Using Real-Time Metrics to Compete in the "New Normal"

Bob Michelson, President and CEO, RMG Networks
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Bob Michelson, President and CEO, RMG Networks

Google, Amazon, Apple, and other companies have fundamentally changed how we utilize information and tools to make everyday business decisions. Through advancements in technology, companies have dramatically shortened the time it takes to initiate and complete a variety of actions–investigating offerings, purchasing goods, servicing customers, etc. While customers have clearly benefited from this “new normal,” their expectations have also heightened, creating new issues and challenges for businesses to address.

To respond effectively, many companies have embraced the use of real-time metrics that help them understand what’s occurring right now, trigger immediate action and help them get ahead of things. Let’s examine each of these points in more detail.

Know What’s Going On–Right Now

In order for employees, supervisors and managers in operationally intensive areas of a business to perform well, they need to know what’s going on and how they are doing, right now. For example, in a contact center it is critical to know exactly how many calls are occurring or waiting, how long it takes to answer calls, how many agents are available (or not) and the impact this is having on service levels. By making this type of real-time information visible to frontline employees and supervisors, a company can more effectively deliver great service to customers. An even better scenario is when each employee knows exactly how they are doing against performance standards or goals, in real-time. Armed with real-time data, employees can adjust their activities to current environmental conditions, leading to more optimal performances. This is in contrast to using traditional “after-the-fact” information that is too late to make meaningful adjustments.

  
​To respond effectively, many companies have embraced the use of real-time metrics that help them understand what’s occurring right now

The following diagram provides an example of real-time metrics and how they can be used to prompt employee or managerial action.

Tellers operating at or above standards have performance coded green, while those below are shown in yellow (slightly below standard) and red (far below standard). This type of real-time information helps everyone understand what’s occurring in the business and where there may or may not be performance issues.

A similar need exists in distribution centers and warehouses. Employees typically have specific productivity standards for their activities–picking, packing, put away, etc. By making real-time information on individual, team and facility performance visible using digital signage or other communication technologies, companies can increase awareness and equip frontline employees and supervisors to take appropriate action. The following example shows real-time pick efficiency versus standard for different teams in a distribution center. Color coding denotes performance versus specific targets (e.g., “green” means at or above standard).

By seeing this data in real time, supervisors can more effectively address issues, balance labor and maximize performance.

Trigger Immediate Action

Once real-time metrics are in place and visible to employees, it is important that they know how to react to the information. In some cases, the action is self-evident–e.g., pickers in warehouses typically increase their productivity if they see they are below standard or below the performance of their peers. In other instances, supervisors and frontline employees must understand potential actions that can be taken to resolve conditions made visible through real-time metrics. For example, a contact center manager might observe on a real-time dashboard that staffing levels currently meet inbound call volume at 9:15am. However, the manager might see that inbound volume becomes unbalanced at 9:43am with more volume coming via email and chat than by phone calls. Armed with this real-time understanding, the manager can more quickly reallocate resources or take other appropriate action versus waiting for reports to flag conditions hours later or for service levels to dip.

There are also examples of how companies are automating responses to changes in real-time metrics, further compressing the time to respond to a condition or event. For example, a number of retailers are utilizing real-time monitoring technology in stores to understand the profile of shoppers at a given time and place. As data is captured and processed in real-time, it can automatically trigger a change in messaging displayed on digital signage to further entice customers.

Get Ahead of Things

A host of emerging technologies and capabilities, ranging from machine learning and analytics to sophisticated sensing of real-time information across the “internet of things,” is enabling companies to quickly adapt to or even predict what might happen in their businesses. Capturing and communicating real-time metrics remains at the core of these advancements and will continue to drive innovation in products, service delivery and business models. In some cases, technology will automate or guide response, driven by real-time analysis and learning about a customer’s interactions and behavior. While the above is already possible in various settings, companies must also put in place appropriate communication protocols and systems that allow the right people to receive and review the right information (e.g., alerts, notifications, etc.) at the right time to be effective.

As the pace of business continues to accelerate and customer expectations continue to grow, companies would be wise to incorporate real-time metrics and communication into their businesses. Several questions should be considered to gauge potential needs including:

  1. Do you have real-time visibility into the top two to three operations of your business?
  2. Are you providing frontline employees with real-time performance information they can act upon?
  3. Have you implemented a communication solution that gets the right information to employees when and where needed?

By addressing these questions, companies can better serve customers and compete more effectively in the “New Normal.”

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