Call Center Workforce Management Blog
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.
There is a temptation to assume that a customer connecting with a contact center from a smartphone is the same as the customer calling from a landline in their living room. But that perspective may not be around much longer.
“Mobile customer care” is becoming a hot-button issue in the contact center industry, and there is an opportunity here to serve these customers better that many businesses have still not embraced.
Given the capabilities of smartphones, mobile interaction now means a lot more than voice communication. It incorporates completing transactions online, posting and responding via social media, and then speaking to an agent before or after these other tasks have been completed.
Many companies now provide mobile apps, which include basic contact center services. But such apps are capable of so much more, and customers will welcome the chance to access additional features. The majority of calls of any kind today are made through cell phones – contact centers need to recognize that and respond accordingly.
Would your customers appreciate being able to access your company’s website, begin the order process, and then transition to a mobile voice channel with their account information transferring with them? It’s certainly better than making that switch, having to repeat the information to the agent, and then going back and having to start the order process over again because nothing was saved.
Some resignations are easier to accept than others. When it’s the agent who always takes the last donut just before you can get to the refrigerator, you can live with that. When it’s one of your top-performing veteran agents, it’s a much bigger cause for concern.
Unfortunately, sometimes it seems like the under-performers are always there, while the superstars are always looking for a way out. If you’re faced with that type of situation, here are two reasons for why it may be happening, and how you may be able to keep your most valued employees.
1. Good Agents Have Other Options
The agent that can turn angry callers into satisfied ones and upsell a $10 order into a $50 purchase can get a job at almost any contact center – including those that pay more than you do. If you want to keep them, make sure they know their achievements have been noticed, and reward them accordingly. Better still, put them on a management track if they have the qualifications, and give them more responsibilities (with commensurate compensation). You can start by having them train new agents on the techniques that have made them successful.
Talking to different customers with different problems for hours on end is a tough job. You can’t change the callers, but you can perhaps change the contact center environment to one that is more supportive, where you build stronger relationships between managers and agents, and do what is necessary to keep agents happy in an often challenging occupation. Listen to them, even if they just need to vent for five minutes.
An added benefit to these measures is how it tends to attract even more quality agents, who will take note of the positive workplace vibe from their first visit, and perhaps even hear from your current agents about your center being a great place to work. But if it isn’t, they’ll probably hear that, too.
We can’t speak for all of the 2,500 attendees at Call Center Week, but the Monet team had a terrific time.
Throughout the five-day event, the Monet Software booth was among the busiest on the Mirage Resort convention floor. Yes, the popcorn we were serving was an effective enticement, but even those who weren’t in the mood for a snack stuck around to chat about the challenges at their contact centers, and to get acquainted with the workforce management, workforce optimization, quality monitoring and speech analytics solutions available from Monet Software.
We spoke to reps from about 100 companies and provided a number of demos – if you were one of those we met, we thank you again for your interest, and have likely already followed up to find out more about your business and technology needs.
Temperatures in Vegas topped 105º most of the week, but inside the Call Center Week attendees kept cool by checking out a wide range of seminars, speeches and products on display.
We had an amazing time. It was a great conference and we really enjoyed meeting so many contact center professionals – both current customers who told us how Monet has helped their businesses, and new customers as well. We are already looking forward to next year.
Ah, the 1980s. Rubik’s Cubes and Cabbage Patch Kids and Duran Duran. Good times for those of us old enough to remember. And at the call center, we had the technology we needed to deliver great customer service.
The problem? Some call centers are still using a lot of the same technology.
An IVR system with 5 (or 8, or 10) options (including the ever-popular “press 7 to repeat this menu”) was cutting-edge back when Dynasty was on television. Ever go through all the options, and select the one that best fits the purpose of your call, only to then hear the message: “Our offices are now closed. Business hours are 9am to 4pm Tuesday through Friday…”
That won’t do anymore. People are busier now. They are used to faster (if not instant) communication, and the call to the contact center is just one more task in a multi-tasking day. The “Your call is important to us…please stay on the line and an operator will be with you shortly” message might sound polite, but to the caller it’s just more wasted time.
Another 1980s holdover is separate IVR and agent systems, at a time when such systems are easily integrated. The caller enters their account number when prompted by the IVR, and then they are connected to an agent who asks for the same number again. Not fun.
If your contact center is stuck in the ‘80s, it’s time to think about a 21st century technology makeover. Not sure where to start? Review recorded calls (or add a call recording system) and analyze the feedback from your customers. How many of them are frustrated by the time they speak to an agent? How many of them voice their displeasure over the time spent reviewing options and pressing buttons as prompted by the IVR? How many of these engagements could be handled more efficiently through email or web-chat or other channels?
Does your call center need to change with the times?
Perhaps the most challenging occupational hazard of contact center work is dealing with angry customers.
It’s never pleasant, even with the training that agents receive on how to handle heated situations. But such calls are not only inevitable; they can also be valuable in the feedback they provide. Call recording and quality management are the tools available to discover something positive in a hostile customer engagement. There are opportunities here to salvage a strained customer relationship, and to avoid problems in the future.
Anger vs. Abuse
This is not to suggest that every angry call is valuable. One of the agent’s first tasks is to assess a customer’s comments to determine whether any insight can be gained from their harsh words, or if someone just needed somebody to yell at.
Is it ever acceptable to hang up on a customer call? Believe it or not, the answer is yes. While the first goal of a contact center agent is to respond courteously to all customer questions and complaints, there will be instances where there is simply no possibility of a successful resolution.
The challenge is separating angry calls, which may be turned around by a sympathetic agent, from abusive calls, in which an agent may have no choice but to terminate the conversation.
Most angry calls are the result of a previous product or service experience that went awry. The caller is angry with the company and is ready to vent that anger on the first company representative they reach. There should be best practices in place at the call center for dealing with such situations, which typically include a clear and direct apology for the customer’s inconvenience, and a steady, calm delivery that may diffuse the raised emotions on the other side of the call.
The main dividing line between anger and abuse is the nature of the verbal attack. An abusive caller will personally attack the agent, through derogatory comments and profanity. The challenge for the agent is to remain calm and try to reduce the caller’s hostility level. A reminder that the call is being recorded may change their attitude, but if it doesn’t it should be permissible for the agent to tell the abusive caller that their call will be terminated if he or she does not calm down. The agent should then inform the manager of what has happened.
Analyzing Negative Encounters with Call Recording
Recorded examples of angry and abusive calls can be valuable tools in training. Coach agents on the difference between the two, and review how the agents on those calls handled the situation. Exposure to “the dark side” of the contact center agent job can only help agents with they face similar situations.
After a few weeks on the job, an agent will recognize recurring patterns among angry calls. Some of the classifications may even be part of the training process.
There are customers that complain in the most mild and polite way imaginable, as if they are reluctant to inconvenience the agent with their problems. While these calls are less stressful, they can take longer because callers are so hesitant to describe the details of their complaints.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who sound angry from the first moment of the call and never relent. If these calls don’t cross the line into being abusive, most can be handled with patience and calm.
While the majority of complaint calls are one-time occurrences, most agents will eventually become acquainted with a few regulars that always seem to have a new issue every week. Some may just be lonely and want someone to talk to; others hope their persistent displeasure will eventually result in some type of compensation. Is it tempting to give in so they’ll go away? Sure – but then they’ll try it again and tell their friends how they pulled a 50% discount with their bad attitude.
Yes, you must respect the caller and his or her opinions – while also respecting the procedures of the contact center and the company’s policy. Be respectful, be empathetic to the situation and do what you can to make them happy – but don’t try to save a relationship by any means necessary – ultimately it will backfire.
Here are a few additional tips and guidelines for those times when the contact center seems more like the complaint department.
The CARP Method
CARP is an acronym for “Control, Acknowledge, Refocus, Problem Solve.” It was created by Robert Bacal, who wrote a book with a title that should appeal to every contact center agent – If It Wasn’t for the Customers I’d Really Like this Job. His advice for handling complaints – “Control” the situation with polite but firm responses; “Acknowledge concerns in a way that takes them seriously; “Refocus” the conversation to solving the problem rather than complaining about its existence, then “Problem Solve” and wrap it up.
To Transfer, or Not to Transfer?
Imagine being an angry caller who finally reaches an agent. You describe the issue you’re having in detail, only to be told to please hold, and then you’re transferred to someone else and forced to repeat everything you just said.
There is no way this comes off as anything but frustrating – but sometimes it’s the only means to get the problem solved. Only transfer when no other option is available – but when you do, try to put the best possible face on your actions. “One moment, please…*click*” is not as helpful as “Let me put you in contact with our specialist who can take care of that for you.”
Ending a conversation on a grace note of courtesy will always be appreciated. When the situation has been resolved, it’s worth the extra few seconds added to average handle time to ask, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
If Failure is Inevitable, Don’t Drag it Out
If a customer wants a full refund or to cancel an account, agents are trained to take appropriate steps to keep that customer. But as we observed in a recent blog*, sometimes the best option is to accept that some relationships are not going to be saved. Learn what you can from the situation, and then let it go.
Star Trek fans are familiar with the phrase “open all hailing frequencies.” On the show, that means making sure all communication channels are open and being monitored, so no messages are missed.
For decades, call centers only had to worry about one communication channel. Every customer used the telephone to ask questions or place an order or to yell about something that wasn’t working. And call recording has been around since the 1980s to save, review and analyze these customer encounters, with the goal of improving service and efficiency.
But today, quality monitoring must also consider forms of digital communication – emails, social media, web chat – while keeping pace with breakthroughs in call monitoring solutions such as speech analytics.
Why do so many customers opt for online communication over the telephone that is likely always in their hand or in their pocket? Most perceive it to be faster, and with agent responses in writing the customer now has a record of what was said, and any assurances given about prices, delivery time or refunds.
Contact centers need to monitor these channels as well, preferably via a single platform. The evolution of online communication has, if anything, only amplified the need for quality monitoring so that customers are receiving optimal service, agents that provide outstanding service can be recognized and rewarded, and contact centers are able to eliminate unnecessary processes and improve best practices.
Are all of the hailing frequencies open – and being monitored – at your contact center?
How efficiently does information flow through your contact center?
If you have Monet WFM, the answer should be a positive one. But if your technology is not serving your agents, or if your agents are not as up to speed as the software systems they use, the results will be detrimental to customer service.
Every time a procedural change is made, or a product is added, or a new promotion is taking place, it adds a document to the system that agents must be able to retrieve quickly. Eventually the locations of this data will be committed to memory, but in the meantime customers are either forced to wait or (even worse) are put on hold.
If the number of additions continues to increase, even the best agents may find they are buried under reams of virtual paperwork found on various help systems and related sites. That cuts into average handle time and results in impatient customers.
What is the solution? A review of the various touch points of information flow may reveal opportunities to expedite retrieval and eliminate frustrating logjams. There may be a more logical way to organize information so it can be found more rapidly.
Any possibility of shaving a few seconds off a single call is one that cannot be overlooked.
Can changing a word or two in the script your agents use, or in the IVR, have a significant impact on contact center performance?
Sometimes, the little things can indeed make a big difference. If you have not reviewed your script or IVR in a while, take the opportunity to do so with these three tips in mind.
1. Be Informal
Formal business language sounds scripted and impersonal. Try a more conversational tone within shorter sentences that get to the point. The faster callers know what to do, especially with an IVR, the faster they can conclude their business and you can boost average handle time.
2. Choose Words Carefully
Many customers, faced with the prospect of corresponding with an IVR, will simply wait until the ‘speak to an agent’ option is presented. But by using more effective words and offering more specific options, some of these call transfers can be avoided. However, you have to give the script a chance to work. If the caller hears “talk” or “speak” too early in the engagement, he or she is more likely to wait out the system rather than try to get results before that.
3. Website Promotion
Many questions that prompt customer calls can be answered instead with a visit to the company’s website. If your script or IVR tries to encourage this transition, don’t just provide the URL – offer a reason for customers to try it. Words like ‘fast’ and ‘convenient’ and ‘instant’ can sway people toward trying an online channel. Emphasize the benefit, not just the option.
If you can’t remember, this might be a good time to take a fresh look at that script, and decide if changes would result in a better customer service experience.
When you do so, request the help of several of your best agents in the process. These are the men and women who will be working from that script, so they should be comfortable with its content, and able to advise from past experience on which questions and responses will be most effective in different customer scenarios.
For example, too many scripts use sentences that like this:
“On behalf of ABC industries I want to let you know that we appreciate your business, and that we will continue to work toward earning your trust.”
Customers today have heard well-worn content like this countless times, and are well aware it is not coming from the agent but from a script the agent is reading. The sentiment is important, but it could be expressed in a less fabricated way.
Agents – some of whom may have already taken to doing so – can suggest ways to make the customer feel valued that will sound more natural. These are the men and women on the front line of your customer service and loyalty efforts – they hear the reactions from customers every day (as you should as well through your quality assurance program).
Speech analytics offers another way to gauge customer reaction to certain scripted lines and responses. The ultimate goal is to create a script that is more of an outline than a word-for-word speech.
Some content must be expressed in a specific way to be consistent with industry regulations. It’s also likely that the answers to some basic questions will always be the same. But if every part of the call is scripted, the result is a robotic conversation that leaves the customer feeling more like a number than a person. When managers and agents work together on scripting, the result can be copy that encourages quick and efficient calls, while allowing agents to go off-script when there is a need.
Speech analytics has not yet become standard equipment at contact centers, but with success stories like this one, it’s only a matter of time.
In Las Vegas, Nevada, the Las Vegas Valley Water District added speech analytics and it proved particularly beneficial at delivering insights on delinquent customers. The data generated led to a change in procedure on how and when these customers should be notified. The result? More customers paying their bills. That reduced the number of trips by service technicians to shut the water off, as well as return visits to turn it back on. In one year the savings in cost avoidance reached $3.6 million.
This is just one example of the ROI that can be achieved through a more precise identification of customer insights, made possible with speech analytics. Because the overwhelming majority of customer interactions through contact centers are unstructured, more companies are discovering the value in leveraging speech analytics to structure conversations and uncover customer preferences and needs.
But right now such solutions used in less than 25% of all organizations. This market is projected to expand significantly in years to come.
Sometimes, the voice of the customer is saying something without actually saying something. Speech analytics makes it possible for contact centers to place conversations in context and understand the meaning behind them.
With Monet WFO Live’s speech analytics capabilities, contact centers gain even more insight from their call recording solution. With automated alerts triggered by voice data, managers have access to critical business intelligence that boosts both agent performance and the customer experience.
“The extensive reporting capabilities, graphs and charts presented senior managers with the tools they needed to make staffing decisions. We are satisfied with Monet Software and feel that the application has met our requirements.”
Oscar Gutierrez, Contact Center Analyst, Bayview Loan Servicing
Bayview Loan Servicing, an investment management firm focused on all areas of mortgage credit, including mortgage servicing rights were scheduled manually using spreadsheets.
Comcast Corp. recently announced plans to hire 10,000 military veterans, reservists and spouses over the next three years. Since 2012, the company has hired more than 4,200 veterans. Many of them now work at Comcast’s contact centers.
This is not only an admirable effort, especially with Memorial Day having recently passed, it is also a proven method for finding better agents that are more likely to provide excellent service, and to stay in their positions longer.
Compare the attributes managers look for in a contact center agent to the attributes veterans obtain during their military service, and it becomes obvious why this transition is one that works:
Accelerated learning curve: veterans can quickly learn new skills and concepts
Teamwork: the military encourages both individual and group productivity
Grace under pressure: if veterans can handle stressful combat situations, they can certainly cope with the rigors of tight schedules and angry callers
Following orders: Military men and women are used to accurately following procedures
Integrity: Veterans are familiar with the concept of an honest day’s work, and will bring their ‘A’ game to their job every day.
There are many qualities that are desirable in a contact center agent, and most of them have already been acquired by men and women who have served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Something to keep in mind next time your contact center is hiring.
Reducing Payroll Losses from Time Reports with WFO
The expression “time theft” is one that is likely familiar to every business owner with employees, including contact centers. It refers to situations where employees are paid for time they did not actually work.
It’s the kind of phrase that makes managers angry because they feel as if employees are taking advantage, but it also makes employees angry because an accusation of stealing is never something to be taken lightly.
But despite the discomfort it introduces into the workplace, time theft is an issue that must be confronted. While many contact center managers may not worry about an agent checking his or her Facebook page for a few minutes on company time, they will certainly not tolerate when one agent clocks in a fellow agent who never showed up at all.
To be fair, that type of fraud is rare, but it does happen. It’s the more subtle forms of time theft – adding a few minutes to the beginning or end of a shift, counting a break time as work time, conducting personal activities while on the clock, that most impact productivity and business costs.
It should also be acknowledged that many examples of time theft are inadvertent. Agents may honestly believe they worked the number of hours listed on their time sheets. Contact center work shifts can seem long and repetitive, and it is easier for mistakes to be made under these circumstances. But even without fraudulent intent, these situations can still be damaging. According to one estimate, time theft costs companies $400 billion annually in lost productivity.
According to studies by the American Payroll Association (APA), almost 75 percent of businesses in the U.S. are affected by time theft. These instances can take as much as 7 percent out of a company’s gross annual payroll. For a business with a $1 million payroll that adds up to $70,000 every year.
When employees were asked if they have ever exaggerated the number of hours worked on a shift, 43% admitted to doing so at least once. It is worth repeating here, however, that these cases often happen without malicious intent. A contact center agent may stay a few extra minutes, or arrive ten minutes early, and not be aware they are doing something wrong when those minutes are recorded on a digital time sheet.
The APA also reports that the average employee “steals” anywhere from 50 minutes to 4.5 hours per week by showing up late, leaving early and taking extended breaks and lunches. At the high end, this equates to approximately six weeks of stolen time per employee per year—as the study observes, whether the discrepancies are intentional or not, that is a staggering figure.
Contact centers have advanced a number of solutions to combat time theft, with varying results. Paper forms and traditional time clocks can help but are also vulnerable to agents who record their hours inaccurately or have someone else check them in.
A biometric time clock, which uses an employee’s fingerprint to verify their identity before clocking them in, can be far more effective. It can also expensive to implement, and may strike some managers as overkill.
A workforce optimization (WFO) solution may be the best option for making sure that there is no discrepancy between the hours declared and the hours truly worked. One of the primary benefits of WFO is increased productivity and service levels, and these are achieved in part by functionality that accurately records the number of hours worked.
Monet Live, Workforce Optimization in the Cloud provides a means to optimize all aspects of the workforce, including scheduling and hours worked, in one solution. One way it achieves this by tracking agent adherence to planned schedules and determining agent work time accounts. In addition, Monet Screen Capture (included in WFO Live) provides full-motion video and audio capture, which shows what agents are doing at any given time during their shifts.
The issue of time theft can be a difficult one to broach at a contact center. But if a business is losing too much money from agents inaccurately recording the hours they worked, it is an issue that must be discussed.
Since managers cannot be there to monitor every agent before, during and after a shift, an automated solution is the best way to combat the loss of productivity caused by time theft. With recurrent coaching and training and a workforce optimization solution, a contact center can mitigate this problem.
Recently the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) asked contact center leaders to name their biggest performance management challenge. The organization received a wide range of responses, all of which fit into four main areas of concern.
If it’s time to review performance management at your contact center, these are the potential trouble spots that provide a logical place to start.
1. Budgeting Time
It’s difficult for some contact center managers to focus on the challenge of managing agents when there are so many other responsibilities that need to be handled. The task becomes further complicated with telecommuting employees. Automated workforce management can make a significant difference in collecting and analyzing employee data, so effective agent management can be achieved in less time.
2. Consistent Performance
You have agents that are capable of performing at a high level – but how can you keep them at that level? Complacency and burnout are ongoing challenges that may be met with supportive coaching, quality monitoring, and periodic acknowledgment of a job well done, along with a reward for consistent quality service.
Attendance is a chronic issue at contact centers. A review of hiring practices and interview questions might lower attendance problems by weeding out less responsible agents before they are hired. Motivation strategies, from more flexible schedules to gamification, can also help reduce attendance issues.
4. Agents or Robots?
Which is better, having a customer receive pre-determined, scripted answers to every question and comment, or an agent with the confidence to take ownership of a situation and bring it to a successful resolution – even if that means deviating from procedure? Most managers prefer the latter, but agents won’t be empowered unless managers provide the proper guidance and support.
Artificial Intelligence is not yet a reality. And if you saw Avengers: Age of Ultron, you know that may be a good thing.
Sometimes we get the feeling that the machines are taking over. They have already assumed many jobs that used to require people, and complete them more quickly and efficiently. This is true in the contact center as well, and has been since interactive voice response began routing calls to available agents.
But will they ever take over entirely? Will a contact center one day be comprised of a roomful of voice-activated machines taking calls, completing tasks and analyzing the data thereafter?
That this could happen is undeniable; the question is, should it happen? And the answer is no.
Regardless of how sophisticated technology becomes, there should always be a human element in some forms of customer communication. The goal for contact centers will be to find the right workforce optimization balance between sophisticated technology and professionally trained agents.
Anyone who has ever become trapped in a conversation with a virtual call recipient and their menu of pre-recorded options (press 1 if you are calling to place an order, press 2 if you would like to return a product, etc.) soon realizes that their business could be conducted more efficiently with a human being at the other end of the line.
And while there are now younger adults who have never known a world without smartphones, ATMs and self check-outs at the grocery store, some tasks simply cannot be handled by an automated response. This is especially true if a customer is angry or disappointed – when that happens you want someone who will listen to the problem, empathize with your situation, apologize for your inconvenience and try to provide a solution.
No matter how intriguing the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) agents may be, contact center technology that is not supported by living, breathing agents can never provide the same positive customer experience.
Last summer, a man called his cable television provider to cancel his service, and was subjected to a 20-minute unwanted conversation* in which the company’s call center agent repeatedly badgered him like a district attorney trying to get a murder conviction.
Unfortunately for the cable company, the beleaguered customer recorded the conversation and released it on social media, where it quickly went viral.
Situations like this may become more common, as contact centers are certainly not the only ones capable of recording calls, and with social media providing an easy and instant platform for an angry customer to exact revenge. The question is, how should the contact center respond?
In this case, the cable company issued a public apology, promising to investigate the situation. They also contacted the customer to offer a personal mea culpa.
The more important question is, how can such embarrassing moments be avoided in the first place?
Agents are almost certainly instructed to try and retain customers in cancellation calls, but there comes a point where the practice becomes abusive. These situations can be avoided with quality monitoring, in which calls are recorded and scored based on preset criteria (which should certainly include the attitude of the agent and adherence to a script).
Where agents fall short in these disciplines, it creates the potential for a marketing disaster. Quality monitoring identifies these agents so retraining can take place.
Speech analytics can also play a role in helping agents determine when a customer account might be maintained, and when all the resistance in the world will not make any difference. That will help agents decide which situations require more aggressive persuasion (within reasonable limits, of course), and which can be abandoned more quickly.
For decades, contact centers in Europe and Asia have recognized the need for bilingual agents. Many of these businesses are required to support as many as 14 different languages.
Such considerations have been slower to arrive in the United States, but they are here now. Spanish-speaking agents have become essential, and as companies expand their global reach it is important to have agents who can speak to these customers in their native language.
Why Bilingual Agents are Necessary
Reducing call time is always a contact center priority. If calls can be routed quickly to an agent that speaks the customer’s language, call time is reduced and customer satisfaction will increase.
The inclusion of bilingual agents is particularly beneficial at 24-hour contact centers, making it possible for different customers from different countries and time zones to call when it is convenient for them, and have their query resolved.
However, while agents may be hired for their fluency in a different language, that is not always the case for managers, coaches and trainers. How can they monitor an agent’s performance on a customer conversation in a language they do not understand?
Bilingual Quality Monitoring Strategies
Effective quality monitoring (QM) for bilingual agents starts with a confirmation that the quality monitoring system in place at the contact center is performing up to expectations.
Before factoring in the additional challenges of second and third languages, review that status of your quality management program: Have the goals for this program been clearly defined, based on how your customers would define excellent service? Are agents, managers and coaches on the same page when it comes to interpreting data, and how calls should be scored? Do you have sufficient data to reach accurate conclusions?
These are just some of the questions that should be answered. Here are a few more:
Have you set performance goals and rewarded achievement?
Are you starting with agents from day one?
Who monitors the monitors?
Are you testing before implementation?
Make sure that you also have the right technology in place. Measuring quality manually is a long and arduous process, that is made much more efficient when relevant data is accurately compiled and analyzed automatically.
Monitoring of customer interactions should be simple for agents, and the intelligence gathered through the system should be easy to analyze for managers.
Once the call center is effectively achieving quality-monitoring results in English, managers can focus on bringing that same level of insight to customer engagements in other languages.
Hiring Qualified Management
The most obvious solution to this challenge is hiring or training bilingual personnel to assume the quality monitoring responsibilities for calls in the language in which they are fluent. However, if the contact center has agents that speak 5, 7, 10 or more different languages, it may not be feasible to have management on staff for each of them.
Recruit Your Customers
If a certain percentage of your calls come from customers in Japan, and you have Japanese-speaking agents but no Japanese-speaking managers, try gathering quality data from the customers handled by these agents.
This can be achieved through a customer satisfaction survey with questions on how their situation was addressed and whether the agent was helpful. Don’t make the survey too long, or customers may not take the time to respond. However, simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, or “on a scale of 1-10” assessments may not be enough for effective performance evaluation. Provide customers with an opportunity to describe what they liked and what they did not.
Of course, the survey results will also have to be translated, and you’ll have only qualitative data from which to draw conclusions. But this is valuable feedback that can be obtained in a relatively easy way.
Speech analytics is now in use at dozens of contact centers, and is capable of analyzing customer speech in up to 44 different languages. This data when translated can work alongside scorecards to improve quality assurance practices.
Promote From Within
Once a bilingual agent has established a consistent track record in customer service, appoint that agent to your quality assurance team, and have him or her monitor other agents’ calls in their second language. Even better, train them to not only score calls but also to provide appropriate training and coaching.
Reassure Bilingual Agents of QM goals
Managers may hire agents for their native fluency in Spanish, French etc. Often these agents also speak English, but perhaps not as well. That may provoke a sense of alienation in a contact center where everyone else is speaking English on his or her calls and to each other. Those feelings may be exacerbated when a second party is brought in to monitor bilingual calls – agents may feel that they are not trusted by their employer, or suspected of making personal calls on company time (which will look and sound the same to someone who does not speak the language).
An effort should be make to educate these agents about the procedures of a quality assurance program, why it is important to evaluate performance, and how this benefits not just the company but the agent as well. The objective is not to catch them doing something wrong, but to acknowledge what they are doing right, provide incentives for continued exemplary performance, and identify areas where some additional training may be necessary.
Another way to make QM more palatable is to involve these agents in the action plan that will help them improve their performance.
Call centers that offer more personalized communication through the employment of bilingual agents are already ahead of the curve. Diversity in language and meeting the needs of customers, regardless of their location, bolsters a company’s reputation for outstanding customer service. However, management must be cognizant that these customer engagements are just as important as those in the primary language of the contact center’s country of origin. Quality monitoring, though more difficult in bilingual situations, must be maintained to keep the standard of service consistent regardless of language.
Everyone looks forward to a 3-day weekend – with the exception of those who have to work one or all of those days, and those that have to make sure resources are allocated at a contact center to meet consumer demand.
As Memorial Day weekend approaches, here are some of the ways that workforce management can help contact center managers anticipate and optimize for the three-day holiday.
- Gathering Data – historical reports from the ACD provide the best indicators of what to expect. Go back at least two years and analyze call volume and other important KPIs.
- Remove Variances – a holiday is a variance in itself so that will obviously be taken into account, but watch for other issues that might be responsible for lower or higher numbers.
- Follow the Pattern – what specifically happened last Memorial Day weekend? Perhaps call volume dropped on Friday, was almost nonexistent Sunday but picked up again on Monday. Will that pattern remain consistent? Or is there some reason it might change?
- Check with Marketing – Has the company announced a new Memorial Day sale or promotion? How will that factor into call volume?
Once you have this information, it will be much easier to calculate staff requirements to meet service goals.
Call recording has long been recognized as an essential element in quality management. Many contact centers have an effective quality monitoring system already in place that collects and scores recorded calls. It’s a system that works – but now there is a way to make it even better.
The advent of speech analytics offers the possibility of gaining even more insight from every customer communication. When call recording is combined with speech analytics, the result is a strategy that increases the value and effectiveness of the contact center’s quality management program.
Merging call recording with speech analytics can significantly boost lead conversion rates, as well as increase customer retention levels. At the same time, it’s a way to be 100% assured that agents are always in compliance with federal and industry regulations.
Any opportunity to add or keep customers that is not acknowledged is one that, in effect, ignores potential sales and profits. With speech analytics, contact centers are assured of gathering all of the valuable data contained in every incoming call.
Using the Tools Available
Call recording and speech analytics are indeed the two pillars of quality management. However, at most contact centers quality monitoring practices have not evolved for 10 or 15 years.
With all the different touchpoints now available to customers, and with call content changing as a result of these communication options, is it really still enough to just evaluate a handful of randomly-selected calls every month? How many sales opportunities may be missed? How many customer service issues will remain unnoticed?
The technology is here – now – to track and evaluate the entire customer experience, and use that data to improve contact center efficiency. And thanks to the cloud, that technology has never been more affordable.
What do the experts predict when it comes to workforce management strategy? Here are five trends that are already having an impact.
1. Changing Laws
The Affordable Care Act and increases in the minimum wage were two of the more prominent business stories last year. But this is the year when the fallout from this legislation will be felt at many types of businesses including contact centers. Result? More compliance concerns, and perhaps changes in scheduling that will affect the hours available to part time agents.
2. Satisfied Employees = Satisfied Customers
Customers know immediately if they are speaking with an agent that is happy in his or her work, or one that is watching the clock and going through the motions. While many company cost-cutting efforts begin at the agent level, 2015 may see a renewed focus on investing in employees, making sure they are engaged in the customer service process and giving them the tools they need to succeed.
3. New Kids
The Baby Boom generation continues to retire in larger numbers every year, with many of their positions now being assumed by members of the Gen X and millennial generations. How will this affect workforce dynamics in the contact center? How will training methods need to adjust?
4. Workforce Management
Businesses collect data, but may not analyze it properly. Workforce management offers a way to unlock the key elements that expose where service is thriving and where it could use a little help. Decision-making will be determined on actionable insights based on hard evidence.
5. User-Friendly Technology
According to The Workforce Institute, workforce management software will evolve by integrating user-friendly features and functionality now found in consumer products, such as more responsive design and drag-and-drop touchscreens.
This year looks to be a time of hiring at many contact centers, as the economy continues to steadily improve and business is picking up.
But more agents means more salaries, and even if company profits are headed in the right direction it is still imperative to budget wisely, cutting costs wherever possible while maintaining customer service levels.
Doing so is very difficult without a workforce management (WFM) solution. With the advanced functionality and the more accurate forecasting and scheduling made possible by WFM, as well as the data it delivers on agent performance, schedule adherence and KPIs, contact center managers can always be assured the contact center’s resources are being utilized in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
What are some of the benefits WFM can provide that spreadsheets cannot?
Here are the most important:
- Real-time Adherence to schedule
One of a contact center manager’s most important tasks is keeping track of how the number and length of calls received by each agent matches the volume anticipated before the shift began. Tracking and schedule adherence are difficult, if not flat-out impossible, with just a spreadsheet. Spot-checks are fine as far as they go, but without the real-time tracking provided by WFM there is a higher risk of over/under staffing, shrinkage and missed service levels.
You know what types of calls your contact center receives, and you know which agents are adept at handling those particular calls. But the process of routing calls to the best recipients is more complex given the number of calls expected in any shift, and the number of agents available to handle them. Skill-based routing becomes less challenging with a WFM solution.
It’s not just about having a Spanish-speaking agent available for calls from Spanish customers – it’s having the right number of agents in place with the necessary skills to handle the influx of calls. It is forecasting in a way that meets service levels for every skill type, and taking into account which agents have multiple strengths and specialties. This is achieved through simulations that assess the effect that different skills assignments have on service levels, which can be reviewed, modified and re-run until the right mix is found.
- Multi-Location and Multi-Channel Coordination
Companies with multiple contact center locations require a means to coordinate personnel, resources and schedules at each facility so the service they provide is consistent. There may also be agents working from home that must be accounted for. WFM delivers these multi-site capabilities. At the same time, call centers have evolved into contact centers, and customers now use other means to communicate with businesses, from online chat to email. The same forecasting and scheduling principles can be applied to these other tasks with WFM, to be certain that agents and resources have been allocated to each channel, multi-tasking as needed to maintain cost efficiency.
- Choosing the Best Solution
All of the aforementioned capabilities are essential to what WFM can and should provide, and this is where to start the vendor review process. Does a system possess?
Once these features have been established, there are other questions that should be asked as well:
- The ability to coordinate in multi-skill, multi-contact environments
- Support for email, phone and chat contact channels
- The ability to run simulations based on required skills and personnel
- The capability to analyze and report on a wide range of agent and scheduling date
How will this system integrate with my business?
The optimal WFM solution will improve a contact center’s procedures without requiring a complete overhaul of its current system. There will inevitably be a transition period as agents and managers acclimate to the new technology, but the end result should always be the capability of doing what has always been done, just in a faster, more efficient and cost-effective way.
How much does it cost?
An obvious question but also one that, for many smaller and midsized contact centers, marks the end of the discussion. Workforce management has traditionally been too costly ($100,000 or more for an on-premise solution).
But with cloud delivery systems, that is no longer the case. Users pay only a low monthly subscription fee with no upfront investment. And when it’s time to upgrade the software, it can be handled automatically at no additional cost. Contrast this with manual software upgrades, where the cost can be prohibitive enough to delay implementation. That reduces a call center’s ability to operate at maximum efficiency.
How long will it take to set up?
Once again, advantage: Cloud. Set up can be completed in days, with secure access available to agents and managers in the call center and at remote locations. With a traditional hardware/software system, complete installation and configuration can take several weeks, if not months, which will add additional costs and inconvenience to the conversion process.
Is the system easily usable/scalable?
Usability is a priority with most cloud-based solutions, so call center agents and managers can get started more quickly from any location. In fact, the evolution of cloud software has accelerated the work from home trend in the call center industry, as it provides the same technology and service capabilities to an agent’s home computer and web browser as they would enjoy at the call center. No installation is required, data sharing remains secure, and managers enjoy even more flexibility in the forecasting and scheduling process.
Multi-site recording systems should provide full recording and monitoring functionality, as well as instant retrieval of any files, whether from local or networked storage systems. With a cloud-based system, storage is never an issue. Whether there are two call centers or fifty at home agents, all calls and customer interactions can be unified within one system.
Scalability is another cloud benefit: With a server, you can only expand your capabilities so much before another investment is required. The cloud platform allows for maximum scalability.
When it comes time to choose a workforce management solution, it is imperative to find a system that works with the company’s budget, set-up and specific operation requirements, as well as one that can locate the gaps between the contact center’s available personnel skills and resources, and those that are needed to reach customer service goals.