Boatwright contacted Customer Solutions Group (CSG) in February of 2000 and Andy Carr, CSG’s Chief Operating Officer, was brought in to begin working on the project of providing actionable and specific recommendations that would be designed to improve quality and reduce costs.Carr spent the next several months observing the call center operations, interviewing managers and employees, and analyzing the existing data, training materials and corporate reports. After extensive analysis, Carr was prepared to present his findings and new design for LFS’ call center and operations. Our team supports Carr’s redesign proposal of LFS’ call center and believe the recommendations have merit based on our evaluation.We believe it will be successful in providing LFS with the following outcomes: a consistent and exemplary level of customer service, short time to answer, and reduce annual operating expense by $1. 5 million (Page 11, Paragraph 4). However, we only make this recommendation so long as Andy and LFS’s management create a thorough implementation plan that addresses business continuity and mitigates risks associated with large process redesign efforts.
There are several design changes in Carr’s proposal that garnered our team’s support.The single largest being the elimination of the Boston and New Jersey call centers in favor of a single large call center at the existing Chicago facilities. Complimentary to this change is the reduction of the eight existing agent pools to that of three: Quickline, Customer Service, and Broker Service (See Exhibit 4). In making these design changes Carr implemented two fundamental process design principles. Firstly, by consolidating all call center operations to Chicago, several complex call routing tasks are now combined into a single routing task to the main call center.Secondly, in order to merge the Customer and Broker Quicklines to a single Quickline pool, it will be necessary to create detailed call blueprints and rules of thumb that will allow Quickline agents to utilize multiple versions of the same process in order to excel in processing customer and broker calls. We believe these changes will bring the consistency and quality to the customer experience that the LFS management team will find attractive.
The next two design changes recommended by Carr are perfect examples of the design principle to perform the work where it makes sense. First he recommends creating a customer personal identification number (PIN) that the customer will be prompted to enter by the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. Upon entry, the system will be able to instantly identify the caller as either a customer or broker, determine the nature of their call, and route the call to the appropriate agent pool.When the call arrives, it will integrate with the agents’ computer system and display the required customer information as well as the reason for their call. This allows them to begin assisting the customer immediately without having to engage in challenge response questions to determine identity and ensures that the correct customer account is properly referenced. The second change is the addition of an optional automated response system that could handle the majority of the most common requests from customers and would be available 24 hours a day.Carr estimated that approximately 20% or 6,000 callers per week would choose to use the automated system, which along with the PIN system will be a significant contribution to the desired reduction in time to answer and overall talk time (Page 10, Paragraph 3).
Based on the potential of these changes, we believe they will be a strong selling point of the design change for Boatwright and LFS’s other executive management.The final design change that our team feels will greatly enhance the level of customer satisfaction with LFS’ call center operations is the dramatic reduction of complexity in the overflow routing rules. Previously, the routing rules and staffing were so complex that two-full time employees were required to manage and maintain them (Page 3, Paragraph 3). Carr’s design plan eliminates the overly complex overflow rules and creates one simple “zero threshold” rule where no call will be held in queue if a qualified or overqualified agent is available (Page 10, Paragraph 4).The zero threshold rule is a perfect example of multiple complicated tasks combined into a simple streamlined task. This simple routing task, as outlined in exhibit 4, demonstrates how a call will be routed up from Quickline, to Customer Service, and then finally to the Broker Service pool until it finds an available agent. If no available agent can be located, it will queue in the Broker Services pool until one is available (Page 10, Paragraph 5).
We feel this has the potential to have a dramatic effect on operating expenses based on two criteria.First, salaries and benefits make up approximately 70% of the call center expense at LFS (Page 3, Paragraph 3). The idea is that by having an optimal overflow strategy, staffing in the call center could be significantly reduced. In general, customer service agents can handle Quickline calls faster than Quickline agents, and broker service agents can handle calls faster than customer agents, and supervisors are able to handle calls faster than the agents they supervise (Page 3, Paragraph 2).Carr is hedging that by continually routing calls up the chain to more experienced agents that call answer times will dramatically reduce. In order to mitigate the potential of calls dwelling in the broker service pool, Carr intends to intentionally overstaff brokerage while the Quickline and customer service pools would be intentionally understaffed relative to the call volume statistics of any given time (Page 10, Paragraph 5). The design changes outlined above will all help achieve the estimated $1.
million in operational savings per year, mostly through economies of scale resulting from the call center consolidation and the increased automation and agent productivity. By eliminating the call centers in Boston and New Jersey, LFS should be able to lower its fixed and variable costs associated with handling customer calls. By leveraging their facilities in Chicago they should be able to reduce unnecessary overhead (lease/depreciation, utilities, telecom, IT), staff (management, HR, training), and costs associated with communications between facilities (travel, postage).Simply put, a single large call center is less expensive to operate than one medium and two small sized ones. Our team believes that the design plan as outlined by Carr can be successful, however, we have identified areas where we think some additional attention needs to be paid by the CSG and LFS management teams to ensure it is. We are primarily concerned that Carr may not have considered the impact closing the two call centers will have on LFS’ long-term business continuity strategy.Today, whether by design or not, LFS appears to have a redundant call routing process that does not rely on any one particular call center to be available in order to process calls.
The blizzard in February of 2011 that essentially shutdown the city of Chicago could have prevented anyone from being able to make it into LFS’s offices in order to man the call center. Carr’s future state where there is only the Chicago call center will require the creation of contingency plans to ensure customer service is maintained.With 74 branches nationwide one potential option would be to route calls geographically to the local branch that can service the customers accounts. Additionally, we are concerned that there has not been enough focus on implementation strategy. Items that need to be addressed are time frames, expenses involved in system development and integration, as well as an asset disposition plan. A well-defined implementation strategy should also take into consideration the morale of LFS’ employees throughout the consolidation effort.Based on our evaluation, Carr’s proposed design will deliver a consistent and exemplary level of customer service, short time to answer, and reduce LFS’ annual operating expense by $1.
5 million. In order to realize these gains LFS’ executive management in the short-term need to focus on building their implementation strategy and developing a change management plan that addresses the issues outlined previously: business continuity, disposition lan for the Boston and New Jersey call centers, and managing employee morale. In the mid-term, LFS needs to execute their strategy and change management plans. They will need to ensure they are committed to the project and assign the proper priority and personnel to have a successful implementation. In the long-term, they should establish procedures to monitor Carr’s recommended quality measures (Page 9) and make any necessary adjustments to maintain agent productivity and quality service.