1 Making virtual contact Six lessons for building a scalable customer contact model Kim SOKOL
2 /02 As service once again becomes a key differentiator for brands, the c-suite and operational staff are finally on the same page both are looking longer and harder at the prospect of virtual service delivery that is both scalable and of high quality. But how does an organization achieve this in a contact center environment? With so many fixed costs and the very real prospect of high staff turnover, contact centers are rarely seen as hubs of innovation. Yet the rise of the virtual agent workforce is changing all that, fast.
3 Introduction /03 Virtual contact center agents and the processes, management style and technology that support them should not be seen as cost-cutting measures per se. Instead, they are a tool to improve business reaction times and access on-demand capabilities that can, and should, improve service quality. For some businesses, which are accustomed to the peaks and troughs of seasonal demand, the issue of scalability has been a long-running concern. For other businesses, the productivity and cost-efficiencies of virtual environments are taking on new relevance as economic imperatives apply continued pressure. The benefits of virtual agent models are clear: 1. Businesses are not required to carry large, extra headcount volumes at the enterprise level. 2. The utilization of each agent is maximized and agents are given the right amount of work. 3. Delivery of quick response times to call volume fluctuations to avert service level crises. Here are six key recommendations for ensuring your virtual contact center workforce can deliver these benefits. In fact, virtual agents in a well-managed technical environment can reduce costs, lower enterprise risk and raise the bar on service quality.
4 1 /04 Invest in your intellectual capital and robust partnerships
5 Invest in your intellectual capital and robust partnerships /05 Repeatable service outcomes require planning and structure, but not necessarily permanency. Every contact center is ultimately seeking to deliver great, repeatable service outcomes to its customers. This is how loyalty, trust and sustainable business propositions are built. So, even though many contact centers will use highly competent and efficient temporary labor for some aspects of their work some of the time, relying on this approach without considering the strategic value of your contact center workforce is rarely advisable. This is not to say you shouldn t hire temporary labor for your center, but that you simply must have a strategic approach to doing so. This is primarily because, without some level of continuity or holistic planning, a temporary workforce will find it difficult to provide the consistency of quality that your business strategy demands. Any good outsourcing model should provide the opportunity for your outsourcer to build deep knowledge about your business, and to continuously work with you (as your partner) to enhance and refine the model in response to changing business conditions.
6 Invest in your intellectual capital and robust partnerships /06 If quality and efficiency are your goals, you need a scalable approach that delivers these three things: The right model for business that s well managed and is supported by good technology (your own or your outsourcing provider s); Access to training and recruitment processes that support quality service outcomes, even during demand fluctuations; An outsourcing relationship that is based on shared operational understanding and continuous improvement. If you want to improve your service outcomes and innovate your business model at the same time, there s plenty of evidence that the right virtualization partner can enable your contact center to lead that charge instead of just following it.
7 2 /07 Seek to lower all kinds of service and scale risk
8 Seek to lower all kinds of service and scale risk /08 It s not just during emergencies that the value of a virtual contact center should be recognised. We all know about the business continuity benefits of virtual workforce models this is nothing new. But, what about the incremental, less visible continuity issues that arise in contact center environments on a daily basis? We would argue that a virtual agent workforce model is perhaps most valuable in addressing the everyday issues of scale, not just those that arise during emergencies. Hurricane Ike: Virtual agent contact center Our experience of running a virtual agent contact center during Hurricane Ike proved its business continuity benefits under extreme circumstances. Leading up to and during Ike s impact, our team achieved the following: Hired 60 contact center agents by the customer s target date. These agents were recruited outside the customer s region, which meant they were not affected by the hurricane and could provide the assistance needed. Addressed the customer s space constraints and lack of training resources by successfully training those agents in an existing Kelly facility, which was converted into a classroom and on-the-job training environment. Answered more than 30,000 calls over a 10-day period during the hurricane catastrophe period in addition to its core responsibilities day-to-day. Managed agent performance to established customer service levels using our own KellyConnect call center technology.
9 Seek to lower all kinds of service and scale risk /09 Operational scale demands can be generated by any number of internal or external forces, including: Seasonal demand: The floristry industry has extreme peak needs during Valentine s Day, Mothers Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. A virtual solution ensures proper training plus easy management of the required peaks, without expanding training facilities or adding full-time employees. E-commerce activities: In some cases, service agents need to verify and validate customer requests and posts through their global e-commerce sites. Given the difficulty in predicting traffic in peer-to-peer commerce, a virtual model is ideal to support this low-cost business model because it is easily and quickly scalable in response to variability in web traffic. Marketing activities and sales: A virtual solution manages the demand peaks generated by time-sensitive special offers that can be the result of specific marketing activities. The virtual agent network maintains service quality at all hours of the day and night.
10 3 /10 Turn training processes into strategic assets
11 Turn training processes into strategic assets /11 Competitive advantage requires focus, repetition and training scalability at the right cost. A repeatable, high-quality training capability is the beginning of a serious competitive advantage for any contact center. As long as the learning curve associated with each new hire can be accurately predicted, managed and facilitated through a highly supportive virtual environment, with real-time feedback and collaboration tools, virtual agents will do as well as inhouse agents. And, the faster they can be trained and deployed, the more attractive the training investment is for both parties. In our experience, a best-practice training approach that scales well without sacrificing quality requires the following: Flexibility in the ratio of full-time/part-time agents. A minimum number of part-time hours should be provided to retain part-time workers and ensure they do not seek additional employment elsewhere.. A 70% FTE utilization rate this provides the appropriate level of engagement without risk of burn-out.
12 Turn training processes into strategic assets /12 A strong training program that enables agents to enter your workforce quickly and competently will also assist in talent retention, providing the flexible work that many good employees want. Those who simply cannot access a physical work location for any number of reasons can be attracted and retained by virtual models. Typically, the larger the footprint of a virtual workforce, the easier it is to leverage the benefits of a scalable training program that can flex up or down across a virtual network, all the while building intelligence about your customers and your processes. Tailored approaches for small organizations can also realize the same benefits over time.
13 4 /13 Consider each model in light of budgets and talent supply issues
14 Consider each model in light of budgets and talent supply issues /14 Getting the right mix of in-house and outsourced labor means something different for every business, so choose your virtual model wisely. In a virtual contact center model, your ability to attract and retain talent will depend almost entirely on the quality of the employment and service experience that your specific model enables. Your ability to alter the mix of in-house and outsourced labor fits squarely into budget and headcount constraints allocated by leadership and both of these issues must be considered carefully before choosing which virtual model will work for your business. Simplified, there are three basic outsourcing approaches that provide flexible access to labor in a virtual model: 1) A pilot program: This is a good way to get your feet wet and gain valuable insights for your business before committing to one specific virtual model. You may wish to provide the technology solution to support the model, or the outsourcer may provide it, but it is critical that clear separation between your pilot program and your existing model is created in order to compare data. If both teams are sharing technology, be
15 Consider each model in light of budgets and talent supply issues /15 clear about how you will separate the data for comparison at the outset. Selecting a proven partner in the virtual space who understands the complexities and management strategies required for successful virtual operations will be critical in both setting up your pilot and comparing it with existing operations. 2) Outsourced Solution (with thought leadership and direction provided by the customer): Many companies who understand the value of outsourcing and the operational expertise that comes with an outsourced model, remain reluctant to turn over the keys to the ship. An outsourced partnership, by definition, is just that one of collaboration and ongoing input from the customer with the focus on day-to-day management and oversight provided by the outsourcer. The customer maintains control and direction over where the ship is headed, while the outsourcer provides all the functions behind the scenes to keep the ship afloat and fully operational. 3) Complete navigation: Some customers have very clear SLA and metric expectations and want to completely turn over the function to an outsourcer, expecting service delivery of the goals. In this scenario, how the outsourcer gets there, how they choose to navigate, combined with full operation of the behind the scenes functions remain 100% with the outsourcer. This relationship still requires a partnership for success, yet there is less directional involvement than option two.
16 5 /16 Remember, it s the culture that binds
17 Remember, it s the culture that binds /17 In virtual workforces, a shared vision is key to success. It is not location or physical proximity, but a shared vision and purpose that make positive collaborations possible. It is not an office building, but leadership, culture and a clear understanding of the task ahead that sets employees on a parallel course with your business goals. That s why, when building a virtual workforce model for customer contact roles, it s important to foster both a sense of trust and of personal responsibility, but also a sense of being part of something collective. This requires an employer brand that is accessible and applicable to both in-house and outsourced labor. A successful virtual customer contact center is one in which the brand is embodied by tangible actions not just words. It s enabled by technology, but it is facilitated and reinforced by good management practice and a supportive culture that promotes feedback, diversity and inclusion.
18 Remember, it s the culture that binds /18 Apart from having technology that enables effective collaboration and feedback on staff performance, a good virtual model must fulfil the following criteria: Ensure internal communications strategies adequately address the virtual workforce and engage them in dialogue. This means scheduling all-staff meetings/updates in a way that enables virtual workers to participate, as well as actively seeking input from virtual workers about change, strategy and big-picture business issues, as well as the day-to-day operations. It also requires analysis of data collected about this workforce segment to ensure their input/feedback is addressed. Ensure adequate representation of this workforce segment in management team decisions. Depending on the size of the workforce and the structure of your organization, direct managerial representation for virtual workers may not be required, yet ensuring their unique circumstances and value is considered when new strategies, policies and procedures are developed will be. This segment holds specific knowledge, and having adequate channels to filter this up to senior management is an important way to keep customer interests at the center of the organization.
19 Remember, it s the culture that binds /19 Avoid special treatment or different policies for one segment of the workforce unless there is a clear, practical reason why this is the case. Virtual technology may facilitate agility and efficiency, but it cannot make these things happen alone. Your outsourcing provider and the virtual team it engages must know your business, understand your customers and play an integral role in developing service intelligence in the virtual space.
20 6 /20 Look for a turnkey approach if you re new to virtualized workforces
21 Look for a turnkey approach if you re new to virtualized workforces /21 Every innovation is an experiment. Finding a proven model that has already worked elsewhere lowers the risk of moving to a virtual work model. KellyConnect is a proven and effective, scalable virtual model for customer-facing staff. Our solutions have been tested and used consistently on a large scale, by thousands of agents in various locations. We ve discovered through this experience that any model you choose must have the following: Appropriate use of automation in handling customer inquiries Training on appropriate use of the knowledge base and skill-set of each agent Skill-based routing to direct calls in the most efficient way An appropriate mix of both full-time and part-time agents in the baseline staffing population to ensure the model can be scaled up or down with seasonality An opportunity for self-service when appropriate.
22 Look for a turnkey approach if you re new to virtualized workforces /22 The other critical element in a turnkey approach to virtualization is the need for the right social media tools and processes to reinforce your company culture and unique approach to service differentiation. The solution must be robust enough to facilitate communication and collaboration that is as good as (if not better than) that which is experienced by an internally housed team.
23 Conclusion /23 At Kelly, we have worked with many companies large and small across most industries to implement virtual customer contact and technical support workforces. We have seen virtual workforces deliver results through our own technology solution, as well as with our customer s own platforms. We have also seen a virtual model become critical to contingency plans as well as fundamental to operating smarter on a daily basis. We ve seen it improve service, not just the bottom line. Virtual models are no longer technological experiments they are a proven way to manage issues of scale better, cheaper and faster. References:
24 For more thought leadership go to talentproject.com About the author Kim Sokol is the Strategic Development Director for KellyOCG s KellyConnect Center of Excellence. Kim joined KellyOCG in 2008 to help launch KellyConnect outsourcing solutions. She is responsible for both sales and account management of customer care and service desk programs. Kim holds a bachelor of science degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point. She earned a masters degree in business administration from Wilmington University and has over 20 years of administration, operations, and sales experience. She is also a Certified Outsourcing Professional (COP) with the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP) and is currently serving as President of the Great Lakes Chapter of SOCAP International. About KellyOCG KellyOCG is the Outsourcing and Consulting Group of workforce solutions provider Kelly Services, Inc. KellyOCG is a global leader in innovative talent management solutions in the areas of Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO), Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), Contingent Workforce Outsourcing (CWO), including Independent Contractor Solutions, Human Resources Consulting, Career Transition and Executive Coaching, and Executive Search. KellyOCG was named in the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals 2013 Global Outsourcing 100 list, an annual ranking of the world s best outsourcing service providers and advisors. KellyConnect is a pioneer in the set-up and maintenance of virtual workplaces. We have access to local talent via 440 Kelly-owned branches across the US. We combine this with the intellectual property of understanding how to deliver plug-and-play technology solutions (if you don t have your own). Further information about KellyOCG may be found at kellyocg.com. EXIT
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