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Call blending  

Call Blending

Call blending is a way of life in many businesses and other organizations that rely heavily on audio communications to accomplish the goals that are in place for the operation. Here are the basics of call blending, including some ideas on when the Call Centre technology can be a great asset to a business or other type of organization.

In its simplest form, call blending is the capability to make outbound calls while also being able to receive inbound calls, all in one easy technologically created system. While older systems in the past required that a user enter a code to activate availability to perform one function or the other, it was not possible to be available for both functions simultaneously. After making telephone outbound calls, it was necessary to log out of that function and enter a separate code to indicate the station could now receive inbound calls.

This process made it possible for staff to be underutilized, as it would be very easy for someone to forget to log back in. This scenario would create a situation where callers begin to pile up in a queue as the telephony system looks for an open station that could receive the call. As any good Call Centre manager will attest, callers having to wait is never a good thing for the organization.

The process of call-blending helps to maximize the time that each work station can devote to handing the telephones, both inbound and outbound calls. The process is really automatic. As a station finishes up with a phone call and becomes free, a tone will emit in the headset of the attendant. Immediately, the attendant is connected to a caller. The software for call blending systems works with the concept of a hunt group, taking into consideration which stations are open to receive calls, and which of those stations received the last inbound call. This allows distribution of the inbound calls to be more or less even among the work stations in the hunt group. No one employee is overtaxed with calls while others have nothing do to.

Call Centres of all types use call blending as a way to keep employees productive but not overworked, and also keep customers happy. For example, audio conference Call Centres use call blending to ensure that customers who want to book a reservation for a conference reach an attendant quickly. Charities that rely on bulk dial-out methods use call blending to route live calls to an attendant when a caller indicates interest in hearing more about the charity. Phone companies use call blending to ensure that customers with concerns or that wish to change their suite of services get to the right department and to a qualified person who can help them with their needs.

All in all, call blending has made it much easier to care for existing clients as well as be readily available to help persons who want to know more about the organization.

Call Blending for Outbound and Inbound

Outbound Call Centres hold an important place in the present business scenario. Though some Call Centres work only on an inbound operation, most work on both. These are usually the bigger Call Centres that have separate groups of trained agents specialising in inbound and outbound calls.

However, smaller Call Centres can’t afford to have entirely different sets of agents specialising in incoming and outgoing calls; they usually rotate their agents from time to time between inbound and outbound operations. For these Call Centres, the biggest question that bugs management is how to manage a balance between inbound and outbound operations, so that there are enough agents to handle calls when the call volume rises and the productivity doesn’t fall down when the call volume falls.

Here, call blending plays its role. Simply defined, call blending means using outbound agents to receive inbound calls, or using inbound agents to make outbound calls. For example, if the agents receiving calls remain idle for a particular amount of time, they can be used for outbound operations. Similarly, in a process handling collections, receiving calls is as important as placing calls, so the agents can be used for both. Thus, by integrating inbound and outbound services, call blending allows any Call Centre to maximise its agent’s skills as well as time.

Most Call Centres have more or less fixed daily patterns of call volume. The mornings are usually high time for incoming calls, and blending will allow agents handling outbound calls to share the load. And the period when the call volume is low, even the agents handling inbound calls can be used for outbound calls. These calling patterns can be fed into the contact centre’s predictive dialler program. Most of the diallers use complex pacing algorithms that enable constant modification by monitoring the queue of unanswered calls and the system parameters of the agents.

For example, a company is introducing a new product, and wants to take up a telemarketing campaign to introduce it. Hiring temporary agents may raise quality issues, but utilising the existing agents will hamper other operations. Call blending is the best option in such a scenario.

If a Call Centre handles multiple processes involving customer service, telephone orders, and outbound telemarketing, then there will be different groups of agents having specific skills for different operations. But some agents are more adaptable than others and can be used as blended agents. These agents’ primary responsibility would be handling the inbound calls, but when the call volume is low, the predictive dialler program will send a message or a signal to these agents, indicating that they have been switched to outbound mode and ring their phones. A CTI (Computer Telephony Integration) link will prompt the script for outbound calls to run on their respective terminals. Once an agent is through with the call, depending on the call volume in the inbound ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) queue, he or she may continue in the outbound mode, or be switched back to receive inbound calls. This sort of blending results in higher productivity from the agents as well as maximum time utilisation, resulting in satisfied customers.

As with the low call volume periods, blending can also be effectively utilised during peak hours. For this purpose, during the training and induction period, the supervisors mark the agents who can be used as blended agents during peak hours. When the call volumes are high, the calls are transferred to these agents, significantly reducing the time a caller has to wait. But one of the major factors usually overlooked in call blending is managing call-backs.

Another important factor of call blending is that it can even have an adverse effect on your business, if applied blindly. To avoid this, the Call Centre managers need to learn the proper ways blending. They will have to know the proper application of blending so that the fluctuations in call volumes are levelled, agent productivity is maximised, and agent staffing level is streamlined. Research has revealed that lack of proper planning in implementation of call blending can reduce customer satisfaction by 10 to 15 percent, and employee satisfaction by 20 to 30 percent. Both these figures are cause for concern as customer satisfaction is paramount in the present times, and soaring attrition rates give sleepless nights to the management.

Therefore, it is very important for the managers and the supervisors to know when to switch an agent from inbound to outbound mode, and how to do it effectively. This requires a perfect combination of data, knowledge, and technology. Even while hiring, managers should be clear about the required agent groups, their skills, and conduct cross-training for agents marked for blending. Studies show that only 10 to 15 percent agents have the ability to work effectively in inbound as well as outbound mode. Thus, it may be necessary to provide scripts to inbound agents, when they are taking up outbound calls.

It is, therefore, best to divide the agents of any Call Centre into three specific groups, one each for inbound, outbound, and blended. If the blended agents are handling inbound and outbound calls in a shift, then it is very important that calls should be of a similar nature. Another important point to be followed is the pattern of the blended calls. This means that if there is a constant switchover from one mode to the other, the agent may lose his concentration and the productivity may go down. Thus, proper transition rules should be formulated and applied wherein an agent is switched over to outbound mode only after a certain time period with no inbound calls. Even when switching over to outbound mode, some of the agents should be kept in reserve for inbound calls as a precautionary step.

Last but not least, there should be proper indication systems to let the agents know when they are changing mode. This would rule out scope for any confusion among the agents, and ensure the quality of service provided, as well as the productivity.

Call blending is, therefore, a cost-effective way to wipe out abandoned calls, lower queue time, and increase agent productivity. And with agents having the ability to perform inbound and outbound operations with equal expertise, the future for integrated Call Centres seems bright.

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