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The Fine Art of Contact Center Management

The Fine Art of Contact Center Management

/ Operations, Workforce Management, Strategy
The Fine Art of Contact Center Management

Understanding, and responding to, the center’s driving forces. (Part 1 of 2)

The earliest definition of contact center management that I know of came from Gordon MacPherson, founder of the Incoming Calls Management Institute (ICMI) in 1985.

Gordon authored the Essentials Skills and Knowledge course, which began with this definition: “Call Center management is the Art and Science of getting the right number of people, in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.”

I believe that this definition has stood the test of time and that contact center managers would be well-served by applying this definition to their own environment.

Contact centers are driven by demand. Regardless of access channel, management universally acknowledges that it is responsible for the “getting the right people, in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.”

However, it is how that mission is accomplished that determines the appropriate balance between “Art and Science.”

The science of contact center management is very much linked to metrics, of which there are many. The art is making the decision of which metric to choose. The word “art” is defined as “a superior skill that you can learn by study, practice, and observation.”

This definition looks a lot like the way today’s contact center managers are asked to learn their jobs. To a certain extent, the quality of the management is impacted by what is studied and practiced, how observations are filtered, and what conclusions are drawn.

Three Driving Forces

Let’s look at the very basics of what MacPherson categorized as the three “Driving Forces” everyone must understand to successfully manage any contact center. These are Random Call Arrival (RCA), Visible and Invisible Queue, and Caller Tolerance factors. For this article, “calls” will be used, although all channels are subject to the same forces.

I have split this article into two parts. The first part, in this issue, covers RCA and Visible and Invisible Queue. The second part, Caller Tolerance, will be covered in the next issue.

Random Call Arrival (RCA)

To understand RCA is to study the arrival patterns of demand.

The blend of art and science here is abundantly clear. Most folks have no difficulty understanding volume numbers as that is the science, the metric.

The art is in how it is viewed, communicated, and acted upon. Here, we must condition ourselves to study, practice, and observe in a way that yields true understanding that drives consistent action at every level.

Contact center reports come in many variations. At a high level, they are available in almost any timeframe and organized by center, teams, or groups (queues), and individuals. RCA is best assessed in the same way resources are allocated, which are typically by group or queue.

The first thing to know about RCA is that it is best reported in 30-minute intervals; most ACD systems are provisioned to provide this filter. It is ideal to graph the arrival patterns to see at a glance that this randomly arriving load has patterns.

Patterns occur when calls bunch up. They do so in the day, the month, and the year, all of which can be reported on and used in forecasting to allocate staff and establish schedules.

What we cannot report on is the bunching up within the half hour. This is an important training topic to help agents make the right choices within their shifts about use of time. Understanding RCA helps agents make informed decisions about whether conditions are busy or slow.

Unfortunately, many decisions made by agents during slow periods lead to queue backups.

So it is important to educate agents on ALL conditions and the best and expected responses. Coach them that when conditions are SLOW, turn the word on its head and apply this method: Stay Logged On When scheduled.

Also, understanding your intraday call patterns is critical for knowing when best to deploy your agents and how many of them.

But not all ACD vendors have graced the market with easy access to a graphic reporting interface to help you; you may have to export the data to Excel or another tool. It is also important to know how long your ACD system stores data.

This is particularly important if you do not have a workforce management (WFM) system that routinely extracts and stores this data. Ideally, the contact center has a minimum of one year of historical data and ideally a rolling three to five years.

Some WFM systems have excellent graphics available. If you are buying a new system, document your reporting requirements for ACD and WFM.

An understanding of your systems’ capabilities is a critical success factor in managing your contact center. If you have no control over your systems, you must befriend those that do!

I once worked with a contact center that received PDF versions of interval reports. Management understood the value of historical data, so an individual was dedicated to re-key this data into Excel…daily. YIKES!

I suggested that management ask IT if the reports could be exported and sent via Excel. Lo and behold, they no longer had to re-key data! So much time was lost because neither party thought beyond the metric to the art of handling the data.

Once you have history and graphs of intraday calls, the arrival patterns become clear; allocating resources is done according to demand.

Graphs are infinitely easier to interpret than raw data, so it is absolutely worth the effort. Graphics also serve as great education tools for the continued pursuit of bringing agents “backstage” to understand why attention to scheduling is so important.

Visible and Invisible Queue

All of us have spent time standing in line at airports, grocery stores checkout counters, and service desks. These lines often back up, not unlike contact centers.

All of us have spent time standing in line at airports, grocery stores checkout counters, and service desks. These lines often back up, not unlike contact centers.

But there is one BIG difference. When in line we can see progress being made and we become “happier” as we get closer to being served. This is widely known as the “visible queue.”

On the other hand, the contact center has an “invisible queue” to the extent that agents cannot “see” the queue. (Even with monitors that display calls in queue, the human factors are behind the curtain.)

The caller cannot really see how the queue is progressing. And members of the invisible queue tend to get unhappy as delay increases.

Systems can be provisioned to announce callers’ positions in the queues or to request callbacks. But none of these options fix staffing problems. They are more like taking Advil for a brain tumor; it may relieve a bit of the headache, but it is not the cure.

MacPherson has said that we have made an entire industry out of what to do with callers on hold. Vendors continue to come up with artful solutions to manage queues. However, the solution is applying the science of proper staffing; this is the place where improvements are made in the long term.

As a final thought, remember that in departments where frontline folks manage both a visible (walk-in) and an invisible (phone) queue, no one is happy.

So as your contact center starts out in 2022, invest time to revisit the basic driving forces and assess your level of understanding, adoption, and application. Lobby hard to get the kinds of reports you want in the format you need. Push to gain control of your technology if you have not been “granted” that privilege.

Lastly, educate your team on all the driving forces. Once they are understood, the contact center makes more sense.

In next month’s article, I will continue this discussion and describe the five factors of Caller Tolerance.

Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen M. Peterson is the Chief Vision Officer of PowerHouse Consulting, a call center and telecommunications consulting firm.
Twitter: @PowerHouse603

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