Call Center Scheduling Hints, Tips & Best Practices
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?
Read More About Regional Sharing for Contact Center Services
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.
Read More About Migrating to the Cloud: How to Get Ready
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
Read More About Another Year, Another “Product of the Year” Award
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.
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.
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.
Read More About Forecasting: What’s Happening Now
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.
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.
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.
Read More About How to reduce agent attrition?
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.
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.
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?
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.
Read More About Choosing a WFM Solution: What's Most Important
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.
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?
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.
Read More About Is Your Contact Center Ready for 2016?
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.
Read More About Test Drive Your Holiday Preparation Plan
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.
Read More About Workforce Management Trends in 2016
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.
Read More About Workforce Management and Labor Costs
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.
Read More About Where is the Next Contact Center Revolution Taking Place?
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.
Read More About Keeping Up with Contact Center Tech
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.
Read More About Quick Tips to Boost Contact Center Performance
The evolution of technology has made it easier than ever for call center agents to work from home. And if you believe the “What work will look like in the future” articles all over the Internet, we are still at the beginning of a transition to a time when virtual workplaces may outnumber traditional offices.
However, if your contact center is considering a work-for-home arrangement, it’s important to realize that there may be some bumps in the road throughout the transition process.
The benefits are there – lower overhead, happier employees, reduced attrition rates, access to a larger potential workforce (since a daily commute to the contact center is no longer necessary), but here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you embark on this brave new virtual path:
Choose the Right Agents
When you offer your current agents a work-from-home option, many will leap at the opportunity, eager to “go to work” every day in their family room and watch TV when they should be focusing on calls. Present this as a privilege, not a right, and tie it to the set of performance standards they are currently meeting in the office. If those numbers slip, it’s back to the cubicle. Remind them that the requirements of the position are the same – only their surroundings will change.
Choose the Right Technology
Telecommuting only works if agents can do everything at home that they can do in the office. Obviously a computer with high-speed broadband is essential, but the only way to be assured of the efficiency of a virtual workplace is through cloud-based technology.
This way, you will always know that these agents are working with the current software versions, as with the cloud they are uploaded automatically (and at no cost) upon availability. Managers can access real-time and historic reporting so they will always be aware of current activity no matter where it is taking place. And remote agents can have their calls recorded and monitored for future training purposes.
Choose the Right Policies
During this time new rules will have to be written and new procedures learned. Will telecommuting agents have to come in to the office for coaching sessions, or should those be handled virtually as well? Will additional training be required for the home agent to interact with the office, receive shift assignments or schedule breaks remotely?
The key to all of this is communication. As you begin your transition into a partially or fully virtual workplace, make certain there is an end-to-end communication plan in place so that agents have the knowledge, the tools and the guidance they need to deliver outstanding customer service, wherever they may be.
Read More About Managing the Telecommute Switch
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.
Read More About Words, Actions and Acknowledgements: The Tools of the Trade for Contact Center Agents
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.
Read More About Run Your Contact Center like a Football Team
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.
Read More About Hope to See You at ICMI!
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.
Read More About Hosted and Cloud WFM Solutions: What’s the Difference?
You’ve probably read articles and blogs (including some here) about steps that can be taken to keep your agents happier. It’s a noble gesture that is also good for business, and can pay dividends in the quality of your customer service.
But can you actually keep your agents healthier as well?
This can be a stressful business at times and there is no way to avoid the pressure generated by angry callers, strict scheduling requirements and job performance expectations. However, a contact center manager that is sensitive to these challenges can create a healthier work environment.
Trainers and supervisors can play a key role. Beyond their normal function of reviewing job performance, coaching and review sessions also provide an opportunity to ask questions about physical and emotional health. How is the agent handling the pressure? How do agents feel like they are treated by the business and the boss? Do they feel valued for their good work? Recognition and reward can make an agent feel better – and perform better.
Contact centers that enjoy the advantage of workforce management software can employ more flexibility in forecasting and scheduling. That makes it easier to accommodate special requests for taking shifts off or swapping shifts with another agent. Such allowances reduce the tendency in some contact centers to treat agents like children and not adult employees without outside interests and priorities. That lowers stress levels.
Since a sick agent is one that won’t be showing up for work, contact centers can also offer free flu shots, or help agents monitor health conditions such as diabetes, arthritis or asthma, by fostering relationships with local clinics and other care providers. Some of these agents might be good candidates for working from home, which can also keep them healthier.
Some extra investment may be necessary to take these steps, but if the result is healthier employees, fewer under-staffed shifts and lower attrition rates, it’s an investment worth considering.
Read More About Can You Keep your Agents Healthier?
Agents have good days and bad days just like the rest of us. But when the bad days become prevalent, action should be taken. An agent that has lost interest is one that may be costing you customers with every call.
Recognize the warning signs of impending agent apathy – then decide if this is an employee that can be re-inspired, or should be let go.
1. Showing up Late
With a workforce management solution it’s easy to identify agents who start their shifts late, and add a few extra minutes to their lunch and other breaks. The more difficult assessment is identifying those agents who don’t maintain focus even when they are at their desks. Call recording will be useful here. Once the problem is known, it may call for more than just coaching – usually these agents know what to do, they just don’t care enough to do it. Is there an underlying issue, such as trouble at home? Having someone to talk to might be the first step to reinvigorating performance.
2. Excessive Sick Leave
This can be tricky, but when the days missed become excessive the situation must be confronted. A meeting here can be used to remind the agent of how valuable he or she is to the company, as well as how absenteeism has a negative impact on the business and on other agents.
3. Finding Reasons Not to Take Calls
There are more ways to avoid picking up the phone than you might imagine – and some agents know them all. “Oh, it’s the last call of the day and I’ve already put my stuff away”; “I’ve had an IT issue accessing our service department all day – might as well wait until that’s fixed in case this customer needs that information,” etc. Gently call out such behavior as you find it, or hold a team meeting expressing concern about this issue without naming names. The guilty parties will know who they are.
4. Transferring Too Many Calls
Patience is a virtue in call center work, but some customers exhaust that patience more quickly than others. Agents who lack the initiative to tackle these issues will pass such calls on to a supervisor. When this happens too often, the supervisor should have a chat with that agent to find out why. Once again, just identifying the problem may be enough to resolve it.
5. Lowering Team Morale
That old saying about one bad apple spoiling a whole bunch is, unfortunately, true. If one agent becomes lax in his or her efforts, other team members will pick up on this behavior. And if they don’t see that agent disciplined, they’ll stay at it. No resting on this one – private direct confrontation is required, followed by a general “It has come to our attention…” announcement. After that, it’s time to employ another old saying – shape up or ship out.
Read More About Five Signs Your Agents Don’t Care – and What to Do Next
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.
Read More About Multi-Channel Forecasting: Dedicated Agent Pools vs. The Universal Queue
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
Read More About What’s Next for Workforce Management?
Contact centers must contend with the challenges of creating a positive business environment, motivating and retaining outstanding agents, and developing a service-based culture that makes both agents and customers happy.
The ecommerce shoe retailer Zappos is often cited as a model for similar businesses to follow. They pay their agents a competitive wage, but it’s not just about salary – it’s about employee engagement, and building a management model that values communication, team-building, and motivation that also doesn’t forget to have fun.
For traditional contact centers this would be a major adjustment. However, since a 2012 report called “Millennials in the Workplace” found that success is not tied to money among this generation, but to being “happy with work,” it is something worth considering.
The Zappos mission is to “provide fun and engaging opportunities for employees that speak to their individual passions.” And it doesn’t take a genius in human resources to understand that when workers are engaged productivity increases, attrition is reduced, and job openings attract a higher caliber of candidate.
But this doesn’t mean you need to turn your workspace into a playground or video arcade. At its heart, the Zappos approach simply means making sure agents feel valued every day, not just during training sessions and annual reviews. The responsibility for this will fall on managers, who will need to make certain agents buy into the company’s values. When that mindset has taken hold, the manager should then feel confident enough to allow agents to utilize their talents on behalf of the contact center’s customers.
This approach should also extend to holidays and peak periods when temporary agents may be added to handle to increased workload. By making these workers feel valued and appreciated as well, you’ll not only boost the chance of customers receiving quality service, you’ll acquire a list of agents-in-waiting who can step in when others leave.
Read More About Can Your Contact Center Follow the Zappos Model?
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.
Read More About Workforce Management: Guiding Principles and Best Practices
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.
Read More About Call Center Week 2015: Contact Center Trends to Watch