Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Reporting - some thoughts

I've realised that while I've written previously on Workforce Management ( Workforce Management - is it only for high end call centres? & Workforce Management - Part 2 Vendor Selection ), I've missed the major pre-requisite of reporting.

Reporting on a call centre or a contact centre's activities is the most important first step in managing such a complex organisation. One of the peculiarities of call centre is that because of the early technology it was built on it was possible to report on agents work in great detail. The PBX (Private Branch Exchange) and ACD (Automated Call Distributor), which together manage all incoming telephone traffic, could provide detailed information on each call, such as duration and the agent availability. Initially these reports were pretty user unfriendly, but driven by management demand, call centre reporting developed in complexity and detail to an extent that was unmatched in the work activity reporting in any other business area. Even in a transaction orientated environment such as a bank branch, staff are not monitored in anything like the detail that is possible in the call centre. The result is that in call cente there is a lot of data that can be reported on.

The crucial thing to remember with reporting is to differentiate what you can report on from what you need to report on. As an example, it is very easy to report on agent availability and measure how long each agent is unavailable. How useful this is as a stand alone metric might be more debatable, as it may be that agents have to do a lot of complex work with the CRM system after each call. In other words, although a good measure of contact centre efficiency, with that metric you may be measuring the poor quality of a CRM GUI and workflow rather than measuring your agents ability. Similarly, if you report on average call time, you may incentivize agents to handle more calls, but may also encourage agents to end calls before customers want to so the agents meet their targets. You would then have customers calling back, which doubles (at least) your call traffic even while you are meeting your average call time metric.

This type of distortion has led to a tendency to report on less telephony based metrics and more on CRM based metrics, such as '1st call resolution' or 'completed steps in the customer management process'. This is useful (as it is measuring a business outcome), but can risk loosing the sort of reporting 1st line management and team leaders found useful for operational management.

I would argue that contact centres should be reporting differently to each level of management. Team leaders and first line managers need real-time statistics on their group of agents performance. The higher the level of management above that, the less real-time/ operational reporting they need and the more business oriented the information needs to be.

This is one of the things I like about Cisco's acquisition of Latigent. Latigent provides the opportunity for mashups and the construction of executive dashboards from multiple data sources. For more operational reporting, as used by team leaders the existing reporting tools are adequate, but the Web 2.0 aspects of Latigent (RSS feeds) offer a lot of interesting options for more complex report creation. There's a good podcast with about Latigent here on

Ofcourse, others in the industry have offerings with a range of capabilities. Avaya have always been strong with their CMS product. Aspect has always had good reporting on the telephony environment (as you would expect from their ACD heritage) and have moved up into workforce management. I'm not convinced that reporting should be considered synonymous with workforce management (at least for large centres, I feel there's a case for best of breed selection for what are two very separate functions), but it has been reasonably successful for them. Genesys too provide a reporting and a workforce management product, but given the large, highly complex environments they tend to be deployed in, I feel there is again a case for best of breed for reporting and a separate best of breed workforce management product.

In short, when thinking about reporting the most important thing is to establish what metrics you need to report on and for whom in your organisation. It's also important to distinguish between reporting (which is collection, tracking & presentation of data), analytics (getting meaning out of data) and workforce management (using information to drive agent performance). These are discrete functions for separate purposes, even if one solution might meet your needs for all of them.

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