Call centers: wait, wait, and wait again...

ccwaitWe all know the often frustrating experience of interacting with a call center. Waiting for an operator to answer can take an appreciable portion of our time. And, while in most cases the chance to talk to an operator comes after a long sequence of choices (press 3, then press 1, then press 5, etc.), in some cases a selection of one of the pre-determined automatic options is all we are offered. Call center waiting times are always too long.The satisfaction of customers with the call center experience is the subject of several academic studies (see for example Waiting in Vain: Managing Time and Customer Satisfaction at Call Centers) and practitioners' suggestions as well (see Improve Customer Service by Lowering Call Center Wait Times). Most studies focus on the human-assisted part of the game: how can we lower the time taken by the operator to provide a satisfying response? how can we make sweeter the waiting time? how can we make the customer get away with a pleasant sentiment? However, a significant issue lies with the time taken to navigate through an endless list of options (some of which may be meaningless to the customer). Optimizing the path taken by the customer so to reduce the waiting time and leading him/her as straight to what he/she needs as possible should be a foremost aim of any call center manager. Indeed, we have investigated the issue and can now provide our results. Through an analysis of a set of call center response trees (the sequence of options you are given to choose through your phone keyboard), we have seen how long can the customer's wait be. You can read the full results in our paper Quality Management in the Design of TLC Call Centers. We have shown that, since not all options provided by the call center are required with the same frequency (the service do not have all the same popularity), the imbalances may be exploited to put upfront the most requested services so to lower the overall response time. Actually, we have done more than that. In another paper (Evolutionary Optimization of Service Times in Interactive Voice Response Systems) we have shown that a genetic algorithm can be employed to achieve an optimal design of the response tree and reduce the call center waiting time as much as possible.

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