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  • Effective Resource Management is the Key to Delivering More Personal Service

Have you seen a recent TV commercial that spoofs customer service? In the segment, a man walks up to an agent at an airport rental car desk and asks to rent a car. For a few seconds, the conversation between customer and agent seems real, but the exchange quickly deteriorates as the agent transforms from a helpful customer service agent into an unresponsive automated attendant. No longer getting answers to his questions, the customer becomes frustrated as he struggles to have a two-way conversation with the agent. The parody concludes on an ironic note as the agent instructs the customer to say “representative” if he wishes to speak to a live customer service agent. 

In an age of automation, how often do you hear customers share a positive experience with a self-service or instant-service communication channel? While customers are content to use interactive voice response (IVR) and Web self-service technology to handle simple requests, their desire for a higher degree of personal service increases as the issues become more complex. In the end, customers want to speak with a knowledgeable service representative who can quickly, efficiently and effectively meet their needs on the first call when the situation dictates it. 

According to Forrester Research, 90 percent of customer service decision-makers say that a good service experience is critical or very important to their business, yet many companies are still primarily focused on cost-control measures. In the call center, for example, senior executives want to invest more in customer relationships, but they want to do it without giving up the cost efficiencies gained during the recession. As the customers’ first — and sometimes only — human interaction with the company, the modern-day contact center struggles to balance cost with improved customer service. In lean times, it becomes increasingly difficult to deliver a consistent message and level of service. 

As Kate Leggett of Forrester recently wrote, “Customers are quick to voice their opinions, which are amplified by social media tools. News of poor customer service spreads quickly and can erode a company’s brand image.” Generally speaking, the risk of customers leaving is higher in the recovery, and customer churn can be a company killer. 

The Challenges Behind Delivering Personal Service

In the contact center, one of the biggest barriers to training is timing. Time rules the contact center. For every agent in training, another must be staffed in his or her place to take calls in order to meet service levels. When call volume increases unexpectedly and service levels are in jeopardy, training is canceled and agents are rushed back to the phones. Training typically either increases labor costs or doesn’t happen at all. 

Conversely, every day agents spend 11 percent of their time idle, waiting for the next customer call. All of this idle time equates to, on average, five weeks per year, or what I refer to as five weeks of really boring vacation, two minutes at a time. The result? Poorly optimized call centers with limited, productive windows of time for training. 

The other training barrier in the contact center is an increasingly transient and diverse talent pool, or “multi-sourced” workforce, from all over the world. Multi-sourcing is a real blend of people — such as insourced, outsourced, on-shore, off-shore, at-home, part-time and full-time agents — who serve a company’s customers, but don’t necessarily have the company’s name on their paycheck. With a multi-sourced workforce, it has become even more difficult to deliver a consistent message and level of service. 

Improving Agent Productivity, Performance and Profitability

Providing a higher degree of personal service is an expensive undertaking, yet investing in the training and coaching of a multi-sourced workforce is absolutely necessary to improve the customer experience. However, if left with the decision to pick improving costly personal service over maintaining efficiencies, who wins? 

In the past, the decision to strive for efficiency over personal service was easier to make because staffing additional agents to cover headcount for coaching or training investments was so costly. In recent years, there has been a paradigm shift; contact centers have found a way to invest in customer experience without adding expense — using the latest technology advances to transform unproductive wait time. 

While many technologies exist today that improve call center productivity (think workforce management and automated call distributors) and agent performance (think learning management systems and performance management), all of these share one common weakness — they primarily rely on historical information. However, intelligent workflow technology could use real-time data to turn idle wait time into productive time. 

By integrating directly with call routing systems, intelligent workflow technology is able to identify agent idle time and push activities to the agent’s desktop, improving the agent’s ability to deliver a better customer experience. For instance, these small occurrences of wait time can be aggregated across the contact center to create bigger, more productive pockets of time per agent (e.g., multiple 90-second downtimes into one 15-minute “active wait time” session) for valuable off-phone training, coaching and social learning activities. By shifting even a small percentage of training activities for completion during idle time, call center executives open up the schedule and find additional time to provide the training and coaching needed to enhance personal service — without increasing headcount. 

In the contact center environment where “time is money,” turning idle time into productive training time is referred to as “active wait time,” and this concept is greatly improving agents’ on-the-job performance, helping companies exceed customer expectations and building customer loyalty. For example, a call center with 1,000 agents that uses intelligent workflow technology can gain 48,000 hours annually by converting just 25 percent of idle time. At last, companies have the power to improve operational efficiencies and increase profits by pulling off the ultimate “do more with less” success story. 

American Home Mortgage Servicing (AHMSI) Deploys Automated Training Solution in Call Centers, Equips Agents for Personal Service 

As the country’s 15th largest mortgage servicer, AHMSI is required to keep its more than 1,200 call center agents informed of rules and processes to support the latest government, program and state regulations governing its business. Handling inbound and collection calls, AHMSI’s blended agents provide services to homeowners and loan investors in a highly regulated industry. In the past, AHMSI used a learning management system to train its agents, but finding the time to disperse priority communications either resulted in a negative impact to labor costs or service levels given the volume and frequency of regulatory updates. As a result, AHMSI implemented RightTime, Knowlagent’s call center productivity platform, to aggregate small increments of idle time and update agents on new compliance directives — turning unproductive wait time into active wait time. With RightTime, AHMSI saved the cost of two to three employees per month by using idle time to deploy regulatory compliance training, instead of scheduling additional time for it.


Matt McConnell is the president and CEO of Knowlagent, a leading agent productivity solution provider for the world’s 10 million call center agents. He can be reached at

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