Anyone in the business knows that call center management is a demanding (if not a thankless) profession. Irregular call patterns could require immediate staffing changes, one-off questions can stifle a manager’s work for hours and industry alerts (like the first year launch of the Affordable Care Act) can put the queue in backlog. In short, something can happen every minute that moves the operation from calm to chaotic.
With all of these demands it’s a tall order to review operations from the consumer’s perspective. The good news is that it’s also relatively easy, quick and cheap to assess an inbound contact center operation. Contact center experts can ramble on for hours about shrinkage, AHT, ACDs, WFM and a litany of other acronyms, but ultimately a critical performance indicator is the exchange between the agent and caller. To get a real “inside look” into this exchange (beyond random call monitoring which is usually relegated to quality control), it’s important for those responsible to assume the position of the consumer.
We have recommended this exercise to countless individuals, from c-suite executives to directors and sales and marketing managers. People are consistently astounded by what they experience when they take on the consumer’s role. SBR’s Lead Ethnographer who helped design our rapid ethnography studies created a methodology for secret shopping contact center operations. The exercise itself is simple and just takes some planning to determine the areas to assess in an inbound call center environment.
Here are four areas we typically include when evaluating call centers via the secret shopping method:
1. Interactive Voice Response (IVR): IVR messaging and call-flows are important to lead a caller to the appropriate agent according to any number of factors, such as line of business or experience level. Ideally, a consumer-centric IVR is meant to efficiently direct calls and simplify the caller experience from the point of call entry. A well-designed IVR should also minimize caller confusion and “bouncing around” between different agents. As the consumer, identify how easy it is to arrive at your desired destination (the right agent). Did you get “bounced around” or reach an agent without making too many selections?
2. Agent Scripting/Communication: It’s not always clear whether an agent is actually using a call guide but we know from years in the business that some form of a “guide” or “scripting” is needed to keep agents on track. Tested call guides/scripting can also enhance performance because agents are operating off the same language and a proven sales approach. Identify how well the agent communicates: are they clear and concise, delivering logical information that most people could follow or do they use illogical descriptions and clumsy filler terms (“like”, “um”, “yea”)? Did the call follow a systematic path to get you the information you need or take illogical paths? Was the agent able to help you arrive at your desired destination or did you hang up frustrated?
3. The Human Factor: Sure, product knowledge is critical to performance but sincerity, kindness and interest in supporting the caller are just as important. These factors and others are considered “soft skills”. Think about what it feels like when an agent opens the call in a lackluster tone asking, “How can I help you today? The agent might be following the prescribed training or scripting but failing to emit the necessary kindness and enthusiasm. When calling, determine whether the agent was warm and professional, showed a willingness to help, was knowledgeable about the products/services and gave you the information you were seeking.
4. System Interface: Many call center agents operate off of multiple monitors and applications (two monitors is not unusual and we’ve witnessed agents access up to 15+ applications during a single exchange). There is a direct impact between the number of applications, screens and competing locations needed to find information and an agent’s ability to assist callers. For example, “dead air” (long pauses in communications) can occur while an agent searches for information. There are techniques to keep the conversation flowing but this can also extend talk time. As the consumer, take note of breaks in the conversation, how long it takes the agent to locate information you request and overall call time. You can greatly surmise whether system overload exists with just a little calculation of hold and waiting patterns.
Over the years SBR has developed a variety of methods for clients to put themselves in the shoes of their customers. Even the busiest executive has had their eyes opened by this exercise. Click here to learn more about maximizing contact center operations.