The natural progression for contact center operations has, in recent years, been focused on labor arbitrage opportunities with offshore and nearshore locations being in the vanguard of the quest to reduce cost to serve.
Today’s new wave of developments is focusing heavily on self-service and automation, as evidenced by Citibank, which recently announced a 42% increase in the number of mobile banking users over a 12 month period and a branch count fall of 21%*. Other banks have also seen their customer service associate headcount fall by 30% or greater, with more reductions in the pipeline.
This paradigm shift introduces new challenges for the nearshore customer service market.
As simpler transaction types, such as transaction queries, change of address, billing inquiries and the like are increasingly self-served or served through automated channels, the residual universe of customer contacts becomes, on average, more complex. This trend is further driven by the proliferation of ever more complicated product bundles, pricing packages, interconnected offers, and the internet of things (IoT).
The time required to train new contact center associates and for them to achieve proficiency is increasing. In a world where staff turnover rates frequently range up to and beyond 100% annually, especially in more heavily penetrated locations serving higher complexity customer interactions, this translates into a significant cost.
In my last article, I wrote about the constant drive to self-service in the world of customer experience management. As with all developments in dynamic markets, these sort of long-term structural changes throw up these unforeseen challenges for competitor and substitute offerings.
Self-service and virtual service solutions have yet to reach a stage of maturity where they offer a meaningful response at the more complex end of the service spectrum. The result is that contact center operators are increasingly leaning on tools, technology, and analytics to help them train staff, serve customers, and retain associates more effectively and efficiently.
Breaking Down the Stats Behind the Challenge
Despite the best efforts of training leaders, and the deployment of an array of e-learning tools and technology — which are a big aid to nearshore and offshore providers when it comes to helping their new hires understand product propositions and brand context — the disparity in performance between new hire associates and those who have greater tenure is often very marked.
Early associate life-cycle employee churn is a dominant feature of the industry, especially nearshore and offshore. With 20% to 25% of customer service associates often having fewer than 120 days’ tenure, the cost and customer service impacts associated with the new hire population burst out in every direction.
Average handle time (AHT) is often 30% to 50% greater among this group, and first call resolution (FCR) is lower as associates learn to navigate to the right solution for the customer’s needs. This is occurring in a world where one in four contacts fail to be resolved at the first attempt, and where customer effort increases, driving lower voice of the customer (VOC) scores with a knock on effect to loyalty and eventually enterprise profitability.
Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that speed to proficiency and FCR become increasing nearshore cost management priorities, especially when combined with the longer transaction time often associated with culturally service sensitive nearshore locations in parts of Latin America.
As a result, this challenge has spawned a proliferation of strategies, tools and technologies to help.
Example of the Collaborative Tools Available
From queues segmented by complexity, to graduated associate progression into more complex calls, or use of decision trees and advanced knowledge base systems or modulated training, to gradually immersing associates from training into production, efforts continue unabated.
As an example, one contact center technology company, Rapid Cyber Solutions, has developed an approach to the challenge with its Smart Team Communicator product. The tool allows agents to make use of subject matter experts (SMEs) when they run into difficulties through an electronic ‘hand raise’ to a highly experienced support colleague.
This is achieved through a combination of perpetual chat rooms, full collaboration and supervisor ‘glance monitoring’ enabling help to be on hand instantaneously either at the associates’ request or proactively generated by a supervisor.
With tools like this, SMEs can be located in the same nearshore contact center, in another local center, onshore or even working from home, allowing flexible and efficient resourcing of these valuable ‘super-agent’ resources.
Deployment of technology in this way can enable a virtual fusion of nearshore agents with more experienced onshore subject matter experts to achieve faster resolution, without the need to transfer the call with the attendant customer experience and cost impact.
Crucially, data analytics from each ‘electronic hand raise’ provides insight into the upstream drivers of more difficult to handle calls, allowing a real-time feedback loop to fix the root causes, whether they be inaccurate processes, inadequate training, tools deficiencies, confusing customer communication, or poor associate performance.
Rahul Jindal, CTO of Rapid Cyber told me that a cable client has been using to tool to drive AHT down in new hire groups by up to 10%, VOC up by 8%, and FCR up by as much as 5% for some more complex call types.
A Beneficial Fusion of Technology and Service
The long term benefits of applying data analytics insights from approaches such as these are the bigger win, enabling the root cause obstacles to FCR to be addressed. This means fewer calls initiated and new hire training targeted to ensure more time is spent on calls that are tougher to resolve first time, as well as more effective outlier management and targeted quality assurance monitoring.
Increasingly, nearshore players will need to bring together the fusion of technology and data analytics to address the challenge of speed to competence.
Delivering outstanding customer service remains a never ending quest. As with so many areas of our lives, technology can and will disrupt the current order of things and nearshore is not immune. Early adoption of a fusion of technology and analytics to drive early agent proficiency is one strong response to help maintain the potency of the nearshore proposition.
*Citi Global Consumer Banking Report July 2017