True Skills Routing

Playing to Agents Strengths

Over many years the role of the Contact Centre Agent has been evolving and now, more than ever before, having the right people strategy is key to offering a differentiated service (and quite frankly delivering a planned service experience at the right cost!).

Living in the Past

For many years operating models have been developed, constrained by internal process needs and the capability of technology.  IVR’s only enable routing to a relatively high–level and so silos are created.  Sales, Service, Billing, Complaints… The delivery of the call types are very generic.  For example a credit card agent with 3 weeks experience is just as likely to receive a complex credit card call as a credit card agent with 3 years of experience. Whichever way you look at that, its a problem! You either have over-trained or under-trained resources thrown at the same enquiry.

Time to Move Forward

The technology to route, and theory of skills based routing, is spot on. However, this adaptation hasn’t been easy for most contact centre managers to understand let alone implement. We are continually amazed at how many business claim to use skills based routing but they couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that the component parts, that make skills based routing really flourish, have been deployed as disparate initiatives. Simply put, none of the parts truly work together.  The technologies are basically, and often lazily, retrofitted to adhere to the traditional operating model.

But its now time to re-think this space and actually deliver the benefits. And the benefits are big, we’ve proven it!

So, here are our 3 key ingredients to realising the full potential of skills based routing:

Ingredient 1: Most of you already have skill based routing (SBR) functionality. Building block 1 is just not being sweated….

Ingredient 2: The advent of open speech allows us to understand customers enquiries at a more granular level and with this comes a whole raft of opportunities that not only deliver a better experience for your customers but also for your staff. This isn’t an out-of-the-box speech system, this is one tailored to your business. I’m not going to dwell on the capabilities of speech, that’s for other blogs, but suffice to say, the technology can do lots more than most deployed today. We just need to ask more of the vendors. However, before you jump into the technologies, here is the place to start…

Ingredient 3: Alignment of Staff. Now this is the one we need to tackle. As humans we all have preferences and generally speaking what we prefer to do is normally what we are better at.  I have interviewed many contact centre agents over the years and have found this to be the case.  The old rhetoric has always been ‘agents get bored and we need to give them variety of calls’.  We have proven this to be wrong!  Agents prefer to handle the calls that they enjoy and are good at.  Some people relish tricky complaints, working to resolve complex situations and winning the customer over.  Some prefer sales, retentions and some people truly love the very basic, short sharp enquiry questions over and over again. We know this is true because we’ve helped implement these models.

Making it Work

When using genuine “intelligence” in the routing strategy calls can be sent to the best available agent, based on real proficiency and their own personal preference. Oh, and before you start dismissing this as creating islands of skills, which in contact centre terms defies the golden goose of economies of scale… this does not! Again, the details of this are for another blog but for the time being this is just to give some flavour to the thinking… So, here are some examples…

“I have an query about a charge on my credit card statement”  Simple right? Hmm, not necessarily so. Your agents will tell you that this could spiral out of control. That’s not even necessarily the question. Really they might be saying “I want you to reverse my charge” With this more relevant insight this would definitely suit an agent proficient in negotiation, probably a more skilled resource. Yes, the query may be simple, but lets protect the risky side of this escalating. The upside here can be a transaction completed in 1/3rd the time, fees ‘retained’, FCR, and typically a happier customer having dealt with a skilled agent (not messed about and maybe then still not got their fees reversed. And yes, reversing the fees does make a customer happier, I’m just not sure if its good for business!

“I want to know your term deposit rates” This is a good one. So the simplest thing would be to provide the rate. Even a novice can do that. But don’t we want to maximise our chances of closing the sale. Lets not loose this ‘tyre kicker’ lets put this to our closer who can stop the caller shopping around and get that investment locked in. If we’re the only bank doing this then we will get way more than our 1/4 share of business, right?

“What time does your Windsor branch close on Friday” Somehow we missed our automation opportunity but why not serve up the ‘express team’ who have a mandate to get on and off the call. This leaves more capacity for other, more valuable calls. Oh, and yes, every call is valuable but surely some are more valuable than others and don’t we want to be able to prioritise based on that knowledge?! So this type of operating model moves away from silos of calls and allows you to ‘cluster’ your call types and target the appropriate level of expertise.  It also enables you to set service levels that are both efficient and effective for your customer.  They may wait slightly longer but they will get to the true expert who can help and that means they get served faster overall.

The upside for your agents is that they get to handle the calls that they enjoy most, for the majority of their day. As they handle more of these call types they become more expert and proficient. They can be set more meaningful KRA’s and can be more successful in their attainment of these targets.  This in turn has a positive impact on their job satisfaction and the businesses attrition figures – a pretty good win/win.

However, this is all quite a departure from current thinking and requires a real leadership commitment for this change as it encompasses most facets of your business including; HR/Unions, training re-design, process re-design, adaptation of scorecards, coaching practices and quality models.  It impacts forecasting and resource planning and technology. If you want to know how to maximise the return on your open speech implementation beyond just reducing transfer costs give us a call.

About Flare Design: We’ve coached, trained, and delivered change into the contact centres of many of the biggest customer service brands in NZ and Australia in the past five years. Our experience with the enabling technologies, possibilities in the development of operating models, and detailed experience of customer events/needs (through our time-in-motion studies) enables us to integrate the best of the technologies, processes, and customer needs into clear roles and accountabilities that maximise the performance of your people (realising their true competencies as well as preferences). The efficiency gains are obvious but in parallel these programs create job satisfaction and the benefits of such.

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Change Management Tips

After nearly two decades in the contact centre industry, I now have the perfect role.  My role combines all of the skills, knowledge and experience from every discipline that I have ever worked within, and I love it. I do have one major challenge though…not many people really know what change management is (including some change managers I have worked with).

In case you are one of these people, let me give you a ‘heads up’ to what it is not.

  • Change management in not “fluffy”, as I so often hear. It is actually very hard and it is generally what makes or breaks (or certainly defines the degree of success) of a project.
  • It is not about getting people to do things by giving them cheap plastic toys. “Lets get them some mouse mats or stress balls, everyone loves that when we introduce new things”, or “provide them with cup cakes, people will do anything for cakes”,
  • Although an important part of change, training and communication is not all that it is – “we’ve got a change manager lined up to do the training and communication, so it’s all good


Ok, so what is it? Here are a few change related activities to get you thinking, if, for example, you are considering introducing voice biometrics.

  1. Who will be impacted by this change? Customers, agents, back office, support functions?  To what degree and in what ways? What are the risks? How will these be mitigated?
  2. What should the operating model look like to manage the ‘failed’ verification calls, in order to ensure a good experience for the customer and minimize cognitive overload for the agent?
  3. How should this be piloted and how should the hypothesis be base-lined and measured, including staff and customer engagement with the solution?
  4. If the pilot team is ring-fenced, what are the routing rules?
  5. How should the information be presented on the desktop in order to simplify the current method of authenticating and reduce some of the complexities associated with the various states of biometric enrolment /verification?
  6. How should the biometric solution be articulated to customers and where in the conversation flow is it best introduced?
  7. What KRAs should the business build into the scorecard in order to drive up enrolments and thus deliver a greater ROI?
  8. How do we determine that the tool is being used and that we will deliver the ROI? What should be measured and included in the management reporting?
  9. How do we engage our people to be involved in the development of the solution? How do we then take their engagement to help to drive internal advocacy and broader engagement?
  10. How do we incorporate the learning from pilot to ensure it is implemented into the final solution?
  11. Anyone thinks this is fluffy?  Oh, and you may notice I have not written anything about, cupcakes, stress balls training, or communication, yet.
  12. Stakeholder planning/management.  Who needs to be involved?  What is their involvement? What is their level of support for the project? If they are ‘negative’, why are they?  Who influences them?  What is their view on the project?  What are the messages that we want to align to each stakeholder?  Who should deliver those messages?
  13. How do we ensure that the change is owned and driven by the leadership team, as opposed to the project team?
  14. What should the communication messages be, more broadly?  What channels should be used?  How do we increase advocacy, understanding and support for the program?
  15. How do we measure our change effectiveness, in real time, in order to adapt our implementation approach
  16. What budget is required to deliver this level of change, ensuring sufficient for taking agents off the phone for comprehensive training
  17. Where will the close out party be?  We need to reward and recognize the business owners who have driven this change and who will continue to own the solution long after the project team has ‘rolled off’.


Flare design has worked with several organizations, within the Asia Pacific region, on their voice biometric implementations.  Based on our observation of our clients’ deployments, we can now pinpoint 2 crucial keys to success.

1)   Creating a customer centric design, as opposed being constrained by internal business processes

2)   Focusing heavily on the change management activity, rather than thinking a 20 minute ‘briefing’ is sufficient

Give us a call.  We might just save you from a whole world of pain.