The use of Expert Agents (knowledge agents or subject matter experts outside of the contact center) to provide information to contact center agents or directly to customers has been growing rapidly. But, there are many things enterprises should consider in order to best utilize the experts and to ensure that agents, experts, and customers are happy.
The concept of using Expert Agents is great, but many companies are concerned about bombarding their experts with questions at all hours of the day. What are some best practices around scheduling/leveraging those experts?
What makes the contact center so uniquely positioned to leverage expert agents is the concentration of performance optimization technologies already in use. They can complement a unified communication strategy and help the contact center effectively schedule knowledge workers across the enterprise, determine availability to support customer interactions, or monitor these interactions to drive improvements in customer care.
Workforce management for example, provides direct, real-time awareness of whether agents and expert agents are where managers have planned them to be. It allows for recalibrating the tasks allotted to agents based on how their presence and availability relates to the presence-state of the customers. Additionally, it provides a framework to direct specific types of customers towards specific agent.
And workforce management software creates a template for extending that practice to the rest of the enterprise and to other kinds of expert agents who perform similar kinds of allocated tasks that depend on real-time awareness of external contexts. And, workforce management plays a key role in scheduling these experts in short timeslots, based on expected call volumes, which helps reduce the overuse of knowledge workers who are still trying to do their “day job” - a big concern of any UC strategy leveraging expert agent.
How do you handle the situation when agents utilize certain experts because they're knowledgeable or helpful, but then it overburdens the expert when the agent keeps relying on them?
Companies can handle this issue in a variety of ways based on what makes the most sense for their business. Of course, without rules or processes in place, agents will escalate to experts they are familiar with or most comfortable with. This is what creates the situation of overburdening that you asked about. However, with the right workforce optimization tools and processes, organizations can determine which experts can address which specific types of situations and how often/for how many hours per day or week they should be made available to do so. Then, agents can see, using presence, who is available to handle certain escalations at a given time. This technology, and the associated processes, eliminates the risk of overburdening only those experts that agents prefer to reach out to over and over again and will give agents access to others who can help them in the same ways while keeping everyone's schedules and involvement in check.
When experts are configured, they are assigned a skill or set of skill(s) which is used to define their profile as an expert. When agents decide they need assistance from an expert from outside the contact center, they can search for experts with specific skill(s) that match the requirements for the customer interaction they are handling. The agents will then receive a list of “available” experts with the skill set(s) criteria they selected. Presence determines the expert’s availability. If the expert’s presence indicates that they are not available, they will not show up as a choice in the available expert list presented to the agent.
Additionally, agents are not able to directly contact experts. They are only able to select the experts who are available at the time of the request. This way, agents cannot overburden experts or rely on the same expert.
Like many other things that are changing because of the Internet, the Web, and wireless mobility, access to "experts" may become simply a UC extension (via CEBP) to searching for information on a web site. That is really what people usually want first before they need to talk to someone about a business problem.
I like to call this kind of contact "contextual" because it is not simply a name or phone number that a user/customer may happen to know, nor is it necessarily anyone who happens to be "accessible" and "available" for a real-time voice connection. All that stuff belongs to the past of telephony when customers relied primarily on the telephone for fast information access and customer care issues. In today's world of Web search, online access, and mobile contacts, more practical options for both agents and experts are needed to support the potential flexibilities of "Customer UC."
Step one, as already mentioned, would be to identify the qualifications for the type of expert to be contacted. That kind of thing used to be done for years in legacy call center networks with Skills-Based Routing, except now it doesn't have to be just for a live call connection from a caller. The "context" for such a contact can be derived from a direct question, extracted from a messaging exchange (email, IM, etc.), or from reference information that is associated with an author, list of experts, authorized decision-maker, etc..
Step Two - If no "expert" is accessible and available within a minute or two, the expert contact with an agent can be extended as a real-time, "as soon as possible" connection set up (again, voice or text). With callers becoming more mobile, accessible, and multimodal, First Call Resolution, as with wired telephones, is no longer such a critical requirement for customer satisfaction. That need should be the contact initiator's (agent) decision based on customer need.
Step Three - The original agent doesn't necessarily have to be involved when an expert becomes available, and the response to the calling customer doesn't necessarily have to be a live voice callback. It can be a message contact to the customer. Customers just want an answer and, if necessary, they can "click-to-assistance" if they need further help.
The bottom line is that everyone involved in customer support activities should be exploiting the flexibilities and efficiencies of UC, including the customer, the agent, and the "expert."
I love the whole concept of Expert Agents and have heard some great stories about their use. We have the technology, what we need to be sure to add is education from vendors to customers as to how to change the mind set away from silos of expertise to expertise for everyone. That is, it takes a while to get managers to understand and accept that the system will work, and that their experts won't be over used. We have the statistical tracking to be able to show this to them, but it is a bit of a leap of faith up front. We also need to be able to use those statistics to show if some kind of compensation from one part of the organization to the other needs to happen, if in fact, experts start to get used enough that their time is really impacted.
The point is that we have the tools and the benefits are potentially great, but we need to change mindset as well.
The technology exists to manage resources effectively and fairly. And, operational reporting exists to validate the usage (or over usage) of expert resources (inside or outside of the contact center). However, Nancy has hit the nail on the head with the argument for breaking down silos between the contact center and the departments housing the "experts".
Why would the call center supervisor be adverse to a program intended to drive first contact resolution? One major concern is a loss of control over performance and outcomes of the experts and the impact on contact center performance metrics. Who will be held accountable for customer satisfaction? Without a clear process and aligned goals, it is unclear how responsibilities will be appropriately assigned and measured. A second fear is the quality of infomation provided and tenor of the delivery. While one can argue whether they are always effective, most contact centers have "scripts" for how conversations with customers are structured, what is said and what isn't, and so forth. How are the experts trained to deal with customers? And, is a method in place to ensure quality and consistency? And, how are those metrics measured across organizations?
Why would the departments owning the experts balk at the proposition of increasing customer satisfaction? One reason that has been discussed frequently is the time burden placed on individuals who already have full time jobs. I proffer that this issue is actually less important than determining the value created by using these experts with customers versus the value created by these individuals in their normal routines. Therefore, a company needs to be able to define and measure value creation. These metrics will most likely be very different from those in the call center. And, they may require the combination of information from various resources to create relevant data in ways not currently envisioned in the company's IT systems.
The old adage of the CRM world (It's people, process and technology) hold true. Relative to expert agents, the technology exists. Issues surrounding people and process need further definition.
A couple of great points were raised in the last posts. Silos in technology and communication have long been a challenge for probably just about every organization. Unified communications tools and processes have come to fruition largely to address these obstacles and make it easier for improved communication and processes across the enterprise. And, in the contact center some of the tools already exist for breaking down silos between agents and expert/knowledge workers in the form of presence technology and collaboration tools. But as has been mentioned, even if you build it, will they come? The good news is the technology to allay many of the fears that experts have in being used as resources for the contact center already exists, such as workforce management for scheduling these experts to keep them from being overburdened.
The interesting thing though was one of the previous posts mentioned the use of metrics to define and measure value creation, which could provide the incentive/motivation to get experts more excited/more motivated about being an additional resource for customer interactions.
Performance management applications address this issue by allowing managers to continuously monitor, measure, and improve contact center business processes, as well as those that may extend into the enterprise. By providing scorecards and analysis that keep employees focused on the organization’s key performance indicators (KPIs) – in this case it may be first call resolution - performance management drives improvements across sales, collections, and customer service processes to help companies realize cross-functional alignment with strategic goals.
Performance management applications also enable a structured process through which a company can take steps to improve overall performance against key metrics. These applications can initiate and track actions automatically in response to an indication of a performance problem, thereby reducing reliance on supervisor and manager diligence. At the same time, executives can immediately see performance issues in their organization and track their resolution.
Here is a practical way to look at UC for contact center applications. How will UC implementation be different for a contact center "agent" than for an "expert" working for the same company? What if the "expert" works for another organization?
Art: Have you seen cases where this is applicable? It seems pretty dangerous in a customer service type of scenario. How can a company manage outside experts, and what happens if the information provided isn't accurate or useful? Is this theoretical, or are people actually doing this?
There could be some opportunities where this could be a viable option. If a company regularly works with a certain set of partners, they could federate with those partners and then be able to have the same visibility/UC functionality that the organization has internally.
One example of how this could be applied: an auto insurance company that works with the same windshield replacement company. They could federate and the contact center agent could easily access an expert at their autoglass company to have customer questions addressed perhaps about billing or scheduling, etc.
The ability for a company to manage the customer experience across brick and mortar, contact center, expert advisor or partner is the next wave of customer service. The "how" (even if not totally seamless) is available today. The question is the "what" is important to measure. And, based on these "whats", how should the experience be changed. Technologists have figured out how to measure and to aggregate. The winner in the next round will be the one who can determine what in the plethora of data can be used to create relevant information.
I totally agree, Laura. i think the big issue will also be control - as Don mentioned in the UCStrategies podcast about expert agents, the contact center manager doesn't want to lose or give up control, and if they're measured on speed of handling and responding to calls, they'll be even more reluctant to let calls go outside the contact center where they lose control. The change has to come from the top - beyond the contact center. This will require organization shifts, including new job roles, like Director of Customer Satisfaction.
The use of non-resident experts has been a common practice in the contact center outsourcing industry for years. In many cases the outsourcer will provide a frontline agent, fielding between 80% and 90% of the calls and then escalate the rest to experts. In the Pre-UC days, escalation normally took the form of a code in the ticket. Today it may be a request for help through a UC system.
Let’s take an insurance company as an example. The front line agent is more likely not located in the same country as the experts. While the agents maybe in India, the Philippines, or the South Africa, the experts may be in Harford, Charlottesville, or London. In the old days, the expert would pick a ticket from the queue and call the customer back. No one was on the line and there was not the sense of urgency that UC offers. Today, UC brings more rapid escalation and the experts loose a measure of control. Not only do experts have to manage SLA of processed insurance claims, but they keep being interrupted by the agents. Tension soon builds between the experts and agents.
So how do you keep the customer and the processor happy? The insurance company needs to make assisting the outsourcer part of the job description of the processor. And at the same time, the expert must be treated in the same way as the agent. That is, he or she cannot be given the choice of answering a call and the experts results must be measured. Of the flip-side, the expert’s time must be protected. They must be given uninterrupted time to compete their job. A company will run in to big issues if it employs UC to increase collaboration between agents and experts and does not employ some sort of workforce management tool to manage and protect the experts’ time.
The technology will help bring agents and experts closer together. But like all tools, without proper management, a company runs risks of it causing more headaches than it solves.
Great insights, Michael. It sounds like in the pre-UC days, when the non-resident experts who called the customer back, the contact center would lose important information - it wouldn't be able to report on the interaction, record it, monitor it, etc. With the UC tools available today, the contact center manager would still be able to have a view into the experts' interactions with customers, which is very important. Reporting metrics, workforce management, recording - all of those things are needed for the expert agent.
When you say that the insurance company needs to make assisting the outsourcer part of the job description of the processor, it sounds like you're agreeing that companies will need to change their corporate culture. I think this will be easy with new hires and new companies, but for more established workers and companies, it will be challenging. Workforce management and optimization tools will be essential - especially for the experts who still need to focus on their regular jobs.
There has been a lot of good discussion about this topic in this thread. To summarize, I feel there are three issues that have to be addressed: 1) Identify and keep current the skill sets of expertise throughout the enterprise. 2) Harness technology to fairly distribute contacts to appropriately skilled experts. 3) Establish a business culture in which experts to be tapped are willingly responsive and the contact center managers are willing to let them handle the calls.
The first, identifying the appropriate skills, is similar to the issue with contact center’s skills-based routing capabilities as Art pointed out, but it’s much more complex. In many cases, the expertise is more fluid and changing, and the challenging requirement is to keep that skills database current, especially to do so without extensive manual intervention by potential participants. Therefore, techniques to mine corporate information, publications, email exchanges, etc. will be important.
The second, technology challenges, is largely solvable with today’s systems, as Aleassa points out. But it requires enterprises to go beyond the straightforward map-and-measure-what-happens-only-in-the-center approach that most enterprises are currently doing. There are challenges in correctly establishing “available” times for outside experts, and in measuring their contributions. And more work is needed to automatically keep and use updated skills inventories. But implementing appropriate systems will enable both successfully using experts’ capabilities appropriately, and having them feeling good about it.
The third, the cultural issue, can be the biggest challenge, and Laura and Blair made some excellent points. Success requires that the enterprise value “customer intimacy”, and, appropriately, not all companies should embrace that value. (See Discipline of Market Leaders by Treacy and Wiersema.) Companies that have or acquire the appropriate culture should make sure that the way the contact center manager’s “success” is measured doesn’t penalize for “losing control of the call”.
In our consulting work at Vanguard Communications, we find that the first step is to get the culture correct. That has to start at the top of the enterprise. When that is in place, get the measurements and metrics correctly aligned with the new culture. Then, identifying the skills, setting up the schedules, and implementing processes can work well.
Does anyone have any good examples of companies that have found ways to overcome the cultural and personnel issues related to expert agents?
Rich presence engine is not enough to give you a robust method of using expert knowledge.When coupled with attribute based routing tool ,and one that will load balance the use of any one expert, will allow you to the best use of resources. Users may be listed by name or by skill depending on the needs and wants of the enterprise.Adaptive Engineering offers this product as well as including a collaberation tool all in a secure,enterprise grade product