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Strategic Reorganization of Incoming Call Centre Dissertation

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Updated: Apr 30th, 2020

Abstract

This research project was undertaken in order to resolve problems at the call centre, Customer Hotline, at ABC Daily Newspaper in Hong Kong. Customers were waiting too long for calls to be answered and they were complaining for lack of follow-up, poor attitudes of agents and incorrect information being.

The supervisor investigates and management decided to have a report written in order to make a decision concerning whether or not to upgrade the call centre. It had been previously planned, but budget concerns prevented implementation. I was commissioned to write the report and I was asked to try to justify the recommendation and add any possible ROI (Return on Investment) to the report.

After considerable research this is that report. It recommends new equipment and training. Plus new procedures and an upgrade on the call centre environment. In addition, a possible strategy for ROI, adding a few research questions to each call for use by marketing, is suggested as part of the report.

Introduction and Overview

Introduction with problem setting and client

ABC Daily Limited is one of the most popular Chinese newspapers in Hong Kong. Their Social Service department is providing a hotline service called Phone Care to the public readers. Readers may report news, complain about the government or ask for help, including financial, from ABC Daily through this hotline.

15 employees are responsible for answering and following up these cases, and recording the main content of conversions into the MS Excel file every day. Recently, some readers complained about the service quality, including the lack of follow-up on cases, giving wrong information about cases and using an inappropriate manner during conversations.

After investigation, management discovered that staff had recorded wrong information about the cases at times, such as contact phone numbers.

Supervisors found that it was hard to verify the information taken since the telephone system could not record the conversations because the papers reading customers are the reasons for its existence, it is essential to take good care of them. If they are unhappy, then the paper will lose readership and when circulation drops, then spending on advertising drops with it, like the blade of a guillotine.

Presenting problem, its causes and reason for its resolution

After the initial fact-finding by supervisors, it was decided that this problem needs to be addressed because the connection to the public through the call centre is an essential link to the readership.

The supervisors have asked to report which should include a description of the problem, justification for modifications to our call centre system, including return on investment for the finance department and the research supported plan for implementation.

It is the aim of this project to produce this report. It is hoped that if the report is comprehensive enough that a solution for this problem can be devised which satisfies the need and stays within a reasonable budget.

The Aim of the Report

The supervisors feel that a need has been established for changes to the call centre, based upon the many complaints from customers and the inability of managers to verify the status. Basically, the report should contain a background of call centre technology, a history of methodology and the strategic issues involved.

In addition, an overview of the current problems in the industry and how they have been addressed at other organizations will be included. For each technology described a scenario will be included with the description and the strategic benefits and ROI (return on investment) will be discussed.

This requires a comprehensive study to be carried out in order to get a clear view of the current status of the call centres and perspective from different directions. This is an interesting problem because it shows that the company is thinking ahead and is willing to make changes to benefit customers and staff. Particularly, this report will look at ways to make the connection with the customer more efficient and satisfying.

Any change proposed must be justified and proof will be presented to back the suggestions. It should have been resolved some time ago, but the call centre was too removed from the rest of operations and it was not considered an essential part of the business operations. However, preliminary research shows that this is not an issue isolated to this company, and there are many possible solutions.

Ideally, this report will provide method for achieving customer satisfaction at the same time as insuring for accuracy of recording and follow-up plus accountability from the agents. The changes should both improve the service level and provide for monitoring and make the working conditions better for the agents.

Because the management has been previously unaware of this problem, there has been no study of alternatives, so this report must include the possibilities, most of which are technologically based. While the problem is being researched, cost effectiveness will be considered and the trade-offs involved in each possible solution will be covered.

While it is plain that training and monitoring are a substantial part of this problem, the solution will likely be a combination of new technology and new training. The processes involved in handling calls will be closely scrutinized and compared with that of successful centres.

It is certain that the necessary monitoring will be technology based, while the ability to avoid duplication of effort and insure proper follow-up for each call can also be supported technologically.

It is the aim of this report to provide the options available for upgrading our call centre and providing the strategic business sense behind each, so that the management can make an informed decision on how to address this problem. Only those options which are both financially and logistically feasible will be presented, though the others will be mentioned briefly in connection with why they are not suggested.

Due to the time constraints only two methods were planned: a literature review and a review of the call centre data. However, as stated later in this report, the call centre data proved unusable because it contained far too little information.

Essentially the research seeks to find out how the paper might best improve agent performance and customer satisfaction by providing a better procedural plan, possibly better tools and better oversight of the department.

Overview of Research Plan

Approach

The first step is to evaluate the literature to see what is being done elsewhere and what options are available. Since the review of an existing industry is essential to be evaluated from all perspectives, hence a detailed literature review is required. The literature will tell us how other industries are coping and what experiences other companies are having with which options.

Technology has developed very rapidly since the paper started its call centre. There are also ideas for leveraging the call centre to provide more data about customers so that the paper can better serve its B2B customers too.

Style

A mixed style will be used comprised of both quantitative and qualitative data. The majority will be qualitative since this requires a final recommendation, implying judgment. Therefore, the outcome must qualify the recommendations.

Primary Data

It was planned, originally to use data collected from 200 calls in the call centre. However, this data was lacking in details, so not much could be deduced from studying it. The only conclusion was that it supported the need for this study.

The Primary data collection is the basis of the research study and its outcomes. Therefore, it should not be left unattended, despite the records collected from 200 calls were apparently insufficient to extract any visible conclusion. Thus, in order to broaden the compass of the primary data and present it in a more meaningful way, further study is required. Therefore, new primary data collection was designed.

All the call centre agents were interviewed. In addition, three supervisors were interviewed. Two marketing experts were interviewed from the company and five supervisors from other call centres were interviewed. This was done in order to get a broad and comprehensive view of the problem and possible solutions.

Outcome

The report is focused on analysing the current organization and strategies of the call centre, finding the opportunity areas where further work can be carried out to improve the call centres and evaluating the ways the proposed up-gradation or improvement can be brought into the call centres. The final product will be a report on what was found in the literature and what was deduced from the primary research.

This report will include recommendations for which kinds of upgrades and changes are needed. It is expected that some of these will be new IT additions to the call centre to facilitate customer service and agent training, monitoring and work procedures.

Actors

The management is expected to choose which tools to add to the system and then the IT department will purchase and install them. Training will be conducted for supervisors and agents to insure proper deployment and use of the new tools.

After six months in operation, it is expected that a review of the department performance will be conducted and also a review of the value of the data mining for the marketing department will be done.

Target and Strategic IT

Once the new tools are chosen and deployed and employees are trained to use them, and other suggested changes are made to the environment and the work process, the actual environment of the call centre should change quite a lot. It should become calmer and more business-like with agents actually engaged with the callers. Agents will have proper tools, so their reports will actually contain usable data.

The data will be stored in a central database so call can be properly tracked. Follow-ups will be triggered and agents and supervisors will be connected via chat so that the entire workforce becomes a unified team.

Strategic Business IT

It is in the final outcome where the strategic portion is found. The new IT tools and system will provide a method for better serving clients. In addition, the calls will be tracked, so that there is continuity of service.

Calls will be monitored in real time to provide supervisors with the ability to review the performance of agents and to provide ongoing training. Some extra data collection will also be enabled, providing a data mining project for the marketing department to use for sales of advertising space in the paper. This will greatly increase the ROI for this centre.

Scope and Scale

This project involves only one company and one call centre. However, it impacts the marketing department of the same company and will require the participation of the IT department.

Ethical Overview

There are really no ethical problems involved since all interviews will be anonymous, including those with agents, supervisors, marketing experts and foreign supervisors. No data used will have any identifying information concerning the people involved, since none is needed. No mined data for the marketing department will contain any identifying information of the customers or agents.

Research Question

The research question for this report is: How can we make changes to the ABC Daily call centre in order to eliminate duplication of effort and maximize the results and customer satisfaction while providing supervisors with better monitoring and training tools, agents with better workflow tools and customers with better service?

We also wish to add better ROI for the call centre in order to more justify the investment. The ROI we expect to add will be demographic data on readership for the marketing department provide via additional questions and data mining of the provided central database for call information.

Aim

It is the final aim of this research to provide a report to guide management in the acquisition, installation and deployment of new useful tools in the call centre which will greatly enhance the service to customers, the work environment, the efficiency of the centre and the final ROI.

The target outcome is to provide a way to track interactions with caller, to monitor agent work, to provide better tools for training, to improve the work environment and to enhance the service and its value to the company.

Objectives

The final objectives include new tools which make a smoother operation of the call centre possible, new procedures which will enhance the service to customer, new monitoring equipment for supervisors to use for tracking and training and a new service to the marketing department from the data mining which will enhance their efforts with primary advertising clients.

The report is purposed to highlight the issues that customer face when the call centres deal with them and the ways that can be adopted to organize / reorganize a call centre to be able to achieve its stated aims through better customer service.

The attitudes of workers are expected to change as they are more empowered to serve the callers. It is expected that customer complaints about the service will fall, while complements will rise. In addition, the management will have a new ability to check on customer complaints and add to training in order to alleviate any problems.

The data mining will produce tangible data for the marketing department and they are expected to be able to become more efficient as a result, providing better targeted service to advertisers.

Summary

This project is undertaken by order of the management in order to correct some problems in the call centre of ABC Daily Newspaper. The problems identified include customer complaints about agent attitudes, service, record keeping and follow-up. The lack of recording technology makes checking on this difficult. However, call records in Excel show that there is a need for better technology.

The stress levels of agents and their supervisors are too high. New tools providing call continuity and a knowledge base should alleviate the stress, as these will provide methods for improving service and training. The final report will be a summary of the research, both secondary and primary, and findings, a report on what is available to help alleviate these problems and recommendations on how to proceed.

Literature Review

Aim of the Literature Review

In order to encompass the flaws or gaps in an existing organization, a detailed review and multidirectional approach is required for proper study. Hence for this project, an extensive literature review was required in order to discover the current state of call centre technology and the attendant problems.

For the most part, it was hoped that the literature would provide a list of popular IT solutions for call centre management, strategies for training and management of personnel and for call monitoring and maybe some ideas to maximize the ROI (return on investment) of the call centre that is the core business aim in alignment with improved customer satisfaction.

Methodology

Since the aim of the literature review is wide enough to take into account the industry’s norms and overall perspective, the superficial or limited literature will not serve the purpose fruitfully. Therefore, literature search strategy is kept to encompass majority sources using the search engines at internet and books from different sources.

In order to uncover as much information as possible, several databases of peer reviewed literature were searched on the terms “call centre” and CRM (customer relationship management). This brought up more than fifty relevant results for this project.

In addition, several books in SBIT and call centre management, or books with relevant chapters, were consulted. The Internet was also searched for companies producing applicable products which might resolve the issues.

Results: What the Literature Shows

An Overview of Call Centres and Their History

Call centres are absolutely part of many businesses strategies. This can be used to both connect with customers and to allow customers to order more of what we sell. IN addition, some enterprises are leveraging the call centre to mine data on their customers. After all, the more you know about your customer, the better you can serve them.

Maggiora and Doherty (2003 p45) define call centres as primary connections between the company and the customer. These can be inbound or outbound, but the aim is to connect the customer with the proper agent or resource to fulfil his or her needs because this project is only concerned with inbound calls, information concerning outbound call centres was ignored.

Inbound call centres function to allow customers to acquire support, to find information, to place orders or check on their progress, to check the status of their account, to make requests or complaints, to report a problem or just to comment of service.

Call centres may also function as B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to customer). In our case, we are mostly concerned with B2C. We will also concentrate upon service call centres, as we do not currently have a need for outgoing or sales promotion.

A number of different configurations and strategies were uncovered from traditional to totally web based artificial intelligence agents. (2007 Customer Relationship Management) Traditional call centres are where a live person answers and determines where to route the call or works to resolve the issue at that time.

This is our current model. However, the agent may be working from a centrally located call centre or he or she may be working from home, either of which may be located anywhere in the world.

There are also two other major configurations: an Internet based interface with an intelligent digital agent (artificial intelligence) or an automated answering system with interactive menus for choices for routing the call. Either of these strategies may lead to a live agent. They are generally used in countries where labour costs are high and volume is very great. (2009 HOSTING A SAAS-Y CENTER)

Call centres are a fact of business life, though many businesses do not realize it. Diché (2001 p 34) cites a number of firms which discovered that their call centres were not getting things done. In addition, she noted that many e-tailors intentionally omitted phone numbers from their web sites, possible a prime reason for more the six billion US dollars in losses in 1999.

With mail, phone, catalogue and Internet marketing, the call centre may be the only contact between the customer and the business. Since our business is a publication, our only contact is really via our call centre or via snail mail or email. There is very little in-person contact between the paper and its customers. The paper is delivered by agents or sold in public places by third parties.

Diché (2001 p 35) cites the efficiency measurement as a prime cause of call centre agent inefficiency. If efficiency is measured by average call length and call handling volume alone, agents have a vested interest in getting the caller off the phone as quickly as possible (Bailor 2006).

If this means the caller must call back more than once, it does not affect the agents efficiency score. If calls are not monitored, this becomes a real problem and companies can lose considerable business over it. Follow-up can be virtually eliminated if no call monitoring is done.

Call centre technologies are helping to eliminate this problem and others. Essentially, the beginning of call centres had agents making handwritten notes and logging calls in a book. This centre is not much beyond that level, using Excel instead of a notebook. PBX systems have been routing calls for decades, so agents could use this strategy to send the caller to someone more appropriate to help them as needed.

However, with advent of computers, and the development of intelligent PBX systems, much more capability has been added. Call centre agents now have databases available for checking the history of any callers interaction with the centre, the previous issues and resolutions (Reynolds 2004 p289).

In addition, knowledge based systems can help search for possible resolutions of the current calls. Along with these came the ability to monitor the calls, either electronically, using recorders and intelligent parsing systems or by using live monitors who listen randomly to calls.

Now any company has many choices how to set up interaction with the customer, and few companies rely solely on traditional inbound live call centres using simple tools. However, because of the many choices and the many different types of interactions required of agents, agent training has become one of the most important considerations for companies setting up a call centre.

Call centres have become a major investment for medium and large sized enterprises, especially in countries where labour costs are high. This has resulted in major outsourcing to countries with lower labour costs from these high cost developed regions.

Companies in the developing nations often augment their own call centre activity with contracts from companies in developed regions in order to manage the cost and to allow them to purchase better technology.

Results: What the Literature Shows

Before setting up a new call centre or modifying an existing one, two things must be considered. There must be a clear idea of what the expectations are. The aims of the call centre must be laid out and fully documented. Without a clear set of goals, any project is almost certainly doomed to failure.

In addition to clearly defined goals, the company needs to establish a budget. Typically, call centres are the object of considerable capital output. Therefore, while the budget may be flexible, there are always constraints. Everything about the centre must be justified to the finance department.

A typical set of goals may include customer support, technical support, information gathering, and feedback from customers, account management, provision of additional services or good, problem resolution and marketing projects. However, these need to be defined very completely, and not it these general terms. So handling customer problems must be carefully defined to include all the problems we can anticipate.

These should be listed out with all the possible resolutions. One example for our company is failed delivery of the paper to a subscriber. Another might be delivery of a damaged newspaper which cannot be read. The caller might want delivery suspended for a vacation. All of these should be listed in a database with a list of possible solutions and procedures.

In this way, the planning for the call centre will include everything needed to serve the specific aims and a database to help agents to serve the customers will be created in the process. It is even best if a mission statement for the call centre is created and documented before anything is actually done.

Once the goals are clearly defined and a prospective budget is set, then products and design can be investigated. With these criteria in mind, products can be reviewed for their possible fit to the defined tasks in line with the budget. Procedures can be defined and products may be reviewed which will support the procedures. Software, hardware and furniture and such can be proposed for a new centre, and training can be proposed.

Even a redesign of an existing centre will require some training for agents. In the case of a modification of an existing centre, a detailed description of the current work processes and the attendant problems needs to be created, then a detailed plan for changes can be created and all the necessary changes will disrupt the workflow as little as possible.

Problems and Solutions for Current Call Centres

The literature mentioned a list of problems that current call centres face:

  1. Attrition; this is number one in many areas. Call centres have trouble keeping good agents (Myron 2004). The main problems listed were: boredom (repetitive work) Musico, C. (2009), lack of good tools (Musico, C. (2008), stress, money, personal satisfaction and empowerment (Musico, C. 2009). In addition, CRM Magazine cites unrealistic expectations at hiring time as a major problem causing the 40% annual attrition which costs the industry billions of dollars annually (C. M. 2008).
  2. Companies are reluctant to invest in contact centres, and see them as a drain on resources. “Customer service is the last place that most companies will spend,” (Musico, C. 2009).
  3. Dissatisfaction of customers being reported to top management. (Fluss, D. 2008)
  4. Tight money (Fluss, D. 2008)

Proposed solutions centred on five main areas:

  1. Assessing and changing or expanding the goals
  2. Changing hiring practices
  3. Providing better training
  4. Changing the work environment or procedures
  5. Upgrading technology

Assessing and Changing or Expanding the Goals of the Call Centre

This can improve its ROI and will also provide data for data mining for the marketing arm of the company (Dickie, J.2009). Don’t Confuse Implementation with Adoption. It might seem that an expansion of goals would increase the already heavy burden on staff and managers, but the opposite is really true if the proper technology is put in place to support the changes (Fluss, D. 2007).

In an interview, Donna Fluss said that adding value for the marketing department is one way to better leverage the data available to the contact centre (Beasty, C. 2005). Fluss (2010) states that: contact centre will be the primary source for customer analytics.”

Changing Hiring Practices

This will address the problems of unrealistic expectations and will result in the hiring of better agents. Agents who are valued will stay longer, and better agents are simply valued more. Musico (2009) suggests cutting the lowest 20% of agents when making the first changes. Workforce optimization is stressed in many publications (Fluss, D. 2009).

Providing Better Training

This is mentioned in many articles. The idea is that agents who are better trained will work better and will, therefore, be happier because they are successful. Ongoing training is the best way to ensure excellence in customer service. One article (Musico, C. 2009) mentioned training on the fly (Stockford, P.2005). This requires some recording technology with real time reporting and monitoring.

Using this system, the supervisor can create instant training modules from a monitored call to send to all workstations for instant training (Bailor 2005). It works best if it is mostly positive reinforcement, using examples of good calls. The agent can be given credit or not in the training. However, by giving credit and even assigning points, agents might be more motivated to improve (C., M. 2008).

Musico (2008) suggests “It’s even more important that supervisors spend at least 70 percent of their time coaching their reps—and “coaching” means something more than hourly screams of “Stop putting people on hold!”, “Side-by-side coaching is essential,”

Changing the work environment or procedures was mentioned in an article about Bell Express-view’s solutions to attrition and agent stress. They improved service level by redesigning the work environment to prove a more peaceful and comfortable atmosphere Myron, D. (2004).

An Innovative Call Centre Design Enabled

Bell Express-view to:

  1. Keep agent attrition between 16 and 18 percent;
  2. Realize a 10 percent IT cost savings;
  3. Provide more space at each agent’s workstation;
  4. Maintain high agent morale;
  5. Create a comfortable, soothing work environment (Myron, D. 2004).

Upgrading Technology

This is, perhaps, the most costly for any centre, but it is noted as saving considerable money in developed countries (Compton 2005). It can provide numerous benefits which will make service better and add value to the function of the call centre (Bailor 2005).

The technologies offered range from simple recording and database management to complete systems which include intelligent front ends, automatic call routing, recording hooked to desktop snapshots, agent rating, training modules, automatic analytics, hiring interviews and tests with scales for rating, data mining, calendaring follow-up, time management and knowledge base input and output with intelligent search.

Selecting the right mix of technology upgrades is the key to the other four types of solutions (Bailor 2004). In the case of this company, it does not need all of these, but certain ones are very important.

Choosing a CRM Solution

CRM systems, according to Oracle, enable information gathering which can be used to target customers’ needs and call-centre and customer care applications enable businesses to deliver highly customized services. By knowing in detail the customer’s background, product configuration, service history and satisfaction, customer service representatives can address each situation uniquely (Gillen, Paul 2007).

While the designers of the call centre did not take selling into consideration, by using analytics on information mined while serving customers, the main customers, our advertisers, can be targeted and informed of the demographics of our readership (Binning, D. 2009). This may enable our marketing department to increase revenue from advertising (Coffee 2002).

There are many CRM solutions offered, but those which are web based only or too closely tied to artificial intelligence engines have been eliminated since that is not practical in this application. Salaries of call centre personnel are not a major expense in Hong Kong. However, in developed countries these solutions have replaced considerable staff.

Therefore, web interface and artificial intelligence agents make a great deal of sense in developed countries, but not in Hong Kong. The final solution will likely have a web interface added for those who have access to computers and will have some kind of routing system to facilitate connecting the caller to the right agent. However, the major component will remain via telephone, even if the system becomes IP based.

Available Technologies and What They Do

The array of available call centre and CRM solutions is enough to keep a researcher busy for a year, and by then, it will all have changed, so the following types of solutions are mentioned as generic types, in order to show the choices (2005 Eweek).

A table of available packages which fulfil current needs will be included in the report for recommendations. (See Appendix D) Available solutions will be compared for functionality, requirements and cost before the final recommendations are made. This description does not include any sales options because they are currently not needed nor is any future need anticipated.

Call Centre Automation

Calls can now be automatically routed to the proper agent either by the telephone PBX or Key system, through internal software residing on the network or through the Internet in cases of VOIP phone solutions (Dyché, Jill 2002).

This does two things. It minimizes the time that the customer spend waiting to talk to an agent and it maximizes the chances that the caller will be able to get what he or she needs since the call is already being routed to an agent deemed to have resources to help.

In addition, intelligent systems can route calls to bilingual agents or agents who specialize in certain types of calls or for certain geographical areas (The next generation of contact centre business applications 2009). The criteria for routing can be user configured. This is known as precision call distribution.

Interactive voice response (IVR) systems provide routing based on answers to questions typed on the telephone keypad. This can really speed up service, but serves only to frustrate if there is no way to opt out of listening to the whole list (Dyché, Jill 2002). Many companies are also using automated voice recognition technology, but it must be very good or it also frustrates.

The quality of a customer’s experience with call centres is dependent upon the company having the right information about the customer.

Knowledge Bases

One of the most valuable tools for a call centre agent is the knowledge base (Dyché, Jill 2002). A good knowledge based that is easily reachable, especially if it allows plain language searches gives the agent access to the current and valuable information to use for helping the customer.

A customizable knowledge base can be edited in order to keep it always up-to-date. So any agent who creates a better solution can see his or her work incorporated into the knowledge centre. This recognition is better motivation than money.

Call-Scripting

As the infrastructure of call centres improves customer behaviour and preferences can be predicted based upon past experience with the same or similar customers (Dyché, Jill 2002). This allows the creation of scripts which can eliminate agent guesswork by providing a logical series of talking points and guidance for the agent to use to resolve the reason for the call.

This would be based upon:

  1. The reason for the contact
  2. The customer’s value to the company
  3. Current product promotions or discounts
  4. Customer records from previous calls

By providing such guidance, the agent can get to the part of the call which provides satisfaction to the customer more quickly with less frustration for the customer.

Cyberagents

A cyberagent is an artificial intelligence program which appears to be a human (Dyché, Jill 2002). There is no label as such, but there may be an illustration of a human and a name. It might read, Click here to talk to Jill (Dell 2001).

The Cyberagents are scripted and some companies back them up with live chat agents when anything different is entered or when someone writes you are not a human. It is still quite primitive, and only serves simple functions, but it will improve.

Call Recording and Monitoring

Whether the calls are handled by a PBX or Key system or use VOIP technology, calls can be recorded and monitored real time as well (Doricott 2009). Both of these are very important. The call recording can be used to check up on complaints and follow-up. The monitoring allows the manager to listen in and this creates a way to rate the agents on their calls and gives the manager the opportunity to create training based upon real calls.

Record Keeping Software

Good CRM software provides a database for notes and history is recorded here. The phone number is usually used to bring up records from previous calls. The phone number should automatically find all the records and everything known about the customer should be recorded, including any follow-up on previous calls. (Dyché, Jill 2002) The system can usually trigger email reminders to the agent to insure follow-up when necessary. In addition to recording the text of calls, any follow-up should be part of the same records.

There are many other technologies available, but these are central to every call centre. Companies which need cross-selling opportunities for their agents may also want electronic catalogues, analytics software and ordering systems, (Fluss 2009) but for centres only providing support, the tools already covered are enough.

Choosing a CRM System

The choice of a CRM system should be requirements driven (Dyché, Jill 2002). Several sets of requirements need to be considered in order.

Business Requirements

The requirements of the company which prompts the need for the call centre should be clearly defined (Lewis, B. 2001). Is the call centre the primary or only contact with the customer? What are the company’s needs for this communication?

Customer Requirements

Define the parameters of the expected calls, what are the customers’ needs? How best can these be served?

Agents’ Requirements

Define the responsibilities of the agent. For each type of call to be handled, define the processes he or she is ex-posited to follow. What kinds of follow-up will be required?

Management’s Requirements

In order for the call centre to run smoothly and accomplish the tasks, management needs certain tools for training and employee review. Define the tasks and responsibilities of the managers and the procedures they are expected to follow.

Once all of these requirements are completely defined, the CRM tools which provide the best mix to fulfil all of these requirements. Each CRM package should be analyzed for its ability to fulfil these and then the cots and functionality can be compared.

Remember to include an analysis of the requirements of the CRM solution. If the CRM solution has a smaller price, but would require a total replacement of call centre technology, the investment might be too much, and a higher priced solution which fits the current configuration might be a better choice.

Conclusions from the Literature

It is clear from the literature that call centres are innovating and have become an integral part of today’s business landscape. Almost every business has a need for this kind of contact with their customer, whether they are B2B or B2C or both, as is the case of ABC Daily Newspaper.

The end customer who calls, is the reader, while the advertisers, the core revenue for the paper, are the business customers. It is clear that the technology offered for CRM can serve both of these.

What is stressed in the literature is that there are many different configurations for call centre management, and the tools available to agents and management can make a difference of functionality and customer satisfaction, while impacting the bottom line at the same time.

Once the business process is defined, and all the requirements are considered, choosing a CRM solution is a matter of analysis and judgment. One thing is very clear: the tools we need are available and being used. We can learn from the experiences of other companies.

The Research Project Design

Background for the Research

The management of the ABC Daily Newspaper company has decided that we do need to upgrade the call centre to address the problems. The major problems are that customers are not satisfied and they report that agents are not recording the correct information that the promised follow-up was not completed and that agents are not properly business-like in their treatment of the caller.

A literature review was conducted in order to identify possible solutions for these problems. They include a recording system to record all calls, real time monitoring, more training for agents and better tools, including a database for call history and a knowledge base to help agents find solutions.

In addition, scripting might help create uniformity of treatment across the company and some data mining could help justify the cost of these upgrades by providing analytics to the marketing department which they can use to attract more advertising revenue.

Methodology

Pre-processing and Decisions

The research strategy in order to highlight opportunity areas for the improvement and up gradation of the call centre is required to be such that the viewpoint from the customer perspective is obtained as a more weighted factor.

Therefore, the research method with “only” a simple survey questionnaire or interview with the call centre employees may not properly reflect the opportunity areas where the call centre may work out to attract customer satisfaction.

Also, any method which involves focus group may help in evaluating and brainstorming ideas, however, initially analysis of the data records from the customers’ calls will be helpful to capture areas where improvement is required.

With this in mind, the recorded results of 200 calls were analyzed. The resulting table is included in Appendix E. Sadly, once all information gathering was completed and the call records were put into a table, the problem which prompted this feasibility report was obvious. There was not enough data there to analyze. Agents recorded as little as possible about each call and seldom recorded anything about the follow-up.

The type of call was identified, but not the content or context. So there is really no way to see how well callers are being served. However, if these records are any indication, they are being served very poorly. Quantitatively, these show a real need for change. If nothing else, there is a need for recording and monitoring equipment and a better way to record the content of calls, plus some way to insure proper follow-up.

Because this information was found to be almost useless, a component was added to analyze the customer needs by deductive reasoning instead of using real calls. All the reasonably expected types of calls and created scenarios for handling each type was designed. From there, assuming that the call centre is not functioning well, a plan for change will be created.

Fifteen call centre agents and the three supervisors were interviewed about how they feel and what they need. Some professionals in other call centres were interviewed about their opinions, their technology and the functional level of their environment.

One call centre is in California, two in Australia and two are in Canada, but access to people who recently worked there or are still working there was acquired via Skype and MSN Messenger. The interviews provided more qualitative information. Using this and the information from the literature review a plan was constructed.

Rationale for the Interviews: Primary Data Collection

The fifteen call centre agents of ABC Daily Newspaper were interviewed and the short questionnaire was filled in. I needed to know what works and what does not work in this centre. In addition three supervisors were interviewed to get their opinions of the same issue. Questions designed to elicit information on procedures and on the tools provided were asked.

The agents were also asked to describe the various types of calls and how they should be handled. This part got the most varieties in responses, indicating that there is no real control or organization at work here. There were far too many variables to be included in this report since no definitive procedure could be discovered. Procedures were observed during interviews and recorded in notes instead.

Since there is a need to analyze all the requirements before making recommendations, some professionals elsewhere were interviewed about different call centres where no sales were included as part of the functions.

This is essential since there would be few parallels between call centres with different aims from customer service. At the last minute it was decided to interview some people in marketing to see if they could make use of analytics on the readers.

It was useful to see if there was any interest before proposing the analytics from data mining be included in the modifications. These were very short informal interviews and the results have been summarized.

Secondary Data Collection

The only secondary data collection required is the information regarding the available technologies and the companies which provide them. This will enable a final decision on the part of management as to how to implement the suggested changes in the report.

Research Method

The research method employed will be data collection via in person or telephone interviews. The agents will be interviewed in person in between calls to avoid using extra time or disrupting their work. When agents are on calls in the middle of an interview, the procedures for the call handling will be noted.

Sample Selection Methods and Discussion

Because the data required concerns only the workers in the call centre, no sample selection is possible or needed. The planned interviews with marketing professionals and supervisors in other call centres will be used to flesh out the identification of problems and suggested resolutions.

The data will be used to identify the main problem areas in call centre operations and to identify a possibility to increase the ROI on this call centre via data mining.

Data Collection Instruments, Data Reliability and Validity Tests

The data collection method by direct or telephone interviews is considered reliable since it will be done directly by the researcher. No identifying information will be collected as it is not necessary.

Primary Data Collection Methods and Protocol

Data collection will be done at the convenience of the interviewees by arrangement with the researcher. Blank survey sheets will be used showing only the questions and recorded answers. The data on 200 calls was done previously in order to qualify this project.

It was expected to yield data useful to this project concerning call handling procedures. However, such was not the case, so call handling procedures will be observed quietly by the researcher while collecting the surveys from agents and supervisors. This data will be used to describe current procedures in order to identify needed changes.

Ethical Review of Outline Plan

All data collected will remain anonymous with no identifying information included in the output final report. No identification information will be divulged either to management or supervisors. Data records will be retained by the researcher with the charted results in the final report.

Primary Data Pre-processing

The primary data collected from call records was entered into an excel chart. Primary data collected from interviews will be entered into an excel chart or a word document as appropriate. The data from call centre agent interviews will be enter into excel to facilitate the quantitative charting of the results.

The results of interviews with professionals will be much fewer and will not yield quantitative data results. Therefore, they will simply be entered into a word document for later analysis. These interviews will be collected either in person and recorded by hand or via telephone and recorded in the computer.

Primary Data Post-Processing

The post processing of the call centre records was to create a chart of the call records. This yielded very little, since one of the problems with the call centre is a dearth of information recorded during calls.

The data from agent interviews will be charted in excel in order to provide visual evidence to support analysis. The data from interviews with supervisors and other professionals will simply be compared to agent data and analyzed in a narrative form in a word document.

Closing Remarks

Due to the discovery that the call centre records were not very useful the primary research was redesigned after the proposal was presented. Extra time was required in order to create the new survey instruments, conduct the surveys and process and analyze the thusly collected data. This project relies now more on the survey data collected and the observations of the researcher while collecting the data.

In addition, the literature review provides a necessary element to the report: a broad view of what is available, how it is being utilized, which problems were found and how they were resolved, how the original problems were addressed by the technological changes and how these integrate in to call centre operations.

This provided a very balanced understanding of the problems and available solutions for the ABC Daily Newspaper call centre.

Results and Analysis of Informational Surveys: Primary Data

Introduction of Primary Data Results

The data collection for the survey instruments was not difficult, though the interviews conducted in the call centre were quite time consume and took several days to finish since interviews were constantly interrupted by calls from customers.

During this time the researcher observed the process of call handling by the agents. Interviews with supervisors were done separately in an office and those with the marketing experts were conducted in their department.

The interviews with foreign supervisors of other call centres were done via telephone by arrangement with those supervisors. This went quite smoothly since they were not surprised at the questions and was acquainted slightly with the researcher from previous meetings.

Presentation of Pre-processed Data

No pre-processed data will be included in order to guarantee anonymity of the respondents. Telephone calls with foreign national were not recorded for the same reasons. The researcher presents this data as valid from firsthand experience, and sees no reason it might be doubted. The outcomes were actually quite close to expectations.

Presentation Outcome Based on the Post-processing Process 4.3.1 Agent Responses

Below is the table of the responses from the fifteen agents interviewed (the entire staff). An analysis of these results with charts follows. The survey instrument can be found in Appendix A.

How long have you worked here? 1 yr 2 yrs 3 yrs 4yrs 5+ yrs Average
1 5 2 3 4 3
One word to describe your job? Boring Difficult Rewarding Stressful Frustrating Easy
2 1 1 4 4 3
One word to describe how you feel about your job Bored Frustrated Dissatisfied Ok Unhappy Happy
1 5 2 2 4 1
What is the worst part of your job Unhappy callers Stress Pay Sitting Unappreciated
3 5 2 1 4
What is the best part of your job? Happy callers Helping News calls Easy Sitting
5 5 2 2 1
What one thing would make your job better? Better pay Easier system Recognition Good chair Knowing more
4 2 4 1 4
What new tool would you like to add? Automatic
Record Keeping
Voice recording Email Chat
5 3 4 3
How would you rate your job? Three Five Six Seven Eight
1 5 5 2 2
If you were a supervisor, what would you change? Workspace Recording Add activities Contests
4 6 3 2
The most important part of your job? Help people Make people happy Take many calls Follow up
6 4 2 3

Charts of Agent Responses and Accompanying Analysis

Charts of Agent Responses and Accompanying Analysis Charts of Agent Responses and Accompanying Analysis Charts of Agent Responses and Accompanying Analysis Charts of Agent Responses and Accompanying Analysis

Conclusions from Agent Surveys

It can be seen from the results above that the agents at ABC Daily Newspaper are not really happy. They do mention some new tools are needed, but the most responses concerned things like job satisfaction, praise, positive feedback and recognition.

Some even mentioned the furniture. It is clear that there is a need for some intrinsic motivation to improve the call centre service. However, the agents do stay on the job, so they would surely be willing to learn and adapt if they could see benefits from change. They mostly seem to want to please and help the callers.

Supervisors’ Questionnaire Results with Accompanying Analysis

How long have you worked here as a supervisor and as an agent?

  • Four years as supervisor and two years as an agent
  • Three years as supervisor and two years as agent
  • Five years as supervisor, never an agent at this company, but four years experience as agent elsewhere and two as supervisor elsewhere

This question will give us an idea concerning experience level.

The experience level is pretty good. It is probable that the call centre started with one supervisor, the one with experience elsewhere.

If you had to use one word to describe your job, what would that be?

  • Frustrating
  • Difficult
  • Stressful

We are looking here to two things: the degree of positive or negative connotation with the word, and the degree of intensity of the descriptive word.

It is clear that the supervisors feel that change is needed. They are in danger of burnout.

If you had to use one word to describe how you feel about your job, what would it be?

  • Stressed
  • Unhappy
  • Hopeful

Same rationale as previous question

The first respondent was stressed and the second unhappy. Only the most experienced supervisor was hopeful.

What is the worst part of your job?

  • Handling problems
  • Keeping up
  • Disciplining agents

We are looking for the central place of dissatisfaction.

The first two supervisors feel unable to handle problems or keep up. The more experienced supervisor sees the problem with disciplining agents. The word discipline means teaching, not punishing. When asked, the supervisor said he meant ongoing training, etc.

What is the best part of your job?

  • Going home
  • Pay check
  • When I can help agents

We are looking for ways to motivate and provide rewards.

Truly, some motivation for the supervisors is needed. Again, the most experienced talks about the employees.

What one thing would make your job better?

  • Better tools
  • Better environment
  • Total system overhaul

This is aimed at discovering the perceived needs of the supervisors.

All three supervisors want to change the system and environment.

Thinking about your tools for the job, what new tool would you like to add?

  • Call recording
  • Call recording
  • Complete automated CRM system

This is aimed at identifying the tools that the supervisors know about.

Two supervisors mention recording, and the third wants a whole new system.

What new tool do you think would help agents?

  • New call content recording template or system
  • Automatic call system
  • Knowledge base

Same rationale as previous question.

It is clear that the supervisors know what is needed. However, the most experienced again looks at knowledge base as most important.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how would you rate your job?

  • Eight
  • Seven

This is pure quantitative measurement of job satisfaction.

The less experienced rate their jobs higher. All three are aware that they have pretty good jobs. (In Hong Kong, this is true.)

What do you think is the most important part of your job?

  • Keeping things running smoothly
  • Helping agents
  • Helping agents

This is aimed at discovering the perception of the importance of the service.

Well, the first supervisor is worried about operations. However, the other two have their priorities straight on the employees.

Conclusions from Supervisor Interviews

From these interviews, it can be deduced that the supervisors at ABC Daily Newspaper are not much happier than the agents. They are in danger of burnout from stress. They are worried about the overall performance of the call centre and the happiness and spirit of the workers. The agents seem not to be a team and they lack motivation. However, they are motivated to make things better and so are the supervisors.

All three supervisors believe that new tools will help, but they believe that this is not all that is needed. There is a need for change in the system, in the environment and in the procedures. They know that agents are not happy, and they suspect that they are mostly not doing a good job.

This requires some way to monitor performance, but only good ongoing training will actually make good use of monitoring. Everyone needs to become more motivated and their jobs are needed to be made easier. New technology can help, but training must also be included.

Because these interviews were designed to provide qualitative information, they can be seen as highly successful. There is a need for relief in this call centre and the supervisors know this. They all agree that new tools are needed and that things are not running well. These supervisors are ready to embrace change. New tools, systems, training and procedures will help them and they will not object.

Interview Surveys for Professionals with Accompanying Analysis

Survey Instruments Available in Appendix C

Marketing at ABC Daily: (2)

How long have you worked in marketing at ABC Daily?

  • Three years
  • Five years

This establishes experience level.

The marketing professionals are not beginners, but they are also not jaded. They may be open to new ideas.

When you try to get a new account what information do you give the client about the readership?

  • We have some demographics about the addresses of the readership in our subscription records and we have dome some small surveys of those readers, but many buy the newspaper on the street.
  • I try to give them everything I know, but it is only what is in the surveys of subscribers and where they live etc. I know little about the ones who buy on the street. We can tell them what companies subscribe to us.

This gives us some insight as to what advertising clients want to know.

They both sounded as if they would like to have more information to give prospective advertisers.

Do you have any tables of demographics on the readership or subscriber base?

  • Some on subscribers, but not much
  • Just the subscribers and where they live

This establishes need or lack of need.

The marketers do not have much information.

If you could get additional information concerning the demographics of our readership, on a scale from one to ten, with ten being highest, how helpful would that be for sales?

  • Yes, absolutely
  • Yes, the more the better

This establishes the importance of demographics of readership to sales.

Both marketing professionals were curious as to how that might be done, and both were eager to get more information about the readership.

Which information would be the most important about the readership?

  • Income level
  • Job

This establishes the most wanted information about the readership.

Both marketers made it clear that any good information would be welcome. However, they thought that income and job were most important and the job information actually gives an idea of income by itself.

Conclusions from Interviews of Marketing Professionals

These short interviews definitely show the perceived value in demographic information about the readership to increase sales of advertising. So that can increase ROI for the call centre if a few questions could be asked of all callers.

Interviews of Managers and Supervisors at Other Call Centres with Accompanying Analysis (5)

Survey Instruments Available in Appendix C

How long have you been in management or supervision in call centres?

  • Four years
  • Two years, but I was an agent and then a trainer for the first five years.
  • Five years
  • Two years
  • Three years

This establishes experience level.

All the respondents are experienced supervisors.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

  • Retention
  • Agent stress
  • Keeping agents on task
  • Keeping the environment happy and healthy
  • Service level

This tells us about the problems perceived by management.

Four of the respondents are concerned with the employees. The fifth is more concerned with operations. Seems like this parallels the responses at ABC Daily Newspaper. One supervisor mentions keeping agents focused, while the other three are more concerned with the things which will keep agents happily working.

What is the most important thing for agents to have to be able to do a good job?

  • Training
  • Experience
  • Good supervision
  • Good work environment
  • Tools

This tells us about the experience that the call centre management think are the most important things for agents to work well.

It is interesting to note the parallels with the previous question. The supervisors who are worried about the retention mentions training. The one who mentioned stress says experience is important. The one who mentions keeping agents on task points to good supervision, hinting that he or she thinks agent motivation is exterior based.

The supervisors who are worried about the work environment mention it again. The supervisor who are worried about service level (this is time waiting on hold for callers and time spent resolving the issues) mentions tools.

Which tools do believe are essential for the smooth operation of the call centre?

  • Knowledge base
  • Knowledge base
  • Call recording
  • Inter-agent-supervisor chat
  • Ongoing training

This tells us about the perceptions of experienced managers concerning call centre tools.

Clearly the knowledge base and training are very important, especially for the supervisor who is worried about keeping agents on task and good supervision mentions call recording.

That is logical. The supervisor worried about the work environment and teamwork mentions chat, a tool for sharing. The one worried about service level also mentioned training. Electronic systems are clearly not their priorities.

What is the most important thing to keep callers satisfied and happy?

  • Empathy
  • Agent caring
  • How long they wait on hold
  • Solving their problems
  • Helpful attitudes of agents

This shows us what the supervisors elsewhere think is most important to callers. Only one mentions time on hold, the same one who mentions controlling agents, keeping them on task and supervising. The one who mentioned service level and tools earlier still mentions attitude. This is the predominant opinion, that a good and helpful attitude and caring on the part of the agents is most important to customer service.

Percentage-wise, what is the estimated turnover at your call centre for agents?

  • 30%
  • 25%
  • 33%
  • 22%
  • 34%

Knowing about the turnover for agents in countries where there is not so much competition for jobs is important. Even though retention in China is not such a problem, having happy agents makes for better service.

These are high turnover percentages, much higher than anywhere in China or Hong Kong. That is a clear difference. Agents in Hong Kong value having a job. This should mean that making things better for them is a great investment, since agent retention is good.

What is the most important element for retention of agents?

  • Job satisfaction
  • Ongoing training
  • Paycheck
  • Job satisfaction
  • Work environment

This shows how managers elsewhere think about retention.

There are some clear differences here. The control supervisor mentions pay level. The other mention things which are much less tangible, but which increase employee satisfaction.

How much training do agents get before they begin?

  • Three weeks
  • Three weeks
  • Two weeks
  • Three weeks
  • Three weeks

This shows how important training i perceived to be.

Clearly training is important to all five respondents and their companies. However, the supervisor who worries about control and taking works where agents only get two weeks training. Three weeks is the industry norm. (Our agents get only two weeks or less, depending on how fast they learn.) The other call centres are much larger, so they have regular training classes. Training at ABC Daily Newspaper is individual.

How much training is done on an ongoing basis?

  • Weekly for every agent, at least once each week for one call.
  • Weekly for agents and monthly for supervisors
  • Monthly performance review
  • Biweekly for agents and monthly for supervisors
  • Weekly and daily monitoring with as needed training.

This tells us how important ongoing training may be.

Training is ongoing at all these centres and only the one where the supervisor worries about control issues have less training than the others.

What one element do you believe contributes the most to a happy work environment?

  • Teamwork
  • Respect
  • Praise
  • Recognition
  • Good teamwork

This is important where attrition is high and more important for smooth operations, as a stress free environment is essential to a happy workforce.

Teamwork is the clear winner here, even though three respondents mention other things. Those other things are part of teamwork.

Conclusions from Interviews with Professionals

These interviews were conducted with professional supervisors at 5 foreign call centres: 2 in California, 2 in Canada and one in Australia via Skype and MSN Messenger using VOIP technology.

From the above results it is obvious that for experienced supervisors in large foreign call centres, strategically, it is training, management, supervisor action and job satisfaction which are primary to the smooth operation of a call centre. However, they all agreed that certain tools were very important.

These were: automated call recording and automated tracking as in a common database driven interface into which all information was typed with the call time and origin being automatically recorded and the customer information being retained.

Call monitoring in real time was important for agent review and ongoing training. Follow-up would be recorded here as well. The other major tools mentioned were a knowledge base, email and chat functions especially for cooperation among agents and supervisors.

Retention was a serious consideration in these centres, but it was thought that intrinsic motivation was more important than extrinsic. Pay was a consideration, but environment, teamwork and spirit with a good environment were much more important. In all cases, the caller satisfaction was of prime importance.

These are very experienced supervisors in centres with excellent tools, yet the tools are considered secondary to the workplace environment, even with the one supervisor who was more results and call service level oriented.

Observations in Call Centre Procedures

From having observed while interviewing call centre agents over several days, this researcher knows first-hand that the calls are of four types:

  1. Calls to report news by witnesses
  2. Calls to make a complaint or a positive comment
  3. Calls to request financial or social assistance
  4. Calls to Ask for other types of help

In each of these cases there is certain information which must be recorded. Currently, all information is recorded by hand in Excel or Word and there is no continuity of records among calls from the same number, it is impossible for agents to follow what has been previously done or to add their own notes for future use. This may be a factor which caused so little information to be recorded.

Conclusions from Direct Research

From these interviews with ABC Daily supervisors and foreign supervisors and those with agents we can assume that even though the technology needs upgrading and certain tools, such as monitors, call recording and knowledge bases are really needed, there must be a change in environment and team building plus ongoing training if the new technology is to make any difference.

Not only will the agents and their supervisors need training on new equipment, but they need to create a better work environment and build the team. The procedures will have to be carefully created so as to maximize the agent time and trouble and allow for tracking. In this way, agents can get much needed positive feedback from supervisors.

From these interviews it is clear that while good tools and training are important, work environment and job satisfaction is the clear aim of these supervisors, they know why employees work well and stay on the job. These same things contribute to customer satisfaction.

From these experienced supervisors we can assume that new systems and tools will not fix the problems of ABC Daily Newspaper call centre. They must be coupled with training and an improved work environment. We must build a team.

After interviewing the marketing professionals, if we can add a few questions to each call in order to gain demographic information about or readers, this will be valuable to the marketing team and will increase the overall ROI of the call centre.

The observation of call centre procedures shows that integration of new tools can be a great help. Current procedures are unsatisfactory and customers are clearly not well served.

In the case of reporting news, the agent records in Word what the caller is reporting, plus the details and the caller’s identity and how they know about the news. They should be asked if there are any pictures and other evidence. All of this is then sent to the news department.

In a new system, the recorded call could also be forwarded. The call template for this type of call should include the 5 Ws: who, what, when, why, where? In this way the agent insures that they get as much information as possible.

When taking a complaint or a positive comment, the agent should also get as much information as possible. A different template should be used and it should clearly identify if the call is a complaint or a positive comment. Then, details should be recorded and any follow-up needs to be included. An email client integrated into the system would make this very useful.

Calls for assistance need much more information and all of this needs to be forwarded to somewhere else. A follow-up call should then be made and recorded in order to ensure that the caller gets complete information as to what they need to do.

Other callers are usually asking for information. It might be information concerning a past issue, a past news story or even how to apply for a job. These miscellaneous calls are just as important and can offer the opportunity for additional questions for demographics.

An automated system could include a few questions for the marketing department with no problems. These could be used to attract more advertisers and show them their targeted audience.

Evaluation of Project Outcomes and Practices

Introduction

This project was conceived by the management of ABC Daily Newspaper in order to make a decision whether or not to implement changes in the call centre and which changes to make.

The research was designed to uncover the possible solutions to the call centre problems with customer complaints, the inability to verify call content or agent behaviour, the lack of information on specific calls and follow-up, the complaints of caller problem mishandling and of incorrect information recorded.

Data Collection Design

Originally it was expected that the data collected from 200 calls would be enough to identify the problems and to describe the procedures of call handling. The data were found to be insufficient to deduce any visible conclusions or at least find areas to start focusing on after collection.

Therefore, it was used only to support the analysis of the problems while the need for new instruments for primary data and situation analysis was considered important. Thus, sew instruments for primary data collections were designed. Although this added considerably to the time required for this project, but it was made possible to reach logical outcomes through proper analysis of the issues.

Efficacy and Usability of Data

It is expected that the newly designed primary instruments will yield the necessary data to identify possible solutions for the problems of ABC Daily Newspaper’s call centre. The interviews did not yield extensive quantitative data, but did yield the needed qualitative data.

However, the data inference helped to deduce the results as aimed for this report to identify the opportunity areas and ways to improve them as a process to upgrade call centre. It is the opinion of this researcher that sufficient justification for the recommendations was thus achieved.

Usability

The results and conclusion in this report is an outcome of research conducted in a proper way to capture the core of the issues and bottlenecks that were present in the system and were causing decreased customer satisfaction and increased complaints.

Since, the report encompasses the actual issues in the organization. Therefore, it is very likely that these results will be well-used to make the decisions necessary to upgrade the call centre technology and implement changes in procedures.

Standards

Although the standards as adopted by the industry can be viewed and analysed as applicable to current situation of the ABC Daily Newspaper call centre. However, the system was studied in little isolation with them so as to thoroughly analyze from a third eye perspective.

This will help in more extended review of the organization. Therefore, the standards applied here are quality control and customer service relationship that will yield majority of the suspended issues in the organization.

Expected Changes

It is expected that as a result of this report, the management will go forward with the purchase and implementation of new call centre technology. Once the systems are installed and functional, agents and supervisors will be trained to use them and new procedure for handling calls will be devised and trained.

This should results in many changes in procedure, training and attitudes. The call centre environment will be expected to improve, and the work space may be redesigned in the process since that involves very little additional investment.

Cultural Changes

Due to the culture and work ethic in Hong Kong, it is expected that workers will embrace this change and work harder to become a team. Team building is central to Chinese culture, so this will be welcomed.

Ethicality and Elegance

Ethically, these solutions will make better employees and serve customers better. It seems to be a very elegant solution and one which will raise the morale of the employees and callers. This solution will increase the good health and happiness of workers, create a good work environment, serve customers well and provide more value to the company.

Evaluation Practice

Literature Preparation

For the literature Review, many searched were conducted in several databases of peer reviewed journals first. The results were read and those which provided useful information relevant to this project were included.

In addition, several books were consulted on CRM call centre management. These provided the framework of call centre practices and solutions. The listing of functional software types was especially valuable. The most useful tools were described in the review.

Finally, the Internet was searched for providers of possible solutions and a chart was created for submission with this report.

Primary Data Definition

In the beginning of the project the primary data collected was found to be inadequate. Therefore, a plan to collect the necessary data in order to define the needs and provide support for the project recommendations was created.

Survey instruments were created to elicit responses designed to find the needs of the employees and the perceived needs of marketing professionals and call centre supervisors elsewhere, working in modern call centres with all of the technology which was recommended in this report plus more. Insight was gained from all of these.

Due to the lack of information in the call centre data from call records, procedures were observed first-hand by the researcher during the time between interview sessions. These observations supported the decision to recommend upgrades completely.

Choices Made

The choices for primary data collection were dictated by the needs of the project. It was necessary to determine the attitudes and self perceptions of the call centre agents and supervisors in order to identify problems and possible solutions. It was also valuable to discover the possible reaction to recommend changes.

The original choice to use call centre data from 200 calls was a mistake and it was rectified by adding observations first-hand of call centre operations and call handling plus interviews of employees. This decision to add new primary data collection instruments was correct.

Collection Protocol

There were no choices here. Protocol was dictated by the needs of the company and the needs of this project. The protocols for data collection via Skype and MSN Messenger were necessary to bridge the pas in data and provide more information from professional who have the new technology in place. It was interesting that even where the technology was in place, the people were the primary considerations of supervisors.

Pre-processing of Data

The pre-processing of data was dictated by the nature of the data and the outcomes required. There were really no choices here.

Outcome Processing

Outcome processing was dictated by the needs of the project. The agent data lent itself well to charting, so that was used. The rest of the data was too little to provide any quantitative results, so it was simply analyzed for its importance and content value.

Experience

Lack of research experience was a definite problem which caused delays in this project. However, from provided help sources, adjustments were made which resulted in satisfactory output.

Research Tools and Models

The research tools originally selected were not adequate. However, since others had been studied and were available logical and useful substitutes in research methods and instruments were created and were successful. However, this did cause delays in the project. The data from the call centre records should have been more closely regarded before the creation of the project proposal.

Ethics

The only ethical issues were the identification of respondents and this was easily left out as unnecessary to the project.

Project Management

Project management was poor due to lack of experience. Many lessons were learned. More detailed plans should have been made from the beginning and the data which were planned for inclusion should have been examined for usability first. Timing was poorly done and interviews had to be set up too quickly after it was discovered that additional primary data would be needed.

A better timetable should have been created in the beginning and followed. It was purely serendipitous that foreign call centre supervisors were available for interviews or this project would have lacked some needed depth.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Due to the overwhelming evidence that change is needed in the ABC Daily Newspaper Call Centre for the Customer Hotline, various recommendations are crucial parts of the report as stated objective to highlight issues and provide ways to resolve them.

It was observed through the analysis of data and interviews that the call center lacks the appropriate technology level needed to satisfy the callers who are seeking important information day in and day out. In this connection, it is recommended that the call centre add new technology in order to provide necessary tools to the agents and their supervisors.

These should be selected from the available technologies which offer, at the very least, call recording, call monitoring in real time, and an integrated workspace with a database driven interface to record information about each call. There should be a template for easy entry by the agents and the caller number should track and bring up the entire history of each incident.

Not only technology but the overall culture in the call center of ABC Daily Newspaper should be enhanced so that the employees are well-motivated and willing to receive the customer queries with complete information and the perspective to satisfy them with their queries. There should be an attached knowledge base for agents to use to find new information and add to it as needed.

Needed New Functions

For the new call centre technology we need the following:

An integrated recording system to record the voice of calls with a real time monitoring systems for supervisors. This will improve quality and make the recording of information easier as the caller’s number would be automatically entered into a database driven system for entering information.

Once the call issue number is selected or a new one requested, the reason for the call should be selected from the menu. A proper template should pop up for use by the agent. The noted from previous calls will be there if an ongoing issue are selected. Otherwise, the knowledge base will replace the notes.

A plan for integrating the new system into the centre and training both agents and supervisors on it without disrupting the flow of work. Probably one supervisor should take pairs of agents and work with them on the new systems while the rest use the old ones. There will likely be needed at least one whole day of training on the new systems without using live calls, plus one or more days using live calls.

A plan for creating a better work environment will help build the team. A contest could be created for ideas how to make the environment better.

The ideas could include procedures, new work spaces, redecoration, new lounge or lunch space, change in windows, change in desk orientation, creation of activities and the addition of colours or plants. Anything that the agents feel would improve the environment is encouraged. In Hong Kong space is a premium, so making it nice is a good idea.

A plan for ongoing training agents, templates for recording supervisory thoughts when monitoring calls, and training supervisors in the new monitoring and procedures will help them to adjust. The monitoring should produce many opportunities for ongoing training, for sharing of good calls and bad, and constructive criticism or kudos for good work.

Procedures for follow-up need to be created as well as procedures for adding to the knowledge base, for making suggestions or sharing information.

A chart of some companies which have useful technology will be added to this report.

Lessons Learned

The basic lesson learnt was the awareness about the need of project planning from the beginning of the project keeping in view the constraints that may arise as the research study goes on practically. Despite, the data needed for the study to conclude logical outcomes was somehow achieved.

However, it was properly understood as a learning opportunity of this project that in practical, research methods are not as simple as they are apparent on the papers. These must be properly analysed and studied as which method should be applied in given constraints.

Just as the data recorded from the calls were realized to be insufficient after they were considered the basis of primary data and at later stage more study was conducted to gather sufficient information to keep stitched with the aims and objectives of this research study.

Good knowledge of the overall process was understood and acquired while the steps are now clearer for a proper research study to be carried out. Such projects require better planning and timing would have made this to make the project run more smoothly. Despite the fact that currently, it was a case of constant adjustment when things were not right.

But the understanding of what problems may arise during a research study was improved. Also, it was realized that the organizations are the function of industry they relate to. Therefore, it is always better to consult the industry norms before going into the specified research study.

Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research

This report does not include all of the available technologies. It is thought that only a few would be really worth the investment. However, there is a need for ongoing research both on performance of the call centre and on the actual value added for adding the questions aimed at gathering demographic information.

The marketing department should track the use of information provided and how well it increases their ability to sell advertising. If it is found useful, then their feedback to what questions are valuable should be included.

In the future, the technology will change again, and the call centre performance and morale should be closely followed, so that this situation never recurs. There might even be a way to include such information in report by supervisors which will be added to the same database. Mostly, it must be remembered that the most strategic move we can make is with our people. Technology is only as good as the team that uses it.

Generalizations

Call centre operations are prime targets for new technology, where they can be extremely useful. However, teamwork is the most important tool and the solutions must be compatible with this ideal. The proposed solution in this report will work, only because the people are ready for it and they will work to make it work. Strategically, people are the most important asset.

Summary

In summary, this project covered the research to support a decision to upgrade technology. Fact finding in the body of literature was required and supported the plan to upgrade. Interview uncovered needs and attitudes of affected personnel. Interviews with professional added new ideas and support the idea that the technology must fit the needs of the people.

The early feedback from the managers of the company is positive that the plan recommended is good and will be implemented. It is interesting to note that call centre operation is much more complex than originally thought by this researcher. Perhaps that is why there is a huge array of varied products to support operations.

Appendix

Appendix A: Research Instruments for Quantitative Assessment

Interviews for Call Centre Agents (15 agents):

These are the interviews conducted to support this research project. They were deemed necessary because even if the call centre data had been useful it would only have shown procedure. These surveys are designed to assess needs perceptions.

To begin with, “Thank you for agreeing to take the time with me for this interview. I do hope it will help to create a report which will make your job better and easier.”

  1. How long have you worked here?
  2. If you had to use one word to describe your job, what would that be?
  3. We are looking here to two things: the degree of positive or negative connotation with the word, and the degree of intensity of the descriptive word.
  4. If you had to use one word to describe how you feel about your job, what would it be?
  5. What is the worst part of your job?
  6. What is the best part of your job?
  7. What one thing would make your job better?
  8. Thinking about your tools for the job, what new tool would you like to add?
  9. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how would you rate your job?
  10. If you were a supervisor, what would you change?
  11. What do you think is the most important part of your job?

This is aimed at discovering the perception of the importance of the service.

Appendix B: Interview of Supervisors

Supervisors’ Questionnaire: (3 supervisors):

  1. How long have you worked here as a supervisor and as an agent?
  2. If you had to use one word to describe your job, what would that be?
  3. If you had to use one word to describe how you feel about your job, what would it be?
  4. What is the worst part of your job?
  5. What is the best part of your job?
  6. What one thing would make your job better?
  7. Thinking about your tools for the job, what new tool would you like to add?
  8. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how would you rate your job?
  9. If you were a supervisor, what would you change?
  10. What do you think is the most important part of your job?

This is aimed at discovering the perception of the importance of the service.

Appendix C: Interviews of Professionals

Interview Survey for Professionals: (7 professionals):

Begin with, “Thank you for agreeing to take the time with me for this interview. I do hope it will help me to create a report which will make your job better and easier.”

Marketing at ABC Daily: (2 professionals):

  1. How long have you worked in marketing at ABC Daily?
  2. When you try to get a new account what information do you give the client about the readership?
  3. Do you have any tables of demographics on the readership or subscriber base?
  4. If you could get additional information concerning the demographics of our readership, on a scale from one to ten, with ten being highest, how helpful would that be for sales?
  5. Which information would be the most important about the readership?

Managers and Supervisors at Other Call Centres: (5 professionals):

  1. How long have you been in management or supervision in call centres?
  2. What is the most difficult part of your job?
  3. What is the most important thing for agents to have to be able to do a good job?
  4. Which tools do believe is essential for the smooth operation of the call centre?
  5. What is the most important thing to keep callers satisfied and happy?
  6. Percentage-wise, what is the estimated turnover at your call centre for agents?
  7. What is the most important element for retention of agents?
  8. How much training do agents get before they begin?
  9. How much training is done on an ongoing basis?
  10. What one element do you believe contributes the most to a happy work environment?

This is important where attrition is high and more important for smooth operations, as a stress free environment is essential to a happy workforce.

Appendix D: Chart of Available Companies and Technology

Chart of Available Companies and Technology Chart of Available Companies and Technology

All of these companies have websites and this is just a small sampling of what comes up in a search engine or was found in the literature. It is probable that a short study will be needed to select among the many companies offering the affordable solutions with the desired functionality. There are simply far too many from which to choose for the scope of this report.

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