Multi-skilling: Pipedream or viable strategy?

It’s A No-Brainer, Isn’t It? It’s difficult to think of any good reason why you wouldn’t want all your agents to handle any customer requirement.
Benefits are obvious:

  • No need for an IVR to route callers to teams
  • Service improves as callers aren’t bounced around
  • More efficient use of resources through better workload balancing
  • Increased first contact resolution.

All of which improves service levels, lowers unit costs, meets customer expectations and offers a satisfying agent environment.
From a survey of 200 contact centre managers and directors, the reason why few take this approach is primarily due to training costs which are closely aligned with system and process changes.
Most contact centres handle wide variety of requests from broad spectrum of Citizens.  With training seen as an overhead, each team may only be trained in a subset of services.  Agentsgain this relatively easily and quickly become productive.  Perhaps over time, they build on their initial training and learn to handle work for more teams, but the ever changing landscape makes multi-skilling rare.
Training overhead is exacerbated by increasing complexity of the agent role.  On average, agents need five applications open, although as many as twenty-seven have been reported!  Call handling procedures are often complex and subject to change.  In one organisation, identifying and taking payment was a seven-step, three-application, two-minute procedure with screen-jumping and cutting and pasting.
Further complexity is added by the increasing range of services offered through the contact centre with the average council offering 700+ services.
Limitations of Current Solutions
Inhibitors to multi-skilling are associated with the time and cost needed to train agents and an agents’ ability to retain increasing amount of knowledge in a short training period.
Current software still only offer a partial solution:

  • Scripting products are more sophisticated, but still disliked by customers and agents because they create a “wooden” conversation.  Scripting software that follows a pre-defined sequence is rarely appropriate nowadays.
  • ‘Unified desktop’ productsoffer agents a single interface to avoid screen-jumping.  However, this tackles part of the problem and in most cases requires expensive integration or offers agents limited information from applications especially if information has to be entered back into those applications.  Furthermore, any changes require programming with associated delays and costs.
  • WorkflowSystems offer automated procedure handling but suffer drawbacks.  They are not suited to high volume, fast response needs of contact centre agents and either require IT to create and change or introduce risk into the system by allowing untrained people to make the changes themselves.  They are poor in helping an individual with their tasks.

So what’s needed?
What’s necessary to cost-effectively enable multi-skilling?  After relationship management skills, there are three types of knowledge agents need to handle customer requirement

  • Product
  • Procedural
  • System

Each has to be learned by an agent through training and experience and refreshed as things change.
But what if that knowledge could be put in the system instead of into the agents’ heads? What if the system could guide agents through customer requirements, in the same time, quality and consistency as a trained agent?
Conclusion
The solution? To systemise as much of products, processes and systems knowledge as possible.  But how?  Well let’s look at the 3 knowledge elements:

  • Product knowledge is relatively easy.  The information on specification, variations, price, etc. will all be held in an electronic form somewhere - the need is to provide agents with access at the right point in the process to this information.
  • Procedural knowledge can be automated with a workflow management solution.
  • System integration along with “remote controlling” an application can provide access to and control of underpinning applications and support the agent with a unified desktop.

Put all this together and now you have a system that can help an individual with tackling more and complex processes within the organisation whilst reducing training and retained knowledge by the agent. This is because the system, process and product knowledge exist within the system rather than within the agent’s head. This in turn frees the agents to focus on the client and the softer skill side of things such as questioning and empathy techniques andincreasing the chances of helping the client first time.  All of which leads to lower costs and better customer satisfaction.
This is the approach needed to provide better service at lower cost. Quite simply, traditional training methods are inefficient and ineffective and are the biggest factor holding organisations back from the step change they seek in customer and knowledge management.
SKS Solutions is a contact centre software provider who uniquely received two consecutive annual ‘Best Product’ nominations from Call Centre Expo for its innovative Agent Sensei™ solution.
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