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Effective Cost-Cutting Without Sacrificing Customer Loyalty

Everybody is cutting costs, that is, but the businesses that will emerge strong at the end of this recession are the ones who don’t sacrifice customers to make those cuts. Holding on to customers during tough times can prove difficult, given inevitable cost reductions and competitors who are just a click away for a dissatisfied customer. 
 
Five of the most common cost reduction methods surface again and again in the call center press, the blogosphere, newsletters, vendor solicitations, etc. They are:
*More distributed agents: at-home and outsourced
*Decreased headcount
*Increased self-service
*Turnover reduction
*Reduced technology costs
 
Each of these methods has the potential to reduce costs. Each has the potential to drive customers to the competition without the right safeguards. This guide will outline simple methods to provide insurance. One of the most common solutions to "cheaper" has been to cut labor costs through reduced labor, facility and infrastructure costs with at-home agents and outsourcing. But many have discovered that "cheaper" came at the expense of consistency, quality and ultimately customer loyalty.
 
Hiring: The most successful call centers are those that have defined, detailed agent qualifications and do not deviate from them when hiring new agents, no matter where they sit.
 
Performance and Training Management: Once key metrics and expectations have been set – whether in the center, at home, or across the ocean all virtual call center agents must be provided with the same training, ongoing coaching, and performance management they need to be effective. This is critical given the dispersed nature of the workforce.
 
The most potential for reduced customer satisfaction and revenues is headcount reduction of agents or supervisors. There are a few ways to execute some of the measures below, however, with minimized damage. Most centers over staff to allow enough time for training. In a scenario with reduced headcount and the same service levels to meet, training will almost always get trumped. If agents aren’t properly prepared for calls, quality will begin to suffer over time. Training and sufficient availability can be achieved with reduced headcount, by reducing training to short intervals and delivering it only during idle time between calls.
 
Attrition is a constant in virtual call centers. It’s a problem most have just decided to "live with," but when all the true costs are totaled, it becomes a prime target for cost reduction. The challenges arise in the execution as with most complex problems. The call center experiences of volume hiring that might cripple many HR departments in other industries. The only way to reduce attrition and cope with volume hiring is to push objective screening on critical aspects to the front end of the process. In this way recruiters only spend time with candidates who are capable of doing the job and interested in doing the job. This shifts away from the "perfect match" approach possible in other industries to the "screening out the rest" approach. Based on top reasons for agent attrition found in our research, the screening should: set realistic expectations for the job, measure key skills and assess job fit.
 
By screening out anyone who doesn’t meet the above criteria before an interview, recruiters will maximize efficiency, and the operation will reduce early attrition. For later stage retention, best practice training and coaching play key roles.
Everyone is being asked to do even more with less these days. Call center today has plenty of practice in achieving that particular directive. The bad news is that there isn’t much left to cut without compromising the original charter of serving and retaining the customer. With all the reductions you may have to make in the coming months, it makes sense to ensure the proper safeguards are put in place to minimize their impact on customer satisfaction, loyalty and ultimately profits.