The human capital of any contact centre is by far its largest expense, and as a result, managing this aspect effectively is of utmost importance, writes Paul Fick, MD of Spescom DataFusion.

In fact, this cost can run to almost two thirds of the total expense of running a contact centre. In order to drive down human capital costs while maintaining and improving customer satisfaction, agents need to be used optimally and must remain happy in their jobs.
Technology can be used to improve efficiency, but these tools do not always take the human element into account. If incorrectly deployed, efficiency tools can overwork agents, creating additional strain. This in turn creates unhappiness and a propensity to leave, increasing agent churn, disrupting service, lowering customer satisfaction and ultimately increasing costs due to the need to constantly train new agents.
Traditionally contact centre metrics focused on average handling time and speed to answer in an effort to drive down the cost of interactions. This has led to an almost obsessive focus on improving these metrics. However, while these factors are important, they do not give the whole picture and can actually result in low levels of customer satisfaction. For example, an agent may have an impressive average handling time of only 30 seconds, but he or she may not actually be resolving issues, which will lead to unhappy and frustrated customers. These tools address efficiency, but do not involve improving effectiveness, a vital component of a successful contact centre.
Rather than focusing solely on shortening interactions, contact centres should be looking at traditional metrics in conjunction with other aspects such as first call resolution, loyalty scores and customer satisfaction ratings. This will give a more complete view which can ultimately be used not only to improve agent efficiency but also improve service levels of the contact centre and help to keep customers happy, improving effectiveness as well.
An emerging technology known as Workforce Optimisation, or WFO, incorporates the measurement of various metrics that address effectiveness and efficiency as well as agent performance management tools, to help contact centres reach the pinnacle of customer service, and stay there.
Tools such as quality management with advanced scheduling capability, load prediction and the ability to match scheduling to predicted demand, can be used to automate laborious tasks. At the same time, such tools can ensure that these processes are conducted optimally.  This in turn makes the management and assessment of agents easier, and actively simplifies the agents' jobs by providing daily activity scheduling. Using WFO can even allow agents to select preferred shifts, enabling managers to allocate shifts according to agent preference as far as possible.
In order for WFO to be used to its greatest effect, it is necessary to break down silos of information from aspects such as various divisions, departments and processes, so that data can be shared across the organisation. This will provide contact centre managers with the information needed to accurately manage and predict work loads, adjust shifts and leave requests to meet the demand, and manage specific staff requirements, enabling greater effectiveness and efficiency of agents.
The required information can be sourced from a variety of business systems including screen and voice recording systems. Technology is the enabler that will allow all interactions to be accessible through a single interface, making it possible to handle multimedia channels in a centralised fashion, and draw statistics from all of these channels. This enables managers to develop real time reports on performance metrics that incorporate metrics such as average handling time, first call resolution, speed to answer and customer satisfaction ratings.
Thus, by managing agents, not only on an activity basis, but on business outcomes, in terms of greater efficiency and effectiveness, and success rates as well, contact centre operators will drive down costs while improving customer satisfaction – making it the 'holy grail' for contact centres.