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Realizing the Cost Benefits of Call Center Multi-Sourcing While Protecting Customer Service Levels

By Bruce Dresser, Chief Marketing Officer, Echopass

Companies adopting a multi-source approach to staffing call centers are often benefiting from a diverse and specialized pool of less expensive labor – but at what cost? Is customer service affected? Does the reduced cost of labor offset the increased inefficiencies? When done right, the pitfalls associated with a multi-sourcing strategy can be avoided. Learn how a common hosted call center technology platform is the essential component to achieving success with a multi-sourcing strategy.

As call center technologies continue to evolve and mature, we’re seeing a growing number of companies adopting a distributed or multi-sourced agent model. Reasons behind this shift include gaining access to a wider and more diverse labor pool at lower cost, as well as creating the flexibility to quickly scale the company’s call center agent population up or down in response to customer growth, spikes in call volumes or business seasonality. While enabling a combination of in-house, work-at-home and outsourcer agent locations is an emerging trend with clear benefits, there are some significant challenges and pitfalls a business can face when adopting this multi-sourcing approach on disparate platforms – the most critical affecting customer service.

A common hosted call center technology platform is essential to fully realizing the benefits of call center multi-sourcing. Companies adopting a multi-sourcing strategy ‘without’ a common hosted platform will quickly discover that the transparency of the delivery mechanism is deeply flawed. This manifests itself through the numerous inconsistencies that disparate agent platforms and user interfaces cause in call center processes and workflow, resulting in a direct negative impact on customer service.

Ensuring Transparent and Consistent Customer Service
A call center agent is in many ways the lifeline between the company and its customers. Agents have the ability to shape the customer experience and influence the customer’s perception of the company. But even with the most competent, talented and professional agent managing the phone, inconsistencies caused by technology breakdowns can be detrimental to the overall customer experience and ultimately damage a company’s brand and customer loyalty. A company’s ability to support transparent service delivery is the key enabler behind call center multi-sourcing.

Many call centers have all of their in-house agents on a centralized platform, while their multi-sourced agents – working at various outsourcer locations or at home – are using a hodgepodge of systems. Differences among these systems can result in problematic performance issues and create differences in call treatment. These discrepancies may be as subtle as the way agents transfer a call or as significant as the number of questions customers are asked during a transaction and the time required to complete the call.

Customers who frequently interact with a call center – often a company’s most valuable customers – certainly notice these inconsistencies and soon become disappointed and frustrated by unsatisfactory and unpredictable experiences. Inconsistent service can also turn off one-time callers when they have an experience below the standard of quality they had expected of the company. And, unlike frequent callers, these customers may never give the company a chance to change their negative opinion.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Multi-Sourcing by Adopting a Common Hosted Platform
Companies moving to multi-sourced call centers can avoid these problems and maximize their savings and other benefits by adopting a common hosted call center platform. Common hosted platforms flexibly extend across any number and variety of agent resources – and rapidly scale to meet changing call volumes and business strategies. This enables companies to deliver consistent, high-quality customer service transparently to their customers while taking advantage of the growing range of outsourcing options.

Ongoing savings, in IT, infrastructure and outsourcing fees, come from the ability to use shared tools, applications and services across the commonly hosted multi-sourced environment. In addition, since disparate systems no longer force unnecessary variations in call center workflows and methods, the cost and time required for agent training is dramatically reduced. Companies can even perform consolidated monitoring, evaluating and coaching of all agents.

Some key benefits of implementing a multi-sourcing strategy based on a common hosted platform include:

  • Common Baseline of Capabilities
    A common hosted platform ensures that call center management – not the outsourcer or the outsourcer’s technology – determine business processes, policies and workflow. This enables companies to establish a common baseline of capabilities for all their call center resources, to provide all agents with a common user interface and to leverage service introduction, integration and scalability across the entire agent population. The common hosted platform increases interoperability and consistent customer service levels between all agent groups, facilitating call transfers, including warm transfers when necessary.

  • Intelligent Dynamic Routing
    A common hosted platform dynamically routes calls to the best available agent location. The platform makes intelligent on-the-fly routing decisions for each incoming call based on the current status of agent locations and queues, and can also take into account agent skill level and other specified factors. Unlike a disparate platform scenario where, for example, an outsourcer’s agent location suddenly becomes unavailable, but calls are still blindly allocated to these agents based on a pre-determined percentage instead of the real-time situation, calls within a common hosted platform are rerouted in a way that is optimal given the current status of all call center resources. As the situation changes – and more agents become available at one location and capacity drops at another – call distribution automatically adjusts to the new realities. And with this kind of capability, disaster recovery is effectively replaced by disaster prevention. At any moment in time, the commonly hosted call center is maximizing use of all of its available resources to deliver the very best service possible to its customers.

  • Visibility of the Entire Agent Pool
    Call center managers with a common hosted platform also have visibility into the status of the entire agent pool, including all agent locations and queues. They can marshal resources and perform load balancing in a fluid manner that responds to actual conditions and shifting call volume patterns. Seeing queues lengthen in one location, managers might shift a group of agents from making outgoing calls to taking incoming calls, or bring more home-based ‘on demand’ agents online. In addition, unified historical and trend reporting provides call center management with the comprehensive and detailed data necessary to make accurate planning and staffing decisions of all agents. With real-time visibility created through a commonly hosted platform, the call center can maximize asset utilization, and deliver better service at a lower level of staffing.

Call center multi-sourcing should never be the source of increased risk. It should always reduce risk, and a common hosted multi-sourcing platform is the only cost-efficient way to ensure this. Hosted common platforms should also provide a high-availability ‘always-on’ call center infrastructure that encompasses all resources and call center personnel, irrespective of location.

Many companies have made tremendous strides to improve the service they provide their customers, as well as enhance the management and cost control of resources across the call center. Now, as call centers migrate toward a distributed agent model, it’s important to think of multi-sourcing beyond the physical agent location alternatives. Companies also need to consider how these dispersed resources can be most efficiently equipped and managed to maximize the cost savings sought by multi-sourcing without diminishing service quality and availability.

A common hosted call center technology platform is essential to fully realizing the benefits of call center multi-sourcing. System-wide visibility into the status of all agents, the ability to provide commonly shared tools, data and business intelligence, and the ability to manage all call center resources in real-time with unified reporting and controls will enable these service leaders to deliver consistently excellent service regardless of where an agent resides. Delivering customer service excellence was the overall goal in the first place. Companies that adopt and implement their multi-sourcing strategy the right way will quickly realize the ease of delivering unmatched customer service with less overall costs and greater efficiency both today and tomorrow.

Bruce Dresser is Chief Marketing Officer of Echopass, a provider of advanced IP-based call and contact center solutions as a service for mid-to-large enterprises and government agencies. He is responsible for all Echopass marketing activities, including corporate and product positioning, market strategy and tactical implementation. Previously, Bruce was the Founder and President since 1997 of Tenth Dot Solutions Marketing Consulting, with clients such as PeopleSoft, nCircle, Counterpane, Avaya, and Webify Solutions. Earlier in his career, he held executive marketing, sales, product and business development roles at Sybase, Pacific Telesis (now ATT) and several start-ups. Bruce holds a B.A. from UCLA, an M.B.A. from San Diego State.For article feedback, contact Bruce at bruce_dresser@echopass.com 

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