Call Centers

There are a number of technology solutions that can reduce overall organizational costs, even if they add slightly to the telecom budget. Call centers provide one such solution.

Call Centers

Although call centers would be an obvious choice for heavy massing of technological firepower, many organizations still rely too heavily on human agents to do work that could be done by computers and telephone systems. Examples include:

  • Predictive dialers. Anathema to families that enjoy a quiet dinner together without telemarketer interruption, predictive dialers allow agents to call efficiently. Not only does the predictive dialer actually make the call, but it "uses complex mathematical algorithms that consider, in real-time, the number of available phone lines, the number of available operators, the length of an average conversation and the average time operators need between calls, and constantly adjusts their dialing rates based on these factors." Also, the best predictive dialers screen out calls where there is no answer or those that are answered by an answering machine. Most of the time, the calling agent hears a quiet "zip" in the headphone and a live person is then on the line. While manual dialing may result in 15 to 20 minutes of productive calling time per hour, predictive dialers allow agents to productively talk 40 to 57 minutes per hour. Given that call center agents are paid between $12 and $20 per hour (as well as incentives), any device that makes them more efficient is likely worth the investment. It is interesting to note that, in the eternal war between "push" or outbound call centers and potential customers, technology solutions are found on both sides. Telemarketer "zappers" are now sold that intercept telemarketing calls. In Texas, some 77,000 households have signed up for a blocking service since the law went into effect on January 1, 2001.

  • Call center workforce management software. Although scheduling agents via software would seem to be a "nice to have," akin to a deluxe PDA, it strongly affects call center costs. Beyond a certain number of agents, it becomes difficult to mentally juggle schedules, demand, holidays, incentives, shifts, etc. One of the highest expense items is overtime; without an automated system for scheduling and reporting, absenteeism and overtime will climb to unacceptable levels (for mid- to large-sized call centers). Steven J. Cain, Gartner Group's Call Center Benchmarking Practice Research Director, says that, "When you consider that, in some industries, contact center turnover reaches as high as 50 percent, there is significant opportunity to reduce turnover, building an experienced and tenured agent base to deliver the highest quality customer interactions while minimizing the expense of recruiting, training and productivity shortfalls while getting up to speed."

  • Interactive Voice Response System (IVR) The familiar "press 1 for account balances, press 2 to transfer funds," is the public face of interactive voice response technology. Some call centers shun IVR systems because of the acknowledged public preference for human interaction. This philosophy should be reconsidered in some cases. For example, is it better to staff from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. and then leave a message for the customer to "call back during business hours" or to have an IVR after-hours that provides the customer with some useful information. Second, as the public becomes more familiar with IVR, there are situations where non-human interaction is faster and preferred. For example, when people call about booking reservations for deluxe resorts, they want to talk to someone and ask multiple questions. However, if they must cancel those reservations, they merely want to cancel — why take the time to explain? In this case, the transaction can be handled without agent contact, saving money for the company and time for the customer.

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