Status Unavailable; The Black Hole of Contact Center Profits Part I

"What is one of the top areas of operational optimization that you would recommend we start with in order to get the maximum value for our efforts?"

My answer always seems to be a surprise at first, but when we get into the reasons for my recommendation and I explain the successful outcome of several of my real-life experiences, nearly all management reps readily admit to the necessity and immediately begin to eagerly apply the recommended procedural update.

Like most good business formulas, my top optimization technique is simple, direct, and associated with long-standing best practices. We all battle it, work around it and try to eliminate it with a dire vengeance, and sometimes (hopefully most of the time) we try to correctly manage it; what I am talking about is the bane of all call centers: Agent Unavailability.

Contact centers hire agents with the idea of having them handle client interactions for the entire period of whatever shift they are assigned, but in an eight hour day an agent might actually just handle interactions for only five and a half hours or less. I have been in contact centers where agents only handled contacts solidly for just over 3 hours a day out of an 8 hour span. When you do the math on this, the numbers are shocking. For every hundred agents who are not able to take calls for 2 hours out of an 8 hour day, (for whatever reason, valid or not) we end up missing out on 200 hours per day of productivity, and that translates into 1,000 hours per five day work week. Additionally, during this 1000 hours you could potentially not only be losing the cost of payroll to keep them working, but you might be losing revenue brought in by purchases that would have been made through the agents, and with such additional details figured in, the cost/loss can turn out to be enormous.

All contact centers have to deal with unavailability.  All ACD systems I have ever used have the built-in ability to track unavailability.  And finally, all reporting tools offered along with ACD systems have an inherent capacity to report on agent unavailability. But well over 85% of the contact center managers I have consulted with confessed to only a minimal understanding of proper methods to manage unavailability into the most profitable state possible in their environment.

Basic Six Sigma principles point to the fact that “Whatever we cannot accurately manage, we cannot change.”  In order to increase agent availability (and by definition, agent profitability) we have to learn to:

  1. Accurately define the correct agent states to use
  2. Properly implement your unavailable code policy
  3. Optimize your tracking and managing of unavailable codes

  Soon to come: Part II: Accurately Defining Unavailable (AUX) Codes