Workforce Management

Tips for more effective call center forecasting, scheduling and agent adherence

Workforce Management Hints, Tips & Best Practices

Five Signs Your Agents Don’t Care – and What to Do Next

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Agents have good days and bad days just like the rest of us. But when the bad days become prevalent, action should be taken. An agent that has lost interest is one that may be costing you customers with every call. 

Recognize the warning signs of impending agent apathy – then decide if this is an employee that can be re-inspired, or should be let go. 

1. Showing up Late

With a workforce management solution it’s easy to identify agents who start their shifts late, and add a few extra minutes to their lunch and other breaks. The more difficult assessment is identifying those agents who don’t maintain focus even when they are at their desks. Call recording will be useful here. Once the problem is known, it may call for more than just coaching – usually these agents know what to do, they just don’t care enough to do it. Is there an underlying issue, such as trouble at home? Having someone to talk to might be the first step to reinvigorating performance. 


2. Excessive Sick Leave

This can be tricky, but when the days missed become excessive the situation must be confronted. A meeting here can be used to remind the agent of how valuable he or she is to the company, as well as how absenteeism has a negative impact on the business and on other agents. 


3. Finding Reasons Not to Take Calls

There are more ways to avoid picking up the phone than you might imagine – and some agents know them all. “Oh, it’s the last call of the day and I’ve already put my stuff away”; “I’ve had an IT issue accessing our service department all day – might as well wait until that’s fixed in case this customer needs that information,” etc. Gently call out such behavior as you find it, or hold a team meeting expressing concern about this issue without naming names. The guilty parties will know who they are. 


4. Transferring Too Many Calls

Patience is a virtue in call center work, but some customers exhaust that patience more quickly than others. Agents who lack the initiative to tackle these issues will pass such calls on to a supervisor. When this happens too often, the supervisor should have a chat with that agent to find out why. Once again, just identifying the problem may be enough to resolve it. 


5. Lowering Team Morale

That old saying about one bad apple spoiling a whole bunch is, unfortunately, true. If one agent becomes lax in his or her efforts, other team members will pick up on this behavior. And if they don’t see that agent disciplined, they’ll stay at it. No resting on this one – private direct confrontation is required, followed by a general “It has come to our attention…” announcement. After that, it’s time to employ another old saying – shape up or ship out. 


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Multi-Channel Forecasting: Dedicated Agent Pools vs. The Universal Queue

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We live in an era of specialization. 

Look up any listing of doctors in your city and try to find one general practitioner. They used to be commonplace, but today it’s the rare physician that does not graduate medical school with one specific field of interest, whether it’s pediatrics or cardiology or sports medicine. 

The contact center has also witnessed the encroachment of specialization; in the way certain calls are routed to certain agents, and in multi-channel centers where customers also communicate via email and online chat. 

But is specialization really the best option? Or is there still a place in our industry for a good general practitioner agent? 

Dedicated Agent Pools

Multi-channel forecasting typically begins with a specification of service goals based on the types of channels the call center must handle, followed by agent skill assessment within each of these channels. 

Once these standards are set, forecasting will require accurate calculation of the Average Handle Time (AHT) for each contact channel. This is easier to do with calls than with emails, but a workforce management system can make volume forecasting easier. With this information, the contact center manager has two options to choose from – dedicated agent pools or the universal queue.

In the first scenario, once an agent’s skill sets are determined, he or she is assigned to a dedicated group that focuses solely or primarily on their best channel, whether that is inbound calls, emails or web chat. 

Such specialization also exists within call centers that only handle incoming telephone calls, as agents are assigned to specific areas such as handling complaints, closing sales on high-ticket items, and solving the problems no one else can solve. Over time, through the use of call monitoring and call recording software, managers discover these special talents within certain agents, and funnel calls to them where their skills can be deployed. 

The Universal Queue

With this simpler method, all contacts are routed to agents based on order and availability – first come, first serve. In a call center, that means the same agent should be able to handle a billing question and a technical support question, without having to transfer the call (or put the customer on hold while they find someone who knows the answer). 

In a multi-channel contact center, universal queue agents might first respond to an email, then resolve a customer’s issue via web chat, and then take a phone call.

The advantage to this method is how it facilitates cross-training and forces agents to become adept at handling the various methods of customer communication in a shorter time span. Cost is another advantage. If agents can support multiple channels, less staff will be required. 

Not every agent will have the skill set to become a “universal” agent. In addition to product, service and support knowledge, these agents must be talented, motivated and able to command a wide range of technologies. 

As a result, contact centers that opt for the universal queue approach will inevitably devote more time and effort to coaching and training on multiple customer touch points. Some people have a natural inclination to communicate verbally, and may need more help with the written word. Others will arrive with an inverse set of abilities. Thus, managers need to determine if the additional time and capital investment in agent evaluation and preparation will be more than offset by the advantages that universal agents provide. 

The Role of Technology

Whether a contact center opts for dedicated agent pools or a universal queue, it is also necessary to have the right technology platform in place, and agents fully trained on the platform. For agent pools, that means routing various methods of customer contact to the right agent. For the universal queue, it means integrating data from all communication modes, and scheduling agents to maximize productivity. 

Conclusion

In a corporate era where specialization is the goal, some contact centers are re-discovering the benefits of universal agents. Team members who can perform multiple tasks and communicate through different channels provide a valuable resource. It requires additional time and investment to train these agents, but ultimately their knowledge and efficiency add value to the contact center. Universal agents drive customer loyalty through the quality service they provide, while lowering costs to the company. 



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Turning Contact Centers into 'Insight Centers'

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When companies seek to gather more information about what their customers like and don’t like about products and services, they often turn to the contact center. This is the front line of customer communication, where calls deliver feedback that becomes data than can be analyzed to improve performance. 

What does it take for a contact center to become an ‘insight’ center? 

Start with the right agents and managers, working with the right technology, within a system that incorporates analytics, performance management and coaching. When the system works right, it identifies issues quickly so they can be solved, limiting any damage. 

One large communications company with 45 call centers discovered that average handle time was four times longer at one center. The issue – agents having trouble answering questions about a new device – was discovered within a few hours. Without the actionable insight provided by the company’s workforce management technology, it might have taken days –  or even weeks. 

Boosting Insight with Speech Analytics

Since 2/3 of customer interactions still take place over the telephone, speech analytics has become a more prominent source for customer insight. Contact centers are incorporating this capability into WFM solutions, as well as using the identification of repeated words and phrases to identify emerging trends. 

How? One payment processing company used speech analytics to discover that a growing number of customers were on the verge of finding another company for the service its provides. It then began flagging those calls and scheduling immediate follow-up contacts to keep those at-risk accounts. Result? Almost 600 accounts saved, worth more than $1.5 million. 

When a contact center is able to identify customers that are thinking of leaving before they actually do so, that is what being an ‘insight’ center means. Sometimes it might be as simple as tagging calls where the word ‘cancel’ is used; other times the indications are subtler. But when qualified agents have the tools they need, and managers can access vital data and analytics, the transition to insight center becomes less challenging. 



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What’s Next for Workforce Management?

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More effective. More comprehensive. More centralized. More accurate. These are just some of the predictions of how workforce management (WFM) software will change over the next few years. 

It takes forward-thinking companies to stay on the cutting edge of future developments and changes in the demands of the marketplace. Monet is now designing the next generation of WFM, and we’ll have more to say about that in the months to come. 

In the meantime, this is what you can reasonably expect from workforce management within the next few years – and beyond. 

Precision Forecasting

As contact centers become more multi-channel and multi-skilled, forecasting will have to keep pace. Programs and computer simulation modeling will make it possible to predict multiple tasks and media within one interaction.  

One Stop Solutions

As systems become more integrated and centralized, metrics will be available to link front office and back-office functionality, and provide a wealth of data drawn from every aspect of the contact center and the company at large. 

Happier Agents

Tomorrow’s WFM solutions will help agents use their time more efficiently (example: automatically finding slow periods and scheduling coaching sessions during these lulls), while also providing even more tools to enhance the customer service they provide. In addition, as WFM gains the ability to automatically identify which agents are best suited for which platforms (phone, chat, email, etc.), they can be scheduled accordingly. That results in more confident, satisfied agents and happier customers as well. 

Happier Managers

The boring stuff managers have to do every day? With WFM assuming those tasks, managers can focus more on other aspects of business improvement and customer service. And with the cloud, agents can log into a contact center from anywhere in the world, and contact centers have access to a remote workforce that can step in on short notice if the unexpected occurs.


Speech Analytics

It’s already here but it’s going to become more prominent. As automated speech analytics tools become mainstream, WFM will generate additional data from customer interactions that will allow for the resolution of issues as they arise. It will also help agents know the right words and phrases to use not only for compliance issues but to communicate clearly with customers. 


Better Coaching/Training

Automated training processes will recognize when agents are doing well and require less attention, so more focus can be put on agents that under-perform. E-learning, especially as incorporated into other training sessions, will make it possible for agents to get better at their jobs at times when they are not busy doing them. 

Access via Cloud

As it becomes imperative for WFM to be accessible from multiple places and devices, the cloud makes that flexibility possible. 

Sound promising? If so, here is some good news – many of these applications and capabilities are already incorporated into Monet’s WFM Live. If this technology is in your contact center, you already have the solutions that are on the wish lists of other companies. 

Now let’s see what some technology experts believe may be coming to call centers in 5-10 years. 

Taking the Lead

We’re not at the artificial intelligence level yet, but workforce management will certainly become more perceptive, more automated, and more functional. Today’s intra-day tracking and reporting will give way to WFM identifying places were changes can be made to schedules and queues to deal with discrepancies, without any manager or agent having to do anything. 


Better Front and Back Office Communication

The same WFM used in contact centers will make its way into back office processes. Now the needs of the customers will be known to every aspect of the business, and in some cases WFM will pre-empt their needs and have automated reactions ready for different situations. 


The End of Offices?

While technology now makes work from anywhere possible, some believe the need for physical workplaces will continue to decline, as it will be more preferable for many employees. For this to happen, WFM will need to run smoothly on any computer and mobile device. The system will also have to provide the knowledge and guidance for agents working remotely to navigate complex issues, and have the functionality to meet the needs of virtual individuals and teams. 


I’ll Work When I Feel Like It

For those old-school managers who may think working from home is acceding too much to agent preference, just wait – the future is ready to further raise your blood pressure. Some expect that agent preference will one day be the first consideration when it comes to scheduling. Employees will be allowed to set their own working hours, requiring WFM to be more flexible to work out the forecasting and scheduling details. 


The Internet of Things

In the future, the person who bought a TV might not be the one calling to report a problem – the television itself may send the message through Internet-enabled technology. 


Ditching the Desktop

Today WFM makes it possible to work via mobile device when one is not at the computer. Will people still want to work through a desktop machine 10 years from now? Or will the smartphone that so many of us already stare at for hours also become our primary work device? 


New Monet Platform: Coming Soon

While many of these developments may be years away, Monet is already working hard on the new version of its award-winning platform. 

We have special plans for this next-generation solution, which will include a tightly integrated range of both new and improved features. These innovations will impact workforce management, quality assurance, performance management, speech analytics and desktop analytics. 

We are also adding expanded usability, enhanced flexibility, increased compliance with industry-specific regulations, and greater scalability to adapt and adjust to the daily realities of contact centers regardless of size and number of agents. 

Check back for more updates as they are announced. We look forward to bringing you the details both on our website and our Facebook, Linkedin or twitter


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How will the Internet of Things Change the Contact Center?

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How will IoT impact the contact center? Theories already abound: here are just some of the predictions. 

The role of the agent: IoT provides more proactive outbound communication with connected devices, which can self-correct issues that previously might have generated a phone call. Agents may thus become more specialized to handle specific issues that fall outside the technology’s capabilities. 

More extended service contracts: Manufacturers will likely offer IoT as a service upgrade, and agents will manage these tiered service offerings.

Proactive solutions: If the machines are talking to each other, the contact center agent’s computer will be in on these communications, so the agent will know about the issue before the customer calls – he might even be able to implement a solution in advance.  

“There’s a call from Jane’s blender on line 2…” Contact centers are accustomed to communication via smartphones and tablets; with IoT, other electronic devices may also have a ‘contact’ button from which customers can reach out to contact centers – or allow the device to automatically send a message that describes the problem. 

Better customer experience: gathering data from new devices will deliver more insight into how they are used, which could inspire changes that have a positive impact on the customer experience. Plus, if the agent already knows the specifics of the problem, it will shorten call times.

Not everything will change. Widespread adoption of devices with this technology is likely many years away, and even after it happens millions of consumers will opt for less sophisticated (and likely less costly) traditional appliances and electronics. Whatever the future brings there will always be a need for the same contact center services being provided now.  



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Contact Center Leadership: Four Tips for Success

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What qualities do you find in a successful contact center manager? If success is judged by how well  agents perform at a call center under the manager’s leadership, then it’s important to identify the most effective ways to motivate and lead a team of individuals with different priorities and personalities. 

Here are four tips that will generate positive results. 

1. Join the Team

There is an unavoidable separation between labor and management. But when managers conduct themselves as part of a team whenever possible, it often inspires better agent performance. 

2. Lead by Example

“Do what I say, not what I do” is a recipe for a hostile work environment. The best managers follow the same rules as their employees, leading by example and demonstrating confidence in the policies that have been put in place. 

3. Recognize Achievement

While the team concept is important, recognizing individual accomplishments is also imperative, and can have a positive effect not only on the person being recognized but his or her coworkers as well. Knowing that hard work is appreciated is one of the best morale-boosters that a manager can provide. 

4. Listen

Agents are on the front lines of customer service, and they will have ideas on how methods or scripts can be altered to better serve customers. Listen to those ideas and reward those that are implemented. The more an agent feels like he or she is part of the company, the more likely they are to stick around.



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Can Your Contact Center Follow the Zappos Model?

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Contact centers must contend with the challenges of creating a positive business environment, motivating and retaining outstanding agents, and developing a service-based culture that makes both agents and customers happy. 

The ecommerce shoe retailer Zappos is often cited as a model for similar businesses to follow. They pay their agents a competitive wage, but it’s not just about salary – it’s about employee engagement, and building a management model that values communication, team-building, and motivation that also doesn’t forget to have fun.

For traditional contact centers this would be a major adjustment. However, since a 2012 report called “Millennials in the Workplace” found that success is not tied to money among this generation, but to being “happy with work,” it is something worth considering. 

The Zappos mission is to “provide fun and engaging opportunities for employees that speak to their individual passions.” And it doesn’t take a genius in human resources to understand that when workers are engaged productivity increases, attrition is reduced, and job openings attract a higher caliber of candidate. 

But this doesn’t mean you need to turn your workspace into a playground or video arcade. At its heart, the Zappos approach simply means making sure agents feel valued every day, not just during training sessions and annual reviews. The responsibility for this will fall on managers, who will need to make certain agents buy into the company’s values. When that mindset has taken hold, the manager should then feel confident enough to allow agents to utilize their talents on behalf of the contact center’s customers. 

This approach should also extend to holidays and peak periods when temporary agents may be added to handle to increased workload. By making these workers feel valued and appreciated as well, you’ll not only boost the chance of customers receiving quality service, you’ll acquire a list of agents-in-waiting who can step in when others leave. 



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Workforce Management: Guiding Principles and Best Practices

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Every week, new contact center managers and agents discover this blog for the first time. We think that’s a good reason to occasionally go back to the basics, and explore the ways in which a quality workforce management solution (like Monet WFM Live) should be utilized. This is technology that can really make a difference in how you serve your customers. 


Follow these guidelines to make the most of a WFM solution:


Given the attrition rates at contact centers, require ongoing WFM training to avoid knowledge erosion

Refine your data gathering processes regularly to make sure the numbers are accurate

Monitor shrinkage and balance it correctly into forecasts

Set realistic adherence targets, and apply real-time calculations to achieving them

Make sure intra-day forecasting is consistent

Let the system manage holiday and shift swaps, so managers can focus on other tasks

Daily forecasts will usually be top priority, but do not ignore midrange and long-term calculations that can be important to future planning. 

Invite agents to input schedule and vacation requests directly into the system


While Workforce Management can make a difference simply through the data it delivers and processes it expedites, it’s a tool that will ultimately be successful depending on the environment in which it is used. 


Thus, managers are also urged to always treat agents fairly. For example, do not give preferential treatment on first choice of shifts, unless this perk is offered as a bonus for outstanding performance. Make sure contact center policies on this and other rules are clearly communicated so agents know what to expect. 


When you know what to look for, when you have the information you need, when you need it, and when you can act upon it quickly, that’s workforce management made easy. 


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Call Center Week 2015: Contact Center Trends to Watch

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Among the many interesting experiences we had at Call Center Week was discussing the topics that were foremost on the minds of attendees. During the course of the week we spoke with hundreds of contact center professionals, and these were the subjects that seemed to pop up most frequently. 

Agent Experience

As one of the keys to improving the customer experience is improving the agent experience, there was much talk about how to support agents in the difficult job they have to do. The most oft-proposed solution was giving them the technology they need to prosper. 

Multi-Channel Customer Service

The Internet has acclimated customers to getting the information they want when they want it, whether that’s a Sunday afternoon or at 2 in the morning. They also prefer other options besides picking up the phone (though that one remains the most popular and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future). Companies that do not yet provide multi-channel (and mobile friendly) support are falling behind the curve. 

The Customization of Cloud-Based Technologies

So if agent experience and multi-channel support are important, what is the best way to meet these challenges? Much of the talk at Call Center Week focused on how the industry is migrating toward cloud-based technologies, and how they provide more customization and more scalability at a lower cost than traditional solutions. Contact centers are recognizing that one-size-fits-all products are often insufficient, especially in an era when it’s easy to find technology to match their specific needs.

As a pioneer of cloud-based contact center technology, Monet was busy all week answering questions and providing demos of our products. If your call center is considering stepping up to the cloud, we look forward to showing you the time-saving, cost-saving differences that these solutions can make in your business. 



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Why Contact Centers Aren't Going Anywhere

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Three years ago, the CEO of a company that manufactures customer self-serve solutions predicted (perhaps rather self-servingly) that the call center’s days were numbered. He believed the smartphone would become the contact center of the future, and expected this major shift in communication to take place by the end of 2012. 

Yet here we are in 2015, and contact centers are not only still here, they are expanding. Here are two reasons why they won’t be replaced by smartphone service apps anytime soon.

1. Everyone Has a Phone

While other communication channels are now available, they have not diminished the convenience of the telephone. Service apps for smartphones are already in use (and at some companies in development) but not everyone has them yet and there’s a good bet that many of your older customers will never see a need to change. If customers want to speak to someone at your company, the first option is still dialing a phone number. 

2. As Phones Get Smarter, So Do Contact Centers

The CEO’s assertion that a smartphone would supplant call centers did not account for the ways in which call centers evolved into contact centers. It also didn’t factor in the lower costs and technological advancement at these contact centers made possible by the cloud. The lower cost inherent in the cloud delivery system has made these businesses more efficient. Sophisticated forecasting and scheduling solutions such as Monet WFM Live boosts productivity and assures businesses of having the number of agents they need to meet customer demand – not too many, not too few. Speech analytics delivers valuable insights into each customer that could not be gathered through many apps. 

It’s great that customers have more choices today. But when one is faced with a problem – say, a blu-ray player that won’t work – a phone call still sounds easier than finding, downloading and installing the manufacturer’s app, and then following an on-screen troubleshooting guide. 

Even when we reach the day where everyone has a smartphone, most consumers will still prefer using that phone to call customer support. 


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Attracting Quality Agents in Competitive Communities

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If your contact center is located in an area where the next nearest contact center is 50 miles or more away, consider yourself lucky. Chances are you are getting first pick at the local workforce and can be more selective about which candidates to hire to serve your customers. 

However, if your call center is In Tampa, Florida, Phoenix, Arizona, Greensboro, North Carolina, Las Vegas, Nevada or one of the other cities where the saturation rate for this type of business is high, the search for qualified labor can be more daunting. Here, the agent is picking you as much as you are selecting the agent, and you may find yourself in a constant competition to recruit and retain the best candidates. 

Each high-saturation market presents its own unique challenges. Las Vegas, for instance, still has a particularly large transient population. For contact centers, that might raise a red flag on candidates that have only lived in the city for less than one year. It can be frustrating to devote the time and effort necessary to develop and train a new agent, only to have that agent move out of state a few months later. 

However, regardless of the market there are a few initiatives that can be taken to improve the likelihood of attracting talented agents in competitive environments. 

A Desirable Place to Work

While specific policies and procedures may vary, the basic function of a contact center agent will be much the same wherever that agent works. So anything that can be done to improve the workplace look, its hospitality and its overall “vibe” might become a deciding factor in where that agent chooses to work. 

For some businesses this could be as simple as a bright, welcoming atmosphere. Or it may be the offering of extra conveniences and perks, such as a child-friendly or pet-friendly workplace. 

Salary/Benefits

This is obvious. A competitive wage package is essential in cities where similar opportunities are plentiful. 

Word of Mouth

Sometimes the best recruitment tools a contact center has are the agents that already work there. Make them a part of your recruitment process. 

Veteran agents in particular will appreciate being able to ask the types of questions that only another agent can answer. They’ll want to know whether agent input is valued, or if an assembly line attitude pervades. Has a script or policy ever changed because of an agent’s suggestion? Are outstanding performances rewarded? Does the occasional mishandled call prompt an angry outburst, or a coaching moment? 

Opportunity for Advancement

Some people seek a job. Others seek a career. Those that fall in the latter category are typically more serious about their work and are looking for a business that provides an opportunity for growth and advancement. Is it possible at your contact center for an agent to progress from agent to coach to operations manager to site director? This comprises not just the possibility of such advancement, but also the creation of training programs and initiatives that encourage such transitions. 

Remote Agents

Since contact centers are among the workplaces that now allow employees to work from home, it may not even be necessary to recruit exclusively from the local community.  Call recording and workforce management (WFM) software provides agents with the same technological capabilities they would have at an office. This is particularly true when hosted call recording and WFM are accessed through cloud computing. 

But is it a good idea to allow agents to work remotely? Often, the comforts of home can make an agent more content in his or her work, and more motivated to maintain their employment by working hard and meeting the company’s needs. And depending on the home environment, there may be fewer distractions there than there would be at a busy contact center. 

Agents who work from home avoid the two-way commute every day, which saves money on gas. Parents can also save on daycare for their children and the need to maintain a ‘professional’ wardrobe for the office. The arrangement is more economical for the company as well, as it does not have to provide a workstation on its premises. 

In addition, an agent may feel more confident in knowing that he or she is trusted enough to work from home without a manager looking over their shoulder throughout the day. 

That said, not every agent will prosper in a telecommuting position. It takes self-motivation to work from home, and employees who lack this discipline may be distracted in a home environment, and their job performance will suffer. 

Agents may also miss out on the motivation that comes from the fervent pace in a competitive contact center, where agents and teams strive for more first call resolutions and shorter call times in friendly competition. While it’s certainly possible to compare notes via email, it’s not the same as when agents are working side by side. Work-from-home agents also miss out on some of the camaraderie and support they receive from fellow employees and managers. 

Conclusion

Any city that is home to a significant number of contact centers may be challenged by employee attrition rates and an escalation of wages – another $1 an hour somewhere else is reason enough for some agents to move on. But there are measures that can be taken to reduce attrition while attracting the agents with the greatest potential for future success. 



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Why Your Best Contact Center Agents Leave – and How You Can Keep Them

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Some resignations are easier to accept than others. When it’s the agent who always takes the last donut just before you can get to the refrigerator, you can live with that. When it’s one of your top-performing veteran agents, it’s a much bigger cause for concern. 

Unfortunately, sometimes it seems like the under-performers are always there, while the superstars are always looking for a way out. If you’re faced with that type of situation, here are two reasons for why it may be happening, and how you may be able to keep your most valued employees. 

1. Good Agents Have Other Options

The agent that can turn angry callers into satisfied ones and upsell a $10 order into a $50 purchase can get a job at almost any contact center – including those that pay more than you do. If you want to keep them, make sure they know their achievements have been noticed, and reward them accordingly. Better still, put them on a management track if they have the qualifications, and give them more responsibilities (with commensurate compensation). You can start by having them train new agents on the techniques that have made them successful.

2. Burnout

Talking to different customers with different problems for hours on end is a tough job. You can’t change the callers, but you can perhaps change the contact center environment to one that is more supportive, where you build stronger relationships between managers and agents, and do what is necessary to keep agents happy in an often challenging occupation. Listen to them, even if they just need to vent for five minutes. 

An added benefit to these measures is how it tends to attract even more quality agents, who will take note of the positive workplace vibe from their first visit, and perhaps even hear from your current agents about your center being a great place to work.  But if it isn’t, they’ll probably hear that, too. 



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Viva Las Vegas: Wrapping Up Call Center Week

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We can’t speak for all of the 2,500 attendees at Call Center Week, but the Monet team had a terrific time. 

Throughout the five-day event, the Monet Software booth was among the busiest on the Mirage Resort convention floor. Yes, the popcorn we were serving was an effective enticement, but even those who weren’t in the mood for a snack stuck around to chat about the challenges at their contact centers, and to get acquainted with the workforce managementworkforce optimizationquality monitoring and speech analytics solutions available from Monet Software.

We spoke to reps from about 100 companies and provided a number of demos – if you were one of those we met, we thank you again for your interest, and have likely already followed up to find out more about your business and technology needs. 

Temperatures in Vegas topped 105º most of the week, but inside the Call Center Week attendees kept cool by checking out a wide range of seminars, speeches and products on display. 

We had an amazing time. It was a great conference and we really enjoyed meeting so many contact center professionals – both current customers who told us how Monet has helped their businesses, and new customers as well. We are already looking forward to next year.



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Are Contact Center Agents Buried Under Information?

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How efficiently does information flow through your contact center? 

If you have Monet WFM, the answer should be a positive one. But if your technology is not serving your agents, or if your agents are not as up to speed as the software systems they use, the results will be detrimental to customer service. 

Every time a procedural change is made, or a product is added, or a new promotion is taking place, it adds a document to the system that agents must be able to retrieve quickly. Eventually the locations of this data will be committed to memory, but in the meantime customers are either forced to wait or (even worse) are put on hold. 

If the number of additions continues to increase, even the best agents may find they are buried under reams of virtual paperwork found on various help systems and related sites. That cuts into average handle time and results in impatient customers. 

What is the solution? A review of the various touch points of information flow may reveal opportunities to expedite retrieval and eliminate frustrating logjams. There may be a more logical way to organize information so it can be found more rapidly. 

Any possibility of shaving a few seconds off a single call is one that cannot be overlooked. 


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Boost efficiency of staffing and scheduling: a case study

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“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.


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Hiring Veterans as Call Center Agents

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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. 



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Balancing Technology and Human Resources

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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. 



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Workforce Management and Memorial Day

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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. 



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5 Workforce Management Trends in 2015

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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. 


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Buying a WFM Solution: Questions to Ask, Features to Expect

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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. 

  • Skill-Based Routing

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? 

  • 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
Once these features have been established, there are other questions that should be asked as well: 

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. 

Conclusion

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. 



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Forecasting and Scheduling Home-Based Agents

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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.  


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The Biggest Challenge Contact Centers Face

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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.



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What Skills Get Contact Center Agents Hired?

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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. 



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Cyber Attacks and Contact Centers: Are you Prepared?

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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.

Communicate

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.

Respond

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?”). 

Explain

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. 

Apologize

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. 

Conclusion

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



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Contact Centers and Tax Paying Season

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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. 



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