Usage Profile Series: The Contact Center Usage Profile
The concept of a Usage Profile was introduced in this post on September 19, 2016. This series of articles will describe eight role-based Usage Profiles plus a Foundational Usage Profile. These profiles cover well over 90% of all employee and contractor roles in the U.S., across all industries. Each Usage Profile article will describe:
This post considers the third Usage Profile, Contact Center Workers.
The primary type of work done by people in the Usage Profile
- The vertical industry segments where the Usage Profile occurs
- The metrics for workers in the Profile
- How the Profile is unique
- How workers in the Profile communicate
- The technologies and tools used by workers in the Profile, currently and evolving to the future
Usage Profile 3: Contact Center Workers
What Do Contact Center Workers Do?
The Contact Center Usage Profile comprises workers who are agents and supervisors in contact centers and who work at desks, cubicles or offices. Contact Center agents interact with designated populations of customers, clients, citizens or employees who make contact with (inbound), or are contacted by (outbound), the Contact Center workers for specific purposes related to the enterprise’s workflows.
Historically, these contacts and interactions have been via voice phone calls. Increasingly, they include email, chat from web pages, social media interactions, text from mobile devices or apps, content sharing from the Contact Center worker to the other party’s screen, and co-browsing of web pages between the Contact Center worker and the other party. Sometimes live video is added to the voice session.
Incoming or outgoing contacts are managed via software-defined queues of contacts, which are serviced by pools of Contact Center workers. The software allocates the contacts to the Contact Center workers based on rules that optimize the balance between the speed, quality and economic value of the service for the contact and the efficiency of the Contact Center worker pools. The Contact Center software dynamically monitors the queues for levels of service and allocates calls based on the availability and skills of the Contact Center workers. Performance information is collected that enables predictive management of the queues, contacts, and worker staffing levels. In some cases, contact center sessions are recorded or logged for quality or training reviews and/or for regulatory compliance.
Almost all contact center interactions are integrated into some specific workflow within the organization’s business processes, such as new customer acquisition, online sales, customer account services, and internal help desks. Almost all of these workflows will be based on, or interact with, business application software packages such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Management (ERM), and help desk ticketing software. Usually the Contact Center worker will see this business application software as the primary application on their screen or side-by-side with the contact center communications software interface.
Contact Center supervisors use the Contact Center software application to monitor the current status of contacts, queues, and Contact Center agent pools. Supervisors also manage staffing levels based on historic and forecasted contact volumes, an application known as workforce management.
Some Contact Center workers may work from home, especially if they are scheduled to cover only certain hourly, weekly or annual peak loads. In this regard, the Contact Center worker usage profile is similar to the general “work from home” case covered in the Foundational Usage Profile. However, the types of interactions, the real-time performance monitoring, and the possible need for contact session recording make the contact center requirements unique.
Contact Center workers who interact with customers, clients, or citizens are almost always non-exempt employees, eligible for overtime. For this reason, their work is performed at their office or home desk location during their assigned shifts. Contact Center supervisors are usually exempt from overtime due to their decision-making and managerial responsibilities and may perform portions of their work while away from their primary office location.
Contact Center Worker Titles and Industries
In 2015, Contact Center workers represented 2.4 million U.S. workers (1.6% of employment), based on an analysis of U.S. employment by occupation1. Due to low cost Internet Protocol communications, routine contact center workflows are often served by Contact Center workers in low-wage countries, so there are more contact center jobs associated with the U.S. economy than represented by the 1.6% employment population mentioned here.
Contact Center workers have job titles of Contact Center Agent, Inside Sales Representative (Financial Services, Manufacturing, Retail, and Travel), Customer Service Representative (Health Care, Insurance, Manufacturing, Telecommunications, Public Sector, Travel, and Energy), or Help Desk Representative (Manufacturing and cross-industry departments such as Human Resources, IT, Facilities, etc.). The top industries for Contact Center workers in 2015 worldwide were Health Care (19%), Financial Services/Insurance (17%), and Technology, Media, and Telecommunications (15%)2.
Contact Center Worker Metrics
Contact centers are measured primarily by their efficiency and productivity, i.e., how many contacts can be made within a certain time period with a specific level of service. From the beginning, contact centers were organized to manage the labor cost for specific workflows. Contact centers have become more sophisticated, and metrics now include customer satisfaction, which is measured by post-call surveys and "net promoter scores." In some industries and workflows, Inside Sales and Customer Service Representatives are measured on ratios of revenue generation per contact.
How the Contact Center Usage Profile is Unique
The Contact Center Usage Profile differs from the other Profiles in these ways:
- Communications Is Primary Activity: The most unique factor for Contact Center workers is that their primary activity throughout their workday is communications with the persons they are serving through the inbound or outbound contact queues.
- Transaction Oriented: Contact Center workers focus on completing the workflows or transactions of each contact to optimize the performance metrics for call speed, efficiency, quality, customer satisfaction, and/or revenue generation. While some workflows may be conversational and involve customer choices or options, Contact Center workflows are not classified as collaborative.
- Skills-based Work Assignment: A Contact Center worker will typically represent a set of experience and skills that the contact center software uses for optimal assignment and routing of the contact queues.
- Logged-in with Status: Contact Center workers must log in and set their status in order for the contact center software to include them in the contact queue assignments. While Presence status in other Usage Profiles reflects a similar concept of availability, the Contact Center Usage Profile is unique in the pervasive use of worker (or agent) status for contact routing.
- Scripted Communications: Usually, the Contact Center worker follows conversational scripts linked to a specific workflow and business application software package.
- Sophisticated Metrics and Monitoring: The Contact Center Usage Profile is unique in the amount and sophistication of the metrics associated with the performance of the contact center as a whole and with each sub-division of the contact center based on workflows, groups and individual Contact Center workers.
- Desk-based: Contact Center workers require computers, screens, keyboards, communications devices, and reference materials that are best used at an assigned desk, whether on-premises or in a home office.
How Contact Center Workers Communicate
Workers in the Contact Center Usage Profile communicate based on the contact assignments routed to them by the contact center software. Since most work at a desk, they use a wired headset for voice calls, which also ensures voice quality. In some situations, they may use a wireless headset. When video is invoked with the contacting or contacted person, the contact center software activates either a USB-type or built-in webcam camera attached to the agent’s computer. During calls that involve application sharing or co-browsing, the Contact Center worker also works with the business application information on the computer screen via keyboard and mouse, in addition to voice and/or video media.
For email, web page chat, social media, text from mobile phones (SMS) or mobile apps, the Contact Center worker communicates entirely via their computer keyboard, mouse and screen. In most cases, the communications, including voice and video over Internet Protocol (VoIP), is over the organization’s Local Area Network (LAN), Wide Area Network (WAN), and carrier (telecom or Internet) connections. If the contact center worker is working from home, connections can be via a virtual private network (VPN) or simply via encrypted communications on the worker’s home Internet connection.
Contact center applications are mostly on-premises implementations, due to the complexity of the installations and the integrations of the contact center software with the business applications required for contact center workflows. However, usage of cloud-based contact center services (Contact Center as a Service or CCaaS) is rapidly growing. Many offer pre-packaged integrations to most of the popular CRM, ERM and help desk software services that are already offered as cloud services.
Contact Center workers will have an employee phone number, an employee email account, and perhaps an employee Instant Messaging (IM) and Presence account for their use as an employee when not in a contact center communication session. In some cases, Contact Center workers use their email or IM account to contact personnel outside the contact center for assistance, but if the need for help or information is persistent, that interaction is usually built into the workflow and managed by the contact center or business application software. In some cases, a recurring need for help from outside the contact center will be addressed and reduced or eliminated by enhanced training or reference materials for the Contact Center worker.
Contact Center workers also use content management applications, ranging from shared drives to advanced content repositories, for reference information, if that information is not contained in the business application or workflow software packages.
Contact Center Usage Profile Communication Directions for the Future
The future direction for the Contact Center Usage Profile will continue to be based on optimizing the performance metrics of the contact center. Look for these trends:
- Increased automated self-service options that can eliminate the need for a Contact Center worker to service the contact. These options will continue the trends of interactive voice response (IVR), speech recognition, web pages, mobile apps, social media, text (SMS) and IM "bots," and similar methods.
- Increased ability of the contact center software to integrate and manage multiple media types or “channels” related to a specific workflow. For example, if a traveler needs to reschedule a flight, the Contact Center worker may be connected into a phone call after the traveler has interacted with an IVR front-end, a web page, or a mobile app. The Contact Center worker may have three different scripts or workflows, depending on which of these channels is used by the traveler. Labor cost reductions should offset additional investments in technology and training.
- Increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) and big-data analytics to optimize Contact Center worker performance. For example, software may listen to a call and prompt the Contact Center worker on-screen with alternate scripts, issue resolution options, or up-sell suggestions.
- Increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) and big-data analytics to assist the Contact Center supervisor with workflow and staffing management.
- A decline in the use of the IP-PBX as the primary contact center technology platform. It may be replaced by adding contact management software to the business application software packages for CRM, ERM, Sales and Service Management, and Help Desks. This trend is already visible and will likely accelerate as application software becomes the preferred interface for customers, clients and citizens.
- Increasing competitiveness, ease of implementation, and software sophistication of cloud-based contact center solutions, whether via CCaaS or via addition of contact center software to cloud-based business application software packages.
The Contact Center Usage Profile is an important communications profile in industries with large retail, consumer or citizen populations. Even business-to-business relationships are often served with contact center technologies when the contacts are for generic workflows such as product support, logistics, or financial activities such as accounts payable or receivable. In all of these cases, contact center software technology and Contact Center workers can be very important for customer service levels and customer satisfaction, and for minimizing the associated operational costs.
Contact center technologies pre-date Unified Communications (UC) technologies. In fact, UC inherited many contact center technologies. For example, Presence is equivalent to the “agent state” in contact centers. Also, many UC features are based on the integration of UC with the business application software used by the workers in the other Usage Profiles, as has been done in contact centers for decades.
We expect that the Contact Center Usage Profile will continue in its current form for many years into the future, with technology and operational advancements such as those listed above. On the other hand, we can also forecast two disruptions to the Contact Center Usage Profile in the coming years:
- Solutions for multi-channel capabilities that include email, SMS, social networks and web page chat are likely to be taken over by the producers of web-based software platforms. Those producers have deeper technical capabilities to provide alternate channels than do the voice contact center providers. They also have existing relationships with the IT teams and the departments who will be serving those fast-growing customer interaction channels. Voice and video capabilities will be incorporated by web platform producers as needed by their customers, using newer methods such as WebRTC that do not require the functions of an IP PBX.
- Business application software package providers will increasingly incorporate basic contact management functionality into their software products. For example, a software company that is a leader in customer relationship or help desk software could readily incorporate contact queueing into their product such that the Contact Center workers would have all of the necessary communications tools available via the business application software package, including advanced analytics for customer service and satisfaction and even better data mining capabilities for upselling or proactive service offers.
When planning communications requirements for the Contact Center Usage Profile, be sure to evaluate logical extensions of the current contact center operations based on trends in customer preferences and in technology capabilities. Look for opportunities to apply contact center capabilities to groups of workers in the Information Processing, Production, or Field Usage Profiles, when service of inbound or outbound contacts is a significant part of the workflows in those Usage Profiles. Also, be sure to evaluate the disruptive alternatives for contact management that are now emerging via cloud-based business application software providers.
1US Bureau of Labor Statistics Table 11b. http://www.bls.gov/cps/tables.htm#charemp
Also on UCStrategies.com in this series: