It’s a fact… the days of customer service operating between the hours of 9am and 5pm are now a distant memory. The modern consumer wants to deal with their service provider 24/7, 365 days a year. Nothing too insightful there, but what surprises me is the number of organisations who still operate 9- 5 shift patterns across the bulk of their customer service estate.
This, in a bid to drive employee engagement, aide retention and improve colleague work life balance, is a good thing, unless you are working within a resource or workforce planning function. If you are, you are probably facing routine degradation in service levels at the start and end of the day, whilst trying to occupy under-utilised capacity through the middle part. I recently spent time with one organisation, exploring their operational pain points and was staggered to hear that they had 50% available capacity in the middle of the day within their off-shore operation, and yet their speed to answer went from 1.4 secs to 5 mins for 30% of the working day.
Some organisations, in order to avoid the sometimes difficult negotiations with staff and their unions, trying to migrate to a broader more changeable series of shift patterns, have simply forced the hand of the customer and restricted the operating window of their voice channel, thereby narrowing customer choice. Again, great for the staff, and I am sure not unhelpful as far as OpEx is concerned, but is this the best outcome for the customer, now left to self-serve with no contingent path to resolution until the next working day?
At this year’s Forum Innovation Awards, I sat in on an insightful presentation from British Gas Residential Energy, which was able to transition from its burgeoning spread of legacy shifts to a significantly simplified model, more aligned to their customer demand profile, whilst improving their employee engagement as a result. Proof that the customer, colleague and company can all win.
There is no doubt that service providers have been innovative in developing online platforms allowing the customer to access their services at any time of day or night, de-polarising their transactions from the traditional peaks. In offering them much greater flexibility, however, predicting when those customers will want to make contact is becoming increasingly difficult. Our lives are changing, as are our working and travel patterns, and all are interfering with our established patterns of contacting companies. In speaking with one client, their years of retrospective call arrival data were becoming less and less reliable or even relevant, at least from a planning perspective – “We know we are going to be busy, we just don’t know how bad it will nor how long.”
In an era when many businesses are still offshoring their operations, to the Philippines, India, South Africa or even South America, striving for a cost-differential, this offers a degree of follow-the-sun capability, extending the service window, however it seems rare for them to be able to achieve a comparable customer experience at the same time.
So, we have a 24/7 consumer mindset, a desire for a consistent customer experience, an appetite to reduce costs alongside a need to attract and retain talent.
It is a fair assumption that removing the times and distances involved in any workplace commute automatically increases the agility of any workforce. Time spent on a bus, train or in a car, can now become productive and when, or how rapidly, that productive time can be delivered changes dramatically.
The shift that started at 8am can now start at 7am. The shift that ended at 8pm could now easily slide to 9pm with minimal impact to the agent, other than them not having to sit for an hour in traffic, or stand at a cold bus stop in the depths of winter.
Taking that one stage further… imagine if your organisation encountered an online system error over the weekend and you know that your voice channel is going to be overloaded first thing on Monday morning. Then imagine being able to immediately SMS your Work@Home agents asking those on shift on Monday to start earlier, and those not on shift to login, but only for the duration of the spike. Minimal disruption but maximum reaction, with resource that was very likely at home anyway. For many, this would sound like the planners dream, but it is possible with a distributed work force.
Imagine how easy it would be to run skeleton shifts through the twilight hours, where the agent can work from the comfort of their home, deal with the customer contacts as and when they come through, but without the excessive cost of keeping the contact centre open?
The true potential of Work@Home can only be realised when we release the shackles of conventional planning. Micro-shifts are not a new thing, but we still insist on sticking them together to represent one block of predictable time. With the emphasis on time, but more the aggregation of it, offering a schedule of 30 minute micro-shifts (or intervals) to a distributed workforce can be game changing. Your resource can be much more closely matched to your expected contact arrival pattern, with massive reductions in latent capacity. With no commute, working for 1 hour here and 30mins there is entirely possible, and you could have the added benefit of great results delivered in short bursts of focused work.
Clearly there have to be controls, in order that competency is maintained with a minimum number of hours worked, and gaping holes are not left in the planning profile. Perhaps by making some of those micro-shifts compulsory – but with the trade-off that others are not? Communications and systems will need to change to process these new planning transactions, but there are a host of in-a-box platforms that can deliver them.
Challenging the norm invariably requires courage and innovation, and Arise has spent many years learning from mistakes, and capitalising on successes, to overcome these glaring pitfalls in the logic. Much of it is difficult (speaking from personal experience) but if it were easy, everyone would be doing it, making it the new norm.
When you consider all of the aspects I have touched on, I am confident that I have barely scratched the surface of the complexity of the landscape we are entering, with perhaps the migration to quad-play in our telecoms markets being the most daunting example of what is to come.
If all of your competitors are facing the same challenges, and they will be, striving to deliver the best and most agile service to this new breed of demanding customer, what are you doing to differentiate your service offering?