In regards to contact centers, what is a "blended agent"?

Answer

David Filwood (Principal Consultant, TeleSoft Systems)
Hello Brielle,

While most everyone can use a telephone - not everyone is cut out to work in a Call Center environment. And while someone may have “The Right Stuff” to be a great Customer Service Representative (CSR) – it doesn’t necessarily follow that the same individual is also a good fit for the more demanding & sales-oriented requirements of an Inside Sales/TeleSales job.

There is a growing need for “Blended Agents” in the Contact Center - CSRs with the Intellect, ‘Verbal Artistry’ & Sales Closing ‘Edge’ to handle callers in both a Service & Support and Inside Sales/TeleSales fashion.

Customer Service and Inside Sales/TeleSales call handling are discrete and different pursuits - requiring separate Personality/Job-Fit/Temperament Factors. Someone with the Service & Support orientation required to handle Customer Care calls effectively is rarely a good fit for the sales requirements of an Inside Sales/TeleSales position.

Equally – it is rare for someone who performs well in an Inside Sales/TeleSales role to successfully make the transition to “Service Only” caller interactions. Few people possess the ability to work successfully long-term in both a Service & Support and Inside Sales/TeleSales role as a “Blended Agent”.

Typically there are 3 grades of CSRs found in a Contact Center: (Above Average), (Average), and (Below Average).

(Above Average) CSRs seem to have “The Right Stuff” that pushes them to succeed & a natural compatibility with the duties of the position. They work hard - exceed expectations - do more than asked - achieve high quality consistent results – receive above average Customer Satisfaction Ratings - can always be counted upon - need little direction - and work extremely well with everyone. It has been our experience that approximately 40% of (Above Average) CSRs can also make the transition to handling Inside Sales/TeleSales calls as a “Blended Agent”.

(Average) CSRs perform their duties adequately enough “to get by” - but no better. They are the partially competent. Generally they’re strong from a Typing Speed & Accuracy and Windows Literacy standpoint - but are missing a key ingredient or two from a Soft Skills/Customer Empathy/Sales Closing/Job Fit standpoint. It has been our experience that it is rare for (Average) CSRs to make the transition to also handling Inside Sales/TeleSales calls as a “Blended Agent”.

(Below Average) CSRs are the people who just don’t fit somehow – and who don’t deliver value when it comes to the kind of service your customers expect. Sometimes they’re good people in the wrong jobs. They need extra coaching, training & supervision just to achieve below average results. Often they cause unnecessary conflict. (Below Average) CSRs have the Lowest Training Pass Rates, Highest Levels of Absenteeism, Lowest Levels of Productivity, Poorest Performance & Customer Satisfaction Ratings, and they generally have a Negative Impact on Call Center Team Morale. They represent the real problems in a Contact Center workforce.

While (Average) & (Below Average) CSRs may seem fully qualified at the Interview Stage – they’re a Poor Job Fit – particularly for a “Blended Agent” position – and the cost of hiring them is enormous – with little value add to an organization– and a negative impact on Service Levels, Customer Satisfaction, Sales Results and Brand Reputation.

Top performing Call Centers drive their Revenue & Performance through superior hiring tactics. We help employers gain better insight & more accurate predictions as to which applicants from a pool of Candidates would perform up to, or beyond their established standards. You can find out about a Free Trial of SPAS Call Center Agent Pre-Employment Screening Software at http://www.telesoftsystems.ca/64201.html
7 Additional Answers
David Filwood (Principal Consultant, TeleSoft Systems)
While it may be true that some in the TeleServices Sector of the Call Center Industry describe a “Blended Agent” as someone who answering calls on behalf of more than one department/company/industry - for the vast majority of the Call Center Industry a “Blended” or “Universal” Agent is someone with the Personality/Job-Fit, Soft Skills, Motivation, and Work Ethic to be a Top Call Center Agent - regardless of whether the Agent is generating an OutBound TeleSales call - or handling an Inside Sales call - or whether the Agent is handling an InBound Service & Support call.

Simply put – a Blended/Universal Agent is both a TeleSales and Customer Service specialist for both InBound and OutBound calls.

Top performing Call Centers drive their Revenue & Performance through superior hiring tactics. We help employers gain better insight & more accurate predictions as to which applicants from a pool of Candidates would perform up to, or beyond their established standards. You can find out about a Free Trial of SPAS Call Center Agent Pre-Employment Screening Software at http://www.telesoftsystems.ca/64201.html
Srikanth SESH (Founder & CEO, SmartConnect Technologies)
Blended agent in the context of SIP based environment ---

1. someone who can handle across multi-channel (inbound/outbound/email/chat/co-browse)
2. someone who can work across campaigns during his shifts
3. someone who can handle queries across various operations within a process

Scott McKinley (Vice President, OneTouch Direct)
The term 'blended' in a contact center environment is quite simply one of two things:

1) An agent that works on issues for multiple clients (also known as a 'shared' agent)

2) An agent that works on issues from multiple channels (live calls, electronic tickets, chats, etc.)
David Filwood (Principal Consultant, TeleSoft Systems)
It would certainly appear that the TeleServices Sector of the Call Center Industry defines a “Blended” or “Shared” Agent as someone who answers calls on behalf of more than one department/company/industry – or who works across multiple channels (live calls/electronic tickets/chats/etc.).

However - for the vast majority of the Call Center Industry a “Blended” or “Universal” Agent is someone who is capable of being both a TeleSales and Customer Service specialist – handling both InBound Customer Service & Support calls – as well as Inside Sales – and OutBound TeleSales calls.

The Term “Blended Agent” was introduced over a decade ago by the manufacturers of Predictive Dialing Technology - computerized systems that automatically dial batches of telephone numbers for connection to Agents assigned to OutBound TeleSales, TeleCollections, Market Research, TeleFundraising or other campaigns. By integrating predictive dialers for OutBound calling with Interactive Voice Response Units (IVRs) handling the front-end of InBound calls the concept of the “Blended” Agent was born. The idea being that you could maximize the Calls Handled per Agent per Hour if you could ‘feed’ both OutBound and InBound calls to the same Agent.

While the concept of the “Blended” Agent is an attractive one - Customer Service and Inside Sales/TeleSales call handling are discrete and different pursuits - requiring separate Personality/Job-Fit/Temperament Factors. Someone with the Service & Support orientation required to handle Customer Care calls effectively is rarely a good fit for the sales requirements of an Inside Sales/TeleSales position. Equally – it is rare for someone who performs well in an Inside Sales/TeleSales role to successfully make the transition to “Service Only” caller interactions. Few people possess the ability to work successfully long-term in both a Service & Support and Inside Sales/TeleSales role as a “Blended” Agent.

More recently – and particularly as a result of the current recession - a growing Customer Care Strategy is to move away from viewing the Call Center as a “Cost Center” - where Average Speed of Answer (ASA), Average Handle Time (AHT) and Maximizing Calls per Agent per Hour are emphasized as the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – and evolving to operate the Call Center as a “Profit Center” - where the KPIs are Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), First Call Resolution (FCR), and Up-Sell/Cross-Sell/Inside Sales Closing Results.

As a result - there is a growing need in InBound Contact Centers for “Blended” or “Universal” Agents - Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) who have the Personality/Job-Fit, Soft Skills, Motivation, and Work Ethic to be a Top Call Center Agent - regardless of whether the Agent is being tasked with handling an InBound Service & Support call – or an Inside Sales call – or generating an OutBound TeleSales call.

Successfully transitioning from a team of CSRs to a team of “Blended” or “Universal” Agents is dependent on the quality of the ‘Humanware’ you deploy in your Contact Center to begin with.

Top performing Call Centers drive their Revenue & Performance through superior hiring tactics. We help employers gain better insight & more accurate predictions as to which applicants from a pool of Candidates would perform up to, or beyond their established standards. You can find out about a Free Trial of SPAS Call Center Agent Pre-Employment Screening Software at http://www.telesoftsystems.ca/64201.html
Gijsbert van der Meulen (FiveLeggedSheep)
David gives a very solid anwser, but I must say... I disagree...

If I use the word 'blended' when it comes to a Call Center Agent I mean to say that the agent has different skills. He is able to anwser calls from different clients (as in companies).

Having different clients with different call volumes it helps to blend specific campaigns to achieve a high percentage of agent utilization and therefore a better efficiency and some flexibilty in your workforce. It can also help the agent to have a 'change of scenery' to be kept motivated.

I've worked with agents on several different clients, inbound and outbound, service and sales and telephone and e-mail. Sure, not all agents are capable of 'blending' but it helps to have a couple of them.
Thomas Hayes (Account Executive, teleNetwork)
Gijsbert's answer is accurate. A blended agent means the employee is taking calls on multiple engagements. This can take 3 forms:

1) The agent is answering calls on behalf of more than one department within a single organization.

2) The agent is answering calls on behalf of more than one company.

3) The agent is answering calls from more than one industry.
Chris Selland (Senior Vice President, Corporate Development, Hale Global)
We've got both general and specific answers here - and none of them are 'wrong' - but I do agree more with Scott and Gijsbert's general definition(s).

Scott's answer is the simplest and, in my opinion, most correct. A Blended Agent is simply an agent that can work:

* on multiple clients/projects (very common in outsourced call centers)
* across multiple channels (phone, email, chat, etc...)
* on inbound and outbound calls (to David's point)

Generally speaking, a 'blended agent' would be more highly-trained, skilled, flexible/adaptable, and also more highly-compensated than a typical agent.
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