What if you could increase your agents’ efficiency without burning them out? The blended contact center is your friend – but only if you do it right.

A glance at any scatterplot of call times will confirm that both in- and outbound calls tend to have lulls in volume – and that those lulls usually occur at different times of day. And hey, even if you don’t think your center has any stakes in both games, are you sure? Do your inbound agents never make calls to customers?

In a significantly large number of cases, a seamlessly blended contact center would max out productivity and provide some much-needed variety to an agent’s day. It’s a win–win – so why are so few people winning at it yet?

According to a lovely (and freely downloadable) whitepaper by the ICMI, It comes down to three things: technology, people and perception.

 

Technology

One of the biggest bumbling blocks in blending relates to the fact that doing it properly is actually kinda tricky. Usually it involves all sorts of manual queue switching and people with expensive degrees in hyperdimensional graph symmetry theory or whatever they call it these days.

And if you mess the timing up or your agents aren’t expecting a sudden switch-over? Yeah, let’s just say it’s not going to win you a toast at the year-end banquet, okay?

This sort of niggly but mind-numbing task is ideal for technological intervention. Trouble is, when tech does intervene, it is often with the finesse of a toddler. Let us pose you a question: have you ever let a three-year-old faff about with your ACD and dialer? Mark our words – it ends in tears.

Let’s talk about what technology should be doing.

Okay wait, this calls for an interlude. Look, let’s not be coy here – we develop a contact center solution and we’re not going to pretend that we’re not invested in selling it. So bear with us: we’re not going to shove it in your faces, but we’re going to use it to explain what blending could be.

We reckon blending can – and should! – be administratively invisible. Which is to say, it should just work, look-mom-no-hands or your money back kinda thing.

This means, hands-free, it would route outbound work items to your agents when inbound volumes are low, and vice versa – all seamlessly, and all without disrupting your workflow or confusing your agents.

This little technological superpower requires a fundamental shift in how we handle streams of work. The traditional queue just doesn’t cut it here. (In fact, splitting your tasks into queues actually works against you in many other ways, but we’re talking blending here.)

That’s why we use a single waiting room for all our inbound and outbound tasks, regardless of channel. Being able to analyze priority seamlessly across interactions is absolutely pivotal to balancing workload automatically – which in turn is absolutely pivotal to blending.

We like to use a hospital analogy to explain our single waiting room. Imagine you have two hospitals. You have a doctor in each hospital, and neither is aware of the other’s queue. Now imagine that four people arrive at hospital A’s emergency room with tummy bugs – but two people with severe gunshot wounds arrive at hospital B.

Suddenly the division of labor has become a farce: the first doctor is tending to people who really could wait, while the second doctor probably has a fatality on her hands. Not good.

Okay, so it’s a brutal analogy, but look: that’s why queues make utterly no sense in a contact center.

Next, you have to consider what happens to blended work items when they’re delivered to your agents. Blending necessarily introduces extra complexity into the already-complex beast that is the contact center. Managing that complexity in part requires dosing your agents with context – enough to help them do their jobs, but not so much as to overwhelm them. This is why we’ve put so much work into our contact card – the hub of every client interaction in our software.

Anyway oh did you notice that we mentioned your agents in the last paragraph?

It’s so that we can do a little dance-step to that very topic right about now.

 

People

There’s no doubt about it: working the line in a blended center requires a slightly different mindset. If you’re considering the switch (and, well, you really should be), you ought to know that your agents will probably hate you. Like, don’t be super surprised if you find little dolls of yourself in unpleasant situations is what we’re getting at here.

Sorry, that got dark. But this tunnel has a well-lit end! Because see, they’ll only hate you at first.

Because here’s the thing – even though it adds to your agents’ workday and cognitive load, blending actually has been shown to cut burnout rates and, ultimately, attrition.

This may seem paradoxical, but it makes sense when you give it the ol’ one–two. Because in the grand Venn diagram of life, there are two things we don’t tolerate exceptionally well: prolonged stress and the boredom of repetition. The point where those two overlap? We would like to call it Burnout Bingo, but only because it has a ring to it y’know?

Anyway, point is, blending will help shake your agents’ days up in beneficial ways. And your numbers will tell you that despite their concerns (which should, of course, be treated with respect regardless), they’ll actually kinda dig the new setup.

The real key here, though, is training. This is real make-or-break. If you don’t have a robust training programme already, don’t bother with blending (and good grief, please put this lil action item on your VIP list or something). The ICMI study found that even those contact centers with well-developed training programmes sometimes fell short.

The paper recommends a few things here. First, involve your agents in the decision-making process around this (much as we recommend involving them in your AX endeavors. This is crucial for legitimate buy-in. Next, measure your training as part of your agent score card during QA – and give them the chance to tell you themselves what’s working and what isn’t.

As with everything complex and trap-ridden, it’s best to start small. Pilot a blending programme with a handful of agents. Make them feel like the stars they are.

And guys? Do please consider upping their pay or perks or both. You’ll be asking more of them; it’s only fair that you be giving more to them.

 

Perception

The ball’s on your putting green (wait is that how the saying goes?) with this one. The ICMI study found that decision makers are resistant to the idea of blending, perhaps largely owing to concerns about technological viability and staff uptake.

We reckon it’s an issue as old as humans: we don’t much take to change, especially when the change required is systemic.

But let us assure you: with today’s software (we might mention our own— ahem, sorry, nearly got sales-pitchy there) you don’t have to worry about the tech side of the equation. And with a good grip on your AX, you’ll have your agents on your side all the way.

From there on out you’re laughing.

 

Find out more about Zailab’s omnichannel customer experience solution here.