The HotLine Magazine Archives
For The Profession of Cloud/SaaS Product Support
By Mikael Blaisdell

A company’s customer contact center should be designed, built and managed as a profitable knowledge inventory and distribution operation. One of the first strategic decisions senior management must make is: How fast does the center need to be in order to retain customers and maintain profitability? The decision on Responsiveness will be expressed in a target Service Level that will in turn dictate the staffing level required to consistently achieve that target. Here’s a simplified illustration of how the basic equation works.

The Resource Equation

Center Responsiveness means how fast the staff answers the phone, starts the Chat session or opens the e-mail. The overall technical name for it is the Service Level, expressed as responding to X percent of all incoming requests within Y seconds. (A typical Service Level target is: We will respond to 90% of all incoming requests within 60 seconds.)

The last factor is Staffing, the number of trained agents that are available and ready to immediately respond.

The pyramid in the center is made up of two elements: AHT and Volume. AHT, Average Handle Time, is the length of time it takes to interact with the customer and to complete the case notes after hanging up. Volume is the number of incoming service requests expected within a specific time frame, e.g. between 9 and 9:30 on Monday mornings.

Using the calculator is simple. If you expect 100 service requests between 9 and 9:30 Monday morning, for example, each of which will take an average of 8 minutes to handle, and the company’s desired Service Level is 90% within 60 seconds, the answer would be that about 33 trained agents will be required to meet the target Service Level. You can also use it in reverse; by leaving the service level target blank and entering the number of available agents, the calculator will tell you the best service level you can achieve with those resources.

Management Options

If the cost of maintaining a pool of trained representatives large enough so that 33 could be available at that time is beyond the budget, then Management has three main avenues it can use to address the problem:

Reduce the Average Handle Time:

Measures may be taken to reduce the AHT, the average time it takes to handle a service request, by investing in better tools and/or providing better training for the staff .

Allow a slower level of service

The Responsiveness target can be set higher, accepting that some customers will be unhappy with the slower service level.

Reduce the incoming Volume of requests

Efforts can be made to reduce the incoming Volume, to divert some of those service requests over to the website, and/or fix the bugs in the product so that it doesn’t generate as many calls.

All of these avenues are strategic issues, requiring further decisions to be made by senior management. Each will have implications and effects that can extend beyond the boundaries of the customer contact center. Keep in mind that Responsiveness is only one aspect of customer satisfaction and retention; we’ll discuss the others in subsequent Primer briefings.

May 11, 2007