Call Center Shrinkage Hints, Tips & Best Practices
Customer care is a crucial aspect of performance at the contact center, particularly for those affiliated with insurance companies. This is a process that begins before the first call is picked up every day, with the policies, procedures, and technology in place to meet the goals of the center. Accurate forecasting and scheduling and adherence are important factors, and are easier to achieve with an
automated workforce management (WFM) solution.
Here are four tips on establishing policies that boost customer service, and how
WFM can help. 1. Setting Specific Goals
“We want to improve customer service.” “We want to improve our training.” Great – now how are you going to do it? The more specific you can get with your objectives, the more likely you will be to accomplish them. When you set more precise goals (“We want to lower our average handle time”),
WFM will provide the data that can be used to make it happen. 2. Targeted Training
Once basic training has been completed, insurance contact center agents should be regularly guided toward and tested on their abilities to meet service goals. With the
Performance Analysis component of WFM, managers have access to reports and analysis of all agent activities, including their schedule adherence and key performance indicators. That will help to further target training sessions. 3. Set Quarterly Goals
Don’t make a list of goals for the year and wait until December to review them. With quarterly targets, you’ll know sooner if your efforts are working, and can make beneficial changes – which is certainly better than going another 6-7 months with a less than optimal system in place. The real-time monitoring and work history data delivered by
WFM allows managers to track progress toward quarterly goals. 4. Avoid Agent Burnout
Agents are employees but they are people first, with families and outside interests and holiday plans they would like to keep. Flexible scheduling makes it easier for agents to work shifts that are more convenient, and when they have that option they are likely to be more productive and provide better service. With
WFM, shift-bidding and shift-swapping (with a manager’s approval) is streamlined, while holidays and other special events can be factored more efficiently into overall scheduling.
Read More About Insurance Company Contact Centers – Four Ways WFM Can Improve Performance
It’s possible that no generation in history has come under more scrutiny – and attack – than Millennials. They’re rude; they’re entitled; they want everything free. Of course, there are overgeneralizations. Every generation has had its achievers and failures. But there is no question that Millennials approach work and communication differently than those that preceded them, and this is important for contact center managers. These are your current and future employees (Millennials are already almost 35% of the American labor force), as well as your current and future customers. How can you make them happy? Try thinking like they do. Agents
Statistics show that Millennials often leave jobs in three years or less. In the contact center industry where high agent attrition is already an issue, three years might be seen as an improvement. Still, each new employee is an investment in training; so the longer you keep them around the better your bottom line will look.
Perhaps it’s time to think differently, by shortening the initial ramp-up phase of preparation (lowering associated costs) and then relying on more context-sensitive refreshers in the days and weeks that follow. Millennials grew up with technology, and have a comfort level with instant communication and instant feedback shared by no previous generation. Every Facebook post they make generates “likes” and responses within seconds. Millennial contact center agents are more open to the same type of instant feedback. Monthly training sessions are fine, but with the real-time data generated by a workforce optimization solution, managers can offer ongoing coaching and assessments based on performance. Sure, it may take a little more time. But if that coaching is immediately integrated into performance, it results in better customer service right away. You’ll also find Millennials are often adept at self-evaluation – why do you think they take so many selfies? With WFO generating data on each call, these agents can review how each interaction fared while the details are still fresh, and figure out if something could have been handled more efficiently. If you still doubt that Millennials communicate differently than previous generations, just check out their emoticon-fueled texts. It is practically a different language. Texting is a comfort zone, certainly more so than traditional face-to-face communication. The closest comparison to this in a professional contact center environment is the webchat application. As this channel becomes more popular among customers, managers will find no shortage of agents adept as chatting online. Can chat be used for coaching or training as well? Certainly it wouldn’t seem to be as effective as meeting with an agent in person, but times are changing. Customers
The Millennial customer will share the same preferences as the Millennial agent, starting with a fondness for webchat. Perhaps that is why there has been so much recent refinement in the “chat with an agent” option, with even more sophisticated solutions on the horizon.
All webchats are already not the same. Some are still what you’d expect – one agent typing messages in response to customer questions. But at some companies the human element has been replaced by coded auto-response software that interacts with customers the way Siri responds to you on your iPhone. Most customers are savvy enough to spot the difference. But the next-generation virtual assistants will be able to respond in sentences that sound more authentic than the overly formal speech programmed by technology. Facebook is leading the way on this with an intelligence “Facebook Bot Engine Development Tool” that learns by interacting with current Facebook-based communication. Yes, this can be an advantage or a lawsuit waiting to happen, based on some of the Facebook pages we’ve seen. We may be at the point one day soon when a customer will not be able to tell the difference between a live agent and a program on webchat. This will make it easier for companies to switch back and forth during a customer engagement as needed – the bot can be relied up to answer basic, common questions and offer standard responses to everyday transactions. When the conversation turns to something more specialized, the agent can be alerted to step in. This will happen without the customer’s knowledge and, given what we’ve already said of the Millennial comfort level with technology, it likely won’t matter to them whether the responses they receive are human or machine-driven. As this technology becomes mainstream, it can be used at the contact center for coaching as well. Think of it – a virtual coach communicating via webchat, linked to all previous customer and agent data, providing real time reminders (“Ask this customer if he wants the extended warranty”) and feedback on a customer engagement. Regular coaching sessions would still be helpful ¬– but now coaches will have even more specific data for each agent. There are additional benefits to webchat coaching as well: it is equally accessible for remote agents as for those in an office; and it takes some of the intimidation factor out of coaching, and that might make the sessions more effective. Conclusion
Whether one is more likely to condemn Millennials or defend them, there is no question that they are likely to change the structure of the workplace more than any previous generation.
It is natural for those who came up through the ranks with different rules and procedures to be resistant to new ideas, but that presumes that anyone has a choice. It is those entering the job market who have options – and if they find a contact center that is open to providing a professional environment more accommodating to their preferences, that is where they’ll direct their Nike Jordan Instigators.
Read More About Millennial Agents, Millennial Customers: Keeping Them Happy
From the “easier said than done” department is the advice that works for just about every type of contact center – listen to your customers and respond to their needs. When contact centers develop this habit, customer conversion rates go up.
The way to get there is not through some sophisticated formula – it’s the basic business practices that we know we should be doing every day, but sometimes fall short amidst the day-to-day challenges that running a business entails. Here’s a refresher course on the some of the most prominent of these practices. Accurate Forecasts
Part of responding to customer needs is answering calls quickly – 30 seconds or less is a reasonable goal.
Accurate forecasting and scheduling through a workforce management solution that predicts call volume is the key to developing consistency in this critical skill. Recurrent Training
After initial agent training is complete, the process of learning and improving really begins. Reviews of recorded calls, positive reinforcement and coaching, and the flexibility to go off-script are just some of the ways that you can help agents sharpen their skills and instincts.
Adding Additional Channels
We’ve covered this before – webchat, email and mobile apps offer customers other options for placing orders or having questions answered.
Use Analytics Wisely
Data generated by
workforce management and quality monitoring can point managers toward efficiency goals – but people are always more important than numbers, and agents should feel confident in the freedom to take some extra time with a difficult customer to bring about a successful result. Never Stop Listening
You can’t turn full control over to your customers, but the more you listen to their preferences, the better you’ll be able to meet them. Don’t be afraid to test new procedures and experiment with script changes or other variables that might improve the customer experience. Not every test will be successful, but you’ll never know which ones will make your business better until you try them.
Read More About Boosting Conversion Rates with a Better Customer Experience
workforce management you have a lot of data at your disposal. And all of it is important – some to improve the efficiency of your contact center, and some to help you better understand the needs and preferences of your customers. Let’s take a closer look at that second category today, as this is where many contact centers are seeing an increased focus. Tools such as speech analytics deliver insights that might have been impossible to achieve a decade ago. When agents have this data at their disposal they can react accordingly, and increase the likelihood of a successful customer engagement. Here are three contact center trends that you should be utilizing: 1. Real-Time Data
What good is data if you get it when it’s too late to use it? Sure you can still make changes to affect future performance, but how much better would it be to deliver real-time guidance to agents, and alert managers when a call is going south? There is a predictive quality to this data, but if it’s compiled correctly you’ll be able to anticipate customer intentions and deliver a more customized response. It also works for online chat and email engagements.
2. Follow the Path
Think of every customer engagement as a journey with a starting point and an end point, where lots of different things can happen in between. The more you can understand about each customer’s journey, the better you can serve that customer. Analytics from a
workforce optimization suite plays a big role, but don’t stop there – you’ll also want to bring agents together in a collaborative way to discuss that actions they took and how well they worked (or didn’t work), and perhaps bring in personnel from other company departments that can provide additional data. If you do it right, you’ll figure out where a journey is headed while it’s still near the starting point, and react accordingly so the rest of the path is a walk in the park. 3. Keep it Simple
There is data you’ll want to see after the fact, and data that’s important right now. When deploying analytics, make it easier for agents and managers to see what they need to see, when they need to see it. This may require some customization of your
WFM solution, or simply bringing your system more in line with your business goals.
Read More About Three Steps to Greater Customer Insight
Sometimes with accurate scheduling it’s not about what you do right, but what you do wrong. Here are six examples where scheduling elements can be overlooked or mishandled, resulting in problems that can impact customer service. Not Scheduling Breaks
If agents take their breaks when they feel like it, that might result in too many going off to lunch or the break room at the same time, leaving a shift under-manned. Avoid this by scheduling breaks – it may not be popular, but by providing agents some input in when they can take some time off, the transition might be made more easily.
Not Enough Part Time Help
If all of your agents work full time, they will always be there whether they are needed or not. Sometimes you’ll have too many people on the floor – occasionally there may still not be enough. By mixing in some part-time agents you can add more flexibility to your scheduling, and initiate split shifts. This will make it easier to cover peak hours, while not having to pay agents for sitting and waiting for the phone to ring.
Not Accounting for Shrinkage
Almost every contact center takes shrinkage into consideration, but the calculations are complicated without an automated workforce management system. With WFM and attendance reports, managers are more likely to get the numbers right.
Not Measuring Efficiency Properly
Schedule efficiency is a measure of how accurately and consistently the planned number of agents on staff matches the required staffing over the evaluation period.
WFM produces a more accurate picture, but make sure to use weighted averages when producing consolidated figures, while not neglecting outside business hours.
Assuming Everyone Wants the Same Shift
There is a tendency to struggle with filling evening and weekend shifts. But with a flexible and part-time work force this should not be an issue. Students may want to work weekends, and agents with outside obligations during the day may prefer an evening shift. Don’t look for a problem where none might exist.
Obviously this is the least excusable mistake, and yet there are still contact centers out there that just hope for the best. And to make it worse, they put off the hiring and training of new agents to replace those lost by attrition, and muddle through with a reduced roster that is even more vulnerable to unexpected schedule changes.
It takes both art and science to staff a call center. Next to hiring the right personnel, scheduling plays the key role in maximizing resources and making sure calls are handled in a courteous and efficient manner. The faster mistakes are corrected, the faster a contact center is delivering the level of service that customers deserve.
Read More About Six Scheduling Mistakes to Avoid
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. Multichannel Forecasting
Finally, the survey asked respondents if they are also forecasting for email, webchat and social media. Historical data may be more limited in these communication channels, but most are still making the attempt, using whatever numbers are available.
Read More About Forecasting: What’s Happening Now
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.
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
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
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
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
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
You may have seen the news earlier this month: AT&T Inc. has agreed to pay a $25 million settlement following the discovery of a data breach at their call centers in Mexico, Colombia and the Philippines. It happened because employees at these call centers accepted illegal payments to share the private information of the company’s customers. About 280,000 people were affected. This case raises awareness that contact centers play a central part in dealing with customers in case of a cyberattack. They are the first point of human contact. Everyone can remember the large scale attacks that hit Target stores in 2015 or the Sony PlayStation Network in 2011. Millions users were affected, millions of credit card numbers leaked. This is a stressful situation for the customers and it can affect the company’s reputation dramatically. Just like any other businesses, call centers have to be prepared and proactive to deal with the aftermath of a cyberattack targeting the company. It becomes essential that shrinkage is taken into account, in order to handle an unexpected spike of calls, agents are trained, available, and scripts with an emergency procedure are ready. How should you prepare your contact center? Most companies devote just 2-4% of their IT budget to security and 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. Some companies specialize in disaster preparation. They can help implement a strategy to fit a contact center’s needs, likely threats and budget. Many of these companies may begin with a business impact analysis, to assess the potential loss (whether financial, technical or in human resources) from a cyber attack. It’s also a good idea to put together an issue response team ahead of time, so you will have the right people in place if an attack should occur. What to Do After? A cyber attack is not the same as other unforeseen activities that could not be anticipated with forecasting and scheduling. This is a situation where customers are directly and negatively affected by what has occurred, and may even incur financial loss as a result. Some will be angry. Some will be frightened. And most of them will be calling you as soon as the news of the attack is made public. Because data breaches are now, unfortunately, an ongoing threat in 21st century business, most customers will understand that these incidents are not always avoidable. That means it’s no longer an automatic deal-breaker for that business relationship – but a lot will depend on how the company responds. For the contact center, that means focusing on 4 words: Communicate, Respond, Explain, and Apologize. Communicate
Let customers know as soon as possible that an attack has occurred. Don’t wait for them to call you. This will be the first step in rebuilding any trust that has been lost. The faster they are aware of what has happened, the faster they can contact their bank or credit card company and take steps to protect themselves. The companies that lose the most customers from a cyber attack are those that wait weeks (or even months) before going public.
Customers will have questions. Have your best agents in place – those that have shown via quality reviews and coaching that they know how to remain calm when speaking with someone who is upset. Make sure these agents have the answers ready to the questions that are always asked following an attack (“What happened?” “How will this affect me?” “Do I need to call my bank?”).
Cyber attacks are highly technical in execution, but customers will not be interested in explanations that they cannot understand. Agents should be able to explain in plain English what has happened, why it happened, and what steps the company is taking to control the damage, and make sure the customer is inconvenienced as little as possible. Also, tell them what steps are now being taken to make sure their information will be safer in the future.
This is where agent training should begin when preparing for the aftermath of an attack. The apology should happen near the beginning of the call, and again at the end. It will go a long way toward maintaining a customer’s confidence.
Bonus Step: Stay in Touch
Customers will expect a company to be reluctant to talk about a cyber attack, so they will appreciate if the company takes the initiative in keeping customers apprised of what is happening. Whether it’s a phone call from the contact center updating them on the situation, or an apology email from the company CEO, or some other means of following up, it demonstrates ongoing concern for the customer’s welfare and interest in keeping their business.
With cyber attacks in the news almost every week, companies can no longer assume they will be the exception and never have to worry about the fallout from such a damaging incident. However, few companies have devoted sufficient time to advance preparation, and a recent Ponemon study found that companies were also not prepared to communicate with customers following a data breach; in fact, of more than 470 surveyed, just 21% had a trained communications team in place.
For contact centers, where communication is the first and most important skill considered for agent hires, that percentage will not do. This is the moment when agents should be called upon to use their skills to address customer concerns and restore confidence and loyalty. Ponemon study referenced in article: http://www.corpcounsel.com/id=1202598001685?slreturn=20150320141052
Read More About Cyber Attacks and Contact Centers: Are you Prepared?
“Is it in the budget?”
Some variation of that question is always asked when any changes to contact center procedures are proposed. And it’s a valid question. Economic realities have forced businesses of all kinds to do more with less, and contact centers are no exception. But there comes a point when inaction can be more costly than a beneficial investment. And when it comes to the use of spreadsheets vs. workforce management software, that time has come. Yet many small and midsized contact centers still rely on spreadsheets for daily forecasting and scheduling. Even larger contact centers, those with 100 agents or more, are still making due with an inefficient system that lowers customer service, and can actually increase costs. When an increase as low as 1% in productivity can significantly impact the contact center budget, it is imperative to identify areas where efficiency can be improved. Ditching spreadsheets should be at the top of that list. Spending Money to Save Money The limitations of a spreadsheet result in fixed schedules that can produce higher shrinkage and overstaffing, or understaffing and a low service level. But with WFM it is easier to manage start times, end times and breaks with an ease of flexibility that dramatically improves service levels. Managers can also consult more detailed and accurate call histories with WFM, resulting in better forecasts. Scheduling is also faster – some managers can save as much as 25% of the time once devoted to filling in spreadsheets – time that can now be used for additional agent training or to attend to other matters. Is increased efficiency worth the investment? One of our clients, the Texas credit union GECU, found out first-hand. Their call center, staffed by 85 agents, selected Monet’s cloud-based WFM Live as a way to improve customer service. Affordability was a key component in the decision, as WFM Live provides such benefits as reduced IT investment, low implementation service fees and a more cost-effective per-user license model. Just a few months after implementation, GECU was able to save money by reducing its number of agents by 14, while delivering better customer service. With the more accurate scheduling made possible by WFM Live, there was a 30% reduction in unscheduled breaks. Costly overtime scheduling was reduced, while call volume spikes were managed more easily. “In terms of ROI, Monet has already paid for itself after a few months. The cost of the 3 year subscription I've already saved in salaries, overtime and administrative costs.” --Joshua Gomez, GECU Assistant Vice-President, Call Center Today, the quality and service levels at GECU are solidly placed in the top 97% tier. The Better Solution for Managers, Agents and Your Customers A spreadsheet can be used to calculate workforce percentages, but precise forecasting requires more in-depth analysis. And when forecasts are wrong, stressed agents cannot deliver the service level you and your customers expect – or, they’re sitting in their cubicles with nothing to do, and earning money for it. One of the reasons we hear most often from companies reluctant to change is, “But this is the way we’ve been doing it for 10 years.” Change can indeed be intimidating. What we tell them is they are not really changing the things they do – they are just going to be able to do them more easily and efficiently. Forecasts rely heavily on historical data – daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal – to determine call volume. Contact center managers may start with monthly and weekly stats, and then delve deeper into daily and hourly numbers, perhaps even examining work periods as short as 15 minutes. This can be done with spreadsheets, theoretically, but with WFM it is significantly easier to analyze call types, call volume and call patterns, and then to note past variations, determine their cause, and forecast accordingly. With WFM it is also much easier to forecast special days or other events that impact call volume. “Special day” provisions can be created for any factor, from marketing campaigns or events to weather patterns. Scheduling is yet another area where WFM offers enhanced capabilities. Spreadsheets can handle fixed schedules, but in 2015 how often do contact center schedules stay fixed? With a WFM system managers have the flexibility to automatically manage start times, end times and break times. Now, agents can work the hours that work best for them, and happier agents are far more likely to excel at customer service. They are also more likely to stay with the company longer, a consideration that should not be minimized considering the average employee turnover rate in this industry. Intra-day adherence tracking is another significant component of a best practices approach that is practically impossible with just a spreadsheet. WFM also provides insight, through dashboards and real-time alerts, into which agents are meeting their schedule obligations, and which may require additional guidance or training. Conclusion The annual budgeting process presents a familiar challenge – cut costs where necessary while maintaining (or improving) the customer experience. Since labor forces rank among the highest cost items, it is essential that they be managed properly. With WFM, a manager can always be confident that he or she is scheduling the right agents with the right skills at the right time. Those still using spreadsheets for these functions are missing out on the convenience, efficiency, flexibility and functionality of workforce management. The calculations necessary for optimal forecasts and schedules are very difficult to do with Excel. WFM has sophisticated simulation processes that tell a call center how many people it will need and when it will need them. “But we can’t afford it.” That might have true ten years ago, but today with cloud-based WFM, even smaller and medium-sized contact centers can reap the benefits of automated workforce management at an affordable cost. A lower investment also means a more rapid return on that investment. When call volume changes, spreadsheets are insufficient. With WFM, managers can get back to managing people, instead of spending hours on Excel planning forecasts and schedules. To learn more about this, download our whitepaper "The Real Cost of Spreadsheet-based Scheduling".
Read More About Scheduling Spreadsheets Become Obsolete in the Cloud
What is call center shrinkage?
One of the most important concepts in schedule adherence is shrinkage.
Shrinkage can be defined as the time for which people are paid during
which they are not available to handle calls.
There are many reasons that can cause shrinkage - and it has to be taken
into account when scheduling the required number of agents to meet call
volumes. But the truth is that most companies badly under-estimate the
sheer volume of shrinkage that besets their call centers. This comes
about due to a host of potentially hidden areas of shrinkage. Many
managers keep their eye on several of these, but few are able to stay on
top of all of them: lateness, talking to associates, personal calls and
emergencies, leaving early and taking longer breaks. The bottom line on
shrinkage is the amount of minutes per day that agents are being paid
to be on the phone when they are not actually working or available to
receive calls or work on customer related issues.
How to track and manage shrinkage?
Shrinkage can be a major factor in failing to meet service level
targets. Call centers that take shrinkage parameters into account in
their forecasting and scheduling typically achieve higher service levels
at lower operating costs. They often do that by including all call
related activities into the forecast and schedule planning process. Here
is an example of how to track and manage shrinkage as part of the
workforce scheduling process:
For more information about shrinkage, please also read the following two blog posts:
In addition, you can download our whitepaper about
tracking and improving schedule adherence - it should provide some valuable insights into the relationship between shrinkage and agent adherence.
Read More About What is call center shrinkage and how to minimize it
What's shrinkage? Shrinkage is the time (or percentage of time) agents are not productive due to breaks, meetings, training, vacation, illness, absenteeism, etc. Most of these events can be build into the schedule, however there is one aspect of shrinkage that cannot be really planned for and it is related to adherence. Adherence is a measurement of the time agents are scheduled to work compared to the time they actually work. If agents leave early, start later or take longer breaks than specified in their schedule, it causes shrinkage that has an immediate impact on service levels and other call center metrics due to under-staffing. How to reduce shrinkage? Well, it's not realistic to totally eliminate "unplanned" shrinkage, however, in most cases in can be reduced to an acceptable level. One major reason for "unplanned" shrinkage is out-of-adherence. Often, call centers don’t have the necessary visibility into what happens at any moment in time and what is supposed to happen based on the published schedule. If you are still struggling with adherence issues, please read this educational whitepaper “ Strategies for improving call center schedule adherence", and you will learn about proven practices on schedule adherence that have resulted in increased availability and reduced shrinkage.
Read More About Important call center metrics: Shrinkage
The increasing complexity of call center configurations with multiple locations, many time zones, more demanding customer interactions, and new communication channels make it more difficult to manage shrinkage. You cannot any longer manage the shrinkage in today’s complex centers just by standing up and looking out across your center or using a manual/spreadsheet based approach. Here are some of the challenges centers need to overcome: Distributed call centers and home agents make it more difficult to manage and track breaks, attendance, exceptions, etc. Multiple communication channels (phone, email, chat, social media, etc.) make it more difficult to manage shrinkage without appropriate tools to forecast, schedule and track adherence for each channel. Some call centers have no effective way to forecast and schedule non-call activities such as breaks, meetings, unplanned discussions – resulting in shrinkage.
Therefore, shrinkage becomes more of an issue for call centers that don’t leverage WFM solutions. Usually, they don’t have the necessary visibility into what happens at any moment in time and what is supposed to happen based on the published schedule. Learn more about how to reduce shrinkage by watching the on demand webinar " Strategies for improved call center schedule adherence ". In this educational webinar, industry expert Penny Reynolds from the The Call Center School, shares proven practices on schedule adherence that have resulted in increased availability and reduced shrinkage.
Read More About Call center shrinkage - why does it get more difficult to manage?
Many companies underestimate the sheer volume of shrinkage. Here are two suggestions on how to reduce shrinkage:
1. Increase forecast and schedule accuracy by including all activities into your schedule: Call time and after work related to calls Outbound if triggered by inbound calls Chat (if important to your business) Breaks, lunch Training Absenteeism Meetings Admin or research work Correspondence Emails Outbound calls Other unproductive time
2. Monitor schedule adherence and work with your agents to improve over time
Monitor in real-time Run reports and share with the call center team
Read More About Call Center Scheduling Tips: #2 Keep track of your shrinkage
Many companies underestimate the sheer volume of shrinkage (paid time but not taking calls). For example, in a 30 agent contact center 20 minutes of out of adherence status per agent equates to 10 hours per day in shrinkage. If those agents are being paid $12 per hour plus benefits, equaling $15 per hour, you would be losing $150 per day, $750 a week or $39,000 per year. While it is not possible to recover all lost time, imagine you can reduce shrinkage from 20 to 10 minutes resulting in a $20,000 savings alone, plus improved service levels. That is only the tip of the iceberg if you also consider lost sales due to shrinkage, which again, can easily add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. How can you reduce shrinkage? There are three key elements involved: Create a better match to call volume with agents’ availability; Increase forecast and schedule accuracy by including additional parameters;
Monitor and improve schedule adherence, if possible in real-time.
Read More About Call center scheduling - keep track of your shrinkage
Many centers underestimate the sheer volume of shrinkage (paid time but not taking calls). For example, in a 30 agent contact center 20 minutes of out of adherence status per agent equates to 10 hours per day in shrinkage. If those agents are being paid $12 per hour plus benefits, equaling $15 per hour, you would be losing $150 per day, $750 a week or $39,000 per year. While it is not possible to recover all lost time, imagine you can reduce shrinkage from 20 to 10 minutes resulting in a $20,000 savings alone, plus improved service levels. That is only the tip of the iceberg if you also consider lost sales due to shrinkage, which again, can easily add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. How can you reduce shrinkage? There are three key elements involved:
Create a better match of actual call volume with agents’ availability Optimize schedule by including all relevant parameters such as breaks, training, etc. Improve schedule adherence by educating your agents, monitoring performance and providing incentives.
Read More About Call center scheduling: Keep track of your shrinkage