Friday, December 09, 2005

Idea Brianstorm Challenge

We're going to be setting up a web-based contest where users can submit business ideas and win a chance to see it through to development and taken to market. We have the resources, skill sets, and structure to launch a successful new venture. We're looking for creative ideas that are fun, smart, and launch-able.

The ideas should focus on the call center market, but do not necessarily need to be related to contact center quality assurance.

This will be formally introduced in the coming weeks, but if you want to get a heads up, you can simply fill out the email signup form on the right -->

Friday, December 02, 2005

Call Center Glossary

There is a very good glossary out there on the web at:

Here are some snippets:

Call. Also called Transaction and Customer Contact. A term referring to telephone calls, video calls, Web calls and other types of contacts.

Call Blending. Combining traditionally separate inbound and outbound agent groups into one group of agents responsible for handling both inbound and outbound contacts. A system that is capable of call blending automatically puts agents who are making outbound calls into the inbound mode and vice versa, as necessitated by the incoming call load.

Call By Call Routing. The process of routing each call to the optimum destination according to real-time conditions. See Percent Allocation and Network Inter-flow.

Call Center. An umbrella term that generally refers to reservations centers, help desks, information lines or customer service centers, regardless of how they are organized or what types of transactions they handle. The term is being challenged by many, because calls are just one type of transaction and the word center doesnÍt accurately depict the many multi-site environments.

Call Control Variables. The set of criteria the ACD uses to process calls. Examples include routing criteria, overflow parameters, recorded announcements and timing thresholds.

Call Detail Recording. Data on each call, captured and stored by the ACD. Can include trunk used, time in queue, call duration, agent who handled the call, number dialed (for outgoing), and other information.

Call Forcing. An ACD feature that automatically delivers calls to agents who are available and ready to take calls. They hear a notification that the call has arrived (e.g. a beep tone), but do not have to press a button to answer the call.

Call Load. Also referred to as Work Load. Call Load is the product of (Average Talk Time + Average After-Call Work) x call volume, for a given period.

Caller ID. See Automatic Number Identification.

Caller-Entered Digits (CED). Digits callers enter using their telephone keypads. The ACD, VRU, or network can prompt for CEDs.

Calling Line Identity (CLI). See Automatic Number Identification.

Calls In Queue. A real-time report that refers to the number of calls received by the ACD system but not yet connected to an agent.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Thanksgiving Wishes

Here's wishing everyone's family, co-workers and friends a safe and bountiful thanksgiving holiday.

With the holidays coming up, here are a few worthy charities if you'll consider making someone's season bright:

American Cancer Society

Toys for Tots

March of Dimes

Red Cross

Foodshare Connecticut

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Coordinated Systems, Inc. releases new tool for call center managers

Coordinated Systems, Inc. of East Hartford, CT has developed and releaseds a new web-based wizard that helps call center managers configure the proper quality assurance and recording solution, based on several key criteria:

The flash-based wizard is available here:
Build your call center solution

The wizard can be used to configure an RFP for a quality assurance and call center recording solution.

The new IM marketplace

Ever since Ebay bought Skype, the instant messenger and VOIP industries have taken center stage in the blogosphere and tech news world.

Many thought Ebay simply use Skype as a means of allowing Ebay customers to communicate during their transactions, but it appears that Ebay is going to promtoe Skype as the primary VOIP tool for businesses and consumers. It's going to be a standalone communications business.

How will Google react? Google has high hopes for it's Google Talk as an instant messenger / VOIP player, but it already trails AIM and Yahoo Messenger by several million users. Now it is a tremendous uphill battle for them to catch Skype. Google has since revealed plans to debut an Ebay/ type system where users can post free classifieds online.

A new marketplace is also emerging for IM products - add ons that promise extended functionality, such as Mercado's Music Search for Google Talk.

As millions of teens use Instant Messaging as their preferred means of communication, they will certainly want to continue doing so when they enter the work force. Look for Instant Messaging with VOIP to become the main platform for communication within the next five years.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Easing the fear of Big Brother

The Hartford Courant call center eases the fear of big brother
When Claudette Azevado started as a call center manager at the Hartford Courant, one of her first tasks was to implement a call center quality assurance (qa) software solution. The new software would record calls and enable supervisors to evaluate the calls based on predefined criteria. Recording incoming and outgoing calls within the call center is pretty standard fare. Who has not heard "this call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes"? While at first it sounds like a qa initiative that would not be met with much trepidation, often it can make employees uneasy, since the raw nature of call recording in the past has been likened to eavesdropping, and in essence, "Big Brother".

"Big Brother" refers to the feeling of having everything monitored - email, phone calls, chats, etc. It's agreed that most people do not want to be "bugged" unless it's a case of national security. In most cases, employees accept being monitored, whether it is in a side-by- side coaching effort, or recording. The "Big Brother" concern may still be there, however. Implementing a call center qa solution should not elevate these concerns. Claudette realized that it is up to the employer to present this new procedural change in a manner that is both positive and non-intrusive. If she could get her call center agents to buy into the initiative, understanding that it is going to improve their overall performance, then and only then would they be successful.

Her first task at hand was to write up an outline of the reasons behind implementing the call recording system. She documented her main objectives as "rolling out the call recording system in a positive manner" and "to identify ways in which she could utilize Virtual Observer" (the call center recording solution she chose) "to enhance business objectives" (improve call quality, customer retention, and provide for more training opportunities).

Before implementing Virtual Observer, agents were monitored on a side-by-side basis, or remotely via a supervisor listening in on a live call. Claudette knew that by using a call recording system, many more calls could be reviewed in a much more efficient manner. It would also allow the agents to hear their own calls so they could evaluate their own voice tone and professionalism.

Her strategy for the roll out was three fold: 1) introduce the concept, 2) demonstrate and 3) educate. She called this program the "CARE" program - "We listen because we care" with CARE being an acronym for - Coaching Opportunities, Active Listening, Relationship Building, and Encouraging Improvement.

She would stress the "magic of technology" and decorate the conference room with balloons and signs. Her goal was to make this into an event to get everyone pumped up and on the same page. One of the best ideas was to record the both the supervisors and herself fielding calls, and then allowing the agents to grade them. The agents really enjoyed the opportunity to evaluate the management team.

The recorded customer interactions would include opportunities for upsells, stops/saves, diffusing irate customers and other scenarios. Employees were able to view firsthand how to score a call, and as deficiencies were identified, how training can help to achieve improvement.

Claudette's program planning also entailed writing a frequently asked questions guide for the agents, creating some visuals to help introduce the concept, sending formal invites to each agent, and creating a development plan for them.

The Courant's call center agents were also required to sign off on being recorded. Claudette made sure that they knew exactly how many times they would be recorded. Getting employees to accept the program and sign off on it is paramount to the program's success. She communicated call recording guidelines, and gave representatives the opportunity to have their best calls, the ones that turn "transactions into relationships," saved for future training.

When asked if she considered the implementation program a success, she responded "Absolutely. The program was received very well. The employees appreciated the fact that we made it fun. They also liked the fact that the supervisors recorded themselves fielding calls and allowed the agents to evaluate and score the calls. They had prizes, food, and balloons. It was a true event."

Claudette added that "Positive communication is critical. Our taking the time to explain the "why" behind Virtual Observer (in a fun way) made the reps much more receptive to being recorded and relieved the "fear factor." It really helped them understand that this was truly a development tool, which was good for them as well as our customers."

When asked if she thought this program helped reduce the fear of big brother, she answered a resounding "yes". She agreed that implementing Virtual Observer, along with other creative motivational programs, has helped her call center create more upsells, saves, and overall performance improvement.

She also uses Virtual Observer after hiring a new employee to assist in their training' - "in fact I personally just had a group of new hires listen and score calls. It really helps them understand what is expected." She added that one of the best features in VO is the ability to pause a recorded call and comment on techniques that work along with opportunities.

Virtual Observer was implemented on a phased basis, not only in Claudette's circulation department, but also in the newspaper's classified department. The first phase included standard random sample recording and evaluation. Phase two introduced synchronized screen capture enterprise wide. Claudette's next phase will add additional recording methods to the Virtual Observer solution. Currently she records on a block of time basis, and she wants to add recording on demand, as well as the Virtual Observer E-learning and Content Delivery module, which will allow her to automate the distribution of relevant training content to employees based on evaluations.

In retrospect, Claudette states "the entire process of using Virtual Observer has been a wonderful success, and was remarkably affordable as well. We look forward to continued performance gains."

The Hartford Courant is the nation's largest continuously published newspaper. Claudette Azevedo is the circulation department's Customer CARE Manager.

Virtual Observer is a leading call center quality assurance solution. Virtual Observer is developed and sold by Coordinated Systems, Inc., of East Hartford, CT and through a channel of value added resellers.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Virtual Observations # 1

Virtual Observations - a newsletter featuring call center tips, strategies, and news, brought to you by Coordinated Systems, Inc.

Best Practices - Customer Service
Have your employees listen to themselves on recorded call playbacks. Often, they'll be amazed at what they sound like. "I said whaaaat?"

Call Center Knowledge Share
In this section, we will share tips and techniques used by successful call center managers. This month we look at "Calibration" techniques:
From - "Calibration" refers to the adjustment of the correct value of a reading by comparison to a standard. To achieve better calibration among call center agent supervisors, you first need to identify who should be participating in your calibration program. Define all of the critical evaluation components. Calculate your standard deviation and set realistic deviation goals. One basic technique involves having multiple supervisors grade the same recorded sets of calls. Seeing the variation in scoring may lead you to tweak the weight of certain scoring criteria. Watching this over multiple calls will lead you to view some trends. Doing this again in several months will lead you to see how your training programs have affected scoring. You can then adjust the scoring methodology accordingly. You can also compare your scoring criteria with that of an identical industry call center, and share knowledge to make mutual performance gains. If you have any detailed calibration techniques that you would like to share, please submit them here for future publication on our blog.

Tips for Improving customer service performance
Schedule a benchmarking session with other call centers. Share tips, experiences and metrics. Implement any process changes that may be valuable. Track the change in performance. Share the improvements with your partner call center. You can also make a list of performance deficiencies and see if the other call center has addressed them. If not, maybe the two organizations can collaborate on solutions for common problems.

Call issues that occur and the resolutions that solve them
Every call center team desires "first call resolution" - that's a given. First call resolution, as it is defined, means addressing the customer's need during the first call and eliminating the need for a second call. Don't just give the customers an answer that will get them off the phone - try and solve their issues so that they remain a loyal customer - or even better, an evangelist - someone willing to shout the benefits of working with your company - to everyone they know.

Common Acronyms:
ACD: Automatic Call Distribution.
From; ACD distributes incoming calls to a specific group of terminals that agents use. It is often part of a computer telephony integration system. ACD systems are quite often found in companies who handle a lot of incoming phone calls and where the caller has no specific need to talk to a certain person, but wants to talk to a person who is able to talk to him at the earliest opportunity. Routing incoming calls is the task of the ACD system. The system consists of hardware for the terminals and switches, phonelines, and software for the routing strategy. The routing strategy is a rule based set of instructions that tells the ACD how calls are handled inside the system. Most of the time this will be a set that determines the best available employee for a certain incoming call. To help make this match, extra variables are taken into account, most often to find out the reason why the customer is calling. Sometimes the caller's caller ID or ANI is used, more often a simple IVR is used to just ask for the reason. ACD servers can cost anywhere between a few thousand dollars to close to the millions of dollars for a very large call center handling thousands of calls per day.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Ineffective Call Centers Need Performance Management


Advances in technology, tools and an understanding of business processes all lead to a simple statement: You can make your contact center more effective and a more valuable contributor to the top and bottom line.

Ventana Research believes organizations can improve the operational performance of their contact centers by aligning the agents, the processes and systems being used to a common set of business-driven goals. To achieve this, organizations should follow a three-step process we call Understand, Optimize and Align.

To Understand, business managers acquire baseline information that can be used to measure their processes both currently and historically. To Optimize, they employ models and algorithms to create forecasts and plans that can change the way they view the contact center. To Align, they establish procedures for setting goals, scoring, notifying and automating the performance management process.

Managing operational performance in a contact center begins with determining what to measure, how to extract the data from which to derive the measures and how to apply the measures to improve performance.

What to Measure
As regards what to measure and how to find data, most contact centers are managed tactically, focusing on transactional throughput. This approach is typified by the wallboards that display supposed key performance indicators, such as number of calls in each queue, number of calls processed today and average length of call. However, these numbers, taken directly from the telephone switching equipment, really indicate only the efficiency of the center, not its effectiveness in resolving the customers’ for more

Ineffective Call Centers Need Performance Management
VP & Research Director at Ventana Research

Friday, October 21, 2005

Call Center Chaos

These posts came in anonymously, and I debated posting them, but they are too funny to refuse:

"I am a little bit fed up. I called in to one of the major soft drink companies to complain that every bottle I had purchased of their product was completely flat. The customer service person politely suggested I try their main competitor to see if their soda was flat as well. I was baffled by that response..."

-- if that is not a testament to quality assurance and call recording, I don't know what is. Well, maybe this next one:

"I've been a subscriber to this magazine for fifteen years. It was a Christmas present and I just kept paying the renewal bills because they were pretty nominal. I never read the damn magazine. Well, this year I decided to just call and cancel the subscripttion. They had no record of my ever being a customer. She said I might be in the crm system, but she didn't have access to that particular database. She apologized and said she had no way to unsubscribe me. Yhen she came up with this brilliant idea to add me as a new subscriber, and then cancel my account, and when the two databases are synchronized, the newer record would overwrite the older. Exasperated, I said ok. Now my pile of unread mags is twice as high."

-- This one seems like more of an IT issue than a call center issue...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Preparing for holiday and disaster call spikes

Depending on what type of call center you are, you may experience spikes in call traffic during the upcoming holiday season (yes, christmas is less than two months away...). Catalog companies are ready for this and are typically staffed adequately.

What if your call center is an Insurance company and the geographic region you serve is hit with a natural disaster such as New Orleans? Nothing can prepare you for the surge in calls in that case. Or is that true? Insurance companies must use predictive software to determine claim potential. Figure they have a few days' notice. They can probably bring in some temps to help answer the calls. It would be great to hear from some call center managers who went through the New Orleans experience - maybe they could share their planning secrets.

One thing we know for sure is that the combination of three software solutions help to make planning much easier: workforce management, CTI Software such as SimpliCiti and call recording and quality assurance solutions. They combine to provide a balanced, integrated, converged call center solution.

You can never really be prepared for a situation like New Orleans. You CAN be prepared for almost everything else.

Click here to donate to Red Cross Hurricane Relief

Click here for comprehensive Hurricane Links and Resources

Friday, September 30, 2005

Customer service training tips

These customer service tips are suggestions submitted to me by readers for inclusion in the Virtual Observations newsletter...let me know what you think:

- Schedule a benchmarking session with other call centers. Share tips, experiences and metrics. Implement any process changes that may be valuable. Track the change in performance. Share the improvements with your partner call center. You can also make a list of performance deficiencies and see if the other call center has addressed them. If not, maybe the two organizations can collaborate on solutions for common problems.

- Have your employees listen to themselves on recorded call playbacks. Often, they'll be amazed at what they sound like. “I said whaaaat?”

Monday, September 19, 2005

Why a hosted on-demand CRM solution makes sense

* Organizes data for you and makes it easy to locate critical information
* Access info securely from home, road, anywhere
* Allows you to truly leverage the life time value of your customer base
* Nothing falls through the cracks
* No synchronization headaches
* All customer related info is in the same place
* Generate scheduled, automated communications with segmented groups like "current customers", "partners", "non-supported customers"
* Automatically feed new account or prospect info directly from website to crm, saving keystrokes
* Customers can update info automatically from the web to crm, so you always have the most accurate billing information
* Tasks can be prioritized, assigned, shared and reported, all tied to a customer account or contact record
* Reports that have been manually created and updated can now be run automatically to save time
* A Hosted CRM Solution requires little training and is up in less than a day
* Hosted CRM Solutions add functionality as the market demands it, with no technical requirements on our end for updating, backing up, installing, etc.

Anyone have any more?

On demand crm applications we've looked at:


On demand crm applications found on Google:

CRM Software: Customer Relationship Management On Demand | Siebel Siebel CRM OnDemand is a hosted CRM offering delivered over the Web and accessible from an Internet browser.

Salesnet | Salesnet Launches Industry’s First Official Development ...

CRM software solutions - CRM ASP software - Uptilt hosted CRM software solutions for Global 2000 and middle market companies.

CRM as a service - Express Computer

Press Releases - NetSuite Launches NetSuite CRM+

Web based CRM software, CRM solution software and CRM software online

Monday, September 12, 2005

A bad customer experience will yield bad results

This call center experience was posted:

"The other day I called into a company's sales line to place an order for an item that I had seen advertised in a national magazine. The ad was very clear in explaining the two ways to place an order. One way was to use their website and the other was to place a call on their toll free number. I chose to place the order on the toll free number because I had questions about the item and I could not find answers that satisfied me on the website.

Although the questions I had were important to me they had no bearing on my decision to place my order, which I intended to do. Now I know that this company had to have spent a lot of money on that advertisement with the purpose of getting people to give them business. Now, normally when first connected there is a notification of recording for customer assurance, which I heard none of, but they did tell me there was a survey at the end of my call which they would like me to partake. When I reached a representative, much to my disappointment and should be to the company's mortification was that that call resulted in my not only deciding to not place my order but to go to their competition and buy a similar item for more money.

The reason for this change was due to the total lack of knowledge that the representative had about the item. Then to make things worse was the rudeness I encountered from them when I politely made clear my confusion to information they were telling me which contradicted what they had told me previously when we first started our conversation.

Because I am in sales myself I did recognize that the person was trying to recoup at the end of the call, but it was too late as I had already been turned off to them and just wanted to get off the phone. Again, they did have the survey attached to the end of the call as explained when I first connected to them, but by now I was too frustrated and would not give them the satisfaction to participate.

The bottom line here is a company that spent a lot of money to get me to call them, and because it was my first encounter to do business with them, they failed miserably by losing me completely as a customer and to make matters worse they don't even know it, let alone why. Plus to compound things further, I've told a lot of friends about my experience, and this is not a good thing for them. The number one rule in business is that you need to listen to your customers. They should have been listening."

The post was submitted by a contributor to

"Virtual" Customer Service

Came across this intriguing virtual customer service company in the latest issue of Business 2.0 magazine:

Company Name: Apptera


Concept: They eliminate phone-tree hell for thousands of midsize and small businesses. If you've bought Amtrak tickets over the phone, then you know "Julie," the virtual customer-service rep who didn't put you on hold, understood everything you said, and helped you book your tickets faster than you could have done it online. Unfortunately, Julie is a rarity in phone-based customer service, because the speech-recognition and transaction software that makes her so responsive costs more than most small companies can afford. Now comes Apptera, with the first off-the-shelf application that makes it possible to install a "Julie" at a fraction of the cost.

The article claims the system is less than $ 200k. Amtraks' "Julie" system reportedly cost more than a million dollars to implement.

I couldn't find any customer references on their site to try them out with.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Integrating web chat into QA Programs

Most of the larger call center quality assurance software programs seem to have all of the customer experiences covered. Phone, Email, and Web chat interactions are all logged, reviewed, and archived.

Web chat, or instant messaging has become an expected component of the customer service experience. Kids in college and high school IM more than they talk on their phones, and they will expect to do the same in the professional world once they join the work force.

Europeans have embraced text messaging on cell phones, and Google has opened up a myriad of services for these people - for example, send Google a text message and receive, in seconds, a Google answer to your query.

I'm not saying that customers will become huge text message support users, but as more people use their mobile phones for instant messaging, they just might.

I am not sure whether IM companies are offering conversation recording functionality, but I am sure they will. Likewise, call recording software will need to include this capability in the near future.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Call Center Wiki

A Wiki is an open encyclopedia, meaning anyone can contribute it or reuse the content. Tens of thousands of people have contributed to the Wikipedia, which is extremely useful and you can certainly get lost in it. For purposes of this blog, I found an entry in there under "call center". The content that follows is reprinted here under open license of the Wikipedia. It's amazing:

Call Centre:

A call centre (Commonwealth English) or call center (AmE) is a centralized office of a company that answers incoming telephone calls from customers or that makes outgoing telephone calls to customers (telemarketing). Such an office may also respond to letters, faxes, e-mails and similar written correspondence. However the term contact centre (Commonwealth English) or contact center (AmE) is often applied when such multiple functions are blended in one office.

Call centres are generally set up as large rooms, with work stations that include a computer, a telephone set (or headset) hooked into a large telecom switch and one or more supervisor stations. It may stand by itself or be linked with other centres. It may also be linked to a corporate computer network, including main frames, microcomputers and LANs. Increasingly, the voice and data pathways into the centre are linked through a set of new technologies called computer telephony integration (CTI).

Most major businesses use call centres to interact with their customers. Examples include utility companies, mail order catalogue firms, and customer support for computer hardware and software. Some businesses even service internal functions though call centres. Examples include help desks and sales support.

Mathematical theory
Queuing theory mathematics can be used to demonstrate that a single large call centre is more effective at answering calls than several smaller centres. The most dramatic improvements come when a large number of offices are centralised.

The mathematical problems encountered in a call centre are generally statistical in nature and revolve around the probability that an arriving call will be answered by an available and appropriately trained person. Forecasting the call arrival rates and then scheduling the number of staff required on duty at particular times of the day are challenging problems faced by most call centre managers.


The centralised approach aims to rationalise the company's operations and reduce costs, whilst producing a standard, branded, front to the world. The approach naturally lends itself to large companies with a large, distributed customer base. Owing to the size of companies and their customer bases, these offices are often very large, such as converted warehouses.

Personnel management
Centralised offices means that large numbers of workers can be managed and controlled by a relatively small number of managers and support staff. They are often supported by computer technology that manages, measures and monitors the performance and activities of the workers. Call centre staff are some of the most heavily monitored and tracked groups of workers in the world.

Reporting and monitoring in a call centre can be broken down into four major categories. These are real time reporting, historical reporting, quality monitoring and work force management. The types of information collected for a group of call centre agents are inclusive of: agents logged in, agents ready to take calls, agents available to take calls, agents in wrap up mode, average call duration, average call durtion including wrap-up time, longest duration agent available, longest duration call in queue, number of calls in queue, number of calls offered, number of calls abandoned, average speed to answer, average speed to abandoned and service level (the percentage of calls answered in under a certain time period).

Many call centres use work force management software, which is software that uses historical information coupled with projected need to generate automated schedules that will provide the correct mixture of staff with the correct skills necessary to service customers.

Normally, personnel costs are the most significant expense of a call centre operation and even seemingly small inefficiencies can have significant cost issues. This is one of the major driving factors of outsourcing in the call centre industry.

Inadequate computer systems can mean staff take one or two seconds longer than necessary to process a transaction. This can often be quantified in staff cost terms. This is often used as a driving factor in any business case to justify a complete system upgrade or replacement. For several factors, including the effeciency of the call centre, level of computer and telecom support that may be adequate for staff in a typical branch office may prove totally inadequate in a call centre.

Call Centres use a wide variety of different technologies to allow them to manage the large volumes of work that need to be managed by the call centre. These technogies ensure that agents are kept as productive as possible, and that calls are queued and processed as quickly as possible according to the desired levels of service.

These include ;

ACD (automatic call distribution)
Agent Performance Analytics
BTTC (best time to call)/ Outbound Call Optimization
IVR (interactive voice response)
CTI (computer telephony integration)
Enterprise Campaign Management
Outbound predictive dialer
CRM (customer relationship management)
CIM (customer interaction management)
Email Management
Chat and Web Collaboration
Desktop Scripting Solutions
TTS (text to speech)
WFM (workforce management)
Voice Analysis
Voice Recognition

Call centre dynamics
Types of calls are often divided into outbound and inbound. Inbound calls are calls that are initiated by the customer to obtain information, report a malfunction or ask for help. This is substantially different from outbound calls where the agent initiates the call to a customer mostly with the aim to sell a product or a service to that customer.

The staff of a call centre that is focused on support of a product is often organized into a mult-tier support model, with the first tier being largely unskilled workers who are trained to resolve issues using a simple script. If the first tier is unable to resolve an issue the issue is escalated to a more highly skilled second tier. In some cases, there may be three or more tiers of support. Typically the third tier of support is the engineers or developers of the product.

Call centres have their critics as well. Some critics argue that the work atmosphere in such an environment is de-humanising. Others point to the low rates of pay and restrictive working practices of some employers. There has been much controversy over such things as restricting the amount of time that an employee can spend in the toilet. Furthermore, call centres have been the subject of complaints by callers who find the staff often do not have enough skill or authority to resolve problems.

Owing to the highly technological nature of the operations in such offices, the close monitoring of staff activities is easy and widespread. This can be argued to be beneficial, to enable the company to better plan the workload and time of its employees. Some people have argued that such close monitoring breaches human rights to privacy. Yet another argument is that close monitoring and measurement by quantitative metrics can be counterproductive in that it can lead to poor customer service and a poor image of the company.

Many call centres in the UK have been built in areas that are depressed economically. This means that the companies get cheap land and labour, and can often benefit from grants to encourage them to improve employment in a given area. There has also been a trend to move call centres to India, where there is a large pool of cheap English-speaking labour. This phenomenon has led to media reports of poor telephone connections and operators with insufficient local knowledge to do their job. But, call centres in India may be more professionally managed than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. Whereas a typical call centre employee in the developed world may be a high school drop out, the typical employee in an Indian call centre is a graduate.

Another popular call centre site is the Philippines. Owing to its abundant English speakers that are college graduates and Americanized when it comes to accent in culture. The Philippines was an American colony for almost 50 years. Filipinos are said to be the best outsourcing site outside North America since the accent is nearer to that of American Consumers.

Canada is also a popular call centre site, with the relatively low Canadian dollar and low telecommunication rates. SITEL Corporation, which operates call centres in Ottawa and St. Catharines, Ontario is one such company. Minacs is a good example of a Canadian owned and operated call centre that exploits the Canadian U.S. dollar exchange rate to its advantage.So is also Clientlogic, operating around the world.

Around the world, there are a number of professional organisations forming to develop and promote call centre best practice management and operation, to overcome the negative aspects of a call centre.

Management of call centres
Management of call centres involves balancing the requirements of cost effectiveness and service. Callers do not wish to wait in exorbitantly long queues until they can be helped and so management must provide sufficient staff and inbound capacity to ensure that the quality of service is maintained. However, staff costs generally form more than half the cost of running a call centre and so management must minimise the number of staff present.

To perform this balancing act, call centre managers make use of demand estimation, Telecommunication forecasting and dimensioning techniques to determine the level of staff required at any time. Managers must take into account staff tea and lunch breaks and must determine the number of agents required on duty at any one time.

Forecasting demand
Forecasting results are vital in making management decisions in call centres. Forecasting methods rely on data acquired from various sources including historical data, trend data and so on. Forecasting methods must predict the traffic intensity within the call centre in quarter hour increments and these results must be converted to staffing rosters. Special attention must be paid to the busy hour, i.e. those two half hour periods during a day when traffic intensity is at its highest. Forecasting methods can also be used to pre-empt a situation where equipment needs to be upgraded as traffic intensity has exceeded the maximum capacity of the call centre.

Call centre performance
There are many standard traffic measurements that can be performed on a call centre to determine its performance levels. However, the most important performance measures are:

The average delay a caller may experience whilst waiting in a queue
The mean conversation time, otherwise referred to as Average Talk Time (ATT)
The mean dealing time, otherwise referred to as Average Handling Time (equal to ATT plus wrap up time)
The percentage calls answered within a determined time frame (referred to as a Service Level or SL%)

Refinements of call centres
There are many refinements to the generic call centre model. Each refinement helps increase the efficiency of the call centre thereby allowing management to make better decisions involving economy and service.

The following list contains some examples of call centre refinements:

Predictive Dialling – Computer software attempts to predict the time taken for an agent to help a caller. The software begins dialling another caller before the agent has finished the previous call. If the agent isn’t finished with the current call before dialling is completed, the software doesn’t dial the final digit.

Multi-Skilled Staff – In any call centre, there will be members of staff that will be more skilled in areas than others. A Voice Response Unit can be used to allow the caller to select the reason for his call. Management software, called an Automatic Call Distributor, must then be used to route calls to the appropriate agent. Alternatively, it has been found that a mix of general and specialist agent creates a good balance.

Queuing Systems – The selection of a queuing system type is a very important decision in a call centre as it determines the level of quality of service. Queueing systems in call centres are usually described as M/M/N type queues where N is the number of agents. The preferred method of queuing is a FIFO (First In First Out) model, as it causes minimum delay to callers.

Prioritisation of Callers – Classification of callers according to priority is a very important refinement. Detecting emergency calls or callers that are reattempting to contact a call centre are examples of callers that could be given a higher priority.

Automatic Number Identification – This allows agents to determine who is calling before they answer the call. Greeting a caller by name and obtaining his/her information in advance adds to the quality of service and helps decrease the conversation time.

...even more info is available on the Wikipedia. Not only should you browse, but you should contribute!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Workforce Optimization Software

One market segment that is gaining increasing visibility and importance in the call center world is the workforce optimization software industry.

"Workforce optimization" is defined as a process implementation that enhances, measures, tracks, and reports individual and group performance relative to established performance targets.

I've researched some of the top Workforce Optimization search results on Google. Here are some of the companies that show up in the top 100. This blog is not advocating any particular companies - but we'd be interested in hearing your comments on any of these or any other companies you've run into:

Blue Pumpkin Software, Inc. Provides workforce management, forecasting, planning, and employee scheduling solutions.

Circadian Technologies - Optimizing the 24/7 workforce via schueduling and training. Shift work schedules and lifestyle education to minimize risk and decrease costs.

IEX Corporation - Workforce Management and Performance Optimization Software solutions for call centers, telecommunications carriers and private networks operators.

GMT - Workforce Management Software

Ptel Inc - Call Center and Workforce Optimization Solutions

Exametric, Inc. - Workforce Management and Optimization Software

Kronos - Workforce Optimization

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A positive follow up on call center surveys...

"No, I have never been offered the chance to participate in a questionnaire relating to contact with a call centre. However, I did design and implement one when I was running the quality assurance for a new telecoms provider. We found that response rate was good and that people generally liked to be asked their opinion on matters relating to the call. It was a worthwhile exercise to do as we got some excellent feedback and ideas for future development."

- Richard Drozda, occupational psychologist specialising in technology and organisational evaluation, processes and best practice in all areas including Recruitment, Training, Development, Management, Culture, Environment, Facilities, Job Satisfaction, Staff Attrition and Organisational Behaviour.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

CRM company directory

We're going to be building a directory of CRM companies that will be a simple guide. A Google search would normally uncover loads of irrelevant sites, and our list will be pure CRM. Here's a preview of our CRM Directory:

CRM Solutions -
I've used and it is an incredible display of using the power of the web to provide an easy to use, affordable, server side solution



We used to use ACT! back in the day. Synching was a nightmare, everyone had copies of ACT! installed on their PCs and then in order to share the latest data, you had to synchronize across your nightmare. Have to check them out and see if they're web based yet -- they'd better be!






Microsoft CRM
This solution was a nightmare. It was clunky, confusing and as of Spring 2005, there was no easy to use search functionality. If you did not spend thousands of dollars extending and customizing, it would be unusable. Of course, Microsoft will probably smarten up and make it web based and superior at some point.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Call Center Phone Surveys... people really answer them? I took a quick informal poll of some colleagues and it seemed like the prevailing answer was "no". Other responses included:

- When I am really upset or extremely happy
- If I have time
- If I admire the company

Many call centers employ these interactive surveys in order to gather user data and gain some information about their own services and products. I searched the web for "call center survey software" and found the following company URLS

- VOXCO - The world-class specialist in survey software and ...

- Survey software, online survey software - Confirmit

- EasyIVR Automated Phone Survey Applications using IVR Survey ...

- Automated Phone Survey Software and IVR Survey Systems and Service

These software companies have not been reviewed and are not endorsed, but come up high in a relevancy search.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Call Center MergerMania Runnin' Wild

Consolidation in the Call Center Software Market

Company mergers, workforce optimization, interoperability and other trends might seem to be reducing the options for buyers of call center products.

By Tracey Schelmetic
Editorial Director, CUSTOMER INTER@CTION Solutions

Unless you’ve been too distracted lately in your breathless anticipation of the next Harry Potter book, you’ll have noticed that the call center software market appears to be shrinking faster than Karl Rove’s career opportunities. What we’re seeing is analogous to a hundred drops of mercury slowly but surely merging into a few large blobs. The Concerto/Aspect merger eclipsed the not-so-long ago Witness/Blue Pumpkin merger (not to be confused with the acquisition of Eyretel by Witness.) Then, there’s the still-fairly-recent merger of etalk and Autonomy. Those of us who tend to be slow on the uptake are still digesting the Concerto takeover of Rockwell FirstPoint Contact back in September. Then, of course, there are rumors about that company that begins with an “S”, has six letters and ends with a sound like “uhl.”

Hand-in-hand with, or maybe as a result of, the mergers of companies offering complementary call center software is the debut of “workforce optimization,” a mélange of workforce management, e-learning, call recording and monitoring, performance management, quality management and customer feedback systems. Some of these mergers have organically caused the rise of workforce optimization.

Maybe this “merger fever” sounds familiar. It should. Here’s an article written by Rich Tehrani back in 1998 called “Merger Fever: For Better Or Worse”. In that article, Rich wondered whether the circa 1998 mergers of smaller companies into larger companies were good for the marketplace. Product interoperability at that time was practically non-existent, so when companies combined products, this was either a good thing (if you were interested in using both products) or a bad thing (if you wanted only one of the products).

Nowadays, most call center software products seem to be touted as working well with all other call center products. (In reality, this seamless interoperability may be a tad more imperfect than the brochures lead us to believe.)

The lesson we can take from reading Rich’s 1998 article is that we’ve been in this position before. You don’t have to go very far backwards in time to remember when there were no complete call-center-in-a-box products. Everything was free-standing: your ACD, your IVR, your dialer, your e-mail management, your multiple databases. “Interoperability” meant that it took less than 18 months to integrate — sort of — any two of these products together.

At the same time as these more traditional companies are merging their functionalities together, we’re seeing the rise in much more flexible call center processes…hosted and even open-source solutions. These kinds of products have been a godsend to the SMB market…small call center organizations that could never hope to be able to purchase from Siebel, PeopleSoft or any of the other behemoths. Incidentally, the SMB market (which can be defined as anything under 100 seats, or even under 50 seats, depending on whom you talk to) is growing fast…at faster rates than the huge enterprise customer contact organizations.

So does it make sense to create more behemoths?

Let’s hope that today’s behemoths are a different breed of giant company. Product modularity seems to be the norm nowadays, allowing companies to pick and choose which component they want, delivered however they want: premise-based, hosted, or some combination in-between. As always new products and product categories will emerge, expanding the call center software market back outward again, only to have it contract again within another five to seven years.

‘Tis the way of the universe.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Disabled Staffers Check Customer Service

- from

It was late 1999 when Mike Schrider of Shamong thought up a way to combine his experience as an executive for a call-center company with the needs he saw as a volunteer for a state disability facility.

A company that put these physically disabled people to work and filled a growing need in the ever-expanding customer service industry would also satisfy his recurring yearning to start a new business.

"Before, the call centers were monitoring their own calls and it was sort of like the fox watching the hen house," Schrider said. "So this was like putting two and two together. Rather than sending these kinds of jobs to Canada and India, we can give these other folks a job right here in the U.S."

By early 2000, Schrider had scrounged together hundreds of thousands of dollars and founded the company J.Lodge - named after a paralyzed patient he'd encountered in the hospital. He got an office in Hammonton and set up shop with just him and his wife.

J.Lodge's initial mission was twofold: Provide customer service for corporations and also check the quality of that service internally. The fuel to run the business would be a largely untapped labor pool, the disabled. Their business, which centered on outsourcing basic call-center services, would span industries and countries.... Read the full story

Return from the fourth of july...

Vacation is over and soon we'll be publishing more call center experiences and stories. As expected, web traffic decreased dramatically, and I'm sure that's parallel with call center activities.

In the meanwhile, if anyone is looking for a high end, wireless ready, widescreen, powerful centrino notebook computer, check out the Vayabook. "Vaya" is spanish for "Go". It's what this blog is typed on, and usually from a variety of locations: the office, Panera Bread, my bedroom, etc...

Go Mobile!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I ran a medium sized call center...

This post was submitted by Cecile Peterkin, a Career and Life Coach. More info about Cecile is also available on her LinkedIn profile.

"I ran a medium size call center for a Mutual Fund company in Canada. Not all calls were monitored, however, I did random taping of all our agents on a weekly basis. The information was used for testing agents product knowledge, speed, accuracy, and professionalism. The information was also for training and performance appraisals

We wanted our agents to move away from "Call Center Agents" to "Client Relationship Specialists". Develop a relationship with the callers (Investment Advisers) to reassure all their needs are met.

I found the best way to improve agents phone skills was to have their calls analyze by their peers. There was a noticeable improvement in the handling of calls when the feedback was peer based.

Agents that were performing well on the phones were trained to do the monitoring and training/coaching. The agent in question would be asked to critique his/her call - what would they do differently. Together, the agent and the trainer would work on areas to be improved and assigned things to focus on for the following week."

- Cecile

Monday, June 20, 2005

The first call center I managed...

This post comes in from David Hall of OpenBox. He can also be found at LinkedIn.

"Actually the first call center environ that I managed was about 15 years ago and we just used an old dos based system to report on incoming calls, wait time, dropped off, etc...that was pretty archaic and the second experience I must say was not much more Fidelity which was also a few years back we literally monitored calls manually with a quality control check list for, did reps give name? properly give stock Quotes and news? follow procedures? etc etc, ask if customer had any final questions...

We had a check list we developed so was not real high MCI Worldcom they Did venture into what they called the 'web center' which was to be a center for all customer toughpoints but don't think it ever really took off....

Also once we would critique calls based on our quality assurance check list those with a certain % or say 100% rating on customer call interaction we would give gift certificate to movie and dinner and/or award/certificate to reinforce the perfect customer interaction...."

- David Hall

Friday, June 10, 2005

Quality Monitoring Stats

From time to time we will publish interesting industry stats that we come across. Feel free to add comments or your own stats to this blog. Credit and a hyperlink will be attributed.

From Benchmark Portal and Dr. Jon Anton, noted expert on customer service -

"Based on our research, call centers that use monitoring or coaching software show measurable improvement in average talk time, average after-call work time and the number of calls resolved on the first contact. We observe the following differences among those that do monitor: a) average speed of answer is 19% lower, b) average talk time decreases by 29% and c) after-call work time is nearly three times lower."

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Call monitoring - every call or random?

When you are selecting a call center quality assurance system, you need to decide which method of recording is best for you: total recording (100% of all calls), a random sample (10 calls per agent per month) or on-demand (Click to start and click to stop).

Most call centers may require a combination of recording methods. Some industries mandate 100% recording, especially where there are liability concerns. Some companies don't have the budget to tackle 100% recording, as it can require multiple recording channels and possibly multiple servers. For most mid-sized call centers, random sampling is enough to get a baseline of agent performance.

Once the data is captured, no matter what the quantity is, there will be the opportunity to evaluate and score the calls, and then provide feedback to the agent to improve their performance. This can equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars in productivity gains over a years' time.

When the focus is on performance improvement, random sampling will work for you. When liability is a concern, you should record 100% of the calls. On demand recording can be a good feature to go along with random sampling. Typically random sampling and on-demand recording can be achieved with a 2 or 4 channel system.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Rave Reviews for Virtual Observer 3.0

"Hey guys,

I have not forgotten about you guys and apologize for the delay. First and foremost, I wanted to let you guys know how much I appreciate working with you on these implementations. Over the past 3 years I have lost a lot of faith in “vendor relations” and I can honestly say you has restored quite a bit of it. Your willingness to work with the customer and open lines of communications you maintain through the process are very commendable. In short, it is an absolute pleasure to work with you guys on these projects and look forward to future ventures that WILL occur.

Now, on to the technical stuff;

Overall, things are going extremely well and the software appears to be working great. We are pushing the Virtual Observer (VO) application out via SMS with an additional SMS job to modify the XP, SP2 firewall rules to allow the VO communication to occur successfully. We had open TCP port 5001, 5002, 5003 and 5005 following the installation for the application to function properly on each client.

Other items of interest;

Following the SMS push the application appears to be installed and all services are loaded and running. However, I am unable to telnet to 5001 or discover the agent via the explorer program until the agent logs off and back on. In order to keep things “quiet” I have just been waiting one extra day following the SMS push for the agents to log in the next day which gets things working smoothly.

Once I get all agents up and going and have some recordings in the system I will touch base again and let you know how thing look. From my initial testing and investigation, things look awesome!!!

Great job on version 3 of your call center recording software!!!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Simple, Effective and Affordable - what a QA system should be

This article is reprinted from Call Center World, and was written by Dan McGrail of Coordinated Systems, Inc.

Is it Simple, Effective and Affordable?

In deciding that a higher level of quality assurance (QA) would benefit an organization, the rule of thumb for the buying process should be simple, effective and affordable, and this rule should be used as the template throughout that process. The main purpose of quality assurance is to make sure agents are interacting properly with clients and in the manner of company expectations. The best way to do this is to monitor and record the interaction between the two. This interaction usually includes audio from the phones and screens from the workstation, which, when combined, is called an event. Getting this event into a QA system normally only requires a computer connection to the phone system and computer network. There is really no rocket science taking place here. After an event has been successfully recorded there are tasks to be performed, but there are also things that can complicate the process.

Listening to and scoring the event is what makes a QA system worth the investment. The knowledge gained as this information is collected, scored and reported on is what makes QA effective. Systems should be seamless to what they are replacing and enhance current capabilities with more efficiency. Again, this should be a simple process which allows easy access to events and user defined scoring worksheets combined with straightforward reporting on results. Complications usually arise when trying to figure out every minuscule wish beyond this process for the system to do. Mix that with offerings that are touted as the next great hyped buzz word of what some seller thinks is important, we find leads to overkill. Remember, the system has to be up and running to be effective. Overkill can slow down the implementation process. Overkill can make things frustrating and cumbersome. Overkill causes user frustration to set in as the hope of nirvana fades and the work loads increase. The last thing needed is overkill. The lesson learned is to stay the course on identified needs to get the job done and don’t get caught up in hype by keeping it simple.

Once a system is installed training is needed to familiarize users on how it works. This should be a simple interaction with the vendor that is accomplished in a very short amount of time. We figure less than a day. After this less than a day training, users should be listening to and scoring events. That is it! Within three days users should be proficient and productive and getting desired results. Reporting on those events will begin to show trends. One trend will be the ability to drill down into the strengths and weaknesses of the performance of agents. This is where monitoring and scoring is effective. Harvested events will reveal the information needed by the user for delivering content to the agent to insure positive interaction with customers. What will be revealed are strengths and weakness in product knowledge, as well as, presentation skills such as personality and emotional traits. Armed with this information training can be custom to each individual’s needs. Simply put, audio tells us product knowledge, presentation skills and emotional intelligence. Screens tell us product knowledge and internal system usage abilities. Scoring brings it all together for delivery to the agent for review. This is Simple and Effective.

After purchasing the system, and prior to user involvement, the system needs to be installed. This requires a connection to the phone system which involves the Telecom department, and a connection to the computer network which involves the IT department. Again, this should not be complicated work. The system should be developed with an open architecture using industry standard protocols. This task should be done within a few hours after the arrival of the equipment in house with input from a few personnel assigned to the project. Complete installation of the entire QA system should be finished in two days. This completed installation includes all connections to the telephone and company network, users trained in how it works, and successfully harvesting and scoring of events. The initial purchase cost of this system should be affordable, and yearly maintenance costs should be reasonable. The cost to run the system should be transparent in the human ability to interface with it and its effective delivery of desired results.


Experience has shown that most times the goal is not just about improvement of quality, but to free up time for the people that are responsible to monitor agents to get the intended results. What better way to do that then to put a system to work that will take care of the tedious, redundant and unrewarding tasks? A well designed call center QA system will accomplish this easily and meet the quality goals as well. Whether you want to random sample your agents through a predefined schedule or record every phone call. Digital technology is there today that can fulfill your QA requirements that are simple to implement, effective in delivering results, and affordable to purchase and maintain.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Easing employee fears about call recording and monitoring:

The other day we went to interview the call center manager for a major metropolitan newspaper. She turned out to be a champion for her vendor, Coordinated Systems, Inc., of East Hartford, CT, whose product, Virtual Observer 3.0, was used in their 50 person call center.

She raved about the ease of implementation of the call center recording solution, lack of technical support issues, and professionalism throughout the organization from initial sales inquiry to proposal to installation and several upgrades.

The thing that struck me the most was the internal campaign she put together to ease employees' fears about being monitored, the whole "big brother" paranoia. She threw a party that introduced Virtual Observer and demonstrated how it was going to help her team achieve world class call center status. It was a rousing success, and statistics have demonstrated great improvement.

During the event, she showed the employees that they weren't installing the agent monitoring software to catch them "playing solitaire", but instead to identify performance issues they might not even know they had.

Becoming a world class call center agent:

Capturing the baseline metrics prior to implementation is one of the most important steps in being able to gauge the effect that a software implementation has on performance. Each install may have custom requirements and statistics that need to be identified and used in the ongoing evaluations in order to create an atmosphere of continuous improvement.

Taking this a step further, sharing the metrics with the agents and allowing them to view their stats gives them a sense of accountability and reward that comes with improvement. An E-learning module will send statistics and evaluation notes directly to the agent's desktop, giving them invaluable tips, corrections and notes they can then use to become a world class call center agent.

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