to manage a list. Pacing simply put is the speed at which the dialer over dials in an attempt to match an agent to a caller. It typically managed through abandonment levels or caller wait times prior to being offered an agent. The Mode of Pacing that call center chooses as a strategy directly impacts Abandonment. The strategic intent of the outbound center, in most cases, will make the choice for the Mode of Pacing obvious. It is important to note that some centers will employ one or more of the pacing methods at one time, depending on treatment strategy for the campaign at one time.

For blended inbound/outbound call centers, the concept of managing the client experience is even more complex. In a blended call center, the same answering thresholds required by the inbound center and all the accompanying considerations must be managed, while ensuring that the dialer is paced accordingly so that as few as possible calls are abandoned on the outbound. The good news is that there should be significantly fewer times when a blended call center misses its inbound answering thresholds, because, by definition, they will be "overstaffed" for all inbound calls. Capacity planning will be discussed later in this series, but the key concept for this discussion is that blended call centers, by definition, need to have more agents then required simply for inbound answering so that it can provide for outbound calling needs. This means that a blended center should have far fewer missed intervals due to a spike in inbound volumes then a regular inbound call center as they will be able to reallocate agents to inbound to handle any peaks.

Reacting too soon and making too many changes in a short period of time is one of the most common pitfalls blended call centers make when managing a peak in calls. One of the "immutable" laws of using a dialer is that it takes roughly twenty minutes, regardless of brand of dialer, for predictive pacing to adjust to the addition/deletion of agents or a change to pacing speed. For this reason, when there is an inbound spike, it will take twenty minutes for your dialer to adjust to having fewer agents available for offered calls and your abandonment will also spike if you take too many agents away at once. In the next article for this series we will discuss call blending strategies and service level control in a blended call center.

Blended and Outbound Call Centers Series: Blending Strategies and Service Level Control
Blended and Outbound Series: Capacity Planning for Outbound and Blended Centers