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Tips for More Effective Call Center Workforce Management

This blog provides practical information on all aspects of workforce management for contact centers, including quality monitoring, call recording, performance management and analytics

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Call Center Workforce Management Blog

The Ascent of Analytics at Call Centers

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For decades, “analytics” at a call center consisted of reviewing recorded calls to assess outcome and agent performance. But the ascent of speech analytics solutions has taken that process to another level.

The recordings are still the same – the difference is how much information each one can reveal.  

For example, what words do callers use to describe their issue? What is the tone of their voice when they explain why they are calling? By analyzing vocabulary and emotion, a speech analytics solution can improve the routing of calls to agents best suited to handle them, and provide additional insight into how products and marketing campaigns are being received.

This affects agent training as well, as once certain repeated speech patterns and word choices are identified, agents can be prepared in advance for them, and be ready to respond in a way that improves the odds of a successful outcome.

There is also a predictive quality to speech analytics that can detect where a conversation is going before it gets there. By combining data mined from previous calls from the same customer, specific word choices and tone of voice, it may be possible to mitigate an angry tirade before it starts – or detect an attempt at a fraudulent transaction before any damage is done.

And while analytics has traditionally focused on calls, the same strategy can be used for social media (now the first choice for millennials), as well as self-service and digital channels. You may not be able to sense mood from a customer’s voice this way, but contact patterns and word choice can be analyzed to determine the most appropriate next step. 

Today, however, more than half of call centers lack any social media capabilities, much less the analytics that make these channels important sources of customer data. 

Is it time for your call center to discover the benefits of analytics?


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The Three “Musts” of a Call Center Customer Relationship

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Customer expectations have changed over the past decade. Business moves faster now, which is great, but it has also become more impersonal, which presents another set of potential challenges.

Call centers dedicated to improving customer service and customer retention understand that it all starts with creating a relationship. Here are three things that must happen for that to be successful.

1. You Must Make the Process Easy

Let’s face it – no one looks forward to calling a call center. Customers dread the recorded prompts and the minutes spent on hold, and having to provide their phone number or order number more than once. It is vital for call centers to make the process of speaking with an agent as efficient as possible, while also providing other options such as email and chat and social media.

2. You Must Strive to Create a Connection

Whatever means a customer uses to contact a business or a call center, there is an opportunity to make that customer feel valued. Whether that’s an expression of appreciation for their business at the end of a call, or a personalized response to a social media post, the objective is to build a relationship with that customer so they are more likely to return. Automated responses have their uses but won’t get you there alone.

3. You Must Collect Data From Every Customer Engagement

Through call recording, speech analytics and performance management, a contact center can learn a lot about a company’s customers – what they like, what they don’t like, what they want from the company that they’re not getting and what they hope will never change. 

Much of this analysis will be after-the-fact, which certainly still makes it valuable. What you learn today can pay dividends tomorrow. But sometimes a contact center can go one better – with real time analytics, it can identify a moment within an ongoing customer engagement in which action can be taken immediately to bring about a positive result. 

Such moment-driven data is already being generated by workforce optimization and speech analytics. Agents must then be trained to recognize these moments and proceed accordingly. 


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Four Call Center Customer Support "Musts"

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Look at any survey about customer service and you’ll find that billions of dollars are lost each year when it is not handled efficiently.

Service is at the core of every call center function, and toward that end managers invest time and capital into a wide array of technology and employee training efforts.

There are many steps that can be taken to boost service. But some of them are really no longer options given the state of the industry and customer expectations. Here are four ‘musts’ that should be part of any call center operation.

1. You must allow customers to switch channels

According to the Harvard Business Review, more than half of all call center customers will at some point attempt to get something done online, but will have to switch to a phone call to make it happen. That transition should not only be possible, but also be actionable in a way that all information provided online is transferred to the agent so it does not have to be repeated.

2. You must provide self-service options

Not every customer issue requires a phone call. Self-service customer portals are not only convenient; they will also reduce call volume.

3. You must answer calls promptly

Everyone is less patient now because we’re accustomed to the instant responses technology provides online. Call centers cannot always provide that same instant response, but that won’t prevent customers from expecting it. Keep people on hold too long and they won’t be customers anymore. The forecasting and scheduling tools in a workforce management solution make this goal much easier to accomplish.

4. You must be able to handle service requests via mobile app

A Salesforce survey predicts that the number of inbound customer service requests via mobile app will increase by 38% over the next year. If your company does not provide this capability, there’s a good chance your competition does.


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Five Technology Solutions Found at State-of-the-Art Call Centers

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In technology, as in many other aspects of business, there is a need to keep up with what the competition is doing, so as not to fall behind and risk losing customers.

As we continue to get up and running in 2017, where are state-of-the-art call centers focusing their time, attention and budget allocations? Here are five solutions you’ll find at most of them. How does your call center measure up?

1. Speech Analytics

Real-time speech analytics is being used to improve agent training (and encourage self-training), track compliance, and gauge customer needs and emotions in a way that improves the likelihood of a successful engagement.

Call recording is still important, of course. But speech analytics turbo-charges the value that can be attained from these calls. The software automatically processes and identifies important keywords and phrases, allowing you to quickly find calls related to specific issues and challenges. It also provides automated alerts when a new relevant call is received. 

2. Closer Ties to Marketing

When the call center and the company’s marketing division share technology and customer data, the result is an end-to-end view of each customer’s journey. Such insight can deliver improved customer service and retention.

3. Availability Scheduling

Some call centers have found that providing agents with more flexible scheduling options results in less attrition, which leads to costly recruiting, hiring and training of new employees. With a workforce management solution, it is much easier to fit flexible and even self-scheduling options into accurate forecasts.

4. Chatbots

They are nowhere near the mainstream yet, but 2017 may be the year that more call centers embrace chatbots to handle more basic calls and queries. They will not replace agents, but they should lighten an agent’s workload so he or she can focus on the more difficult or complex customer issues.

5. The Cloud

Last but certainly not least, there is continued acceleration in the trend toward call centers moving into the cloud to avoid significant infrastructure investment. Workforce optimization in the cloud delivers all of the data a manager needs for accurate forecasts and schedules, but at a fraction of the cost of an on-premise system.


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Five Questions to Ask if Call Center AHT is a Problem

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Average handle time (AHT) is a call center metric for the average duration of one transaction, typically measured from the customer's initiation of the call and including any hold time, talk time and related tasks that follow the transaction.

 If AHT is a persistent problem at your call center, here are five questions to ask. The answers might result in positive change.

 1. Have you streamlined your script?

Too many questions and too much verbiage can add precious seconds to calls, while accomplishing little in the way of customer satisfaction. Review your call scripts for any ways to trim the fat.

 2. Are you routing calls effectively?

A workforce management solution can route specific types of calls to the agents most qualified to handle them efficiently.

 3. Are your agents receiving the best training?

Ongoing coaching and training is essential, but if AHT is still a problem then more of these sessions should be geared toward solving this specific problem.

 4. Do you have an ‘anti-babble’ strategy?

Sometimes callers just won’t get to the point. Have you come up with ideas on how agents can politely but firmly take charge of the call and keep them on track?

 5. Have you asked agents for their input?

Your agents are on the front line of any AHT initiative. They may have ideas on where too much time is being spent, and how to handle some types of calls more efficiently.


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More Call Center Quality Monitoring Tips

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We’ve covered quality monitoring (QM) before, but it’s such an important topic that there is always more to say, and more good ideas worth exploring. If your call center is still not getting the results you desire, try some of these tips.

A New Focus Every Month

Complacency can result from following the same quality monitoring formula every month. Rather than repeat the same procedures, review recorded calls and select the one issue where correction is needed most. Focus only on that one for the next 30 days, and then review the results at the next QM session. If positive changes have been made, move onto the next most pressing problem.

Role-Playing

Recording customer calls will give you all the raw data you need for effective quality monitoring. But some call centers still find it beneficial to test agents, especially new ones, with specific challenges in a role-play scenario. These calls are then monitored just like an actual customer call, to determine if the agent is capable of handling these situations when the real thing comes along.

Agent Involvement

Your call center agents know it is their performances that are being scrutinized in QM sessions. They’ll feel better about this, and more responsive to its conclusions, if they are invited to be part of the process. That starts with the preparation of the QM checklist on what areas to review and where improvement is needed. If they are consulted in this effort they will be more invested in the result.

Agents can also be involved in the review process. Have them listen to calls from other agents and offer feedback. This also provides excellent preparation for listening to and reviewing their own calls. Some call center coaches have taken to not offering specific feedback, instead letting agents draw their own conclusions on how they can sharpen their skills. 

Equal Monitoring?

There is an inherent fairness in treating every call center agent equally, and devoting the same amount of time to reviewing their performances via quality monitoring. But given the limited time and personnel resources available, it makes more sense to spend less time with agents who are excelling, and more time bringing those that are struggling up to speed.

What is ‘Quality’?

Before starting a QM program, a call center needs to define a quality customer interaction, and set benchmarks and standards for getting there. When everyone is in agreement on what constitutes a “good” call, this will make it easier to achieve the goals of the program.

Agent Reassurance/Rewards

Another benefit of including agents in the process, as described previously, is how it can ease tensions over QM sessions, and fears that they are being used as a way to get rid of slackers.

Quality management should be introduced in positive terms, as a way to improve both individual performance and that of the entire call center. Managers and trainers should place equal emphasis on great experiences, by saving the best calls and using them in training sessions. The agents responsible for those engagements should be rewarded for their fine work.

How is Your Competition Doing?

With QM you regularly measure call center performance internally, comparing this month’s results to last month’s and adjusting accordingly. For a fresh perspective, compare your call center to a similar operation for another company. This type of external benchmarking may yield useful ideas on how to get better.

Dispute Resolution

What happens if an agent believes his or her evaluation was unfair? Have a system in place to review results – perhaps bring in a second manager or an experienced agent to provide another opinion.

Don’t Forget Customer Feedback

As your team prepares its monitoring process and quality definitions, some effort should be made to incorporate the views of the most important people in this equation – the customers you are trying to serve better. This information can be gathered from phone surveys or comment cards or social media, or by inviting customers in to attend focus groups. Following the initial implementation, customer feedback should remain an ongoing part of your QM strategy.

Review Evaluation Forms and Agent Scripts

When actors get stuck in a bad play they always say, “If it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage.” That works with call centers as well. The evaluation form is a key cog in your QM routine, so review it and refine it to make sure the right questions are being asked, the scoring results are consistent and accurate, and the answers are prompting the right form of training. Similarly, make sure that any quality issues with agent performance are not coming from the script read to each customer.

Focus on High Value Calls

While every customer is important, some customer calls are more valuable than others when it comes to quality assurance. Focus on those that expose potential issues with new products or marketing campaigns, or those from the type of customers that are vital to your company’s success. Desktop analytics software can make it easier to locate these calls. 

Don’t Wait a Month

It’s not that quality monitoring can’t be effective with monthly meetings – but there are still things that can be done between those sessions to improve call center service. Some managers start each day reviewing the last five calls of a handful of agents from the previous day. Those notes can then be presented at the start of their shifts, or saved for the next QM meeting.


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Performance Management: What Not to Do

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There is a lot of advice out there on what to do to improve performance management (PM). We’re going to approach that question differently, with three tips on what not to do. Why? Perhaps by framing the advice this way, it will be easier for some call centers to realize that these mistakes are all too common. If you want to set a new goal for this challenge, the place to start might be in breaking some long-standing bad habits.

Don’t Do This: Set General Goals

Why try to hit specific numbers and performance targets?

“As long as things seemed headed in the right direction, that’s good enough.”

The problem with this approach is it doesn’t last. Without clearly defined goals agents tend to be less vigilant. The targets on KPIs should be established and disseminated to all personnel, with those who get there receiving acknowledgement and reward, while those who do not receive additional coaching and training. With the data delivered by a workforce management solution, call centers can know exactly where they are, and where they need to be.

Don’t Do This: Subjective Scores

Some performance management systems rate an agent on average handle time or quality of greeting on a 1-10 scale. The problem is what constitutes a ‘4’ or an ‘8’ or any other score in that range. One manager’s ‘6’ might be another’s ‘9.’ Scoring must be consistent, or agents will not buy into the program.

Don’t Do This: Deal With PM When It’s Convenient

When performance management reviews are not built into a weekly or monthly schedule, they are easily delayed when other business pops up and takes precedence. Scoring sessions and agent meetings and reviews should not be rescheduled unless a genuine crisis arises. If they are postponed regularly, agents will eventually realize they’re not that important to management – which suggests that performance itself is not a priority. That will impact how some agents do their jobs.


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The Three Worst Calls Contact Center Agents Receive – and How to Handle Them

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Every so often you run across a study that produces results so obvious you wonder why a study was necessary in the first place. 

That was what most of us felt after the University of British Columbia announced that customers with bad attitudes are less likely to be satisfied with the service they receive. 

Most call center agents already know this – and yet it is their job to try and make each customer happy, no matter how difficult the challenge. 

These are the three customer behaviors cited by the survey. Agents encounter all of them regularly. 

1. The Angry Caller

These customers are mad from the time you say hello. They’ve saved up a lot of complaining and are eager to let it rip. The best alternative for agents in these situations is to counter aggression with calm, steady responses. Convey empathy even if you don’t actually feel it – “I understand your frustration. I’m sure that was difficult. Let me try to take care of that for you.” Return negative words with positive words, and hope the caller calms down or responds accordingly. 


2. The Abusive Caller

These customers are not just angry, they’re itching for a fight. They want to let someone from the company know just how lousy they are, and they don’t care if it’s the CEO or a poor agent just starting her daily shift. The difference between angry and abusive is the attack becomes personal. The challenge is to remain calm and try to reduce the caller’s hostility level. A reminder that the call is being recorded may change their attitude, but if it doesn’t it should be permissible for the agent to tell the abusive caller that their call will be terminated if he or she does not calm down. The agent should then inform that manager of what has happened. 

3. The Interrupting Caller

Very few issues are unique – agents have heard them all before, and managers have prepared company responses that usually rectify the situation. But what is an agent to do when he or she can’t express the proper response because of constant interruptions? Though it won’t do much for average handle time, the best option here is to let the caller blow off steam, and at the first pause politely ask “Is there anything else about this situation I need to know?” Once the caller has vented sufficiently, he or she might be ready to accept the agent’s response. 



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Ten Ideas for Encouraging a Positive Call Center Culture

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There are enemies at the door every day at a call center – inaccurate forecasts, average handle time numbers headed in the wrong direction, angry callers, employee turnover.

Workforce management software can get the forecasts and the KPIs under control. Angry callers will always be with us, and they may be one of the reasons why agents leave. Since disgruntled customers can never be completely eliminated, the best way to reverse those high turnover numbers is to give agents a reason to stay. 

What is the culture like at your call center? How does the workspace look? How do agents feel when they start their shift every day? There are steps that can be taken to boost workplace culture and morale and help to keep spirits up, even when the work itself can be tedious and challenging. 

Try some of these ideas at your call center! 

1. Family Social Events

You know your agents – but have you met their spouses and kids? By arranging family events throughout the year – bowling tournaments, visits to local attractions or amusement parks – agents will get to know each other better and you’ll meet their families in a relaxed setting. Socializing in this way contributes to a positive culture, and encourages agents to think of their coworkers as a second family – and that will keep them around longer. 

2. Special Days Off

Many companies allow agents to treat their birthdays as a paid day off. It’s a nice gesture that makes them feel appreciated, and since these days can be planned for, it makes it easier to forecast and schedule around them. Some call centers take this concept a step further, allowing additional time off for special events such as a wedding in the agent’s family that requires out-of-town travel, or even something less momentous like a day off to go Christmas shopping. And for the ultimate in agent appreciation, offer one or two “Duvet Days” each year; these are days that can be taken off at short notice, with no explanation required. 

3. Rewards

We’ve mentioned this before but it’s always worth repeating – agents like to feel appreciated, especially when that is expressed through some reward for their consistent work. It encourages healthy competition among shifts and gives struggling team members a goal toward which to strive. Bottles of wine, restaurant gift cards, movie passes and extra days off are all worthy incentives, and perhaps a special annual prize could be reserved for your best performing agent each year. Trophies and certificates are nice too – but in this era when everyone gets a trophy just for participation, they are no longer enough. 

4. Breakfast

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why not help your morning shift agents get off to a positive start with a free breakfast? A few fresh pastries, or dry cereal, coffee, tea and juice won’t break the company budget, and will be appreciated. It can also help agents start their shift feeling more alert and more focused. At some call centers in England, a tea trolley serves tea and toast to agents at their desks. Classy – but potentially messy. 

5. Volunteer Projects

Encouraging agents and other employees to participate in community projects is not just good for morale – it’s the right thing to do. It allows agents to help organizations that are important to them and it can generate some positive media coverage for your company as well. Depending on the size of your team, giving each agent 3-5 days a year of paid leave to pursue these projects will have a positive effect on morale and on the community. 

5. Extra Help for Agents That Need It

Ongoing training should already be a part of your call center regimen – but there may be times when agents still require additional help on hitting performance targets. Keep in mind that the extra hours devoted to discussing these issues, working with them on improvement, and encouraging them throughout the process are a bargain compared to costs incurred in recruiting, hiring and training new agents. 

7. A Positive Start

Any new job is stressful. Chances are your call center has some sort of orientation program that follows initial training, but why not take this a step further? Spend some extra time with a new agent in his or her first week. Give them some welcome aboard gifts to further ease the transition. As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. 

8. A Break Room Makeover

Company break rooms should be places agents can relax, clear their heads and tend to personal matters before returning to their desks. If the place looks worn-down and dreary, it won’t have that positive effect. A fresh coat of paint (preferably bright colors), some plants (real, not plastic), snacks, a fish tank, an ATM machine (so agents won’t have to stop at the bank after their shift), happy photographs, comfortable furniture – these are the ingredients for an appealing break room. 

9. Fitness Classes

Call center agent work is sedentary – and let’s face it, most of us aren’t getting the exercise we should even when we’re not at our desks. Experts recommend 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week to help stay in shape. Call centers can encourage this positive lifestyle with onsite fitness classes. These can be created with the help of a local health club, or you might even find someone on your team that can lead a yoga, Zumba or aerobics class. 

10. Advancement Opportunities

Even your agents who are content in their work may not envision doing the same thing for the next 20 or 30 years. Resources should be made available for those interested in a career path to management – these can include meeting and training with current management personnel, sponsoring agents who wish to take business courses at local community colleges, and establishing a company policy of promoting from within whenever possible. 


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Call Center Workforce Management Solutions: Forecasting Separates ‘Good’ from ‘Great’

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The selection of a call center workforce management solution should not be entered into lightly. 

It’s a decision with the potential to revolutionize how your business handles forecasting, scheduling, staffing and many other tasks that can boost KPI results and customer service. Do your homework, ask questions, and make sure you get it right the first time. 

There are good qualities in almost every WFM solution available. But good is not good enough for your call center. 

What you want is “great.” And great starts with the forecasting tool. If the forecasts generated by WFM are not accurate, it creates a domino effect that will throw the rest of your numbers off as well. Result? Overstaffing, understaffing, missed sales and angry customers. 

What To Demand in a Forecasting Tool?

A WFM review of forecasting capabilities begins with the compilation and analysis of historical data. This is not just what happened at the call center on this day last year or five years ago, but also takes into account other variables that impact call volume – holidays, special promotions, annual events, weather conditions. Anything that can cause a fluctuation in workload should be considered. 

Now that call centers are now contact centers encompassing multiple communication channels, forecasting must provide an integrated view of all channels and the capabilities of the multi-skilled workforce, as this will be essential for proper scheduling

Most WFM solutions rely in part on forecasting based on averages. It’s effective, but not sufficient by itself. Find a forecasting tool that goes beyond that, one that can process every piece of data you provide and use it to deliver more accurate forecasts. 

The more you put into forecasting, the more you’ll get out of it. When WFM does most of the work, the result is more accurate forecasts, generated faster than spreadsheets. With the right system performing these critical functions that can grow with your call center’s needs, you can invest with confidence and achieve ROI faster. 


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How to Boost Productivity at your Call Center?

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Efficiency and productivity – that’s what it’s all about at the call center. 

The challenge with maintaining these attributes is that they don’t stop working all of a sudden. Productivity rarely drops suddenly – instead it slides, gradually, over a period of weeks and months until, left unchecked, a lower standard becomes the new normal. 

If this is happening at your call center, or you just want to be vigilant so it doesn’t occur in the future, here are some tips to keep your business on the right track. 

Consistent Training

Agent attrition is an ongoing concern at most call centers, and one of its most important components is the training of new agents to replace those that depart. If that training effort falters, a business will exchange qualified agents with less-qualified substitutes, and productivity is certain to suffer. A fresh look at both initial and ongoing training efforts may uncover the source of reduced efficiency. 

Goals

Does every agent know the numbers he or she is expected to achieve? Benchmarks should be clearly defined and reinforced. Rewards for those who get there consistently also encourage consistent productivity. 

Meetings

Meetings are important – but when they happen too often, or run too long, they can also interfere with a call center’s ability to serve its customers. Hold them only when necessary, keep them on a strict time limit, and make sure they are attended only by those employees that need to be there. 

Speech Analytics

Among other benefits, speech analytics can expedite how customer information is updated, reducing wrap-up time on every call. 


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Use Your Call Center Agents as Marketing Agents

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Here’s a question: who is the most prominent voice for your company’s brand or products?

Is it your president or CEO? Sometimes the man or woman in charge likes to be out front, appearing in TV commercials or giving a lot of interviews. Or perhaps it’s your marketing manager, who creates the ads that run in newspapers and magazines, as well as your social media campaigns. 

But there is another voice that is also representing your brand that can be overlooked – that of the call center agent. 

Each one of your agents may speak directly to dozens of your customers every day. For companies that sell primarily online, theirs may be the only voice a customer will associate with your brand. And according to a survey conducted by a company called Mattersight, 70% of consumers will cut ties with a brand after just one bad experience. 

That places a lot of responsibility on agents – but it is also a great opportunity.  

It doesn’t mean that every agent must be trained in marketing, but they should be made aware of the marketing tenets that customers associate with good service. 

That starts with making a customer feel valued. Personalized marketing campaigns attempt this by crafting messages designed to appeal to a consumer’s specific needs. But that kind of personalization is easier to achieve in a one-to-one conversation. 

With a workforce management solution, agents can pull up past purchases, the caller’s location and previous contacts. With speech analytics, agents will be in a better position to tailor each call to a customer’s preferences. And by using analytics, raw call data such as recordings can be fashioned into actionable insight. 

By providing experienced agents with the right technology solutions, your call center can serve as one of your most effective marketing outreach efforts. 



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Three Inaccurate Views of the Call Center

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In general, what do people think of call centers? 

Maybe we shouldn’t use that kind of language. 

Within the industry we see the efforts that have been made to upgrade technology and improve the quality of service, but too often these are not recognized by customers and by other divisions of the business. Is this important? Yes – because false perceptions undermine the services call centers provide, and may even limit their ability to make a positive contribution to their company.

Here are three opinions that are still far too common – and why they are inaccurate. 

1. Call Centers Cost Money

Well, of course they do  – someone has to pay agent salaries and buy the software solutions like workforce management that allow them to fulfill their function. But the data they generate through that software, and other solutions such as speech analytics, can be used in a variety of ways to generate revenue for the company. 

Call centers boost customer loyalty. They provide direct customer feedback on which products and promotions succeed and which do not. They generate positive social media posts after a good experience that boosts brand reputation. 

2. They Will Soon Be Obsolete

Who uses phones anymore to contact a company? That’s so last century now that we have apps and websites and Facebook. 

Sounds good, but visit any call center and you’ll realize we’re nowhere near that point yet – and may never get there. According to a NewVoiceMedia survey, 59% of customers still prefer to contact a business by phone, and 75% believe it’s the most effective way of getting a response. 

Perceptions that call centers are on the way out may result in a company hesitating before investing in the technology resources that allow them to be successful. 

3. Cost-Per-Call is the Only Metric That Matters

For companies that view call centers as a necessary evil, the objective is to keep costs as low as possible. One way this is measured is in cost-per-call. It’s a number deserving of attention – but it’s not the most important metric anymore. The focus instead should be on customer satisfaction, and that sometimes takes a little more time and creativity to achieve. Besides, lowering cost-per-call the wrong way can result in lowering customers as well. 



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Does Your Call Center Have to Be Bilingual?

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The short answer to the question posed in the title of this blog is yes. 

Perhaps there are still some regional businesses with a homogeneous customer base that can be effectively served in one language, but that type of company is clearly a vanishing breed.

Today, especially in this era of online retail, even smaller businesses may attract customers from anywhere in the U.S. or around the world. Obviously it would be impractical to have agents that speak every global language, but hiring bilingual agents should be a priority when possible. 

This will be more essential in some industries than others. In these types of call centers it should be a priority:

Online Retail

Your order history will tell you where your customers live. If you only get one order a year from Germany it’s not necessary to have a German-speaking agent available. But if you receive a thousand orders from Mexico or China, you should have someone there to serve those customers.

Health Care 

Here you may not be dealing with clients from 20 different countries, but if your health care facility is located in a large city near various ethnic and immigrant populations, you’ll want to make it as easy as possible for them to make appointments, get answers to billing questions and order prescriptions. 

Travel/Tourism

This one is so obvious that we probably don’t need to include it. Companies focused on international tourism know how important it is to be able to provide information on hotels, sights, and other travel arrangements in the language of the caller. 



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Brushing up on the Basics for 2017

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Every so often it’s a good idea to go back to basics: what is it that makes a call center successful, and what are the goals that should be strived for in the New Year? 

Here are some of the factors to consider. 

Key Performance Indicators

Track them – not sometime but all the time. It’s a tough job without a workforce management (WFM) solution, but with WFM the appropriate data is automatically collected and delivered so you always know how you’re doing. There are several KPIs – the most important to watch are how quickly calls are answered (less than 20 seconds is a good benchmark), average handle time, and lost calls. 

Agents

Many companies have outsourced their call center operations, but several of them have reversed course after too many customer complaints about agents that could not be clearly understood. When someone calls a U.S.-based business, they expect to speak to someone who is proficient in English. If you encounter agent applicants without this trait who are otherwise qualified (smart, courteous, understanding), your call center can still use their skills on another communication channel, such as email or online chat. 

Script

How specific do you want your script? Some call centers give agents word-for-word opens, closes and question responses, while others set a more general tone and allow agents the freedom to engage in conversation. The latter is generally considered the better option, but you’ll need agents you can trust to make it work. 

Technology/Software

As referenced earlier, a workforce management solution makes everything more efficient. But if you installed one several years ago, it might be time for an upgrade. Each new WFM product adds additional capabilities, improves existing functionality, and corrects issues with previous versions. With traditional software, these upgrades can also be expensive, which is why many companies delay implementation. But call centers that get their WFM in the cloud will always be on the most recent version, as it is automatically installed at no additional cost. 


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Automate Quality Management for Better Results

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How do you manage – and measure – quality?

Different companies have different methods – spreadsheets, worksheets, or relying on whatever outdated capabilities came with the software they’ve had for decades. If that sounds like your call center, here’s a question: How is that working out?

If we were to guess we’d say probably not that well. Gathering information from different parties can be difficult. You may not be getting enough visibility into quality events to assess them accurately. Keeping up with industry regulations may pose another challenge. 

An automated quality management solution solves these issues. Workflow, visibility and best practices become much easier to manage. For more details, check out Monet’s Quality solution here

In fact, there’s really no debate about the benefits these solutions provide. Any hesitation to adopt this technology and leverage its many advantages usually stems from cost concerns. For new companies or smaller call centers without a large IT budget, that used to be a legitimate reason for getting by with the old-fashioned methods. Used to be.

What has changed is the availability of flexible, secure cloud-based quality management solutions, such as Monet Quality, that can be obtained without the large upfront cost. With no servers, no network switches, no full-time IT staff and no other hardware to purchase, install and maintain, ROI is achieved a lot faster. 

Quality is important. With the right quality management solution, you’ll always know that customers are experiencing the best your business has to offer.  


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Tips for Customer Engagement

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Call centers exist to serve the needs of a business, but their top priority is serving the needs of that company’s customers. 

The challenge of doing so has changed drastically, especially over the past two decades, as questions that used to require a call can now be answered on the company’s website or Facebook page. Standard business transactions also now get conducted online, so your customers may only call when they need a faster answer, or with a unique issue. 

They won’t all be ‘last resort’ communications, but call center managers must realize that each call represents a chance to keep a customer or lose them forever. That makes customer engagement essential. If a caller doesn’t get the information he or she needs, they might be lost. And even if a caller gets answers, he or she may not like an agent’s attitude, or how long they had to wait on hold. There’s a lot more that can go wrong than go right every time an agent picks up the phone. 

Here are some engagement tips that help to engender customer loyalty.

Personalize Every Encounter

This involves more than addressing the customer by name (though that is important as well). With workforce management software agents will find it easier to access details of the customer’s most recent transaction, as well as all previous contacts and their purchase history. 

Two Answers to Avoid

When a customer calls with a question, the last thing they want to hear from an agent is “I don’t know.” Of course, there will be times when that may be the case, but a better response is “Let me find that answer for you.” If the answer cannot be found within a few minutes, apologize and schedule a time when the caller can be contacted and provided with that information. 

Also not recommended – “yes” and “no” answers, when they stop there. Such abrupt responses signal disinterest on the part of the agent. There should be scripted responses that express the same sentiments in a more courteous way. 

Less is Not More

The expression “less is more” doesn’t work at the call center. Positive customer experiences are those in which the caller receives additional assistance and other useful information related to their order or issue. This doesn’t mean just ‘upsell’ opportunities, but making sure any other questions they have are answered. In fact, that’s not a bad way to close out the call.

Hire ‘People Persons’ as Agents

There are many qualities that a great call center agent should possess, but one that is often overlooked is curiosity.  A people person meets someone and just naturally wants to know more about what is happening in his or her life. They like to talk to strangers and help them out when it’s possible. The best agents do this. They’ll ask questions that generate information that provides greater insight into each customer. They will make the caller feel valued. 

Another valuable skill for an agent is the ability to predict questions and anticipate problems before they happen. Some of this will evolve naturally. One way to train new agents is to have them take a tour of a local museum or tourist attraction. The tour guides have their script down pat, know what questions are likely to be asked and always have answers at the ready. Part of the guide’s job description is also to be cheerful, upbeat and enthusiastic – traits that are also important in an agent. 

Finally, your agents should feel empowered to make decisions, to stay on a call a few extra moments, even to break a rule every now and then, to preserve a customer relationship. This status is not bestowed on day one. After an agent has been with the call center for a while and has shown good judgment, he or she should then be given the latitude to sometimes take action that may not be in the script. 

Mention Self Service Options – But Don’t Push Them

Well-intentioned as they are, recorded messages on menu screens are typically received more with hostility than gratitude. Automation is important, but not when it stands in the way of a caller speaking with a live agent, if that is his or her desire. 

Engaged Agents

You cannot engage customers without engaging agents. That goes beyond the hiring and training efforts previously described. Engagement is an ongoing challenge that affects agents after six weeks, six months or six years on the job. 



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What Will the Workforce Management Market Look Like in 2022?

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The Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of workforce management is expected to remain strong through the year 2022, according to a new comprehensive market research report. 

In many ways this simply continues a trend that has persisted for more than a decade. As more call centers realize the inefficiencies inherent in the conventional methods of keeping track of and maintaining their workforce, there is increased interest in WFM as an alternative. By automating these processes, workforce management software can reduce labor expenses, improve workforce utilization and streamline call center performance. 

Plus the complex analytics on workforce processes delivered by WFM make it easier to spot problems and correct them, thus ensuring an optimal use of existing resources.

The technology has already found acceptance in such industries as banking financial services and insurance, healthcare, government, retail, transportation and manufacturing. But according to the study, the main driver of future WFM growth will be in its adoption by small and medium sized businesses, who may have thought in the past that WFM was out of their price range. 

That has changed as a result of cloud-based solutions – the same kind being used by corporations with hundreds of call center agents. The analytics are just as sophisticated, the conveniences just as apparent – but both can now be acquired without the large upfront cost and recurring costs of system and software updates. 

Of course, nothing says you have to wait until 2022 to start enjoying these benefits. Check out Monet Software’s cloud-based WFM Live here


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The Three Essentials of Workforce Optimization

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What makes workforce optimization such an effective call center solution is how all-encompassing it can be. 

There are so many moving parts that must be harnessed to deliver a favorable customer experience, but according to several industry analysts there are three that emerge as the most significant – the actual work that needs to be done at the call center, the people charged with that responsibility, and the processes put in place to help them achieve the goals of the business. 

Workforce optimization (WFO) helps with all three. 

The Work

Calls are received. In multi-channel environments so are emails and webchat requests and social media posts. Orders have to be filled, returns have to be processed, questions have to be answered. With the workforce management capabilities of WFO, accurate forecasts and schedules are generated so there are always enough agents ready to handle customer demand. 

The People

They make be working in the call center or from home. They all go through the same training but gradually develop specific skills that should be leveraged. They have different needs and preferences when it comes to shifts and schedules. And unfortunately, too many of them leave too soon, necessitating another round of recruiting, hiring and training. With WFO calls and other communications can be automatically routed to the personnel best suited to handle them. It provides flexibility to scheduling, making it easier to accommodate agent requests. And it provides the data agents need to make the job easier – which might induce them to stick around longer. 

The Process

What WFO provides here is visibility. No manager can be everywhere, particularly in a call center with 50 or more agents. Workforce optimization provides quality monitoring of customer interactions, and the ability to track and analyze how well processes are working through real-time alerts. It also provides more insight into every customer interaction through speech analytics.  

Monet's workforce optimization solution is cloud-based and delivered as a service, making it easy, fast and affordable to get started without the usual risk of software implementations. Find out more



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Call Center Performance Tips: Borrow from the Best

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Want to be a great baseball player? Study Kris Bryant’s swing. 

Want to run a great call center? Study how the best ones are getting things done. 

Maybe you don’t have time to travel the country visiting these successful businesses in person. That’s why we’ve collected some of their best advice and tips for better results. Hopefully they will work for you as well. 

Start with this: Make things as easy on the customer as possible. Some customers may appreciate exceptionally friendly service, but for most the top priority is getting an answer, placing an order (or whatever prompted the call), and then moving on with their lives. So emphasize speed of answer, technology that rapidly delivers the customer’s information to the agent, and allowing agents to provide what is needed without putting someone on hold or transferring the call. 

Are your communication channels fully integrated? That means knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each channel (ordering, conflict resolution etc.) and making sure well-trained and cross-trained agents are handling each interaction. 

Next, make sure your agents are engaged. That starts with measuring attrition and absenteeism to weed out those that aren’t cutting it, and perhaps using speech analytics to track performance. But if you demand great performance from agents, you need to give them something in return besides a paycheck – flexible working hours, extra help when they need it, and a path to advancement for those seeking something better. 

Is Net Promoter Score one of the KPIs you measure? It is at many top call centers. This gauges the likelihood of an average customer recommending or criticizing a business’s service. And it’s not enough to collect the data – you have to act on it. 

Finally, don’t look for answers outside the business when they might be available from your own teams. Companies routinely hire outside consultants to tell them what their customers are thinking, what they want, which products should be introduced and which should be discontinued. Before paying someone else a fee to deliver this data, investigate whether your agents and managers already have this information, and put them in charge of putting it together. 

By doing so, the company saves money while getting better answers, and offers an opportunity for agents to take on some executive-level business analysis, which may provide them with a path to career advancement.  


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Giving Agents What They Need to Succeed

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Call centers expect agents to be alert, engaged, up to date on company policy, and ready to give 110% every day. 

That’s fair – but is your call center helping them to achieve such consistent performance? 

Here are two areas where actions can be taken that will boost productivity, and make your business more efficient. 

1. Information: Where they want it, when they need it

Technology and data drive successful call centers. Usually that refers to the KPIs measured to gauge customer service, but it also applies to the optimized knowledge base that makes it easier for agents to deliver great service by being able to quickly access each customer’s information. 

Training materials should also be easily retrievable, so agents can review proper procedure on their own if a question arises. This encourages the healthy habit of self-monitoring of performance. 

And since call centers are typically part of much larger organizations, agents and managers benefit from online collaboration platforms where documents can be shared, and everyone can be kept up to date on new projects. This also encourages consistency and cooperation between departments. 

2. Stress relief

Breaks are necessary in the agent workday, but can and should consist of more than leaving one’s desk, stretching one’s legs, and perusing the leftover pastries in the break room. This is the time to de-stress. Since different agents achieve that goal in different ways, why not cater to both of them?

For those who prefer to burn off tension while burning off calories, a small workplace gym would be greatly appreciated. Those who prefer a quiet, peaceful respite would enjoy a relaxation room that might even offer sleeping quarters for a quick nap. 

Bonus benefit: These steps will make your call center the type of place where agents feel valued, and that means they’ll stay with you longer. 


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Three Irreplaceable Call Center Agent Skills

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What do you look for most when you hire call center agents? Experience is obviously important, along with a clear speaking voice (and/or writing and spelling skills for communication channels like video chat). It’s also beneficial to have someone who takes guidance well, is punctual and gets along well in a team environment. 

But there are some skills that are equally important but not always evaluated during the interview process. Pay attention for signs of them in your next recruitment drive: 

An Even Temperament

It’s not easy being yelled at by strangers several times a day. Hopefully that is not a regular occurrence at your call center, but when hostile customers need to vent it’s important to have an agent who is cool under pressure. It might mean the difference between keeping and losing those customers. 

Winning isn’t Everything – It’s the Only Thing

I know we live in an era where everyone gets a trophy for just showing up, but you want agents that don’t take such consolation prizes seriously. They want to be the best – especially if there are real rewards attached to that status. You don’t want to encourage cutthroat competition, but friendly rivalries between ambitious agents can be healthy. 

Independent Thinking

Yes, the script is important, but you can hire anyone to read words off a computer screen. It’s what happens between and around those scripted directions that make the difference between good agents and great ones. Find someone who will listen – who can project empathy in a difficult situation, and who can get creative to solve a problem, even if it adds a few minutes to average handle time. 

One more idea: When you find these outstanding agents, give them the technology they need to really succeed – such as Monet WFM Live. When you make it easier for them to do their jobs, they are likely to keep doing them longer. 


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Seasons Change: Make Sure Your Call Center Changes With Them

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For all the beautiful photos you’ll see of leaves changing color in Vermont and harvest festivals and pumpkin pies, the fact remains that autumn can be a depressing time. The summer is over, the days are shorter, and in some parts of the country the temperatures are already dipping below freezing. 

Coping with such changes can cast a pall over your call center, and affect agent performance – but only if you let it. Here are some ideas that can result in a more productive fall. 

Daylight Savings Time

The one part of autumn that no one likes is setting the clocks back, which throws everyone’s internal clock off for a while, and offers one more hour of darkness at the end of the day. If the transition was rough on your agents this year, next year try to make it more gradual, by adjusting shifts incrementally – say, 15 minutes a day for the four days preceding the change. Lighting adjustments in the call center – especially those that mimic natural light – can help as well, and even prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder. 

Fresh Air

Breaks are part of every call center shift, but can be more beneficial if agents are encouraged to spend at least part of that time outside. The crisp fall air is stimulating and will boost alertness for when they return to work, especially in the afternoon when attention to detail often begins to slip. 

Celebrations

Emphasizing the fun parts of fall can make the season less depressing. Have a costume contest in the days leading up to Halloween. Offer free turkeys or pumpkin pies to agents who perform the best in November. 

Redecorate

Autumn holiday decorations can make a call center more festive. Some new furniture, a fresh coat of paint and some plants (real ones, not the plastic variety) also contribute to a more pleasant work environment. 

Plan Ahead for Cold and Flu Season

This tip benefits your agents and your customers as well. More of your employees will get sick this time of year. Recognize that it’s coming, give them the time off, and call upon your holiday file of backup and temporary agents to fill in before the Christmas season starts.


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How Cultural Diversity Benefits Call Centers

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There has in recent years been a significant push –  some would say one that’s long overdue – toward cultural diversity in business. And call centers are no exception. 

It’s a result that can occur naturally through a process of hiring the most qualified agents and management personnel for the job. But in geographic areas where the talent pool is more homogeneous, it can still be a goal worth pursuing. 

Why? These are just some of the benefits: 

New Perspectives

People from the same place often tend to view challenges or opportunities in the same way. A diverse workforce almost always results in a wider range of ideas being generated, and new ways to look at old problems. 

Productivity

Different types of employees often bring different skill sets to the business, resulting in greater efficiency. 

Better Customer Connections

With few exceptions your business will be (or is at least trying to be) appealing to customers of different ages, genders and races. There’s no telling which of these customers will want to reach out to your call center. With a diverse hiring policy you’ll be prepared for customers that speak different languages, or have different questions and concerns that will be recognizable to someone on your team. The more your call center looks like your customer base, the better than chances of optimizing the customer experience. 

Workplace Harmony

Studies have shown that diverse workplaces contribute to employee engagement and are happier places to work – and that’s certainly good news in an industry where employee turnover is traditionally among the highest.  


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Why is Speech Analytics Worth the Investment?

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We get it – call centers have a lot on their plates these days, with adapting to chat and social media, email and other channels, while maintaining quality in responding to calls. But even with these challenges, speech analytics is not something that should be viewed with a “we’ll get to it eventually” approach. 

The faster speech analytics is implemented, the faster it starts helping call centers reduce average handle time, improve service and increase company profits. 

Speech analytics recognizes why customers are calling and communicates this information to agents. That puts agents in a better position to handle the issue efficiently, and shorten the length of the call. 

Speech analytics recognizes trends in what customers are asking about – that could influence new product development or changes to existing products and ultimately boost sales. 

Speech analytics turns every phone call into a source of valuable customer data. While some call centers are still getting by on monitoring a fraction of total customer engagements, here is a solution that truly provides a big picture perspective on what the entirety of a company’s customer base is thinking, feeling, and desiring from that business. 

Speech analytics improves quality assurance by monitoring agent engagement and script compliance, gauging the effectiveness of greetings and closings, and pinpointing words or phrases used by customers that signal dissatisfaction, when there is still time for that relationship to be saved. 

These are just some of the reasons why speech analytics, and in particular Monet’s Speech Analytics solution have been so popular. Isn’t it time your call center started transforming voice data into critical business intelligence? Find out more about Monet Analytics.



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A More Efficient Call Center in One Minute?

These are just some of the real-world benefits experienced after implementing Monet WFM software.

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