A guide to evaluating inbound call center management technology

A guide to evaluating inbound call center management technology

Thomas Yianilos

Staying on top of the constantly changing technology developments in the call center industry may prove overwhelming for actual users. This is especially true if you are the person responsible for purchasing the right management tools to meet the longand short-term goals for your center and its growth.

For instance, five years ago when workforce management was introduced as a “cutting-edge” call center technology, few saw the immediate need or benefit. Today, workforce management and similar advances are considered integral to scheduling employees and operating the call center.

Once the basics are in place, many call center managers want to take the next step to optimize performance. Selecting the right workforce management, automated training and call center display boards can assist managers who want to optimize their technology and people resources. Many call centers rely on workforce management systems to help supervisors predict workforce requirements for a predetermined period based on estimated call volume, handling time, previous calling patterns, schedule changes and staffing requirements. In fact, these systems can help call centers lower their costs by as much as 20 to 30 percent since guesswork and time-consuming calculations are eliminated.

In such a rapidly developing industry, the evaluation prior to the purchase of workforce management systems and enhancements can be equated to the steps taken when purchasing a house, a car or any other big ticket item. The following evaluation process is designed to cure some of the headaches associated with determining which technologies will meet your call center’s needs. Hopefully it will assist you as you “kick tires” and “test drive” the possibilities.

1. Analyze Your Assets. Don’t lose sight of your key call center components – your agents. They have the biggest impact on your call center in terms of cost and productivity. Any call center technology, whether hardware or software, demands two things to work at its optimal level:

A workforce management system that ensures that the right number of people are available to handle the calls received without compromising service levels.

A training system that ensures the agent receiving the call is capable of handling it, especially if your call-routing system sends calls to the next available agent.

2. Analyze Your Current Technology And Define Problem Areas. Are you making the most of the equipment you presently have in place? Do the call center supervisors have the knowhow to proceed to the next level?

Take inventory and evaluate the fundamental components of the operation like the ACD and the system that the agent uses. These components may assist in a reservation system, an order entry system, a customer service system or any number of applications that are part of the call-handling process. When examining the fundamental functions, make a list of any problems that can be alleviated by integrating new technology. For example, if the costs associated with trunk traffic and telephone lines are increasing dramatically because your calls take longer to complete, some investigation into a new system for workforce management may lower the time your callers are on hold.

Also, when investigating new enhancements to add to your inbound call center arsenal, such as training or workforce management applications, it is important to know how these systems will be integrated and if they will increase functionality or duplicating efforts. As an example, many of the new technologies that are now a standard part of call centers, such as automatic call distributor (ACD) systems, provide real-time information regarding the status of each agent. This information alone is important, but its value increases exponentially for some managers when it is compared to the agent schedule, productivity goals and past call volumes.

By starting with the analysis and identification of which fundamental components can bridge gaps, the groundwork for a flexible operation will be established.

3. Think Ahead. Are your company’s current scheduling and reporting needs going to be different next year? Is there an expansion in your future? Do you plan to have an integrated inbound/outbound call center? Are your training needs going to increase? Just like buying a house, make sure the workforce management software you are evaluating leaves enough room for growth but isn’t too sophisticated for your current needs.

4. Purchase Wisely. Once the decision to purchase workforce management software, or any other enhancement, is finalized, then the next step is to review what is available. The most innovative solutions will provide functionality, but also provide options that will help customize your schedules and reporting functions.

Avoid duplication and gauge your purchase decision on the functionality of the equipment at hand. If systems are currently in place to handle reporting and scripting, can they be integrated into the new equipment? Will the combination deliver real-time links between the systems? How expensive are product upgrades typically offered by the vendor you are considering? Do not be pressured into buying software enhancements that are not immediately needed, especially if the cost for upgrades and enhancements from your specific vendor seem stable.

More important, the system you purchase should take your company’s requirements into consideration. Userdefinable criteria like employee schedule preferences, skill levels, employee data and service levels are unique for each call center. These criteria should be easily integrated into your new system. When purchasing a total solution of workforce management products from a single vendor, make sure the systems purchased are open-standards-based and can share applications with other technologies and enhancements that may be added later. This will avoid having to build customized applications for your particular environment, which may be quite costly.

If you choose a system that uses computer-telephony integration (CTI) to monitor the status of inbound calls on the ACD, you will now be able to identify and move specific calls to a group of agents. This will create a need for new scheduling requirements and training mechanisms. It is preferable to use a training system that simulates actual call center environments, allowing agents to practice responding to any situation and learn how to switch gears between different functions and concentrate on areas that need improvement.

5. Make A List Of Questions. In order to compare and evaluate different workforce management products, make a list of questions that you would like answered during the sales call. Deliver the list ahead of time to ensure salespeople are prepared with answers and can address your specific needs of concerns.

6. Schedule A “Test Drive.” When adding new technologies to your call center, make sure the features meet the expectations and technology IQ of your operation. A test drive session with other members of your staff will provide a hands-on opportunity to find out how schedules, reports and analysis information are delivered. Is the program flexible enough to adjust to your call center operation? How much training will be required when a new system is put in place? Will the equipment be able to meet your needs if your call center doubles in size?

Many call center software vendors have Web sites with test drive areas that can serve as an overview of the software. This may be a useful tool in screening possible candidates and as a reference following the call.

7. Check References. Ask the vendor to allow you to speak with other users in your industry with similar needs and operating procedures. Find out about their satisfaction with the installation process, help desk support and return on investment. Make sure you can talk one-on-one to a call center manager that has hands-on experience with the product you are planning to purchase and find out about their transition.

While many call center managers are focused on quickly finding and integrating call center management solutions, the purchase decision should be viewed as a step-by-step process that requires internal evaluation, research and patience. The result of this process will optimize the call center management technologies and people.

Thomas Yianilos is the senior vice president of product marketing for Cybernetics, an operating company of EIS International and a leading supplier of workforce management systems for call centers in a variety of industries.

Copyright Technology Marketing Corporation Jan 1997

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved