ProSys-call-center-collaborationEver interact with a contact center agent who relied heavily upon a script? Odds are it wasn’t the best experience. Scripted interactions tend to lack personality, even if the agent inserts your name at the appropriate points. Such interactions can also be extremely frustrating if the script doesn’t align with your needs and the agent is unable to adjust.

Despite the limitations of this approach, a recent study by CEB (now part of Gartner) found that most contact centers still rely upon scripts and set procedures. These so-called “adherence” environments reward reps for handling calls quickly and checking off a list of requirements — using an approved greeting, apologizing for any delays, thanking the customer for her business. Agents are not encouraged to use their own judgment or to get input from their colleagues.

Contact centers use scripts and checklist to create a consistent customer experience and to prevent agents from making inaccurate statements. However, the CEB study found that these techniques aren’t as effective as contact center managers might believe. In fact, adherence environments performed poorly compared to contact centers in which reps were allowed to collaborate.

According to the study, collaborative contact center environments perform 50 percent better than average and reduce the risk of error by 25 percent. In addition, reps in collaborative environments demonstrate 54 percent greater discretionary effort (going above and beyond what is required) and 17 percent higher intent-to-stay. Engaged agents who stay longer increase the collective knowledge of the team, which helps improve performance even further.

The CEB researchers believe these results correlate to a shift in the types of requests contact centers receive. In the past, most calls involved the transfer of basic information — checking a balance or updating an address, for example. Today, most customers can handle those kinds of issues themselves via self-service mechanisms. If a customer reaches out to the contact center, odds are she has a complex request that’s not well-suited to a scripted interaction. A collaborative environment enables agents to respond to those requests efficiently by drawing on the knowledge and experience of others.

In order to create a collaborative contact center environment, organizations should provide agents with collaboration tools. Companies that have invested in multichannel contact center solutions can use the built-in chat feature to enable communication between agents and supervisors. However, a better approach is to integrate the contact center platform with the corporate unified communications (UC) system so that agents have full access to instant messaging and presence capabilities. Agents can use these tools to collaborate with colleagues and locate subject-matter experts outside the contact center for help in handling a customer’s inquiry. If it makes sense for the customer to speak to the expert directly, transferring the call is a simple matter.

Without these tools, the agent would have to put the customer on hold, transfer the call to someone who may or may not be available, or take down the customer’s phone number and call back later. None of these scenarios facilitates a quality customer experience.

Conventional wisdom dictates that rigid procedures and scripts provide the recipe for an efficient contact center. It turns out, however, that a collaborative contact center environment achieves the best results. By giving agents collaboration tools and greater flexibility, organizations can improve contact center performance and enhance the customer experience.

by Corey Steere