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Call center Virtual Employee Concept using Knowledge management, Workflow management and Process reengineering November 2008

Hector Chapa Sikazwe

Keywords Workflow management, processes, reengineering, knowledge management, call centre, customer satisfaction customer call flow

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Table of Contents
Abstract................................................................................................................................................. 3 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Introduction............................................................................................................................... 5 Customer headaches.................................................................................................................. 5 Employee headaches ................................................................................................................. 6 Proposed solutions .................................................................................................................... 7 Workflow management and Process reengineering .......................................................... 7 The use of Workflow management Systems ................................................................. 8 The use of Process reengineering ...................................................................................... 9 The Virtual Employee ............................................................................................................ 12 Training of Virtual Employees................................................................................................ 14 Composition of team and responsibilities....................................................................... 14 General support for the initiative..................................................................................... 15

1.4.1 1.4.2 1.4.3 1.5 1.6

1.6.1 1.6.2

1.7 The Call center processes.............................................................................................................. 16 1.8 Advantages to organizations ......................................................................................................... 17 1.9 1.1 Conclusion .............................................................................................................................. 18 References and Bibliography .................................................................................................. 20

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Most organizations have a fragmented approach to information management. A huge amount of customer data is duplicated in many places and call centre users are expected to enter the same information many times as part of their day to day activities. For purposes of this report, a Call centre is a work environment where employees sit at computer terminals answering telephone calls about their employers business. They can be small or massive in size. They can be found in the public, private or government sector. Often tired and stressed Staff work their way through computer programs to answer the callers questions, take orders, record details etc besides answering these calls, employees are also required to fish for information in the maze of the many departments available to deliver satisfaction to one customer at a time. This can be frustrating for customers as they have to constantly be put on hold whilst the call centre employee figures out which department would best suit the enquiry or attempt to resolve the problem. This does not indicate a good customer experience. Due to the nature of information, ie customers having to repeat the required information, the information stored in different paces
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will always have variations and with time, become invalid as updates are rarely done. Developing lean management strategies with redesigned call centre processes using workflow systems and information management strategies can be the foundation stone for gaining competitive advantage in the market place before considering cost justifying or implementing massive organization changes. This report suggests that a call centre employee having the right information at the right time when it is required and having the right level of authority is essential if any organisation is to carry out its objectives in an efficient and effective manner. The introduction of a Virtual call centre employee would be a

fundamental new tool for any organisation that wants to introduce s new ways of doing things. This paper is designed to introduce the concept of a virtual employee in the call centre and the envisaged material gain in time, process redesign by removal of unproductive processes. This can be achieved using lean management strategies, reduction in decision making lead times and increase in customer acquisition through rapid process approval completion time.

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1.1 Introduction

Most call centres, face the same mediocre treatment of callers who are already customers or prospective customers. Most orgabisations have established call centres as the primary touch point between the organisations and their customers. For that reason alone, it would appear to be the perfect venue for a host of opportunities, most importantly, up-and-cross selling and customer loyalty, all too rewarding to pass up.

1.2 Customer headaches

There are ten issues that encompass most call centres that affect customer acquisition and retention. Below are the ten problems, though non-exhaustive of the common problems that consumers are subjected to: (a) Computer generated call trees that are difficult to follow (b) Customers are kept on long holds before speaking to an operative (c) Eventual passing of customers from department to department
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(d) Rude operatives (some even hang up on customers) (e) Insufficiently trained operatives seek support from someone else (f) Unsatisfactory response to issues raised by customers (g) Prolonged or protracted resolving of problems (h) Delayed decision making processes (i) Lead times are long before receipt of requested actions regular breaking down of the IT support systems in use


Employee headaches

The problems described in 1.2 above partially inscribe what customers face when they call into call centres. The issues are compounded by the existing frustrations that call centre employees face in the process of carrying out their work. The following few problems are not unique to individual orgabisations but are faced by most call centre environments in the United Kingdom: (a) Pace of Work-One of the biggest problems reported by call centre workers is the pace of work given out that does not reflect the natural ability and level of problem-solving calls by individual employees. Many, if not most call centre managers require workers to meet targeted numbers of calls, sometimes with absolutely no space between each call resulting in many employees put under undue stress. Most call centres have a visual screen showing the rate of calls being processed. This system identifies slower workers and creates embarrassment and sense of urgency in the way calls are handled. The customer in turn suffers the consequences of a target oriented call centre employee who fails to deal with
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the customer as a valued customer but as a statistic on the screen. (b) Health issues-Computer operators have reported such symptoms as soreness or dryness of the eyes, blurred vision, light sensitivity and headaches from working long hours in front of a VDU screen. This is referred to as computer vision syndrome. Members of staff are put under unusual pressures when seen through the wider pressures of managers demanding rapid rummaging through customers with statistics being observed on screens and managers computer screens (c) Faulty Equipment-Some headsets may not have adjustable volume controls and

are set at high volume levels. In some workplaces the general office background noise levels can be very high and the volume for the headsets will be adjusted louder still. This is a problem as the levels of noise going into the ear from the headsets can be higher than the first or second action level in the Control of Noise at Work Regulations. Therefore their continued use is likely to damage hearing over a period of time and is a breach of these regulations. It is known that industry standard headphones can and do breach the regulations. Whatever choice of headset is made they must be comfortable to wear over a working day, be light weight, they must be adjustable to fit the different sized heads and ears of those at work, must not restrain the movement of worker etc. Call centre staff are likely to have to endure customer complaints about the failures of their employer's systems, be it service delivery, poor quality goods, wrong goods etc. Customers can become very agitated when things go wrong and dealing with this constantly can be a stressor for the worker, who is after all not responsible.

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Proposed solutions

The two listed problems in 1.2 and 1.3 can however be addressed in two well known solutions: 1.4.1 Workflow management and Process reengineering

The problem that orgabisations have, in areas like customer services and sales process is that huge numbers of tasks have to be performed efficiently and well by employees. Most of these tasks are often complex tasks, requiring coordination, a smooth flow of information between different departments, and good person-to-person communication with the customer held on the phone. There are two parts to the solution:


The use of Workflow management Systems

Workflow-management is a system of IT for overseeing the process of passing information, documents, and tasks from one employee or machine within a business to another. Through proper workflow management, each of these employees or machines executes or passes the work on according to a predetermined procedure. As technology has advanced, most workflow management has become automated and takes advantage of special software to make the process much smoother resulting in quicker and less repeats required. Through research and development, workflow management has inevitably become or has imposed itself as an important component of a business for a variety of reasons. The primary advantages of workflow management systems: (a) is improved efficiency within the business. By automating many of the processes within a business and establishing a procedure that is consistently followed, unnecessary steps are eliminated, and every member of the team is fully aware of his or her responsibilities. (b) Workflow management computerised visual systems makes it easier to track
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employee and machine performance. When a link in the chain is broken, it is simple to
go back and determine where this occurred. In addition, Workflow management serves

to standardize working methods, ensuring that every employee working on the same level is performing the same function. From research work done by Salimifard and Wright (2001) and Hammer and Stanton (1999), orgabisations that have applied the system, Workflow management also improves customer service. By providing a consistent product or service that is predictable at every level, workflow management allows the customer to feel completely involved in the entire process and capable of

getting answers to important questions in a timely fashion. (c) Workflow management increase company profits, as happy customers come back for repeat business. Workflow management provides opportunities for businesses to find ways of improving their production or service process. By streamlining the responsibilities of each employee and clarifying the roles of every employee and machine within the process, the company can more easily determine where improvements can be made to increase efficiency and to improve the quality of the product or service. Basu and Kumar (2002) observe that by using workflow management software, businesses also enjoy increased flexibility in innovation initiatives. (a) By tracking processes with workflow management software and inputting various alternative scenarios, the company can more easily determine viable options for improvement as reported by Kumar and Zhao 2002) (b) In addition, Sheth et el (1999) surmise that the software can be used to examine one
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small component of a workflow within the overall workflow of the whole organisation at the company-wide level. This is particularly helpful to large businesses that may have several plants or offices spread throughout the country or the world. 1.4.3 The use of Process reengineering

Business Process Reengineering or BPR is the discipline of first analyzing and then redesigning current business processes and their components in terms of their effectiveness, efficiency and added value contribution to the objectives of the business. Business Process

Reengineering (BPR) concerns the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of a business process to obtain dramatic and sustained improvements in quality, cost, service, lead time, flexibility and innovation. BPR focuses on the whole process starting from product conceptual stage to final product design. It provides the opportunity to reengineer the process or to reduce radically the number of activities it takes to carry out a process with the help of advanced Information Technology (IT) according to Hammer (1990), Hammer and Champy (1993) and Peppard and Rowland (1995). Most scholars have problems in defining what process means. From proponents of BPR, they all agree that a group of related tasks that together create value for a customer is in fact referred to as a business process. Common corporate goals include: (a) customer satisfaction, (b) return on investment, and (c) Market share (Hales and Savoie 1994, Hewitt 1995). These goals require process inter-dependencies and system reliability and dependencies that are established through the integration of various business processes. Another dentition of a
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business process is the type of commodity that flows through the system. For example, a product development and its transformation into a final product can be viewed as a process. Davenport and Short (1990) define `process as a set of logically related tasks performed to achieve a defined business outcome and suggest that processes can be divided into those that are operationally oriented (those related to the product and customer) and management oriented (those that deal with obtaining and coordinating resources). Love et al. (1998) consider the technical and social dimension of a process and they identify four enablers: quality management, technology, information and people. Combining these two technologies,


(workflow management and processes reengineering) managers in call centres are able to facilitate information flow solutions. .There are specific steps that call centres need to establish before implementation of the required solutions. The first part is realising that many of these tasks in call centres are identical and can be replicated seamlessly. This means that they can be broken down into a manageable number of categories that have very similar tasks. Then standard procedures (workflows) can be established for each category of task. These procedures are already well established in most orgabisations though not standardised using in process floor chats. Lack of established standard procedures can be a source of stress levels within the organisation. According to Mentzas et al (2001), the second part of the solution is appreciating, accrediting and promoting the use of computer systems that are generally good at dealing with large numbers of similar repetitive processes. It is costly to program a computer, but once the computer is programmed to do something, it is cheap and efficient for the computer to do it over and over again. Invariably most orgabisations already have well established computer systems already installed and the regular synchronising of data bases in the organisation play
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a major enhancement and quality of the work environment for orgabisations. Hruby (1998) suggest well designed Computer support systems where employees are performing repetitive tasks involving information reduce stress levels in the organisation. Kumar and Zhao (2002) concluded that with increased awareness of computer systems and workflow management, orgabisations can manage huge numbers of similar tasks by programming computers to implement standard procedures. These kinds of computer systems are known as workflow systems, because they manage the flow of work. Workflow systems take the pressure off employees by identifying what has to be done and by always providing


the right information at the right time to the right person. Computerised orgabisations already have some form of workflow support systems in place but usually not the full blown workflow system as envisaged to be the way forward for any organisation that desire to remain a major player in the competitive business market. Using the attributes of workflow management and the concepts of process reengineering concepts, this paper proposes nothing entirely new but the same processes that are already in use being redesigned through reorientation of the business workflow to produce maximum returns from minimum input. Continuous improvement of the current processes with quality checks in relation to feedback from the users of the system can play a big role in creating a unique organization.


The Virtual Employee

For purposes of this report, a virtual employee is defined as a specially trained super user employee with holistic skills in handling customer issues that arise in the one call that the consumer might ever make to the organization. 1 As an observation, due to the inability or failure by organizations to control the call tree system (that should be designed to direct
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customers accurately to correct departments)

call centres are inundated with repeat and

misrouted calls that affect the operations of most call centres. When statistics of calls are analyzed from daily operations statistics, there are a high number of calls that could be dealt with in one single call by a well trained, well informed and alert employee. This would curtail or prevent the same caller calling back with the same problem unresolved. In detail, a virtual employee is proposed to be a well trained employee who can play the four main roles that relates to the type of calls that most call centres deal with for most part of the day. When calls are analyzed, they fall into four main categories that have as a result been


designated into departments in most organizations. The following types of calls are representative of the major description of calls that most call centres received and deal with it

This definition is by the author and improved upon by diligent discussion with business proponents in Virginmedia


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(a) New business speculative Calls from first-time-would-be-customers (b) Customer care calls from existing customers, needing support or help with the service (c) Customer relations calls from irate customers who have presumably been failed (d) Moves and transfer calls by existing customers changing geographical location The virtual employee is proposed in this paper to be an employee who is capable of dealing with these calls in one single telephone sitting with a customer without seeking help from another department. Most current call centre process have automated call trees that direct customers to press numbers that represent specific departments resulting in customers subjected to unpalatable misrouting and misdirected experiences. This frustrates and provides bad experience for most customers, creating resentment, frustration and repulsion of potential customers. A disappointed first-time caller represents an exponential loss of customers for future operations of any organisation .The Virtual employee proposal is based on the observation and assumption that most call centre operatives are capable of handling calls that belong to another department, but due to
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restrictions and processes in place, the customer is forced to be passed to another departments operative who might not necessarily take ownership of the call due to the fact that the problem could have been caused by another department. The cardinal essence of the proposal of the virtual employee concept is that operatives can be trained to (a) relate accurately and effectively with speculative new customers by addressing customer sales issues, (b) provide customer relations duties and (c) Able to resolve situations where a customer moving from one property to another,


there would be no need for customers to be transferred from one department to another. 1.6 Training of Virtual Employees

The objective of training virtual employees would be to establish: (a) Whether the current business processes with the organizational framework of departmental divisions is relevant for the moment and is the best arrangement for gaining competitive advantage in the market, (b) Whether a virtual employee will improve and create customer satisfaction in the call centres by reducing frustration created by multiplicity of departments, (c) Ascertain whether the exercise would improve the management and type of calls into the call centres, (d) Reduce lead times for consumer experiences, (e) Generate job satisfaction for employees, (f) Improve organizational revenue generation levels through increased number of calls
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handled in call centres per employee, 1.6.1 Composition of team and responsibilities

If an organisation desire to implement the concept of the virtual employee concept, handpicked teams would have to be selected and training given in areas that could be lacking. The teams would consist of high performing operatives willing to undergo training. Information flow and reorientation of the mindset of the trial members would be at the core of the exercise and the physical process and operational change would be the heartbeat of the improvement training programme. There are four areas that would be addressed by the trial


and training programme: (a) Corporate Organisational goals so that the trainees understood the purpose of the exercise and business objective (b) Information management concepts and the importance of systemised knowledge and information flow within the entire organisation (c) The value of one customer to the organisation and the concept of one bird in hand is better than 100s on a wire concept first implored on by Kramler and Retschitzegger (2002) (d) The one-stop-shop concept that restricts repeat calls to call centres as the one call ever made answers it all 1.6.2 General support for the initiative Senior management commitment to any improvement initiative is always a key element to the implementation of any new strategy and business concepts. The commitment and involvement of managerial support can be seen as the most important factor contributing to
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the success of any organisations improvements as reflected in many studies done by the workflow management team at WfMC (1996). The level and type of involvement by management go a long way to make such initiatives to succeed. Too little involvement by management creates the impression of lack of commitment to the proposed initiative and yet too much involvement may equally stifle the virtual teams ability to challenge existing practices. The style of involvement is also important. If managers are to be seen to act as approvers for all decisions, however minor, this may convey that the existing top-down approach to


management has not really changed. In complex systems, such as call centres, there is a notion that senior managers need to have a better knowledge of the daily workflow process behaviour; otherwise they may incorrectly overrule valid suggestions that the virtual team members may arrive at. Management commitment would be critical throughout all the stages. Managers normally find the devolving of decision-making during the initiative implementation as a personal challenge as the process inverts the conventional top-down theory of management and conversely shift decision making to the operative to create quick and on the spot decisions. The intensive nature of initiative implementation requires high engagement of staff involved and can be used as a beacon for future organisational ways of workflow process execution throughout the organisation. The participants are expected to be posses deep conviction and involvement in the initiative implementation and will demand that they develop a continuous improvement mindset. Communication of the progress of the initiative improvement programme results should be seen as being important to both the participants and the rest of the organisation to indicate
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and recognise the level of improvement and the achievements of/ by the trial team.

1.7 The Current Call center processes When calls are received in call centres, operatives immediately determine whether they can deal with the call or not. The operatives immediately lose control of the customer and customer expectations the moment they determine the caller needs to be passed to another department. The customer is then subjected to frustrating long holds and possibly eventually passed back into the call tree, thus generating repeat calls.


Unfortunately, customers opinion and attitude towards the organization is then formed and created by this first time interaction with an operative and consequently determine whether they want to enter into a business relationship or not. The ideology behind a virtual employee is to provide for the customer an operative that can deal with a query relating to the four main departments in one single call without being passed to another department. When customer expectations are met in one single call, the results can be very exponentially productive. 1.8 Advantages to orgabisations The business change methodology works around the principle that processes can best be developed by designing the processes around the needs of customers. Customers take delight in knowing they do not have to spend long times on the phone to attend to an issue. Quick response to issues raised can generate customer satisfaction. The following are obvious results: (a) Fewer repeat calls (Improvement of customer flow (b) Issues dealt with in one call (Improving customer waiting times
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(c) Customer satisfaction (Improving service performance) Lean teams (Reduction in staffing and other cost Easier management of customer data bases (Knowledge management systems in one place) Improving processing times Achieving more for less Bringing services up to a standard Achieving more for less Bringing services up to a standard Whatever sector considered, many of the issues facing call centres remain the same and ultimately consumers are much less likely to buy a companys products if they have a poor experience when calling that companys call centre for help. The test and success for any new management pilot concept is whether or not the outcomes of the approach are


sufficient to justify the cost and effort of implementation into the organisation. Any idea that is proposed for improving the marketability of an organisation must not be dismissed lightly as the same idea may be used by a competitor to create competitive advantage. This proposal is based on the fact that the infrastructure in place within Virginmedia is ripe for exploiting the virtual employee concept without upsetting the existing operations in a massive way. The costs involved for the trial are minimal, tottering on the famous statement by the famous Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture who said, Less is more when referring to the use of space in design. Fewer people are capable of handling more calls efficiently when they are well equipped, knowledgeable; possess sufficient permissions and authority to perform their duties. Such virtual employees can become the super users of the vast Company Empire to produce unmatched competitive advantage.

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According to Gettys, R (2009), Call centres are not only ubiquitous, but also a hot bed for customer dissatisfaction. The performance can make or break any service providers indexes of customer loyalty. Only by honing in on what the client needs (or another department, if the call center is internal), building a process around those needs and collecting measurement on key factors can develop a call center to be an asset to the organization as a whole. The use of novel operating strategies like lean management, workflow management, 6 sigma, process reengineering and of course the concept of a virtual employee can significantly reduce customer dissatisfaction and improve call center operations. It is imperative that Customer service representatives need to be able to


(a) timely answer the phone, (b) They need to resolve questions quickly, (c) Hold time needs to be minimal and at or under the customers expectation. Yet these important metrics, taken alone, with little or no regard to other client-affecting service level indicators, can lead to a loss of business. There are ambiguous reasons behind loss of customer confidence in issues like (a) having to make more than one call and then talking to more than one customer representative, (b) having to stay on hold, (c) deal with computer answer machines and a menu that is anything but easy to use, (d) the absence of dedicated virtual employees, resulting in each call is a new beginning where the problem has to be explained afresh, (e) Poorly trained executives who more often than not escalate the issue to their seniors
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while customers are put on hold, This report has put forward the virtual employee as one solution that can be employed to improve Call center performance. This report has also suggested that time and effort devoted to offering customer service should not be viewed as an avoidable cost, and call centres should not be viewed as cost centres but as profit centres when run properly. It is incumbent on Call center managers to select call center employees and subject them to specific training that does not restrict them to basic answering of telephone calls. Virtual employees that are properly trained can deliver consistent positive results and a focus on


training virtual employees coupled with quality control and new ways of running call centres can deliver clear and positive business advantage for any organisation with quantifiable profits and reduction of costs.


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