Workforce Optimization Hints, Tips & Best Practices
“A goal without a plan is just a wish” – Larry Elder
It’s February – are all your New Year’s Resolutions broken by now?
Hopefully not, but if the ones pertaining to your contact center didn’t materialize as you hoped, it’s never too early or too late to start again. This time, you’ll have a better chance of success if each goal is accompanied by specific ideas on how to make it happen.
Here are five common contact center goals, and some suggestions of ways you can put them in motion.
1. Reduce Agent Attrition
There are several options available here, starting with sprucing up the office – new chairs, clean restrooms, fresh snack food items in the break room. Agents are more likely to stay when they can work in a clean and welcoming environment. Also, try to inject a little fun into the daily routine, either by launching customer service contests with small prizes for the best-handled calls, birthday celebrations, or more creative spins on casual Fridays – “Fancy Dress Fridays” or “Monday Night Football” days where agents can wear the jersey of their favorite team or player.
While these steps can make the work day more pleasant, some agents – and likely your best ones – will also want to know if their hard work is going to be rewarded with raises or internal promotion for those who have earned it.
Another reason agents leave is when they can’t reconcile the demands of their job with their home life, going to school or working a second job. You won’t be able to solve all these problems, but you can build more flexibility into your schedules to better accommodate agent preferences. For example, consider introducing a shift that finishes at 2pm to help those who need to pick up their children from school.
2. Improve Customer Service
That’s the main goal, isn’t it? And yes, there are countless ways to make it happen. But too often contact center teams will gather at the start of a new year and hear a rah-rah “This year we need to be committed to providing the best service we can” speech, and then it’s back to business as usual.
That’s not enough. If you want better service, you have to first define what that entails. A good place to start is by asking your customers. Have you surveyed them lately? Create a survey that asks questions about your contact center’s performance, its agents and processes, targeting the areas where you believe there is the most need for improvement. Also pay attention to what those customers are saying on social media if you communicate that way. When you have their responses, act on them.
What sort of complaints do contact center customers usually lodge? Too much time on the phone? Too much time on hold? Agents waiting for approvals to provide the caller with what he or she needs? Then perhaps another way to boost customer service is to empower your agents.
You’ll know best where implementing this policy would be most effective – perhaps provide agents with additional training so they can talk down angry callers without transferring them to a supervisor, or giving them the authority to approve returns or restoring funds to a customer’s credit card. Not only will this make your customers happier, it will also free up your managers and supervisors to focus on other matters, which should further boost contact center efficiency.
Here’s another thought – how are you assessing metrics? Is it all about hitting predetermined numbers, or is it about making sure callers are getting the assistance they need? Make sure your focus is more on effectiveness. It’s worth putting up with calls that stray outside your Average Handle Time target if they result in a satisfied customer.
3. Improve Your IVR
Having IVR can boost call center efficiency in several ways: calls are routed faster, questions can be answered without agent involvement, hold times are reduced, and for contact centers that are not open 24/7, IVR offers a means for customers to still obtain information.
However, for some customers IVR is not only inefficient, it’s downright annoying. Customers over 40 in particular may not be as willing to “talk to a machine,” and if they have to repeatedly “press 1” or tell that overly-friendly recorded voice what type of service they need, they are more likely to just hang up.
How can you tell if your IVR is helping business – or hurting it?
Analyzing calls and listening in to IVR interactions will provide the insight you need to make this determination. So it’s important to start your call recording and quality monitoring at the IVR, not when the agent takes the call.
If you are losing too many calls during the IVR process, it’s time to make changes. Is there a way to explain the caller’s options more clearly? Is there a means for the caller to bypass the system quickly if they insist on speaking to an agent? In addition to reviewing call recording data, a caller survey that requests feedback on the IVR stage of the call can also yield insight into what customers like, and what they do not.
4. Better Communication
In this case, the challenge is not communication between agent and customer, but between agent and manager, and within the other employee tiers at your contact center. Internal communication is just as important as external communication, and should be encouraged. One way to make it happen is to have agents serve as managers or coaches for a shift. Or make sure that managers spend at least some time on the contact center floor every day.
5. Upgrade Your Technology
A 2015 survey found that 67% of industry professionals specified budget as the biggest barrier to improving their contact center. But with the evolution of cloud workforce management tools, a business can upgrade to state-of-the-art technology without the large upfront costs of hardware and software investment. Depending on the system, an on-premise solution could run $100,000 or more.
Better still, once the cloud solution is implemented it will always be upgraded regularly to new software versions as they are released, at no additional cost to the business. When a manual software upgrade is necessary, the cost can be prohibitive enough to be put off, which reduces a call center’s ability to operate at maximum efficiency.
Motivated agents, upgraded technology, better communication and a renewed focus on customer service – now you’re ready to tackle those resolutions.
Scheduling mistakes are frustrating for managers and agents, and ultimately for your customers. You review your forecasts and you do your best, but if the numbers on paper are not matching up with what happens during a shift, here are some possible reasons why, and what you can do to achieve better results.
Historical data reveals patterns that should make scheduling easier and more accurate. But don’t just stay in the shallow end of the data pool and factor in the obvious peak calling times and slower portions of a day or a week. Account for holidays and seasonal shifts, new product introductions and weather impact. And make sure your schedule includes lunch breaks, training sessions and other times when agents will not be available to take calls. An automated workforce management solution is the easiest way to collect and analyze this data, and then schedule accordingly.
The further out you create a schedule, the more you’ll have to account for shrinkage. You can foresee sick days and vacations for the week ahead – but two months from now? It’s impossible – so consider shrinkage so the circumstances you can’t anticipate now will not result in an under-staffed contact center.
Schedule Breaks as Well as Work Time
It’s one thing to account for breaks within a schedule – it’s another to actually affix them to a specific time, and expect your agents to adhere to it. Otherwise you may have too many agents taking breaks or heading out to lunch together at the same time, which will derail any schedule. WFM software can automatically assign breaks at the optimum time, so that impact on coverage and service level is minimized.
Work With Your Agents’ Needs When Possible
Agents are more likely to adhere to a schedule when the contact center is open to their work preferences. At a typical business there may be full time and part time agents, some working for home and some for whom this is a second job. Taking these factors into consideration will require more flexibility in schedule creation, but there are definite benefits to having a range of shift solutions available.
Full-Time vs. Part-Time
There is a stability to a full-time agent team that many contact centers find more desirable. But call patterns may result in too many agents collecting salary for doing nothing. That’s why some contact centers hire enough full-time employees to cover anticipated demand, and use part-timers to handle peak hours. The right mix will vary depending upon the business, but many find a 75% to 25% ratio of full-time to part-time agents will suffice.
When it is easier for agents to manage their preferences, it is easier for managers to create schedules that take into account their future availability. This should be a consideration when choosing a WFM solution.
Don’t Make Assumptions on Agent Preferences
“No one is going to want to work Saturday night.” Really? What about the agent who would rather attend his daughter’s soccer game on Saturday afternoon? Chances are you won’t need as many agents for the types of shifts generally viewed as undesirable, but you may be surprised at how many part-time or work from home agents will gladly take them. Don’t look for scheduling problems where they may not exist.
Regular Shift Reviews
Most veteran agents do not embrace shift reviews willingly. But contact centers should go through this process at least once or twice each year to confirm whether shift schedules are meeting customer service goals, and to determine if personnel changes might further optimize the agent skill sets available at any given time.
Equal Access to Preferred Shifts
One aspect of maintaining agent morale is making sure your team members believe they are being treated fairly, especially when it comes to the hours and shifts they are assigned. Scheduling that allocates more desirable shifts to the same agents week in and week out will alienate some employees, and that could impact their job performance and productivity. By distributing shifts equitably during the scheduling process, you can avoid such resentments before they are passed on to your customers.
Fill Vacant Positions as Quickly as Possible
This may be obvious but it still needs to be said. Few contact centers are immune to the challenges of agent attrition. The recruitment, hiring and training process to fill open positions is one that nobody enjoys, as well as one that places additional cost burdens on the contact center. However, the alternative is moving forward short-staffed, which inhibits scheduling flexibility and puts more stress on the agents you still have. It also limits your capacity to dismiss under-performing agents, as someone taking calls is better than no one at all. Resist the temptation to wait for peak season to begin your next recruitment campaign.
The Right Tool for the Job
Part of optimum scheduling is making sure the right agents are handling the right calls. With a tool like Monet Record you’ll have insightful data on how different agents handle different calls. That gives managers a way to determine which team members are best suited for different customer engagements. Monet Quality makes it easier to retrieve calls by specific type, and provides additional reporting and analytics to further assess each agent’s skills.
Unfortunately, the status quo rarely remains the same in any call center, so all these calculations must be regularly updated and re-examined. Monet Metrics delivers agent analytics, real-time alerts, scorecards and customizable reports, as well as data on key performance indicators such as agent adherence and service levels. This information can then be used in conjunction with workforce management to further refine the art and science of scheduling.
If there were a way to buy stock in cloud computing, this would be a good time to do it.
A 2015 Research and Markets report states that the cloud telecom industry, which includes cloud contact center ecosystems, is expanding at an annual growth rate of more than 25 percent.
Perhaps you can’t invest in an entire industry, but you can certainly invest in a cloud-based solution for workforce optimization, which will also pay significant dividends in benefits to your contact center budget, day-to-day efficiency, and customer service levels.
Hosting contact centers in the cloud has also been known to significantly reduce aspirin and other pain relief usage among managers, as it eliminates many of the headache causes that used to be unavoidable in this business, from hardware failures and networking issues to the budget-bursting costs of maintaining an IT department and keeping up with new software versions.
Consider the change in just one everyday contact center capability – call recording.
In the pre-cloud era, adding call recording required the installation of an onsite PBX system with a VoIP packet that recorded calls onto a separate onsite platform. With the cloud? Installation for agents can be achieved with the click of a button.
Cloud computing will continue to gain a larger percentage of the contact center industry because it offers benefits for businesses of every size and type. Large call centers enjoy a tremendous cost savings and a lower upfront equipment investment. Smaller contact centers can achieve the same technological sophistication of bigger companies on a smaller budget. And call centers with agents working from home or in multiple centers can tie everyone in to the same workforce management system regardless of location.
For these reasons and more, it seems likely that the popularity of cloud-based systems will continue to grow. Is it time you considered making the switch?
In looking back over a number of stories covering the contact center industry in 2015, certain themes quickly emerge. Putting aside those not relevant to this blog, such as the opening of new facilities and the trend toward insourcing, we selected two that merit renewed attention, as they will certainly be influential on the industry in this coming year as well.
Let’s start with the prediction that contact centers will be primarily digital within the next two years.
It’s not exactly a surprising trend, but one that emerged out of the gradual adoption and acceptance of other communication channels in response to customer preference.
Many stories on this topic came with dire forecasts about the demise of the traditional call center, as more people turn to email, Web chat, social media and mobile app interactions to get their questions answered. Instead, such capabilities have been folded into the contact center environment, where agents trained in these disciplines offer the same service they did on the telephone. And while these channels continue to gain in popularity, there are also strong indications that telephone agents will still be necessary for many years to come.
The other theme found throughout 2015 coverage is that of optimizing the customer experience, and indeed there is some crossover here with the multichannel approach. But another aspect of this is shortening the customer’s progression from point A to point B by finding out more quickly what that customer needs, and finding more efficient ways to provide it.
That responsibility falls primarily on the insight and experience of the agent, but can be aided immeasurably by analytics solutions that make it easier to determine the best course of action.
Typically deployed as part of a workforce optimization (WFO) solution, analytics has become a primary driver of performance and quality monitoring improvements.
Such capabilities have long been limited to only the largest contact centers with the largest operations budgets. But the advent of cloud-based WFO software has brought these sophisticated solutions within the reach of small and midsized facilities.
The Monet version of speech analytics and desktop analytics is part of our award-winning WFO Live product. Both new platforms deliver detailed, data-driven insight into daily call center operations and customer behavior, but without the significant investment that such benefits used to require.
What happened at Monet
Software in 2015? Glad you asked….
The year began on a high
note back in January with two prominent industry awards. CIO Review selected Monet Software as one of its 20 Most
Promising Contact Center Technology Solution Providers. This distinction was based on evaluation of Monet
Software’s capabilities in providing cloud-based Workforce Optimization (WFO)
The annual list is selected
by a panel of experts and members of CIO
Review’s editorial board to recognize and promote technology
“Monet Software has been on
our radar for some time for stirring a revolution in the Contact Center
technology space, and we are happy to showcase them this year due to their
continuing excellence in delivering top-notch technology-driven solutions,”
said Harvi Sachar, Publisher and Founder, CIO
Review. “Monet Software’s solutions continued to break new ground within
the past year, benefiting its customers around the globe, and we’re excited to
have them featured on our top companies list.”
That same month, TMC named Monet WFO Live – Workforce Optimization in
the Cloud as a CUSTOMER 2015 Product of the Year Award winner. “On behalf of both TMC and CUSTOMER magazine, it
is my pleasure to honor Monet Software with a 2015 Product of the Year Award,”
said Rich Tehrani, CEO, TMC. “Its WFO Live solution has proven deserving of
this elite status and I look forward to continued innovation from Monet in 2015
Monet has been a pioneer in
the development of cloud-based workforce optimization solutions for contact
centers. In February, Monet CEO Chuck Ciarlo shared his thoughts about what he
described as “The Fake Cloud Phenomenon” in an article published in
Ciarlo expressed his
concern over the way some companies have tried to market a hosted client server
as a cloud solution, resulting in buyer confusion and unhappy clients. This is
happening at a time when more companies than ever are making the transition
from on-premises hardware and software installation to a cloud delivery model.
The integrity of a quality product may be threatened if the situation does not
In March, Monet celebrated the
release of contact center industry statistics on the insourcing of
agent jobs back from India and The Philippines (a celebration no doubt shared
by thousands of frustrated customers).
One aspect of this pivotal
trend is how contact center technology changed during the outsourcing years,
and how companies returning their contact center facilities to the U.S. realize
that what worked in the past no longer gets the job done. That is why so many
of these centers are ditching spreadsheets in favor of an automated workforce management (WFM) solution.
Every so often
we like to share a Monet success story on our website or through our company
newsletter, to illustrate how companies are saving money and boosting
productivity with Monet solutions, In May of 2015, we published a case study on
Bayview Loan Servicing, an investment management firm based in Florida.
The company was
struggling with staffing issues caused by inaccurate scheduling, and an
insufficient process for handling exceptions such as time-off requests. After
searching for a workforce management platform to address these challenges,
Bayview selected Monet WFM Live. Click here to see the results.
June was one of
our busiest months, and also one of the most gratifying. It began with the inauguration of our new consulting services in
conjunction with Marathon Partners, designed to help contact
centers get the most from their technology and optimize professional practices.
These services focus on two primary areas: Operational Assessment, a
15-point review of the contact center or back office incorporating processes, quality
management, service delivery and staff utilization; and Performance
Improvement: which guarantees a minimum ROI of 2:1 through process excellence,
best practice assimilation, performance management and implementation of a
highly effective management system.
That same month Monet launched a partnership with Compassion
International, the world’s largest
and fastest growing child development-through-sponsorship ministry. Throughout
the year of 2015, we were proud to help sponsor a child in need for every
subscription to Monet Software SaaS Workforce Management Suite.
Children assisted through
this effort will receive medical checkups, nutritious food, health and hygiene
training, educational assistance and, where needed, access to such special
services as surgeries and disaster relief.
Finally, we headed to Las
Vegas on June 15 to attend the 2015 Call Center Week Conference and Expo at The Mirage. Our Booth #609 was
a popular spot throughout the 4-day event.
In October we were back in
Vegas at the Rio Hotel for the 2015 ICMI Contact Center Demo & Conference. Monet was proud to serve as
one of the sponsors for this exciting annual get-together.
And as Halloween
approached, we offered a holiday-themed webinar entitled “Slaying the Adherence
Monster.” If adherence has ever been an issue at your
contact center, you know what it can do to schedules and budgets. But the Adherence Monster is
no match for Monet solutions with real-time adherence.
you missed this 45-minute presentation, featuring tips and tricks to help you
keep adherence issues away from your business, you can still check it out here.
It was indeed a memorable
year, one that would not have been possible without the support and
enthusiastic response from our clients, as well as the hard work and dedication
of our technology and sales teams. As we take a moment to look back on the
highlights of 2015, it is also a good time to say thank you to all of those who
helped make this year our best ever.
And while there are still a
few days left in the year, at Monet we are already looking forward to 2016.
While it is too early to reveal any details, the year ahead is one likely to
feature the debuts of new solutions, new services, and more opportunities to
meet with our clients and industry professionals at the top annual tradeshows.
Stay updated on all of our latest news and announcements here, or on our
Letters to Santa and holiday wish lists are a part of Christmas celebrations around the world. But if you could create a wish list for your contact center, what would you ask for?
This is not just a fanciful exercise. Writing down your goals for 2016 can be the first step toward achieving them. What is most important to the future success of your business right now – more accurate forecasts? A better way to create schedules? Call recording software? Finding improved ways to automate tasks?
Different call centers will have different lists, but a Workforce Management (WFM) solution in the cloud may figure prominently in the answers to many of them. Santa can’t bring it, but Monet Software can.
Here are a few more items that may be on your wish list.
Listening to recorded calls can boost the efficiency of your contact center. Listening to these calls while watching how agents relate to customers offers even more insight into employee performance, customer service and how technology is being leveraged for maximum benefit. With Monet Screen Capture, it is possible to review synchronized voice and video of your agents’ interactions. We’ve created a video demo that takes you through the process, from capturing customer interactions to the platform’s archiving and reporting capabilities.
Since 2/3 of customer interactions still take place over the telephone, speech analytics has become a more prominent source for customer insight. With Monet WFO Live’s speech analytics capabilities, contact centers gain even more insight from their call recording solution. With automated alerts triggered by voice data, managers have access to critical business intelligence that boosts both agent performance and the customer experience.
If you want even more transparency into how your contact center functions, what agents are doing at their desks, whether your business is in compliance with government or industry guidelines on information gathering, and where your procedures are falling short of expectations, desktop analytics may have the answers. Where speech analytics is primarily customer-focused, desktop analytics (DA) delivers insight on your agents and your processes. It captures and analyzes all agent desktop activities in real time, and it improves process automation and workflow.
Download our Free New Whitepaper
Technology plays a vital role in the contact center. Managers face a difficult choice when it comes to selecting a technology provider, as they must take into account not only the vendor but also the delivery method through which crucial contact center software will be accessed.
There are three options: an on-premise solution, where hardware and software must be installed, deployed and maintained at the contact center; a hosted system, where software is purchased but is installed at an outside service provider, and a cloud system, which converts such physical resources as processors and storage into Internet resources.
How should a manager decide which is best for his company? Our new whitepaper was created to answer the most common questions about the three systems, and to compare them based on several important factors, including:
• Start-up Time
Of course, for many businesses the most significant determining factor will be cost. That’s why the whitepaper analyzes the many different budget considerations associated with each delivery method.
Don’t invest in your next workforce management or workforce optimization solution without downloading our new whitepaper: Cost and Benefit Comparison: Cloud vs. Premise vs. Hosted. It’s free!
Download White Paper
In 2014, a Comcast customer tried to cancel his service. He was placed on hold…for three-and-a-half hours. After enduring that wait, the customer finally hung up and tried again, only to find that the service center had closed.
At about the three-hour mark, our exasperated customer began recording his reactions. That video (“Comcast put me on hold until they closed”) has been viewed more than 1.8 million times on YouTube.
It’s an amusing story, as long as you’re not the customer or Comcast. But putting callers on hold is nothing to laugh about, even when it cannot be avoided.
Average Handle Time – and the Scourge of the Hold Button
One of the most important of the contact center’s key performance indicators (KPIs) is Average Handle Time (AHT), which records how much time an agent spends with one customer. It has been described as the bedrock for all contact center planning systems, which makes sense; if you guess wrong with this metric, it is difficult to plan anything else correctly.
Most contact centers calculate AHT by added Total Talk Time, Total Hold Time and Total Wrap-Up Time. Some contact centers cheat by figuring hold time as a separate stat (Average Hold Time) but they are just kidding themselves. The agent is still working on that same caller’s needs. Every time a customer is put on hold, the handle time just keeps growing.
How Do Your Customers Feel? They Hate It
The text message service TalkTo recently concluded that the average American spends about 13 hours on hold every year. Over the course of a typical lifespan, that adds up to 43 days of listening to “Thank you for your patience – your call is important to us”. No wonder they are upset.
And while these numbers are not any worse than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago, callers today may not have the same patience as their parents did. Anyone that grew up with the instant gratification of an online purchase or finding answers to questions by typing a few words into a search engine is now accustomed to getting what they want and not having to wait for it.
If you put these customers on hold, some will understand that you are trying to find the information you need to help them – but most will think you are just wasting their time. Among customers who feel they have waited too long on hold, 1/3 will hang up and never call back. Relationship over.
Let’s take a closer look at the three reasons most customers are placed on hold, and what can be done to shorten those waits – or eliminate them altogether.
1. Not Enough Agents Available
When there are too many calls and not enough agents, it results in the especially frustrating “ABC industries, please hold.” The call is answered but the customer is immediately relegated back to the limbo of hold.
The Solution: Better Forecasting and Scheduling
Forecasts are made to anticipate caller demand and to make certain the contact center will never be short-handed. Many contact centers use spreadsheets to create forecasts, but the results are always time-consuming and often inaccurate.
A workforce management solution delivers automated workload forecasting and schedule generation. Managers can run simulations to calculate a precise forecast for future call volume, agent requirements and average handle time. Peak calling times can be identified based on trends and patterns in historical data. Once you know when incoming calls will be heaviest, it’s easier to readjust agent schedules as needed to handle the demand.
Workforce optimization is the art and science of having the right number of employees, with the right skills at the right times to meet accurately forecasted volumes of work, and to do all that at a predetermined service level. With Monet WFM Live, you are able to forecast incoming work based on historical patterns, with the added ability to schedule and track employees based on preferences, skills and availability.
2. The Agent Does Not Have the Information Necessary to Address the Caller’s Question or Situation
Callers expect answers. If a customer has to be placed on hold while the agent asks someone else, or needs to get an approval before authorizing a return (or whatever the situation may be) that caller will wonder why the company didn’t do a better job of training its employees. Yes, that is unfair in many cases, but perception is often reality, and customers will certainly be happier if their business can be conducted quickly by the person who answered the phone – without any on-hold delays.
The Solution: Agent Training and Trust
Most of these hold scenarios fall into two main categories: the agent either does not have the necessary information, or the agent could handle the situation but is forced to speak with a manager or supervisor before proceeding. By expanding the agents’ authority to make decisions, many of the latter instances can be eliminated.
If an agent cannot answer a caller’s question, it’s possible the question is so unique and unexpected that no amount of training could prepare for it. But those situations are rare. More often, callers are placed on hold in these situations because the agent is still new and learning on the job. Better training might prepare new agents to answer the full array of common customer queries, without resorting to the ‘hold’ button so they can ask a co-worker or manager for help. Managers can also help avoid these situations by created an online knowledge base that can be accessed quickly and easily (and is updated regularly to include new offers, promotions, etc.).
3. Insufficient Contact Center Resources
Resources, in this case, can refer to either personnel or technology. Forecasting and scheduling can optimize agent allocation, but if there are not enough agents on the payroll, customers will have to wait longer to be addressed. And technology exists to further refine data collection and improve agent preparation and performance, but it must be implemented to do so.
The Solution: Do What You Can
There’s no universal cure for this one. If the budget allows for hiring more agents, most contact centers will do so. If it doesn’t, it’s imperative to maximize the human resources available, and here once again WFM can be critical. When it’s delivered via the cloud like Monet WFM Live, there is no large upfront investment, so these capabilities are now within reach of small and midsized contact centers as well.
What else might help? Some contact centers are using speech analytics to analyze call patterns and identify more frequently asked questions. By doing so, agents can be better prepared to handle specific situations so those callers do not have to be put on hold while answers are sought.
Bonus Tip: Maximize Hold Time
Regardless of preparation and resources, there will always be times when a customer has to be placed on hold. Is there anything that can be done during this time to make it more tolerable – or to reduce abandoned call rates?
Statistics shows that more customers hang up if their hold time is spent in silence. Music is preferable, but even better would be pre-recorded messages of relevant information about the company, that may not address their particular situation but might be helpful to them anyway. Another option is offering to call the customer back when the agent is available.
Reducing the amount of time your customers stay on hold will not only result in shorter handle times, but will make your customers and agents happier.
Think Halloween is scary, with all those horror movies and little ghosts and monsters ringing your doorbell?
That’s nothing compared to the frightening service problems that can result from adherence issues at your contact center. You’ll hear a lot of screaming this month, but you certainly don’t want to hear it from your customers.
Thankfully, Monet has a free webinar for that. And you are invited.
It’s called “Fighting the Adherence Monster,” and it is scheduled for October 28 2015 at 11 am PDT.
If you have ever encountered the Adherence Monster, you know how it can seriously increase labor costs. Bullets won’t kill this beast – instead, you need a technology solution that has the capability to streamline schedule adherence goals and practices.
How can you know that agent availability, holidays and breaks have all been accounted for? Can you make adjustments in real time? How do you know which agents are doing their part for schedule adherence and which may require additional guidance or training?
Fortunately, the Adherence Monster is no match for Monet solutions with real-time adherence.
Don’t miss this informative webinar featuring tips and tricks to help you keep adherence issues away from your business. Spend 45 minutes with us, and you’ll save hours and hours of time lost to lapses in adherence.
Register here, it's free!
Are you already seeing Christmas trees going up in stores? Sure, it might be too soon, but there’s no such thing as rushing the season when it comes to contact centers – especially if November and December is your busiest time of year.
There are more than 100 shopping days until Christmas, but the time to make sure you are prepared to handle the holiday season is right now. Here are 5 ways to start:
1. Create or consult your stand-by agent list
Many contact centers hire temporary agents to keep up with increased call volume. You may have a list of these agents who helped out in previous years, as well as qualified agents that were interviewed for positions, and did not get the job. Start contacting them now to check their availability. If you don’t have a stand-by list, start putting one together.
With Workforce Management software it is easy to review call patterns from previous years so you’ll know what to expect in the months ahead. Run simulations based on this data and review the results so they can be as fine-tuned as necessary.
3. Shift schedules
Have your best agents available during peak periods, and have a plan to make sure all holiday season schedules are easily accessible to all concerned parties so there’s never any confusion. Obviously there will still be some revisions along the way, but WFM should resolve any issues before they can impact performance.
4. Streamline training
When adding temporary agents, you may need to train them in a more efficient way so they are prepared for what’s to come. If possible, streamline the desktop solutions available to temps so they can find the functionality they need without any confusion. When you have a mix of full-time and temporary agents on the floor, have a system in place to route the more complicated calls to experienced agents, leaving new hires free to handle more basic transactions.
5. Monitor the new hires
Have personnel available for quality monitoring, focused in particular on your overflow workforce. Some will excel, and these are the agents you might want to keep on the payroll after January 1. If you don’t have a position available now, given the turnover rate in this business it’s only a matter of time before you will. Save their contact information.
There are two types of people – those that set trends and those that follow them. Here are 7 trends that are currently taking place in the contact center industry – are you keeping up, or is it time to play catch-up?
1. Moving to the cloud
Why is this a trend? Lower upfront costs, more flexibility, more scalability, quicker reactions to changes in customer behavior, no need to build complex and costly hardware and software systems, less downtime, automatic software upgrades as they become available, deployment in weeks, not months…shall we go on?
2. The omnichannel approach
It’s not just offering different customer contact channels besides the telephone, it’s making sure that all of them deliver a seamless customer experience. If you’re on top of this trend, you are ahead of the curve – a Deloitte survey shows that less than 20% of contact centers have fully integrated their channels.
3. There’s an app for that
Self-service apps are becoming more popular with customers who prefer to resolve issues without speaking with an agent. If your company doesn’t have one in development yet, it’s something to start thinking about.
4. Fielding the tough questions
Customers who opt for email and live chat and other communication means will still use the phone for complex issues and difficult questions. Agent training must take this into account so your team is prepared for interactions that involve more than taking an order.
Work from home opportunities are becoming more prevalent in the contact center industry, and workforce management software helps make telecommuting possible. This may be a preferable situation for some of your team members, and because of the lower overhead and churn rate, it’s good for the contact center as well.
6. More emphasis on compliance
Security breaches and headline-making hacker stories have more companies thinking about regulatory compliance, especially with the handling of customer credit card information. When was the last time you reviewed your compliance needs and security measures?
7. Likes and tweets
Social media was something that businesses and contact centers of previous generations never had to worry about. But these new online channels should be viewed as an opportunity, not a problem. Incorporate social media engagement into the company’s overall communication strategy. A Facebook ‘like’ will be read by thousands of other customers and prospects.
How can we deliver a better customer experience?
That question is one faced by every contact center manager, especially after returning from a tradeshow full of new ideas, or reviewing last quarter’s numbers and not being happy with the results.
New ideas are great, but they should be built from a solid foundation, and that means an older idea that always works – workforce optimization. This is the clearest way to make your business stand out when it comes to customer service.
One good customer experience can have a very positive impact on loyalty, retention and word of mouth recommendations. Unfortunately, the same is true of one bad experience. WFO helps contact centers operate more effectively, by delivering the tools and data necessary for agents to do their jobs. When agents know what to do, and managers know what their agents are doing, the result is more satisfactory customer experiences.
And to turbo-charge your WFO, employ it in conjunction with speech and desktop analytics. Now you have even more data on agent productivity and performance, and you gain faster insight into different types of customer questions and inquiries so they can be routed to the right agent.
Monet’s WFO Live features workforce management and call recording, both essential for forecasting, scheduling and training. Plus you’ll find solutions for quality management and performance measurement, all delivered from the cloud, so you won’t be making a significant investment in hardware and software.
For small contact centers with just a few dozen agents, or major contact centers with hundreds of personnel working round the clock, workforce optimization is a vital component of a successful business.
Workplaces have become more casual over the past ten years. The millennial generation is accustomed to less structure, and many businesses have tried to accommodate that preference in a way that does not impact productivity.
In the contact center, this has prompted some discussion as to whether agent breaks should be strictly scheduled just like training sessions and other activities, or if more flexibility is feasible. There is even some documentation out there about agents being more efficient if they can take an unscheduled break as needed.
However, at this point we believe that scheduling breaks is still the right way to go. The very idea of workforce management is built on methods of data analysis and numbers crunching that tells managers when breaks can be scheduled based on capacity. The WFM tool populates breaks when it deems them appropriate given the workload forecast. If adherence slips, it is then up to supervisors to reschedule breaks based on call volume, which can be done with the right WFM provider (such as Monet WFM Live).
While it sounds more restrictive, there are still ways in which an agent’s preference can be accommodated. Indeed, once agents grasp the most common call volume patterns for days and shifts, they are able to request breaks and other time-off requests at times when such requests stand a greater chance of being approved.
If everyone works from the same data, the process becomes easier. And as long as that remains the case, unscheduled breaks should be discouraged. When agents can change their own schedules, it makes it far more difficult, if not impossible, to gain any value from forecasting or measuring adherence.
Hundreds of blogs, websites and magazines publish pieces about what a new year will bring. Not many of them go back later to review the accuracy of their predictions. So we found a piece from the beginning of 2014 featuring five technology trends believed headed for the contact center this year. Let’s see how it did.
1. Hybrid Cloud Adoption
It was anticipated that 2015 would see more contact centers with a hybrid environment, where some solutions were accessed from the cloud and others were installed on-site. While such businesses exist, the more prominent trend has been turning everything over to the cloud, because of the flexibility and cost-savings possible.
2. Virtual Agents
Would 2015 be the year of the virtual agent? Final stats aren’t in but thus far we are not seeing any indication of a significant increase in telecommuting, though this is a movement that has seen steady growth over the past decade. Cloud-based workforce management that allows agents to access the technology they need from any location will, if anything, expedite this trend.
3. Customer Service Apps
The smartphone, many predict, will change how customers interact with companies, and may even result in the extinction of the contact center. But while more companies have introduced customer service apps in 2015, contact centers are not going anywhere anytime soon.
4. Attack of the Big Data
Frost & Sullivan defines Big Data as volumes of data so large and moving at such a high velocity that they are difficult or impossible to work with using traditional database management tools. There has indeed been a growing influx of data from both traditional and new sources, including data logs, social networks, and clickstream data in web interactions. Monet Software has devised solutions to make this data more accessible and better organized, so it can be used to bring a new level of customer insight, and help drive real-time decisions on customer handling and workflow.
5. Multi-channel Access
This prediction was certainly accurate. Companies can no longer be content with traditional call center functionality. Customers now expect to reach out via other channels and receive the same quality response. For contact centers this means not just having qualified personnel in the right positions, but the ability to capture data across the channel spectrum that will help deliver better service in the future.
Change is never easy. Perhaps that is why many contact centers are still reluctant to make a switch from their software-based technology to the cloud. Even the prospect of no longer dealing with maintenance, storage or utility costs is not enough to offset concerns about whether a hosted contact center solution really delivers on everything it promises.
Here are some of the most common reasons why businesses hesitate, and how we address them with our clients – most of whom ultimately make the cloud transition, and now couldn’t be happier.
1. I’ll lose too much business during the transition!
Actually, you won’t. The cloud solution will be customized, prepared and tested before it is live, and can run parallel with your hardware solution during the actual conversion, so it can continue to function if an issue arises. Typically, however, the switch to cloud is quick and easy.
2. Is it really better?
Absolutely. It is more flexible, it is more scalable, there are no upfront costs, you pay only for what you need, you’ll receive software upgrades automatically as soon as they come available (without receiving a bill every time that happens) which makes it easier to work with home-based agents and other telecommuting personnel. These are just some of the benefits you’ll enjoy from day one.
3. I’m worried about turning over control of my data to a cloud
Maybe they should have found a better word when the technology was introduced, so it doesn’t seem like your data is traveling somewhere so distant. But the reality is you are still in control, just as you were when the hardware was sitting in your contact center. You can make changes as you need them, and with Monet you’ll also have the expertise of our dedicated support team to answer any questions.
4. It costs too much
Not at all. Hosted solutions cost 1/3 less than hardware solutions (and that is a conservative estimate on total savings). In fact, cost is one of the primary reasons why companies make the switch.
5. The cloud is unreliable
Once again, the opposite is true. Cloud solutions are actually more reliable than hardware-based technology because of their built-in fail-safes and redundancies. When all of your equipment is in one place and something goes wrong, you are out of luck. With the decentralized nature of the cloud, even a power outage won’t shut you down.
According to a study sponsored in part by Oxford Economics, 69% of businesses surveyed expect to invest in the cloud either moderately or heavily over the next three years, migrating their core business functions as a result.
These findings are consistent with a Forbes magazine piece published in June of 2015, suggesting that 55% of enterprise predict cloud computing will enable new business models in three years.
Why are these transitions taking place, particularly at contact centers that seek the benefits of a comprehensive workforce optimization solution?
With the cloud, a call center can be up and running with new WFO software in just days. Traditional WFO can take weeks, and sometimes months, to install.
No upfront investment for hardware and software is required for WFO in the cloud. Instead, contact centers pay a monthly subscription fee that, in many cases, will also cover training, support, maintenance and upgrades. Operating costs are lower as well, as there is no need for backups or hardware replacement.
The cloud gives contact centers room to grow, and upgrade the functionality they need when they need it. With a server on-premises, a contact center is limited by what that server can handle. Many call centers also report better ease of use with a software as a service (SaaS) solution.
All upgrades are automatically delivered free with WFO in the cloud. Upgrades to traditional hardware and software are an important revenue source for their respective manufacturers, so they won’t be going away.
There is always some risk when a call center invests in new technology. But with a cloud system it is easier to cancel a service that is not satisfactory. This is not always the case with a substantial upfront hardware/software investment.
Ah, the 1980s. Rubik’s Cubes and Cabbage Patch Kids and Duran Duran. Good times for those of us old enough to remember. And at the call center, we had the technology we needed to deliver great customer service.
The problem? Some call centers are still using a lot of the same technology.
An IVR system with 5 (or 8, or 10) options (including the ever-popular “press 7 to repeat this menu”) was cutting-edge back when Dynasty was on television. Ever go through all the options, and select the one that best fits the purpose of your call, only to then hear the message: “Our offices are now closed. Business hours are 9am to 4pm Tuesday through Friday…”
That won’t do anymore. People are busier now. They are used to faster (if not instant) communication, and the call to the contact center is just one more task in a multi-tasking day. The “Your call is important to us…please stay on the line and an operator will be with you shortly” message might sound polite, but to the caller it’s just more wasted time.
Another 1980s holdover is separate IVR and agent systems, at a time when such systems are easily integrated. The caller enters their account number when prompted by the IVR, and then they are connected to an agent who asks for the same number again. Not fun.
If your contact center is stuck in the ‘80s, it’s time to think about a 21st century technology makeover. Not sure where to start? Review recorded calls (or add a call recording system) and analyze the feedback from your customers. How many of them are frustrated by the time they speak to an agent? How many of them voice their displeasure over the time spent reviewing options and pressing buttons as prompted by the IVR? How many of these engagements could be handled more efficiently through email or web-chat or other channels?
Does your call center need to change with the times?
If you can’t remember, this might be a good time to take a fresh look at that script, and decide if changes would result in a better customer service experience.
When you do so, request the help of several of your best agents in the process. These are the men and women who will be working from that script, so they should be comfortable with its content, and able to advise from past experience on which questions and responses will be most effective in different customer scenarios.
For example, too many scripts use sentences that like this:
“On behalf of ABC industries I want to let you know that we appreciate your business, and that we will continue to work toward earning your trust.”
Customers today have heard well-worn content like this countless times, and are well aware it is not coming from the agent but from a script the agent is reading. The sentiment is important, but it could be expressed in a less fabricated way.
Agents – some of whom may have already taken to doing so – can suggest ways to make the customer feel valued that will sound more natural. These are the men and women on the front line of your customer service and loyalty efforts – they hear the reactions from customers every day (as you should as well through your quality assurance program).
Speech analytics offers another way to gauge customer reaction to certain scripted lines and responses. The ultimate goal is to create a script that is more of an outline than a word-for-word speech.
Some content must be expressed in a specific way to be consistent with industry regulations. It’s also likely that the answers to some basic questions will always be the same. But if every part of the call is scripted, the result is a robotic conversation that leaves the customer feeling more like a number than a person. When managers and agents work together on scripting, the result can be copy that encourages quick and efficient calls, while allowing agents to go off-script when there is a need.
Reducing Payroll Losses from Time Reports with WFO
The expression “time theft” is one that is likely familiar to every business owner with employees, including contact centers. It refers to situations where employees are paid for time they did not actually work.
It’s the kind of phrase that makes managers angry because they feel as if employees are taking advantage, but it also makes employees angry because an accusation of stealing is never something to be taken lightly.
But despite the discomfort it introduces into the workplace, time theft is an issue that must be confronted. While many contact center managers may not worry about an agent checking his or her Facebook page for a few minutes on company time, they will certainly not tolerate when one agent clocks in a fellow agent who never showed up at all.
To be fair, that type of fraud is rare, but it does happen. It’s the more subtle forms of time theft – adding a few minutes to the beginning or end of a shift, counting a break time as work time, conducting personal activities while on the clock, that most impact productivity and business costs.
It should also be acknowledged that many examples of time theft are inadvertent. Agents may honestly believe they worked the number of hours listed on their time sheets. Contact center work shifts can seem long and repetitive, and it is easier for mistakes to be made under these circumstances. But even without fraudulent intent, these situations can still be damaging. According to one estimate, time theft costs companies $400 billion annually in lost productivity.
According to studies by the American Payroll Association (APA), almost 75 percent of businesses in the U.S. are affected by time theft. These instances can take as much as 7 percent out of a company’s gross annual payroll. For a business with a $1 million payroll that adds up to $70,000 every year.
When employees were asked if they have ever exaggerated the number of hours worked on a shift, 43% admitted to doing so at least once. It is worth repeating here, however, that these cases often happen without malicious intent. A contact center agent may stay a few extra minutes, or arrive ten minutes early, and not be aware they are doing something wrong when those minutes are recorded on a digital time sheet.
The APA also reports that the average employee “steals” anywhere from 50 minutes to 4.5 hours per week by showing up late, leaving early and taking extended breaks and lunches. At the high end, this equates to approximately six weeks of stolen time per employee per year—as the study observes, whether the discrepancies are intentional or not, that is a staggering figure.
Contact centers have advanced a number of solutions to combat time theft, with varying results. Paper forms and traditional time clocks can help but are also vulnerable to agents who record their hours inaccurately or have someone else check them in.
A biometric time clock, which uses an employee’s fingerprint to verify their identity before clocking them in, can be far more effective. It can also expensive to implement, and may strike some managers as overkill.
A workforce optimization (WFO) solution may be the best option for making sure that there is no discrepancy between the hours declared and the hours truly worked. One of the primary benefits of WFO is increased productivity and service levels, and these are achieved in part by functionality that accurately records the number of hours worked.
Monet Live, Workforce Optimization in the Cloud provides a means to optimize all aspects of the workforce, including scheduling and hours worked, in one solution. One way it achieves this by tracking agent adherence to planned schedules and determining agent work time accounts. In addition, Monet Screen Capture (included in WFO Live) provides full-motion video and audio capture, which shows what agents are doing at any given time during their shifts.
The issue of time theft can be a difficult one to broach at a contact center. But if a business is losing too much money from agents inaccurately recording the hours they worked, it is an issue that must be discussed.
Since managers cannot be there to monitor every agent before, during and after a shift, an automated solution is the best way to combat the loss of productivity caused by time theft. With recurrent coaching and training and a workforce optimization solution, a contact center can mitigate this problem.
There is never a time when customer experience should not be a priority at the contact center.
But this year, we are seeing a renewed focus on this most important attribute, and through our blogs, articles and webinars are working to provide the information and resources that can help our clients re-dedicate themselves to delivering the best service possible.
This was the inspiration for our webinar “Monet WFO Live in Action,” which offered a guided tour of that product’s many features and benefits, and how they work together to serve your customers. These qualities were recently honored by TMC, which named WFO Live as a CUSTOMER 2015 Product of the Year.
But what about cost? It’s not as significant an issue with a cloud-based solution like WFO Live, but we understand that it’s also a factor in the day-to-day decisions every contact center manager has to make.
However, when the emphasis is on customer experience first, and fiscal challenges second, the result is a positive impact on both situations.
Why? If a contact center delivers a great customer experience, it is going to make a difference in the bottom line. Happy customers buy more products, and remain customers longer. And if they share an account of how well they were treated on social media, that brings more business, and more opportunities to convert first-time callers into satisfied customers.
The annual Call Center Week Conference and Expo is one of the largest industry events of the year. Monet Software is proud to take part in the 2015 conference, which will be held at The Mirage in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 15-19.
Please visit our booth (#609), where we look forward to meeting with customers and contact centers managers, and to exploring new trends in the industry.
This year, the focus is on customer-centric service. Sessions and topics on the agenda include: “Value in the Voice of the Customer,” “Why the Customer Experience Matters and What you Can Do About It,” and “Customer Experience Journey Mapping in a Digital World.”
But as always, there will be speeches from industry experts on a multitude of other subjects, from how to ignite employee engagement to advanced strategies in chat support and call center cloud strategies.
If you have not registered yet, or would like more information about the 16th annual Call Center Week Conference and Expo, visit their website at http://www.callcenterweek.com/.
Sometimes the best descriptions fall short. That is frequently the case with a contact center solution that offers as many features as Monet WFO Live.
We could talk about all of the ways that this workforce optimization solution can make the management and operation of any contact center easier, and how these benefits are multiplied when they are offered via cloud, and how many problems and challenges can be eliminated when WFO replaces spreadsheets, but there’s really no substitute for taking a few moments to watch the system in action.
This was the inspiration for our webinar, “Monet WFO Live in Action.” Monet Account Manager Nate Welsh and WFO Application Consultant Rich O’Farrell provide a guided tour of the product’s many features and benefits – ACD, WFM, forecasting, scheduling, call recording, quality, performance management and analytics, as well as how all these functions work in sync with each other.
You’ll also find out how easy the system is to implement and use, which not only shortens ROI time but will make your agents happier as well.
If you missed this webinar the first time around, it is now available for viewing free on the Monet website. Just click the link below, and get ready to discover what 21st century contact center efficiency looks like. Sometimes, seeing is believing.
Access the Webinar here
Did your contact center add more agents last year? If it did, it was not alone.
According to Jobs4America, as many as 50,000 new positions were created in the contact center industry in 2014, about 15,000 of those in the fourth quarter alone.
Some of this job growth can be attributed to a rebounding economy, and some is no doubt related to the number of companies that are moving contact center functionality back to the United States after years of outsourcing.
What does it mean? Prepare for a busy year. And be aware that while you’ll be speaking to more customers going forward, none of them will be that interested in how much busier you are – they just want good service.
Workforce management Software (WFM) is the key to delivering that service, and not just in the customer-facing operations of the front office. In the back office, WFM can streamline a variety of tasks, including simulations to improve forecasts for staffing and call volume, and scheduling improvements created by optimization of agent availability and service levels.
Does your WFM solution have the multi-channel efficiencies necessary to provide the same functionality to your back office as to the front office? If not, perhaps it is time to investigate a system that will allow you to take a more proactive approach in managing back office activities – no matter how busy you get in 2015 and beyond.
“Social media” is a phrase no one would have recognized ten years ago; today, it’s an essential element in any customer-driven business.
The contact center used to be the primary source for managing customer relationships, and still has a very important role to play in this function. But today, customers are just as likely to take their compliment or their complaint to the company’s social media platforms.
There are a number of reasons for this – people have incorporated social media into their everyday lives to such an extent that it’s the first communications channel they think about when wishing to contact a company. It’s also a way to communicate the message instantly, without having to look up a phone number or be put on hold.
Now that Facebook and Twitter and other outlets have redefined the relationship between companies and customers, it is important for the contact center to be in sync with how these relationships are managed – perhaps it’s even time for social media to be managed by the same personnel, who have been trained in customer relations and company policies on how to address feedback.
There are significant differences between a call and a social media post, the most important of these is that the latter automatically becomes a public conversation. Thousands of other people will read the customer’s comment and the company’s response. That makes the tone and content of the engagement even more critical. The right response (especially if it is posted quickly and not 5 days later) will have a positive impact on the original poster and on everyone who sees it.
Social media also provides a means to be proactive in a way that the contact center cannot. Savvy posting can be used to promote and protect a brand, and develop closer relationships with customers by staying in touch with them between orders and in-person visits to the business. The good work that is done here can resonate beyond the response to any single phone call or email.
Happy agents result in happy customers. So how do you create happy agents?
Let’s go beyond the obvious answers to this question – a competitive salary, scheduling flexibility that allows agents to balance home and family responsibilities with their job, and appreciation from managers and supervisors. These are all important and necessary best practices for creating a positive relationship between employer and employee.
However, it’s also important to build supportive relationships between agents, which is more difficult since each one spends the day talking to people outside the office and not those in the surrounding cubicles.
Team building is an excellent method to encourage company loyalty and create happier, more effective agents. This is especially true if you have remote agents and employees that work from home, as they have even fewer opportunities to network with coworkers.
One way to introduce this concept would be to establish a weekly or monthly get-together offsite, at a restaurant or a park. As employees bond it’s also a good time for managers to seek feedback on how they feel about their jobs, and ask for suggestions on how to better serve customers and make the contact center a more positive place to work.
Yes, this may require an investment on the part of the business, but the outcomes that will result will make this money well spent.
There are also team-building practices that can be introduced at no cost, such as a huddle at the start of each shift – a few words of encouragement, a reminder of the importance of the customer, and singling out a few agents for their contributions can be a great way to start a day.