Customers today use multiple channels -- including phone, email and Web chat -- to communicate with the companies they do business with. As a result, most call centers have evolved to become multi-channel contact centers. This means companies must train their call center agents to use these new forms of communication effectively - for customer service, sales and/or support.
Most companies now cross-train their agents to handle these multiple forms of communication. By blending the skill sets their agents possess, companies gain flexibility in call center staffing: If a majority of the agents are trained to use Web chat and email, in addition to phone, then there is less of a challenge in terms of meeting service levels for each channel type.
Skills-based routing rounds out the picture by ensuring that agents who are good at Web chats are getting Web chats -- and agents who are good at phone calls are getting phone calls. In addition, skills-based routing allows agents who normally take Web chats to take phone calls when there are no chats - and vice versa.
However, the truth remains that some agents are always going to be better at using certain channels than others. Some agents, for example, have good keyboard and typing skills, and thus are better suited to text-based communications, such a chat and email, while others innately possess better verbal skills, and thus are best suited for the phones.
As a result, call center managers must be able to schedule agents based on the strength of their skill sets. It's not just a matter of scheduling the proper number of agents to handle phone calls - managers must also be able to accurately schedule the correct number of agents to handle email and Web chat as well.
The key, therefore, is to be able to accurately forecast volume for each channel type. This way, call center managers can more accurately schedule the number of agents needed for each shift based on skill set (or skill strength) - yet retain the flexibility to use agents for multiple channels if needed. In other words, it gives call center managers the ability to build a team of agents with the desired balance of skills for any given shift.
The best of today's workforce management solutions for the call center -- which by the way are increasingly being delivered via the hosted or cloud model -- allow for integration with email and Web chat systems, in addition to the call center ACD. The software can then capture historical volume data from each these systems and automatically run algorithms on the data to forecast the volume for each channel type. Call center managers in turn can use these forecasts to arrive at more accurate schedules which reduce call center operating costs and improve customer service.
Patrick Barnard is a senior Web editor for TMCnet, covering call and contact center technologies. He also compiles and regularly contributes to TMCnet e-Newsletters in the areas of robotics, IT, M2M, OCS and customer interaction solutions. To read more of Patrick's articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Patrick Barnard