How many chat sessions can agents handle?

How many chat sessions can agents handle?

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Ever since Chat became a customer service communication channel people have wondered how many Chat sessions can agents handle.

You’ve experienced the Chat channel as a customer of some other company so you know the difference between a satisfying customer experience and one that left you frustrated.

The Chat offer

Have you found yourself clicking through a website trying to find information about something, when, as if summoned by your frustration of not spotting the information immediately, a window pops up asking if they can help you find something? You instantly think to yourself ‘YES!’ because you don’t have all day to dedicate to this task.

You quickly enter your name, email, etc., type in your question and wait for the answer to appear. (Queue the elevator music…). Perhaps you received a teaser note at first saying something along the lines of “Thank you for your patience while I read your question.”, but not an answer to your simple question. So you wait. And wait. You reread your question to see if you made a typo of some sort that is making it difficult to understand the question that you were trying to ask. Nope, nothing complicated about that. Yet, still, no answer.

Channel switching

After waiting what you deem to be long enough, you decide that you don’t have time to wait any longer and opt to call the Customer Service Center to speak with a live agent. Already frustrated that you spent precious time out of your already maxed out day waiting for a ghost agent to reply to your simple question, you dial the 800 number. A couple of prompts later, you are quickly connected to a pleasant representative who very efficiently answers your question. Sound familiar?

Why does the perceived most efficient channel of communication – Chat – often feel anything BUT efficient? Conceptually, it sounds like a simple way to get an answer. Type in your question, and voila! So why does it sometimes feel more like we are trying to get directions to the closest coffee shop from a 3 year old who just spotted a pony in the back yard?!

Your center is like many others when looking for ways to improve efficiency and service more customers during any given day. Recently we’ve been through the Chat implementation with several of our clients and watched them respond to the C-level management’s expectation that this investment will reduce/replace call volume at a much lower cost per interaction.

Unexpected challenge?

The first unexpected challenge that one center faced was deciding how many concurrent chat sessions an agent should handle. With no precedence for this service channel and a shiny new piece of software that executives thought should be maxed out by assigning up to five concurrent Chat sessions per agent, they had a tough decision to make. Not wanting to overwhelm the agents by having them service five customers at once, yet not wanting to have poor service levels by setting it to one, they opted to assign a max of three concurrent Chats per agent.

What did the customer experience?

customers-grade-the-callsUtilizing Customer Relationship Metrics’ External Quality Monitoring (customer grade the experience) program with a post-chat survey methodology, they knew they would be able to quickly determine if three was indeed the right number to assign. As expected, Chat quickly gained traction and the use became a key service channel for the Customer Service Center.

Among a series of experience metrics measured and analyzed, the results confirmed that the service experience was similar to other channels on relationship level items like Net Promoter Score (NPS). But the agent performance metrics were lower than the evaluations for other channels.

Improve the customer experience

For this contact center, the customer experience is of primary importance. Given the lower than expected NPS and agent scores, the number of concurrent Chats was reduced from three to two. The customers noticed immediately and it was evidenced by the increase in the Net Promoter Score and Overall Agent Satisfaction (reference chart below).

Simply reducing the number of concurrent Chat sessions from three to two concurrent sessions per agent secured a 19% improvement in NPS and almost a six point gain in the agent performance metric. Wow! A little less efficiency yields an incredible (and statistically significant) improvement to the customer experience.

concurrent-chat-sessions

The industry standard for concurrent Chat sessions

The next question that is most often asked after how many concurrent chat sessions can agents handle is, “What is the industry standard for concurrent Chat sessions per agent?”

Am I saying that you should set your maximum Chat sessions per agent to TWO? Not necessarily. While everyone wants to know what the industry standard is for concurrent Chat sessions, there isn’t one. And there should not be one.

Customer centric is not universal

It would be nice if there was a universal answer for you to use. What is universal is the need to make such decisions with customer experience insight. You must find the delicate balance between efficiency and effectiveness. Don’t try to use an industry Chat benchmark or guess at the right answer.

You cannot defend your decision, your performance, or respond to the Return on Investment question without an evaluation of the experience from “your” customers. You must go beyond the survey and feedback mentality and implement a measurement program that delivers insight.

Your Chat session goals

Two concurrent Chat sessions may accomplish your goals, but you need to know with certainty if THREE concurrent Chat sessions yielded the same customer experience. Even better if you could push it to FOUR or FIVE. The bottom line is that guessing is a fool’s way to protect a contact center from the scrutiny of unskilled executives that require your guidance to make the right decisions for the contact center.

About Dr. Jodie Monger

Jodie Monger, Ph.D. is the president of Customer Relationship Metrics and a pioneer in voice of the customer research for the contact center industry. Before creating CRMetrics, she was the founding associate director of Purdue University's Center for Customer-Driven Quality.

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  • Rick Rude

    Good article and so in agreement about the ‘no industry standard’ statement. I’m a huge chat fan as a customer and one who has managed this type of relationship. The other factor is not all channels are conducive to your agents. Some can talk, and some can type but not everyone is great at each channel. Be mindful of your current and future desires. Thanks for sharing your article.