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The new contact center: An update on trends and outsourcing

Cindy SomersBy Cindy Somers
CIBM Contributor

Today's multi-channel contact centers use a diverse set of communications tools, which are the product of enormous advances in technology. Some provide customer service and support, order-taking, appointment-setting and other passive transactions. Others perform sales and telemarketing functions using agents who work on a salary-plus-commission basis. It's an exciting environment these days.

Contact center trends

We continue to see increased demand for multi-lingual agents, especially in the residential or consumer market and an increase in multi-purpose inbound calls to market additional services to inbound callers.

On-site, on-staff training expertise is increasingly being included as a standard part of the cost of operating a contact center. Doing so enables you to develop quick refresher training as needed to fill gaps, respond to emergency needs, introduce new programs or offers, and turn on a dime to stay out ahead of the competition.

Shift work remains commonplace in contact centers, and it is important when you put a shift schedule in place to hire and train to the schedule. For example, you should not hire night-shift staff and expect them to come in during the day for a week of training. And if you want to draw from a certain segment of workers, flexibility and creativity will serve you well. To hire mothers of small children to work in a center, for example, offer a part-time shift from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. so they can have their work time and still be home for their children after school.

Finally, the trend in outsourcing contact center operations continues to grow, on both the inbound and outbound side.

Reasons to outsource a contact center

Contact center outsourcers are able to staff outbound and inbound centers quickly and less expensively than most clients can. Outsourcing offers the ability to staff for peaks and valleys and seasonal demands, and then "un-staff" when demand softens without having to layoff permanent employees. Outsourcing can also enable a business to avoid having to build facilities, purchase equipment, develop training, manage advertising and outreach programs and so on.

We've also seen that many companies that operate successful inbound centers find that trying to add an outbound operation—dedicated to acquiring new business by phone—is just too large and different an initiative for them to take on. Outsourcing is a great solution in all these cases.

Evaluating contact center performance

There are a number of key metrics that are central to understanding your contact center's performance. The basics for an inbound contact center include ASA or average speed of answer, as measured in seconds or minutes; abandoned calls, when the hold time has become unacceptable to the caller; and blocked calls, or how many times a call reaches a busy signal due to call volumes.

You also want to monitor how many contacts are required to resolve an issue. There should be a requirement for acknowledging receipt of an e-mail or online web contact within a specified period of time, and a standard for resolving that inquiry. Other basics include forecast contacts versus actual contacts, and occupancy rate, or the number of incoming calls versus the number of agents to handle them.

In the outbound sales and marketing contact center, we also measure revenue, the number of decision-makers we touch, the number of calls per day, and average talk time, for starters. Finally, we like to look at agent turnover and customer survey ratings to round out the picture and enable us to constantly improve the contact center experience.

- Cindy Somers owns a Spherion Staffing Services location in Champaign. She can be reached at 217-359-4488 or