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01 May 2013

By: Danny Singer

Blog #8: To blend or not to blend, that is the question


Here's a simile you won't hear very often: a call centre is like a bottle of whisky. Why? Well, it's because both raise passionate debates amongst the cognoscenti on the superiority of blended over non-blended ones or vice-versa. Is a totally segregated call centre better than a blended one or is the blended one the pinnacle of efficiency?

There is no simple answer to this old chestnut. It very much depends on the nature of call centre activity, volumes of calls, agent skills, the technology in use and many other factors. Nevertheless, there are a number of general principles worth keeping in mind when making a decision on whether to blend or not.

One of the first things to consider is call priorities. There is a fundamental difference between inbound and outbound call traffic. Outbound is under your control whilst inbound isn't. In other words, you can decide when and how you make outbound calls, whereas inbound calls can come at any time in spikes and troughs. It is therefore generally accepted, subject to some limited exceptions, that inbound calls should always take priority over outbound calls.blended or single malt

In effect, outbound calls can be thought of as "filler" during the gaps between inbound calls. Blended call centres which follow this principle tend to deliver far superior inbound SLAs (with near to zero abandonment rates) than non-blended ones. This is because the possibility of outbound allows for overstaffing of the operation which guarantees cover for inbound peaks as and when they occur.

However, this raises the important question of agent skills. It is generally accepted that outbound agents need to be more skilled, better educated and suitably incentivised, therefore better paid than their inbound colleagues. It does therefore seem a waste to assign outbound agents to inbound work.

In this context, the use of call blending becomes a commercial decision which needs to take into consideration the actual possible value of each inbound call and the possible financial damage that a missed or abandoned inbound call may cause. When making these kinds of judgements, instead of thinking of outbound as a filler of inbound troughs, it is better to think about the outbound teams as an "overflow" resource which can absorb excess inbound traffic when required.

Technology has an important part to play in this complex game. Here at Noetica, we have been thinking long and hard about all the finer points of call blending and our product, Synthesys™, provides a blending module which puts you in control of the mix of calls and other channels (such as chat, email, etc.) allowing you to reach an optimal point of balance.

The fact that call scripting and the dialler are fundamental elements of Synthesys™ have far reaching and perhaps counterintuitive benefits for our users. Not only can the call script indicate to the agent instantly whether they are about to handle an inbound or outbound call (or chat session or email) but a more subtle and important benefit can be derived from the interplay between call scripting and call blending.

What I am alluding to here is the ability to intelligently control preview and wrap times so that calls are delivered to agents only when they are ready for them. As long as an agent is in a script neither the dialler nor the ACD would attempt to deliver another call. Although wrap time can be controlled centrally (by warning the agent to complete the script and then forcing them to do so), it does provide agents the comfort of some control over the pace of the stream of calls they are processing, within strict rules preventing them from abusing  this freedom whilst using it responsibly.

Ultimately, it is the intelligence within the blending module that seamlessly optimises the mix of activities that your agents will undertake according to a relatively simple set of parameters that administrators can set and adjust.

All that is left then is to sit back and observe how the robotic intelligence of this tool juggles resources to best fit your business goals. It is with this in mind that we provide the ultimate geek gadget, the Blend-O-Meter, which allows users to observe visually and in real time how agents are assigned to different types of work dynamically with no human intervention whatsoever.

Call blending is a high risk and reward technique. Get it wrong and not only will you witness a catastrophic deterioration in call centre performance, but you may also end up with a hefty Ofcom fine. Get it right and your operation will benefit from higher agent utilisation and greatly increased profitability. If you still feel brave enough to give it a go, the only way to mitigate risk is to ensure that you have the best tools for the job.