Call Center Workforce Management Blog
“Is it in the budget?”
Some variation of that question is always asked when any changes to contact center procedures are proposed. And it’s a valid question. Economic realities have forced businesses of all kinds to do more with less, and contact centers are no exception.
But there comes a point when inaction can be more costly than a beneficial investment. And when it comes to the use of spreadsheets vs. workforce management software, that time has come.
Yet many small and midsized contact centers still rely on spreadsheets for daily forecasting and scheduling. Even larger contact centers, those with 100 agents or more, are still making due with an inefficient system that lowers customer service, and can actually increase costs.
When an increase as low as 1% in productivity can significantly impact the contact center budget, it is imperative to identify areas where efficiency can be improved. Ditching spreadsheets should be at the top of that list.
Spending Money to Save Money
The limitations of a spreadsheet result in fixed schedules that can produce higher shrinkage and overstaffing, or understaffing and a low service level. But with WFM it is easier to manage start times, end times and breaks with an ease of flexibility that dramatically improves service levels.
Managers can also consult more detailed and accurate call histories with WFM, resulting in better forecasts. Scheduling is also faster – some managers can save as much as 25% of the time once devoted to filling in spreadsheets – time that can now be used for additional agent training or to attend to other matters.
Is increased efficiency worth the investment? One of our clients, the Texas credit union GECU, found out first-hand. Their call center, staffed by 85 agents, selected Monet’s cloud-based WFM Live as a way to improve customer service. Affordability was a key component in the decision, as WFM Live provides such benefits as reduced IT investment, low implementation service fees and a more cost-effective per-user license model.
Just a few months after implementation, GECU was able to save money by reducing its number of agents by 14, while delivering better customer service. With the more accurate scheduling made possible by WFM Live, there was a 30% reduction in unscheduled breaks. Costly overtime scheduling was reduced, while call volume spikes were managed more easily.
“In terms of ROI, Monet has already paid for itself after a few months. The cost of the 3 year subscription I've already saved in salaries, overtime and administrative costs.”
--Joshua Gomez, GECU Assistant Vice-President, Call Center
Today, the quality and service levels at GECU are solidly placed in the top 97% tier.
The Better Solution for Managers, Agents and Your Customers
A spreadsheet can be used to calculate workforce percentages, but precise forecasting requires more in-depth analysis. And when forecasts are wrong, stressed agents cannot deliver the service level you and your customers expect – or, they’re sitting in their cubicles with nothing to do, and earning money for it.
One of the reasons we hear most often from companies reluctant to change is, “But this is the way we’ve been doing it for 10 years.” Change can indeed be intimidating. What we tell them is they are not really changing the things they do – they are just going to be able to do them more easily and efficiently.
Forecasts rely heavily on historical data – daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal – to determine call volume. Contact center managers may start with monthly and weekly stats, and then delve deeper into daily and hourly numbers, perhaps even examining work periods as short as 15 minutes.
This can be done with spreadsheets, theoretically, but with WFM it is significantly easier to analyze call types, call volume and call patterns, and then to note past variations, determine their cause, and forecast accordingly. With WFM it is also much easier to forecast special days or other events that impact call volume. “Special day” provisions can be created for any factor, from marketing campaigns or events to weather patterns.
Scheduling is yet another area where WFM offers enhanced capabilities. Spreadsheets can handle fixed schedules, but in 2015 how often do contact center schedules stay fixed?
With a WFM system managers have the flexibility to automatically manage start times, end times and break times. Now, agents can work the hours that work best for them, and happier agents are far more likely to excel at customer service. They are also more likely to stay with the company longer, a consideration that should not be minimized considering the average employee turnover rate in this industry.
Intra-day adherence tracking is another significant component of a best practices approach that is practically impossible with just a spreadsheet. WFM also provides insight, through dashboards and real-time alerts, into which agents are meeting their schedule obligations, and which may require additional guidance or training.
The annual budgeting process presents a familiar challenge – cut costs where necessary while maintaining (or improving) the customer experience. Since labor forces rank among the highest cost items, it is essential that they be managed properly. With WFM, a manager can always be confident that he or she is scheduling the right agents with the right skills at the right time.
Those still using spreadsheets for these functions are missing out on the convenience, efficiency, flexibility and functionality of workforce management.
The calculations necessary for optimal forecasts and schedules are very difficult to do with Excel. WFM has sophisticated simulation processes that tell a call center how many people it will need and when it will need them.
“But we can’t afford it.” That might have true ten years ago, but today with cloud-based WFM, even smaller and medium-sized contact centers can reap the benefits of automated workforce management at an affordable cost. A lower investment also means a more rapid return on that investment.
When call volume changes, spreadsheets are insufficient. With WFM, managers can get back to managing people, instead of spending hours on Excel planning forecasts and schedules. To learn more about this, download our whitepaper "The Real Cost of Spreadsheet-based Scheduling".
There is never a time when customer experience should not be a priority at the contact center.
But this year, we are seeing a renewed focus on this most important attribute, and through our blogs, articles and webinars are working to provide the information and resources that can help our clients re-dedicate themselves to delivering the best service possible.
This was the inspiration for our webinar “Monet WFO Live in Action,” which offered a guided tour of that product’s many features and benefits, and how they work together to serve your customers. These qualities were recently honored by TMC, which named WFO Live as a CUSTOMER 2015 Product of the Year.
But what about cost? It’s not as significant an issue with a cloud-based solution like WFO Live, but we understand that it’s also a factor in the day-to-day decisions every contact center manager has to make.
However, when the emphasis is on customer experience first, and fiscal challenges second, the result is a positive impact on both situations.
Why? If a contact center delivers a great customer experience, it is going to make a difference in the bottom line. Happy customers buy more products, and remain customers longer. And if they share an account of how well they were treated on social media, that brings more business, and more opportunities to convert first-time callers into satisfied customers.
Is your contact center ready for spring break?
Certainly many of your agents are looking forward to this annual celebration. If that means taking additional time off, managers will need to have a plan in place for potential attrition.
This time of year can also mean increased business in certain industries – travel, hospitality, entertainment – creating the perfect storm at some contact centers of more calls coming in and less agents there to handle them.
How can a business negotiate this impending crisis? A workforce management (WFM) solution is the answer.
When a manager needs to know what type of calls, and call volume, to expect on a certain week or day or even during a particular hour, WFM collects and analyzes historical call data to help predict future workload. That makes it easier to forecast needs and schedule staff accordingly.
This is also a time when the flexible schedule creation made possible by WFM delivers additional benefits. Now you can take foreseen and unforeseen variables and agent exceptions into account, as well as make intra-day changes to both forecasting and scheduling.
With WFM, costly instances of overstaffing and understaffing are reduced, schedule adherence is improved, and more flexible scheduling is possible. If you try to achieve the same results with spreadsheets, you’ll be the one that needs a spring break vacation.
The contact center agency is notorious for its high rate of employee attrition. Whatever the reasons for the number of agents who don’t stay in their jobs very long, each instance of employee turnover adds additional costs to the company’s operating budget.
One contact center, tired of spending thousands of dollars on training and testing and interviews, only to have far too many employees drop out before they bring any value to the business, decided to try something new – they started hiring not just by the results of the traditional screening methods, but by trying to identify in candidates the preferred mindset of a successful contact center agent.
The technique, described as talent benchmarking, resulted in better agents, lower attrition and reduced contact center costs.
To find the mindset they were seeking, the contact center selected its top-performing agents based on performance metrics, manager reviews and customer feedback. These agents were then given surveys and interviewed to discover why they have thrived in the contact center environment.
When this process was completed, the company had ten “raw talent metrics” it hoped would serve as predictors of future success.
The results were encouraging: prior to talent benchmarking, the contact center hired an agent that turned out to be an asset 47% of the time. With benchmarking, that number improved to 59%, a 25% improvement. The method also cut down on the number of instances when agents were hired that were later found to be poor fits for the company or the position.
In an industry where marginal improvements add up to significant savings, talent benchmarking may be one way to reduce employee attrition at your contact center, while improving customer service.
Speech analytics has become a much buzzed-about concept in contact center technology. But what is it really, and what type of difference can it make in the efficiency of your business?
Simply put, speech analytics takes call recording to the next level. Chances are you are already capturing calls – but how much valuable data is in each one of these customer engagements, that is not being utilized to best advantage? Speech analytics digs deeper into the content of each call, identifying patterns and key words and phrases that can help to further refine customer service efforts and agent training opportunities.
The technology also makes it possible to generate automated alerts triggered by voice data; this can be anything from the recurrent use of a word or a mention of a specific product, or the association of a particular attitude or emotion with a type of customer engagement. Such information is delivered in real time, so it can be acted upon immediately.
The benefits should be obvious. Here are just five of the biggest reasons why speech analytics should be something to consider at your contact center.
• Better Customer Experiences: Now it will be easier to identify a customer’s needs, and know how to meet them
• Agent Training: By identifying operational and performance issues, speech analytics plays a key role in agent coaching, which can ultimately lead to reducing average handle time and first call resolution
• Saving Money: Analysis of speech analytics data can reduce contact center costs, particularly in operating expenses
• Boosting Revenue: And why the technology contributes to cost savings, it can also increase revenues by finding up-sell and cross-sell opportunities, and tracking the effectiveness of marketing campaigns
• Improve Customer Loyalty: If you can find out why customers are leaving, there is still time to save these relationships. Speech analytics makes it possible.
In the contact center, a change made to one aspect of performance or technology can impact several other areas, which will either enhance or undermine the original attempt to improve quality or service.
That is why a unified/integrated system is so important. Performance management encompasses a number of moving parts, and it’s necessary to have one system that connects all aspects of scheduling, skills, quality, metrics and compliance, with both qualitative and quantitative data.
The advantages of unified and aggregated reporting over less sophisticated systems or siloed strategies are obvious:
• Metrics are displayed in one place, making it easier to monitor and adjust them as needed
• “Connecting the dots” becomes simpler when real time and historical performance data is available to agents and managers
• Insight is gained through the monitoring of key metrics that are critical to contact center performance, from adherence and service levels to average handle time, forecast accuracy and shrinkage
• Real time data makes it possible to react immediately to situations, or even proactively to avoid issues before they can occur
Now that this data is more conveniently accessible, managers can clearly define what metrics drive the performance of the center. Use these metrics to set goals – is the average handle time too long? Are customers waiting too long for an agent? Are product upsells below expectations? Once that to-do list is in place, make sure all personnel are on board and working toward the same standard.
If you see a building going up or being renovated in an office park or commercial area near you, don’t be surprised if it turns out to be a call center.
Enter “contact center jobs” into a news search engine and you’ll see story after story about companies adding positions – 682 in Hamilton, Ohio; 600 in Clearfield, Utah; 750 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Part of this can be attributed to a steadily growing economy, but the trend toward insourcing these jobs from overseas, rather than shipping them out to India and The Philippines, is also significant factor. Today, there are approximately five million Americans employed in contact centers, and many of them are working in positions that were outsourced more than a decade ago.
Why the switch? Labor costs are going up in other parts of the world, so companies aren’t saving as much money; security has also become a concern, considering the uncertainties in data privacy laws outside the United States.
There has also been a renewed appreciation for the central role the contact center plays in customer service, whether that entails order processing, payment processing, market research or addressing customer concerns. Given how contact center agents are on the front line of customer communication, CEOs now acknowledge, maybe this isn’t the best place to cut corners.
But the real issue may be the escalating numbers of complaints from callers, who are tired of speaking to agents that are poorly trained and difficult to understand. Not only are outsourced personnel not trained as thoroughly, they are thousands of miles away from management personnel, who are thus unable to monitor and interact directly with these employees.
Not Just Jobs: Good Jobs
Since businesses originally outsourced to save money, it’s encouraging to see that as these contact center agent jobs come back to the U.S., they are doing so in most cases with a salary that will attract intelligent, capable employees.
S&P Data LLC, which provides contact center solutions to Fortune 500 companies in the United States and Canada, has announced plans to bring 425 new contact service representative jobs to Rio Rancho, NM, with annual salaries averaging $38,000 plus benefits.
This is reflective of one way that call centers have changed since the outsourcing boom – with basic company information accessible through social media and order processing available online, the responsibilities of the contact center agent has changed.
“The types of calls that are coming through to our agents today, regardless of the client, are more complex, and it’s requiring that higher caliber associate,” said
Richardo Layun, director of operations at the Melbourne eBay Enterprise center.
One Success Story: Colorado
Colorado has been in the national news often of late, mostly for its legalization of marijuana and that decision’s impact on the state’s culture and economy. But in La Junta, a city in the southeast part of the state, a less controversial means of economic recovery is underway.
The city converted an old Air Force training facility into a 1,500-acre industrial part that is already home to two call centers: the first employs 180 agents in a 10,200 square foot building. Nearby a 300-seat center is housed inside a 33,750 square foot brick building with ample space for additional departments and meeting facilities. Amenities for both include a restaurant, day care facility and golf course all located within the park itself.
The influx of new business is the result of a community effort that also includes The Colorado Workforce Center, which provides recruitment and training programs, and the local junior college, which offers preparatory classes in computers, software and technology training. The La Junta City Council has shown its support for new business by approving a relocation incentive that allows contact centers to operate for five years rent-free.
Things Have Changed Since We’ve Been Away
That may be the reaction of agents and managers when they realize how the contact center industry has evolved in the years when companies were shifting positions overseas. The technology and use of spreadsheets that was sufficient to stay competitive in the industry has been surpassed by more sophisticated solutions. For these new contact centers, it is important to equip agents with the tools they need to prosper.
That starts with an automated workforce management (WFM) solution, which delivers a means to improve the productivity and cost-efficiency of the contact center by making so many vital tasks easier. These includes running simulations for more accurate forecasting, and scheduling that incorporates all call types and other activities. Exception planning, performance analysis, intra-day management, and other practices are streamlined through the real-time data generated by today’s WFM systems.
An investment in such technology might have been counterproductive, as companies would be reluctant to add a $100,000 equipment investment on top of other development and personnel costs. Even if you are relocating to rent-free La Junta, that’s a lot of money. But with a cloud WFM system, a unified solution can be implemented quickly without a large upfront cost. Instead, users pay only a low monthly subscription fee.
In addition to cost savings, a cloud platform also provides maximum flexibility and scalability, and is more easily deployed even across multiple locations. Since all data is stored “in the cloud,” it can be retrieved at any call center workstation. If you are interested in this topic, please also read the article "5 Reasons Why Contact Center Jobs are Coming Home" that was published by Contact Professional.
While customers now have other options when it comes to interacting with a company, such as email and online chats, surveys show that the majority still picks up the phone when they want to ask a question or place an order.
To take better care of these customers, companies that outsource their contact centers are now shifting their focus to centers within the U.S., which can provide a higher quality of care. But that investment can quickly escalate if a large technology investment is required.
Cloud computing can reduce these costs. In this model, contact centers pay only for the time and capacity that they need.
The annual Call Center Week Conference and Expo is one of the largest industry events of the year. Monet Software is proud to take part in the 2015 conference, which will be held at The Mirage in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 15-19.
Please visit our booth (#609), where we look forward to meeting with customers and contact centers managers, and to exploring new trends in the industry.
This year, the focus is on customer-centric service. Sessions and topics on the agenda include: “Value in the Voice of the Customer,” “Why the Customer Experience Matters and What you Can Do About It,” and “Customer Experience Journey Mapping in a Digital World.”
But as always, there will be speeches from industry experts on a multitude of other subjects, from how to ignite employee engagement to advanced strategies in chat support and call center cloud strategies.
If you have not registered yet, or would like more information about the 16th annual Call Center Week Conference and Expo, visit their website at http://www.callcenterweek.com/.
In previous blogs we’ve discussed the contributions call recording can make to contact center efficiency and agent training, among many other benefits.
But there is another facet to this technology, as observed in this recent Orecx blog – the impact it has on sales intelligence.
While there are numerous strategies for acquiring sales intelligence data, from professional consulting firms to enterprise systems that crunch numbers and deliver insight into markets and upsell opportunities, many of these methods require a significant investment.
But if the contact center has call recording, especially if it is part of a workforce management solution, the company already has a means to engage with customers and collect valuable intelligence and get answers to such questions as:
• How is my company perceived vs. my competitors’?
During a call a customer may reference how another company has more product choices, or a lower price, or other special offers. Or, the caller may mention how he or she had tried the other company first, but was not impressed.
• Where do my customers live?
Find out where people are more receptive to the company’s products and services, then target these areas for additional lead generation.
• Is our marketing misleading?
What happens when customers think a company is offering a free product, only to discover later that a $100 purchase is first required? Usually, it leads to a lot of cancellations and complaints. Call recording can reveal whether a marketing message is effective, or is having the opposite of the desired effect.
Recording calls is important, but it’s only the first step. Additional benefits from this technology can be derived from the efforts made to review and analyze recorded calls for information that can benefit customers, agents and company sales and marketing plans.
Call scoring provides a systematic means to conduct these reviews, so they can be optimally used to improve quality management, agent performance and training.