Improving customer experience in the contact center — and keeping the customer — overtook the pursuit of operational gains as the top objectives over the past two years. That's a key takeaway from a recent Aberdeen Group report.

But the real value of the report, "Contact Center Workforce Optimization: Secrets to Unlock Agent Productivity & Performance," is showing how both objectives can work together.

While only 32 percent of respondents cited "improve the quality of customer interactions" as the top objective in the comparable report two years ago, 59 percent gave that response in the current report. The data is based on a survey of 83 businesses.

3 KPIs

"We've witnessed an interesting shift in the objectives driving contact center [workforce optimization] programs over the past two years," Aberdeen notes. "As companies increasingly understand (and experience) the power of empowered customers, they're changing the strategic priorities from maximizing operational efficiencies to delighting clients."

That doesn't mean, of course, that agent productivity and performance improvements are not still very important. But it is now the second top objective, not the main one. Unpredictable customer traffic is one of the main challenges faced by contact centers, so operational efficiency, even when it's not the top goal, is essential for meeting increased client demands within a higher overall traffic – and for a higher number of communication channels.

Three key performance indicators (KPIs) are used by the report to distinguish contact centers that are able to increase their customer satisfaction scores:

  • First contact resolution rate
  • Year-over-year change in customer satisfaction
  • Year-over-year change in average handle time

4 Building Blocks

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The KPIs of the contact center leaders show that making customers happy goes hand-in-hand with operational efficiency. "The leading firms complement strength in satisfying clients with operational efficiencies," the report notes, by reducing the time to handle client needs and improving the percentage of first contact resolution rates.

By being efficient, centers allow agents to have the time and resources to resolve customer issues more effectively.

But how?

For contact center managers, this is the crux of the report, which points to four building blocks for balancing efficiency with customer satisfaction:

  1. Optimize agent scheduling: In our multi-channel world, this involves adjusting schedules to "anticipate and address demand coming from multiple touch-points"
  2. Streamline process and organizational management: to connect a customer with the agent who has the knowledge and skills to address client issues
  3. Maximize training results: by giving new agents the knowledge they need to be productive
  4. Optimize performance for continuous performance: making the best use of agent resources

In each of these, Aberdeen points to one of its additional free reports for details on achieving that building block. The research firm also makes note of technological tools that can help, such as time and attendance management, eLearning tools, pre-hire assessment tools, automated agent routing and automated agent scheduling.

Contact centers are the epicenter of the dilemma faced by businesses today. Customers demand more and will easily depart for a competitor, while price competition requires operations be efficient and cost-effective. With specific research and recommendations, this report – and the links to related ones – shows how companies can have that cake and eat it, too.