Call Center Workforce Management Blog
Performance management provides a clear direction and a shared understanding of what is to be achieved, the leadership approach required and support for the continual development of the individuals to ensure it is delivered.
It is both a process and an application. And for contact centers it’s a way to approach data-driven management and apply it to correct adherence issues. However, even as other technology solutions and best practices habits have been embraced by the contact center industry, performance management continues to lag behind.
The question is, “Why?” While there are unique qualities to running a contact center as opposed to some other type of business, measuring the performance of quantifiable business activities is no less important here than in any corporate operation. Or to put it simply, find out what’s not working right, and correct it.
A company called DMG Consulting did a survey of contact center managers to find out why so many are still reluctant to invest in a performance management solution.
These are five of the most frequent responses:
• “I'm not sure what it is or what it will do for my contact center.”
• “I already have too much reporting; I don't need another reporting package.”
• “It's not worth the effort.”
• “It requires too many integrations.”
• “My management won't approve the investment.”
What these answers suggest is not any deficiency in a performance management solution, but a disconnect when it comes to understanding how it works and the benefits it provides.
Let’s look at these objections one by one.
“I’m not sure what it is or what it will do for my contact center”
A vendor should always have a ready answer for this question. At Monet, we tell our customers than performance management is a critical part of managing call centers and is essential to help you align your people, processes and systems to your goals and objectives, such as customer satisfaction and cost control.
Monet Metrics, our PM solution, offers a number of significant benefits, including:
• Managers can make better and faster decisions through actionable intelligence
• Contact centers can move from reactive to proactive management to better meet service and efficiency goals
• Agents can improve productivity and team motivation
• Supervisors can refocus their time from data collection to coaching, training and planning
“I already have too much reporting”
Performance management is more than just reporting. As stated earlier, it is both a process and an application. Contact center managers that truly understand the mission of their business recognize that delivering an outstanding customer experience is critical, but it’s not the only consideration. The goal should also be to optimize the performance of every aspect of the business.
The overwhelming majority of ongoing call center expenses are related to staffing – as much as 70% of the budget. Even slight improvements in agent productivity and motivation can have a big impact on performance and cost management of your contact center. Performance management provides powerful tools to identify trends and potential issues that might have gone undetected, and delivers business insights to improve overall performance.
“It’s not worth the effort”
This is the same objection that contact centers used to have to workforce management (WFM). Some still do, but their continued reliance on spreadsheets has these centers lagging behind their competition, and wasting countless hours on forecasts and schedules that are not as accurate as those generated more quickly via WFM.
Performance management has a strong value proposition for managers who are quantitatively oriented and appreciate the importance of managing by numbers. Is it worth the effort? Only if real time and historical performance data at the agent, group and center level is important. Only if optimizing all aspects of the workforce with one solution is important. Only if better utilization of resources, better cost management, and improve service levels are important.
We think they are – how about you?
“It requires too many integrations”
This objection is easily overcome with a system like Monet Metrics that is already incorporated into our larger workforce optimization solution. Standalone performance management can make a positive difference, but it’s even better when purchased with a full WFO suite, where the functionality arrives fully integrated. Now you not only enjoy the benefits of performance management, but also workforce management, call recording, quality management, screen capture, and archiving and reporting capabilities.
“My management won’t approve the investment”
Fortunately, PM solutions can be delivered via the cloud, which eliminates the large upfront investment that used to be required for such sophisticated analysis.
Cloud services and software are provided for a low monthly subscription fee, usually pay as you go, without an upfront investment required. Any upgrades or customizations are handled by the vendor at no additional cost – over the long haul (given how often software upgrades are unveiled) this results in considerable savings. In addition, contact centers can also avoid the cost of a full-time employee devoted to maintaining software; with the cloud, these tasks are handled more efficiently at the source by the cloud application vendor.
The cloud offers other advantages as well. Specific customer configuration can take less than two hours; with an on-premise system, that same task can take up to two months.
Actual installation is also faster, and the site acceptance testing required with a traditional solution is not necessary with a cloud delivery system, as compatibility is already achieved with multiple modern web browsers.
Finally, user training can be completed in as little as two weeks. With traditional software systems, it can take several more weeks before agents and managers are comfortable with the new technology.
The verdict? A cloud delivery system can not only be implemented for less money, it can also be set up with fewer headaches as well.
How can we deliver a better customer experience?
That question is one faced by every contact center manager, especially after returning from a tradeshow full of new ideas, or reviewing last quarter’s numbers and not being happy with the results.
New ideas are great, but they should be built from a solid foundation, and that means an older idea that always works – workforce optimization. This is the clearest way to make your business stand out when it comes to customer service.
One good customer experience can have a very positive impact on loyalty, retention and word of mouth recommendations. Unfortunately, the same is true of one bad experience. WFO helps contact centers operate more effectively, by delivering the tools and data necessary for agents to do their jobs. When agents know what to do, and managers know what their agents are doing, the result is more satisfactory customer experiences.
And to turbo-charge your WFO, employ it in conjunction with speech and desktop analytics. Now you have even more data on agent productivity and performance, and you gain faster insight into different types of customer questions and inquiries so they can be routed to the right agent.
Monet’s WFO Live features workforce management and call recording, both essential for forecasting, scheduling and training. Plus you’ll find solutions for quality management and performance measurement, all delivered from the cloud, so you won’t be making a significant investment in hardware and software.
For small contact centers with just a few dozen agents, or major contact centers with hundreds of personnel working round the clock, workforce optimization is a vital component of a successful business.
Agents have good days and bad days just like the rest of us. But when the bad days become prevalent, action should be taken. An agent that has lost interest is one that may be costing you customers with every call.
Recognize the warning signs of impending agent apathy – then decide if this is an employee that can be re-inspired, or should be let go.
1. Showing up Late
With a workforce management solution it’s easy to identify agents who start their shifts late, and add a few extra minutes to their lunch and other breaks. The more difficult assessment is identifying those agents who don’t maintain focus even when they are at their desks. Call recording will be useful here. Once the problem is known, it may call for more than just coaching – usually these agents know what to do, they just don’t care enough to do it. Is there an underlying issue, such as trouble at home? Having someone to talk to might be the first step to reinvigorating performance.
2. Excessive Sick Leave
This can be tricky, but when the days missed become excessive the situation must be confronted. A meeting here can be used to remind the agent of how valuable he or she is to the company, as well as how absenteeism has a negative impact on the business and on other agents.
3. Finding Reasons Not to Take Calls
There are more ways to avoid picking up the phone than you might imagine – and some agents know them all. “Oh, it’s the last call of the day and I’ve already put my stuff away”; “I’ve had an IT issue accessing our service department all day – might as well wait until that’s fixed in case this customer needs that information,” etc. Gently call out such behavior as you find it, or hold a team meeting expressing concern about this issue without naming names. The guilty parties will know who they are.
4. Transferring Too Many Calls
Patience is a virtue in call center work, but some customers exhaust that patience more quickly than others. Agents who lack the initiative to tackle these issues will pass such calls on to a supervisor. When this happens too often, the supervisor should have a chat with that agent to find out why. Once again, just identifying the problem may be enough to resolve it.
5. Lowering Team Morale
That old saying about one bad apple spoiling a whole bunch is, unfortunately, true. If one agent becomes lax in his or her efforts, other team members will pick up on this behavior. And if they don’t see that agent disciplined, they’ll stay at it. No resting on this one – private direct confrontation is required, followed by a general “It has come to our attention…” announcement. After that, it’s time to employ another old saying – shape up or ship out.
Workplaces have become more casual over the past ten years. The millennial generation is accustomed to less structure, and many businesses have tried to accommodate that preference in a way that does not impact productivity.
In the contact center, this has prompted some discussion as to whether agent breaks should be strictly scheduled just like training sessions and other activities, or if more flexibility is feasible. There is even some documentation out there about agents being more efficient if they can take an unscheduled break as needed.
However, at this point we believe that scheduling breaks is still the right way to go. The very idea of workforce management is built on methods of data analysis and numbers crunching that tells managers when breaks can be scheduled based on capacity. The WFM tool populates breaks when it deems them appropriate given the workload forecast. If adherence slips, it is then up to supervisors to reschedule breaks based on call volume, which can be done with the right WFM provider (such as Monet WFM Live).
While it sounds more restrictive, there are still ways in which an agent’s preference can be accommodated. Indeed, once agents grasp the most common call volume patterns for days and shifts, they are able to request breaks and other time-off requests at times when such requests stand a greater chance of being approved.
If everyone works from the same data, the process becomes easier. And as long as that remains the case, unscheduled breaks should be discouraged. When agents can change their own schedules, it makes it far more difficult, if not impossible, to gain any value from forecasting or measuring adherence.
We live in an era of specialization.
Look up any listing of doctors in your city and try to find one general practitioner. They used to be commonplace, but today it’s the rare physician that does not graduate medical school with one specific field of interest, whether it’s pediatrics or cardiology or sports medicine.
The contact center has also witnessed the encroachment of specialization; in the way certain calls are routed to certain agents, and in multi-channel centers where customers also communicate via email and online chat.
But is specialization really the best option? Or is there still a place in our industry for a good general practitioner agent?
Dedicated Agent Pools
Multi-channel forecasting typically begins with a specification of service goals based on the types of channels the call center must handle, followed by agent skill assessment within each of these channels.
Once these standards are set, forecasting will require accurate calculation of the Average Handle Time (AHT) for each contact channel. This is easier to do with calls than with emails, but a workforce management system can make volume forecasting easier. With this information, the contact center manager has two options to choose from – dedicated agent pools or the universal queue.
In the first scenario, once an agent’s skill sets are determined, he or she is assigned to a dedicated group that focuses solely or primarily on their best channel, whether that is inbound calls, emails or web chat.
Such specialization also exists within call centers that only handle incoming telephone calls, as agents are assigned to specific areas such as handling complaints, closing sales on high-ticket items, and solving the problems no one else can solve. Over time, through the use of call monitoring and call recording software, managers discover these special talents within certain agents, and funnel calls to them where their skills can be deployed.
The Universal Queue
With this simpler method, all contacts are routed to agents based on order and availability – first come, first serve. In a call center, that means the same agent should be able to handle a billing question and a technical support question, without having to transfer the call (or put the customer on hold while they find someone who knows the answer).
In a multi-channel contact center, universal queue agents might first respond to an email, then resolve a customer’s issue via web chat, and then take a phone call.
The advantage to this method is how it facilitates cross-training and forces agents to become adept at handling the various methods of customer communication in a shorter time span. Cost is another advantage. If agents can support multiple channels, less staff will be required.
Not every agent will have the skill set to become a “universal” agent. In addition to product, service and support knowledge, these agents must be talented, motivated and able to command a wide range of technologies.
As a result, contact centers that opt for the universal queue approach will inevitably devote more time and effort to coaching and training on multiple customer touch points. Some people have a natural inclination to communicate verbally, and may need more help with the written word. Others will arrive with an inverse set of abilities. Thus, managers need to determine if the additional time and capital investment in agent evaluation and preparation will be more than offset by the advantages that universal agents provide.
The Role of Technology
Whether a contact center opts for dedicated agent pools or a universal queue, it is also necessary to have the right technology platform in place, and agents fully trained on the platform. For agent pools, that means routing various methods of customer contact to the right agent. For the universal queue, it means integrating data from all communication modes, and scheduling agents to maximize productivity.
In a corporate era where specialization is the goal, some contact centers are re-discovering the benefits of universal agents. Team members who can perform multiple tasks and communicate through different channels provide a valuable resource. It requires additional time and investment to train these agents, but ultimately their knowledge and efficiency add value to the contact center. Universal agents drive customer loyalty through the quality service they provide, while lowering costs to the company.
When companies seek to gather more information about what their customers like and don’t like about products and services, they often turn to the contact center. This is the front line of customer communication, where calls deliver feedback that becomes data than can be analyzed to improve performance.
What does it take for a contact center to become an ‘insight’ center?
Start with the right agents and managers, working with the right technology, within a system that incorporates analytics, performance management and coaching. When the system works right, it identifies issues quickly so they can be solved, limiting any damage.
One large communications company with 45 call centers discovered that average handle time was four times longer at one center. The issue – agents having trouble answering questions about a new device – was discovered within a few hours. Without the actionable insight provided by the company’s workforce management technology, it might have taken days – or even weeks.
Boosting Insight with Speech Analytics
Since 2/3 of customer interactions still take place over the telephone, speech analytics has become a more prominent source for customer insight. Contact centers are incorporating this capability into WFM solutions, as well as using the identification of repeated words and phrases to identify emerging trends.
How? One payment processing company used speech analytics to discover that a growing number of customers were on the verge of finding another company for the service its provides. It then began flagging those calls and scheduling immediate follow-up contacts to keep those at-risk accounts. Result? Almost 600 accounts saved, worth more than $1.5 million.
When a contact center is able to identify customers that are thinking of leaving before they actually do so, that is what being an ‘insight’ center means. Sometimes it might be as simple as tagging calls where the word ‘cancel’ is used; other times the indications are subtler. But when qualified agents have the tools they need, and managers can access vital data and analytics, the transition to insight center becomes less challenging.
Hundreds of blogs, websites and magazines publish pieces about what a new year will bring. Not many of them go back later to review the accuracy of their predictions. So we found a piece from the beginning of 2014 featuring five technology trends believed headed for the contact center this year. Let’s see how it did.
1. Hybrid Cloud Adoption
It was anticipated that 2015 would see more contact centers with a hybrid environment, where some solutions were accessed from the cloud and others were installed on-site. While such businesses exist, the more prominent trend has been turning everything over to the cloud, because of the flexibility and cost-savings possible.
2. Virtual Agents
Would 2015 be the year of the virtual agent? Final stats aren’t in but thus far we are not seeing any indication of a significant increase in telecommuting, though this is a movement that has seen steady growth over the past decade. Cloud-based workforce management that allows agents to access the technology they need from any location will, if anything, expedite this trend.
3. Customer Service Apps
The smartphone, many predict, will change how customers interact with companies, and may even result in the extinction of the contact center. But while more companies have introduced customer service apps in 2015, contact centers are not going anywhere anytime soon.
4. Attack of the Big Data
Frost & Sullivan defines Big Data as volumes of data so large and moving at such a high velocity that they are difficult or impossible to work with using traditional database management tools. There has indeed been a growing influx of data from both traditional and new sources, including data logs, social networks, and clickstream data in web interactions. Monet Software has devised solutions to make this data more accessible and better organized, so it can be used to bring a new level of customer insight, and help drive real-time decisions on customer handling and workflow.
5. Multi-channel Access
This prediction was certainly accurate. Companies can no longer be content with traditional call center functionality. Customers now expect to reach out via other channels and receive the same quality response. For contact centers this means not just having qualified personnel in the right positions, but the ability to capture data across the channel spectrum that will help deliver better service in the future.
Speech analytics has been a hot topic within the contact center industry over the past 2-3 years. But desktop analytics, which has actually been around longer, does not always get the attention it deserves. Monet offers speech and desktop analytics solutions, and both can play a pivotal role in the efficiency of your contact center.
Perhaps this technology needs a new introduction to a market this is flooded with analytics ideas and solutions. This is one that merits your attention.
Where speech analytics is primarily customer-focused, desktop analytics (DA) delivers insight on your agents and your processes. It captures and analyzes all agent desktop activities in real time, and it improves process automation and workflow.
What makes (DA) unique is not just the capability of turning a spotlight on system, operational, or staff-related issues; it is the system’s ability to provide guidance and improved process automation, so these problems can be solved without scheduling meetings and taking time away from the day-to-day challenges of running a contact center.
Desktop analytics is available as a standalone product, but our DA solution is one that works within and enhances our WFO suite. It is yet another tool available to managers trying to figure out why some processes have slowed and where issues need to be fixed. It also provides a way to confirm findings collected from other means.
Are you Ready for Desktop Analytics?
If you want more transparency into how your contact center functions, what agents are doing at their desks, whether your business is in compliance with government or industry guidelines on information gathering, and where your procedures are falling short of expectations, desktop analytics may have the answers.
Metrics deliver the data that keeps your contact center on track. And with an advanced workforce management solution like Monet’s WFM Live, metrics that were once only attainable with the most costly and advanced solutions are now within the reach of smaller and midsized contact centers.
Of course, it’s not enough to compile data; that material must be reviewed and analyzed to measure performance and inspire beneficial changes. Looking for a place to start? Try these seven top performance measurements.
1. Schedule Adherence and Efficiency
Are your agents working when they should? When that doesn’t happen, the center may be understaffed, leading to missed calls or delayed responses. Improving adherence will have an immediate impact on productivity and customer service. With WFM it’s easier to always have the right number of agents in place for each day and each shift.
2. Call Answer Time
What is the average speed of answer (ASA) at the call center? Most centers have a defined wait threshold that should be met consistently.
3. Agent Occupancy
Finding the balance between keeping agents busy but not overworking them is the challenge of agent occupancy. It’s a key element in schedule efficiency where the goal is to avoid having too many agents sitting at their desks doing nothing, while also having enough available personnel so that each call is promptly answered.
4. First Call Resolution
Customers want to resolve issues with one call, which makes a call center’s first call resolution rate critical to customer satisfaction. Sometimes it’s not possible, but if an agent consistently lags behind established goals, he or she should be scheduled for additional training.
5. Transfer Rate
Few situations are more frustrating for a customer than explaining an issue to one agent, and then being transferred to a supervisor and having to do so a second time. While this may still qualify as a first-call resolution if questions are ultimately answered and the problem is solved, it should still be kept to a minimum whenever possible.
6. Abandon Rate
When a customer hangs up, it will not always be the fault of the contact center or the agent. Some people just have shorter fuses than others. However, abandon rates can be reduced by shorter wait times and courteous agents.
7. Blocked Calls
Blocked calls never even make it to a call center agent, because of insufficient network capabilities. Obviously, the only possible result becomes a frustrated customer. Are some blocked calls inevitable at peak times? Or can these calls be taken with better scheduling, expanded trunks or other corrective measures?
While many call centers have enjoyed the benefits of call recording for decades, there are always businesses preparing to add this functionality for the first time. What the technology does is obvious – where first-time users sometimes err is in making sure that agents make the most of its potential.
For contact centers preparing for call monitoring system implementation, here are five best practice tips before and after installation.
Before the System is Installed
1. Don’t spring this on the team. Announce the decision to add call recording software in advance and clarify the reasons for the implementation. An agent’s first response might be concern over how every word they say will now be part of the company’s permanent record. Reassure them that this isn’t a “Big Brother” spying technique, but a way to improve performance for both managers and agents. Schedule time to listen to any feedback, questions or issues.
2. Now that you’ll have the data from recordings, what do you want to do first? Create a priority list of which areas will receive the most attention. Explore how this information will impact how you presently determine quality standards and customer satisfaction. There’s a good chance the old guidelines will have to be updated, or replaced.
3. There are legal issues that impact call recording. Clarify how recordings will be logged and saved, who will have access to this stored data, and whether the call monitoring software is compliant with the Federal Communication Commission and other government and industry organizations.
After the System is Installed
1. Call monitoring will have a huge impact on your agent training. Live monitoring of agent calls does not always tell the full story of any employee’s skills. Take advantage of the access you now have to every agent-customer conversation, and create a system for how to incorporate recorded calls into training sessions. Many supervisors break calls into sections and review each one, along with the time it takes to interact with each customer, and how each agent fulfills the procedures established at the time of his/her hiring. Schedule regular reviews to maintain consistency.
2. Use the data and reports generated by a call monitoring system to review scheduling of agents, whether at one or multiple call centers. Make adjustments accordingly to reduce the wait time on incoming calls, or any situations where agents are sitting at their phones with extended periods of non-activity. Finding the right formula to avoid either overworked or idle employees can have significant impact on the call center’s efficiency and its bottom line.
More effective. More comprehensive. More centralized. More accurate. These are just some of the predictions of how workforce management (WFM) software will change over the next few years.
It takes forward-thinking companies to stay on the cutting edge of future developments and changes in the demands of the marketplace. Monet is now designing the next generation of WFM, and we’ll have more to say about that in the months to come.
In the meantime, this is what you can reasonably expect from workforce management within the next few years – and beyond.
As contact centers become more multi-channel and multi-skilled, forecasting will have to keep pace. Programs and computer simulation modeling will make it possible to predict multiple tasks and media within one interaction.
One Stop Solutions
As systems become more integrated and centralized, metrics will be available to link front office and back-office functionality, and provide a wealth of data drawn from every aspect of the contact center and the company at large.
Tomorrow’s WFM solutions will help agents use their time more efficiently (example: automatically finding slow periods and scheduling coaching sessions during these lulls), while also providing even more tools to enhance the customer service they provide. In addition, as WFM gains the ability to automatically identify which agents are best suited for which platforms (phone, chat, email, etc.), they can be scheduled accordingly. That results in more confident, satisfied agents and happier customers as well.
The boring stuff managers have to do every day? With WFM assuming those tasks, managers can focus more on other aspects of business improvement and customer service. And with the cloud, agents can log into a contact center from anywhere in the world, and contact centers have access to a remote workforce that can step in on short notice if the unexpected occurs.
It’s already here but it’s going to become more prominent. As automated speech analytics tools become mainstream, WFM will generate additional data from customer interactions that will allow for the resolution of issues as they arise. It will also help agents know the right words and phrases to use not only for compliance issues but to communicate clearly with customers.
Automated training processes will recognize when agents are doing well and require less attention, so more focus can be put on agents that under-perform. E-learning, especially as incorporated into other training sessions, will make it possible for agents to get better at their jobs at times when they are not busy doing them.
Access via Cloud
As it becomes imperative for WFM to be accessible from multiple places and devices, the cloud makes that flexibility possible.
Sound promising? If so, here is some good news – many of these applications and capabilities are already incorporated into Monet’s WFM Live. If this technology is in your contact center, you already have the solutions that are on the wish lists of other companies.
Now let’s see what some technology experts believe may be coming to call centers in 5-10 years.
Taking the Lead
We’re not at the artificial intelligence level yet, but workforce management will certainly become more perceptive, more automated, and more functional. Today’s intra-day tracking and reporting will give way to WFM identifying places were changes can be made to schedules and queues to deal with discrepancies, without any manager or agent having to do anything.
Better Front and Back Office Communication
The same WFM used in contact centers will make its way into back office processes. Now the needs of the customers will be known to every aspect of the business, and in some cases WFM will pre-empt their needs and have automated reactions ready for different situations.
The End of Offices?
While technology now makes work from anywhere possible, some believe the need for physical workplaces will continue to decline, as it will be more preferable for many employees. For this to happen, WFM will need to run smoothly on any computer and mobile device. The system will also have to provide the knowledge and guidance for agents working remotely to navigate complex issues, and have the functionality to meet the needs of virtual individuals and teams.
I’ll Work When I Feel Like It
For those old-school managers who may think working from home is acceding too much to agent preference, just wait – the future is ready to further raise your blood pressure. Some expect that agent preference will one day be the first consideration when it comes to scheduling. Employees will be allowed to set their own working hours, requiring WFM to be more flexible to work out the forecasting and scheduling details.
The Internet of Things
In the future, the person who bought a TV might not be the one calling to report a problem – the television itself may send the message through Internet-enabled technology.
Ditching the Desktop
Today WFM makes it possible to work via mobile device when one is not at the computer. Will people still want to work through a desktop machine 10 years from now? Or will the smartphone that so many of us already stare at for hours also become our primary work device?
New Monet Platform: Coming Soon
While many of these developments may be years away, Monet is already working hard on the new version of its award-winning platform.
We have special plans for this next-generation solution, which will include a tightly integrated range of both new and improved features. These innovations will impact workforce management, quality assurance, performance management, speech analytics and desktop analytics.
We are also adding expanded usability, enhanced flexibility, increased compliance with industry-specific regulations, and greater scalability to adapt and adjust to the daily realities of contact centers regardless of size and number of agents.
Check back for more updates as they are announced. We look forward to bringing you the details both on our website and our Facebook, Linkedin or twitter
We’ve devoted several previous blogs to the importance of Quality Assurance (QA). If you have already introduced a QA program into your contact center, here are three ideas related to best practices that can improve its impact on efficiency and customer services.
1. Focus on High Value Calls
While every customer is important, some customer calls are more valuable than others when it comes to quality assurance. Focus on those that expose potential issues with new products or marketing campaigns, or those from the type of customers that are vital to your company’s success. Desktop analytics software can make it easier to locate these calls.
2. Include the Customer in the Process
Serving your customers better is the reason to introduce QA – so it makes sense to include their feedback instead of just assuming what they want from your business. Review customer satisfaction scores against QA results, and address any gaps or discrepancies. Update customer surveys frequently.
3. Refine Coaching and Training
Make certain new agent hires are on board with QA from day one. Give them the skills they need to prioritize the goals of the program, and make sure they have the technology that makes it easier for them to deliver a positive customer experience. Quality assurance should also be part of ongoing coaching efforts for all agents. A Gallup poll found that targeted coaching programs improve customer loyalty by more than 50%, and achieve 27% greater profitability, in part by cutting average handle time in half.
How will IoT impact the contact center? Theories already abound: here are just some of the predictions.
• The role of the agent: IoT provides more proactive outbound communication with connected devices, which can self-correct issues that previously might have generated a phone call. Agents may thus become more specialized to handle specific issues that fall outside the technology’s capabilities.
• More extended service contracts: Manufacturers will likely offer IoT as a service upgrade, and agents will manage these tiered service offerings.
• Proactive solutions: If the machines are talking to each other, the contact center agent’s computer will be in on these communications, so the agent will know about the issue before the customer calls – he might even be able to implement a solution in advance.
• “There’s a call from Jane’s blender on line 2…” Contact centers are accustomed to communication via smartphones and tablets; with IoT, other electronic devices may also have a ‘contact’ button from which customers can reach out to contact centers – or allow the device to automatically send a message that describes the problem.
• Better customer experience: gathering data from new devices will deliver more insight into how they are used, which could inspire changes that have a positive impact on the customer experience. Plus, if the agent already knows the specifics of the problem, it will shorten call times.
Not everything will change. Widespread adoption of devices with this technology is likely many years away, and even after it happens millions of consumers will opt for less sophisticated (and likely less costly) traditional appliances and electronics. Whatever the future brings there will always be a need for the same contact center services being provided now.
Recently, one LinkedIn group related to contact centers conducted an interesting experiment by asking, “In one word, how would you describe the best customer service?”
How would you respond to that question? The words that were selected were revealing, as they forced contact center professionals to express the most important aspect of their service effort in a single word. These are the five words selected most frequently by those that responded. Do you agree with them?
In this context these two words refer to the same thing – an expression of support related from the agent to the customer, that goes beyond the words in the script or the service provided. Is this being emphasized enough at your business?
That’s the ultimate goal, so it’s not surprising that many would choose satisfaction. Different contact centers may try to achieve consistent customer satisfaction in different ways, but it should be the inspiration for every change in personnel, approach and technology.
Contact centers devote a great deal of time and energy to writing a script, but it’s what happens when the agent isn’t speaking that is even more important. Customers don’t want to be read the company policy; they want someone who hears their issue and responds accordingly.
This was an interesting choice. Average handle time is an important call center metric, but customers don’t care about that. Sometimes a few extra minutes are necessary to work through a customer’s issue, and to make certain they are happy with the result. It’s worth the extra time.
Caring seems closely tied to the #1 result. But it goes one step further. It’s not just that the agent is sorry the customer is having an issue and can identify with the frustration it caused – it’s making sure the customer is happy with the resolution, and then asking if there is anything else that the company can do at that time. It’s expressing appreciation for the business, and not just because that line is in the script.
If you agents have these five qualities, your contact center is poised for greatness.
Change is never easy. Perhaps that is why many contact centers are still reluctant to make a switch from their software-based technology to the cloud. Even the prospect of no longer dealing with maintenance, storage or utility costs is not enough to offset concerns about whether a hosted contact center solution really delivers on everything it promises.
Here are some of the most common reasons why businesses hesitate, and how we address them with our clients – most of whom ultimately make the cloud transition, and now couldn’t be happier.
1. I’ll lose too much business during the transition!
Actually, you won’t. The cloud solution will be customized, prepared and tested before it is live, and can run parallel with your hardware solution during the actual conversion, so it can continue to function if an issue arises. Typically, however, the switch to cloud is quick and easy.
2. Is it really better?
Absolutely. It is more flexible, it is more scalable, there are no upfront costs, you pay only for what you need, you’ll receive software upgrades automatically as soon as they come available (without receiving a bill every time that happens) which makes it easier to work with home-based agents and other telecommuting personnel. These are just some of the benefits you’ll enjoy from day one.
3. I’m worried about turning over control of my data to a cloud
Maybe they should have found a better word when the technology was introduced, so it doesn’t seem like your data is traveling somewhere so distant. But the reality is you are still in control, just as you were when the hardware was sitting in your contact center. You can make changes as you need them, and with Monet you’ll also have the expertise of our dedicated support team to answer any questions.
4. It costs too much
Not at all. Hosted solutions cost 1/3 less than hardware solutions (and that is a conservative estimate on total savings). In fact, cost is one of the primary reasons why companies make the switch.
5. The cloud is unreliable
Once again, the opposite is true. Cloud solutions are actually more reliable than hardware-based technology because of their built-in fail-safes and redundancies. When all of your equipment is in one place and something goes wrong, you are out of luck. With the decentralized nature of the cloud, even a power outage won’t shut you down.
According to a study sponsored in part by Oxford Economics, 69% of businesses surveyed expect to invest in the cloud either moderately or heavily over the next three years, migrating their core business functions as a result.
These findings are consistent with a Forbes magazine piece published in June of 2015, suggesting that 55% of enterprise predict cloud computing will enable new business models in three years.
Why are these transitions taking place, particularly at contact centers that seek the benefits of a comprehensive workforce optimization solution?
With the cloud, a call center can be up and running with new WFO software in just days. Traditional WFO can take weeks, and sometimes months, to install.
No upfront investment for hardware and software is required for WFO in the cloud. Instead, contact centers pay a monthly subscription fee that, in many cases, will also cover training, support, maintenance and upgrades. Operating costs are lower as well, as there is no need for backups or hardware replacement.
The cloud gives contact centers room to grow, and upgrade the functionality they need when they need it. With a server on-premises, a contact center is limited by what that server can handle. Many call centers also report better ease of use with a software as a service (SaaS) solution.
All upgrades are automatically delivered free with WFO in the cloud. Upgrades to traditional hardware and software are an important revenue source for their respective manufacturers, so they won’t be going away.
There is always some risk when a call center invests in new technology. But with a cloud system it is easier to cancel a service that is not satisfactory. This is not always the case with a substantial upfront hardware/software investment.
What qualities do you find in a successful contact center manager? If success is judged by how well agents perform at a call center under the manager’s leadership, then it’s important to identify the most effective ways to motivate and lead a team of individuals with different priorities and personalities.
Here are four tips that will generate positive results.
1. Join the Team
There is an unavoidable separation between labor and management. But when managers conduct themselves as part of a team whenever possible, it often inspires better agent performance.
2. Lead by Example
“Do what I say, not what I do” is a recipe for a hostile work environment. The best managers follow the same rules as their employees, leading by example and demonstrating confidence in the policies that have been put in place.
3. Recognize Achievement
While the team concept is important, recognizing individual accomplishments is also imperative, and can have a positive effect not only on the person being recognized but his or her coworkers as well. Knowing that hard work is appreciated is one of the best morale-boosters that a manager can provide.
Agents are on the front lines of customer service, and they will have ideas on how methods or scripts can be altered to better serve customers. Listen to those ideas and reward those that are implemented. The more an agent feels like he or she is part of the company, the more likely they are to stick around.
Quality Assurance (QA) provides the bridge between call monitoring and quality monitoring. It introduces a critical grading component into the call monitoring process, so captured calls can be measured against call center guidelines and procedures. Indeed, the process of quality monitoring begins with the creation of a quality assurance scorecard used to measure agent demeanor and performance as related to KPIs.
It’s an easy term to define, but a more difficult one to put into practice. Unfortunately, too many contact centers view quality assurance like it was one of those rotisserie ovens that used to be advertised on late-night informercials, where the pitchman says all you have to do is “set it, and forget it.”
That won’t work here – QA is a program that requires frequent monitoring and adjustment. It’s also a company-wide process where agents, coaches, customer input and technology must be coordinated to achieve optimal results.
If your contact center is not getting the most from its Quality Assurance efforts, here are some fine-tuning tips that may help identify and resolve any issues.
The Role of Agents
If your agents have not bought into the goals of the QA program, its chance of success has already been compromised. It is vital for managers to create the perception that QA is a program that requires their participation, and not a program created just to catch them making mistakes. This is often a problem with new agents, or when QA evaluation is first considered.
The more managers can solicit agent input, the more they will feel like part of a process, rather than being singled out as the cause of service issues. Toward that end, keep the lines of communication open on the call selection process, and ask for agents’ help in writing the best questions to rate each call. It’s also helpful to encourage self-evaluation of each agent’s recorded calls.
Another approach that works, especially with millennials, is to present aspects of the QA program as a game or company-wide contest. Offer prizes to agents for flagging their best calls, worst calls, funniest calls, and most unusual customer engagements. Not only will this make agents more attentive to QA during their shifts, it often collects the calls that will be most helpful in training current and future agents.
One more tip – give agents the opportunity to view QA from the reviewer’s perspective. For agents accustomed to the receiving end of QA evaluation, this provides a chance to review the performances of their peers, and perhaps learn something in the process. Those that are most perceptive should be considered candidates for your permanent QA team.
The Role of Customers
Customers provide the raw data used in Quality Assurance measurement. It’s essential to know what they’re telling you, in some cases what they are not telling you, and to make sure that customer survey scores are correlated with QA scores. If they are not, it’s possible you are not measuring what is most important to your customers.
When you are setting up your call selection criteria and creating QA forms, focus on the most significant type of customer feedback for this exercise, which is the content of their conversation with agents. The contact center can do little about other types of customer complaints (such as faulty products or confusing advertising) outside of noting patterns and passing that data on to other departments. For quality assurance purposes, only the conversation between the agent and the customer should be analyzed.
The Role of Coaching
Many contact centers schedule one coaching session per agent per month – then fall behind and wind up rushing through the last few on the 30th and 31st. Set up a reasonable schedule of weekly sessions that covers the full agent roster, and provides consistent feedback. This also makes it easier for proper advance planning prior to each session, which should include granting agents advance access to their QA evaluation and recorded calls. That gives them time to review the data and provide feedback, which results in a more productive session.
Some other helpful coaching tips:
• Follow-up with under-performing agents to confirm that recommendations from the last evaluation is being implemented
• Recruit consistently high-scoring agents to conduct peer-to-peer coaching
• Provide regular “job well done” feedback between evaluations to celebrate successful calls that stand out
Finally, and this should be obvious, coach agents that really need the coaching more frequently than those who deliver consistently.
The Tools of the Trade – and How to Use Them
Start with the QA form: confirm that the qualities that constitute a successful call are clear and well defined. Provide definitions and examples so there is no uncertainty. Make sure each part of the form is linked to a specific business goal or objective. Also keep in mind that there is something to be said for brevity – a form with 50 questions is not using anyone’s time efficiently. Like the express lane at the supermarket, keep it to 15 items or less.
Evaluating a random selection of calls will deliver valuable results, but the more you can target specific types of calls for review (by tagging them), the more insight you will gain into how these calls are being handled.
From a technology standpoint, analytics can increase the effectiveness of any Quality Assurance program. Speech analytics and desktop analytics can reveal problems that may otherwise go unnoticed, identify trends, and uncover solutions to better serve high value customers and high value accounts.
Should every call be monitored with speech analytics? Why not? As long as every call consists of the same components – greeting, closing, information verification, upsell opportunity, etc., it provides a way to analyze customer responses for a variety of factors, and further analyze agent performance on product knowledge, empathy and adherence to script.
For call centers, a Workforce Optimization solution that incorporates Quality Assurance, speech analytics and desktop analytics can play a significant role in boosting customer satisfaction and productivity, while reducing costs. But as the old song says, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Make sure your QA program and its personnel are striving toward the same goals.
Contact centers must contend with the challenges of creating a positive business environment, motivating and retaining outstanding agents, and developing a service-based culture that makes both agents and customers happy.
The ecommerce shoe retailer Zappos is often cited as a model for similar businesses to follow. They pay their agents a competitive wage, but it’s not just about salary – it’s about employee engagement, and building a management model that values communication, team-building, and motivation that also doesn’t forget to have fun.
For traditional contact centers this would be a major adjustment. However, since a 2012 report called “Millennials in the Workplace” found that success is not tied to money among this generation, but to being “happy with work,” it is something worth considering.
The Zappos mission is to “provide fun and engaging opportunities for employees that speak to their individual passions.” And it doesn’t take a genius in human resources to understand that when workers are engaged productivity increases, attrition is reduced, and job openings attract a higher caliber of candidate.
But this doesn’t mean you need to turn your workspace into a playground or video arcade. At its heart, the Zappos approach simply means making sure agents feel valued every day, not just during training sessions and annual reviews. The responsibility for this will fall on managers, who will need to make certain agents buy into the company’s values. When that mindset has taken hold, the manager should then feel confident enough to allow agents to utilize their talents on behalf of the contact center’s customers.
This approach should also extend to holidays and peak periods when temporary agents may be added to handle to increased workload. By making these workers feel valued and appreciated as well, you’ll not only boost the chance of customers receiving quality service, you’ll acquire a list of agents-in-waiting who can step in when others leave.
A poll in 2014 found that more than 20% of businesses did not measure any contact center metrics. That approach is the equivalent of trying to build a bookcase without a set of assembly instructions.
At the other end of this spectrum, a workforce optimization solution delivers a wealth of data covering nearly every aspect of customer engagement. All of these metrics are important and can contribute to a more efficient business. But managers should never lose sight of the fact that the ultimate goal of information gathering is to improve customer satisfaction.
This should have an impact on how managers approach the data they have gathered. Advances in technology and the opening of other communication channels have only increased expectations among customers for faster responses and attentive service.
Without proper focus on quality monitoring, it’s possible to improve the efficiency of a contact center without achieving the same improvement in customer service. The most important metrics are those that link directly to making your customers happier.
That starts with customer service scores gathered through surveys and other means, followed by stats on service level and first-call resolution rate. Another figure that is trending upward is return on investment at the contact center. At first this seems out of place, but a spokesperson for the company behind the poll found that these four metrics are more closely related than one might think.
“Customer satisfaction and loyalty is directly tied to ease of service,” the survey says. “First-call resolution has the greatest effect on people’s willingness to return to a company and recommend it to others. This is good news for merchants because the solution that improves loyalty also reduces costs.”
With workforce optimization in the cloud, ROI is achieved much faster than through a traditional solution. And with Monet Software, WFO delivers the data that makes quality monitoring easier and improves your most important metric –
Every week, new contact center managers and agents discover this blog for the first time. We think that’s a good reason to occasionally go back to the basics, and explore the ways in which a quality workforce management solution (like Monet WFM Live) should be utilized. This is technology that can really make a difference in how you serve your customers.
Follow these guidelines to make the most of a WFM solution:
• Given the attrition rates at contact centers, require ongoing WFM training to avoid knowledge erosion
• Refine your data gathering processes regularly to make sure the numbers are accurate
• Monitor shrinkage and balance it correctly into forecasts
• Set realistic adherence targets, and apply real-time calculations to achieving them
• Make sure intra-day forecasting is consistent
• Let the system manage holiday and shift swaps, so managers can focus on other tasks
• Daily forecasts will usually be top priority, but do not ignore midrange and long-term calculations that can be important to future planning.
• Invite agents to input schedule and vacation requests directly into the system
While Workforce Management can make a difference simply through the data it delivers and processes it expedites, it’s a tool that will ultimately be successful depending on the environment in which it is used.
Thus, managers are also urged to always treat agents fairly. For example, do not give preferential treatment on first choice of shifts, unless this perk is offered as a bonus for outstanding performance. Make sure contact center policies on this and other rules are clearly communicated so agents know what to expect.
When you know what to look for, when you have the information you need, when you need it, and when you can act upon it quickly, that’s workforce management made easy.
Among the many interesting experiences we had at Call Center Week was discussing the topics that were foremost on the minds of attendees. During the course of the week we spoke with hundreds of contact center professionals, and these were the subjects that seemed to pop up most frequently.
As one of the keys to improving the customer experience is improving the agent experience, there was much talk about how to support agents in the difficult job they have to do. The most oft-proposed solution was giving them the technology they need to prosper.
Multi-Channel Customer Service
The Internet has acclimated customers to getting the information they want when they want it, whether that’s a Sunday afternoon or at 2 in the morning. They also prefer other options besides picking up the phone (though that one remains the most popular and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future). Companies that do not yet provide multi-channel (and mobile friendly) support are falling behind the curve.
The Customization of Cloud-Based Technologies
So if agent experience and multi-channel support are important, what is the best way to meet these challenges? Much of the talk at Call Center Week focused on how the industry is migrating toward cloud-based technologies, and how they provide more customization and more scalability at a lower cost than traditional solutions. Contact centers are recognizing that one-size-fits-all products are often insufficient, especially in an era when it’s easy to find technology to match their specific needs.
As a pioneer of cloud-based contact center technology, Monet was busy all week answering questions and providing demos of our products. If your call center is considering stepping up to the cloud, we look forward to showing you the time-saving, cost-saving differences that these solutions can make in your business.
Three years ago, the CEO of a company that manufactures customer self-serve solutions predicted (perhaps rather self-servingly) that the call center’s days were numbered. He believed the smartphone would become the contact center of the future, and expected this major shift in communication to take place by the end of 2012.
Yet here we are in 2015, and contact centers are not only still here, they are expanding. Here are two reasons why they won’t be replaced by smartphone service apps anytime soon.
1. Everyone Has a Phone
While other communication channels are now available, they have not diminished the convenience of the telephone. Service apps for smartphones are already in use (and at some companies in development) but not everyone has them yet and there’s a good bet that many of your older customers will never see a need to change. If customers want to speak to someone at your company, the first option is still dialing a phone number.
2. As Phones Get Smarter, So Do Contact Centers
The CEO’s assertion that a smartphone would supplant call centers did not account for the ways in which call centers evolved into contact centers. It also didn’t factor in the lower costs and technological advancement at these contact centers made possible by the cloud. The lower cost inherent in the cloud delivery system has made these businesses more efficient. Sophisticated forecasting and scheduling solutions such as Monet WFM Live boosts productivity and assures businesses of having the number of agents they need to meet customer demand – not too many, not too few. Speech analytics delivers valuable insights into each customer that could not be gathered through many apps.
It’s great that customers have more choices today. But when one is faced with a problem – say, a blu-ray player that won’t work – a phone call still sounds easier than finding, downloading and installing the manufacturer’s app, and then following an on-screen troubleshooting guide.
Even when we reach the day where everyone has a smartphone, most consumers will still prefer using that phone to call customer support.
If your contact center is located in an area where the next nearest contact center is 50 miles or more away, consider yourself lucky. Chances are you are getting first pick at the local workforce and can be more selective about which candidates to hire to serve your customers.
However, if your call center is In Tampa, Florida, Phoenix, Arizona, Greensboro, North Carolina, Las Vegas, Nevada or one of the other cities where the saturation rate for this type of business is high, the search for qualified labor can be more daunting. Here, the agent is picking you as much as you are selecting the agent, and you may find yourself in a constant competition to recruit and retain the best candidates.
Each high-saturation market presents its own unique challenges. Las Vegas, for instance, still has a particularly large transient population. For contact centers, that might raise a red flag on candidates that have only lived in the city for less than one year. It can be frustrating to devote the time and effort necessary to develop and train a new agent, only to have that agent move out of state a few months later.
However, regardless of the market there are a few initiatives that can be taken to improve the likelihood of attracting talented agents in competitive environments.
A Desirable Place to Work
While specific policies and procedures may vary, the basic function of a contact center agent will be much the same wherever that agent works. So anything that can be done to improve the workplace look, its hospitality and its overall “vibe” might become a deciding factor in where that agent chooses to work.
For some businesses this could be as simple as a bright, welcoming atmosphere. Or it may be the offering of extra conveniences and perks, such as a child-friendly or pet-friendly workplace.
This is obvious. A competitive wage package is essential in cities where similar opportunities are plentiful.
Word of Mouth
Sometimes the best recruitment tools a contact center has are the agents that already work there. Make them a part of your recruitment process.
Veteran agents in particular will appreciate being able to ask the types of questions that only another agent can answer. They’ll want to know whether agent input is valued, or if an assembly line attitude pervades. Has a script or policy ever changed because of an agent’s suggestion? Are outstanding performances rewarded? Does the occasional mishandled call prompt an angry outburst, or a coaching moment?
Opportunity for Advancement
Some people seek a job. Others seek a career. Those that fall in the latter category are typically more serious about their work and are looking for a business that provides an opportunity for growth and advancement. Is it possible at your contact center for an agent to progress from agent to coach to operations manager to site director? This comprises not just the possibility of such advancement, but also the creation of training programs and initiatives that encourage such transitions.
Since contact centers are among the workplaces that now allow employees to work from home, it may not even be necessary to recruit exclusively from the local community. Call recording and workforce management (WFM) software provides agents with the same technological capabilities they would have at an office. This is particularly true when hosted call recording and WFM are accessed through cloud computing.
But is it a good idea to allow agents to work remotely? Often, the comforts of home can make an agent more content in his or her work, and more motivated to maintain their employment by working hard and meeting the company’s needs. And depending on the home environment, there may be fewer distractions there than there would be at a busy contact center.
Agents who work from home avoid the two-way commute every day, which saves money on gas. Parents can also save on daycare for their children and the need to maintain a ‘professional’ wardrobe for the office. The arrangement is more economical for the company as well, as it does not have to provide a workstation on its premises.
In addition, an agent may feel more confident in knowing that he or she is trusted enough to work from home without a manager looking over their shoulder throughout the day.
That said, not every agent will prosper in a telecommuting position. It takes self-motivation to work from home, and employees who lack this discipline may be distracted in a home environment, and their job performance will suffer.
Agents may also miss out on the motivation that comes from the fervent pace in a competitive contact center, where agents and teams strive for more first call resolutions and shorter call times in friendly competition. While it’s certainly possible to compare notes via email, it’s not the same as when agents are working side by side. Work-from-home agents also miss out on some of the camaraderie and support they receive from fellow employees and managers.
Any city that is home to a significant number of contact centers may be challenged by employee attrition rates and an escalation of wages – another $1 an hour somewhere else is reason enough for some agents to move on. But there are measures that can be taken to reduce attrition while attracting the agents with the greatest potential for future success.
Improving schedule adherence is an ongoing concern at every size and type of contact center. Productivity suffers whenever adherence slips, and that can result in lost revenue and lost customers. Sound management and an automated workforce management solution are important tools in this effort – but sometimes it takes a bit more to make sure contact center agents are following their assigned schedules.
Here are 5 steps that can be taken to keep your schedule adherence efforts on track.
Stress the importance of schedule adherence throughout the hiring and training process, so every agent knows from day one that attendance goals are to be taken seriously.
2. Don’t Just Tell – Show
If agents see managers and other personnel coming in late or leaving early, it sends the wrong message. Supervisors, team leaders and trainers should be positive role models of schedule adherence.
3. Accurate Recording
Whether you use a biometric timekeeping system or a WFM solution that automatically tracks adherence, make sure there is an accurate, reliable system in place to record relevant data. Manual systems are prone to error and distortion.
4. Include Adherence in Agent Evaluation
Adherence should be a central component of every employee review and (if needed) coaching session. Agents with a habit of exceeding break times or starting shifts late must either be retrained or released.
5. Reward Top Performers
Just as agents that fall short of adherence goals should be reprimanded, those that provide consistent, outstanding service should be acknowledged and rewarded with bonuses, first choice of upcoming shifts, or through some other means. This will not just keep those agents at your business longer, it will also inspire the rest of your team to strive for the same goal.