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With the onset of the social media revolution and the ever-changing profile of today’s customer, contact centres have gone to great lengths in recent years to keep their service levels in line with escalating expectations, writes Deon Scheepers, regional business development manager, Interactive Intelligence Africa. 
Whilst technical upgrades and state-of-the-art software applications are undoubtedly elevating levels of customer service, contact centres are quickly starting to realise the importance of the agent in the service delivery chain, and are beginning to evolve their systems and processes accordingly.
Customer service agents represent a contact centre’s most significant expense, accounting for between 65% and 75% of monthly expenditure. Yet in spite of this, staff retention rates in the industry have historically been relatively low.
Training and recruitment initiatives can be very costly, and companies are now looking at ways to tailor their systems in order to promote greater job satisfaction amongst their employee base.
Not only does a high staff turnover rate represent an unnecessary expense for contact centres, but it can also have an adverse effect on customer service, with unhappy agents significantly less likely to go the extra mile to meet customer demands.
As a result, contact centres are gradually beginning to take advantage of the technology available to them in order to implement measures designed to optimise the working environment for their staff contingent.
Knowledge databases
There is no surer way to lose an employee than to put them in the firing line without the appropriate tools to engage in battle. Agents armed with insufficient information or knowledge to deal with irate customers are bound to become increasingly frustrated, and this has sparked a move towards the implementation of comprehensive knowledge databases.
Knowledge databases are created through extrapolating information from various customer interactions, and building all subsequent learnings into a centrally located and easily accessible knowledge centre.
This helps to empower contact centre agents by establishing a more holistic overview of their customer profile, and mitigates the chances of facing questions they cannot answer.
Additionally, by centralising information regarding customer interactions, managerial staff is better able to analyse customer trends, and revise the structure of the contact centre where necessary.
For instance, should a specific type of service request or complaint be lodged at regular intervals, it might make better business sense to incorporate information on this subject into an IVR or self-service environment, thus alleviating pressure on the contact centre and allowing staff to focus on other issues that might be more pressing.
Home-based agents
The rise of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), as well as the vastly reduced cost of local broadband, is now allowing contact centres to move into a remote space, thus enabling agents to select a working environment best suited to their individual needs.
Widely available realtime monitoring systems have made this increasingly possible, allowing contact centre supervisors to comprehensively oversee proceedings irrespective of the agent’s location. This type of software has greatly reduced the need for agents to be based on premises, and means that, with little more than an ADSL line, they are able set up an office at home.
By employing the remote or home-based agent model, contact centres can save on real-estate and utility costs, whilst at the same time ensuring that agents enjoy an increased level of flexibility and job satisfaction.
Speech analytics
Speech Analytics software is also changing the ways in which contact centre supervisors interact with customers and both on-premises and home-based agents.
This type of software is becoming increasingly popular within the contact centre environment, as it allows supervisors to analyse any given conversation in realtime, with pre-assigned key words and phrases set to trigger alerts, allowing supervisors to intervene in a call if necessary.
Not only does this software help to improve customer satisfaction and first call resolution rate, but also aids in alleviating pressure placed on contact centre staff, who are able to quickly seek support should they feel out of their depth.
Business process automation (BPA)
Contact centre agents are an expensive resource for any company, and, as such, automated processes are becoming a preferred means to manage and defer workload, thus minimising expenditure on human resources.
BPA systems are helping contact centres to alleviate pressure placed on staff, by connecting front and back office staff and systems via a set of pre-defined parameters.
Incoming communications, such as SMSes, can, using this software, be automatically directed to the most relevant person within the company, bypassing the contact centre where appropriate.
BPA systems allow contact centre staff to focus solely on core strengths, ensuring that more advanced queries are automatically directed to more knowledgeable staff members.
Such systems can drastically simplify the way in which the contact centre operates, freeing up agent time as well as reducing administrative hurdles to query resolution.
Achieving excellence
Whilst contact centres are swiftly moving towards more efficient and cost-effective systems, it will be those that focus on the wellbeing of their front line staff who are ultimately able to achieve true excellence in the customer service field.
It is vital to remember that agents are essentially the public face of an organisation, and that their degree of job satisfaction will influence their interactions with customers.
By taking the needs of the contact centre staff into account, companies can end up saving themselves significant expense, whilst at the same time ensuring that their customers receive the best possible level of service.