Lean Contact Center Transformation: Reducing Cost Per Call by Improving Efficiency

The Lab Consulting

The last lean banking case study we posted detailed the efforts of a Canadian-based bank to improve its operations across 700 branches in the northeastern U.S.

In this case study, we’re diving into the deep details of a Lean Six Sigma call-center project. When done properly, the types of improvements we’ll discuss here can rapidly and positively reshape customer experience. This lean contact center transformation involved a major division of one of the world’s premier banks, boasting 7,200 offices in 85 countries—and some 89 million customers.

The bank’s Senior Vice President of Customer Contact was The Lab’s sponsor for this project. The goal was to improve call center efficiency while decreasing cost per call in the bank’s personal, private, and business banking segments. The processes of contact-center reps and support teams—spanning 1,700 employees in five different countries—would all be scrutinized in order to affect this lean call-center transformation.

Over the course of seven weeks, The Lab applied its experience in continuous improvement in call centers and lean operations analysis. This identified 250 improvement opportunities for contact-center transformation. Ninety percent of these required no new technology whatsoever!

Lean contact center principles and process improvements were installed during a subsequent six-month implementation phase. The Lab also helped develop the bank’s internal operations and consulting capabilities. The Lab’s non-technology improvement templates were transferred to the bank’s teams; this paved the way for longer-term, internally-managed continuous improvement initiatives.

As you read through the four “big steps” of this lean transformation, think about your bank’s contact center. How many of the opportunities uncovered by The Lab also exist where you work?

Lean contact center transformation Step 1: Optimize management routines to improve call-center operational efficiency

Managers in this bank’s contact center were operating in a vacuum. They lacked consistent, fact-based reporting. They weren’t focused on the most valuable key performance indicators, or KPIs. How, then, could they ever track productivity?

Here are some of the changes The Lab helped to introduce, in order to rectify the situation:

  • Improved, fact-based contact center productivity reporting.
  • Simple, reliable, quantified scores for customer experience.
  • Actionable, visual management boards.
  • Restructured daily team meetings.
  • Monthly contests to drive gains in contact center productivity, service, and quality.

This lean approach helped to “deliver the managers from the vacuum.”

Lean contact center transformation Step 2: Examine the call flow to reduce cost per call

You might assume that a bank of this size would have actionable data at its fingertips. Things like call-flow analysis, call-volume information, and procedures should all be easily accessible, right?

Sure, they should. And everyone on the bank’s management team assumed they were. But that wasn’t the case here. (And before you point fingers, does your bank have all this information readily available?) The fact is that, prior to engaging The Lab, this bank had been too concerned with dealing with its call flow—firefighting—to actually study it.

The Lab quickly changed that. The resulting analysis provided eye-opening insights:

  • It established average handle times (AHT) based on different customer segments, products and locations.
  • It revealed the overlooked and avoidable causes of excessive hold times in different business segments.
  • Importantly, it helped the bank to craft ways to reduce hold times, and first-call resolution rates—without raising costs or buying new technology.

That’s a real lean implementation plan in action.

Lean contact center transformation Step 3: Pare down excess call volume to improve call-center productivity

When The Lab was brought in to help the bank’s contact center, one thing was clear: inbound calls were on the rise. What wasn’t clear was why. There was scant analysis of the call types. A major contributor to this was the undisciplined manner used to classify and record them. There were thousands of non-standard, free-text definitions of call types! Not surprisingly, there was no understanding of the root cause of the increase.

After this information was finally uncovered, The Lab set to work on reversing this troubling trend. Thousands of unstructured call types were reduced to two dozen standard, numeric codes. This made root cause remediation much easier. Goals included:

  • Increased IVR (interactive voice response) containment by 40 percent.
  • Reduction of transferred calls by 30 percent.
  • Transition of 15 percent of call volume to digital self-service options.

Is your call center over-burdened by inbound call volume? Might lean principles help you, the way they helped this bank?

Lean contact center transformation Step 4: Improve forecasting and staff scheduling to drive continuous improvement in call centers

If you think about it, it’s easy to see how the bank’s initial lack of call-flow analysis led to ineffective forecasting and scheduling. After all, how can you plan for something when you don’t understand the underlying root causes driving the demand patterns?

To remedy this problem, The Lab analyzed several years’ worth of historical forecast efficiency using the newly-simplified call-type classifications and root-cause analysis. This led to numerous, and simple, recommendations of contact-center scheduling practices for the bank to adopt, including:

  • Changing from quarterly to weekly—and sometimes daily—forecasting.
  • Creating standard staffing templates for intra-day demand.
  • Implementing flex time for reps.
  • Optimizing after-call work routines and times.

New reporting also increased agent adherence by more than 10 percent—with impressive spillover improvements for reducing abandonment rates. Customer experience surveys showed improved scores within the first eight weeks of the implementation effort.

Lean principles in contact centers: The bottom line

All of this new information, combined with all of these recommendations and improvements, really added up. Consider the impact on these vital KPIs:

  • Average hold time (AHT) dropped more than forty percent.
  • Average Speed of Answer (ASA) dropped by two thirds.
  • The Abandonment Rate plummeted more than 70 percent.
  • Total cost per call fell by 25 percent.

Some people might think that this kind of phenomenal performance boost would require a significant expense. In fact, thanks to The Lab’s lean management approach, the opposite was true:

  • Operating costs plunged 27 percent, partly by eliminating external contractors.
  • Annual, internal comp and benefit savings reached $15 million.
  • The project self-funded in just two months.
  • By month 12, payback on the investment in The Lab stood at 7x.

Is your contact center an exemplar of a lean banking case study? Or is it perhaps more of a candidate for a lean transformation? If so, consider contacting The Lab. Click here to learn more about our non-technology approach to lean transformation, as well as our unique self-funding engagement model and money-back guarantee.


For 2021: We have updated our bank client offering. Much of these findings and implementation results can be reviewed in the 3-part-series of “Big Rocks for Banks” below. Find out how to strategically lower costs, increase operating leverage, improve customer experience, and automate what previously wasn’t automatable in your bank.

Find them all here:




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