Call Center Workforce Management Blog
“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.
It’s a truism in business whether you work at a contact center or an auto repair shop: keeping the customers you already have is a high priority, because it costs less money than attracting new customers.
How do you do it? Simple – don’t give these customers a reason to leave.
Here are four steps that will help build customer loyalty.
1. Quality Assurance
Building a culture of dedicated customer service begins with an effective quality management and quality assurance program.
Quality assurance introduces a grading component into the call monitoring process. Recorded calls are randomly selected and measured against the guidelines and procedures at the contact center.
Many of these are defined as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), such as how quickly the caller can reach a call center, how quickly they can reach an agent, how quickly their issue can be resolved and the call closed, and how long they wait on hold during a call.
Additional quality issues include agent courtesy, empathy with a dissatisfied customer, and the ability to follow procedures. While these will be more subjective than numbers-based KPIs, they are just as important to a successful operation.
You don’t hear the word “etiquette” very often these days, and that may be why so many customers express frustration with some companies that treat them more like numbers than people. Your agent training should involve adherence to company procedures and working with the technology in place at the contact center, but it should also include a refresher course in courtesy and manners. That means speaking to customers with a calm and courteous tone, and thanking them for their business.
The job of an agent is not to listen to a customer until he or she hears a key word (order, return, complaint) that triggers a pre-scripted response. It is to actively listen to what is being said, and respond within the framework of call center policy, but in a way that acknowledges each customer individually by giving them the respect of the agent’s full attention.
4. Ditch the Script
This can’t be standard operating procedure, but once an agent has proven his or her ability to positively engage with customers, that agent should be trusted with the option of going off-script and handling the situation the best way he or she sees fit. These agents should then document their actions and the results – it might just uncover a new way to solve an issue that can be adopted throughout the contact center.
We won’t bury the lead ¬– the common thread in all of the tips presented below is how much easier they are to achieve with forecasting and scheduling software. An automated workforce management (WFM) solution provides insight into contact center operations and will play an integral role in establishing policies that boost customer service.
1. Setting Specific Goals
“We want to improve customer service and experience.” “We want to improve our training.” Great – now how are you going to do it? The more specific you can get with your objectives, the more likely you will be to accomplish them. When you set more precise goals (“We want to lower our average handle time”), WFM will provide the data that can be used to make it happen.
2. Targeted Training
Once basic training has been completed, agents should be regularly guided toward and tested on their abilities to meet the contact center’s service goals. With the Performance Analysis component of WFM, managers have access to reports, statistics and analysis of all agent activities, including their schedule adherence and key performance indicators (KPIs). That will help to further target training sessions.
3. Set Quarterly Goals
Don’t make a list of goals for 2015 and wait until December to review them. With quarterly targets, you’ll know sooner if your efforts are working, and can make beneficial changes – which is certainly better than going another 6-7 months with a less than optimal system in place. The real-time monitoring and work history data delivered by WFM allows managers to track progress toward quarterly goals.
4. Avoid Agent Burnout
Agents are employees but they are people first, with families and outside interests and holiday plans they would like to keep. Flexible scheduling makes it easier for agents to work shifts that are more convenient, and when they have that option they are likely to be more productive and provide better service. With WFM, shift-bidding and shift-swapping (with a manager’s approval) is streamlined, while holidays and other special events can be factored more efficiently into overall scheduling.
Many companies have discovered the advantages of virtual call centers, such as the cost reductions derived from agents working from home, and a more flexible scalability than what can be imposed at a brick and mortar contact center.
It’s an arrangement that is also preferable for many agents. They eliminate the time and fuel costs associated with driving to and from the contact center, and it allows parents of small children to be closer to their families. There is also something to be said for the trust shown in agents that work remotely, which is appreciated and often inspires greater confidence and performance.
Forecasting, Scheduling and Telecommuting
The evolution of cloud software has accelerated the work-from-home trend, as it provides the same service capabilities to an agent’s home computer as can be accessed at the call center.
No installation is required, data sharing remains secure, and managers enjoy even more flexibility in the forecasting and scheduling process. Forecast simulations can be run in the same way as with an office-based workforce, and scheduling will be easier because of greater agent availability.
Now it’s easier to always meet optimal service levels, as managers can create a pool of back-up telecommuting agents for times of increased call volume, peak calling seasons such as holidays, or for when there are just too many unexpected absences.
Best of all, with an automated, cloud-based workforce management solution, managers receive the same detailed reports and real-time information on employee performance, agent activities, shift assignments, schedule adherence and other data, regardless of whether the agent is working from home or elsewhere.
Managers used to a more traditional contact center environment make require some adjustment, but the benefits of cloud-based WFM, and the positive reception of agents who would prefer to work from home (and now may stay with the company longer) should ease the transition.
Any system that assures service levels are being met while costs are being reduced is certainly worth a try.
What is the biggest challenge faced by every contact center, regardless of size or type?
The answer is one you may already know: It’s the challenge of delivering great customer service at the lowest possible cost. The question that is more difficult to answer is – what is the best way to do it?
It starts with information – having the data your agents need, when they need it.
Specifically, this means real-time insights delivered via dashboards and reports on KPIs, as well as alerts that allow managers to adjust forecasts and schedules as needed when the unexpected occurs. It means running scenarios to prepare for various contingencies, and changing breaks to meet the demands of call volume.
It also means being able to record and score calls so agents receive the coaching and training they need to deliver outstanding customer service.
With the capabilities provide by this data, the contact center manager has the actionable insights necessary to be proactive in decision-making, and that means every shift of every day will be prepared to deliver the kind of customer service that keeps customers loyal and happy. And when the contact center is running at peak efficiency, that reduces costs as well.
Even greater cost savings can be achieved when contact center technology is provided through the cloud as a subscription service, which eliminates the need to invest in additional hardware and software. In this model, call centers pay only for the time and capacity that they need. For a smaller call center, this means the ability to significantly lower upfront costs, while maintaining the option of scaling up as needed.
For many years the skill set expected from a call center agent was fairly narrow and clearly defined. But as call centers have evolved into contact centers, additional skills are now required to meet customer expectations via their preferred method of communication.
Bad news for agents? Not at all. Those will the ability to adapt to different communication channels will be more in demand. Also, those with outstanding written skills, but who are not as comfortable with interaction via telephone, now have an opportunity to work successfully in this environment.
What skills should you be looking for when hiring an agent into a multi-channel contact center environment? Here are 10 of the most prominent:
• Courtesy and professionalism in all communication
• Attendance and punctuality
• Outstanding verbal skills and/or written skills
• The ability to multi-task
• A responsible team player
• The ability to adhere to a strict schedule
• The confidence to work independently and problem-solve without assistance
• The ability to stay calm in a fast-paced work atmosphere
• Familiarity with the technology found in contact centers
• The ability to listen to and respond to coaching
Specific contact centers will have additional expectations, such as the ability to work a non-traditional schedule. Agents that communicate with customers through a video chat will also need to maintain a professional appearance, with appropriate body language.
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.
You may have seen the news earlier this month: AT&T Inc. has agreed to pay a $25 million settlement following the discovery of a data breach at their call centers in Mexico, Colombia and the Philippines. It happened because employees at these call centers accepted illegal payments to share the private information of the company’s customers. About 280,000 people were affected.
This case raises awareness that contact centers play a central part in dealing with customers in case of a cyberattack. They are the first point of human contact. Everyone can remember the large scale attacks that hit Target stores in 2015 or the Sony PlayStation Network in 2011. Millions users were affected, millions of credit card numbers leaked. This is a stressful situation for the customers and it can affect the company’s reputation dramatically.
Just like any other businesses, call centers have to be prepared and proactive to deal with the aftermath of a cyberattack targeting the company.
It becomes essential that shrinkage is taken into account, in order to handle an unexpected spike of calls, agents are trained, available, and scripts with an emergency procedure are ready.
How should you prepare your contact center?
Most companies devote just 2-4% of their IT budget to security and disaster recovery planning. And yet, the actions taken before a cyber attack are as significant, if not more so, than actions taken after the worst has become reality.
Some companies specialize in disaster preparation. They can help implement a strategy to fit a contact center’s needs, likely threats and budget. Many of these companies may begin with a business impact analysis, to assess the potential loss (whether financial, technical or in human resources) from a cyber attack.
It’s also a good idea to put together an issue response team ahead of time, so you will have the right people in place if an attack should occur.
What to Do After?
A cyber attack is not the same as other unforeseen activities that could not be anticipated with forecasting and scheduling. This is a situation where customers are directly and negatively affected by what has occurred, and may even incur financial loss as a result. Some will be angry. Some will be frightened. And most of them will be calling you as soon as the news of the attack is made public.
Because data breaches are now, unfortunately, an ongoing threat in 21st century business, most customers will understand that these incidents are not always avoidable. That means it’s no longer an automatic deal-breaker for that business relationship – but a lot will depend on how the company responds. For the contact center, that means focusing on 4 words: Communicate, Respond, Explain, and Apologize.
Let customers know as soon as possible that an attack has occurred. Don’t wait for them to call you. This will be the first step in rebuilding any trust that has been lost. The faster they are aware of what has happened, the faster they can contact their bank or credit card company and take steps to protect themselves. The companies that lose the most customers from a cyber attack are those that wait weeks (or even months) before going public.
Customers will have questions. Have your best agents in place – those that have shown via quality reviews and coaching that they know how to remain calm when speaking with someone who is upset. Make sure these agents have the answers ready to the questions that are always asked following an attack (“What happened?” “How will this affect me?” “Do I need to call my bank?”).
Cyber attacks are highly technical in execution, but customers will not be interested in explanations that they cannot understand. Agents should be able to explain in plain English what has happened, why it happened, and what steps the company is taking to control the damage, and make sure the customer is inconvenienced as little as possible. Also, tell them what steps are now being taken to make sure their information will be safer in the future.
This is where agent training should begin when preparing for the aftermath of an attack. The apology should happen near the beginning of the call, and again at the end. It will go a long way toward maintaining a customer’s confidence.
Bonus Step: Stay in Touch
Customers will expect a company to be reluctant to talk about a cyber attack, so they will appreciate if the company takes the initiative in keeping customers apprised of what is happening. Whether it’s a phone call from the contact center updating them on the situation, or an apology email from the company CEO, or some other means of following up, it demonstrates ongoing concern for the customer’s welfare and interest in keeping their business.
With cyber attacks in the news almost every week, companies can no longer assume they will be the exception and never have to worry about the fallout from such a damaging incident. However, few companies have devoted sufficient time to advance preparation, and a recent Ponemon study found that companies were also not prepared to communicate with customers following a data breach; in fact, of more than 470 surveyed, just 21% had a trained communications team in place.
For contact centers, where communication is the first and most important skill considered for agent hires, that percentage will not do. This is the moment when agents should be called upon to use their skills to address customer concerns and restore confidence and loyalty.
Ponemon study referenced in article: http://www.corpcounsel.com/id=1202598001685?slreturn=20150320141052
Different call centers have different busy seasons.
For those connected with our annual income tax obligation, this is the month that requires more advance preparation, agent training and full staffing. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance typically handles about 1 million calls every April.
If your contact center is one designed to help businesses and consumers answer IRS or state tax-related questions, how did you do? If your agents now look like they have been through a 15-round fight, and your callers had to wait longer than you would prefer to speak to an agent, it’s never too early to start preparing to do better next year.
That process starts by studying this month’s figures. That will help you better anticipate what traffic will be like in April of 2016, not just in call volume but in how many chose to seek help through other channels (chat, email, etc.). With a sound forecast in place you’ll be better prepared to allocate resources and personnel to the shifts and the areas where they will be needed most.
Do you have a workforce management solution in place that can route a specific type of call to the agent best qualified to take it? Do you have qualified temp agents on stand-by who will be available on the busiest days? If not, start hiring early and have contact information ready for more agents that you expect to need, as some drop-off should always be anticipated.
Keep in mind also that just because you are busier, it’s no reason to pay less attention to quality control. This is actually a critical time to be monitoring calls, emails and chats to compare to the call center’s quality benchmarks. Do not wait until after the season is over to address any issues.
“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.