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How to stay on top of every trend in your call centre (part 1)

Tim Harbers, CTO at Contexta360 looks at how to detect trends in the call centre and act on them to avoid future issues.  

No day in your call center is ever the same. Changes happen all the time and on all fronts: new agents join your team, other agents retire. You get new customers with new wishes and demands. Your company offers new products, launches new campaigns and sometimes new problems will occur that sometimes go unnoticed. And just as easy, external events like a pandemic can happen out of nowhere and impact every division of your business in a major way.

Catching new trends in your callcenter very early on and acting on them immediately can avoid lots of problems later on and can beat the competition. This post contains several examples on how to detect and investigate interesting trends in your call center.

Uncovering trends help you to:

  • Plan ahead, spot new opportunities before anyone else.
  • Find broken processes before they become a major problem.
  • Respond quickly to outside events.
  • Give your agents the right information when they need it.

This blogpost is divided into two parts. Part 1 is about the most common type: trends over time.

Trends over time

For trends over time, line charts are usually used as the visualization. In one blink of an eye, it is usually clear which time trends are happening, when they started exactly, how strong the trends are and whether they are still occurring or not.

Abrupt trends

Abrupt trends are easily detected by sudden spikes (or dip) in the line chart. They are usually caused by a single high impact event.

For abrupt trends, it is very important to discover the cause and respond as swiftly as possible. Ideally, each call center manager has easy access to a live speech analytics monitor, always looking for spikes and ready to respond.

Abrupt trends in call volume data

When your call volume suddenly spikes, the first thing you need to ensure, before mobilising everyone, is if the spike fits your usual call volume pattern. For example, in some businesses it’s completely normal that a volume spike occurs just before lunch break or just before the call center closes. Or always on the last day of the month, when you are in the tax business. But if the call volume spike does not fit the usual pattern, you can be pretty sure that something big is happening.

The next step is to identify what type of calls are mostly contributing to the increase (or decrease) in volume. By splitting the overall call volume into specific topics, using topic detection technology, it should become clear very soon what topic is mostly responsible. Is it a certain problem with your product or service? Or did something happen outside that you are unaware of at the moment? The more specific you define your topics, the faster you can find the root cause of volume spikes.

Abrupt trends in agent performance

It is more uncommon that agent performance changes abruptly. Agents can improve (and they can sometimes become worse), but tf this occurs, usually it is a more gradual change.

There are however some exceptions.
Abrupt spike in silence duration: this is usually caused by a sudden problem in one of the system’s the agents are using, which prevents them from helping their customers. Or maybe new agents have joined the team who don’t know yet how to answer certain questions.

Abrupt change in average call handling time: usually this correlates with changes in call volume. For instance, if there is an outage in your business’s service, call volume of people reporting this will spike. But since these types of calls are usually very short, the average call handling time suddenly dips.

Abrupt dip in customer satisfaction / sentiment: This is usually caused by either a sudden problem in the company’s service or product, or a sudden problem in the customer call center. When call volume spikes and customers are put on hold much longer than usual, this can also cause sentiment dips.

A good speech analytics or automated quality monitoring solution shows you what sudden changes in agent performance are relevant for you at each point in time.

Slow moving (gradual) trends

Gradual trends are trends that happen more slowly over time compared to abrupt trends. But the impact of these trends can be just as big. Usually dealing with gradual trends are more strategic than tactical and require more long term planning.

Call volume

When your call volume gradually increases (or even decreases) over time, you have to plan ahead as a call center manager. Sometimes the volume change can simply be explained by the growth of your number of customers. In that case, be prepared to scale up in time with the rest of your company.

When the number of clients in your business is stable but call volume is still increasing, something else is going on. Possible explanations of this are:

  • Something is unclear about a new version of your business’s product or service, which leads to increasingly more questions.
  • An external event triggers this (e.g. competitor actions, changes in customer behavior or the weather)
  • The increase can also be due to more or less repeat calls, if the first time resolution changes over time (see Agent Performance).

Using topic detection, identify the topics that contribute the most to this trend. Word cloud analysis can help you get a list of terms from this topic that have grown significantly.

Agent performance

Slow moving trends not only happen in call volume but also in agent performance. By tracking many agent performance metrics, using automated QM, it is possible to quickly identify the metrics that contain these trends. Once a trend has been identified, it is important to narrow down where in your callcenter these trends occur. First, look for the agent teams that contribute most to these trends, especially the ones where performance drops. Once the right agent team is found, look for the individual agents to give them tailor-made coaching.

The trends to look for include:

  • Increasing Average Call Handling Time: what parts of the conversation are longer than necessary for this agent?
  • More negative sentiment: find negative sentiment examples
  • Drop in First Call Resolution:
  • Growth in Silence: look for the words surrounding the silence. Is there any trend that can explain the increase in silence?

Interested to learn more about other trend types? Stay tuned for Part 2!