Apr 27 2012
With contact centers evolving as one stop shops for customer service, the focus on multi-skilled agents have increased more than ever. With the recent recessionary fears in the US and globally, one of the key cost optimization measures taken by call centers is to have multi-skilled agents. However, in large call centers with high attrition rates and multiple clients, one wonders about the practical issues related to multi-skilling of agents. This post is an attempt to look at whether it is better to have agents who have deep skills in a narrow area or a broad set of skills in multiple areas.
Often the key advantage that is touted in favor of multi-skilling of agents is better agent utilization as they are able to answer calls pertaining to a wide variety of areas. Multi-skilling of agents is also found to improve agent motivation levels as it takes away the monotony of handling a single type of calls. Imagine handling calls about every day guiding people through steps to reset their modem or handling angry inbound calls for the customer service department of a ringtone company. I used ringtone company here because I don’t know about you, but those commercials on MTV advertising ringtones for $10+ per month are insane. I can imagine the anger level of callers after they receive their first bill and demand refunds. At any rate, imagine managing those calls 40+ hours a week.
However, if your attrition rates are very high, then the administrative hassle of training your agents may prove to be not worth the effort. For an agent to be proficient in multiple aspects, it requires a certain amount of time in both formal training and informal ”learn by experience” training. If the average length of employment in your call center is low, then it may not make sense to focus on multi-skilling. After all, you do not want your agents to use your telephone answering service as a free training ground and then look for better employment elsewhere. It would be like grooming Carlos Ruiz on your minor league team and losing him each week to the Phillies. Please insert your own favorite baseball player & team in that last analogy. One way to overcome this is to use training as something the agent earns over time. Thus, you could select agents for specialized training based on the length of employment and their performance on the job. This will not only motivate your agents, but also reduce your risks and improve efficiencies. You could also look at hiring multi-skilled agents directly rather than training them in-house.
The decision to multi-skill or not should depend on a variety of parameters such as how complex your products/services are (which translates as the time taken for an agent to be effectively trained in each product line), the profile of your callers (should your agents be multi-lingual and handle a single product or trained on multiple products in a single language), the profile of agents available for hire (are multi-skilled or multi-skillable agents several times more expensive than single skill agents), your training costs, as well as the level of technology available in the call center (such as the presence of a well-configured skill based routing ACD system).
Agent skilling needs to be performed in a planned manner with clearly defined training calendars and ongoing monitoring of training effectiveness measurement parameters.
One thing to always keep in mind is to never sacrifice depth of skills in an attempt to broad base the skill sets of your agents. If agents are spread too thin and multi-skilled in too many areas, chances are high that your first call resolution rates will drop drastically, though you may improve your average wait time and agent utilization rates. Key metrics of agent performance and customer satisfaction should be monitored regularly to identify skill gaps as well as the basket of skills for each agent. The decision is not an easy one to make as there are multiple factors at play and achieving a fine balance requires you to customize your skilling efforts keeping in mind the often conflicting aspirations of your clients, callers, agents as well as those of your call center.