If you’ve ever thought to yourself that you must maintain the most elaborate and complicated Excel spreadsheet ever created, well you have Andrew Blake, manager of forecasting & analytics at TD Bank Group, to contend with.
Tasked with managing the operations of 38 different call centres housing 6,000 agents, TD relied on spreadsheets for its data. Consider that he had to track inbound and outbound call volume, staff service levels, and even newer activities like social media and SMS customer service inquiries, and Excel just wasn’t up to snuff anymore. Especially since he was getting questions from other areas of the business about performance metrics.
“There wasn’t any sort of consistency across the board,” he said. “Try to compare one business to another? You really can’t.”
Responsible for forecasting 18 months out what staffing levels TD’s call centre operations would require, Blake’s team was spending 65 per cent of its time on that task. It didn’t leave any time for delivering any of the analytics valuable to the business. So he went shopping for a solution and landed on Interaction Decisions, a call centre capacity and analysis platform.
Five years ago TD adopted the platform and worked with the software vendor, Indianapolis, In.-based Interactive Intelligence, to plug in the data feeds he wanted to track for variables. Since then he’s reduced his staff’s time spent on forecasting to 35 per cent and the software has been implemented in the call centres at other lines of business.
“It has a more fine-tune pick to it, you can customise it based on the changes in your call centre,” he says. “It gets smarter the more experience it has in your centre and it makes better recommendations.”
The journey from spreadsheet to predictive analytics platform is the typical one for customers of Interaction Intelligence, says one of its territory managers, Krissy Bunner. At an event hosted by the software firm for its customers in Toronto yesterday, everyone in the room raised their hand and admitted – a bit sheepishly – about using Excel to run some aspect of their business.
“The contact centre as it’s evolved, we’ve just got really good at building Excel spreadsheets and pivot tables,” she says. “Those weren’t designed for call centres, but it’s what everyone else is using.”
But Interactive Intelligence is seeing its business grow in Canada and elsewhere. It offers the capability to do long-term strategic planning for call centres, forecasting inquiry volume by site and skill type, determining staffing requirements, and delivering capacity planning.
Perhaps the most modernising aspect of Interactive Intelligence is that it frees call centre forecasting models from the use of Erlang, a programming language written for telephony switches in 1986. That model is known in the industry to always result in overstaffing – sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot.
Interaction Decisions helps a call centre “to be proactive and plan for where you want to take your business instead of just looking at what happened and why,” Bunner says. “What this tool can do is help a contact centre understand what’s optimal.”
For Blake, he’s not only found that overstaffing has been eliminated, but he’s delivering great service. TD Bank has been recognized with awards like JD Power’s #1 ranking in customer satisfaction for phone care. Blake estimates that some of his sites have seen a 10 per cent improvement in level of service since the software was implemented.
Perhaps best of all, Blake can field those “what if” scenarios from business executives and deliver answers to them quickly instead of assigning someone to work on the question for a couple of weeks.
“What would our service level be if we drop average hold time by 10 seconds?” he says, giving an example of a question he can now answer. “How can I improve absenteeism to increase results?
“Being able to play with this very quickly in a simplified tool gives you so much more than a spreadsheet,” he says. “As your contact centre evolves, you move beyond baseline metrics, that’s where baseline tools like Excel start to fall flat.”
It gets more complex from there. Interaction Decisions will work with any workforce management tool in use at a call centre, Bunner says. It sends its own team of specialists to onboard each new client and integrate their systems.
“We’re not an off-the-shelf product, it’s not plug and play,” she explains. “That’s why integration takes much longer, because we build customized models for that specific contact centre, and that’s why we’re so accurate.”
At TD Bank, Blake estimates he saw his return on investment from the platform after 18 months. He points out that a call centre of 60 agents will take longer to recoup their costs than one with thousands because the cost savings comes from adjusting staffing levels at scale.
But eventually, there’s just so many rows you can fill out in that spreadsheet.