Today companies handle an increasing number of customer interactions and they do this through a greater number and variety of communication channels, and by using more employees that are dispersed throughout the organization. Managing the pool of agents in a contact center has always proved a complex task and this is made more complex as interactions are now handled by most lines of business (marketing, sales, customer service, finance, HR, home workers and mobile workers). To do this many companies have deployed what collectively is called workforce optimization (WFO) systems: interaction recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, training and coaching, compensation management and reporting/analytics. My benchmark research into Next Generation WFO set out to discover what people, process, information and systems companies are using, the benefits they have gained, future plans to change and what barriers are holding back those changes.
Overall the benchmark shows a mixed level of maturity in those companies that responded to our survey. Overall our maturity model shows 47% of companies at the lowest Tactical level, 23% t the next Advanced level, 17% at the Strategic level and 13% at our highest Innovative level. Closer examination shows that companies are least mature in the use of Information (54% at the Tactical level) and Technology (50% Tactical), with People (34%) and Process (30%) both significantly less immature. This is reflected in the number of companies at the Innovative level with People at 19%, Technology 15%, Process 14% and Information least innovative with only 6% at the Innovative level. Overall the maturity models shows us that companies are not yet taking full advantage of the latest WFO systems to revise their performance metrics, and make even more improvements to their processes and people.
The lack of maturity in the use of information is highlighted in the metrics companies use to monitor and assess agent, contact center and interaction handling performance. The benchmark shows that four of the top five most popular metrics relate to operation efficiency: average length of a call, number of calls handled, quality scores and average time to complete after call work. While these metrics are important because they have a direct impact on costs, it is disappointing to see it is only the fifth most popular metric that relates to customers and the outcome of interactions: customer satisfaction. The results also raise questions over the level of hype surrounding newer metrics such as net promoter and customer effort scores which are 9th and 12th in the list of seventeen we included in the survey. Overall I conclude that despite claims to the contrary, the majority of companies are still focused on operational efficiency and reducing the operational costs of handling interactions and are less concerned about the outcome of interactions and the possible consequences.
This conflict is highlighted further by examining two other key questions: drivers for improving agent performance and companies’ priorities for improving interaction handling. The top drivers are mostly customer-focused and relate to improving outcomes, while the priorities are more about improving operational efficiency and reducing the cost of handling interactions. The two top drivers are to improve the customer experience (86%) and customer satisfaction (72%), while the third, increase first contact resolution rates (44%) relates to operational efficiency and outcomes as any improvement will reduce operational costs (less call backs) and make customers happier as everyone have come to expect their issues addressed at the first attempt. Balancing these requirements is likely to be a struggle for most companies because on average companies are seeking to improve on average in almost six areas and the conflicts continue with other drivers ranging from increasing agent utilization (6th out of 14), increasing sales (10th), and satisfying regulatory requirements (13th).
However the real conflict arises when you compare these drivers with companies’ priorities. Based on first choices, three of the top four all relate to efficiency and reducing the cost of interacting with customers: direct customers to self-service to avoid the cost of handling call by a live agent (27%), optimizing agent utilization (15%) so agents spend more of their time handling interactions, improve agent training (9%) so it is less generic and more focused on individual agent needs. Agent satisfaction rates joint forth but it is only the fifth highest priority that in any way realities to customers: route calls to best agent, which if achieved is likely to improve the opportunity to resolve the interaction at the first attempt and thus result in the desired outcome. Given the low level of maturity relating to information, it is pleasing to see that improving the production of metrics and utilizing more agent-related both feature in the list of priorities.
In one role or another I have been involved in the contact center industry for over 25 years and it would be easy to say the results of this benchmark show that things haven’t changed a great deal in that time, and indeed there is a great deal of truth in this. However analysis of what systems companies plan to deploy gives me hope that at long last companies realize the customer experience is of paramount importance, and insights from other consumer research that show one bad experience can drive a customer away are at last having an impact. One significant change is the importance being placed on using new forms of analytics that allow companies to improve the process of producing reports, analysis and dashboards based on more sources of data, and as a consequence make it easier to produce more customer and outcome-focused metrics. This will show where companies need to take action and more companies adopting next generation WFO systems that support improved processes and join up interaction-related activities.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director - Customer