Effective use of a presence management system enables contact centres to increase their percentage of first-call resolutions, writes Dave Paulding, Interactive Intelligence’s regional sales manager for UK and Africa.

For many contact centres, a primary focus is to increase the percentage of first-call resolutions as this maximises the centre’s efficiency and enhances customer satisfaction.  First-call resolution means that a customer’s query, issue or concern is resolved by the agent that first answers the call, rather than having to transfer the customer to another agent or department. Presence management, which enables staff members to alert the system when they are away from their desks, is a critical tool to increase first-call resolution rates.
A typical contact centre scenario involves a customer asking an agent to resolve a question or issue, and the agent doesn’t have the skills, tools or experience to do so.  Using presence management functionality, the agent can see at a glance the availability of a supervisor, team leader or more experienced agent and, keeping the customer on the line, can initiate a Web-based chat session with that agent or supervisor.  The supervisor can give the agent the information he/she requires, which is then passed on to the customer.  This avoids having to transfer the customer to the supervisor.
In a contact centre environment, the benefits of presence management extend beyond improving first-call resolution rates; it also enables supervisors to monitor agents more effectively, ensuring that they return from breaks on time.  In addition, it empowers agents to better manage their performance by requesting breaks at times when the centre’s call volumes are low, thereby not impacting on their personal objectives or the contact centre’s goals.
Presence management also plays a significant role in workforce optimisation.  Historically, contact centres have struggled to calculate staffing requirements catering for varying call volumes.  Presence management systems accurately record the number of agents operating at the contact centre at any time.  Using these historical records, contact centres can monitor trends, and plan their staffing requirements accordingly.
Beyond the contact centre, presence management is a crucial tool for general business operations.  Employees can notify the system when they are in a meeting or working from home, and presence management allows the call dialed to their office phone to be forwarded to their cellphone or home number.  
For companies with branches all over the world, presence management also enables more efficient communication.  Effective presence management systems have customisable availability status options, ranging from the more standard options such as “I am in a meeting and unavailable” or “I am on vacation” to options such as “I am playing golf and available on my mobile”.
This enables an employee in South Africa with an urgent enquiry to quickly see the availability of a colleague in the US who can help, rather than phoning around blindly, saving significant time and frustration.
A critical component of effective presence management is employee training and buy-in to the system.  Presence management only works if employees actually update their availability status, so they need to be encouraged to get into the habit.  Some systems have measures in place to cater for employee negligence, but presence management will only be truly effective if changing your availability status becomes as imperative as checking emails regularly.