As businesses around the world seek to improve efficiencies, contact centre managers are finding themselves under increased pressure to reduce costs while maintaining the exceptional customer experience (CX) that today’s consumers have come to expect.
Where do these costs come from and how can they be reduced without negatively impacting the contact centre’s ability to serve? With over 12 years’ experience providing consultative support in the cloud contact centre space, contact centre expert Kris Graham is here to help.
“Successful contact centres measure performance against two key metrics: cost to serve and agent churn. Reducing these costs is key, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. At Opus, we understand that every contact centre environment is different. Whether their prerogative is reducing costs, boosting CX, or striking a balance between both, it’s our flexible partner approach that enables us to identify each customer’s specific requirements and recommend the best-fit solution unique to them.”
The true cost of agent churn
“I recently spoke with a customer who has a 12% agent churn in their contact centre”, Kris reveals. “Let’s say they have 100 seats, so every year 12 people are leaving. It then takes the business six months to train up new agents to the point where they’re capable of handling the phone lines independently. That means that every year, the business is paying 50% of an annual salary times 12 people to just get its capacity back to where it was before.”
The costs extend beyond direct overheads like salaries and training. When calculating the true cost of staff churn, businesses must also consider resourcing costs such as management’s time and inefficiencies associated with repeated processes. As Kris explains it, “this is a massive topic at the moment, especially with the UK government’s work from home directives. Pre-pandemic, if a contact centre’s agents weren’t happy, they were more limited geographically by where else they might work. Now, with the broad adoption of flexible working practices, staff have much more freedom of choice when job hunting.”
Flexible working might have made it easier for agents to find work elsewhere, but what is pushing them away in the first place? Kris identifies technology as being one reason.
“If agents can’t easily do their job because they don’t have an adequate system or the look and feel of the platform isn’t fit for purpose, that could be a reason for them to leave. Zendesk’s Customer Experience Trends Report 2020 revealed that almost 30% of agents valued having access to a comprehensive Knowledge Base. Almost as many valued the best tools and software.”
It’s not unusual for agents to be incentivised by bonuses or commission. These can be motivating, but they can also have the reverse effect if staff are unable to deliver their targets because of technology failings.
“As anyone will tell you, it’s difficult to find job satisfaction when you haven’t got the basic tools you need to do your job well.”
Reducing the cost to serve
The cost to serve is also a key factor in total contact centre costs. What does it mean and how can businesses look to reduce it without impacting the quality of their service?
“Cost to serve is a core metric when tracking the profitability of your contact centre”, Kris explains. “Contact centre managers need to be able to serve their customers in a way that is sustainable and scalable. Cost to serve is made up of a combination of the agents’ wages, the talk time on the phone and time needed for post-call wrap-up. Any processes that can be automated will save time and reduce the cost to serve accordingly.”
The introduction of omnichannel solutions can also reduce this figure. Just like customer expectations, the cost to serve will be different for each channel that a business operates. The cost to serve for email communications will be different from the cost to serve across webchat, for example.“It’s no surprise that tried-and-true methods of email, phone, and in-store interactions, remain the stalwarts, though patience for response times is shortening as 51% of respondents expect a response in under five minutes on the phone, and 28% of respondents expect the same on live chat.” Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020As Kris explains it, “one channel might be faster or more efficient than another, with a lower cost to serve. Take voice: you can only have one conversion at a time. With SMS or webchat, an agent could have four or five simultaneous conversions, and they may be much faster to resolve. As a result, the contact centre arguably needs less resources.”
Extensive research sponsored by Opus confirms this, showing that many smaller businesses in particular are embracing the digital channel as a way to give themselves a level playing field when competing against much larger organisations. Respondents with less than £10m in revenue state that at least 70% of their CX investment is going into digital channels.
Resilience and the cost of downtime
A third cost that many contact centres do not account for is disaster recovery. From a cyber security incident to a system failure as a result of a non-resilient solution, loss of operational time can have a dramatic commercial impact beyond the obvious fixed costs.
“The contact centre is your line of communication with your customers”, Kris highlights. “Take this away and your customers are going to be unable to contact you. If communications go down in the context of a wider disaster, you’re losing that line of communication at a time when your customers need you the most. This can have significant cost implications, not least of which includes reputational damage and loss of customer trust. The importance of CX today can’t be overstated.”
The state of CX in 2021
“Personally, I look for four things when calling into a contact centre”, Kris reveals. “I want it to be easy, I want it to be fast, I want the interaction to be warm in terms of personality, and I want the occasional surprise, such as a discount code to help repair the damage done by a poor experience. These common metrics can make a world of difference.”
The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020 highlights that less than 30% of companies offer self-service, live chat, social messaging, in-app messaging, bots or peer-to-peer communities as support channels. Tapping into these is an effective way of addressing these core metrics.
“One of our customers actually deployed a solution recently that invited callers to move their conversation to WhatsApp or SMS when their agents were too busy. From a CX perspective, that was powerful because it meant the customers could respond at their convenience, instead of being locked into a call for a rigid time period.”
It’s important when looking at reducing ‘time to answer’ that businesses don’t overlook the customer’s need for first-time resolution. Many contact centre environments still have different teams answering emails and phone lines. The approach at Opus is to bring those teams together so our customers have agents who can access all these tools.
“It’s a consolidated queue, as opposed to silos of data”, Kris explains. “Imagine you email into a contact centre and you don’t get an auto-response saying that the service level is 24 hours. Understandably, you might get frustrated that you haven’t heard back within a certain timeframe, so you pick up the phone to chase the email query. When you finally get through to the agent on the voice call, which wasn’t your channel of choice, they can’t see the email that you sent in clearly detailing why you’re unhappy and you’re having to repeat questions.”
According to the same Zendesk report referenced earlier, all of these metrics feature amongst the most frustrating aspects of bad customer service experience. Moving away from silos and delivering a single view of the customer gives agent visibility over email queries because they’re attached to each contact’s records. The agent has all the information at their fingertips in order to resolve the customer’s issues there and then.
“Roughly half of customers say they would switch to a competitor after just one bad experience. In the case of more than one bad experience, that number snowballs to 80%.”
Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020
Technology solutions to reduce contact centre costs
Research sponsored by Opus for the UK Customer Experience Decision-Makers’ Guide 2020-21 reveals that legacy technology is a major problem for 41% of survey respondents, with almost half of those with very large contact centres stating this.
Today, there are numerous technology solutions available tailored specifically towards helping contact centre environments do more with less, provide a better level of service, and differentiate themselves from the competition, with long-term cost-saving applications.
“As the Zendesk report highlights, today more than 70% of customers expect your entire company to collaborate on their behalf so they don’t have to repeat themselves. To enable this, many of the solutions we provide have the same applications for the front and back office, unifying communications across the business. Their capabilities are also omnichannel, giving the customer that all-important choice about how they interact with the business. This opens up multiple use cases for where and how they can be used. Agents can handle their own shift swapping using app technology, removing the administrative overheads of 100 seats all asking their resource planning manager to organise their shifts, while speech analytics can automate the queue management (QM) function to score and grade the calls. Where agents are required to read out a disclaimer, for example, or they have to give advice on pay monthly plans, 100% QM and the automatic transcription of voice conversations into text is significantly more efficient than carrying out these processes manually.”
Increasingly, CRM and business application integration is key, bringing an organisation’s contact centre and wider telephony applications all in one place. This offers the agents a ‘single pane of glass’, so they can live within a single window for all their applications. They no longer have to toggle between multiple windows or platforms with every interaction. And yet, according to Zendesk, 37% of sales teams do not use CRM software at all, highlighting a real opportunity for more innovative businesses to gain a competitive advantage. Kris also stresses the growing relevance of artificial intelligence (AI) in contact centres.
“Everyone is looking to cut costs, and an effective way of doing that is to better engage customers on the website by using tools like chatbots and automation. Imagine it takes an agent 45 seconds to validate a customer’s identity by asking a series of security questions. When you times that by the number of calls they handle a day, that quickly adds up. Through the use of a chatbot, that process can very easily be automated.”
The benefits of this are two-fold. As well as improving CX, agents are fulfilled because their customer interactions become more meaningful. Churn and its associated costs decrease accordingly. They move away from monotonous, frequently asked questions (FAQs) to only dealing with complete queries because the AI tool and the self-service functions that contact centres may deploy can deflect these FAQs away from the agents themselves.
Partnering with Opus
“Opus’ impartial approach is what attracted me to work here in the first place”, Kris reveals. “It’s really about understanding each customer’s needs, their organisation, their culture, and their pain points. We try and listen more than we speak during that initial sales cycle to understand what their issues are and, crucially, how we can help.”
As a privately owned organisation, Opus is truly independent, meaning we have access to a complete range of core contact centre solutions from industry-leading manufacturers such as Mitel, Gamma, 8×8, and Cirrus Response. We also have a wrap-around set of third-party applications that unlock a broad range of functionalities. Whether a business requires co-browsing on its website to enable shared experiences at key moments of truth, speech analytics, artificial intelligence, chatbots, or much more, we can build these around the basic contact centre application, matched perfectly to each customer’s operational requirements.
Our accreditations support this. We provide proactive account management and world-class customer service from our Institute of Customer Service accredited support team. We are also the only telecoms provider to hold the acclaimed ServiceMark accreditation for three years running, recognising our ongoing achievements in customer service and our commitment to upholding these service standards.
Key takeaways for contact centre managers
“Today’s market is so competitive and user loyalty doesn’t necessarily exist anymore”, states Kris. “If I make a retail purchase and I have a poor experience, there are 25 other retailers I can easily use at no inconvenience to me. Consumers aren’t restricted to location anymore. They can buy anything online. Across industries, this has transformed customer service. The same expectations are placed on small businesses as they are large. Everyone is judged by Amazon’s standards and if you don’t deliver a similar level of service you can be judged.”
In this environment, what should contact centre managers focus on to elevate their service levels and exceed customer expectations? Kris offers several tips:
- Integration — consider ease of integration, whether bespoke or out of the box, and how everything links with the CRM to ensure accurate, up-to-date contact records for agents to access when interacting with customers.
- Omnichannel — a broad reach of channels and devices gives the customer choice, improving CX and increasing brand loyalty.
- Resilience of the platform — when was the last time the business had an outage and what was the cost? As the role of customer service grows, it’s vital that businesses can depend on their systems for maximum uptime and availability.
- Adapt service levels by channel — as channels broaden, the way businesses track and measure performance and the standards agents are held to when operating these channels needs to evolve to ensure they are relevant as well as realistic.