43 years ago, in April 1970, the now infamous Apollo 13 space mission took place. During the flight an oxygen cylinder exploded crippling the mission but despite great hardship the crew returned safely to Earth on April 17. The now famous quote from the film of this mission of course is “Houston, we have a problem.”
Every day in contact centers all over the world we hear a similar cry, “… we have a problem”. Associates haven’t arrived, the call pattern doesn’t match the forecast or a host of other reasons is negatively impacting service levels and it’s only 9 AM on Monday.
How can the Mission Control team or Command Center team (or whatever you call the Contact Center operations teams get on top of this?
At its most basic there are only 3 things that the Mission Control teams can manage or influence:
- The number of available skilled associates
- The number of calls needing to be routed to skilled associates
- The amount of time spent by associates dealing with calls
So let’s look at these 3 areas and try to understand how managing each of them differently could reduce the number of “problems” that Mission Control need to face. For each of these three areas I suggest three tactics to help address them.
- The number of skilled associates
In most Call Centers a great deal of focus (quite rightly) is placed on forecasting and planning the number of associates that that are needed, often down to 15 minute intervals. However as we all know, forecasts often do not match reality.
In these cases you need to have ways to make more skilled associates available otherwise the queues will soon start to grow! These tactics could include:
- Associates with the right skills are underutilized in other parts of the customer service chain. These associates could be other Contact Center teams or locations, they could be home workers or at outsource partners or they could be ‘back office’ personnel or in your branch offices and retail outlets. If they have the right skills and capacity these staff should be automatically available without manual intervention within predefined borrowing and lending rules. Delays in this process cause queues to easily grow.
- When this cannot be done automatically then manual intervention through skill changes is an option but this is far less efficient and effective and adds to the Mission Control overheads. ‘Lag’ in applying changes always leads to inefficiency and reduced service quality.
- There are other options such as rebalancing the skills of associate groups, changing the in-sourced/outsourced balance and additional recruitment but these are much longer term.
In Part Two of this discussion we will look at how Mission Control can better manage the number of calls needing to be routed to skilled associates and also the amount of time spent by associates dealing with calls. All of this will help them avoid the cries of “Houston, we have a problem”