Call Center Workforce Management Blog
If you see a building going up or being renovated in an office park or commercial area near you, don’t be surprised if it turns out to be a call center.
Enter “contact center jobs” into a news search engine and you’ll see story after story about companies adding positions – 682 in Hamilton, Ohio; 600 in Clearfield, Utah; 750 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Part of this can be attributed to a steadily growing economy, but the trend toward insourcing these jobs from overseas, rather than shipping them out to India and The Philippines, is also significant factor. Today, there are approximately five million Americans employed in contact centers, and many of them are working in positions that were outsourced more than a decade ago.
Why the switch? Labor costs are going up in other parts of the world, so companies aren’t saving as much money; security has also become a concern, considering the uncertainties in data privacy laws outside the United States.
There has also been a renewed appreciation for the central role the contact center plays in customer service, whether that entails order processing, payment processing, market research or addressing customer concerns. Given how contact center agents are on the front line of customer communication, CEOs now acknowledge, maybe this isn’t the best place to cut corners.
But the real issue may be the escalating numbers of complaints from callers, who are tired of speaking to agents that are poorly trained and difficult to understand. Not only are outsourced personnel not trained as thoroughly, they are thousands of miles away from management personnel, who are thus unable to monitor and interact directly with these employees.
Not Just Jobs: Good Jobs
Since businesses originally outsourced to save money, it’s encouraging to see that as these contact center agent jobs come back to the U.S., they are doing so in most cases with a salary that will attract intelligent, capable employees.
S&P Data LLC, which provides contact center solutions to Fortune 500 companies in the United States and Canada, has announced plans to bring 425 new contact service representative jobs to Rio Rancho, NM, with annual salaries averaging $38,000 plus benefits.
This is reflective of one way that call centers have changed since the outsourcing boom – with basic company information accessible through social media and order processing available online, the responsibilities of the contact center agent has changed.
“The types of calls that are coming through to our agents today, regardless of the client, are more complex, and it’s requiring that higher caliber associate,” said
Richardo Layun, director of operations at the Melbourne eBay Enterprise center.
One Success Story: Colorado
Colorado has been in the national news often of late, mostly for its legalization of marijuana and that decision’s impact on the state’s culture and economy. But in La Junta, a city in the southeast part of the state, a less controversial means of economic recovery is underway.
The city converted an old Air Force training facility into a 1,500-acre industrial part that is already home to two call centers: the first employs 180 agents in a 10,200 square foot building. Nearby a 300-seat center is housed inside a 33,750 square foot brick building with ample space for additional departments and meeting facilities. Amenities for both include a restaurant, day care facility and golf course all located within the park itself.
The influx of new business is the result of a community effort that also includes The Colorado Workforce Center, which provides recruitment and training programs, and the local junior college, which offers preparatory classes in computers, software and technology training. The La Junta City Council has shown its support for new business by approving a relocation incentive that allows contact centers to operate for five years rent-free.
Things Have Changed Since We’ve Been Away
That may be the reaction of agents and managers when they realize how the contact center industry has evolved in the years when companies were shifting positions overseas. The technology and use of spreadsheets that was sufficient to stay competitive in the industry has been surpassed by more sophisticated solutions. For these new contact centers, it is important to equip agents with the tools they need to prosper.
That starts with an automated workforce management (WFM) solution, which delivers a means to improve the productivity and cost-efficiency of the contact center by making so many vital tasks easier. These includes running simulations for more accurate forecasting, and scheduling that incorporates all call types and other activities. Exception planning, performance analysis, intra-day management, and other practices are streamlined through the real-time data generated by today’s WFM systems.
An investment in such technology might have been counterproductive, as companies would be reluctant to add a $100,000 equipment investment on top of other development and personnel costs. Even if you are relocating to rent-free La Junta, that’s a lot of money. But with a cloud WFM system, a unified solution can be implemented quickly without a large upfront cost. Instead, users pay only a low monthly subscription fee.
In addition to cost savings, a cloud platform also provides maximum flexibility and scalability, and is more easily deployed even across multiple locations. Since all data is stored “in the cloud,” it can be retrieved at any call center workstation. If you are interested in this topic, please also read the article "5 Reasons Why Contact Center Jobs are Coming Home" that was published by Contact Professional.
While customers now have other options when it comes to interacting with a company, such as email and online chats, surveys show that the majority still picks up the phone when they want to ask a question or place an order.
To take better care of these customers, companies that outsource their contact centers are now shifting their focus to centers within the U.S., which can provide a higher quality of care. But that investment can quickly escalate if a large technology investment is required.
Cloud computing can reduce these costs. In this model, contact centers pay only for the time and capacity that they need.
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/.
In previous blogs we’ve discussed the contributions call recording can make to contact center efficiency and agent training, among many other benefits.
But there is another facet to this technology, as observed in this recent Orecx blog – the impact it has on sales intelligence.
While there are numerous strategies for acquiring sales intelligence data, from professional consulting firms to enterprise systems that crunch numbers and deliver insight into markets and upsell opportunities, many of these methods require a significant investment.
But if the contact center has call recording, especially if it is part of a workforce management solution, the company already has a means to engage with customers and collect valuable intelligence and get answers to such questions as:
• How is my company perceived vs. my competitors’?
During a call a customer may reference how another company has more product choices, or a lower price, or other special offers. Or, the caller may mention how he or she had tried the other company first, but was not impressed.
• Where do my customers live?
Find out where people are more receptive to the company’s products and services, then target these areas for additional lead generation.
• Is our marketing misleading?
What happens when customers think a company is offering a free product, only to discover later that a $100 purchase is first required? Usually, it leads to a lot of cancellations and complaints. Call recording can reveal whether a marketing message is effective, or is having the opposite of the desired effect.
Recording calls is important, but it’s only the first step. Additional benefits from this technology can be derived from the efforts made to review and analyze recorded calls for information that can benefit customers, agents and company sales and marketing plans.
Call scoring provides a systematic means to conduct these reviews, so they can be optimally used to improve quality management, agent performance and training.
Scoring furnishes a means to identify the weakest areas of agent performance and, combined with a review of call recordings, paints a more precise picture of where agents need to improve, and the steps necessary to get there.
The first step is to determine what elements are important in each customer engagement, and how each effort should be scored against these pre-determined criteria.
Most scorecard elements are fairly standard, and are derived from dividing a call into segments. Many contact centers use a basic open-middle-close format (how is the customer greeted, how is the problem or question resolved, how does the call end). Of course, most of the action takes place in the middle segment, so additional scrutiny here may be helpful – was the agent able to answer all questions? Was the agent friendly when the caller was hostile? Were any upsell opportunities missed?
Calls can be scored on a 1-10 scale, or with the type of A-F letter grades we used to receive in school. Once grading is complete, the results can be shared with each agent, and additional training scheduled if needed.
Of course, it is also beneficial to have a unified call recording/call scoring WFO solution that will automate the review and evaluation process. That means faster results, more accurate results in the form of reports and statistics, and a reliable blueprint for necessary revisions and updates based on the data provided.
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
Customers appreciate when their calls are received by the agents most qualified to handle them.
And this is certainly one of those instances where what is good for the customer is good for the contact center as well. Skill-based scheduling results in higher productivity, higher first call resolution and shorter call times. It plays to agents’ strengths and boosts their confidence.
Implementation of skill-based scheduling begins by establishing a clear tier system that ranks agents by skills based on call type. Ultimately, the goal is to have only agents that are capable of handling every type of customer call. Thus, performance remains consistent no matter how schedules may fluctuate.
Such scheduling based on specific skill sets is easily manageable with Workforce Management. Inclusion of skills is handled automatically by WFM, so it’s easier to fill each shift with fewer agents – those who have the requisite specialties to handle every customer encounter. Now, try to achieve the same results with spreadsheets, when each of your agents has 3-5 different skills. How would you even begin to take all of them into account and run various scenarios? Even if it could be done, it would take many, many more hours that could be devoted to other challenges.
Based on a recent call center industry analysis, approximately 20% of call centers still use spreadsheets for forecasting and scheduling. Those that do are missing out on the convenience, efficiency and flexibility of workforce management, particularly when it comes to this vital function.
Workforce management plays a prominent role in engendering employee and customer satisfaction through skill-based scheduling. Spreadsheets just can’t keep up. To learn more, please read this whitepaper about Spreadsheets vs. Workforce Management Software.
We have covered the benefits of desktop analytics in previous blogs; it’s one of the best ways to analyze how people, processes and technology work together. But what is the best way to implement a desktop analytics solution?
If you have specific questions, contact us and we’ll talk you through the process. But if you’re not sure yet, two recent blogs provide a helpful primer on creating the right configuration to capture the necessary data. More...
There are many challenges to success and improvement at the contact center, and one of the most persistent is stagnation. The best contact center managers are never satisfied; they are always in search of ways to improve every aspect of their business.
One factor that should always be part of such discussions is the contact center’s service level goal. Anything that can be done to raise service levels should be explored, though too often this requires additional investment that might not be possible. Still, such considerations should not be a barrier to exploring options.
As always, the process begins by asking the right questions.
• Do you know what your service level costs?
• How would higher or lower service levels impact your costs?
• How would a change impact customer satisfaction?
• How did you decide on your service level goal?
All good questions, but the last one may be the place to start. Was the contact center’s service level defined before you joined the company, and that is the way it has always been? Was it set because the competition is trying to hit the same level? There are times when assumptions take on the guise of decrees, and that puts them beyond questioning. It’s a trap that no contact center manager should fall into.
The Myth of the Service Level Standard
What are the variables that will impact the optimum service level? Start with the so-called seven factors of caller tolerance, which include the customer’s expected service level, available time, motivation for the call and whether other options exist for achieving what the customer wishes to do.
To these, we can add contact center labor costs, equipment costs, and the relative value attached to different calls. It would be impossible for one standard service level to meet all these criteria across different contact centers, meeting all customer needs and expectations while maximizing revenue and minimizing expenses.
Perhaps that is why so many contact centers settle on the 80/20 objective (80% of calls answered in 20 seconds) as a reasonable balance between staffing and customer expectations. Others will tweak those numbers as they investigate how low they can be adjusted before they start losing business. The problem here is the assumption that if a caller will stay on the line for five minutes, acceptable service has been provided. Abandonment rates, of course, don’t tell the whole story.
Customer surveys are another popular method for reviewing and adjusting service level. However, when some calls are answered immediately and other takes 90 seconds or more, responses are likely to vary based on individual experience.
Perhaps the best option is to combine elements from all of these methods – track what others are doing, review customer feedback, and run calculations based on current staffing and scheduling capabilities. Then, set a service level target based on the result.
Cutting Costs without Cutting Service
Once an appropriate service level has been established, contact center managers can explore options for reducing costs. That means asking how long customers are willing to wait, and how busy you want agents to be. This is known as the occupancy rate: the busier your agents, the lower the service level.
Once that rate has been set, an equivalent service level goal can be determined by reviewing historical data. Look for instances where the new occupancy rate goal was achieved, and collect the corresponding service level data – that will serve as your new service level target.
The right occupancy rate also bolsters service by making shifts less stressful for agents, which allows them to deliver better, more consistent customer engagements.
Most Budget Reducing Tips
Here are some additional ideas for reducing costs while maintaining a practical service level. Some will not be appropriate for every type of contact center, but implementing just one or two could result in significant savings.
• The Audit: Make it call center-wide. Review metrics, productivity, revenue generation and potential process improvements.
• Full, Part or Flex? What makes the most economic sense for your contact center – full time agents, part time or a flexible staff with a mix of both?
• Attrition: Cutting attrition and its associated recruiting and training costs is one of the most direct ways to save money. Review training techniques as well to make sure agents are learning when they should, and not ‘on the job.’
• Quality Assurance: A QA review can uncover inefficient processes and other shortcomings that impact customer service.
• Adherence: Service levels cannot be maintained if agents are not at their desks when they should be.
• Workforce Management Software: Much of the data on forecasting, staffing, adherence and KPIs can be delivered more quickly and accurately with a workforce management solution. And with WFM in the cloud, a contact center can avoid the large upfront cost traditionally associated with such a technology upgrade.
• Telecommuting: Agents that work from home reduce the contact center’s occupancy costs, and can also boost employee morale.
• Reduce Call Volume: Does the contact center receive a lot of calls on subjects that could be addressed another way? Find out why customers are calling and see if some of those unneeded calls can be cut down.
Because contact centers are different in size and scope, it can be difficult to provide a general approach to improving service level, especially when attempting to lower cost at the same time. But the challenge of creating a positive change is no excuse for not taking a fresh look at service level status at your contact center, and questioning whether the standard that was determined or the methods used to maintain it should not be open for discussion.
Leadership is an often-overlooked trait in any business, including the contact center. Every company has a boss, but not every boss is a natural leader.
One way to establish leadership, according to this article, is to adopt a set of best practices that help managers lead agents and achieve goals. But with so many other responsibilities (coaching, preparing management reports, dealing with unexpected occurrences), doing so can be a challenge.
Here is one three-step process for cutting through the clutter and focusing on what is most important. More...
Many organizations have told us about the difference that Monet Speech Analytics has made in the efficiency of their contact centers, and how many customer relationships have been improved or saved by the rapid response to real-time situations that it makes possible.
If you haven’t considered adding speech analytics to your call center intelligence tools, here are just a few ways it can enhance the experience you provide your customers. More...
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.
Recently, we’ve been speaking to some contact center managers about what is happening in their centers. This feedback is important to us as we develop new products and services, and upgrade our existing solutions.
Quality Monitoring (QM) and Quality Assurance (QA) are two of the challenges that clients have mentioned most frequently. We have covered these topics in several previous blogs and articles, as well as the white paper Seven Strategies for Effective Quality Assurance.
“Yes, this is helpful,” they responded. “But is anything new going on in this field?” Are there any new ideas or trends that are working that we could try?”
The answer is yes – and no. Here we will cover some of the most recent developments in the quality monitoring and quality assurance field; however, these should not be implemented in a way that replaces the proven tools and techniques that have worked for more than a decade. The best solution would be to incorporate the new methods as an enhancement to your current strategy – assuming it is based on solid ideas and principles. More...
“This is an office – not a playground!” Such words were frequently uttered for generations at companies, where the employees seemed more interested in having fun than doing their jobs.
More recently, however, studies have shown that finding the element of fun in every job that must be done (to paraphrase Mary Poppins) can actually improve productivity and customer satisfaction.
It’s called gamification, and it means redesigning everyday routines and tasks to be more game-like and interactive, resulting in experiences that are more engaging, more fun, and (hopefully) more productive.
Can this work to motivate employees in the contact center? Possibly – as long as there are not any negative consequences to the activities devised.
At some Target stores, cashiers compete in on how quickly they can ring up purchases. Something like this could be tried in a contact center, as long as agents are not rushing through scripted responses to end the call faster. Likewise, a challenge among agents on who can achieve the most upsells of a certain product could backfire if agents resort to more aggressive techniques that exacerbate the customer experience.
Managers must introduce a gamification program with care – specifying guidelines for competitions and stressing the ultimate goal of improving not just worker morale but customer service. In the contact center environment where so much of the workday is spent in repetition of basic tasks, the right kinds of games can add excitement to the team, and might even help the company retain its best agents.
If you have created any activities that have proven successful, let us know.
In the old days it was simpler – first call resolution (FCR) at the call center was a simple measurement of how often a customer’s issue was settled within one call. No standard definition was required.