Call Center Forecasting Hints, Tips & Best Practices
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.
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.
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.
This industry has seen revolutions before. The introduction of automated workforce management solutions to replace spreadsheets; the maturation on online communication channels that forced call centers to evolve into contact centers; the outsourcing of agent jobs overseas, and then the reversal of that trend in response to customer frustration.
But it appears the next revolution will take place in the cloud – and it’s already underway.
A 2014 North American Call Center Survey found that 78% of contact centers were premises-based, but an astounding 70% of those planned to move into the cloud. By now many have already done so, and the rest should be ready to go soon.
When you look closer at previous industry revolutions, it makes sense for the cloud to be embraced as it has. As customers’ needs and communications preferences change, contact centers have to be more sophisticated, more multi-faceted, and more flexible.
Where capital investment is not an issue, there are on-premise solutions to meet these demands. But without the cloud, smaller and mid-sized contact centers would struggle to keep up with such challenges as leveraging multichannel communication, and managing customer and contact center data. The cloud brings these capabilities within their reach through a subscription-based model without a large upfront investment.
With the cloud, every call center regardless of size or type can have the technology it needs to provide excellent customer service, improve policies and procedures, anticipate call volume spikes and plan accordingly, and provide agents with the tools they need to engage with customers.
The cloud revolution is upon us. And those contact centers that are using the cloud environment for integrated workforce management, workforce optimization and multichannel capabilities are those most ready for the challenges of 2016 and beyond.
Good customer experiences often start at the contact center. To achieve those positive results, contact centers are active in the data acquisition business, using KPIs and analytics to take a closer look at every customer interaction.
Sometimes, however, a company’s reach can exceed its grasp. Innovation often comes slow to the contact center, so while there are now a multitude of effective tools available to transform a wealth of data into real-time solutions, managers may not have the means to maximize this potential.
Downtime is one area where this gap is especially noticeable. When agents experience downtime, it should be leveraged to enhance productivity by making good use of that time.
Speech analytics provides another example. Here is a system telling you important information about a customer while he or she is still on the phone – can you react to that information in time? If not, all this technology is buying is a lost opportunity.
Does your contact center have intraday automation that triggers real-time workforce adjustments during a shift? Can you change staffing levels when there’s a decrease in demand, freeing agents to begin a training session?
The goal of all of this is providing excellent customer service. When customers are happy, the business thrives. One study by the Harvard Business Review found a whopping 240% annual revenue difference between customers who rate their experience as “great” and those who said it was “poor.”
Data can deliver more “greats.” But it must be used in real time, and that may be the most essential aspect of contact center technology.
The thing about improving contact center performance is you’re never really done. Stats that are already improving can always get better. Good agents can become great agents. A change to a script can enhance customer service.
As you continue to refine and fine-tune performance at your contact center, here are some quick tips that may help.
Put yourself in the customer’s position and try various types of calls to discover what kind of service you receive. There is no faster, easier way to find out how your agents are treating your customers.
Agents Reviewing Agents
Schedule time for agents to monitor other agents at work, and then have them get together and provide feedback and suggestions on how to get better.
A positive attitude is always beneficial – encourage it by creating a display board with positive words and expressions that can be used during calls.
Share Success Stories
By giving agents a chance to describe a situation where they shined, it provides both information and motivation to the rest of the team.
Invite customers to visit your contact center. It’s a way to build a closer relationship, and they might have some ideas that prove useful in improving performance.
Good manners do make a difference. Remind agents of the importance of saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’
Lighten up on AHT
Of course average handle time is an important stat. But if agents feel comfortable spending a few extra minutes with a customer to make sure they are satisfied or to answer questions, it makes their job easier and helps performance as well.
Use speech analytics in conjunction with quality monitoring and customer surveys to better understand what is important to your customers.
Recruit from Within
Have an opening for a new coach? Hire an experienced agent from within your contact center. It’s good for company morale, and you’ll have an employee that knows exactly what agents go through, and how they can adapt their performance to handle different types of calls and customers.
In the old Captain Marvel comic books, young hero Billy Batson was able to “summon awesome forces at the utterance of a single word.”
Few words have that kind of power – but the words your contact center agents use when speaking with customers certainly can have a powerful impact, for better or worse.
For this reason it’s never a bad idea to review the scripted statements used by your agents and look for ways that they might be improved. Also, in those situations where going off-script is necessary, agents must be constantly coached to use the right words to deal with volatile situations, and to communicate with customers in a way that expresses regret for their problem and encouragement that a solution is possible.
We’ve discussed empathy in previous blogs. For most of us it’s an easy emotion to conjure when we’ve actually done something we regret, or when a friend tells us about something that has gone wrong in their life. But since contact center agents were not directly responsible for the customer’s problem, an attempt to generate empathy from nothing may not be successful.
I Feel your Pain
Empathy is expressing feeling – does that come through in your script? “I understand how you feel, that must be very frustrating…” “Many of our customers felt better after trying…” etc.
One coaching method that has worked in the past is to ask agents about a time when they received poor service, or bought a product that didn’t work. Encourage them to remember how that experience made them feel, then channel those feelings into their responses.
The Name Game
It’s easier to establish a rapport between agent and customer when both are addressed by name. Using “sir” or “ma’am” is more formal and used to be a means to convey respect, but at this point there is no distinguishing the ‘sir’ you get at an executive board meeting from the ‘sir’ you get at the Burger King drive-thru window.
Better to opt for “Thank you, Mr. Walker, let me take care of that for you.” And the agent should also introduce him- or herself at the beginning of each call. “Thank you for calling ABC Industries, my name is Robert, how can I assist you today?”
The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made.
--Jean Giraudoux ‘’
Sincerity is important – but it must be authentic. That involves not only the words used but also the tone of voice in which they are expressed. Customers are too smart now not to recognize over-scripted expressions of support delivered in a monotone voice for what it is – someone just doing their job:
“Thank you for calling ABC Industries. This is Jennifer – how can I brighten your day today?”
“How can I provide you with excellent service today?”
“How can I make you feel valued and be of help for you today?”
These lines were taken from actual contact center scripts. It takes the right type of agent to deliver them and make it work.
Next to empathy, reassurance may be the most important message an agent can communicate. It lets the caller know that they are on their way to having their issue resolved.
Reassurance + Empathy? That is the key to success:
“I am sorry to hear that this happened to you. I will be more than happy to assist you today and get this issue fixed.”
“I am sorry you had to deal with this inconvenience. Let’s get this taken care of.”
“I understand why this is upsetting – I would feel the same way. Here’s what we are going to do to get this resolved.”
Note the use of “Let’s (let us) and “we” – that puts the caller and the agent on the same side of the issue, rather than the agent coming across only as a representative of the company that disappointed the caller. It’s a subtle change but it does make a difference.
The Dreaded ‘Hold’ Button
Sometimes putting a call on hold is unavoidable. And if that caller has already had to wait once to speak with an agent, the request to put them back on hold may not be greeted enthusiastically.
When it must be done, some call centers use the “ACT” Method.
A – ask permission
C – create a timeline
T – thank the customer
Don’t tell them you’re going to put them on hold, ask them, “Do you mind waiting for a moment while I get that answer for you?” Very few will say ‘no’ because they want to get this over with as well.
Create a Timeline
Let them know how long you’ll be away. “This should only take a minute or two.”
Thank the Customer
When the agent picks up the call again, his or her first words should be “Thank you for holding. I appreciate your patience.”
Once the crisis is passed, do not close the call without two essential elements: first, a suggestion on what to do should the problem return – preferably one that will not force the caller to repeat the same process they just experienced. Then, close on a note of appreciation for their business: “Thank you for choosing ABC Industries,” etc.
Finding the Right Matches
While all of these tips can be helpful to any agent, a contact center increases the likelihood of their success by matching certain types of calls (or callers) with the agent best suited to handle them. A workforce optimization solution is essential for such call routing, particularly if it is equipped with a speech analytics solution capable of providing the data that will determine the optimal agent for each call.
Another football season is underway, and as always there will be teams that excel on their way to the playoffs, and teams that stumble and fumble their way to a high draft choice.
Can we say the same about contact centers? Certainly there are a few similarities worth exploring.
If you don’t have a good team on the field, you are not going to achieve your goals. The best football coach can make a good team great, but he can’t make a bad team into a Super Bowl champion. In the contact center, the right coaches and managers can inspire their agents to always improve their game, but they probably won’t be able to transform an unmotivated employee into “Agent of the Year” material.
This also means that having 47 out of 50 well-performing agents is not sufficient. Just as one bad player can fumble away a game, one bad agent can turn customers away and lower the center’s performance standard. When you are drafting new agents, be careful to avoid a bust.
In football, sometimes top players walk away because they don’t like their contract. You can lose agents in the same way as well. A competitive salary with incentives and a positive working atmosphere can help you keep your star players.
And while we’re saying coaches can’t be miracle workers on the gridiron or at the contact center, they do bear some responsibility for team performance. In the NFL, winning coaches take time to get to know each of their players, to ask about their families and what is important to them. They provide ongoing support and encouragement. They know which plays to call that work to a player’s skills.
Hopefully, if you are a contact center manager, you are doing the same things.
Finally, NFL teams invest in training facilities and equipment to give their players the tools they need to excel. Do your agents have the technology tools they need to deliver service to customers, and match call types with the agents best equipped to handle them? Can you provide service via web chat and email and social media with the same professionalism?
In a sense, every call that comes into your contact center is a game in itself that can result in victory or defeat. Make sure you have the team and the technology in place for a winning season – this year and every year.
The 2015 ICMI Contact Center Demo and Conference (October 19-21) is just weeks away, and at Monet we are proud to be a sponsor of this popular annual event.
If you haven’t made plans to attend yet it is certainly not too late – we hope to see you at the Rio Las Vegas. Monet Software will be located at Booth #420.
While we think it’s worth the trip to Vegas just to come and see us and hear about some exciting plans we have for the future at Monet, there are many other good reasons why this conference is an excellent investment.
This year’s workshops include such critical topics as:
• Conquering the Cross-Channel Customer Experience
• Agent Optimization: Maximizing the Frontline’s Performance and Productivity
• 10 Essential Principles for Writing to Customers in a Multichannel World
• Positioning Call Center Leaders for Success in a Sea of Change
• Contact Center Technology 101: What Every Professional Needs to Know
• Deriving Measurable ROI and Impact from your VOC Data and Tools
• Secrets to Developing an Award-Winning Customer Service Team
• From Common to Intelligent: Keys to “New” Self Service
At a time when so many aspects of the contact center industry are changing simultaneously, here is an opportunity to find out more about new technology, new customer engagement channels, and new ways to recruit and train agents. And maybe enjoy a great all-you-can-eat buffet and see a Cirque du Soleil at the same time.
When the first cloud service providers emerged more than 10 years ago, there was some confusion as to what differentiated them from the hosted services that have been around since the early years of commercial computing.
As a pioneering provider of workforce management solutions through the cloud, Monet Software salespeople and other personnel were accustomed to answering questions on how the two solutions were different.
However, with more contact centers and other types of businesses discovering the cost and convenience benefits that the cloud provides, it’s surprising that questions still persist about whether a hosted solution can be rebranded as a cloud solution, when nothing else changes besides the product description.
Let’s put this issue to rest.
Hosted services are technology services offered to you or your company by a provider that hosts the physical servers running that service somewhere else. Web hosting is the business of providing server space, web services and file maintenance for websites controlled by companies or individuals that do not have their own web servers.
Cloud solutions are distinguished from hosted products by a distributed delivery model. This is a multi-tenant solution that provides guaranteed service levels and up times, full scalability, and easily allows for frequent updates.
With client-server (hosted) Workforce Management, it’s the vendor that controls the product from a hosted facility, where such virtualization and scalability are simply not possible.
If a vendor’s product does not provide continuous and instantaneous access to the latest product upgrades, it is not a true cloud solution. Product upgrades are free and automatic in the cloud – with a non-cloud solution, customer upgrades are handled by the vendor in a way that could delay implementation by months.
To make certain you are getting a true cloud solution, ask the right questions: does it use multi-tenant architecture? Are upgrades automatic? Will all customizations and integrations work with future upgrades? Is your service level uptime 99.5% or higher?
At Monet Software, the answer to all of these questions is yes.
We live in an era of specialization.
Look up any listing of doctors in your city and try to find one general practitioner. They used to be commonplace, but today it’s the rare physician that does not graduate medical school with one specific field of interest, whether it’s pediatrics or cardiology or sports medicine.
The contact center has also witnessed the encroachment of specialization; in the way certain calls are routed to certain agents, and in multi-channel centers where customers also communicate via email and online chat.
But is specialization really the best option? Or is there still a place in our industry for a good general practitioner agent?
Dedicated Agent Pools
Multi-channel forecasting typically begins with a specification of service goals based on the types of channels the call center must handle, followed by agent skill assessment within each of these channels.
Once these standards are set, forecasting will require accurate calculation of the Average Handle Time (AHT) for each contact channel. This is easier to do with calls than with emails, but a workforce management system can make volume forecasting easier. With this information, the contact center manager has two options to choose from – dedicated agent pools or the universal queue.
In the first scenario, once an agent’s skill sets are determined, he or she is assigned to a dedicated group that focuses solely or primarily on their best channel, whether that is inbound calls, emails or web chat.
Such specialization also exists within call centers that only handle incoming telephone calls, as agents are assigned to specific areas such as handling complaints, closing sales on high-ticket items, and solving the problems no one else can solve. Over time, through the use of call monitoring and call recording software, managers discover these special talents within certain agents, and funnel calls to them where their skills can be deployed.
The Universal Queue
With this simpler method, all contacts are routed to agents based on order and availability – first come, first serve. In a call center, that means the same agent should be able to handle a billing question and a technical support question, without having to transfer the call (or put the customer on hold while they find someone who knows the answer).
In a multi-channel contact center, universal queue agents might first respond to an email, then resolve a customer’s issue via web chat, and then take a phone call.
The advantage to this method is how it facilitates cross-training and forces agents to become adept at handling the various methods of customer communication in a shorter time span. Cost is another advantage. If agents can support multiple channels, less staff will be required.
Not every agent will have the skill set to become a “universal” agent. In addition to product, service and support knowledge, these agents must be talented, motivated and able to command a wide range of technologies.
As a result, contact centers that opt for the universal queue approach will inevitably devote more time and effort to coaching and training on multiple customer touch points. Some people have a natural inclination to communicate verbally, and may need more help with the written word. Others will arrive with an inverse set of abilities. Thus, managers need to determine if the additional time and capital investment in agent evaluation and preparation will be more than offset by the advantages that universal agents provide.
The Role of Technology
Whether a contact center opts for dedicated agent pools or a universal queue, it is also necessary to have the right technology platform in place, and agents fully trained on the platform. For agent pools, that means routing various methods of customer contact to the right agent. For the universal queue, it means integrating data from all communication modes, and scheduling agents to maximize productivity.
In a corporate era where specialization is the goal, some contact centers are re-discovering the benefits of universal agents. Team members who can perform multiple tasks and communicate through different channels provide a valuable resource. It requires additional time and investment to train these agents, but ultimately their knowledge and efficiency add value to the contact center. Universal agents drive customer loyalty through the quality service they provide, while lowering costs to the company.
More effective. More comprehensive. More centralized. More accurate. These are just some of the predictions of how workforce management (WFM) software will change over the next few years.
It takes forward-thinking companies to stay on the cutting edge of future developments and changes in the demands of the marketplace. Monet is now designing the next generation of WFM, and we’ll have more to say about that in the months to come.
In the meantime, this is what you can reasonably expect from workforce management within the next few years – and beyond.
As contact centers become more multi-channel and multi-skilled, forecasting will have to keep pace. Programs and computer simulation modeling will make it possible to predict multiple tasks and media within one interaction.
One Stop Solutions
As systems become more integrated and centralized, metrics will be available to link front office and back-office functionality, and provide a wealth of data drawn from every aspect of the contact center and the company at large.
Tomorrow’s WFM solutions will help agents use their time more efficiently (example: automatically finding slow periods and scheduling coaching sessions during these lulls), while also providing even more tools to enhance the customer service they provide. In addition, as WFM gains the ability to automatically identify which agents are best suited for which platforms (phone, chat, email, etc.), they can be scheduled accordingly. That results in more confident, satisfied agents and happier customers as well.
The boring stuff managers have to do every day? With WFM assuming those tasks, managers can focus more on other aspects of business improvement and customer service. And with the cloud, agents can log into a contact center from anywhere in the world, and contact centers have access to a remote workforce that can step in on short notice if the unexpected occurs.
It’s already here but it’s going to become more prominent. As automated speech analytics tools become mainstream, WFM will generate additional data from customer interactions that will allow for the resolution of issues as they arise. It will also help agents know the right words and phrases to use not only for compliance issues but to communicate clearly with customers.
Automated training processes will recognize when agents are doing well and require less attention, so more focus can be put on agents that under-perform. E-learning, especially as incorporated into other training sessions, will make it possible for agents to get better at their jobs at times when they are not busy doing them.
Access via Cloud
As it becomes imperative for WFM to be accessible from multiple places and devices, the cloud makes that flexibility possible.
Sound promising? If so, here is some good news – many of these applications and capabilities are already incorporated into Monet’s WFM Live. If this technology is in your contact center, you already have the solutions that are on the wish lists of other companies.
Now let’s see what some technology experts believe may be coming to call centers in 5-10 years.
Taking the Lead
We’re not at the artificial intelligence level yet, but workforce management will certainly become more perceptive, more automated, and more functional. Today’s intra-day tracking and reporting will give way to WFM identifying places were changes can be made to schedules and queues to deal with discrepancies, without any manager or agent having to do anything.
Better Front and Back Office Communication
The same WFM used in contact centers will make its way into back office processes. Now the needs of the customers will be known to every aspect of the business, and in some cases WFM will pre-empt their needs and have automated reactions ready for different situations.
The End of Offices?
While technology now makes work from anywhere possible, some believe the need for physical workplaces will continue to decline, as it will be more preferable for many employees. For this to happen, WFM will need to run smoothly on any computer and mobile device. The system will also have to provide the knowledge and guidance for agents working remotely to navigate complex issues, and have the functionality to meet the needs of virtual individuals and teams.
I’ll Work When I Feel Like It
For those old-school managers who may think working from home is acceding too much to agent preference, just wait – the future is ready to further raise your blood pressure. Some expect that agent preference will one day be the first consideration when it comes to scheduling. Employees will be allowed to set their own working hours, requiring WFM to be more flexible to work out the forecasting and scheduling details.
The Internet of Things
In the future, the person who bought a TV might not be the one calling to report a problem – the television itself may send the message through Internet-enabled technology.
Ditching the Desktop
Today WFM makes it possible to work via mobile device when one is not at the computer. Will people still want to work through a desktop machine 10 years from now? Or will the smartphone that so many of us already stare at for hours also become our primary work device?
New Monet Platform: Coming Soon
While many of these developments may be years away, Monet is already working hard on the new version of its award-winning platform.
We have special plans for this next-generation solution, which will include a tightly integrated range of both new and improved features. These innovations will impact workforce management, quality assurance, performance management, speech analytics and desktop analytics.
We are also adding expanded usability, enhanced flexibility, increased compliance with industry-specific regulations, and greater scalability to adapt and adjust to the daily realities of contact centers regardless of size and number of agents.
Check back for more updates as they are announced. We look forward to bringing you the details both on our website and our Facebook, Linkedin or twitter
How will IoT impact the contact center? Theories already abound: here are just some of the predictions.
• The role of the agent: IoT provides more proactive outbound communication with connected devices, which can self-correct issues that previously might have generated a phone call. Agents may thus become more specialized to handle specific issues that fall outside the technology’s capabilities.
• More extended service contracts: Manufacturers will likely offer IoT as a service upgrade, and agents will manage these tiered service offerings.
• Proactive solutions: If the machines are talking to each other, the contact center agent’s computer will be in on these communications, so the agent will know about the issue before the customer calls – he might even be able to implement a solution in advance.
• “There’s a call from Jane’s blender on line 2…” Contact centers are accustomed to communication via smartphones and tablets; with IoT, other electronic devices may also have a ‘contact’ button from which customers can reach out to contact centers – or allow the device to automatically send a message that describes the problem.
• Better customer experience: gathering data from new devices will deliver more insight into how they are used, which could inspire changes that have a positive impact on the customer experience. Plus, if the agent already knows the specifics of the problem, it will shorten call times.
Not everything will change. Widespread adoption of devices with this technology is likely many years away, and even after it happens millions of consumers will opt for less sophisticated (and likely less costly) traditional appliances and electronics. Whatever the future brings there will always be a need for the same contact center services being provided now.
Every week, new contact center managers and agents discover this blog for the first time. We think that’s a good reason to occasionally go back to the basics, and explore the ways in which a quality workforce management solution (like Monet WFM Live) should be utilized. This is technology that can really make a difference in how you serve your customers.
Follow these guidelines to make the most of a WFM solution:
• Given the attrition rates at contact centers, require ongoing WFM training to avoid knowledge erosion
• Refine your data gathering processes regularly to make sure the numbers are accurate
• Monitor shrinkage and balance it correctly into forecasts
• Set realistic adherence targets, and apply real-time calculations to achieving them
• Make sure intra-day forecasting is consistent
• Let the system manage holiday and shift swaps, so managers can focus on other tasks
• Daily forecasts will usually be top priority, but do not ignore midrange and long-term calculations that can be important to future planning.
• Invite agents to input schedule and vacation requests directly into the system
While Workforce Management can make a difference simply through the data it delivers and processes it expedites, it’s a tool that will ultimately be successful depending on the environment in which it is used.
Thus, managers are also urged to always treat agents fairly. For example, do not give preferential treatment on first choice of shifts, unless this perk is offered as a bonus for outstanding performance. Make sure contact center policies on this and other rules are clearly communicated so agents know what to expect.
When you know what to look for, when you have the information you need, when you need it, and when you can act upon it quickly, that’s workforce management made easy.
Among the many interesting experiences we had at Call Center Week was discussing the topics that were foremost on the minds of attendees. During the course of the week we spoke with hundreds of contact center professionals, and these were the subjects that seemed to pop up most frequently.
As one of the keys to improving the customer experience is improving the agent experience, there was much talk about how to support agents in the difficult job they have to do. The most oft-proposed solution was giving them the technology they need to prosper.
Multi-Channel Customer Service
The Internet has acclimated customers to getting the information they want when they want it, whether that’s a Sunday afternoon or at 2 in the morning. They also prefer other options besides picking up the phone (though that one remains the most popular and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future). Companies that do not yet provide multi-channel (and mobile friendly) support are falling behind the curve.
The Customization of Cloud-Based Technologies
So if agent experience and multi-channel support are important, what is the best way to meet these challenges? Much of the talk at Call Center Week focused on how the industry is migrating toward cloud-based technologies, and how they provide more customization and more scalability at a lower cost than traditional solutions. Contact centers are recognizing that one-size-fits-all products are often insufficient, especially in an era when it’s easy to find technology to match their specific needs.
As a pioneer of cloud-based contact center technology, Monet was busy all week answering questions and providing demos of our products. If your call center is considering stepping up to the cloud, we look forward to showing you the time-saving, cost-saving differences that these solutions can make in your business.
Some resignations are easier to accept than others. When it’s the agent who always takes the last donut just before you can get to the refrigerator, you can live with that. When it’s one of your top-performing veteran agents, it’s a much bigger cause for concern.
Unfortunately, sometimes it seems like the under-performers are always there, while the superstars are always looking for a way out. If you’re faced with that type of situation, here are two reasons for why it may be happening, and how you may be able to keep your most valued employees.
1. Good Agents Have Other Options
The agent that can turn angry callers into satisfied ones and upsell a $10 order into a $50 purchase can get a job at almost any contact center – including those that pay more than you do. If you want to keep them, make sure they know their achievements have been noticed, and reward them accordingly. Better still, put them on a management track if they have the qualifications, and give them more responsibilities (with commensurate compensation). You can start by having them train new agents on the techniques that have made them successful.
Talking to different customers with different problems for hours on end is a tough job. You can’t change the callers, but you can perhaps change the contact center environment to one that is more supportive, where you build stronger relationships between managers and agents, and do what is necessary to keep agents happy in an often challenging occupation. Listen to them, even if they just need to vent for five minutes.
An added benefit to these measures is how it tends to attract even more quality agents, who will take note of the positive workplace vibe from their first visit, and perhaps even hear from your current agents about your center being a great place to work. But if it isn’t, they’ll probably hear that, too.
“The extensive reporting capabilities, graphs and charts presented senior managers with the tools they needed to make staffing decisions. We are satisfied with Monet Software and feel that the application has met our requirements.”
Oscar Gutierrez, Contact Center Analyst, Bayview Loan Servicing
Bayview Loan Servicing, an investment management firm focused on all areas of mortgage credit, including mortgage servicing rights were scheduled manually using spreadsheets.
Comcast Corp. recently announced plans to hire 10,000 military veterans, reservists and spouses over the next three years. Since 2012, the company has hired more than 4,200 veterans. Many of them now work at Comcast’s contact centers.
This is not only an admirable effort, especially with Memorial Day having recently passed, it is also a proven method for finding better agents that are more likely to provide excellent service, and to stay in their positions longer.
Compare the attributes managers look for in a contact center agent to the attributes veterans obtain during their military service, and it becomes obvious why this transition is one that works:
Accelerated learning curve: veterans can quickly learn new skills and concepts
Teamwork: the military encourages both individual and group productivity
Grace under pressure: if veterans can handle stressful combat situations, they can certainly cope with the rigors of tight schedules and angry callers
Following orders: Military men and women are used to accurately following procedures
Integrity: Veterans are familiar with the concept of an honest day’s work, and will bring their ‘A’ game to their job every day.
There are many qualities that are desirable in a contact center agent, and most of them have already been acquired by men and women who have served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Something to keep in mind next time your contact center is hiring.
Everyone looks forward to a 3-day weekend – with the exception of those who have to work one or all of those days, and those that have to make sure resources are allocated at a contact center to meet consumer demand.
As Memorial Day weekend approaches, here are some of the ways that workforce management can help contact center managers anticipate and optimize for the three-day holiday.
- Gathering Data – historical reports from the ACD provide the best indicators of what to expect. Go back at least two years and analyze call volume and other important KPIs.
- Remove Variances – a holiday is a variance in itself so that will obviously be taken into account, but watch for other issues that might be responsible for lower or higher numbers.
- Follow the Pattern – what specifically happened last Memorial Day weekend? Perhaps call volume dropped on Friday, was almost nonexistent Sunday but picked up again on Monday. Will that pattern remain consistent? Or is there some reason it might change?
- Check with Marketing – Has the company announced a new Memorial Day sale or promotion? How will that factor into call volume?
Once you have this information, it will be much easier to calculate staff requirements to meet service goals.
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Many companies have discovered the advantages of virtual call centers, such as the cost reductions derived from agents working from home, and a more flexible scalability than what can be imposed at a brick and mortar contact center.
It’s an arrangement that is also preferable for many agents. They eliminate the time and fuel costs associated with driving to and from the contact center, and it allows parents of small children to be closer to their families. There is also something to be said for the trust shown in agents that work remotely, which is appreciated and often inspires greater confidence and performance.
Forecasting, Scheduling and Telecommuting
The evolution of cloud software has accelerated the work-from-home trend, as it provides the same service capabilities to an agent’s home computer as can be accessed at the call center.
No installation is required, data sharing remains secure, and managers enjoy even more flexibility in the forecasting and scheduling process. Forecast simulations can be run in the same way as with an office-based workforce, and scheduling will be easier because of greater agent availability.
Now it’s easier to always meet optimal service levels, as managers can create a pool of back-up telecommuting agents for times of increased call volume, peak calling seasons such as holidays, or for when there are just too many unexpected absences.
Best of all, with an automated, cloud-based workforce management solution, managers receive the same detailed reports and real-time information on employee performance, agent activities, shift assignments, schedule adherence and other data, regardless of whether the agent is working from home or elsewhere.
Managers used to a more traditional contact center environment make require some adjustment, but the benefits of cloud-based WFM, and the positive reception of agents who would prefer to work from home (and now may stay with the company longer) should ease the transition.
Any system that assures service levels are being met while costs are being reduced is certainly worth a try.
Forecast & Scheduling Best Practices
Different call centers have different busy seasons.
For those connected with our annual income tax obligation, this is the month that requires more advance preparation, agent training and full staffing. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance typically handles about 1 million calls every April.
If your contact center is one designed to help businesses and consumers answer IRS or state tax-related questions, how did you do? If your agents now look like they have been through a 15-round fight, and your callers had to wait longer than you would prefer to speak to an agent, it’s never too early to start preparing to do better next year.
That process starts by studying this month’s figures. That will help you better anticipate what traffic will be like in April of 2016, not just in call volume but in how many chose to seek help through other channels (chat, email, etc.). With a sound forecast in place you’ll be better prepared to allocate resources and personnel to the shifts and the areas where they will be needed most.
Do you have a workforce management solution in place that can route a specific type of call to the agent best qualified to take it? Do you have qualified temp agents on stand-by who will be available on the busiest days? If not, start hiring early and have contact information ready for more agents that you expect to need, as some drop-off should always be anticipated.
Keep in mind also that just because you are busier, it’s no reason to pay less attention to quality control. This is actually a critical time to be monitoring calls, emails and chats to compare to the call center’s quality benchmarks. Do not wait until after the season is over to address any issues.
“Is it in the budget?”
Some variation of that question is always asked when any changes to contact center procedures are proposed. And it’s a valid question. Economic realities have forced businesses of all kinds to do more with less, and contact centers are no exception.
But there comes a point when inaction can be more costly than a beneficial investment. And when it comes to the use of spreadsheets vs. workforce management software, that time has come.
Yet many small and midsized contact centers still rely on spreadsheets for daily forecasting and scheduling. Even larger contact centers, those with 100 agents or more, are still making due with an inefficient system that lowers customer service, and can actually increase costs.
When an increase as low as 1% in productivity can significantly impact the contact center budget, it is imperative to identify areas where efficiency can be improved. Ditching spreadsheets should be at the top of that list.
Spending Money to Save Money
The limitations of a spreadsheet result in fixed schedules that can produce higher shrinkage and overstaffing, or understaffing and a low service level. But with WFM it is easier to manage start times, end times and breaks with an ease of flexibility that dramatically improves service levels.
Managers can also consult more detailed and accurate call histories with WFM, resulting in better forecasts. Scheduling is also faster – some managers can save as much as 25% of the time once devoted to filling in spreadsheets – time that can now be used for additional agent training or to attend to other matters.
Is increased efficiency worth the investment? One of our clients, the Texas credit union GECU, found out first-hand. Their call center, staffed by 85 agents, selected Monet’s cloud-based WFM Live as a way to improve customer service. Affordability was a key component in the decision, as WFM Live provides such benefits as reduced IT investment, low implementation service fees and a more cost-effective per-user license model.
Just a few months after implementation, GECU was able to save money by reducing its number of agents by 14, while delivering better customer service. With the more accurate scheduling made possible by WFM Live, there was a 30% reduction in unscheduled breaks. Costly overtime scheduling was reduced, while call volume spikes were managed more easily.
“In terms of ROI, Monet has already paid for itself after a few months. The cost of the 3 year subscription I've already saved in salaries, overtime and administrative costs.”
--Joshua Gomez, GECU Assistant Vice-President, Call Center
Today, the quality and service levels at GECU are solidly placed in the top 97% tier.
The Better Solution for Managers, Agents and Your Customers
A spreadsheet can be used to calculate workforce percentages, but precise forecasting requires more in-depth analysis. And when forecasts are wrong, stressed agents cannot deliver the service level you and your customers expect – or, they’re sitting in their cubicles with nothing to do, and earning money for it.
One of the reasons we hear most often from companies reluctant to change is, “But this is the way we’ve been doing it for 10 years.” Change can indeed be intimidating. What we tell them is they are not really changing the things they do – they are just going to be able to do them more easily and efficiently.
Forecasts rely heavily on historical data – daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal – to determine call volume. Contact center managers may start with monthly and weekly stats, and then delve deeper into daily and hourly numbers, perhaps even examining work periods as short as 15 minutes.
This can be done with spreadsheets, theoretically, but with WFM it is significantly easier to analyze call types, call volume and call patterns, and then to note past variations, determine their cause, and forecast accordingly. With WFM it is also much easier to forecast special days or other events that impact call volume. “Special day” provisions can be created for any factor, from marketing campaigns or events to weather patterns.
Scheduling is yet another area where WFM offers enhanced capabilities. Spreadsheets can handle fixed schedules, but in 2015 how often do contact center schedules stay fixed?
With a WFM system managers have the flexibility to automatically manage start times, end times and break times. Now, agents can work the hours that work best for them, and happier agents are far more likely to excel at customer service. They are also more likely to stay with the company longer, a consideration that should not be minimized considering the average employee turnover rate in this industry.
Intra-day adherence tracking is another significant component of a best practices approach that is practically impossible with just a spreadsheet. WFM also provides insight, through dashboards and real-time alerts, into which agents are meeting their schedule obligations, and which may require additional guidance or training.
The annual budgeting process presents a familiar challenge – cut costs where necessary while maintaining (or improving) the customer experience. Since labor forces rank among the highest cost items, it is essential that they be managed properly. With WFM, a manager can always be confident that he or she is scheduling the right agents with the right skills at the right time.
Those still using spreadsheets for these functions are missing out on the convenience, efficiency, flexibility and functionality of workforce management.
The calculations necessary for optimal forecasts and schedules are very difficult to do with Excel. WFM has sophisticated simulation processes that tell a call center how many people it will need and when it will need them.
“But we can’t afford it.” That might have true ten years ago, but today with cloud-based WFM, even smaller and medium-sized contact centers can reap the benefits of automated workforce management at an affordable cost. A lower investment also means a more rapid return on that investment.
When call volume changes, spreadsheets are insufficient. With WFM, managers can get back to managing people, instead of spending hours on Excel planning forecasts and schedules. To learn more about this, download our whitepaper "The Real Cost of Spreadsheet-based Scheduling".
Is your contact center ready for spring break?
Certainly many of your agents are looking forward to this annual celebration. If that means taking additional time off, managers will need to have a plan in place for potential attrition.
This time of year can also mean increased business in certain industries – travel, hospitality, entertainment – creating the perfect storm at some contact centers of more calls coming in and less agents there to handle them.
How can a business negotiate this impending crisis? A workforce management (WFM) solution is the answer.
When a manager needs to know what type of calls, and call volume, to expect on a certain week or day or even during a particular hour, WFM collects and analyzes historical call data to help predict future workload. That makes it easier to forecast needs and schedule staff accordingly.
This is also a time when the flexible schedule creation made possible by WFM delivers additional benefits. Now you can take foreseen and unforeseen variables and agent exceptions into account, as well as make intra-day changes to both forecasting and scheduling.
With WFM, costly instances of overstaffing and understaffing are reduced, schedule adherence is improved, and more flexible scheduling is possible. If you try to achieve the same results with spreadsheets, you’ll be the one that needs a spring break vacation.
If you see a building going up or being renovated in an office park or commercial area near you, don’t be surprised if it turns out to be a call center.
Enter “contact center jobs” into a news search engine and you’ll see story after story about companies adding positions – 682 in Hamilton, Ohio; 600 in Clearfield, Utah; 750 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Part of this can be attributed to a steadily growing economy, but the trend toward insourcing these jobs from overseas, rather than shipping them out to India and The Philippines, is also significant factor. Today, there are approximately five million Americans employed in contact centers, and many of them are working in positions that were outsourced more than a decade ago.
Why the switch? Labor costs are going up in other parts of the world, so companies aren’t saving as much money; security has also become a concern, considering the uncertainties in data privacy laws outside the United States.
There has also been a renewed appreciation for the central role the contact center plays in customer service, whether that entails order processing, payment processing, market research or addressing customer concerns. Given how contact center agents are on the front line of customer communication, CEOs now acknowledge, maybe this isn’t the best place to cut corners.
But the real issue may be the escalating numbers of complaints from callers, who are tired of speaking to agents that are poorly trained and difficult to understand. Not only are outsourced personnel not trained as thoroughly, they are thousands of miles away from management personnel, who are thus unable to monitor and interact directly with these employees.
Not Just Jobs: Good Jobs
Since businesses originally outsourced to save money, it’s encouraging to see that as these contact center agent jobs come back to the U.S., they are doing so in most cases with a salary that will attract intelligent, capable employees.
S&P Data LLC, which provides contact center solutions to Fortune 500 companies in the United States and Canada, has announced plans to bring 425 new contact service representative jobs to Rio Rancho, NM, with annual salaries averaging $38,000 plus benefits.
This is reflective of one way that call centers have changed since the outsourcing boom – with basic company information accessible through social media and order processing available online, the responsibilities of the contact center agent has changed.
“The types of calls that are coming through to our agents today, regardless of the client, are more complex, and it’s requiring that higher caliber associate,” said
Richardo Layun, director of operations at the Melbourne eBay Enterprise center.
One Success Story: Colorado
Colorado has been in the national news often of late, mostly for its legalization of marijuana and that decision’s impact on the state’s culture and economy. But in La Junta, a city in the southeast part of the state, a less controversial means of economic recovery is underway.
The city converted an old Air Force training facility into a 1,500-acre industrial part that is already home to two call centers: the first employs 180 agents in a 10,200 square foot building. Nearby a 300-seat center is housed inside a 33,750 square foot brick building with ample space for additional departments and meeting facilities. Amenities for both include a restaurant, day care facility and golf course all located within the park itself.
The influx of new business is the result of a community effort that also includes The Colorado Workforce Center, which provides recruitment and training programs, and the local junior college, which offers preparatory classes in computers, software and technology training. The La Junta City Council has shown its support for new business by approving a relocation incentive that allows contact centers to operate for five years rent-free.
Things Have Changed Since We’ve Been Away
That may be the reaction of agents and managers when they realize how the contact center industry has evolved in the years when companies were shifting positions overseas. The technology and use of spreadsheets that was sufficient to stay competitive in the industry has been surpassed by more sophisticated solutions. For these new contact centers, it is important to equip agents with the tools they need to prosper.
That starts with an automated workforce management (WFM) solution, which delivers a means to improve the productivity and cost-efficiency of the contact center by making so many vital tasks easier. These includes running simulations for more accurate forecasting, and scheduling that incorporates all call types and other activities. Exception planning, performance analysis, intra-day management, and other practices are streamlined through the real-time data generated by today’s WFM systems.
An investment in such technology might have been counterproductive, as companies would be reluctant to add a $100,000 equipment investment on top of other development and personnel costs. Even if you are relocating to rent-free La Junta, that’s a lot of money. But with a cloud WFM system, a unified solution can be implemented quickly without a large upfront cost. Instead, users pay only a low monthly subscription fee.
In addition to cost savings, a cloud platform also provides maximum flexibility and scalability, and is more easily deployed even across multiple locations. Since all data is stored “in the cloud,” it can be retrieved at any call center workstation. If you are interested in this topic, please also read the article "5 Reasons Why Contact Center Jobs are Coming Home" that was published by Contact Professional.
While customers now have other options when it comes to interacting with a company, such as email and online chats, surveys show that the majority still picks up the phone when they want to ask a question or place an order.
To take better care of these customers, companies that outsource their contact centers are now shifting their focus to centers within the U.S., which can provide a higher quality of care. But that investment can quickly escalate if a large technology investment is required.
Cloud computing can reduce these costs. In this model, contact centers pay only for the time and capacity that they need.
Customers appreciate when their calls are received by the agents most qualified to handle them.
And this is certainly one of those instances where what is good for the customer is good for the contact center as well. Skill-based scheduling results in higher productivity, higher first call resolution and shorter call times. It plays to agents’ strengths and boosts their confidence.
Implementation of skill-based scheduling begins by establishing a clear tier system that ranks agents by skills based on call type. Ultimately, the goal is to have only agents that are capable of handling every type of customer call. Thus, performance remains consistent no matter how schedules may fluctuate.
Such scheduling based on specific skill sets is easily manageable with Workforce Management. Inclusion of skills is handled automatically by WFM, so it’s easier to fill each shift with fewer agents – those who have the requisite specialties to handle every customer encounter. Now, try to achieve the same results with spreadsheets, when each of your agents has 3-5 different skills. How would you even begin to take all of them into account and run various scenarios? Even if it could be done, it would take many, many more hours that could be devoted to other challenges.
Based on a recent call center industry analysis, approximately 20% of call centers still use spreadsheets for forecasting and scheduling. Those that do are missing out on the convenience, efficiency and flexibility of workforce management, particularly when it comes to this vital function.
Workforce management plays a prominent role in engendering employee and customer satisfaction through skill-based scheduling. Spreadsheets just can’t keep up. To learn more, please read this whitepaper about Spreadsheets vs. Workforce Management Software.
The holiday season means good food, good friends and good will toward men. But at some contact centers, it also means a significant increase in the need for customer service support. And by the way, your customers are busier during this season as well, and they expect the same response time and personalized service they receive at any other time of year.
If your contact center is about to get deluged with call volume that may be five times higher than usual, the time to start planning is now (especially if you haven’t been anticipating this for the last 1-2 months).
Increased staffing means more job interviews. The pace will be accelerated but the objective here is not just to fill empty seats. These new hires must be as motivated and as qualified as the agents you’ve had for years. Some contact centers maintain a database of potential hires so there is always a supply of qualified candidates that can step in with less training and get the job done. Forecasting and scheduling
are also crucial components to achieve adequate service levels and provide great customer service. Reviewing historical data is the best place to start this process, and then take a moment to think about what has changed since the holiday seasons of last year and the year before. These variables must also be taken into account.
Finally, with so many new faces in the contact center and so many more calls pouring in, quality monitoring
and control will be more difficult, but must be maintained. That means assigning more veteran team members to the quality control effort, so you have enough agents monitoring calls, emails and chats.
By taking these steps, you’ll have a much better chance to deliver a positive and memorable holiday shopping experience.
Forecasting and scheduling are vital components in the success of every
call center management. Achieving consistent results requires a little
art and a little science, but is impossible without concrete data.
For decades, that data was gathered through spreadsheets, and would take
hours to compile. Even then, the results were not always accurate, or
flexible enough to accommodate last minute changes or other staffing
An automated workforce management (WFM) and optimization (WFO) solution
can help you to implement Best Practices. You can easily improve
forecast accuracy and in turn, optimize schedule assignment, making sure
all the necessary resources are always in place. An integrated WFO
solution allows a manager to check KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators)
against historical data. In a typical call center a manager will ask
such questions as:
“When I see that my agents’ Average Talk Time has exceeded the target,
does this result in more abandons and a poor service level?”
“If a longer talk time is causing more abandons, are there agents that
are still able meet all of their quality monitoring goals while keeping a
low talk time?”
By analyzing data in an integrated WFO tool, a manager can then
reference what processes allowed some agents to have a lower talk time
while meeting their quality targets, and then train the rest of the
workforce using these processes. At that point, a lower Average Talk
Time goal may be set for the entire center, resulting in happier
customers getting their calls answered more quickly and less overall
“Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling: Best Practices” details how WFO
improves the likelihood of creating reliable forecasts and accurate
schedules. There are also sections on how WFM impacts agent
productivity, and which criteria are most important when selecting a WFM
Click here to download Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling: Best Practices.