In constant flux, the current business landscape seems to be rapidly evolving. Different ideas are constantly emerging as the new go-to strategy. Budgets are getting tighter, and executive teams are asking contact center leadership to do more with a lower headcount. Employees and gig workers are harder to retain, and the job of the customer-facing agent is getting more complicated and stressful. Customers are less patient, and robust technology that meets both employee and customer needs isn’t being implemented fast enough and efficiently enough to reduce the anxiety.

The drive toward self-service is a reality and with good reason, as customers want self-service. But after exhausting the FAQ on the website and the chatbot that only answers the easiest questions, the customer will try other channels, like email and chat. Emailed answers that come back to the customer that are cut and pasted and don’t answer the question or a customer chat that is competing with three or four other chats for attention leave a frustrated customer. That customer will then try to contact the company by phone. Customer phone calls cost the company more money.

The already frustrated customer is now stuck in a queue with a long wait; that’s because staffing levels are down because contact centers don’t have enough customer-facing workers. This causes longer average speed of answer and higher abandonment rates. The frustrated customer hangs up and may even try a different channel, but when there is no resolution or they get a wrong answer from the chat agent, they pick up the phone and try calling in again. When the customer finally gets a hold of a live person, the agent needs to calm down the frustrated customer before they can help them. This can add another 30 to 45 seconds to the call. Again, this is more cost to the business.


But the added cost doesn’t end there. Once the customer states the reason for calling, the agent needs to find the answer. This experience adds more frustration for both the contact center agent and the customer. The customer hears, “May I put you on hold for one to two minutes while I research that for you?” More time, more money, and more frustration. So what exactly is the agent doing?

Every contact center has some sort of knowledge base, whether it’s a depository of articles with a search bar at the top of the screen, an electronic library with categories of articles, a notebook, or even those sticky notes around the agent’s monitor and desk. In some companies, customer-facing agents may have to go into multiple systems to try to find the answer for the customer. Meanwhile, the time of handling that call is increasing, which impacts staffing levels, meaning more people must wait for an agent. All this costs more money. It’s a vicious cycle.


Amid contact centers scrambling to utilize omnichannel while engaging employees with gamification software and IT departments driving toward AI solutions, helping the agent to find the answers quickly for customers seems to have fallen by the wayside. When agents are frustrated with back-to-back calls, emails, text, and chats, don’t “no call no shows” and absenteeism go up? When agents are filled with anxiety because of required KPIs, doesn’t that cause higher attrition? And higher attrition means higher sourcing, recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training, and nesting dollars, not to mention the time—usually three to six months—for the agent to reach the desired speed to competency.

It seems logical that the average time could be reduced if customer-facing agents could find the answer at conversational speed without having to scroll through articles, frantically trying to find the right information.With a reduced average handle time, the contact center would be able to handle these calls with a lower headcount.


What would happen if a contact center with 800 FTE (part time and full time)—where agents’ compensation was $17 an hour (approximately $21 an hour with burden)—and an eight-minute handle time could reduce that average handle time by one minute? It would mean a savings of $1.7 million or a reduction in headcount of 39. What if the reduction in AHT was two minutes because the agent could find the answers at conversational speed without putting the customer on hold? That same scenario would mean a savings of $3,400,000 while reducing headcount by 78 agents!

When agents can find the answers quickly instead of scrolling through a lot of information, new hire training quizzes take on a whole new meaning. Why test new agents on memorizing the answers when they can find them quickly? If agents can find the answer, why should we test them on how well they memorized information? We can save days or weeks of new hire training—again reducing labor costs of unproductive agent time and trainers’ compensation.


There is a difference between a knowledge base and knowledge management systems. A knowledge base is a depository of articles with a search function that will bring up multiple documents based on key words or an electronic library with categories. A knowledge management system can be used with all agent channels and should have an AI component. The system should have an automated audit trail for any changes (compliance), robust reporting on how agents use the system to help with agent coaching, a feedback loop for the agent to report mistakes in the knowledge, and a way they can track the progress of the updates in the knowledge management system. Reducing internal email with a new robust announcement tool as part of a knowledge management system can cut down on agent anxiety because they will know what’s going on and will spend time working on interdepartmental emails.

The best knowledge management system should be built for contact center agents. The best systems are permissions-based so that each agent has access to only what they see, which reduces agent anxiety, positively impacting absenteeism and attrition. All of this impacts the customer experience, resulting in better first call resolution, CSATs, and Net Promoter Scores. It’s a win–win for everyone involved—the customer and the agent but also the contact center’s capacity plan, staffing levels, and labor budget.


Companies are spending more money on self-service. It’s here to stay, and it will get better over time. The right knowledge management system can positively impact self service to customers and provide answers quickly by triaging what the customer is looking for. It can also provide answers to a customer portal, customer app, chatbot, and FAQs on a website. That same system should be able to be used for the agent utilizing multi-channels. It should integrate with any system, including the IVR, collaboration tools, and CRMs, and it should be easy to stand up in weeks, not months. With the right knowledge management system, organizations can reduce headcount through customers utilizing self-service and save costs inside their contact center by reducing agent average handle time, new hire training, and new product training. Companies should see the right knowledge management system pay for itself in a matter of months.

Today companies can use a two-pronged approach to save labor dollars and reduce headcount. They can put the right knowledge management system behind their self-service technology and use that same system to help their agents find the answers at conversational speed, without having to scroll through lots of information. The business climate continues to rapidly change. Companies that can utilize the right technologies can do more with less.

Vicki Brackett is a contact center industry veteran, a long time CCNG member and regular contributor in member programs and events. Vicki helps members in a variety of topic areas including innovative and progressive solutions that impact increasing higher CSATs, first call resolutions, new agent speed to competency and higher productivity…all while engaging team members and reversing high absenteeism and attrition.

Vicki is the author of ‘The Leadership Toolbox – Manage Less Achieve More,’ a book about her experience leading contact center organizations with thousands of employees across industries ranging from consumer technology, education, retail, automotive, cosmetics, nutrition & other consumer products. Her book showcases a systematic approach to leadership that can transform organizations into top performing status at an accelerated pace, where employees love coming to work, are engaged & help move the organization forward.

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