Although there are several dimensions to consider when assessing the performance of contact centers, the performance of the agents is central. Good agents can go a long way toward overcoming process or technology deficiencies; the reverse is less true. One company we have spoken with has improved its complete agent lifecycle using Merced Performance Suite from Merced Systems.
Improving the performance of a contact center shares qualities with other business improvement initiatives, but with a few special considerations because of the unique aspects of running a center. The number one factor impacting performance is the agents, who are in the forefront of handling customer interactions. They are the first (and sometimes only) point of contact, so they are expected to deal with every type of customer, many are expected to deal with every type of interaction, several may be required to try to sell additional products and services to the customer, and above all they must keep the customer satisfied.
To meet these goals, agents must work with complex interaction- and business-related processes. They also have to work with a wide range of technologies that address call handling, call routing, workflow, knowledge management and general business functions. Improving performance of a center therefore requires aligning the agents with the processes, aligning the processes with the technologies and deploying an appropriate set of performance measures. A good example is EchoStar Communications Corporation. Through its DISH Network brand, it delivers satellite television products and services to more than 12 million customers worldwide. To support this operation it has nine in-house and one outsourced contact centers that between them employ some 10,000 agents. We spoke with the company about one of its ongoing initiatives to improve the performance of all these centers by improving its management of the complete agent lifecycle. It chose to work with Merced Systems because it concluded that Merced has the best vision for performance management in contact centers, that its product, Merced Performance Suite, could deal with the numerous specialized technologies that are deployed in EchoStar's centers, and that it has the features needed to support the complete agent lifecycle.
EchoStar uses Merced Performance Suite to analyze its agents' call handling abilities, which has allowed it to automate portions of its assessment and training needs analysis processes. These are challenging tasks because they require extracting data from multiple sources within the center; our recent research into contact center performance management showed only 30 percent of companies are able to do this. Using Merced Performance Suite has enabled EchoStar to derive more business-related metrics and present these back to agents at their desktop so they are aware of how their performance is impacting overall performance of the center.
EchoStar also recognizes that if it recruits the wrong people, training, coaching and technology alone won't turn them into effective agents. So it plans to compare actual agent performance to the recruitment process in an effort to improve the likelihood of recruiting people well suited to becoming effective agents.
Although improving the agent lifecycle is a key performance improvement step, our research confirmed that improving customer satisfaction remains the number-one priority for 78 percent of companies. Measuring customer satisfaction typically is left to the subjective evaluation of agents. EchoStar, though, has used Merced Performance Suite to track automated post-call surveys. This technological approach makes the surveys more reliable, and the results have enabled EchoStar to improve customer satisfaction significantly.
One of the most disappointing findings of our research was that only a bare majority of companies rated agent retention as one of their main measures of success and fewer than half even measure agent satisfaction; we believe this goes a long way to explaining why the average employment tenure of agents is less than two years. EchoStar's approach is being rewarded: Attrition rates have fallen, agent productivity has improved, issues resolution has increased and customer satisfaction has gone up. The company set high targets and by using the information derived for the Merced Performance Suite, it can see not only which areas have improved but also what processes need more improvement.
Few companies have deployed technologies that enable them to extract the data necessary to produce wide-ranging, business-related measures of customer relationships. In ever more competitive markets, we believe companies are beginning to recognize the need to change the measures whereby they judge the performance of center managers and agents. Merced's Performance Suite is one of the few systems capable of working with all the technologies found in a contact center, so it is well-positioned to support companies as they make this transition.
Defining and deriving the right measures to assess and transform the performance of contact centers has always been difficult. For too long the measures most companies used have been call-oriented and have focused almost exclusively on efficiency. As companies shift to more broadly based, business-related measures, Ventana Research recommends they consider the offerings from Merced Systems or other vendors. EchoStar has found that its Merced deployment has delivered the skills and technology needed to access and utilize effectively all the different types of data in a contact center.
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2006 Ventana Research