Workforce Management Hints, Tips & Best Practices
A Deloitte 2015 Global Contact Center Survey reports that the number of customer interactions by telephone continues to decline, as other options become more prevalent.
But while the volume of customer calls may be shrinking, the importance of each of those engagements has been elevated. More people may be reaching out via email or web chat or social media, but if these channels prove insufficient the next step is a phone call - and for the company this may be the final hope for keeping that customer's business.
This happens more than you might think. A recent report showed that more than one-third of customer engagements that started online or through a self-service channel eventually escalated to voice.
This doesn't necessarily mean that the company is doing something wrong - there is real, proven value in
omnichannel. But some issues are just too complex for anything other than direct contact with a real agent or supervisor. This is how customers still expect questions to be answered, and results to be achieved.
Knowing this, what can you do?
First, forget all those predictions about fully automated contact centers. Agents will always be needed to provide service that machines cannot.
Next, understand that a customer that has already failed to get results from another channel may be more frustrated or impatient when he or she calls. Agent training should focus on being calm and courteous when confronted with hostility.
Finally, make sure agents have the technology they need to deliver an efficient and satisfying customer experience, especially if this is the last opportunity to do so.
Read More About Emails and Webchats are Great, But Calls are Still Critical
One need only to look at the attrition rates among call center agents to appreciate the pressures and challenges that come with the job.
Where employee turnover for all industries is approximately 17%, the range for call centers is typically between 30-45%. If you're dealing with those numbers you know how time-consuming and expensive it is to constantly find and train new agents to replace those that leave.
That makes agent retention a priority. What can you do to help these valued employees avoid symptoms of burnout? Try these tips:
Everybody likes to feel appreciated. When agents excel at their work they deserve to be recognized and rewarded. Such rewards can be straight up - a salary bonus - or something customized for each agent - an extra paid day off, movie theater tickets, or dinner at a nice restaurant (one without a drive-thru window).
Scripts are important, but reading the same text hundreds of times a day can certainly contribute to burnout. By allowing agents some flexibility you'll not only make the job less repetitive, you'll be boosting customer service - most callers appreciate an agents who speaks and listens to them over one reading words off a computer screen. Also, when possible, give agents the responsibility of handling some issues without the approval of the supervisor or manager. That will shorten the call length, and make the agent feel more valued as a company team member.
There are ways to make a call center a more enjoyable place to work without sacrificing efficiency or customer service. Ask for feedback on ideas for special themed days, or schedule a reception on the last day of every month with snacks and entertainment.
One of the best ways to avoid agent burnout is to provide your team with the technological tools they need to make their jobs easier. That starts with a
workforce management solution that delivers caller data, easily automates everyday processes, and monitors schedules so agents handle an appropriate amount of calls in each shift.
Read More About Tips for Avoiding Call Center Agent Burnout
When call centers became contact centers, the telephone suddenly became just one of several options available for customers to take care of business.
This evolution has been taking place over the course of more than ten years. Email was added, then web chat, then social media. Video chat has become yet another possibility. And when people are able to communicate through Google Glasses, and other futuristic devices that probably aren't that far away, it will be up to the call center to accommodate these customers as well.
Has your call center embraced multichannel? Great! Now it's time to get ready for the next challenge: omnichannel.
The difference is interactivity. In a multichannel environment every communication option is a separate one, and the objective is to deliver consistent, quality service across the entire spectrum. Omnichannel introduces an additional option, of moving a customer from one channel to another within the same engagement.
Of course, it's important to not just provide the capability of switching from email to phone or from phone to web chat, but to also be able to track quality throughout these interactions through recording and agent performance managements. This is important to make certain you are delivering a consistent customer experience form one channel to another.
There will still be decisions: should the same agent follow the customer from one channel to the next? Or should an agent specializing in phone communication hand off the call to an agent better suited for web chat? Different contact centers employ different degrees of agent specialization, so there is no one-size-fits-all correct answer.
If you are ready for omnichannel, one place to start is with an analysis of your current customer base. Which multichannel options do your customers use most often? What are the most likely transitions from these channels based on the reason for their contact?
Next, make sure you are able to provide the same service with each channel. For instance, a switch from voice to text-based communication should not infringe on upsell opportunities that an agent would have described over the phone. Finally, be certain to evaluate the performance of your agents across all channels - this is made easier with a
workforce optimization solution that delivers call recording and quality management.
Read More About What's the Difference Between Multichannel and Omnichannel?
In the highly competitive
insurance industry, every customer contact counts. That places even greater pressure on insurance call center environments, where agents are expected to deliver exceptional customer service, whether it's claims support, answering policyholder questions, setting appointments for agents or promoting new insurance products.
That challenge - to provide quality service every day at a cost within the budget, is the most significant one we face. So what's the best way to achieve this goal?
Let's start with this: your agents cannot deliver excellent service unless they have the customer information they need, and when they need it. When John Smith calls with a question about his auto insurance policy, the agent should have all the pertinent details on that policy on their computer screen so questions can be answered and changes made if necessary.
But now let's take it one step further, by providing managers with historical data so they can run various scenarios before a shift begins, to prepare for contingencies. As the shift progresses, managers should see real-time insights delivered via dashboards and reports on KPIs, as well as alerts so they can adjust forecasts and schedules when the unexpected occurs.
Information: what you need, when you need it - that is how the determination to provide great customer service must begin.
Unfortunately, you won't get it from spreadsheets. It takes an
automated workforce management solution to provide the actionable insights necessary to be proactive in decision-making, so every shift of every day will be prepared to deliver the kind of customer service that keeps your policyholders loyal and happy. And when the contact center is running at peak efficiency, that reduces costs as well.
Read More About Insurance Contact Centers: Confronting Your Greatest Challenge
Your agents are on the front line of your customer service efforts. When policyholders call with questions or concerns, the agent they reach becomes the voice of your entire company. No pressure there. Obviously it is incumbent on your insurance call center agents to do their jobs well. But that process starts with managers hiring the best candidates for these crucial positions. What skills should you be looking for when hiring an agent? Here are some of the most important: Professionalism
Courtesy always sets the right tone for a customer engagement. And when that customer is stressed or frightened or angry, as is often the case with
insurance issues, it’s up to the agent to maintain a professional tone and stay calm and focused throughout the conversation. Attendance
This doesn’t mean just showing up for work every day, but showing up on time. Customer service suffers when agents show up five minutes late and leave five minutes early. Agents should be willing to adhere to a strict shift schedule.
Intelligent verbal communication is one of the most basic requirements of this job, but as
insurance call centers evolve into contact centers, it is advantageous to hire agents that can also communicate effectively in writing, so they can handle webchat or even social media. Self-Sufficiency
While you want to recruit agents that can be positive team players, it’s also important for agents to feel confident enough to work independently – especially if you hire those that telecommute. When agents can solve customer claim issues without putting customers on hold and having to track down a supervisor, it improves average handle time and makes the customer happy as well.
Monet’s Workforce Management solution can play a key role in helping agents to achieve optimal performance, by giving them the information they need to succeed.
Read More About Insurance Call Center Agents: What Skills are Most Important?
One minute doesn’t seem like a very long time. But try this: get a stopwatch or a watch with a second hand, and time out one full minute while sitting and doing nothing else. It will probably seem much longer than you think.
Now, imagine a hotel customer service or call center travel agent customer waiting on hold that long.
If this is happening often at your hospitality contact center, you might want to consider some changes. According to the advertising analytics company Marchex, 62% of callers will abandon a call if they’re not speaking to an agent after one minute. And no, those “your call is important to us” pre-recorded messages aren’t doing much to change their minds.
Don’t Stop There
Of course, just picking up the phone quickly won’t result in a happy customer. It’s what agents do next that also counts. Reading a scripted greeting that launches the information gathering process is a fairly common practice: “Thank you for calling ABC Industries, where the customer always comes first. My name is Bob, can I have your account number please?”
Nothing really wrong with that, but the Marchex survey also found that something simpler, more personal and more courteous can also be more effective. A greeting as basic as, “Hello, how are you today?” can put a customer at ease, and add a personal touch to a professional call.
The ultimate goal is always more customer satisfaction. If too many minutes are going by without calls being answered, it may be time to look at a workforce management solution that will help you make better forecasting and scheduling decisions, so you’ll always have enough travel agents available to promptly pick up calls.
Read More About Travel Service Centers: What Happens if a Call Isn't Answered in One Minute?
Customer care is a crucial aspect of performance at the contact center, particularly for those affiliated with the automotive industry. This is a process that begins before the first call is picked up every day, with the policies, procedures, and technology in place to meet the goals of the center. Accurate forecasting and scheduling and adherence are important factors, and are easier to achieve with an automated workforce management (WFM) solution.
Here are four tips on establishing policies that boost customer service, and how WFM can help.
1. Setting Specific Goals
“We want to improve customer service.” “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, business development center agents should be regularly guided toward and tested on their abilities to meet service goals. With the Performance Analysis component of WFM, managers have access to reports and analysis of all agent activities, including their schedule adherence and key performance indicators. That will help to further target training sessions.
3. Set Quarterly Goals
Don’t make a list of goals for the year 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.
Read More About Automotive Call Centers – Four Ways WFM Can Improve Performance
For some contact centers, such as those in retail, business slows in the summer months while customers go on vacations or find more enjoyable things to do than shopping.
If you know this slow-down is coming, why not make the most of the opportunities it provides, before back-to-school sales and the holidays return call volumes to higher levels? Now that your hours are a little less busy, this is the ideal time to reassess business practices, experiment with new procedures, and brainstorm ways to improve customer service, so you’ll be ready when business picks up.
Here are some ideas to get started.
Freshen your Stand-By List
Many contact centers hold on to contact information for promising agent applicants, to fill in during peak periods or to consult when current agents leave. Typically you may not review this information until additional personnel are needed. But why not use this time to check in with these agents-in-waiting, to see if they are still available?
Agent training should be an ongoing activity, but when things are busy these sessions tend to get squeezed into shorter windows, and may not be as effective. If the phones are not ringing as often, this is a chance to take a closer look at the data you have on each agent (assuming you have a workforce optimization solution) and provide customized training on specific areas of concern.
Use the summer lull to get to know your team better. Ask them about their families and outside interests. Find out what they like about their job and what is causing them problems. By taking an interest you may build that relationship in a way that keeps that agent around longer. Their feedback may also contain good ideas that can be implemented throughout the contact center.
Spend your summer with these objectives, and you’ll be better prepared for the busier times ahead.
Read More About Taking Advantage of the Summer Slowdown
The capabilities of call recording software have advanced rapidly over the past ten years. Metrics that were once luxuries at finance contact centers are now standard, and call center software is now capable of compiling and analyzing so much information, it is possible to become overwhelmed, or to lose focus.
Certainly all the information collected by such call recording systems is beneficial, but here are seven of the top performance measures that can most directly trigger improved results at banking contact centers, whether directed at management, agents or customers.
1. Schedule Adherence and Efficiency
Do agents scheduled to work specific hours actually do so? If not, are calls being missed or delayed before they are addressed? Corrections of deficiencies here can have an immediate impact on productivity. Once schedule adherence has been clarified, schedule efficiency refers to assigning the right number of agents for each day and each shift, to avoid the problems caused by overstaffing or understaffing.
2. Call Answer Time
What is the average speed of answer (ASA) at the call center? Most centers have a defined wait threshold that should be met consistently.
3. Agent Occupancy
Closely related to schedule efficiency is the time agents spend on the clock but not answering calls. When staffing and scheduling is handled correctly, agents should be busy but not overworked. The goal is to avoid too much idle time, while also having enough available personnel so that each call is answered in an acceptable time frame.
4. First Call Resolution
Customers want to resolve their issues with one call, which makes a call center’s first call resolution rate critical to customer satisfaction. While it will not always be within the agent’s power to resolve all calls the first time, agents who are consistently unable to achieve this objective should be scheduled for additional training.
5. Transfer Rate
Few situations are more frustrating for a customer than explaining an issue to one agent, and then being transferred to a supervisor or other agency personnel, and having to do so a second time. While this may still qualify as a first-call resolution if questions are ultimately answered and the problem is solved, it should still be kept to a minimum whenever possible.
6. Abandon Rate
When a customer hangs up, it will not always be the fault of the call center or the agent. Some people just have shorter fuses than others. However, abandon rates can often be reduced by shorter wait times and courteous agents.
7. Blocked Calls
Blocked calls never even make it to a call center agent, because of insufficient network capabilities. Obviously, the only possible result becomes a frustrated customer. Are some blocked calls inevitable at peak times? Or can these calls be taken with better scheduling, expanded trunks or other corrective measures?
Read More About Banking Call Center Metrics: What is Important?
Customer service at medical contact centers is often determined by forecasting, and forecasting is often determined by data. With a
workforce management (WFM) solution you are on your way to better forecasts. But are you making the most of the information at your disposal? Here is a short three-point checklist that will help. 1. The Holistic Approach
Sometimes in medicine a holistic approach is favored in patient care. The same can be said for a healthier medical contact center. Numbers, whether they are good or bad, do not happen in a vacuum. While it can be helpful to analyze different KPIs individually, it is better to review them in tandem as well, while also taking a closer look at the conditions under which they are generated.
Of course you should review average handle time (AHT) and call volume, but you should also determine how one impacts the other. Is AHT better in the morning than overnight? Is that just a result of less calls coming in? Perhaps, but you may also have fewer agents working in the wee hours as well, so the answer may not be that simple. Maybe your night-shifters are dealing with lonely folks looking for someone to talk to after midnight – or maybe they need a little more training.
2. Timing is Everything
Review monthly and weekly service levels, but understand that within those longer time periods there are a thousand variables that influence how the numbers worked out. To gain more insight, shorten the timespan to as little as 30 minutes – perhaps even 15 minutes for a busy contact center or for peak calling periods. You’ll receive a more accurate view of what you’re doing right and what needs work.
3. Who is Messing With Our Numbers?
Sometimes the reasons your forecasts miss the mark have nothing to do with internal operations. You can adjust your staffing and shift numbers, but in a larger organization you have no control over when marketing announces a 24-hour sale, or how customer-billing cycles (that trigger billing inquiries) are structured.
Improved communication between departments can make it easier for contact center managers to anticipate the effect of such anomalies, and adjust accordingly. The
WFM system will do most of the work for you, as long as you have the data in time to act upon it.
Read More About A Three Point Plan for a Better Healthcare Contact Center Forecast
Sometimes with accurate scheduling it’s not about what you do right, but what you do wrong. Here are six examples where scheduling elements can be overlooked or mishandled, resulting in problems that can impact customer service.
Not Scheduling Breaks
If agents take their breaks when they feel like it, that might result in too many going off to lunch or the break room at the same time, leaving a shift under-manned. Avoid this by scheduling breaks – it may not be popular, but by providing agents some input in when they can take some time off, the transition might be made more easily.
Not Enough Part Time Help
If all of your agents work full time, they will always be there whether they are needed or not. Sometimes you’ll have too many people on the floor – occasionally there may still not be enough. By mixing in some part-time agents you can add more flexibility to your scheduling, and initiate split shifts. This will make it easier to cover peak hours, while not having to pay agents for sitting and waiting for the phone to ring.
Not Accounting for Shrinkage
Almost every public sector call center takes shrinkage into consideration, but the calculations are complicated without an automated workforce management system. With WFM and attendance reports, managers are more likely to get the numbers right.
Not Measuring Efficiency Properly
Schedule efficiency is a measure of how accurately and consistently the planned number of agents on staff matches the required staffing over the evaluation period.
WFM produces a more accurate picture, but make sure to use weighted averages when producing consolidated figures, while not neglecting outside business hours.
Assuming Everyone Wants the Same Shift
There is a tendency to struggle with filling evening and weekend shifts. But with a flexible and part-time work force this should not be an issue. Students may want to work weekends, and agents with outside obligations during the day may prefer an evening shift. Don’t look for a problem where none might exist.
Obviously this is the least excusable mistake, and yet there are still government call centers out there that just hope for the best. And to make it worse, they put off the hiring and training of new agents to replace those lost by attrition, and muddle through with a reduced roster that is even more vulnerable to unexpected schedule changes.
It takes both art and science to staff a public sector call center. Next to hiring the right personnel, scheduling plays the key role in maximizing resources and making sure calls are handled in a courteous and efficient manner. The faster mistakes are corrected, the faster a contact center is delivering the level of service that customers deserve.
Read More About Six Scheduling Mistakes to Avoid at Government Contact Centers
Change is never easy, but it is also unavoidable. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has placed increased demands on insurance providers to offer support, answer questions, and achieve an operational efficiency necessary to handle increased call volume.
One way to be better prepared for the current and future challenges of our industry is by making a switch from software-based technology to the cloud. And yet, many contact centers remain hesitant. Here are some of the most common reasons why, and how we address them with our clients – most of whom ultimately make the cloud transition, and now couldn’t be happier.
1. I’ll lose too much business during the transition!
Actually, you won’t. The cloud solution will be customized, prepared and tested before it is installed, and can run parallel with your hardware solution during the actual conversion, so it can continue to function if an issue arises and your policyholders will never know the difference. Typically, however, the switch to cloud is quick and easy.
2. Is it really better?
Absolutely. It is more flexible, it is more scalable, there are no upfront costs, you pay only for what you need, you’ll receive software upgrades automatically as soon as they come available (without receiving a bill every time that happens) and you’ll have automatic routing capabilities which makes it easier to work with home-based agents and other telecommuting personnel. These are just some of the benefits you’ll enjoy from day one.
3. I’m worried about turning over control of data to a cloud
Maybe they should have found a better word when the technology was introduced, so it doesn’t seem like your data is traveling somewhere so distant. But the reality is you are still in control, just as you were when the hardware was sitting in your contact center. You can make changes as you need them, and with Monet you’ll also have the expertise of our dedicated support team to answer any questions.
4. It costs too much
Not at all. Hosted solutions cost 1/3 less than hardware solutions (and that is a conservative estimate on total savings). In fact, cost is one of the primary reasons why companies make the switch.
5. The cloud is unreliable
Once again, the opposite is true. Cloud solutions are actually more reliable than hardware-based technology because of their built-in fail-safes and redundancies. When all of your equipment is in one place and something goes wrong, you are out of luck. With the decentralized nature of the cloud, even a power outage won’t shut you down.
Read More About What is Stopping Your Insurance Contact Center from Moving to the Cloud?
What’s in a name?
William Shakespeare had some thoughts on that, as do the people who think referring to used cars as “pre-owned” will make them more desirable. At the call center, agents are agents, and most don’t have a problem with that job description. But what if we tried to look upon them as service professionals? It’s not just doublespeak – when you really look at the tasks performed by contact center agents every day, it is obvious businesses are placing a great deal of trust in them, in making sales, in customer care, and in dispute resolution, among other responsibilities. Call centers are now viewed as revenue-generating operations, and while managers provide the tools and the guidance, it’s the agents that are on the front lines of this effort.
There is no such thing as a “typical” agent, just as there is no such thing as a typical contact center. But we would guess that the call centers that are most successful are those that are already treating agents like service professionals, even if they haven’t adopted that term.
That doesn’t mean the new job description has to come with a higher salary and a parking place with the agent’s name on it. This is still (and likely always will be) an entry-level position, but it is one that provides access and insight to many other departments such as marketing, sales, and product development. Agents who are paying attention can, in the course of their daily duties, gather actionable information that can be valuable to the company and their own careers.
That starts with hiring and training. Don’t just look for people with good telephone voices that can read a script. Treat the process as a recruitment of not just today’s agents but also tomorrow’s managers. Let them know there’s a path to advancement available, and provide incentive compensation to identify your best candidates. If you focus on hiring professionals, you’ll stand a better chance of inspiring professional job performance.
Read More About They’re Not Agents – They’re “Service Professionals”
It’s a challenging time to be in business. Economic, technological and political factors are driving companies to make difficult decisions in order to maintain productivity and increase (or, at the very least, safeguard) profits.
Some of this activity is concentrated on the contact center, where the quest is always to improve productivity. The first step to achieving that goal may be to improve workforce visibility.
This is just one of the benefits of
workforce management (WFM).
Consider how much time both managers and agents may be spending on tasks not related to their core job function, which cannot help but impact customer service. Consider how much costly overtime is entailed by improper allocation of time during regular shifts. Consider the time that could be spent on imagining ways to improve efficiency, or new ideas to generate profits, if that time was not occupied by hours spent forecasting and scheduling with spreadsheets.
WFM does entail another investment. But in this time when there is pressure on all areas of an organization to implement solutions that reduce costs and increase revenues, it’s an investment that accomplishes both goals while quickly achieving ROI.
A common misconception is that
WFM software is associated with a large upfront cost. That may indeed have been the case with the on-premise solutions of the past. But a cloud-based WFM solution provides the highest ROI and savings of any WFM strategy due to its low upfront investment and low operating costs.
With WFM managers can achieved total, real-time contact center visibility, empowering them to enhance schedule flexibility, an important step in employee engagement, and increase agent productivity. Managers can react to changing conditions, so problems are detected and solved before they impact service.
Challenging times call for effective solutions – like
Read More About WFM Trims Waste and Costs at Contact Centers
Virtual contact centers operate differently from their brick-and-mortar counterparts – but they face many of the same challenges in resource planning and customer service.
If your contact center is considering the move to a virtual environment, or you’ve already made the transition, here are some of the technology solutions that will help make the business a success.
Whether all your agents are in the same room or working from homes and offices throughout the U.S., the ability to create accurate forecasts and schedules to achieve adequate staffing levels remains vital. In a virtual situation managers sometimes have the luxury of more flexibility, which creates additional part-time and split-shift opportunities. But sometimes more options can also mean more headaches.
Workforce management software automates these tasks so they get done faster and with greater precision. Automated Call Routing
The process of matching customer inquiries with the agents best suited to handle them can be achieved with the same efficiency in a virtual contact center with an integrated contact routing solution. Incoming contacts can be routed not only by topic but by communication channel as well, since most centers have agents better qualified for online chat and email.
In a brick-and-mortar contact center, training sessions are often conducted in person. That would be impractical in a virtual environment, so training must be delivered online via one-on-one chat or other means of getting agents, trainers and managers together to review past calls and discuss concerns.
Studies have shown that gamification – redesigning everyday routines and tasks to be more game-like and interactive, results in a work experience that is more engaging, more fun, and (hopefully) more productive. As a motivating technique this is even more important when agents are outside an office where other direct means of support and encouragement are not present.
Read More About Beneficial Technologies for Virtual Contact Centers
All business managers pursue exemplars of quality, efficiency and success that may serve as a model for how to run their company better. Usually these are sought out within their respective industry, or elsewhere in the private sector. But what if we looked outside those traditional channels and selected another inspiration – the military?
For the contact center that seems like a less than ideal fit – but is it? When you take a closer look, there are some common traits that benefit a platoon of call center agents as much as a platoon of soldiers. Grace Under Pressure
Sure, the average contact center agent won’t face a life-or-death situation on the job, but there is no shortage of pressure as he or she deals with angry callers and emotionally charged situations. Soldiers rely on their training when faced with a stressful situation, and agents should be able to do the same. There is a process in place for handling heated moments, and the best way to get through them is to stay calm and follow that process, with the agent controlling his or her reactions to whatever is hurled against them.
When these processes are automatically and consistently applied, it’s easier for the agent to keep a cool head and keep the engagement from spiraling out of control. Clear Communication
Knowing how to communicate clearly is one of the most important job requirements for the contact center agent, whether addressing customers via phone, text, email or online chat. Such skills cannot always be expected from customers, who may be furious, confused or introverted. Military personnel are often called upon to communicate with people from other countries and cultures, so they know it’s important to choose their words carefully and be specific in their message to avoid any misunderstanding. The agent who is able to do the same, while maintaining a calm, courteous demeanor, is one that any business would wish to keep.
What does it take for a contact center to meet its customer service goals? It starts with a commitment to excellence. Some agents walk in the door with that level of dedication, but many will need to acquire it through training, during which this ability can be instilled through instruction, repetition, and an awareness of what constitutes quality. Perhaps it won’t be as strenuous as the basic training the army provides but the end result should be the same – a disciplined team member who is part of a group with one shared objective.
Armed for Battle
Just as an officer would never send his men into war without the proper gear, a contact center agent cannot be expected to win the customer service battle without the right technology. In this case, that includes cloud contact center solutions that help analyze data, deliver more accurate forecasts and schedules, route calls to the agent best suited to handle them, and provide insight into which practices are working and which need attention.
Rifles, grenades and bulletproof vests? Not this time. Successful contact center agents will benefit from a different set of tools, skillfully wielded by sharp managers: • Call Recording • Workforce Management
Screen Capture Each in their own way can improve service levels and reduce call center costs, without the upfront expenses and IT requirements of traditional workforce software. A New Challenge for Veterans
If there are this many common qualities between soldiers and contact center agents, doesn’t it make sense to consider veterans when hiring?
Comcast Corp. certainly thinks so. Last year the company 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 fast approaching, 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. Consider these additional attributes managers look for in a contact center agent, and how they also correspond with those in military service. No wonder 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 • 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.
Read More About Victory at the Contact Center: Should Managers Run The Business with Military Precision?
If you follow news from the contact center industry, you may have read about another high-profile convert to the
cloud. One of the largest technology healthcare service providers in the United States recently announced its adoption of flexible cloud-based technology to provide 24/7 customer access via phone, online video or mobile application. Technology health, or “telehealth,” is a growing trend in health care, which incorporates remote conferencing between doctors and patients for general questions and follow-ups. It’s more convenient and cost-effective for the patient, as it does not require driving to the doctor’s office and paying the fee that is requested as soon as you sign in with the receptionist. The cloud technology selected includes workforce management, automatic call distribution and IVR. At this early stage in the evolution of telehealth, positive patient experiences are particularly important. Those that try the system only to lose the connection, or be stuck on hold for long periods of time, may decide it’s not worth the effort. Thus companies must make certain that patient care is optimized, and agent performance (if someone other than the doctor is the first contact for users) is efficient. The same concerns within this burgeoning industry are ongoing challenges for every type of business with a contact center. This is why so many of these entities are moving to the cloud in unprecedented numbers. Managers have access to all the data they need through workforce optimization and workforce management to deliver accurate forecasts and schedules, without the large upfront cost that such technology used to require. If you haven’t considered the possibilities of WFM in the cloud, click here to find out more about Monet WFM Live.
Read More About Another Major Company Moves to the Cloud
Customer care is a crucial aspect of performance at the contact center, particularly for those affiliated with insurance companies. This is a process that begins before the first call is picked up every day, with the policies, procedures, and technology in place to meet the goals of the center. Accurate forecasting and scheduling and adherence are important factors, and are easier to achieve with an
automated workforce management (WFM) solution.
Here are four tips on establishing policies that boost customer service, and how
WFM can help. 1. Setting Specific Goals
“We want to improve customer service.” “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, insurance contact center agents should be regularly guided toward and tested on their abilities to meet service goals. With the
Performance Analysis component of WFM, managers have access to reports and analysis of all agent activities, including their schedule adherence and key performance indicators. That will help to further target training sessions. 3. Set Quarterly Goals
Don’t make a list of goals for the year 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.
Read More About Insurance Company Contact Centers – Four Ways WFM Can Improve Performance
Remember when people used to be annoyed when full-service assistance with everyday tasks began to disappear in favor of self-service options? From pumping your own gas to checking out your own groceries, we have become a do-it-yourself world, and that mindset is now making its way into the contact center industry.
If you have not already started to accommodate customers who want to conduct their transactions without speaking to an agent, now is the time to do so.
This requires more than simply adding additional channels – text, online chat, email, mobile app – it means creating a seamless experience for customers that start in one channel and then switch to another. As you set up these other channels, the focus should also be on a user-friendly experience; that includes websites that are easy to navigate and proactive responses and FAQs. Also, make sure you have personnel trained for the omnichannel customer experience. An agent who excels in phone communication may not be suited for online chat.
Data-driven analytics are no less important in omnichannel than they are in the traditional call center. Have technology systems in place to monitor customer interactions, and gather the information you need from them to provide accurate forecasts, schedules and shift staffing.
Another consequence of our self-service world is that customers used to doing stuff themselves have become more impatient. That puts more pressure on contact centers to employ real-time analytics and routing capabilities to minimize wait times.
Preparing your customer service systems and teams for the self-service world will take some time, but the ultimate result will be happier customers, and that’s good for everyone.
Read More About Easing the Transition to a Self-Serve Customer Experience
It’s possible that no generation in history has come under more scrutiny – and attack – than Millennials. They’re rude; they’re entitled; they want everything free. Of course, there are overgeneralizations. Every generation has had its achievers and failures. But there is no question that Millennials approach work and communication differently than those that preceded them, and this is important for contact center managers. These are your current and future employees (Millennials are already almost 35% of the American labor force), as well as your current and future customers. How can you make them happy? Try thinking like they do. Agents
Statistics show that Millennials often leave jobs in three years or less. In the contact center industry where high agent attrition is already an issue, three years might be seen as an improvement. Still, each new employee is an investment in training; so the longer you keep them around the better your bottom line will look.
Perhaps it’s time to think differently, by shortening the initial ramp-up phase of preparation (lowering associated costs) and then relying on more context-sensitive refreshers in the days and weeks that follow. Millennials grew up with technology, and have a comfort level with instant communication and instant feedback shared by no previous generation. Every Facebook post they make generates “likes” and responses within seconds. Millennial contact center agents are more open to the same type of instant feedback. Monthly training sessions are fine, but with the real-time data generated by a workforce optimization solution, managers can offer ongoing coaching and assessments based on performance. Sure, it may take a little more time. But if that coaching is immediately integrated into performance, it results in better customer service right away. You’ll also find Millennials are often adept at self-evaluation – why do you think they take so many selfies? With WFO generating data on each call, these agents can review how each interaction fared while the details are still fresh, and figure out if something could have been handled more efficiently. If you still doubt that Millennials communicate differently than previous generations, just check out their emoticon-fueled texts. It is practically a different language. Texting is a comfort zone, certainly more so than traditional face-to-face communication. The closest comparison to this in a professional contact center environment is the webchat application. As this channel becomes more popular among customers, managers will find no shortage of agents adept as chatting online. Can chat be used for coaching or training as well? Certainly it wouldn’t seem to be as effective as meeting with an agent in person, but times are changing. Customers
The Millennial customer will share the same preferences as the Millennial agent, starting with a fondness for webchat. Perhaps that is why there has been so much recent refinement in the “chat with an agent” option, with even more sophisticated solutions on the horizon.
All webchats are already not the same. Some are still what you’d expect – one agent typing messages in response to customer questions. But at some companies the human element has been replaced by coded auto-response software that interacts with customers the way Siri responds to you on your iPhone. Most customers are savvy enough to spot the difference. But the next-generation virtual assistants will be able to respond in sentences that sound more authentic than the overly formal speech programmed by technology. Facebook is leading the way on this with an intelligence “Facebook Bot Engine Development Tool” that learns by interacting with current Facebook-based communication. Yes, this can be an advantage or a lawsuit waiting to happen, based on some of the Facebook pages we’ve seen. We may be at the point one day soon when a customer will not be able to tell the difference between a live agent and a program on webchat. This will make it easier for companies to switch back and forth during a customer engagement as needed – the bot can be relied up to answer basic, common questions and offer standard responses to everyday transactions. When the conversation turns to something more specialized, the agent can be alerted to step in. This will happen without the customer’s knowledge and, given what we’ve already said of the Millennial comfort level with technology, it likely won’t matter to them whether the responses they receive are human or machine-driven. As this technology becomes mainstream, it can be used at the contact center for coaching as well. Think of it – a virtual coach communicating via webchat, linked to all previous customer and agent data, providing real time reminders (“Ask this customer if he wants the extended warranty”) and feedback on a customer engagement. Regular coaching sessions would still be helpful ¬– but now coaches will have even more specific data for each agent. There are additional benefits to webchat coaching as well: it is equally accessible for remote agents as for those in an office; and it takes some of the intimidation factor out of coaching, and that might make the sessions more effective. Conclusion
Whether one is more likely to condemn Millennials or defend them, there is no question that they are likely to change the structure of the workplace more than any previous generation.
It is natural for those who came up through the ranks with different rules and procedures to be resistant to new ideas, but that presumes that anyone has a choice. It is those entering the job market who have options – and if they find a contact center that is open to providing a professional environment more accommodating to their preferences, that is where they’ll direct their Nike Jordan Instigators.
Read More About Millennial Agents, Millennial Customers: Keeping Them Happy
If you’re old enough you may remember the television series Lost in Space, in which the Robinson family blasted off earth en route to Alpha Centauri, but went off course and couldn’t find their way home. The series debuted in 1965, but was set in the year 1997, a time when the show’s creators apparently envisioned interstellar space travel but not GPS.
That’s the thing about the future – it always catches up and eventually becomes the present. So when predictions begin appearing online about what the contact center will look like in 2020, it might be wise to pay attention, especially as 2020 is less than four years away. By preparing now for the changes to come, your contact center can get ahead of the technology curve, and provide better customer service than other companies in your industry.
Let’s take a closer look at what the future holds.
The Role of Contact Center Agents
As contact centers embrace multiple channels for customer communication, agents will have to be skilled in more than one discipline. Companies that have already incorporated email, online chat, texting and social media may have agents trained in one of these channels. But in 2020, most agents will have the knowledge and skills to shift from one assignment to another.
As customers embrace more self-service options, find answers to basic questions and handle simple orders and returns on their own, they will not have a need to reach out to a contact center unless the situation calls for more extensive information. That means agents will need to be prepared to handle a wider range of product and service issues. Obviously this impacts training – and may manifest in prospective agents going through a more in-depth orientation that includes spending a day or two with different business departments within the company.
However, even with all of this additional knowledge and instruction, agents will also need to retain the qualities that companies require of them now – strong communication skills and listening skills, courtesy and empathy, and the ability to make decisions and resolve issues through their own initiative. Management, of course, will have to bestow the freedom on these agents to rely on their training and intelligence to act.
Given all the demands on the agent, this is a job that will no longer be classified as an entry-level position. A higher investment will be needed in qualified professionals. The hope is this will not just pay off in improved customer service, but also lower attrition rates.
The Role of Contact Center Managers
While agents will become more intimately involved in operations, managers will transfer out of a primarily operational role and adopt a more “big picture” outlook on the organization, and the strategic role of the contact center. Rather than monitoring KPIs, managers will be meeting with executive teams from other divisions on how departments can successfully work together to deliver a more efficient end-to-end customer experience.
To make sure agents receive the training they need to prosper in the contact centers of the future, managers will also have to make sure the contact center is recognized as a profit-boosting segment of the organization, and worthy of the additional investment necessary to make sure it functions at optimal efficiency.
The Role of Customers
The term “contact center” has already replaced that of “call center.” By 2020, we may be referring to these entities as “customer interaction centers.” That’s because customers want more options for communication, as well as the ability to switch from one to another if it might get them on their way faster.
Most customer contacts are still conducted by the telephone. Some experts believe that dominant role will gradually shift to webchat, as Millennials and subsequent generations come of age in technology-driven world where the answer to every question can be found on one’s smartphone. Fortunately, tomorrow’s agents will have grown up with the same technology and will be equally adept at these interactions.
The Role of Workforce Management Workforce management will play a more prominent role in tomorrow’s contact centers, as the drive to optimize resources will always be key to running a successful business. In the contact center that means accurate forecasting, as well as analytics, skills-based routing and capturing important customer data.
Some WFM solutions, including
Monet WFM Live, can do that now. As workforce patterns change, and more employees opt for flexible scheduling to balance their jobs with their personal responsibilities, WFM will have to keep up with even more accurate resource planning, and by making it easier for agents to bid on shifts in a way that does not negatively impact customer service. The Role of Analytics Analytics already plays an important role in tactical decision-making. That figures to increase as the contact center plays a more prominent role in delivering actionable business intelligence. Customer data will become even more specific, providing guidance toward new customer-centric services. The Roles We Can’t Yet See
Speculating about future technology is always risky, as we learned from Lost in Space. But we do have some indicators about where contact center-related systems are headed.
We have video chat now but we’re probably going to have a lot more of it by 2020, a result of easier access, more bandwidth and customer comfort with the video webchat they already use through Skype and other services.
So if more customers opt for video, what channels will that replace? Some might say the phone, but according to a recent survey by Call Centre Helper it is email that is most likely to fall out of favor.
speech analytics is already improving the depth of data derived from every customer call, a voice biometrics component may be added to this functionality. With it, agents can authenticate a caller’s identity instantly, without the repetition of a social security number, account numbers or other personal information. That results in both a faster and more secure transaction.
Speaking of faster – that’s what customers want, both now and in the future. The next-generation WFM solutions will strive to shorten average handle time by being even more intuitive in anticipating how calls should be routed and how issues can be resolved. The concept of “self-learning” functionality is no longer relegated to science fiction. The contact center of 2020 will be staffed by better agents working with better data, to drive customer satisfaction and retention, and deliver better value at a lower cost.
Read More About The Contact Center in 2020
From the “easier said than done” department is the advice that works for just about every type of contact center – listen to your customers and respond to their needs. When contact centers develop this habit, customer conversion rates go up.
The way to get there is not through some sophisticated formula – it’s the basic business practices that we know we should be doing every day, but sometimes fall short amidst the day-to-day challenges that running a business entails. Here’s a refresher course on the some of the most prominent of these practices. Accurate Forecasts
Part of responding to customer needs is answering calls quickly – 30 seconds or less is a reasonable goal.
Accurate forecasting and scheduling through a workforce management solution that predicts call volume is the key to developing consistency in this critical skill. Recurrent Training
After initial agent training is complete, the process of learning and improving really begins. Reviews of recorded calls, positive reinforcement and coaching, and the flexibility to go off-script are just some of the ways that you can help agents sharpen their skills and instincts.
Adding Additional Channels
We’ve covered this before – webchat, email and mobile apps offer customers other options for placing orders or having questions answered.
Use Analytics Wisely
Data generated by
workforce management and quality monitoring can point managers toward efficiency goals – but people are always more important than numbers, and agents should feel confident in the freedom to take some extra time with a difficult customer to bring about a successful result. Never Stop Listening
You can’t turn full control over to your customers, but the more you listen to their preferences, the better you’ll be able to meet them. Don’t be afraid to test new procedures and experiment with script changes or other variables that might improve the customer experience. Not every test will be successful, but you’ll never know which ones will make your business better until you try them.
Read More About Boosting Conversion Rates with a Better Customer Experience
There certainly seem to be a lot of surveys released these days, all focusing on the contact center industry and the impact of technology on the customer experience. We like to bring these to you when we find them, because if they’re done well they usually have something important to tell us about the state of our business.
We just found one from the United Kingdom that spoke to 100 contact center professionals about their workforce management adoption and challenges. If we had to summarize the findings in one sentence, we’d say it suggests that workforce management solutions are capable of making significant improvements in a contact center’s efficiency, but many businesses are still hesitant to commit to this improved technology: • Just 29% of respondents have a WFM solution in place
33% report disappointing experiences with off-the-shelf solutions
67% believe the WFM provider did not provide adequate support and training This is disappointing to read for a number of reasons. Workforce management has been around since the 1980s – this is not a shiny new toy that hasn’t been proven in the real world. If seven out of every 10 contact centers in the UK are still getting by with spreadsheets and other means, we can only wonder how much better they could be doing by embracing a solution that can revolutionize their forecasting, scheduling and staffing procedures. Even more troubling are the responses from those that have adopted a WFM solution, and found it wanting. This has a negative impact not just on the company that provides that WFM software, but also on all of us in this business. Looking closer at the survey results, we find the 33% that were disappointed in WFM found the system to be inflexible, and thus incompatible with the demands placed on the modern contact center. The challenges they found, in areas such as reporting, support, and overall performance, simply would not be an issue with a product like Monet Live WFM in the cloud. Great WFM solutions are available – it’s up to contact center managers to do their due diligence and find a solution with the customization, flexibility, user-friendliness and support they require.
Read More About Workforce Management: The State of the Industry
workforce management you have a lot of data at your disposal. And all of it is important – some to improve the efficiency of your contact center, and some to help you better understand the needs and preferences of your customers. Let’s take a closer look at that second category today, as this is where many contact centers are seeing an increased focus. Tools such as speech analytics deliver insights that might have been impossible to achieve a decade ago. When agents have this data at their disposal they can react accordingly, and increase the likelihood of a successful customer engagement. Here are three contact center trends that you should be utilizing: 1. Real-Time Data
What good is data if you get it when it’s too late to use it? Sure you can still make changes to affect future performance, but how much better would it be to deliver real-time guidance to agents, and alert managers when a call is going south? There is a predictive quality to this data, but if it’s compiled correctly you’ll be able to anticipate customer intentions and deliver a more customized response. It also works for online chat and email engagements.
2. Follow the Path
Think of every customer engagement as a journey with a starting point and an end point, where lots of different things can happen in between. The more you can understand about each customer’s journey, the better you can serve that customer. Analytics from a
workforce optimization suite plays a big role, but don’t stop there – you’ll also want to bring agents together in a collaborative way to discuss that actions they took and how well they worked (or didn’t work), and perhaps bring in personnel from other company departments that can provide additional data. If you do it right, you’ll figure out where a journey is headed while it’s still near the starting point, and react accordingly so the rest of the path is a walk in the park. 3. Keep it Simple
There is data you’ll want to see after the fact, and data that’s important right now. When deploying analytics, make it easier for agents and managers to see what they need to see, when they need to see it. This may require some customization of your
WFM solution, or simply bringing your system more in line with your business goals.
Read More About Three Steps to Greater Customer Insight
The purpose of many of our blogs and articles is to provide information and suggestions on
how to improve the quality and efficiency of your contact center. Of course, what works for a small center with 10 agents may not be equally appropriate for a large 24/7 facility with three shifts of 200 agents. So the goal of this piece is to offer so many different kinds of tips in one article, you are bound to find at least a few that will be beneficial. Welcome to our spring cleaning piece – here is all the good advice we’ve had laying around the office all winter. Let’s get started on making your contact center even better than it is right now. Smart Call Routing
WFO or speech analytics to route customer calls to the agent best suited to deal with each caller’s issue. Calls will be handled faster, and customers will be happier. Team Building
Take the agents that work together out for some friendly competition, especially if they are pitted against the managers. Arcades, go-kart tracks or any fun activity can encourage agent motivation and loyalty.
Keep your Door Open
Agents appreciate a manager that is available to them when a problem arises or a question needs to be asked. The closer managers are to the area where agents are fielding calls, the better sense they will have of what is working and what is not. This is important for team-building as well.
Provide Multichannel Access
Some of your customers may want to interact with your company without using the phone. At some contact centers as many as 40% of customer interactions are handled via live chat, while others are conducted with email.
Take potential agents on to the floor to listen to calls before they go into training. This makes training more relevant and ensures they feel comfortable with the role and environment. Then start new agents on the phones with support before letting them fly solo. It builds their confidence.
Create an External Knowledge Base
Is there a place customers can go to answer the most basic questions about your company before calling? Don’t just create it – promote it via social media and your IVR message.
Make Your Customers Happy to Be Customers
Courtesy on the phone, empathy when there is a problem, and a friendly greeting and close to each call can make a big difference.
Expedite the Customer’s Path to a Live Agent
While it might seem more efficient to collect a caller’s personal information via automated message, the customer often has to confirm some of it with a live agent anyway. Most callers would prefer speaking to an agent as soon as possible.
Ditch the Emoticons
Do you really think an emoji with a tear in its eye is going to make a customer feel better about the order they never received? This isn’t junior high.
Empower Your Agents
Trust agents with the authority to handle basic transactions without a supervisor’s involvement or to use his or her best judgment with more complicated issues. This expedites the customer’s call and also makes agents feel more valued.
Free Product Samples
When a new product is introduced, provide your contact center agents with one so they can get acquainted with it, and better understand what questions may arise from its use.
Use Metrics Wisely
Metrics are vital in providing data on customer service goals – but make certain agents aren’t trying to lower average handle time by rushing through customer calls. The first priority is always the customer.
Promote From Within
Managers that used to be agents will have more insight into how the front line works, and will be better able to structure their
forecasting, scheduling and training. Be Patient with Seniors
Remember that seniors did not grow up with the same technology you did – make sure your agents know this as well, and encourage patience as they instruct the AARP generation how to negotiate online portals.
Think you know what’s most important to your customers? Why not confirm it with a survey that covers what they expect from a contact center? You may be surprised with the results.
Show your agents that their work is valued. A free lunch here, a spa day there, even an encouraging word or inquiry about their family can make them feel appreciated. And don’t neglect your off-site agents if you have them – telecommuting employees need acknowledgment too.
Share Training Ideas
A good idea for training and development can come from an agent, a coach, or even from someone outside the contact center. Hold meetings to update training session procedures and always look for ways to improve them.
The Suggestion Box
Whether it’s handled though regular meetings or anonymous suggestions submitted through the old-fashioned suggestion box, make sure agents have a means to offer ideas for contact center improvements – many of which can be implemented at little or no cost.
Create a Suggestion Box for Customers as Well
If you don’t wish to do a customer survey, have your agents ask customers before closing each call if there is a way that the contact center can better serve them.
Communication Builds Relationships
Face-to-face interaction with different company departments should be encouraged. Shared knowledge about how different aspects of the company work will result in new ideas to create better synergy, and ultimately better service. Also make sure the lines of communication are always open within your team, by keeping them up to date with any news, company changes or notable customer feedback.
Lead by Example
Motivation is always more effective when it comes from someone who follows the same rules and exhibits the same enthusiasm. Agents will pick up on a “do as I say, not as I do” approach very quickly, and respond accordingly.
Did you achieve all of your goals this month? Great! Now set some new ones. Strive for continuous improvement every day.
Read More About (Even More) Ways to Make Your Contact Center Better