Call Center Scheduling 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
If your contact center is located in an area where the next nearest contact center is 50 miles or more away, consider yourself lucky. Chances are you are getting first pick at the local workforce and can be more selective about which candidates to hire to serve your customers.
However, if your call center is In Tampa, Florida, Phoenix, Arizona, Greensboro, North Carolina, Las Vegas, Nevada or one of the other cities where the saturation rate for this type of business is high, the search for qualified labor can be more daunting. Here, the agent is picking you as much as you are selecting the agent, and you may find yourself in a constant competition to recruit and retain the best candidates.
Each high-saturation market presents its own unique challenges. Las Vegas, for instance, still has a particularly large transient population. For contact centers, that might raise a red flag on candidates that have only lived in the city for less than one year. It can be frustrating to devote the time and effort necessary to develop and train a new agent, only to have that agent move out of state a few months later.
However, regardless of the market there are a few initiatives that can be taken to improve the likelihood of attracting talented agents in competitive environments.
A Desirable Place to Work
While specific policies and procedures may vary, the basic function of a contact center agent will be much the same wherever that agent works. So anything that can be done to improve the workplace look, its hospitality and its overall “vibe” might become a deciding factor in where that agent chooses to work.
For some businesses this could be as simple as a bright, welcoming atmosphere. Or it may be the offering of extra conveniences and perks, such as a child-friendly or pet-friendly workplace.
This is obvious. A competitive wage package is essential in cities where similar opportunities are plentiful.
Word of Mouth
Sometimes the best recruitment tools a contact center has are the agents that already work there. Make them a part of your recruitment process.
Veteran agents in particular will appreciate being able to ask the types of questions that only another agent can answer. They’ll want to know whether agent input is valued, or if an assembly line attitude pervades. Has a script or policy ever changed because of an agent’s suggestion? Are outstanding performances rewarded? Does the occasional mishandled call prompt an angry outburst, or a coaching moment?
Opportunity for Advancement
Some people seek a job. Others seek a career. Those that fall in the latter category are typically more serious about their work and are looking for a business that provides an opportunity for growth and advancement. Is it possible at your contact center for an agent to progress from agent to coach to operations manager to site director? This comprises not just the possibility of such advancement, but also the creation of training programs and initiatives that encourage such transitions.
Since contact centers are among the workplaces that now allow employees to work from home, it may not even be necessary to recruit exclusively from the local community. Call recording and workforce management (WFM) software provides agents with the same technological capabilities they would have at an office. This is particularly true when hosted call recording and WFM are accessed through cloud computing.
But is it a good idea to allow agents to work remotely? Often, the comforts of home can make an agent more content in his or her work, and more motivated to maintain their employment by working hard and meeting the company’s needs. And depending on the home environment, there may be fewer distractions there than there would be at a busy contact center.
Agents who work from home avoid the two-way commute every day, which saves money on gas. Parents can also save on daycare for their children and the need to maintain a ‘professional’ wardrobe for the office. The arrangement is more economical for the company as well, as it does not have to provide a workstation on its premises.
In addition, an agent may feel more confident in knowing that he or she is trusted enough to work from home without a manager looking over their shoulder throughout the day.
That said, not every agent will prosper in a telecommuting position. It takes self-motivation to work from home, and employees who lack this discipline may be distracted in a home environment, and their job performance will suffer.
Agents may also miss out on the motivation that comes from the fervent pace in a competitive contact center, where agents and teams strive for more first call resolutions and shorter call times in friendly competition. While it’s certainly possible to compare notes via email, it’s not the same as when agents are working side by side. Work-from-home agents also miss out on some of the camaraderie and support they receive from fellow employees and managers.
Any city that is home to a significant number of contact centers may be challenged by employee attrition rates and an escalation of wages – another $1 an hour somewhere else is reason enough for some agents to move on. But there are measures that can be taken to reduce attrition while attracting the agents with the greatest potential for future success.
“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
What is the biggest challenge faced by every contact center, regardless of size or type?
The answer is one you may already know: It’s the challenge of delivering great customer service at the lowest possible cost. The question that is more difficult to answer is – what is the best way to do it?
It starts with information – having the data your agents need, when they need it.
Specifically, this means real-time insights delivered via dashboards and reports on KPIs, as well as alerts that allow managers to adjust forecasts and schedules as needed when the unexpected occurs. It means running scenarios to prepare for various contingencies, and changing breaks to meet the demands of call volume.
It also means being able to record and score calls so agents receive the coaching and training they need to deliver outstanding customer service.
With the capabilities provide by this data, the contact center manager has the actionable insights necessary to be proactive in decision-making, and that means every shift of every day will be prepared to deliver the kind of customer service that keeps customers loyal and happy. And when the contact center is running at peak efficiency, that reduces costs as well.
Even greater cost savings can be achieved when contact center technology is provided through the cloud as a subscription service, which eliminates the need to invest in additional hardware and software. In this model, call centers pay only for the time and capacity that they need. For a smaller call center, this means the ability to significantly lower upfront costs, while maintaining the option of scaling up as needed.
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For many years the skill set expected from a call center agent was fairly narrow and clearly defined. But as call centers have evolved into contact centers, additional skills are now required to meet customer expectations via their preferred method of communication.
Bad news for agents? Not at all. Those will the ability to adapt to different communication channels will be more in demand. Also, those with outstanding written skills, but who are not as comfortable with interaction via telephone, now have an opportunity to work successfully in this environment.
What skills should you be looking for when hiring an agent into a multi-channel contact center environment? Here are 10 of the most prominent:
• Courtesy and professionalism in all communication
• Attendance and punctuality
• Outstanding verbal skills and/or written skills
• The ability to multi-task
• A responsible team player
• The ability to adhere to a strict schedule
• The confidence to work independently and problem-solve without assistance
• The ability to stay calm in a fast-paced work atmosphere
• Familiarity with the technology found in contact centers
• The ability to listen to and respond to coaching
Specific contact centers will have additional expectations, such as the ability to work a non-traditional schedule. Agents that communicate with customers through a video chat will also need to maintain a professional appearance, with appropriate body language.
Monet’s Workforce Management solution can play a key role in helping agents to achieve optimal performance, by giving them the information they need to succeed.
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.