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BPO: Why staff happiness equals profit

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19th Aug 2009
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Happy workers are more productive workers but in the outsourced call centre staff are struggling to achieve the same levels of satisfaction they are expected to deliver to customers. Francis Carden examines why and how technology could help.

Gartner warned back in 2006 that through 2009, 50% of organisations involved in business process outsourcing (BPO) relationships will experience cost overruns and unacceptable service delivery quality. The root causes of these chronic problems lie in the technical difficulties associated with making call centre agents happy and productive - or to use Gartner’s language, ‘high performance’.
 
While every call centre aims to improve customer satisfaction and revenues while lowering costs, outsourcers are expected to deliver equal or better service, often for less cost than a business can deliver on its own. Outsourcers struggle to differentiate themselves from competitors because just getting the basics right proves an enormous challenge.
 
In contrast to in-house call centres, outsourcers typically have to make do with whatever hodgepodge of systems and applications their clients mandate, without having any control over them. This means they can’t integrate applications or automate business process workflows to improve efficiency and performance. Add to this the fact that many support several different clients, each with its own set of processes, supporting applications and user interfaces, and you start to understand the scale of the problem.
 
For agents, the consequences of having to accurately navigate across all these disparate systems while trying to deal effectively with impatient customers can be incredibly stressful. The sheer volume of copying and pasting across different systems requires intense concentration and can lead to headaches and repetitive strain injuries.  Customers become exasperated when they notice that systems don’t appear to retain information that they provided on previous calls and vent their rage on harried agents. In the midst of a particularly difficult transaction, agents ignore or overlook compliance rules just to get it over with, which could lead to financial penalties down the road. Cross-selling and up-selling in these environments is out of the question.

Automation can humanise outsourcing
 
New technology is available to outsourced call centres that can help significantly improve the productivity, performance, health and safety, morale and profitability of agents. It allows call centres to bring any number and type of applications together in a single interface without having to do any programming. Outsourcers can take matters into their own hands since they don’t need access to or control over their clients’ applications to achieve this integration. 

Outsourced call centres are successfully deploying this technology to diagnose the root causes of inefficiency: lack of integration and automation. Solving these problems means that call centre agents can:

  • Navigate a CRM application for every inbound call via computer telephony integration
  • Synchronise customer data changes across all relevant systems without having to copy and paste
  • Automatically log a customer interaction in any media (email, chat, etc.) into a customer record in the CRM system
  • View, for example, a web-based weather forecast that correlates to the customers postcode in order to make small talk with their customer during a transaction

So, ironically, deploying technology to tackle these two basic issues can genuinely humanise what is effectively a highly repetitive, manual and error-prone process for outsourced call centre agents. Instead of having to toggle through multiple applications, agents can handle their transactions through a single, bespoke user interface that matches the desired call flow or business process. 

Agents don’t even have to be aware of the different underlying applications behind the single interface.  They are also shielded from unnecessary details that would otherwise interfere with their ability to get the job done. Training becomes much more simple and fast because agents only need to learn one composite application, whose rules are embedded into the interface. Agents can also easily move from one client to the next without having to get to grips with a different set of applications and workflows.
 
Finally, agents who are empowered to resolve more customer issues, in less time, are happier in their jobs because nothing improves morale like achievement.
 
What’s good for the agent... 

The beauty of tackling the agent level issues in the outsourced call centre is that these improvements directly translate into higher profits and happier customers. 

To help achieve higher profits, automation raises agent performance and, therefore, increases overall staff capacity. This means outsourcers can take on new clients/business without having to go out and hire lots of new agents. Automation also means that agents are better enabled to work from home, which can save infrastructure costs. Outsourcers can also save big on financial penalties by enforcing agents to adhere to compliance rules that are integrated into composite applications. 

Going back to my earlier point about the challenge outsourcers have in differentiating themselves, the ability to integrate and automate applications means that they can genuinely focus on added value services that can make them stand out, like the ability to effectively cross-sell and up-sell relevant products and services.

Happy, loyal end customers are the ultimate measure of success for any outsourced call centre. Anyone who’s ever experienced the agony of a totally disintegrated call centre operation will know that fast and intelligent call resolution will result in happier customers who are likely to spread positive word of mouth.

Francis Carden is founder and chief evangelist of OpenSpan

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