How to make a call center more efficient

First day
Day 1. We enter a large call center. Agents are answering calls, entering data into systems and taking notes on paper. We are here to understand how to make their work with CRM system more efficient.
48 hours ago. We arrive at client's office and meet the managers. We are here to understand their top priority issues and what CRM use cases they want to test. We also want to make clear, what outcome they expect.
We meet their call center manager and director of sales. They describe their departments' goals and how senior management measures results. Call center employee turnover is high, and it is challenging to train new employees to be efficient. Meanwhile, the management is focused on reducing call duration. They also collect customer satisfaction scores to measure agents' efficiency. We talk and agree on what they would see as measurable business result improvements.
Once KPIs are clear, we meet the key people or “subject matter experts” (SMEs) who show us what the system does. They walk us through the main scenarios and explain how different functions are important for their business. We see how agents should use the system.
24 hours ago. We sit down again with unit managers and SMEs. Together, we draw an initial User Journey Map. This map represents the actions that agents are meant to take when processing an order. It helps us identify and close the gaps in understanding the process. 22 hours ago. We understand the process enough to prepare practical questions for user interviews. We write them down and are ready to gather information.
Back to today
Back to today. We spend our day next to a call center agent, documenting their daily actions in notes and video. At first, we listen and observe agent’s conversation with the customer. The agent has a CRM application open on her desktop. It contains all customer data and history. The phone rings and a CRM system notification flashes indicating an incoming call. In a few seconds, the screen changes to information about the caller. The agent gets a quick glimpse of the screen before taking the call.
She talks about what the customer wants to order, discusses prices, takes notes. She looks up more information in a paper notebook beside her keyboard. The call takes 3 minutes and finishes with a nice “thank you for your order, I will call you back if we have any questions.”
After the agent has finished her notes, she talks to us about the call. We need to understand what the customer was asking and what the agent will do next in the system. She starts typing in the data into the CRM application and explains each step she takes.
She goes through several screens to create a call activity, enter call details, note reasons for the call. Then she starts creating and configuring customer's order with even more details. It is slow to get the address information, so the agent goes for a glass of water. After the order is ready, there is a prompt on the screen to agree on a time when a service technician can arrive. The agent calls the customer again and offers one of the time slots. Finally, she marks the order as finalized. It took 15 minutes in the CRM system.
She answers the next call and goes through the same steps. Notes on the paper, hanging up, then entering data in CRM. While we wait for the system to get customer's address, we ask her what would make her work better. She responds that agents know the offers and information they need by heart. But as it is very slow to pick and choose all the required fields, agents take notes on paper first, to keep calls short. She shares that there have been several attempts to make the system faster, with not much success.
During the rest of the day, we observe similar situations with other agents. Some of them are trying to use the system during the call, but the waiting time frustrates the customers. Agents whom the manager calls more experienced and efficient all take notes on paper.
Next morning
Next morning. We sit down to recollect what we saw, go over our notes and watch our recorded video. As we draft a map of agents' performed activities, we add short descriptions of what we observed. We look for patterns in users' behavior and how they felt during each task. Our aim is to identify moments when they were the most frustrated and the most satisfied with the system
We start to generate ideas on what we could do to improve users' key moments with the system. We add these suggestions to our user behavior map.
We understand that we still need to collect some missing information. We send inquiries about the number of users and records to the clients' technical team. We also do short follow-up interviews with key users and agents.
In the afternoon. We review and analyze today's data, then finish our proposal. The presentation with suggested system improvements is ready.
Presentation day
Presentation day. We meet the management to present our findings. They review the User Journey Map we drew based on our interviews and observations. It differs from the intended use cases that they described at our first meeting. We show how agents use different shortcuts to work more efficiently and hit their KPIs. Some shortcuts are new to the management; others are known and discouraged. We also report agents' emotions during different parts of the Journey. It is clear which parts of the process enable and which limit agents' productivity.
Based on User Journey Map, we suggest practical improvements and possible ways to implement them. Several key tasks can become more intuitive if we simplify the functionality and align the interface with users' habits. There are also ways to improve order processing speed. We discuss each item with the management to make sure it adds business value.
Together we prioritize the improvements. By the end of the meeting, the management has a list of clear actions to improve agents' efficiency.
The result. And so, with one week of interviews, we have eliminated most guesswork. Every improvement suggestion comes from real-life data. Every item has a priority linked to expected business value. We love this research-based approach, and so do our clients.
And what about you? How do you decide which efficiency improvements are worth your budget?
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