Call Avoidance – The Contact Center Secret Weapon

Kathleen Peterson Rants & Raves by Kathleen Peterson

“Improve Service” + “Reduce Costs” = “Do More with Less.” The fact is that Customer Experience continues to be the organizational battle cry and Contact Centers are caught in the crossfire. The charge has been to pay very close attention to individual customer needs while searching for efficiency gains that will lead to cost reductions while not compromising quality.

Call avoidance may help in leading to greater Contact Center efficiency, lower costs, and higher quality. (I use the word “calls” in this article to represent both calls and contacts from other channels.)

Too many Contact Centers expend valuable resources on repeat events; these events should never have happened or would be better handled by some form of automation/self service. Repeat events may be the result of individual performance, process performance, or the performance of other departments. To understand what calls we can avoid, we must first have a clear understanding of the types of calls we are handling.

Every call we handle comes from somewhere: a marketing campaign, product launch, billing inquiry, an addition or change to an account, a request for information or assistance, etc. Contact Centers must embark on a journey that will stimulate an in-depth analysis of all transactions and how they are handled. Collecting the data is a process of examining transaction data either from the database, distribution systems, or the telephone system. This data must then be organized by frequency and complexity.

Certain call types require a person; in fact, some require an expert. High frequency, high complexity calls as well as low frequency, high complexity calls may fit in this category. Low frequency, low complexity may not require a person but may not happen enough to justify an investment in automation.

When looking for the “low hanging fruit” in call avoidance, focus on identifying calls that fall into the category of high frequency, low complexity. These are the calls most likely to fit an automation/self service application.  Banks have demonstrated this with automated systems to provide balance information, checks clearing, payments received, etc. Many banks today charge a customer a fee to retrieve this information from a live agent.

Web sites, mobile apps, and the classic IVRs continue to provide alternatives for self service that allow a higher level of complex transactions to be automated. Consider the number of call types that are more likely to be handled on the web than on the phone. This includes nearly all travel services as well as the online tracking of shipments. Parcel carriers have claimed tremendous reductions in calls by offering package tracking on their website. These applications have no adverse impact on quality (assuming the information flows through and is accurate). However, there is a potential trade-off; when a transaction becomes automated the opportunity to cross-sell or up-sell is forfeited.

There are some high frequency, low complexity calls that cannot be automated because their origin is an error. Errors often require the assistance of a person to explain, correct, or apologize. Our analysis here is for improvement within the original call or a commitment to “do it right the first time.”

Establish an initiative to collect data on repeat calls. This may be accomplished by a tracking system within the database, manual tracking by agents, and callbacks to customers. Call monitoring efforts can include a notation on whether or not the call is a repeat call. Whatever is available to you is better than nothing. This single call type can be the biggest reason for inefficient use of resources. Here are examples of what to look for in this data collection and analysis.

  • Caller received wrong information
  • Agent failed to collect needed information
  • Necessary follow-up was not done
  • Other departments didn’t complete tasks correctly
  • Customer needed status of claim, order, repair, shipment, etc.
  • There were backorders due to inventory issues
  • Billing issues/errors were made
  • Agent didn’t complete the transaction in order to shorten call duration
  • Agent hung up on callers to meet production metrics
  • Automated systems were too complicated to be widely utilized
  • Caller refused to select menu options and choose an agent
  • Customer didn’t receive response to email, voice mail, etc.
  • Automated system failures caused calls to be handled by agents

This list is not all-inclusive or intended to be in any particular order. It is important to create your own list of why calls are being handled repeatedly in your Contact Center. Once this is accomplished, you must take action to eliminate those calls that can reasonably be avoided.

When it comes to doing something about “doing it right the first time,” you may find yourself identifying a variety of reasons why these conditions exist. It may be a training issue, a process problem, systems issue, management problem, or a failure of another department.

The corrective action may require representatives from other departments to participate. This is often easier said than done. Turf battles, politics, time, and available resources may all complicate the resolution. So in some cases, you may know what is causing the condition while having limited ability to influence it. However, good data collection and documentation will enhance your ability to make a financial case, a quality case, and a case for collaboration across the enterprise. All these activities will impact your overall ability to respond to the directive of improving quality while reducing costs.