How to drive customer service efficiencies from COVID-19


Efficiency is more important than ever - and efficiency opportunities are presenting themselves in the current crisis. 

10th Jun 2020

Call centre operations and the customer experience they deliver has grown in importance as customer journeys have become multi-channel. The Centre for Retail Research predicted that in Western Europe, online retail sales would have increased circa 47% from the end of 2015. That’s impressive growth from what was a relatively small base to now make up circa 20% of all UK retail sales.

At the time of writing we are in lockdown in the UK with the face to face part of many businesses closed. Whilst we don’t know how things will change as we move to a new normal, one thing most analysts are predicting is that the customer behaviour change of shifting to more online and call centre contact interaction that has been forced by COVID-19 is likely to stay. This means call centres that have experienced increased demand of late are likely to remain at higher level of call volumes than before the crisis hit.

This makes it a good time to think about the efficiency of your call centre. Increased efficiency, in my mind, is removing barriers that slow down calls so you can provide a better experience for your customers, reduce frustration for your teams and take more calls without increasing your cost base. Here are my top tips on where you are likely to find efficiency opportunities.

1. Ask your team

Your team are experts on what they find frustrating. They can tell you the things that take longer than they should; the information they always have to go hunting for and the issues that they feel get in the way of delivering great customer care. Ideally, the business should have ongoing conversations where team members share their improvement suggestions and ideas, rather than a one-off initiative that raises more expectations than can be met.

If you want to add quantified evidence to your teams’ perspectives, time and motion workstudy is your best friend. Modern workstudy has come a long way since the days when men with clipboards and stop watches measured factory production lines, and many call centres have discovered fresh insights on their operation when workstudy techniques have been applied.

2. Deep-dive your call times

Detailed study of every stage for all your call types does more than just identify the areas of opportunity to speed up call centres. It also tells you how often delays happen, and how long they take; giving you the exact information you need to prioritise your improvement efforts.

Typical areas we see identified in deep dive studies are:

  • System delay – when your team work faster than your systems and end up filling time with customers while the system catches up with them. It happens more than you might think and often when colleagues are working across multiple systems. Deep dive study quantifies exactly which processes and screens are involved.
  • Data double entry – this happens when colleagues must enter the same data on multiple screens because the system does not auto fill as many boxes as it could.
  • Transferred calls – in one call centre which undertook measurement studies, 10% of total time was spent passing a certain call type between teams, wasting both the customers’ and teams’ time. The answer was to update the customer routing options and train the teams.
  • Note taking – comprehensive notes are essential to give customers a smooth experience when they call again and create down time when the colleagues are unavailable for calls. The most efficient teams use a template that is completed during the call with a final summary and next steps taking a few seconds to add once the call is complete.
  • Extra trackers – we’ve seen colleagues whose remuneration is in part based on services they sell resort to setting up and maintaining their own record to check against their payslip. This adds a few seconds to each call and indicates a gap in the perform records available to the agents.

3. Review team efficiency

Deep dive call studies provide granular detail on what happens during a call and adding in a team efficiency study creates a rounded view of how the team spend their time overall. When plotted against call volumes and waiting times we often see the impact of poorly phased breaks, shift patterns that don’t match demand and imbalance between teams.

In one study, the data showed a team with more than a third of time unoccupied working alongside a team working flat out with long wait times for customers. Multi-skilling helped create a more flexible team and better customer experience.

4. Leadership roles

Day-in- the- life leadership studies that measure how leaders spend their time, create a robust basis to understand, for example, how differentiated the management levels are; how much time is spent on tasks that only that role can do versus more general activities, and how consistently time is spent by role across different teams and sites. One call centre study showed that an assistant team leader role added to some teams did not have a clear and differentiated purpose, so they slipped into admin and project work that was not creating value for the business.

Another study, across multiple call centres for the same brand, showed that team leaders in an inhouse call centre spent a third of their time coaching their team. Team leaders at the outsourced centres spent less than 10% of their time coaching their teams and focussed instead on managing the KPIs that formed the service level agreement between the two businesses. It’s no surprise that the in house team had higher customer satisfaction scores and business revenues given the enhanced support the team received.

Efficiency matters for customers as they contact your teams to get a specific task sorted as quickly and as easily as possible. As call centre teams look set to be busier than ever and bringing in new resources is time consuming, there has never been a better time to help your team increase their efficiency so they are able to look after more customers for you.

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