How to sense check your contact centre

How do you sense check your contact centre?  This article reviews the sensible checks that on a Monday morning you should be able to report on instantly.

Often reporting habits imply the business is OK without giving management the full picture.

The French playwright Molière said “It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.” , this article helps you address this.

These simple quality checks give you as the contact manager the highlights you need to understand how you’re doing.  Time for a bit of free consultancy.

  • Basic checks – The Tactical Data Figures
  • What’s missing? – The Managerial Information Figures
  • Icing on the cake – The Strategic Decision Support Figures

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Basic checks – The Tactical Data Figures

Some basic jargon

This article assumes you have the basic jargon of a contact centre.  If not, don’t worry there’s a full explanation of the terms here for your reference if something doesn’t make sense.

A person who works on the phones or responding to electronic communication is an agent rather than a manager or trainer.


Served on a plate

The first suite of checks I would look for are all to do with time as time is unambiguous and definitely not contentious.

First and absolute sense check is that you are not waiting on a team to generate a report and send that report to you.  If you are, there are massive efficiency gains immediately.

Old phone systems still will have the majority of metrics available to you.  If you have very old equipment data recording systems can provide you an alternative means of reviewing your key metrics.

In this age of modern computing you as a manager want to have information and knowledge instantly available to you.  More information on the Information Systems Pyramid can be read here.

So you are going to have data coming from probably more than one system, here are the systems that should be available.

  • Contact management: a phone system or equivalent communications platform.
  • Data management
  • Time sheet management
  • Infrastructure management


The primary set of numbers

These numbers give you the overall sense of how the business is doing but first time you read them they won’t mean anything.

  1. Inbound and Outbound centre: How many overall contacts (via all mediums) did we have inbound?
  2. Outbound centre: How many outbound contacts did we make?
  3. Inbound and Outbound centre: How much time did we spend in contact?

It’s a contact centre and these are the biggest “contact” details.  These are the primary metrics of a contact centre.

In every centre there are periodic peaks and troughs when the information is put on a line chart over time…. What we are looking at is trending

  • 1: 50
  • 2: 45
  • 3: 20
  • 4: 48

If you can’t get that data instantly and preferably in real time then you’re not managing your centre consequently the up side is that there’s potentially a heap of improvements easily available to you.

Let’s sense check your contact centre.


The full suite

In the age of modern contacts email is likely as popular if not more so than phone calls.

Your centre will have it’s own focus but all touch points needs consideration.


Here is where I personally would start to sense check your contact centre.



Phone or live chat based – Inbound contact

  • Total inbound calls
  • Inbound calls answered
  • Calls not answered and customer hung up
  • On hold calls out of all inbound
  • Not ready time
  • Wrap up time
  • Talk time
  • Average Handling Time (AHT)

Email or social media based – Inbound contact

  • Total inbound contacts
  • Answered
  • New conversations started in the period
  • Amount of unresolved going into the period
  • Resolved in the period
  • End of period unanswered
  • Activity Time

Outbound contact – Phone based

  • Total calls made
  • Records contacted
  • Contacts by type (wrong number, no answer, voicemail, call back later, not interested, success)

Staff based

  • Staff working
  • Available to work total time
  • Where time was spent (talking, email, not ready, break, lunch, meetings, training, waiting for work)
  • Average times by work type (sales, billing updates, general queries)


What’s missing? – The Managerial Information Figures

Sense check your contact centre!

So the above checks are your starting point to sense check your contact centre.

They help to paint a picture of how busy your centre is and give you an idea of how much it costs to run it.

Those metrics do not give you any idea of how good a job you’re doing.  Simply they look at home much work you’re getting through.

You as the manager should get your hands on that information at any time without having to wait for someone to tell you which enables you to ask managerial questions.

Time to add to the mix the general common weak points within the four areas.


Phone or live chat based – Inbound contact

  • Primary metrics by agent (Available time, talk time, wrap up time, not ready time, meeting / other time)
  • Contacts by period in the day ( with focus on start, middle and end of the day metrics, call arrived, calls answered, calls missed )
  • AHT by contact type

Email or social media based – Inbound contact

  • Template answers vs. unique issues
  • General inquiries referred to the website or other online information resource
  • Average wait time before human response
  • Customers phoned rather than emailed back

Outbound contact – Phone based

  • For just the successful contacts time period by day
  • Call backs performed on time vs. call backs missed
  • Activity by period of the day
  • Time between contacts by agent

Staff based

  • Missed time by illness
  • Monday / Friday absence
  • Most successful agents vs. agents with the biggest opportunity to improve


Icing on the cake – The Strategic Decision Support Figures

Making sense of it all

So far the above numbers will give you some very big picture understanding whilst helping you sense check your contact centre.

The metrics above are just data and without context are useless.

  • Seeing huge sick figures for a week could be cause it’s flu season not that all your staff are out looking for new jobs.
  • If there is a host of unanswered / dropped calls it may be that advertising went out at the wrong time by the media agency rather than a planning failure.

What we’re actually doing is starting a discussion using trends to get a base line.

If you have a base line and can get generally consistent lines, congratulations.


With the basics done it’s now time to refine you numbers and take a deeper look at your metrics to get an understanding of what’s going on in the work rather than just how much work is being done and when.

If you can’t get the above figures any time you want don’t bother trying to refine your operation until you get things under control as without base line figures refinement and improvement is wasted and can’t be properly measured.


Process optimisation

The first place we want to start is in the removal of “Muda”. Muda is the Japanese word for “futility, uselessness, wastefulness” and features heavily in the concept of Kaizen principles.

What we want to do is identify where we’re being wasteful whilst we sense check your contact centre.  If there is no waste then great but if there is room to tighten up the operation a bit without slave driving we should.

The following will help you reduce waste in your operation but you need to have a before and after picture.  How effective is measured by comparing old and new metrics.


The easiest wins :

Outcomes – Phone systems will use disposition codes to help grade calls however a workflow approach using outcomes allows you to consider removing 100% of “busy” and “not ready” time due to after call work.

Activity Time – Using data recording systems get the total time for contact so you get a view of call and after call work times.

Work Queue Management – Shared email boxes provide too easy a place to hide and don’t provide metrics.  Simply use some Work Queue Management tools and get the metrics.

Media schedule management – If advertising causes “bursts” of contact being able to help the team see when the burst is coming will vastly reduce missed contacts.

Public Knowledge Base – Building an online resource of answers which customers and staff can refer to on how to resolve the most common types of issues is very effective at reducing waste.


Quality management

Whilst reviewing where the muda can be reduced you next want to look at how good your business and your customers think you are doing.  This is a further way to sense check your contact centre and understand what’s being done in the work.

There are different approaches to quality which sense check your contact centre.

There are two sets of quality checks to be considered.


Internal quality

Internal quality usually takes the form of call recording reviews or email conversation reviews.  A quality control sheet is developed that has the key business objectives for every contact.  Simply questions like

  • Was the call answered with the correct greeting?
  • The agent, were they friendly helpful and courteous in their greeting?
  • Was the issue type identified effectively?
  • Did the agent end the call by offering to help in any other way?

Each question is given a score.  Each question and the overall scores can give a trend.

We really want to see are we delivering the business needs rather than just getting through lots of contacts.

Quality trending – Are there times / periods that we aren’t as focused as others.

Customised training plans – To reduce time spent in general training.  eLearning means staff only need to train on the bits they got wrong / missed.


External quality

Is this actually what the customer wants.  Customer Effectiveness Score (CES) or Net Promoter Score (NPS) are both essentially a survey given to the customer at the end of the contact asking them to grade their experience.

Very simply, do you think we did a good job?

This focus allows the business to see is the contact actually promoting the business or hindering it and gives the customer the opportunity to help you improve your own approach.

From a program such as this there are also easy wins.

Customer rating scores – The scores the customers give over time

Feedback – Unhappy customers can be the greatest source of inspiration for new potential ways to deal with challenges.


Final thoughts

Whilst not quote Jerry Springer’s approach, I’d like to finish up with some serious considerations to the delivery of a contact centre.

The above are metrics just numbers which don’t represent the feeling / atmosphere in the centre.  You need them to have objective conversations.  People are not machines but managers need metrics to have objective conversations.  Do not base your decisions on just numbers, talk to people and understand the context.  Turn the data into decision supporting statements.

Examining the cost of the centre compared to outsourcing the challenge is a real world consideration for many businesses and often used by larger organisations.  An outsourcer will focus on the work an apply all of the above checks to your operation on your behalf.  If your outsourcer doesn’t do all the above for you find a better outsourcer.

Use the concept of wooden dollars to cost up your contact centre.  Financial justification of your business cross departmentally stops senior management from taking the operation for granted.

Get outside help if you’re too busy to consider all the above.  The tools are available to help operations and contact centre managers without breaking the bank.  Internal resistance can make it easier for management to “blame outsiders” rather than painfully suffer alone.

You have to sense check your contact centre.


If there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.


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