Fall 2015 Survey Results

Each quarter SWPP surveys the workforce planning community on critical workforce planning topics. Over 180 call center professionals representing a wide variety of industries participated and provided insight into this quarter’s survey on customer contact channel usage.

Survey Participants

Forty-six percent of the respondents in this survey work in centers with over 500 agents. The rest are representative of a wide variety of sizes from under 50 up to 500 agents. The insurance and financial industries drew the largest number of participants, but other industries are also well represented.

Customer Contact Channels

Respondents were asked which channels are supported in their organization in addition to inbound phone calls and more than one answer could be selected. Nearly all now handle email interactions with the customers, with outbound calling and regular mail coming in second and third. Web chat is now handled in about half of the respondent centers, with faxes close behind. Social media interactions are handled in about one-quarter of the centers today. This demonstrates how far the contact center has come in terms of handling a wide variety of customer interactions. However, when asked what percentage of the total contacts come in these other channels (besides inbound phone calls), 43% indicated it is less than 10% with another 23% indicating between 10 and 20%. But for 18%, the volume represents over 30% of the total contacts.

Customer Contact Channels


Contact Through Other Channels


Contact Increased with New Channels

The survey asked if the percentages above have increased as the center opened new customer contact channels and 58% indicated that there has been an increase. While 19% indicate there has not been an increase, 23% do not know. In some cases, customers will shift their interactions to the channel they prefer, but it seems that many centers are also seeing a general increase in contacts as a result of these options.

Agent Use of Channels

Just over half of the respondents indicate that the same agents answer phone calls as well as other channels, while 46% do not have agents crossing these channels. Many centers find that agents who are good on the phone may not have acceptable writing skills and vice versa. However, where agents are skilled in a variety of media, utilization of these staff will be more efficient. Many find that switching from one channel to another in blocks of time (so that only one type of interaction is handled at a time) is more effective than a universal queue where agents switch types repeatedly. Finding the balance of staff who are dedicated to a channel or multi-channel skilled is a tough process that requires assessment of each agent’s capabilities and matching them to the workload – a lot like skill-based routing for calls.

Service Level Expectations

When asked if the service level expectations between chat and voice calls is the same, 60% indicated that they are not. Generally, customers are a bit more tolerant of a wait for a chat agent to respond (and between responses), but more than a minute or two can be unacceptable.

Service Level Priorities

Almost two-thirds of the respondents indicate that if one service level is falling, they will prioritize one channel over another, but 25% do not prioritize channels. This can be a tough decision as everyone waiting is a customer.

Strategy to Encourage Channel Choice

When asked if there was a deliberate strategy to encourage use of one channel over another, the respondents were fairly evenly split between yes, no, and don’t know options. Interestingly, the channel that is most often favored (56%) is the phone call. Web chat comes in at a distant third behind “other” which is unnamed. Social media, regular mail, and faxes scored very low or no votes. It seems the channels that have random arrivals and immediate response expectations move ahead of those that are more sequential work with longer delay tolerances. These are the toughest for the center to handle within the goal, yet they are prioritized in terms of which channels customers are encouraged to use.

Encourage Customer Usage of Channel


Favored Channel


Forecasting for Other Channels

Respondents were asked to indicate what forecasting method they use for the non-phone channels. More than half indicate that it is a manual process with about one-third using automated workforce management systems. Only 6% are using computer simulation but 10% chose “other.” These types of contacts are different from inbound calls so the processes need to be adapted to them. Some of the commercial WFM systems can provide forecasts for these other contacts as long as the feed of information for historical analysis of volume and handle time can be identified.

Scheduling for Other Contact Channels

The process for scheduling the personnel for other contact channels appears to be more frequently utilizing the automate WFM systems (48%) as opposed to only 31% using the systems for forecasting. Once again the computer simulation and “other” choices were few, with many doing the process manually (45%). Where separate teams of agents man the channels, manual processes may be appropriate. However, when agents handle multiple channels, the math gets pretty complicated and a sophisticated tool can be a great help.

Other Software Used

When asked if the center uses other software besides the WFM software to forecast and schedule these other channels, 30% indicated that they do have such systems, but 70% do not.

When asked what other software is used and the contact it supports, some of the answers are given below:

  • In-house built software
  • ICBM
  • RightNow
  • SASS
  • Microsoft Excel and Access
  • Salesforce
  • Live Person
  • Revinate
  • Tableau
  • Moxie
  • JMP
  • SPSS
  • Sprnklr – Social Media Listening tools

Social Media Responses

When asked specifically whether the center’s agents respond to social media contact from channels such as Facebook and Twitter, over 70% indicated that they do not. However, 22% of the centers do handle these interactions. This is often held in the public relations or marketing domain due to the high level of sensitivity to a message that may be read by hundreds or thousands of individuals rather than just one person. But more and more companies are viewing these interactions as one more contact type that the center personnel can be trained to handle appropriately.

Closing Comments

Based on the responses above, it appears that the center workload is definitely no longer confined to inbound calls. A wide variety of media and communication channels are processed in the center and it is important to ensure that the staffing for all of these channels meets the company goals. Finding the right balance of single and multi-channel agents is a constantly evolving process as the customers shift their interactions to the media of their choice.