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Cutting costs in the IP contact centre

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David_Paulding_5.jpgWith the current economic climate, it is no surprise that cutting costs heads the list of top priorities for contact centre management. Given the heightened interest in this area it’s worth taking a look at technologies and business strategies which can assist contact centres in reducing their operating expenses, while still focusing on delivering good customer service.

1. Know what your customers really care about

Rule number one in looking at where you can cut costs is to understand what can impact customer satisfaction. Surveying your customers can help a contact centre better understand what really matters to them. For instance, do your customers truly care if someone answers the phone 10 seconds faster? Or is their real desire to reach an agent who can answer their questions accurately? In some industries, first contact resolution has a strong effect on overall customer satisfaction – possibly stronger than slightly shorter wait times.

Understanding the real motivation behind why customers choose to stay with your organisation, or why they purchase more products and services not only tells you where to spend money, it also tells you where you may consider cutting without impacting customer loyalty, or upcoming revenue.

2. Use knowledge management/web self-service to drive down costs

Artificial intelligence and knowledge management were considered “hot” technologies in the 1990’s, but lost cachet as people realised they weren’t a silver bullet. The truth is that the single most important consideration in a successful knowledge management program is the business process, not the technology. Processes must be in place for not only identifying and authoring the initial content, but also on how content will be evaluated, updated, or retired on an ongoing basis.

The good news is that even with the work required to put together a good knowledge management/web self-service initiative, the return on investment is significant. According to the Gartner Group, self-service can reduce calls into the contact centre by 12-14%. Authored content can also be used by internal employees as well as external customers (where appropriate). Where information is complex, use of a knowledge base by contact centre agents can improve accuracy, reduce talk times and decrease call-backs. These are goals that not only decrease operational costs, but can also improve customer satisfaction. Just look at the ATM machine as an example of how customers can embrace self-help, and how organisations, in this case banks and credit unions, can reduce the cost of a frequent transaction.

3. Use VoIP capabilities to cut labour cost

Executives might expect reductions in their telephony costs that may not materialise in the move to VoIP. Even as carrier costs drop, networking costs might rise to accommodate increased bandwidth requirements. It’s clear that planning is a critical part of any TDM-to-VoIP migration, both to set proper expectations, and to ensure a successful migration from both the technical and business perspectives.

Rather than getting into the mud wrestling over traditional TDM vs. VoIP costs, I’d like to concentrate on other capabilities VoIP offers for the contact centre.

Many TDM-based systems do not easily enable at-home agents whereas most VoIP contact centre systems include presence management as well as the ability to route interactions to a user no matter where they are located, making at-home agents a viable option. From a cost-cutting perspective, for most organisations, at-home agents can be hired at a lower salary—where convenience, lack of commuting costs, and reduced facility requirements can translate into big savings for the employee and your company. Add to that the ability to hire part time workers who can sign on and take interactions during peak periods, and now you’re really talking about doing more for less while improving your service levels.

Since labour costs are one of the highest costs in the contact centre, along with part time workers, putting some flexibility in the scheduling of full time agents can also save you a bundle. Staggering start times, break times, lunch times, etc. gives you the ability to put people where they need to be when the traffic demands more agents. For most organisations, you’ll find that you can reduce costs by using workforce management technology to find the optimal schedule, and that the jump can grow even more by moving to flexible schedules.

For example, one of our customers, a public utility, mentioned that they saw a 40% drop in blocked lines after deploying this strategy. They did not have to go out and hire a large number of new agents—simply by being a little more flexible and using workforce management, they were able to significantly improve their service levels.

Finally, in using real time adherence as part of your workforce management strategy, you ensure that those home-based agents, as well as your full time agents, are where they need to be and available when scheduled to be so. Presuming that your schedules make the most of your team, you want to strongly encourage the members to adhere to the schedule as much as possible in order to save money and provide the appropriate level of service to your customers.

Dave Paulding


  1. Truly technology is a great help for companies nowadays. But it always depends on how we effectively utilize these enhancements. Technology plus business operating strategy can most probably lead to a successful business and at the same time deliver good customer service.

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