The Secret to Call-Center Productivity

Updated: April 30, 2009

If there's one thing today's call-center managers are likely to lose sleep over, it's how to boost agent productivity. After all, you can save money by using technologies like VoIP, but the majority of contact-center costs lie in recruiting and retaining employees. As a result, any increase in their productivity can greatly enhance the return on investment.

But while much-ballyhooed bonuses and exorbitant incentive packages can increase productivity, they can also cause agent burnout. Here are four ways to get the most out of your contact-center agents — without driving them into early retirement.

Reassess your metrics. Just because you've reduced your average call-handle time doesn't necessarily mean you've increased agent productivity, especially if call volume increases as a corollary result.

"Companies should re-examine how it is they're measuring productivity and what that means," said Colin Taylor, CEO of The Taylor Reach Group , a contact-center consultancy. "Most centers use the wrong metrics, and part of it is the fault of the center management, and part of it is center management not being willing or able to educate senior management."

Taylor said that although "the vast majority of centers are running almost exclusively on quantitative measures" — like handle time and available time — a more accurate indication of productivity rests in qualitative metrics, like first-call resolution and customer satisfaction.

Apply technology properly. So you've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the hottest contact-center technology. But don't expect to get your money's worth unless your agents are schooled in the tools' most effective applications. For example, "A big inhibitor to agent productivity is multiple desktops," said Taylor. "It is not uncommon in a number of centers for agents to have six different windows open at any given point in time." The result is the constant rekeying of the same information into several disparate systems — a huge waste of time and money.

"Putting an incentive on reducing average handle time is going to be nowhere near as effective as eliminating one or two of those windows," Taylor advised, adding that comprehensive product knowledge can also help mitigate widespread misuse of call-center tools.

Educate your work force. Many of today's contact centers train an agent just once; the remainder of his or her employment education comes from co-workers over the next six months — not exactly a reliable source of information, Taylor said. For this reason, "Training agents to better utilize the tools they have goes a long way," he said. Fortunately, there's no shortage of cost-effective, Web-based training solutions that promise to get agents up to speed in a timely and reliable fashion.

Empower your agents. "Agent empowerment can be a huge productivity booster," said Taylor. If trained properly and armed with the right job skills, there's no reason for agents to constantly seek assistance from their superiors. Encouraging top-notch agents to take matters into their own hands, directly address customer concerns and take ownership of their job responsibilities is a surefire way to bolster work force morale, as well as productivity levels.

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