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Workforce Management

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

Workforce Management Hints, Tips & Best Practices

Another Major Company Moves to the Cloud

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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



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Insurance Company Contact Centers – Four Ways WFM Can Improve Performance

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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. 


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Easing the Transition to a Self-Serve Customer Experience

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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. 



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Millennial Agents, Millennial Customers: Keeping Them Happy

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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. 



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The Contact Center in 2020

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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. 

As 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. 



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Boosting Conversion Rates with a Better Customer Experience

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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. 


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Workforce Management: The State of the Industry

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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. 



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Three Steps to Greater Customer Insight

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With 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. 



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(Even More) Ways to Make Your Contact Center Better

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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

Use 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. 

Basic Training 

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. 

Customer Survey

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. 

Employee Appreciation

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. 

Never Settle

Did you achieve all of your goals this month? Great! Now set some new ones. Strive for continuous improvement every day. 



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Six Scheduling Mistakes to Avoid

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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 contact 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. 

Doing Nothing

Obviously this is the least excusable mistake, and yet there are still contact 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 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. 



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Customer Service – From the Agent Perspective

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You have probably spent many hours studying the question of how you can provide better service to your contact center customers. Much of this attention will focus on the performance of your agents

But agents have their own ideas about the state of their industry and what constitutes customer service. Can you learn anything from their insight? 

A recent survey of more than 250 agents produced some interesting findings. 

The Best Way to Get Things Done

Today’s contact centers offer a selection of channels for customer interaction, but which is the most effective? Nearly half of the agents surveyed (47%) still believe that the telephone provides the best opportunity to resolve a customer’s situation. Web chat finished second with just 26%. 

But wait – isn’t the telephone outdated in this era of apps and social media? Not according to today’s agents. An overwhelming 90% of them are certain that there will always need to be a ‘call center’ component in the contact center. Perhaps some of these responses were motivated by job security but, as one explained, it’s easier for many customers to ask questions or describe a problem verbally than having to type out a long explanation.

Taking the Time to Get it Right

Agents are certainly aware of the importance managers place on KPIs like Average Handle Time – but sometimes that leads to a choice between wrapping up a call more quickly and making sure the customer is happy. While nearly 40% of agents surveyed said they tried to complete calls in 5-10 minutes, 32% replied that effective problem solving may take longer, so they’ll take 15 minutes if necessary.  

Virtual Queuing vs. ‘On Hold’

No one likes to be placed on hold, which is why 81% of agents support virtual queuing that allows customers to call back at a time when they will receive immediate agent access. However, some expressed concern that customers may neglect to call back at the right time, which can result in more frustration. 

Do They Care? Good News

The agent hiring and screening process seeks to find people with empathy toward customer issues, and a sincere desire to get problems solved. Of course, everyone says the right things in a job interview, but do they really mean them? This anonymous survey provided a chance to find out – fortunately, 98% of agents surveyed feel a sense of duty to the client, and a desire to provide a positive customer experience. 

“Without them,” one agent said, “our business would not exist.” 


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3 Technology Trends: Is Your Contact Center Ready?

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What do omnichannel capability, self-service interactions and the cloud have in common? All are listed among the most prominent trends emerging in the contact center industry. Let’s take a closer look: 

1. Omnichannel

It’s a fancy word that simply means providing customers with a choice on how they interact with your company. The telephone continues to be a popular option, but email and online chat are preferred by those who don’t wish to speak directly with an agent. Contact centers should respond to these demands by making multiple channels available, and allowing customers to switch from one to the other during an enquiry. 

And of course, it’s not just establishing these channels but having a workforce optimization solution in place to measure quality management and customer data that will impact service delivery. 

2. Self-Service

No matter how many channels you add, some customers will prefer to settle their business without talking to anyone. The marketing firm Gartner predicts that by 2020 customers will manage 85% of their interactions this way. 

Such predictions have a tendency to over-estimate the consumer reliance on new technology such as mobile apps – remember with eBooks were going to put regular books out of business? Still, this is ultimately a positive trend for contact centers as it reduces workload on agents (and may eventually reduce the number of agents you need). However, as with omnichannel, it’s wise to have a system in place where customers can easily transition from self-service technology to a more traditional communication channel. 

3. The Cloud Platform

It’s not the #1 platform yet, but it is getting there quickly. The appeal of no large upfront investment, always running the latest and greatest software, ease of transition and ease of use and better scalability, in addition to other benefits, are driving the contact center industry toward the cloud platform in droves. 

As a pioneer in cloud solutions, Monet has not only been at the forefront of the cloud trend, we continue to stay on the cutting edge of what this model can provide. Questions? We’re here to help. Contact us today



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Regional Sharing for Contact Center Services

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In 2016, a process will begin in Connecticut designed to consolidate different municipal and district services, in an effort to both lower costs and to offer these services in a more streamlined and consistent manner. 

Contact centers, including those devoted to public health, pension administration and emergency call handling, are among those that may be consolidated by region. According to one study, lowering the number of emergency call centers from more than 100 to just eight could be achieved without impacting service. 

Such changes may be headed for the private sector as well. New contact centers are sometimes established for one individual line of business or new venture, which does not have to fit efficiently into a larger enterprise. That can result in wasted resources and replicated technology platforms. 

The company that carried out the study, launched a program to achieve more efficient economies of scale based on resources, facilities, technology and processes. It was discovered that there were a number of opportunities for savings, including:

Resource pooling, combining hiring profiles and skill requirements (10-20% savings)

Process simplification and workforce management efficiencies (10-15% savings)

Common critical monitoring and reporting metrics (10-15% savings)

Shared CRM applications and improved call routing efficiencies (5-10% savings)

Optimized common agent desktop tools (5-10% savings)

Contact center consolidation is one of the primary ways to improve operational efficiencies and improve constituent satisfaction. Is it something your company should consider? 


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Migrating to the Cloud: How to Get Ready

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There are no shortage of blogs and articles online, including right here at Monet, about the many benefits associated with moving your contact center technology into the cloud. By now you have likely read about the cost savings that results from a cloud migration, as well as improved flexibility and scalability, higher customer satisfaction and even improved agent engagement. 

What is not as well-covered in these pieces are the best steps to take right before making the transition, so the move into the cloud will be easier, and your contact center will be ready to make the most of its new capabilities. Here are a few ideas that may help. 

Embrace the Omni-Channel

With the cloud you’ll be able to achieve customer communication via phone, email or online chat. If you do not have all these channels integrated now, prepare your agents for what that will be like, and how to route customer contacts appropriately for the best service. 

Sifting Through the Data

Whatever data you were using now to create forecasts and schedules and analyze performance will likely be multiplied by the workforce management and optimization solutions delivered through the cloud. The good news is it will all come via a single desktop, so there will be no need to switch between systems. However, you’ll want to start preparing ahead of time on which metrics to focus on, and how to optimize the real-time reporting capabilities you’ll now have to make changes as needed. 

Always Be Prepared

Cloud solutions are more reliable than the software contact centers used to rely on. However, having a plan for when something goes wrong is always a good idea. Most companies devote just 2-4% of their IT budget to 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. Control measures can reduce some security threats; detective measures could help catch a potential man-made breach before it occurs. 

Now that you’re ready, welcome to the cloud! If you need any additional help or information, contact us. Monet Software is a pioneer in contact center cloud solutions, and can make your transition as smooth and seamless as possible. 



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Another Year, Another “Product of the Year” Award

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We don’t mean to sound jaded. 

It’s always an honor when one of our products is singled out for recognition in the contact center industry, and that has indeed happened once again: Monet’s WFO Live – Workforce Optimization in the Cloud has been named a Product of the Year by TMC’s CUSTOMER magazine, a leading source for contact center news, product information and communications strategies. 

This is also the third year in a row that a Monet solution has earned Product of the Year honors, to go along with a Customer Experience Innovation Award bestowed by TMC in 2014. 

“What this award means to us, more than just another honor to hang on our wall, is the acknowledgment that WFM Live is making a real difference at contact centers of all sizes across the country,” said our CEO Chuck Ciarlo. “The improved efficiency and customer service experienced by our customers every day is the best award we can imagine.”  

What should such consistent recognition mean to you? If you are a Monet customer it means the WFO solution you selected is among the very best available. If you are still considering a migration to an automated WFO tool, we hope it means you’ll take a closer look at what Monet has to offer. 

Investing in WFO is a decision you only want to make once. So why not select a complete end-to-end cloud-based workforce optimization solution packaged and priced to deliver the lowest total cost of ownership? 

Monet WFO Live offers comprehensive capabilities including workforce management, call recording, quality management, screen capture, performance management, agent analytics and archiving and reporting capabilities. It’s easy to set up, easy to use, and provides software fixes and upgrades as part of its software subscription fee at no additional cost. 

Perhaps that is why the awards keep coming. 

Find out more about WFO Live, and how it can boost efficiency at your contact center – at a price you can afford


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Forecasting: What’s Happening Now

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Forecasting determines many of the daily decisions made by contact center management, and plays a key role in a center’s ability to operate efficiently and deliver quality customer service.

How are contact centers today handling this ongoing challenge? One UK publication invited industry personnel to share their methods and assess their performances. The results, and the ideas generated, may provide you with more insight into how your contact center measures up, and where improvement may be possible. 

Using the Past to Predict the Present

Forecasting relies on historical data to anticipate call volume and other key factors in planning a schedule. Most forecast planners use at least two years’ worth of data, though some prefer five years. At contact centers where products and promotions are constantly changing, managers rely on just 12-18 months for forecast creation. 

Forecast Accuracy/Intervals

The average accuracy of forecast variance to actual calls falls into the 5-20% range. While some manage to stay in single digits (5-6%), others are still struggling with numbers as high as 80%. One contact center reported that service queues are typically more accurate than sales. 

Nearly 75% of contact centers surveyed forecast at 15-minute intervals; the rest do so every 30 minutes. 

The goal of increasing forecast accuracy has inspired a wide range of strategies, from assessing holidays and other unique days separately to improving coordination between departments (such as marketing and finance) to boosting the precision of the numbers being used. 

And while relating ideas that went right, some managers also shared some memorable mistakes in the hope of helping others to avoid them. These ranged from a simple accounting error (missing a zero from the monthly total) to putting too much trust in a client’s forecast, to relying on insufficient data. 

However accurate a generated forecast may be, however, contact centers still sometimes experience a disconnect from company management on the number generated. This can lead to issues with appropriate staffing decisions, and challenges in meeting customer service needs while also having time for meetings, agent training and other activities. Such conflicts have been resolved by producing results that are consistently accurate, and presenting data to management in clear graphical models that are easy to understand. 

Manual or WFM?

All forecasts also rely on agents being in the right place at the right time – as this doesn’t always happen, contact centers have learned to build more flexibility into their forecasts. This is much easier to do with an automated workforce management solution. Survey responses were roughly split between those that use a WFM tool and those that still rely on spreadsheets. 

Multichannel Forecasting

Finally, the survey asked respondents if they are also forecasting for email, webchat and social media. Historical data may be more limited in these communication channels, but most are still making the attempt, using whatever numbers are available. 


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How to reduce agent attrition?

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Most people seem to take perverse pleasure in hearing horror stories about their profession – as long as the experience being described is one that didn’t happen to them. 

Department store workers often gather after their shift to swap tales about difficult customers; police officers, between serious calls about crimes in progress, sometimes find themselves summoned to homes where they are asked to open a pickle jar, or to kill a bee inside a frightened person’s home. 

This is certainly true of contact center agents as well. One story you may find online is the agent who works at a body shop, who was accused of holding a customer’s car hostage for three weeks. Wonder if the agent sent that customer a ransom note after the call? 

Here is the part that isn’t so funny – too many of those calls can contribute to agent burnout. It’s a challenge for every contact center regardless of size or industry, as evidenced by consistently high attrition numbers. Given the investment required to hire and train a replacement every time an agent decides he or she has had enough, it is critical for managers to hire wisely, and take whatever actions are feasible to create a more positive professional environment. 

The Emotional Toll

The Wharton Financial Institution Center held a Call Center Industry Forum that explored how the front lines of a corporate contact center are often charged with emotion, and companies need to account for that when hiring and training workers to take on this critical role in customer contact.

“There is a growing need for workers who have to deal constantly with the public to manage emotions – and this is especially true for those on the phones,” said Steffanie Wilk, a Wharton management professor who has done extensive research on call centers.

Is there anything that can be done to help agents better cope with stressful situations? Certainly the hostile calls aren’t going to stop, even if multichannel capability shifts some of them to email, online chat and social media. They still have to be dealt with, but reading an angry screed does not raise the blood pressure as much as being yelled at on the phone. 

One way to approach the situation is to focus on hiring agents that are a good fit, not just for the demands of the position but also for the company itself. 

Wanted: The Perfect Agent (for us)

Try that ad in a job listing and see what happens. Perfection may not be possible, but by presenting a more detailed sense of your company culture, the specific nature of incoming calls and other variables that are specific to your contact center, managers are more likely to weed out candidates that won’t be able to cope. 

Does your contact center handle insurance claims or technology products, where close attention to detail is necessary? Is the contact center an important source for upselling, requiring agents to not just process orders but have some sales skills as well? Do you receive a high percentage of calls from seniors, which may require more patience in resolving an issue? The more you understand the particulars of your business, the easier it will be to find the right agents to handle them. 

Script Flexibility

While it’s important for new hires to adhere to the contact center script, as they improve their skills and become acclimated to the position, it may be more of a hindrance than help to experienced agents. The repetition of the same lines every day can certainly contribute to burnout. 

Here is where ongoing coaching and training can help, as well as call recording and quality monitoring. Give proven agents more flexibility in script usage, then analyze the results. If the rate of successful outcome remains consistent, tell that agent to keep up the good work. Managers may also discover non-rehearsed responses used by veteran agents that are more effective than what was in the script, which can then be adopted company-wide. 

One other point with new agents – during their initial training it is beneficial to not just tell them what to say, but why they are saying it. Let them know the reasons behind the content, and make sure they understand why these decisions were made. While it might not seem necessary to reveal the strategy behind the script, it might make them feel more involved, and not compelled to read lines from a page because they are not trusted enough to converse with customers on their own. 

Anticipation and Autonomy

Many contact center customers don’t start out angry. They call with what they believe is a reasonable request or a simple question, only to be put on hold, or transferred from agent to agent, or asked to repeat their contact information three times. Result – what should have been an uneventful call morphs into the kind that contributes to agent burnout. 

Such situations can be avoided with a review of your contact center’s current systems. Is there a way to reduce transfers by giving the agent more autonomy to solve the customer’s problem? Would a workforce management solution boost the accuracy of forecasting and scheduling, so there are always enough agents to handle incoming calls? Would an investment in speech analytics deliver data that helps to anticipate a caller’s needs, so that call can be routed more efficiently or resolved in a shorter time? 

Leave Your Worries on the Doorstep

Another contributing factor in agent attrition has nothing to do with how the contact center is run. If an agent is having problems at home, they can affect performance and increase stress levels to the point where something has to give. And most people will leave their job before they leave their family. 

Obviously you can’t tell every agent who shows up in a bad mood to go home, but a few questions about the agent’s home and family during the hiring process may help identify those who are more likely to arrive at work in a more upbeat state of mind. 

Conclusion

Call centers average a 30% turnover rate, but that’s no reason to accept such substantial attrition. If your call center is at 25% turnover, set a goal to lower that to 20% in six months or one year. These steps may help with that process.



 

 

 


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Choosing a WFM Solution: What's Most Important

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Perhaps this is the year your contact center will make the investment in a workforce management (WFM) system. This is something you only want to do once, so take the time to investigate the options available. 

What is most important? For most contact centers the decision to pursue automated WFM stems from a desire to improve forecast accuracy. Forecasting impacts scheduling, staffing, customer service, contact center budget, and nearly every facet of the business. Get it right, and you’re well on the way to an efficient operation; get it wrong, and there’s no end of trouble. 

With that in mind, here are four factors to keep in mind when selecting a WFM solution

Integration

It should be easy. When you acquire workforce optimization, workforce management, quality monitoring, call recording, speech analytics and whatever else you need from the same trusted provider, it’s never an issue. But if you have other vendor applications that must work with a new WFM solution, make sure the tools are available for integration before purchasing. The contact center will always be more efficient when all of its technology resources are working together toward the same goal. 

User-Friendliness

This is often overlooked – “our agents will figure it out eventually.” Well, maybe. But what happens when agents leave and new arrivals have to be hired and trained? And if certain tasks are too difficult or cumbersome, even agents familiar with the system will likely ignore them, passing any resulting delays and inconveniences on to your customers. There are quality WFM solutions available that are easy to adopt and easy to use. Why consider one that is not? 

Flexibility

You may not be able to anticipate all of your contact center’s future needs at the time of your purchase. Nothing wrong with that – just make sure you invest in a system that can grow with your business. 

Return on Investment

WFM in the cloud has substantially reduced the upfront investment necessary in acquiring this vital functionality. But that doesn’t mean ROI is any less important because the investment is smaller. With all of the efficiencies that WFM can improve, it shouldn’t take more than a year to achieve ROI – many Monet clients do so in a fraction of that time. 


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Is Your Contact Center Ready for 2016?

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What is new for 2016? Predictions abound, but several trends are already underway that will certainly help to define priorities within the contact center. If you are still making New Year’s Resolutions, don’t forget to add these to the list. 

Engaging Millennials

Depending on how old you are now, it may be hard to believe that the generation born between 1980 and 2000 is in charge, and their expectations of customer service are different from that of their parents. They grew up with technology and are accustomed to instant communication, answers being available on their schedule, and getting what they need from a company without having to pick up a phone (unless it’s a smartphone with a retail app). Do you have a multichannel software platform in place to meet their demands? Are you using text messages to reach them with new offers and promotions? 


Social Media

Facebook and Twitter are no longer new, but their impact in customer service continues to grow. Once the exclusive domain of those under 30, these channels are now commonly used by everyone, including seniors, and not just for sharing memes and happy birthday wishes. The Harvard Business Review reports that people using Twitter for customer service grew 70% from 2013 to 2014, and 30% of social media users prefer to conduct business this way instead of over the phone.


Anyone Not in the Cloud Yet?

The move toward cloud contact center solutions continues unabated, for all the reasons we have covered in previous blogs – lower upfront cost, instant updates and upgrades of software, faster implementation, security, reliability, user-friendliness. According to Call Center IQ, 76% of surveyed organizations will have made the switch to the cloud by the end of 2016. If you haven’t done so yet, the time is now. 

Turning Agents into Salespeople

Agents who try to upsell customers? Not as annoying as we might have thought, as it turns out. The CFI Group’s Contact Center Satisfaction Index reports that more than 40% of consumers are open to an agent recommending additional products or services. Have you trained your agents in doing so? Is this part of your current script? 

De-Stressing Average Handle Time

Sure, it’s still important for agents to handle each call efficiently. But if the problem isn’t resolved, it doesn’t matter if the call lasted two minutes or ten minutes. The first priority is to bring each customer engagement to a successful conclusion. With multichannel customer service available, the new, hot KPI is “negative response rate,” a reference to those unresolved engagements. It’s worth taking more time to keep that number to a minimum. 



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Improving Quality Assurance? Easy as 1-2-3

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Quality assurance offers a way to turbo-charge the benefits of call recording and monitoring. The objective is to measure agent performance, and initiate changes in training or procedures as needed to boost customer service.

It’s an important effort but one that presents an array of challenges to achieve effectively. Here are three tips that can make a big difference in your quality assurance strategy.

1. Don’t Rely on Random Sampling

While every customer is important, some customer calls are simply more important than others, at least in how they pertain to quality assurance. Rather than selecting a random sample of calls for evaluation, focus on scoring calls with the most significant orders, calls from the highest-value customers, and/or those related to a specific promotion or upsell opportunity. Desktop analytics software (available from Monet) can make it much easier to classify calls and find those that meet any pre-determined criteria.

2. Close the Loop

Quality assurance does not work as a standalone program. It should be part of a customer service cycle that ends with satisfied customers, and begins when agents are hired and trained. Think of quality as a proactive process that fuels every contact center action, and necessitates regular updates based on customer feedback.

3. Reassess Your Training Efforts

Training is a vital component in agent performance, so regular training sessions should be a necessity, and should not be approached as an afterthought, or something to squeeze into brief respites of low call volume. Also, make sure training is supplemented with ongoing coaching that provides positive reinforcement and support. 


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A Glowing Forecast for Cloud Based Contact Centers

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Global cloud-based contact centers were a $4.6 billion dollar market in 2015. What does the future hold? According to a study released by ReportLinker, that market will grow to a remarkable $14.7 billion by 2020. 

Surprising? Not really. Contact centers of all sizes and types are recognizing the benefits of the cloud delivery model, which is reflected in the growing adoption rates. No other solution offers a way to modernize technology while lowering costs at the same time. 

Today, software-based technology is still more prominent in the contact center industry. But the ReportLinker study suggests those days may be numbered. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between a cloud-based delivery model, and one that requires on-premises hardware and software installation. 

Set-up/Implementation

With a cloud model, 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. 

Upfront and Operating Costs

Here the cloud model has a clear advantage, as users pay only a low monthly subscription fee with no upfront investment. Depending on the system, an on-premise solution could run $100,000 or more. Likewise, ongoing operating costs are higher given the need for back-ups, maintenance, upgrades and hardware replacement. 

Scalability

With a server, you can only expand your capabilities so much before another investment is required. The cloud platform allows for maximum scalability. 

Upgrades

When it’s time to upgrade the software, it can be delivered automatically with a cloud model at no additional cost. When a manual software upgrade is necessary, the cost can be prohibitive enough to be put off, which reduces a call center’s ability to operate at maximum efficiency. 

Usability

Usability is a priority with most cloud-based solutions, so call center agents and managers can get started more quickly. Traditional solutions tend to be more complex.  

Isn’t it time you considered making the switch?


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Test Drive Your Holiday Preparation Plan

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It’s December, so chances are you’ve already outlined and implemented your strategy for handling the increased call volume caused by the holidays. 

Is it working? Great! But if it’s not, it may be time to take a closer look at the plan and see if something was missed. 

Here’s an idea for the next time you anticipate a call spike: take the contact center for a test drive. There is no substitute for practice, not only to confirm that you have the right resources in place, but to allow your agents (particularly the newer hires) to acclimate to the pressures of a more hectic work environment. 

The objective is to recreate real-world conditions, which means you’ll need personnel to take on the role of callers, and agents and managers reviewing results as they happen. 

Perform multiple drills. The idea is to reveal unforeseen hurdles that can impact customer service. It may also be a good idea to add an unexpected challenge to observe how your team responds. Let’s face it: you can’t plan for everything, so this is a chance to find out if you have agents and managers in place who can adapt under fire. 

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

That is the question. A test drive will deliver the kind of insight that can detect and prevent problems before they occur at the worst possible moment. 

Try a few practice runs before your next busy weekend or special event – it will improve your odds of keeping the contact center running smoothly. 



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What are the Real Differences Between On-Premise, Hosted and Cloud Solutions?

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Download our Free New Whitepaper  

Technology plays a vital role in the contact center. Managers face a difficult choice when it comes to selecting a technology provider, as they must take into account not only the vendor but also the delivery method through which crucial contact center software will be accessed. 

There are three options: an on-premise solution, where hardware and software must be installed, deployed and maintained at the contact center; a hosted system, where software is purchased but is installed at an outside service provider, and a cloud system, which converts such physical resources as processors and storage into Internet resources. 

How should a manager decide which is best for his company? Our new whitepaper was created to answer the most common questions about the three systems, and to compare them based on several important factors, including:

Security

Start-up Time

Scalability

Upgrades

Integration

Flexibility


Of course, for many businesses the most significant determining factor will be cost. That’s why the whitepaper analyzes the many different budget considerations associated with each delivery method.

Don’t invest in your next workforce management or workforce optimization solution without downloading our new whitepaper: Cost and Benefit Comparison: Cloud vs. Premise vs. Hosted. It’s free!


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Workforce Management Trends in 2016

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It’s never too early to start looking ahead to next year (as you may have noticed from all the news coverage about the 2016 presidential election). 

When the topic is workforce management, there are already signs of trends that will likely continue into next year and beyond. As 2015 winds down, here is what is happening at contact centers throughout the U.S. – how are you approaching these issues?

Higher Investments in Personnel

When employees are viewed as an asset instead of a cost center, it impacts how they are recruited, hired, trained and maintained. This takes into account management and contact center procedures as well, but workforce management can contribute to agent satisfaction by making flexible scheduling possible, and making it easier for agents to work the hours and shifts they prefer.

Hiring Millennials

This is a natural generational occurrence happening at all types of businesses, including contact centers. Millennials have grown up with technology and will know the difference on day one between WFM that makes them more efficient, and systems that fall short. 

The Infusion of Analytics

WFM is bolstered by speech and desktop analytics tools that deliver more insight into customers and their needs. 

Changing Platforms

More mobile devices, more social media prominence, and gamification are just some of the overarching technology trends that may impact the evolution of WFM software suites. Consumer devices now set the pace, so contact centers may anticipate the adoption of their features and functionality in the workplace. 



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Workforce Management and Labor Costs

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We’ve discussed the convenience, efficiency and customer service benefits of workforce management software in previous blogs. We’ve also covered the cost benefits, but there is one aspect to this topic that perhaps isn’t as prominent as it should be – the positive impact WFM can have on labor costs

In the contact center, labor costs can amount to more than hourly wages. Overtime is becoming a common occurrence as businesses struggle to cope with more flexible shifts and schedules. Managers may not like it but they accept it as an unavoidable cost of doing business. 

With WFM, these same managers can achieve detailed insight into labor issues and agent schedules. That visibility results in more optimized schedules that proactively minimize overtime and can trigger alerts on when overtime thresholds are approaching, so action can be taken to prevent it. 

Ironically, one of the main reasons smaller and midsized contact centers hesitate to invest in a workforce management solution is how much it costs. But WFM in the cloud alleviates most of those concerns, and will be a wise investment for everything it delivers in return: 

Reduced administrative costs from manually scheduling employees

Lower overstaffing costs through more accurate schedules

Less productivity loss due to unplanned absences

Better agent adherence with real-time monitoring

Administrators who believe workforce management technology is beyond their budget would do well to examine the costs of doing nothing. The benefits of greater productivity, lower costs and better labor decisions provide ample evidence suggesting that this is one investment that contact centers can’t afford not to make.




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