Call Center Workforce Management Blog
Average handle time? Still important, we’re afraid. It’s a constant challenge but there are
ways to cut it down while still providing the quality of customer service that your company and your customers expect. Try these tips and let us know if they work! Skills-Based Routing
Agents that specialize in certain types of calls will almost always be able to handle them more quickly.
Automated Processes Made the switch from spreadsheets to workforce management? Then you’ve taken a significant step forward toward reducing AHT – now review any other manual processes and discuss whether they can be automated as well. Interview New Agent Candidates By Phone
One way to determine whether an agent can communicate efficiently is by interviewing them over the phone. You’ll find out how they respond to questions and unexpected situations, skills that contribute to AHT reduction.
No Cold Transfers
If a call must be transferred, always make sure the customer’s relevant data is transferred as well, so the same questions won’t have to be asked a second time.
Prepare for the ‘Top 5’
WFM and agent feedback to determine the top five reasons customers call. Focus on a streamlined response to these in training and equip agents with the authority to address them. Anticipate Questions
Similar to the previous tip, the more agents can anticipate what the caller may ask, the faster those answers can be provided.
Route Repeat Calls to the Same Agent
First call resolution is important as well, but when a customer has to call back, route his or her call to the agent that responded the last time. Familiarity with the situation should expedite the call.
This sounds counter-productive at first, as agents may want to get to their scripted procedure and move things along. But AHT benefits from listening as well, especially if the caller is not in a good mood. Interruptions will only make angry callers more irritated, and further decelerate the process.
Put Agents in Charge
Not of everything, of course, or they’ll pay themselves a lot of bonuses. But give them as much authority as needed to solve customer issues, investigate problems, and provide a solution. Transferring calls, even without excessive hold time, is never good for AHT.
Reward Top Performers
Give an agent a special prize for reaching the maximum number of accepted calls per shift – as long as they’re achieving this goal in a way that also provides courteous and attentive service.
Imagine going out to lunch with a friend. You tell him that your doctor said you need to have surgery, and your friend replies, “Oh well, that’s life – are you going to finish those fries?”
This is one of those situations when a person expects some expression of concern or sympathy. Another is when a customer has a problem and contacts a call center. The best agents are those that recognize when a customer is angry or disappointed, and respond accordingly.
It’s not difficult, it doesn’t add a lot of time to each call, and it doesn’t require changing company policy – all it takes is a few kind words – “I’m sorry this happened, I understand how frustrating this must be. But you’ve come to the right place – let me see what I can do for you.”
And it helps if they sound like they mean it, and are not just reading those words off a script.
Caring is the first essential trait of a successful call center agent; confidence is also important. It’s a quality that some possess naturally, but for those that don’t it can be taught – at least within the confines of the call center job.
A trainer may not be able to instill enough self-assurance in an agent to ask someone for a date, but for customer calls confidence emanates from knowledge about the company and its products or services.
It is particularly critical in outbound call centers, at a time when telemarketing-weary customers are likely to be less receptive to a marketing message. The successful agent is one who can break through those barriers, by explaining that this call is not an annoyance but an opportunity. When you speak to someone who really believes in the cause he supports, you are likely to be more receptive to what they have to say.
Caring and confidence – look for both of them when it’s time to hire new agents. As a bonus you’ll not just gain a quality employee that will boost your customer service, you may hire someone who can have a positive impact on your other agents as well. When these traits are encouraged, they can be contagious.
What will tomorrow’s call centers look like? If we’re lucky they might resemble the San Francisco facility designed for Airbnb. Check out the photos
Clearly the idea was to create a call center that doesn’t look like a call center: no boring rows of cubicles, standard desks, drab break rooms etc. The space is more open and varied, with different settings to suit the preferences of each agent.
There is more freedom of movement, as laptops now do everything that a desktop computer does, so employees do not need to be tied down to one plugged-in machine. There is more interaction between agents, but the work can still get done.
You would think noise might be an issue in such an open environment. But as the article explains, the architects and designers worked with the company to install sound-absorbing materials, such as cotton padding in the ceiling and walls. Agents also used advanced headsets with a masking system in the microphone that reduces surrounding noise.
Is this the future of the call center? With more customer contacts now being handled online or other means, fewer call center agents might make it possible to accommodate such flexible facilities.
Maintaining quality, particularly in the customer experience, is critical in every aspect of call center operation. It’s at the heart of everything we do, from technology to agent screening to script creation. Quality monitoring is how call centers identify what is working and what isn’t. It is primarily a problem-solving system, but it also recognizes areas where things are going well, so those practices can be maintained. How can you get the most from your quality monitoring efforts? Here are a few tips that may help. Define “Quality”
It seems obvious, but still worth noting: You can’t assess which calls are successful until you have a standard for what constitutes a quality customer interaction. That takes into account not just the outcome of the call, but the manner of the agent, the total time required for the engagement, and how it met service levels and KPIs. This process is easier with a quality-monitoring tool that provides a comprehensive view of agent and call center performance.
Review a wide range of calls before setting the benchmark for future success. The objective is to find the very best calls – ones that everyone involved agrees could not possibly have gone any better. Hopefully they won’t be too difficult to find! Getting Agents Onboard
Initially some agents may view
quality monitoring suspiciously, which is not only bad for morale, it could negatively impact the results of your efforts. Make it clear that monitoring is a company-wide necessity designed to make everyone – including managers – more successful at their positions. Make the process collaborative instead of authoritarian. A Reliable Process
Evaluation forms will likely be part of your QM program. These must be developed correctly, or every subsequent step might be impacted. Make sure you are asking the right questions and getting optimal results from them – that means the kind of responses that dovetail naturally into training and procedural changes to generate better results.
The personnel assigned to head up QM will also be critical to the program’s success. Recruit a team to handle monitoring, evaluating and training, and make sure they have the expertise and the resources to do the job right. Call Scoring
This is another critical aspect of quality monitoring, so it is best decided with the participation of as many employees as possible. Divide each call into sections – greeting, closing, speed, issue resolution, courtesy, empathy, etc. – and then
score each segment. This could be done with a letter grade like in school, or on a 1-10 scale. Then, compare results. Don’t be surprised if assessments vary – you are still early in the process and this is how you will determine what qualifies as a great call, a good one, and one that was not well-handled. The more participants become acclimated to the QM system, the closer the scores should get. Feedback and Dispute Resolution
Feedback is important throughout the process. At the outset you need feedback from your customers, which can be obtained through an advocacy survey. Don’t assume you know what they want or expect from your call center before asking them.
Once monitoring has started, feedback may be handled through individual contact with agents, trainers and other personnel, or through group sessions where findings can be shared, and discussions can take place on how to best achieve whatever milestones were set. The more agents can be involved in this, the more likely they will be to buy into the process, and feel that their input is valued. Sometimes disputes may arise within a performance evaluation. If this happens, do not just dismiss the objection – schedule a re-evaluation conducted by another member of the team. Can you trust your agents to self-evaluate? Not at the beginning perhaps – but once they grasp how the process works many may be trusted to assess for themselves how well they are meeting the quality expectations of the call center. Check QM Against Other Call Centers
How does your call center fare compared to other call centers of similar size and function? Finding out via an outside agency that specializes in external benchmarking can provide a new perspective on how your business is performing.
Recognize and Reward Success
When the quality numbers start trending in the right direction, make sure this is not unnoticed by all of your call center staff. Find a way to reward agents, coaches, trainers and other personnel for their contributions.
The Right Technology
Measuring quality manually is long and arduous process, that is made much more efficient when relevant data is accurately compiled and analyzed automatically.
And yet, many contact centers have still not implemented an automated call monitoring solution, and are thus not gathering the measurable metrics that can only be garnered through effective call monitoring and evaluation. Before selecting a technology solution to be used in a quality monitoring effort, three questions should be asked: 1. Will it improve agent performance?
2. Will the data we collect improve efficiency?
3. Will our call center monitoring solution protect us from a legal challenge?
Choose the Right Call Monitoring Software
Without the right software, a quality monitoring program is going to struggle. Monitoring of customer interactions should be simple for agents, and the intelligence gathered through the system should be easy to analyze for managers. Also, consider future growth – the software you select should be able to grow with your company, and meet your needs not only today but tomorrow.
automated workforce management (WFM) solution? Look for one that doesn’t just deliver a lot of data, but also functions in a way that complements how today’s call centers operate. This business has changed, and you won’t be able to change with it if you are burdened by yesterday’s technology. Here are five current WFM trends that should be part of your strategy, and that should benefit from the efficiency of an automated WFM solution. Flexible Staffing/Scheduling
The workplace of today is very different from what it was like 20 years ago. Agents, particularly those in the millennial age group, grew up in a world of on-demand service, and expect that same option at work. With WFM it’s easier for these agents to manage their schedules, bid for open shifts, request time off or select the shifts for which they are available. While some of this might sound like catering to the whims of people who despise a standard workweek, in the long run it results in happier employees, which is good for customer service. And while adjusting all of these shifts might have been a headache with spreadsheets, WFM streamlines the process so manager oversight is minimal.
With the automated processes made possible by WFM, managers don’t have to be as concerned about noncompliance with legislative and industry regulatory mandates. Just set up the system to accommodate applicable laws and requirements, and it will do the work for you, while also providing a full audit trail.
Real Time Adherence
Are some agents spending 10 extra minutes on their lunches or breaks? Has one agent left early twice last week? WFM provides tracking that makes it easier to enforce time and attendance policies. It’s an objective system that makes sure the same rules apply to everyone.
Enterprise and other growing entities may require more than one contact center, with locations in different states or perhaps even outside the country. Workforce management makes that single global system possible, integrating all functionality through one common interface. This method is more efficient than the regional siloes it replaces.
Today it’s not just about having the right number of agents for each shift, it’s having the right blend of skills and services within that agent pool so that every type of incoming call stands an excellent chance of achieving a positive outcome. With WFM you’ll always know you’re covered, and can plan ahead when selecting additional staff or replacements when certain agents are on vacation. A WFM system with
speech analytics makes it even easier to identify where agents excel, so calls in their specialty area can be routed to them.
A lot of us choose the careers we want based on one simple premise: whether or not there is math involved.
Unfortunately, math cannot be entirely avoided, even at jobs that seem to work more with words than numbers.
Take the task of providing great service at a call center. You need an effective script, and agents that know how to relate to customers, and a
workforce optimization system that deliver forecasts and schedules that keep the business running at optimal efficiency.
But how can you prove that service is where it needs to be? Here is one system that may help. And yes, some math is involved. Sorry.
First, you need to define the terms that will impact how service is assessed, starting with abandoned calls. Do you count the ones that hang up before an agent responds as a “call offered”? Or ignore them entirely since there was no opportunity offered to achieve a successful result?
Next, select a service level objective, and the service level formula that works best for your business. There are several to choose from:
Once you have your formula, select a time interval and clearly define exactly when a call starts (when the phone rings, or when the caller selects the IVR option that links them to a live agent, or after the recording opening message completes). Then, decide on a measurement interval (by hour, shift, day, etc.).
workforce optimization solution will be invaluable here, as it will gather the data necessary to calculate your service level. Analyze the data, review the results, and make appropriate adjustments in procedure or technology that could help you reach your service goals. Then start the process all over again. At least the second time, the math will be easier. Learn More
In a perfect world, all of your agents would always say the right thing at the right time on every call, practically guaranteeing a positive outcome.
Impossible? Perhaps. But with real-time
speech analytics, call center managers and agents have a tool that increases the likelihood of customers being paired with the agent most likely to answer questions and provide optimal responses and assistance.
This level of response is even more critical now that customers have other methods available when contacting a company. Many will first inquire about an issue via email or a Facebook post. If that doesn’t work, a phone call is viewed as the last and best option, and that customer will expect to speak to someone with the knowledge and authority to take care of the problem.
For the agent, this challenge becomes easier with a tool that delivers historical information about that customer in real time. That is what speech analytics provides.
But this is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every customer is different, and even two customers who bought the same product and have exactly the same question may not benefit from the same type of response. With
speech analytics, agents can change scripted responses based on speech cues, tailoring the discussion so it better matches the caller’s expectations.
Typically deployed as part of a
workforce optimization (WFO) solution, speech analytics has become a primary driver of performance and quality monitoring improvements. Such capabilities have long been limited to only the largest contact centers with the largest operations budgets. But the advent of cloud-based WFO software has brought these sophisticated solutions within the reach of small and midsized facilities.
The Monet Software version of speech analytics and desktop analytics is part of our award-winning WFO Live product. Both platforms deliver detailed, data-driven insight into daily call center operations and customer behavior, but without the significant investment that such benefits used to require.
In healthcare, some treatments for illness have been effective for hundreds of years, while new treatments are always being developed that improve on older methods. The same can be said of a healthcare call center. Managers may still be relying on a traditional solution – spreadsheets – for forecasts and schedules, but this is one treatment that may have outlived its usefulness. If the data you have been generating with spreadsheets for 20 years is no longer sufficient, it’s time to make the change to WFM. We created a free whitepaper entitled Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling: Best Practices that explores this topic in more detail. What are some of the benefits of WFM, compared to spreadsheets? • More accurate forecasts
A streamlined scheduling process
More flexible management of start times, end times and break times
Easier skill-based scheduling
Happier agents and customers Spreadsheets simply cannot compete. Find out for yourself by reading the whitepaper.
Automated workforce management software can deliver an abundance of data to a healthcare call center, and all of it can be useful. But which metrics are most important? According to this ICMI article, many call centers prioritize data based on what it can do to lower operating costs. But in a healthcare call center, it is more important to review metrics that impact customer experience. In many situations the call center plays a role in patient care, so every effort must be made to handle calls quickly and to have agents that are qualified to listen and make appropriate recommendations. How do you know how well you are doing? Patient surveys can help. This information can be collected either right after the call, or at a later date with questions sent through the mail. The feedback you receive is the most direct assessment available of your call center operation. Quality management and call scoring can also play a role in customer and patient service measurement. Where is your business succeeding, and which areas could use some improvement? You’re not just looking for trends here, but the root causes that created those trends. Once you identify the problems, you can begin to design solutions. According to the ICMI article, all of this is easier to do if you “invest in the right systems and processes.” Is Monet WFM Live the right system for your healthcare call center? Our WFM and call recording solutions have been successfully employed by many call centers of all sizes in this industry to collect and analyze customer satisfaction feedback, and to link data points together across the contact center spectrum. Thus, managers always have specific analytics on every aspect of patient interaction, along with a “big picture” view of how all the moving parts are – or should be – working together.
How workforce management is defined may depend in part on how it is employed within a specific industry. Wikipedia provides us with a starting point: “In many markets and industries, workforce management is all about assigning the right employees with the right skills to the right job at the right time.” This definition certainly applies to healthcare contact centers. One of the primary goals is to have the right number of agents with the right set of skills available at all times to provide efficient customer and patient service. In this case workforce management describes not just the goal, but also the best means of achieving it. One of the most important responsibilities of a healthcare call center manager is to accurately anticipate the types and volume of calls expected within a certain day, or even hour-to-hour. This can be accomplished through the historical call center data collected and analyzed by an automated WFM solution. With precise predictions in hand, the manager thus creates a forecast and schedule to meet demand. Historical data, along with call recording, can also be used to review agent performance, which helps with finding the right mix of agents for each shift, and for coaching and training purposes.
How should you choose a WFM solution for your healthcare call center? The right choice will be one that delivers accurate call volume forecasting from historical data and ACD integration, flexible schedule creation that incorporates foreseen and unforeseen variables, agent exceptions, intra-day changes to both forecasting and scheduling, and performance management reports. In other words, everything you need to keep your business running at optimal efficiency. Learn More
Your goal is to deliver outstanding customer service any time, any day. But there are days and times when achieving that goal is easier.
Should you share that information with callers that ask? Or offer a few recommendations on the company website or Facebook page? Why not? By doing so you're not only lightening the workload at peak calling time, you're also improving the likelihood that every call receives the personal attention and positive experience it deserves.
Yes, the public is more demanding now. They want what they want when they want it. But not everyone is like that, and most will appreciate any help that you are willing to provide.
Think of it this way - the next time you go to the DMV, would you like them to let you know the wait time could be three hours if you arrive at noon, but if you get there by 9am you will be in and out in an hour? Most people would be delighted to know the fastest way to resolve their solution.
How you do this, of course, depends on the calling patterns and hours of operation at your call center. For some business, a warning to avoid Mondays might be in order; but for call centers in the travel industry, Fridays might be busier as couples plan weekend getaways.
If there is a day that is typically lighter in call volume, let customers know. If there's a time when calls are answered faster, let them know. The first hour of operation may work, unless you have an issue with late-arriving agents.
You might also consider explaining IVR options in advance and in more detail, so customers will know which options to use before the call. Also, let them know what information you'll likely need for them, so they won't have to start searching for it after the call is initiated.
Finally, offer other options for finding the information they need - make sure business hours are clearly posted on your website, and that you have a FAQ page that explains common solutions to common problems.
A Deloitte 2015 Global Contact Center Survey reports that the number of customer interactions by telephone continues to decline, as other options become more prevalent.
But while the volume of customer calls may be shrinking, the importance of each of those engagements has been elevated. More people may be reaching out via email or web chat or social media, but if these channels prove insufficient the next step is a phone call - and for the company this may be the final hope for keeping that customer's business.
This happens more than you might think. A recent report showed that more than one-third of customer engagements that started online or through a self-service channel eventually escalated to voice.
This doesn't necessarily mean that the company is doing something wrong - there is real, proven value in
omnichannel. But some issues are just too complex for anything other than direct contact with a real agent or supervisor. This is how customers still expect questions to be answered, and results to be achieved.
Knowing this, what can you do?
First, forget all those predictions about fully automated contact centers. Agents will always be needed to provide service that machines cannot.
Next, understand that a customer that has already failed to get results from another channel may be more frustrated or impatient when he or she calls. Agent training should focus on being calm and courteous when confronted with hostility.
Finally, make sure agents have the technology they need to deliver an efficient and satisfying customer experience, especially if this is the last opportunity to do so.
A lot of lip service is paid to listening to customers. But there is a difference between actual listening and just hearing what they have to say.
The best call centers focus all of their efforts on gaining insight into every customer on every call. Comments made even in passing can offer valuable insight into satisfaction with a product or service, and should influence business development and marketing. There is no such thing as a routine transaction.
Are you really and truly paying attention to your customers? Here are a few ways to find out.
If you are getting too many repeat calls from the same customers about the same issue, something isn't right. Either your agents are not able to resolve the issue, or there is a problem with a product that cannot be solved. Whatever the reason, this is a communication breakdown that must be corrected. When possible, provide agents with the information they need to deal with the issue. Or inform a brand manager about the situation so action can be taken at that level.
"We don't have that service available"
Why not? If callers are repeatedly inquiring about something they want that you don't have, look into whether it's possible to provide it. Especially if it's a product or service already provided by other companies in your industry.
"Tell us how we're doing"
The fastest and easiest way to find out what customers want is simply to ask them. Sometimes it can be tempting to let
analytics do the work for you - and with the right system in place you will certainly collect valuable, relevant data. But there's also nothing wrong with the direct approach. Ask for feedback, and incorporate that feedback into the entire organization, not just the call center. Learn More
Performance Management (PM) is something of a catch-all term that incorporates a wide range of management aspects, from planning to developing agent skills, to evaluating performance based on metrics and making adjustments accordingly.
Most call centers engage in some form of performance management, whether through ongoing meetings to assess progress or an annual review. If you are not seeing enough benefits from your performance management process, it might be time to step back and reassess what you are doing, and how you are doing it.
If you're ready for a fresh start, here are the first five steps to achieving better results.
1. Decide why it's important
What purpose do you expect performance management to play in your business? Write down a list of reasons why this effort is important, and make sure it is shared throughout the call center - PM doesn't work unless everyone is on the same page.
2. Specify objectives
What are the goals that the call center hopes to achieve through performance management? "Better service" and "compliance" are a start, but try to be more specific.
3. Select an approach
Most call centers begin a PM effort by looking at what's wrong, and how it can be addressed. There is nothing incorrect with this method, particularly in a small call center. But there is another approach, dubbed "appreciative inquiry," that instead stresses how best to use the strengths of the organization to move forward in a positive direction. Consider giving that a try as well.
4. What determines success?
Performance management is a results-oriented endeavor. Goals should be set with this in mind. And technology can be used to gauge progress and measure results.
If you get everything exactly right the first time when you launch v.2 of your performance management program, let us know your secret. However, this is usually a process that will require refinement and adjustment to achieve better results every time. Set up time for a review to determine what works and what doesn't, and how you can update your PM methods to pay even greater dividends.
One need only to look at the attrition rates among call center agents to appreciate the pressures and challenges that come with the job.
Where employee turnover for all industries is approximately 17%, the range for call centers is typically between 30-45%. If you're dealing with those numbers you know how time-consuming and expensive it is to constantly find and train new agents to replace those that leave.
That makes agent retention a priority. What can you do to help these valued employees avoid symptoms of burnout? Try these tips:
Everybody likes to feel appreciated. When agents excel at their work they deserve to be recognized and rewarded. Such rewards can be straight up - a salary bonus - or something customized for each agent - an extra paid day off, movie theater tickets, or dinner at a nice restaurant (one without a drive-thru window).
Scripts are important, but reading the same text hundreds of times a day can certainly contribute to burnout. By allowing agents some flexibility you'll not only make the job less repetitive, you'll be boosting customer service - most callers appreciate an agents who speaks and listens to them over one reading words off a computer screen. Also, when possible, give agents the responsibility of handling some issues without the approval of the supervisor or manager. That will shorten the call length, and make the agent feel more valued as a company team member.
There are ways to make a call center a more enjoyable place to work without sacrificing efficiency or customer service. Ask for feedback on ideas for special themed days, or schedule a reception on the last day of every month with snacks and entertainment.
One of the best ways to avoid agent burnout is to provide your team with the technological tools they need to make their jobs easier. That starts with a
workforce management solution that delivers caller data, easily automates everyday processes, and monitors schedules so agents handle an appropriate amount of calls in each shift. Learn More
For contact centers that have yet to install the type of advanced software that provides real-time insight into agent activity, the only viable option for coaching is to do so during live customer calls.
However, this method presents a number of challenges for both the agent and the coach. The most obvious is the necessity to communicate information to the agent while the agent is speaking with a customer. This is achieved through "call whispering," which is exactly what it sounds like.
Call whispering puts the agent in the unfortunate position of listening to a customer and his supervisor at the same time. Even experienced agents may find this difficult. For new agents, it is next to impossible, and often leads to distracted agents and frustrated customers.
Call whispering also makes it impossible for agents to communicate with a supervisor during a coaching session. During these one-sided conversations, an agent may wish to ask a question or seek clarification on a point raised by the supervisor, but there is no way to do so without putting the customer on hold. Such feedback must be saved until after the call - and by then it might be too late to deliver the type of service that customer deserved.
Another limitation of live coaching is the inadequate sample sizes it generates to accurately assess how an agent is performing. The supervisor is present for a few calls but has no way of knowing how that agent is performing during the rest of his or her shift. Many critical coaching opportunities are missed as a result.
Fortunately, there is a better way. An advanced
workforce optimization solution provides greater visibility and insight into agent performance, and records calls that can be reviewed later during more substantive coaching sessions. It can also provide a means for two-way communication between agent and supervisor in a way that is not as distracting, so the agent can stay focused on the customer.
Find out more about the benefits of workforce optimization Learn More
Another Call Center Week has come and gone, and once again Monet was proud to attend, to interact with industry professionals, and to provide demos of our advanced software solutions that improve contact center efficiency.
Beyond the opportunity to network and catch up with old friends, the days we spent in Las Vegas also provided insight into one topic that emerged as the most talked-about, by both the event's speakers and attendees mingling on the convention floor:
We have talked about analytics in previous blogs, and no doubt other companies have as well. At Call Center Week, the opportunity was there to move beyond discussion and actually watch how analytic solutions function. Seeing is believing, as they say, and demos to Monet's analytics directly addressed the theme of this year's event: "From Personalizing to Predicting the Needs of the Customer."
Contact center professionals that visited our booths were able to discover first-hand how Monet could help them achieve a more personalized customer experience, and gain additional insights through analytics that helped maximize the effectiveness of every customer engagement.
At this point there isn't any debate about the benefits of analytics: any hesitancy about adding these capabilities came mostly from smaller call centers that were concerned about the cost, or worried that so much additional data might be confusing to collect and decipher.
We explained to these company reps how our analytics solutions are incorporated into a
workforce optimization suite. This way, it's easier to place the information in an appropriate context, so it yields the type of intelligent insight that helps companies improve service quality and save money.
At a time when customers have become more demanding given the technology options available, contact centers need every tool they can find to meet these demands, and even to anticipate them when possible. That is one of the advantages analytics provides.
Automation has changed the day-to-day operations at call centers around the world, and has made the job of the agent easier.
But will the non-stop advance of technology also make the job of the agent obsolete?
According to a recent
Wall Street Journal article, many of the 1.2 million call center positions in the Philippines may soon be replaced by customer service robots. This is happening primarily with non-agent positions - such as monitoring the performance of digital networks. But the article suggests that the robot agent revolution may be as close as five years away.
Will it happen in the U.S. as well? Certainly some companies may embrace the prospect if it means cutting costs - but no matter how it is implemented, these companies also run the risk of cutting customers as well.
In this political season rife with rob-calls, consider the frustration most of us experience in listening to recorded message that cannot be altered. Now apply that same principle to a contact center customer trying to ask a question or place an order.
An automated voice cannot make a customer feel appreciated. No matter how sincere the "We appreciate your business" recording is, many will think, "If you really appreciated my business, you'd hire someone to let me know in person."
And no matter how much foresight is applied to anticipating customer requests, there is no way to have an answer programmed to every question. Thus, several customers will still be forwarded to a live agent, and wonder why they couldn't receive that kind of attention in the first place.
We have all come to embrace cutting-edge technology as a boom to our businesses and our lives. But at some point it's wiser to take a step back, and understand that just because something is technologically possible, it doesn't mean it's better than what has gone before.
When call centers became contact centers, the telephone suddenly became just one of several options available for customers to take care of business.
This evolution has been taking place over the course of more than ten years. Email was added, then web chat, then social media. Video chat has become yet another possibility. And when people are able to communicate through Google Glasses, and other futuristic devices that probably aren't that far away, it will be up to the call center to accommodate these customers as well.
Has your call center embraced multichannel? Great! Now it's time to get ready for the next challenge: omnichannel.
The difference is interactivity. In a multichannel environment every communication option is a separate one, and the objective is to deliver consistent, quality service across the entire spectrum. Omnichannel introduces an additional option, of moving a customer from one channel to another within the same engagement.
Of course, it's important to not just provide the capability of switching from email to phone or from phone to web chat, but to also be able to track quality throughout these interactions through recording and agent performance managements. This is important to make certain you are delivering a consistent customer experience form one channel to another.
There will still be decisions: should the same agent follow the customer from one channel to the next? Or should an agent specializing in phone communication hand off the call to an agent better suited for web chat? Different contact centers employ different degrees of agent specialization, so there is no one-size-fits-all correct answer.
If you are ready for omnichannel, one place to start is with an analysis of your current customer base. Which multichannel options do your customers use most often? What are the most likely transitions from these channels based on the reason for their contact?
Next, make sure you are able to provide the same service with each channel. For instance, a switch from voice to text-based communication should not infringe on upsell opportunities that an agent would have described over the phone. Finally, be certain to evaluate the performance of your agents across all channels - this is made easier with a
workforce optimization solution that delivers call recording and quality management. Learn More
Workforce Management (WFM) is important; Workforce Optimization (WFO) takes WFM to the next level.
With WFM, your
agent scheduling will become much easier, and much more accurate. You'll always feel confident that the right numbers of agent are serving your customers.
But why stop there? With WFO, you'll learn something from every one of those customer engagements.
Call recording protects your company from legal action and provides a valuable resource for agent coaching and training; quality monitoring helps you assess levels of customer satisfaction with your speed and service quality; speech analytics delivers more insight into what your customers want, so you can sometimes anticipate their needs before they even express them.
With WFO, managers have everything they need to attack key performance indicators and bring them into acceptable levels. And it helps your agents do a better job as well.
Once you've made the decision to explore workforce optimization options, it will become clear that, given the impact WFO will make on your business as well as the costs involved, it's important to choose the right solution the first time.
Monet's WFO Live makes it possible for companies of any size to scale IT quickly and efficiently, and to make changes without business interruption.
But what about security? Monet currently has customers with dozens of agents - and thousands of agents - successfully using Monet Live in a secure, scalable cloud.
Still have questions? Monet is always available to help address the concerns of companies considering a cloud solution, and to identify the many ways in which the cloud can benefit your contact center.
For those of us still waiting for our jetpacks, the promise of the future hasn't always lived up to its potential.
But the future always brings other changes, and that will be the case at the insurance contact center as well. The question is, will you be ready to embrace those changes, and perhaps even get ahead of the curve, or be stuck playing catch-up when the competition gets there first - and starts taking some of your policyholders?
Here is what we think is coming....sooner than you might expect.
As contact centers embrace multiple channels for customer communications, agents will have to be skilled in more than one discipline - email, online chat, texting and social media. At the same time, managers will transfer out of a primarily operational role and adopt a more "big picture" outlook on the organization.
Customers will still need insurance and will still have policy and claim questions that they'll want answered yesterday. Answers to many of the most basic are now provided on company websites, so that helps reduce some of the call volume. But Millennials coming of age in a technology-driven world will the answer to every question available on their smartphones. Thankfully, tomorrow's agents will have grown up with the same technology.
Workforce Management Workforce management (WFM) will play a more prominent role in tomorrow's insurance contact centers, as the drive to optimize resources will always be key in this highly competitive industry. Efficient contact centers rely on accurate forecasting, analytics, skill-based routing and capturing important policyholder data. There is no faster or more efficient way to do this than with an automated WFM solution.
And there's no need to wait for the future -
Monet WFM Live can do all of that now. Plus, as workforce pattens change, and more employees opt for flexible scheduling to balance their jobs with their personal responsibilities, WFM will have to keep up with even more accurate resource planning, and by making it easier for agents to bid on shifts in a way that does not negatively impact customer service. Learn More
Six months ago, Fortune magazine published a story with the headline "Why Contact Centers Are Moving to the Cloud." It's just one of many such stories tracking what has become a mass migration. Insurance companies have been part of this phenomenon, as they begin to recognize the numerous financial and technological advantages of switching from on-premise hardware and software installation to a cloud delivery model. One of the most important of these is cost. By handling WFM in the cloud a call center doesn't have to budget for the purchase of hardware, software, database or data center infrastructure. With a subscription-based cloud system there is no large upfront cost and no licensing fees. Operating expenses are lower as well. The money that is saved can be re-invested in other parts of the company. The ability to make a fast and trouble-free transition has also helped to grow the cloud market. Traditional solutions take a great deal of time to install - how would an insurance call center be impacted during this long transitional period, when customers may not conveniently stop having policy questions until it's finished? Cloud solutions also provide a more intuitive end-user experience, which shortens the learning curve for call center agents. With the cloud, downtime is reduced and ROI is achieved faster. Flexibility? Scalability? These attributes are more easily achieved the cloud as well. Cloud service providers allow companies to increase or decrease existing resources as needed to accommodate changing demand. Plus, with the cloud it's easier to operate multiple contact centers from one facility, to accommodate agents working from home, and to make it more convenient for those that wish to access applications from a mobile device. If there has been one lingering concern with this technology, it has been security. For insurance companies and healthcare providers where the protection of customer information is paramount, any perceived vulnerability would be enough to steer clear of cloud adoption. But if that concern was ever justified, it certainly is not anymore. The cloud now offers a range of security measures to protect data, communications and the physical data centers where information is stored. Several layers of security measures and processes are built into the cloud infrastructure, platform and services. All client access endpoints are secured, with alerts for password brute-force attacks that prevent those accounts from being compromised. Built-in firewalls provide additional protection, and many clouds also offer encrypted data storage.
If your insurance call center has still not investigated the numerous advantages of cloud computing, what are you waiting for? Monet can help. Learn More
One of the duties of the insurance business is to help customers protect themselves from liability claims, and the high costs associated with them.
But as we accept that responsibility, we also need to protect ourselves as well, particularly at the contact center. Let's face it - no matter how carefully you select your agents, or how satisfied customers are with your company's policies and service, disputes are still inevitable.
When this happens, having a recording of the conversation between agent and customer will be invaluable. And it's not just enough to have it - you should also have the ability to locate and retrieve specific customer interactions, not just to settle disputes but as a way to improve the quality and performance of your insurance call center.
This can be easily achieved through call tagging, a capability that should be incorporated into a
call recording or workforce management solution.
Tags are like bookmarks - they designate certain calls by whatever criteria the agent or manager chooses. Typical tags might be dates, times, phone numbers, customer reference or case numbers; at insurance call centers, tags can be used to track disputed claims, late payments or customers with lapsed policies.
More than one tag can be applied to a call, and an efficient WFM system will allow managers to combine categories for more specific search results. For instance, if a manager wanted to access how a new agent handled disputed claims, he or she should be able to have the system access those types of calls from that specific agent so they can be reviewed all at once.
Tags can also help an insurance contact center improve KPIs. If average handle time is becoming an issue, have the system collect all of the calls that lasted more than 10 minutes. That may reveal some potential changes in procedure that will expedite those conversations.
In the highly competitive
insurance industry, every customer contact counts. That places even greater pressure on insurance call center environments, where agents are expected to deliver exceptional customer service, whether it's claims support, answering policyholder questions, setting appointments for agents or promoting new insurance products.
That challenge - to provide quality service every day at a cost within the budget, is the most significant one we face. So what's the best way to achieve this goal?
Let's start with this: your agents cannot deliver excellent service unless they have the customer information they need, and when they need it. When John Smith calls with a question about his auto insurance policy, the agent should have all the pertinent details on that policy on their computer screen so questions can be answered and changes made if necessary.
But now let's take it one step further, by providing managers with historical data so they can run various scenarios before a shift begins, to prepare for contingencies. As the shift progresses, managers should see real-time insights delivered via dashboards and reports on KPIs, as well as alerts so they can adjust forecasts and schedules when the unexpected occurs.
Information: what you need, when you need it - that is how the determination to provide great customer service must begin.
Unfortunately, you won't get it from spreadsheets. It takes an
automated workforce management solution to provide the actionable insights necessary to be proactive in decision-making, so every shift of every day will be prepared to deliver the kind of customer service that keeps your policyholders loyal and happy. And when the contact center is running at peak efficiency, that reduces costs as well. Learn More
Your agents are on the front line of your customer service efforts. When policyholders call with questions or concerns, the agent they reach becomes the voice of your entire company. No pressure there. Obviously it is incumbent on your insurance call center agents to do their jobs well. But that process starts with managers hiring the best candidates for these crucial positions. What skills should you be looking for when hiring an agent? Here are some of the most important: Professionalism
Courtesy always sets the right tone for a customer engagement. And when that customer is stressed or frightened or angry, as is often the case with
insurance issues, it’s up to the agent to maintain a professional tone and stay calm and focused throughout the conversation. Attendance
This doesn’t mean just showing up for work every day, but showing up on time. Customer service suffers when agents show up five minutes late and leave five minutes early. Agents should be willing to adhere to a strict shift schedule.
Intelligent verbal communication is one of the most basic requirements of this job, but as
insurance call centers evolve into contact centers, it is advantageous to hire agents that can also communicate effectively in writing, so they can handle webchat or even social media. Self-Sufficiency
While you want to recruit agents that can be positive team players, it’s also important for agents to feel confident enough to work independently – especially if you hire those that telecommute. When agents can solve customer claim issues without putting customers on hold and having to track down a supervisor, it improves average handle time and makes the customer happy as well.
Monet’s Workforce Management solution can play a key role in helping agents to achieve optimal performance, by giving them the information they need to succeed.