Call blending: Agents where you need them, when you need them

Call blending: Agents where you need them, when you need them

Earl Steman

Call blending gives call centers the ability to expand their service offerings by sharing existing agent resources between inbound and outbound calling.

here are those extra telephone agents when you need them? The morning’s inbound call traffic is picking up sooner than you expected, and the shift scheduled for the morning traffic peak isn’t due for another 15 minutes. What can you do? The answer for many of today’s call center managers is to simply watch their “answer rate” deteriorate.

However, there is another answer – call blending. Call blending gives call centers the ability to expand their service offerings by sharing existing agent resources between inbound and outbound calling functions as traffic needs dictate. Now, centers can manage the peaks and valleys of inbound call traffic, in real-time, while keeping agents busy and productive.

Who Can Benefit From Call Blending?

There are three distinct types of call centers that can benefit from implementing call blending: * The first is the outbound calling center using a predictive dialer (typically collections and telemarketing operations),

* The second is the inbound call center handling sales order-entry and customer-information applications, and

* The third is the inbound customer service center, supporting a customer “help desk.”

Today pioneering call centers using call blending achieve the following benefits:

* Enhanced service offerings, * Improved answer rates, * Increased agent productivity, * Reduced operating expenses, and

* The virtual elimination of staffing schedules.

Not since the introduction of the ACD has technology offered such potential to the call center. So, what is call blending? Where did it come from? How can it help effectively manage call traffic and agent productivity?

Outbound Centers Use Blending To Manage Callbacks Call blending was originally developed to help outbound collection centers cope with the dramatic increase in customer callbacks. On average, 35 percent of all outbound calls result in messages left requesting a callback. These collection centers soon learned that over a third of their customers returned the call, eager to resolve the issues with their accounts.

For large collection operations, this represented 300 to 500 additional inbound calls per day – a volume that quickly overwhelmed these outbound-centric centers that were not equipped to accommodate high volumes of inbound calls. These were calls they definitely wanted to take because they represented customers taking the initiative to settle their accounts.

In addition, management did not want to send these inbound calls to an inbound department because of the skills required to handle collections calls.

Responding to this dilemma, outbound system developers created an application that established a new category of agents. These agents were assigned to “blend” status, which meant they could handle calls from the dialer or ACD as necessary.

As inbound traffic starts to peak, the application automatically assigns blend agents to inbound activity. Once traffic begins to diminish, these agents are returned to outbound duties. The real-time assignment of blend agents is managed by a sophisticated supervisory system that maintains CTI (computertelephony integration) links with the center’s ACD, dialer, IVR and PBX.

Outbound centers have embraced call blending because it makes practical use of their available staff.

The Inbound Center And The Issue Of Staffing

It was not long before inbound call centers, specifically those involved in sales orders, saw the benefits of call blending. The key issues facing inbound-centric centers have always been staffing and agent productivity.

To resolve these issues, centers often use sophisticated staff forecasting software to gather and analyze historical traffic information, in order to create intelligent estimates for daily staff requirements.

Unfortunately, these are just estimates that cannot accommodate sudden changes in traffic volumes. Compounding the forecasting problem is the sheer overhead – in time and personnel — required to schedule the necessary part-time staff to support these forecasts.

Call blending can solve these staffing issues and address agent productivity by adding a proactive element to the inbound operation, allowing the center to be less involved with agent hour-by-hour staffing issues. These agents are designated as either dedicated inbound agents or “blend” agents.

During times of peak inbound traffic, all agents can be assigned to inbound. Then, as traffic diminishes, the system re-assigns the blend agents to outbound calling tasks, such as order confirmation, shipping notification, sales followup, and other recalls associated with incomplete inbound calls.

Call blending protects the center’s service level targets by managing, automatically, the release of agents to outbound campaigns. It does this by constantly maintaining the proper balance between inbound traffic volumes and available agent resources.

Call blending provides inboundcentric centers with a practical solution to the costly and time-consuming chore of staff forecasting and scheduling. It also helps ensure that all agents are kept busy and productive, while providing a method for enhancing the center’s service offering.

Inbound Customer Service Centers And Outbound Campaigns

Even the most inbound-centric center, such as a customer help desk, can enhance the quality of its services by blending outbound campaigns with its existing inbound support. During the lulls in incoming customer calls, idle service agents are assigned to proactive campaigns aimed at building customer loyalty and generating additional business.

With modern business tools like database mining software, a customer service center can develop highly targeted service campaigns. Database mining is a target marketing technique used to identify unique categories of customers. Today, progressive service centers throughout the world are using database mining capabilities to launch a host of successful campaigns including:

* Maintenance contract renewal, * New service offerings, * Welcome calls to new customers, * Satisfaction surveys, and * Up-selling.

Call blending can be a valuable service tool for call centers that want to improve the efficiency of their operations and the quality of their services, while still being focused on the bottom line. And in today’s competitive business climate, blending quality call handling with proactive customer contact will definitely give a company the winning edge.

Earl Steman, director of marketing for Davox, has the responsibility for setting the company’s strategic direction around its introduction of integrated call center management systems, including a suite of computer-telephony integration products. An eight-year veteran of Davox, he was part of the original team that designed the Unison system, the company’s advanced call center management system. He

has been actively involved in marketing the Unison system internationally. Mr. Steman brings to this new challenge more than 25 years of experience in the voice and data industry.

Copyright Technology Marketing Corporation Mar 1997

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