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Issue No:10/03/2

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How Profitable is Your Contact Center?

As the competition in the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) environment intensifies, organizations are looking towards improving the bottom-line. This implies the need for systems and processes to be established to make effective utilization of available resources, while ensuring customer satisfaction levels are maximized. Decision Support Systems (DSS) can play a significant role in helping management make more informed and intelligent decisions pertaining to effective operations and resource management in a contact center. The key operations processes fall under: Planning, Rostering and Transportation Management.

Planning is the process of setting staffing parameters (shift timings, duration) to ensure maximum adherence to customer service level agreements, and making optimal use of available manpower and technology resources for a given program. The technology resources typically comprise seats, dialer licenses, voice recorders, and bandwidth. An outbound telemarketing process would have certain list penetration targets within a set of dialing hours, so the feasibility of various dialing strategies needs to be explored. For an inbound process, the staffing would be driven by call volume forecasting models.

Planning is a crucial element in managing operations as it directly sets the structure for rostering and if relevant, transport planning. The planning model would choose the optimum staffing strategy based on impact on key performance metrics such as contacts per hour / sales per hour and operational metrics like the AHT (Average Handle Time) and ASA (Average Speed of Answer).

Sophisticated DSS incorporates analytical models to help managers formulate optimal plans, perform scenario analyses, and obtain insights into resource shortage / excess. Once the staffing strategies are established, the next step is agent rostering.

Rostering is a complex process that is manually intractable at times due to the numerous variables that need to be taken into consideration simultaneously. A DSS built to automate and optimize this process can generate value through cost savings and by eliminating several tedious man-hours spent in the process. The system will generate the optimal roster by intelligently evaluating several alternatives and ensure that daily dialing requirements are met while satisfying certain constraints like:

  • a specified performance mix (A/B/C classification of agents)
  • particular team compositions are maintained during a shift
  • the right mix of skills is available for a given shift
  • the appropriate number of weekly offs is awarded to agents, while considering their preferences for offs.

When transportation costs are a consideration, advanced rostering systems go a step ahead of standard workflow automation systems, in factoring locations of agents while generating rosters to ensure that people from nearby locations are brought in for the same shift. This provides an ideal starting point before developing vehicle route plans.

Transportation Management
In contact centers where on-time arrivals are crucial for ensuring adherence to customer service levels, transportation services are provided to pick up and drop agents, round the clock. This can constitute a huge component of operating cost, depending on the scale of service provided. Decision Support Systems can play a significant role in adding intelligence to management decisions in this regard. Some of the key decisions supported are:

  • What is the best pickup strategy: Door to door pickups or point pickups?
  • What is optimal mix of vehicles required (buses, cars)?
  • In case of logistics requirements being outsourced, what is the best pricing strategy (route based or distance based)?

Key Factors to Consider while implementing DSS for contact centers:

  • Flexibility: Given the dynamic nature of the business environment, it is crucial for the system to be flexible, handle exceptions and provide timely and intelligent evaluation of alternatives in event of exigencies.
  • Customization: The design of the DSS needs to bear in mind the nature of the projects on hand. For instance, the rostering requirements for an outbound telemarketing process would be very different for a back-office process. It is very rare that "a one size fits all" approach works here.
  • Robustness: As contact center operations are typically 24/7, and the above processes are mission critical, it is crucial for the system to be robust to handle a variety of complexities.
  • Orientation: Given high rates of attrition in the industry, these systems need to be able to capture "human" factors, while generating staffing patterns, rosters and transport plans.
  • Processes: To derive maximum value from these systems, processes need to be in place to enable a change. In certain cases, process re-engineering efforts may be required, taking a holistic view of aligning marketing, recruitment, resource planning, apart from planning, rostering and transportation.

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