A call center is the heart of any major telecommunications company. It serves as a way to best serve the customer and the variety of needs each may have. As such, call centers are one of the largest operational costs in telecommunications companies. According to the research, "the annual spending on call centers is currently estimated to be somewhere between $120 and $150 billion" (Pinedo et al., 2000). Yet, if these centers are not efficient in regards to increasing productivity, often times such funding is wasted and drained from potentially funding other company initiatives and projects. Upgrading and improving call centers are a mandatory in order to compete with others in the industry. Essentially, "the modern call center invests more in technology per employee than most other departments within a company" (NAQC, 2013). However, a firm must ensure that these investments are worth it in the long run. This means predetermining the potential for ROI to justify the large costs of purchasing innovative and extensive telecommunications systems.
There are a variety of problems with call centers not being as efficient as they can be. Essentially, when call centers are not running efficiently, they are wasting company funds and aggravating customers. When call service reps do not have the tools they need to increase the hourly number of calls they can handle, productivity drops drastically. One major cost resulting in such ineffective call center operations are staff shrinkage costs. These are incurred when staff are not handling the most productive number of calls per hour. What results is wasted paid hours that costs the firm money. The following chart outlines the causes and impacts of staff shrinkage costs:
In order to best remedy this problem, updating call centers is a must. This means heavy spending on upfront initial investments in new telecommunications systems that are meant to increase productivity. Systems like VMware Virtual Desktop include a number of new, innovative software elements that help the average service clerk increase their efficiency and lower the time per each call. Yet, these systems are quite costly. Some run into the millions of dollars, depending on the size of the company and the overhaul needed. Moreover, not all updates are going to be enormously successful. Here, the research suggests that "there are efficiencies to be gained for the company in moving calls to lower-cost interaction methods, such as interactive voice response or e-mails, but not all customers are willing or able to use these tools. Self-service also reduces the company's chance to form a relationship with the customer" (NAQC, 2013). Thus, it is crucial that the right technologies are chosen to invest in order to maximize efficiency without loosing touch with the primary consumer base. Therefore, "a systematic process to guide diagnosis and decision-making should be used" (NAQC, 2013). This plan will help outline the value for the upgrade to justify its implementation
Value / Investment Case
Value engineering aims at reducing costs and improving functionality. In order to create a more productive call center, it would benefit the firm to include a tracking system that gives full information about the incoming caller and the full call history, similar to the ones that exist for police call centers. In order to achieve such an extensive system, there are several elements that would be needed in a telecommunications strategy package.
Automatic Call Distributing
The first major value generator would be the implementation of Automatic Call Distributing, also known as ACD. According to the research, "the role of the ACD is to receive the call, connect it to an agent in the center, provide queuing and announcements when agents are not available, and provide management reports" (NAQC, 2013). It helps manage calls as they come in without the need for staff dedicated specifically to transferring calls to more appropriate members. This ultimately helps reduce the number of minutes a service rep is actually on the phone during a transfer, which cuts out staff shrinkage and wasted funds. Thus, such systems work to ensure "that the callers wait the shortest time possible and the workload is distributed fairly to the employees" (NAQC, 2013). This is also a huge benefit to companies working with multiple call centers in different locations because calls can easily be transferred from one location to another without delay.
This type of technology has been around for a while, but new advances are making it even more effective in increasing productivity and reducing call wait times. For example, "skill-based routing assumes that calls will be sorted into specific types based on the needs of the callers and then matched to the staff in the center who can best handle them. Calls can be queued for more than one group of staff who can handle the calls, and agents can be logged into more than one queue, allowing them to handle several types of calls" (NAQC, 2013). Skill-based routing helps ensure that there are fewer mistakes in transferring calls because skill levels of employees are what are used to generate transfers.
These systems are huge value generators because they reduce the amount of time each service rep is on a call, which ultimately helps allow them to pack in more work into a single shit. Moreover, these systems help "lower network costs (phone bills) since the phone companies connect incoming calls to the regional representative that incurs the lowest long-distance charges" (Pinedo et al., 2000). Ultimately, it saves money in overhead since calls do not have to be manually transferred.
Computer Telephony Integration
CTI, as it is also known, focuses on linking telephone activities with computer software so that staff members are have access to a greater source of data and information without the delay of having to manually search for it. Essentially, CTI automatically sends caller information to the service rep through their computer interface and helps provide real time information on call length and content to quality managers monitoring the entire process. CTI systems are "used to coordinate the functions of the telephone system with another data system. This can be as simple as looking up the caller's phone number in a directory and displaying that name. In some cases, the whole routing and handling of the call can be altered because of data that was found about the caller" (NAQC, 2013). Measurable savings can be done by examining the branch office calling, conference bridging, and long distance calling (Rao, 2014). Take for example a firm using branch calling with about 100 calls a day and a duration of 3 minutes. That is a total of 300 minutes per day with an estimated savings of 1.10, or $330 a day (Rao, 2014)
Per year, that is 330 x 22 x 12, or $87,120 annually saved just in regards to enterprise branch calling. That same firm can save $6,000 annually in conference bridge calling and $25,000 annually for IP long distance calling (Rao, 2014). And these are just costs associated with outgoing and internal communications. Together with time savings and increased productivity there is an estimated total savings of $118,120 annually based on Computer Telephony Integration practices.
Screen Pop technology is one of the most cost efficient and productive software elements in CTI systems. Here, information pops on to the operator's computer screen so that it is available to them in real time (Pinedo et al., 2000). This saves the rep time in searching for customer data and ensures that all information regarding past and current calls are recorded on the same data file. However, "additional training is necessary to manage such a mix of tasks" (Pinedo et al., 2000). This can add additional training costs, but are only short-term costs that definitely pay out in the long run.
Contact Center Quality Management
Quality Monitoring can also be done on sophisticated systems that help ensure increased productivity in real time. With integrated systems, call monitoring can be done across media forms, including actual phone calls, but extending to e-mail and web chat as well. Here, the research suggests that "a quality monitoring system pays for itself by increasing management effectiveness improving agent efficiency, providing more focused training, reducing agent turnover and improving customer satisfaction and loyalty" (Call Recording Center, 2014). A detailed cost analysis of Quality Monitoring strategies is as follows: