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Are you unable to manage overall workload, resourcing and capacity across the organization? Is it difficult amending processes in current system in line with changing business requirements? Can the increasing cost of operations for various reasons be reduced? How do you cope with mounting pressure from service level failures and stricter regulations?
These are some questions, if not all, related specifically to multi-channel customer contact workflow, that keep the organization constantly thinking and investing in IT re-structuring initiatives. Multi-Channel customer contact remains one of the key focus areas for utilities and other industries as well with the emergence of multiple contact mediums like web, email, SMS, web chat & social media. Providing an excellent and consistent customer experience irrespective of the communication channel is challenging as bulk of the consumers are used to phone, mail & fax.
The 3 key business drivers for utility companies to strive for improved customer service are described below:
This article is not about resolving all process pain points nor is it about insights to achieve enterprise business goals; it is about understanding the basic steps involved in customer workflow, enabling to validate the implementation approach and measure success parameters.
Every day the customer contacts the utility through various channels, for example: mail, fax, email, phone, online contact, and third party organization or regulator/government bodies. The first step in the workflow is categorizing the information appropriately.
Since there are multiple channels of customer contact, different methodologies for categorizations are required. While mail/fax based contact would require manual sorting, email/phone/web based contact could be automated. Irrespective of the methodology, this has to be quick and accurate to move the work to the next level for processing and completion.
A simple categorization workflow is depicted below which helps identify important parameters like skill required, service level agreement, average handling time, compensation required etc. for processing ease further.
Work Prioritization and Allocation
After the category or work has been established, the next step is to allocation to the appropriate agent. In order to meet Service Level Agreement, it is essential to match this work with agents possessing the correct skill set and availability.
The following diagram demonstrates a typical flow for prioritization and allocation of work.
Volumetric analysis is primarily based on historical data which enables the operational team to predict the workload and make staffing adjustments. Daily, weekly, monthly and yearly volumes are the typically analyzed and used to forecast. Real time volumetric data is utilized for generating custom alerts. These alerts could vary from exceeding daily volume vs. agent availability to spike in work volume for a certain functional area vs. historical trend. These real time alerts are customized based on specific needs and help the utility proactively address them before the failure happens as an after effect.
While the objective of prioritizing work is to enable efficient completion of work and boost productivity, guidelines for work prioritization may vary based on the type of work received and volume. Generally, urgency of the request or service level agreement is primary. For example, all work due today which gets impacted by regulations would be given top priority. Ideally, an agent has an individual visibility to volume of work as well as work assigned to the entire team but nevertheless the system must be intelligent enough to organize work and present them to the agent in a particular priority. This priority should be controlled based on organization guidelines to ensure SLA compliance as well as boost agent productivity.
The table below illustrates a simple example of possible sorting priorities.
Sort Order 1 enables the agent to complete a maximum number of requests in a day; thereby reducing the overall count. Sort Order 2 takes into account that work dependent on other teams are dealt with first. For example an ‘Incorrect Meter Read’ might require a meter reader to visit the customer. Therefore, it would be more efficient to transfer the dependency to field agent as quickly as possible. Independent work category items can be taken up later and completed at one time. There is no defined rule for prioritization and these are changed based on needs. However, prioritization is definitely an influencing factor on overall performance of the workforce.
Through skill matching, the agent with the matching skill for the given category of work is identified. Standardized skill management is the key for effectively managing multi-skilled agents, skill history and new skills. Skills have to be broken down into logical units so that the identified work category can be matched against the unit. It is important to note that granularity beyond a certain level can lead to productivity and allocation issues.
Following skill matching, agent availability is determined. Factors such as work backlog, scheduled training programs, holiday/vacations and meetings are evaluated to determine agent availability. Availability is typically calculated through percentage utilization. Given the percentage utilization, work is allocated to agent sequentially, starting with the lowest utilization and capped by a threshold value (example greater than 40%). The challenge faced here is unplanned leave or absence due to sickness, unplanned meetings and other reasons which lead to unforeseen unavailability. Reallocation of work based on a periodic evaluation of availability and progress helps minimize issues due to unavailability. During periodic evaluations, it is useful to buffer bandwidth availability while controlling a low threshold utilization parameter.
Work is allocated based on all the above mentioned steps. In case any criterion is not met, the work is moved to unallocated queue which can be pulled by agents based on bandwidth/availability. A flexible pool of agents can also be maintained to work on unallocated work in the case of unexpected volumes.
A workflow management system which manages and defines a series of tasks to produce a final outcome is best suited for this stage. Workflow management system allows you to define different workflows for different types of jobs or processes. It also provides the ability to capture relevant business data for successful case closure, tracking, auditing and reporting purpose. While the workflow would be customized to utility specific processes, process inefficiencies are an inherent issue across all industries. Continuous process improvements enable an organization to be more efficient and capable of change which is dependent upon the flexibility of the implemented workflow or business process system.
Before work can be considered closed, the customer must be satisfied with the solution. The fulfillment of the request can be performed in CIS (Customer Information System) or other integrating systems depending upon the nature of the request/complaint. The utility might also be required to pay compensation, based on factors like valid complaints, SLA violations, regulatory mandates, goodwill gestures etc. All these details require interactions with discrete systems adding multi-dimensional complexity in terms of proper tracking and history management. Also, with the growth of regulatory norms, proper communication to the customer is often required after closure of request and recorded for reporting purposes.
Root Cause Analysis
Root cause analysis (RCA) is a class of problem solving methods aimed at identifying the root cause or causes of problems or events. The practice of RCA is predicated on the belief that problems are best solved by attempting to address, correct or eliminate root causes, as opposed to merely addressing the immediately obvious symptoms. While this is a topic in and of itself, proper categorization and capture of data must be mandatory before any work is closed. Consequently, "deep-dive" analysis can be performed and corrective actions taken to minimize customer dissatisfaction.
Quality control is a process by which appropriate checkpoints are introduced in the workflow to review the quality of all factors involved during the request lifecycle. Alerts for the deterioration of system-managed quality parameters and quality assurance for sensitive communications are part of an integral quality control system. These systematic audits and spot checks are essential practices to ensure consistent, high quality service.
The following diagram summarizes the generic best practice(s) across various steps of workflow.
The following diagram represents a typical IT landscape for customer contact workflow based system and the various other systems integrated for optimized performance.
As seen above, there are multiple processes involved in a typical customer contact workflow. Going forward as more and more customers start demanding multi-channel interactions, the implementation of each of these processes for different channels of communication to provide unified customer experience is a big challenge and needs to be properly defined. To achieve this, it is very critical that utility companies deploy a flexible, scalable and extensible workflow based platform/system that provides high level of integration with existing business processes and lays the foundation for a true multi-channel center. Additionally, it should help the businesses in business process refinement to better meet future needs and provide a comprehensive 360 degree customer satisfaction.