Status Unavailable; The Black Hole of Contact Center Profits, Part IV (Final series entry)

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In Part I, we discussed the importance of understanding the proper use of unavailable (often called AUX) codes to gain contact center optimization and increased profitability. In Part II we discussed the necessity of defining them properly. In Part III we discussed how to create a wonderfully successful program that will assist in implementing new and thriving unavailable polices. Here in the final discussion, Part IV we will discuss optimized tracking and managing of unavailable codes.

I was in a management training seminar once where the instructors described the process of achieving goals in what I considered to be a near perfect analogy. They talked about a goal in relationship to a sailboat. When sailing you set your course by carefully and precisely positioning the sails into the direction of the prevailing winds and setting the rudder accordingly to bring the ship along a specifically desired course. At some point when it is necessary to attend to other tasks such as going below to fix a meal perhaps, the winds you are steering by or the currents you are sailing in can shift direction gradually and the boat will then drift off course. As this happens, it is the job of the Captain to analyze the new driving forces and resettle the boat back onto a correct course. This happens continuously throughout any journey when sailing to a desired end.

As humans we handle goals and directives very much like the ship that sails. We start from a certain point and set an objective to reach.  When we start on a journey of achievement in either a personal or business arena, we outline and set the ultimate target.  On our way to attaining those goals in the quickest manner possible, different media currents and various social undertows inadvertently gather around us and tend to diffuse our focus on the desired end result.  As the captains of our own destinies, it is our job to continually analyze these changing currents and shifting undertows in order to correct ourselves and help us reorient on the path of successful completion.

Obviously the same principles apply when attempting to reach your “Unavailable Time” optimization goal. Like the sailboat, agents and even whole teams will stray off this goal depending on the changing day-to-day or perhaps even hourly changing conditions. They must be pulled back on a regular basis and redirected toward the established objective.

In many contact centers, the individuals responsible for guiding the "unavailable code" ship are often the same individuals who create the unavailable process in the first place; the call center director or equivalent.  Unfortunately, his can be synonymous with guiding a sailboat from a satellite. Up in orbit it is possible to see a great many more details such as a storm forming 200 miles ahead of the boat.  But to make the instant-to-instant performance decisions, there is no substitute for instead having a captain standing physically on the ship, experiencing the weather, directly feeling the vibration of the structure all around, and watching progress of the boat as it slices through the pounding waves.

In a contact center, the “captain” position should be fulfilled by the supervisor (or relative equivalent).   Being right on the call floor with the team (the team being synonymous with the “sail boat”) and handling the calls and seeing the results of any newly instituted procedures gives these leads or supervisors a unique and very valuable perspective.  In summary, when creating and implementing a newly optimized unavailable code policy, the supervisor is the best person to optimize and micro manage the process.  The role of the call center director should be to manage the supervisor from a high level, informing the supervisor -who is down in the “waves”- of possible impending occurrences (marketing saturation campaigns, new hire classes, etc) that might be avoided by changing the instant-to-instant path that is currently being followed by the members of the team.

If the procedures outlined in part I, II and III are followed and the majority of agents end up buying into the need for a great unavailable code process, the stresses of normal day-to-day client changes and work environment changes and personal changes in family dynamics, will affect how well agents continue to make the effort to use the right coding.  To counteract this tendency, supervisors must utilize their weekly coaching sessions to review the agent unavailable utilization.  When errors or misuse are discovered, it is up to the manager to coach the agent out of these bad habits.  A professional supervisor will do well at coaching agents up into an efficient use of time.  A poorly trained supervisor will not be able to accomplish as much.

Certain agent habits are quite universal.  Understanding why and when they will occur helps mitigate possible losses or repercussions caused by these habits. 

  • Habit 1.  Agents will follow a policy faithfully for a while and then suddenly stop doing the right thing.  They do this on a regular basis to see if anyone takes notice of the discrepancy.  If no notice is taken and no catching is done, the agent concludes that the new policy must not be very important and they will then make every effort to avoid following the policy in the future, especially if the procedure involves extra effort on their part.
  • Habit 2. If an agent is ordered to follow a procedure without an explanation or without “buy in” on why the policy is important, they will do all in their power to not follow the procedure whenever possible.  When asking an agent to follow a new policy, supervisors need to gain agents' support; they need to "woo" them into wanting to do what is right.  The effort is greater but the ROI is well worth it, as any well trained manager knows.
  • Habit 3. If an agent has been asked for input on a policy and feels as if that input matters to the policy makers, that agent will become a champion of the policy; owning it and attempting to cajole other team members into compliance on a regular basis.  Supervisors must continually solicit input on how policies are working and how they might be improved. If a supervisor is sincere and makes an effort to see good suggestions implemented, a team will be full of champions who are dedicated to higher efficiency.

In summary; one of the best methods of contact center optimization is to change unavailable code usage into an optimized state. In order to do this, AUX codes need to be properly defined, they need to be properly implemented, and they need to be frequently re-managed into their optimized usage state.  The best person to manage the unavailable usage is a team supervisor.  The team supervisor should manage by great coaching, skillful persuasion, and continuous policy revision.  With such methodology, not only will efficiency increase, but agent job satisfaction will grow astoundingly.  Upper management can be assured that utilization is optimized and greater profits will be realized on a manifestly increased basis.