Businesses are constantly looking for ways to improve efficiencies and reduce costs. This is particularly true during periods of expansion. One of the easiest and quickest ways of doing this is to resort to the ‘tried and true’ methods of belt-tightening. These include cutting back on staff headcount, altering workloads, introducing new technologies and reengineering processes.
There is potential for significant cost savings in each of these areas, but, as an operations manager, it is important to think strategically and not compromise on the quality and efficiency of the service your team offers. This is particularly true in the modern customer-focussed marketplace, where client expectations are high and growing, and excellent customer service has become a point of difference and a strong selling point for companies who do it well.
While customer communication is becoming directed more and more to self-service online channels, call centres still form the backbone of any customer service strategy. The intent is for them to provide personalised support, but this requires a big investment in staffing – potentially covering 24/7. As call centres are historically not revenue generating operations (although this is changing), there is often a focus on outsourcing to reduce costs. This can, however, lead to potential problems in service quality.
According to a paper by strategy firm PwC, reducing cost per call in a call centre environment has three levers: Prevent avoidable calls by addressing customer needs more effectively; shift calls away from agents by improving self-service, and reduce call transfers by addressing calls the first time they come in. Here are three ways in which these reductions can be realised:
Introduction of SMS technologies
Customers want to communicate with businesses through the same channels they use to stay in touch with family and friends. Top of the list is text messaging and social media, as these are convenient, instant and more personal. Any business that offers customers these channels in their B2C communication mix will definitely be viewed in a more favourable light than those who don’t.
The big plus for companies that develop these tech solutions is that not only will they receive kudos from customers for being relevant and useful, they will also get a payback in cost savings, as these digital solutions provide a much lower cost per call than a phone-based call centre operation. Calls handled by agents typically cost about $4 per contact, while the cost per contact online is astonishingly lower, at $0.10 to $0.15.
According to callcenterhelper.com, SMS can be used in a number of ways to enhance the customer experience. This includes as a means for confirming appointments, providing automatic reminders, or simply to send short, informative messages to customers highlighting new products and services. SMS can also be used to get customers’ interest in downloadable content, providing another potential revenue stream.
The unobtrusive nature of text messaging ensures a more sensitive customer interaction than contact by phone. It also provides customers with more self-service options and gives them the feeling of being in control of the communication process.
Another key advantage of using SMS technology is acceleration of your workflow. It enables agents to send out automated responses for enquiries and alleviates the effort needed to keep a company’s database up to date. It does this by automatically saving ‘do-not-call’ requests in the system and using delivery receipts to determine the validity of phone numbers. Finally, it reduces the pressure on inbound queues by allowing customers to request call backs.
Here are some key features of a good SMS technology solution that can be used to reduce costs and increase efficiency in a call centre environment:
- Outcome-based SMS. A message can automatically be triggered by the outcome of a call, such as ‘information request’ or ‘appointment made’.
- Bulk outbound SMS. This function enables agents to send a group of SMS messages simultaneously.
- Data-merged SMS. This is similar to a ‘mail merge’; agents can merge customers’ data and send a template SMS.
- Multimedia messaging service (MMS) support. The ability to send pictures, videos and other content to customers, in addition to text.
- Inbound keyword support. Keywords on inbound SMS can allow individual messages to be routed to specific campaigns.
- Suppression lists. When sending SMS messages, phone numbers should be validated against a suppression list first.
- Inbound call requests. This can happen as a result of an outbound SMS from the company.
- Premises-based or hosted. Most solutions will be hosted and only require an Internet connection. Some providers, however, install SMS modems or other hardware at your site.
- Pre-pay or post-pay. These solutions allow you to buy SMS messages in bulk before sending, or to pay for them after sending.
- Delivery receipts. Some SMS providers can provide real-time status of the message such as ‘en-route’, ‘failed’ or ‘delivered’.
- SMS interactive voice response (IVR). This provides self-service options to customers via SMS. This can be used to supplement most self-service IVR functions to buy cinema tickets, receive train times etc.
SMS technology can help organisations ease the pressure on their inbound call queues by reducing wait times for customers. This enhances the customer’s experience of the brand because they don’t have to wait to speak to an agent. It also enables companies to target their customer base more efficiently, which in turn saves time and money.
Call centre agents benefit as much as customers due to the better management of inbound queues and more efficient communication. And businesses profit from sending text messages, as this enables call centres to make sure their information reaches the customer instead of wasting time and money by calling, or writing repeated e-mails.
Self-service enhances the customer experience
As mentioned previously, superior customer experience is a given these days for any call centre. Customer self-service is a critical component of this, as it reduces call volumes and operating costs and improves customer experience.
Call centre specialist, Talkdesk, explains that self-service is an excellent way to reduce cost per call by cutting telephony and staffing overheads. This is possible without compromising service quality because you allow customers to help themselves. There are plenty of customers who don’t want to talk with an agent – in fact – many don’t like it at all, full stop.
These customers will jump at the opportunity to help themselves. Providing them with self-service options like informative hold messages, a detailed knowledge base, self-service IVR, ‘how-to’ blog posts, website FAQs and ebooks will significantly reduce inbound call volumes without compromising service quality.
Callback from queue is another great self-service feature that helps reduce costs. According to research company Forrester, 72 percent of people surveyed stated they would like the option for a callback when calling a company. The beauty of this feature is that not only does it improve customer satisfaction, it also reduces cost per call, as it decreases the number of callers waiting in a queue. As a result, telephony, toll call and staffing costs all decrease.
Improving call centre agents’ skills and problem solving
Talkdesk says one of the best ways to decrease cost per call and increase customer service quality is to ensure that call centre agents have sufficient knowledge, training and resources to adequately address customers’ needs.
You can accomplish this by hiring agents who are well-suited for the position, training them to the highest industry standards and providing consistent feedback and coaching based on their performance. Having a team of excellent call centre agents will help improve first call resolution, decrease handle time and increase customer service quality. This all helps reduce the number of calls escalated to management and callbacks about the same issue – all of which contribute to decreasing cost per call.
However, maintaining an excellent team of call centre agents in an effort to reduce cost per call requires more than a ‘set-and-forget’ approach. Operations managers should engage in the monitoring of live calls to assess staff performance.
This should be done consistently, and in a standardised way, to make sure that all agents are efficient and effective. Ensuring your team of agents are providing top-notch service to their customers is essential, and call monitoring is the best tool for evaluating that your call centre agents have the right traits and skills to best serve the customer. They must have a complete knowledge of the product or service and must be able to convey the same to the customers properly.
Since more than two-thirds of a call centre’s operating costs are related to staffing, it’s generally the first place managers look to reduce costs. However, according to Penny Reynolds of the U.S Call Centre School, the optimum seats vs service goals ratio is a very tight calculation. As a result, a simple staff reduction may not save you any money – in fact, it may cost you more in terms of poor service, excessive occupancy levels, and increased telephone costs – not to mention decreased customer satisfaction.
Cost centre optimisation is both a necessary and doable function. By applying SMS technology, self service and good recruitment and training programmes, your cost per call will drop, while overall customer satisfaction should hold steady.