Call Center Workforce Management Blog
What’s in a name?
William Shakespeare had some thoughts on that, as do the people who think referring to used cars as “pre-owned” will make them more desirable. At the call center, agents are agents, and most don’t have a problem with that job description. But what if we tried to look upon them as service professionals? It’s not just doublespeak – when you really look at the tasks performed by contact center agents every day, it is obvious businesses are placing a great deal of trust in them, in making sales, in customer care, and in dispute resolution, among other responsibilities. Call centers are now viewed as revenue-generating operations, and while managers provide the tools and the guidance, it’s the agents that are on the front lines of this effort.
There is no such thing as a “typical” agent, just as there is no such thing as a typical contact center. But we would guess that the call centers that are most successful are those that are already treating agents like service professionals, even if they haven’t adopted that term.
That doesn’t mean the new job description has to come with a higher salary and a parking place with the agent’s name on it. This is still (and likely always will be) an entry-level position, but it is one that provides access and insight to many other departments such as marketing, sales, and product development. Agents who are paying attention can, in the course of their daily duties, gather actionable information that can be valuable to the company and their own careers.
That starts with hiring and training. Don’t just look for people with good telephone voices that can read a script. Treat the process as a recruitment of not just today’s agents but also tomorrow’s managers. Let them know there’s a path to advancement available, and provide incentive compensation to identify your best candidates. If you focus on hiring professionals, you’ll stand a better chance of inspiring professional job performance. Learn More
It’s a challenging time to be in business. Economic, technological and political factors are driving companies to make difficult decisions in order to maintain productivity and increase (or, at the very least, safeguard) profits.
Some of this activity is concentrated on the contact center, where the quest is always to improve productivity. The first step to achieving that goal may be to improve workforce visibility.
This is just one of the benefits of
workforce management (WFM).
Consider how much time both managers and agents may be spending on tasks not related to their core job function, which cannot help but impact customer service. Consider how much costly overtime is entailed by improper allocation of time during regular shifts. Consider the time that could be spent on imagining ways to improve efficiency, or new ideas to generate profits, if that time was not occupied by hours spent forecasting and scheduling with spreadsheets.
WFM does entail another investment. But in this time when there is pressure on all areas of an organization to implement solutions that reduce costs and increase revenues, it’s an investment that accomplishes both goals while quickly achieving ROI.
A common misconception is that
WFM software is associated with a large upfront cost. That may indeed have been the case with the on-premise solutions of the past. But a cloud-based WFM solution provides the highest ROI and savings of any WFM strategy due to its low upfront investment and low operating costs.
With WFM managers can achieved total, real-time contact center visibility, empowering them to enhance schedule flexibility, an important step in employee engagement, and increase agent productivity. Managers can react to changing conditions, so problems are detected and solved before they impact service.
Challenging times call for effective solutions – like
workforce management. Learn More
Perhaps you know the answer to that question. Or perhaps you just think you do.
There are two definitions for
workforce optimization (WFO) – one that provides a general assessment and one specific to the contact center industry.
The general definition, or at least the one offered by Technopedia, is: “A strategy used in business with a focus on maximum customer satisfaction and benefits with minimal operational costs and supported by integrated technologies, cross-functional processes and shared objectives.”
All of these qualities would certainly apply to a healthcare contact center, but would also work for any number of professional pursuits. When we think
WFO for our industry, the definition incorporates specific functionality that helps deliver better patient care, such as call recording, workforce management, quality management and speech analytics.
We’re exploring this topic because of a recent Gartner report predicting that by the end of 2018, 70% of organizations with more than 300 contact center agents will be working with an integrated workforce optimization solution, either on-premise or in the cloud.
That’s about 20 months away. If you have not yet explored the possibilities of
WFO, there is a real risk of falling behind other healthcare organizations committed to maximizing efficiency and customer service. It’s a big decision that will impact every aspect of your company, even beyond the confines of the call center itself.
When you’re ready, start with a list of priorities and then seek out the solution best suited to meet them. Also, as so many business processes will be affected, look for a
WFO application that can be implemented and integrated in a way that reduces the learning curve, while working toward ROI from day one. Price will also be a likely consideration, so a cloud solution may be the answer to achieving your technology goals at a cost you can afford.
The IVR at a contact center is like the drill in a dentist’s office. It has to be there, but no customer ever wants to experience it. Still, this may be the first involvement a customer may have with your company, so it’s important to make the best first impression possible. Given most people’s reactions to recorded messages, that may be an uphill battle. When is the last time you reviewed your IVR, and whether it is helping or hindering customer relations? If it’s time for a checkup, here are some tips to help. 1. Brevity
The faster the IVR gets customers the answer they seek, or to an agent, the less intrusive it will appear. Long marketing messages incorporated into caller options are usually perceived as annoying, not informative.
Are the menu options clear? Will a caller always know which selection will get them where they need to go?
Have all of the most prominent reasons for customer contact been taken into consideration? Are most callers hitting the ‘0’ to speak to an agent right away because the IVR does not present them with a better option?
Have your customer demographics changed? Are recorded messages available in more than one language? Does the recording use phrases that may be familiar to some but not to others (slang)?
Can your IVR be tied to
speech analytics for even faster and more accurate call routing?
With these assessments, you should be able to arrive at a better assessment of what the IVR is supposed to achieve, view the system from the perspective of your customers, create a message that is clear and simple, and measure rates of IVR abandonment (and where they occur) to further fine-tune the end result.
Contact center managers have a lot of responsibilities, among them keeping track of various measurements that track efficiency and customer service. These six categories should be on every manager’s list.
Measuring Forecast Accuracy
An accurate forecast model relies on accurate historical data.
Workforce optimization (WFO) delivers seasonal stats, monthly stats, daily stats, even numbers analyzing one portion of one hour, so variations can be determined and adjustments made accordingly. Special days and special events will also figure into these calculations – once again, the automated WFO solution will always be better and faster than a spreadsheet. Measuring Schedule Adherence
Schedule adherence plays a critical role in the success of any contact center.
Workforce management (WFM) software makes the goal of optimal schedule adherence easier to achieve. Not only will the WFM-generated schedules provide more accurate information, they will make a dramatic change in the manager’s schedule as well. How long does it take to run all of the necessary numbers with a spreadsheet? With WFM, managers can access better numbers more quickly, so they have more time to address other issues, or leave the office on time for a change. Measuring Quality
Several diverse components contribute to the quality management at a call center. Wouldn’t it be great if all of these components could be accurately evaluated from the same place? That’s one of the benefits of Monet Quality, technology that enhances workforce optimization and
call recording capabilities, to deliver unprecedented insight into quality monitoring, performance trends and agent training needs. Measuring First Call Resolution
Few statistics are more important in a call center than First Call Resolution (FCR). When this is achieved a customer issue is solved with maximum efficiency, and the customer is much more likely to be satisfied with the call center encounter, and will remain a customer in the future.
Measuring Employee Engagement Workforce Management can play a prominent role in improving employee engagement, particularly as it pertains to schedule flexibility. Skill-based scheduling allows managers to better match agents with the types of calls they are most comfortable and experienced in handling. This boosts both employee confidence and customer service. Flexible Schedules are also more easily managed with WFM, so agents can balance obligations in their personal lives with work responsibilities. Measuring Customer Experience
That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Measuring service is an obvious and necessary exercise for every call center manager. But service level should not be confused with the more comprehensive examination of customer experience. Once you’ve developed a strategy to track, measure and improve customer experience, you’ll have a road map to identify any systems and programs that need to be revised for optimal customer satisfaction.
The challenge comes from the reality that customer experience encompasses a wide range of touch-points within the company that a customer may encounter – email, website, store, chat, reps. While telephone engagements are just one piece of the puzzle, they are a particularly important piece. They provide an opportunity to find out about the other channels and aspects of customer experience, and to fix any problems. It’s also the time and place when most customers expect to be queried about the company, and may be more open to providing honest, direct and detailed feedback. Learn More
According to the analysis company ReportLinker, the
speech analytics market is expect to grow from $589 million to $1.6 billion by 2020, with North America leading the way in adoption.
We point this out not to paraphrase a certain presidential candidate, and suggest that we’re making North America great again, but to observe that if your company has not yet looked into
speech analytics, there’s a good chance your competitors will. And if they access its capabilities to deliver better customer service, it is only a matter of time before some of your customers figure this out as well.
The contact center industry fields more than 50 million calls every day. Even if they’re all being recorded, they’re not all being reviewed. To do so would be impossible. Over the years managers have tried various methods for collecting representative samples, but none of them are as effective as speech analytics.
Speech analytics generates automated alerts triggered by voice data, whether that’s the use of profanity, or the word “cancel,” or the mention of a specific new product or service. By being alerted to these calls in real time, managers can react in time to impact their outcome, which could mean the difference between keeping and losing a customer.
In addition, with speech analytics integrated into a call recording solution, the contact center can link customer feedback with specific customer interactions; that means you are not working from a random sampling, but with a subset of calls that have been flagged as important because of the key words of phrases used by the customer.
Sure, some of this data might eventually be collected through call recording alone. But time is money in business, and with
speech analytics this vital information can be accessed far more quickly, and is more detailed as well. Now managers can delve into caller patterns that will further refine the company’s customer service efforts. What used to take weeks can now be achieved in just minutes. Speech analytics also delivers additional customer service benefits that impact agent training and overall efficiency. By exploring not just what is said on a call but how it is said – specifically the customer’s demeanor and choice of words – it is easier to discover which call center policies and procedures might need to be changed. Result? Happier customers and increased sales.
These are just some of the reasons why the market is growing so quickly. If it’s time you took a closer look at this technology, contact Monet today.
Change for its own sake rarely produces positive results.
In a recent survey on performance management, more than three out of every four responses indicated that the performance management procedure in place at their respective companies could use some changes. But one-third of these respondents also admitted that they’re not just making the usual tweaks to the system – they’re going to try something bigger. For many, this involves shifting the focus to company culture and management. Rather than concentrate on ranking employee performance, which can be a prelude to firing those at the bottom of the list, businesses are looking instead at boosting employee feedback, making sure managers are more engaged in day-to-day activities, and instilling greater transparency. Transparency is particularly important, given that more than 60% of employees do not believe the performance management rating they receive is accurate. If those employees are receiving feedback, coaching and encouragement throughout the year, rather than in one annual assessment, it may help to eliminate some of these conflicts. And when managers are more involved in the activity on the contact center floor, it creates a nurturing environment for agents at the contact center, which contributes to a more positive culture. Sophisticated software such as workforce optimization can create the temptation to let technology do all the work and deliver data to the manager’s office. But it is not a substitute for face-to-face communication.
The performance management of the future will be based on such communication, as well as annual goals that will be presented not as an ultimatum to employees, but a shared challenge that will be met with everyone working together. Learn More
Virtual contact centers operate differently from their brick-and-mortar counterparts – but they face many of the same challenges in resource planning and customer service.
If your contact center is considering the move to a virtual environment, or you’ve already made the transition, here are some of the technology solutions that will help make the business a success.
Whether all your agents are in the same room or working from homes and offices throughout the U.S., the ability to create accurate forecasts and schedules to achieve adequate staffing levels remains vital. In a virtual situation managers sometimes have the luxury of more flexibility, which creates additional part-time and split-shift opportunities. But sometimes more options can also mean more headaches.
Workforce management software automates these tasks so they get done faster and with greater precision. Automated Call Routing
The process of matching customer inquiries with the agents best suited to handle them can be achieved with the same efficiency in a virtual contact center with an integrated contact routing solution. Incoming contacts can be routed not only by topic but by communication channel as well, since most centers have agents better qualified for online chat and email.
In a brick-and-mortar contact center, training sessions are often conducted in person. That would be impractical in a virtual environment, so training must be delivered online via one-on-one chat or other means of getting agents, trainers and managers together to review past calls and discuss concerns.
Studies have shown that gamification – redesigning everyday routines and tasks to be more game-like and interactive, results in a work experience that is more engaging, more fun, and (hopefully) more productive. As a motivating technique this is even more important when agents are outside an office where other direct means of support and encouragement are not present.
We were so busy at the recent ICMI Contact Center Demo and Conference in Long Beach, California, we didn’t even have time to see the Queen Mary, docked just a short distance away.
But that’s not surprising when we’re gathered with thousands of contact center industry professionals, discussing what’s new in the industry, and helping managers realize the
benefits of automated workforce management, particularly when it’s delivered via the cloud. As always there were a number of sessions related to managing technology, operations and personnel, as well as fresh ideas for better strategy and leadership. There were also sessions on managing smaller contact centers with less than 50 agents. We had several discussions with managers at these smaller centers, who were looking for ways to achieve more accurate forecasts and schedules than what they were getting from spreadsheets. We offered demos of Monet WFM Live – Workforce Management in the Cloud, and they were always impressed by its capabilities. But was it worth the investment for a smaller business? We showed them how ROI could be achieved much more quickly with the cloud delivery model, and how they would never have to pay for another software update, as they would always be implemented automatically at no cost.
If you missed this year’s ICMI event, we hope to see you at the next one this fall, or at Contact Center Week next month in Las Vegas. Don’t miss these opportunities to find out more about new technology, new customer engagement channels, and new ways to recruit and train agents. Learn More
All business managers pursue exemplars of quality, efficiency and success that may serve as a model for how to run their company better. Usually these are sought out within their respective industry, or elsewhere in the private sector. But what if we looked outside those traditional channels and selected another inspiration – the military?
For the contact center that seems like a less than ideal fit – but is it? When you take a closer look, there are some common traits that benefit a platoon of call center agents as much as a platoon of soldiers. Grace Under Pressure
Sure, the average contact center agent won’t face a life-or-death situation on the job, but there is no shortage of pressure as he or she deals with angry callers and emotionally charged situations. Soldiers rely on their training when faced with a stressful situation, and agents should be able to do the same. There is a process in place for handling heated moments, and the best way to get through them is to stay calm and follow that process, with the agent controlling his or her reactions to whatever is hurled against them.
When these processes are automatically and consistently applied, it’s easier for the agent to keep a cool head and keep the engagement from spiraling out of control. Clear Communication
Knowing how to communicate clearly is one of the most important job requirements for the contact center agent, whether addressing customers via phone, text, email or online chat. Such skills cannot always be expected from customers, who may be furious, confused or introverted. Military personnel are often called upon to communicate with people from other countries and cultures, so they know it’s important to choose their words carefully and be specific in their message to avoid any misunderstanding. The agent who is able to do the same, while maintaining a calm, courteous demeanor, is one that any business would wish to keep.
What does it take for a contact center to meet its customer service goals? It starts with a commitment to excellence. Some agents walk in the door with that level of dedication, but many will need to acquire it through training, during which this ability can be instilled through instruction, repetition, and an awareness of what constitutes quality. Perhaps it won’t be as strenuous as the basic training the army provides but the end result should be the same – a disciplined team member who is part of a group with one shared objective.
Armed for Battle
Just as an officer would never send his men into war without the proper gear, a contact center agent cannot be expected to win the customer service battle without the right technology. In this case, that includes cloud contact center solutions that help analyze data, deliver more accurate forecasts and schedules, route calls to the agent best suited to handle them, and provide insight into which practices are working and which need attention.
Rifles, grenades and bulletproof vests? Not this time. Successful contact center agents will benefit from a different set of tools, skillfully wielded by sharp managers: • Call Recording • Workforce Management
Screen Capture Each in their own way can improve service levels and reduce call center costs, without the upfront expenses and IT requirements of traditional workforce software. A New Challenge for Veterans
If there are this many common qualities between soldiers and contact center agents, doesn’t it make sense to consider veterans when hiring?
Comcast Corp. certainly thinks so. Last year the company announced plans to hire 10,000 military veterans, reservists and spouses over the next three years. Since 2012, the company has hired more than 4,200 veterans. Many of them now work at Comcast’s contact centers. This is not only an admirable effort, especially with Memorial Day fast approaching, it is also a proven method for finding better agents that are more likely to provide excellent service, and to stay in their positions longer. Consider these additional attributes managers look for in a contact center agent, and how they also correspond with those in military service. No wonder this transition is one that works: • Accelerated learning curve: veterans can quickly learn new skills and concepts • Teamwork: the military encourages both individual and group productivity • Following orders: Military men and women are used to accurately following procedures • Integrity: Veterans are familiar with the concept of an honest day’s work, and will bring their ‘A’ game to their job every day. There are many qualities that are desirable in a contact center agent, and most of them have already been acquired by men and women who have served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Something to keep in mind next time your contact center is hiring.
If you follow news from the contact center industry, you may have read about another high-profile convert to the
cloud. One of the largest technology healthcare service providers in the United States recently announced its adoption of flexible cloud-based technology to provide 24/7 customer access via phone, online video or mobile application. Technology health, or “telehealth,” is a growing trend in health care, which incorporates remote conferencing between doctors and patients for general questions and follow-ups. It’s more convenient and cost-effective for the patient, as it does not require driving to the doctor’s office and paying the fee that is requested as soon as you sign in with the receptionist. The cloud technology selected includes workforce management, automatic call distribution and IVR. At this early stage in the evolution of telehealth, positive patient experiences are particularly important. Those that try the system only to lose the connection, or be stuck on hold for long periods of time, may decide it’s not worth the effort. Thus companies must make certain that patient care is optimized, and agent performance (if someone other than the doctor is the first contact for users) is efficient. The same concerns within this burgeoning industry are ongoing challenges for every type of business with a contact center. This is why so many of these entities are moving to the cloud in unprecedented numbers. Managers have access to all the data they need through workforce optimization and workforce management to deliver accurate forecasts and schedules, without the large upfront cost that such technology used to require. If you haven’t considered the possibilities of WFM in the cloud, click here to find out more about Monet WFM Live.
In previous blogs we have discussed how
speech analytics makes it easier for contact centers to route calls to the agents best suited to handle them, based on the nature of the customer’s inquiry. Some agents are better at dealing with returns, for instance, or explaining how a product works, or leveraging an upsell opportunity.
But there is another benefit to
speech analytics that can also improve customer engagements, and that is to match calls to agents based on personality.
We all have different traits as people and usually we gravitate toward others who share those traits. This works in business as well. People who are more quiet and contemplative are not going to be as receptive to a loud, aggressive salesperson. Such traits are obvious in a retail environment, but over the phone finding the right match requires the type of insight that only
speech analytics can provide.
Before we even get to that step, however, you need to know what types of personalities you have available to you on each agent shift. Hopefully, a good mix will occur naturally – some will be more outgoing and friendly; others will be more reserved and “all-business.” You don’t want to have too many gradations here – start with simple introvert and extrovert classifications.
Now you’ll need to route calls appropriately based on the customer’s personality. With call recording you can review past engagements and gather enough insight into each customer to place them in one of these behavioral categories. Then, the next time he or she calls, you’ll know which agents have a better chance of making them happy.
Why is this important? The improved likelihood of a rapport between agent and customer may result in faster calls, high call resolution and more sales. Learn More
Customer care is a crucial aspect of performance at the contact center, particularly for those affiliated with insurance companies. This is a process that begins before the first call is picked up every day, with the policies, procedures, and technology in place to meet the goals of the center. Accurate forecasting and scheduling and adherence are important factors, and are easier to achieve with an
automated workforce management (WFM) solution.
Here are four tips on establishing policies that boost customer service, and how
WFM can help. 1. Setting Specific Goals
“We want to improve customer service.” “We want to improve our training.” Great – now how are you going to do it? The more specific you can get with your objectives, the more likely you will be to accomplish them. When you set more precise goals (“We want to lower our average handle time”),
WFM will provide the data that can be used to make it happen. 2. Targeted Training
Once basic training has been completed, insurance contact center agents should be regularly guided toward and tested on their abilities to meet service goals. With the
Performance Analysis component of WFM, managers have access to reports and analysis of all agent activities, including their schedule adherence and key performance indicators. That will help to further target training sessions. 3. Set Quarterly Goals
Don’t make a list of goals for the year and wait until December to review them. With quarterly targets, you’ll know sooner if your efforts are working, and can make beneficial changes – which is certainly better than going another 6-7 months with a less than optimal system in place. The real-time monitoring and work history data delivered by
WFM allows managers to track progress toward quarterly goals. 4. Avoid Agent Burnout
Agents are employees but they are people first, with families and outside interests and holiday plans they would like to keep. Flexible scheduling makes it easier for agents to work shifts that are more convenient, and when they have that option they are likely to be more productive and provide better service. With
WFM, shift-bidding and shift-swapping (with a manager’s approval) is streamlined, while holidays and other special events can be factored more efficiently into overall scheduling. Learn More
Customer service is often determined by forecasting, and forecasting is often determined by data. With a
workforce management (WFM) solution you are on your way to better forecasts. But are you making the most of the information at your disposal? Here is a short three-point checklist that will help. 1. The Holistic Approach
Numbers, whether they are good or bad, do not happen in a vacuum. While it can be helpful to analyze different KPIs individually, it is better to review them in tandem as well, while also taking a closer look at the conditions under which they are generated.
Of course you should review average handle time (AHT) and call volume, but you should also determine how one impacts the other. Is AHT better in the morning than overnight? Is that just a result of less calls coming in? Perhaps, but you may also have fewer agents working in the wee hours as well, so the answer may not be that simple. Maybe your night-shifters are dealing with lonely folks looking for someone to talk for awhile after midnight – or maybe they need a little more training.
2. Timing is Everything
Review monthly and weekly service levels, but understand that within those longer time periods there are a thousand variables that influence how the numbers worked out. To gain more insight, shorten the timespan to as little as 30 minutes – perhaps even 15 minutes for a busy contact center or for peak calling periods. You’ll receive a more accurate view of what you’re doing right and what needs work.
3. Who is Messing With Our Numbers?
Sometimes the reasons your forecasts miss the mark have nothing to do with internal operations. You can adjust your staffing and shift numbers, but in a larger organization you have no control over when marketing announces a 24-hour sale, or how customer-billing cycles (that trigger billing inquiries) are structured.
Improved communication between departments can make it easier for contact center managers to anticipate the effect of such anomalies, and adjust accordingly. The
WFM system will do most of the work for you, as long as you have the data in time to act upon it.
One of the less heralded attributes of a technologically proficient contact center is its ability to deliver insight into customer behavior – how to identify it, and how to change it.
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.
Every call, even those that start as complaints or the cancellation of an order, is an opportunity to create a better customer relationship.
This will only become more challenging as contact centers embrace omnichannel opportunities, but once those channels are in place they will begin generating data from day one. When contact centers can target customers across devices, and identify moments based on previous predictors to deliver an upsell or special offer with a higher likelihood of success, that is next-generation marketing. And you don’t need to wait for next-generation technology to start – check out
Monet WFO Live.
Remember when people used to be annoyed when full-service assistance with everyday tasks began to disappear in favor of self-service options? From pumping your own gas to checking out your own groceries, we have become a do-it-yourself world, and that mindset is now making its way into the contact center industry.
If you have not already started to accommodate customers who want to conduct their transactions without speaking to an agent, now is the time to do so.
This requires more than simply adding additional channels – text, online chat, email, mobile app – it means creating a seamless experience for customers that start in one channel and then switch to another. As you set up these other channels, the focus should also be on a user-friendly experience; that includes websites that are easy to navigate and proactive responses and FAQs. Also, make sure you have personnel trained for the omnichannel customer experience. An agent who excels in phone communication may not be suited for online chat.
Data-driven analytics are no less important in omnichannel than they are in the traditional call center. Have technology systems in place to monitor customer interactions, and gather the information you need from them to provide accurate forecasts, schedules and shift staffing.
Another consequence of our self-service world is that customers used to doing stuff themselves have become more impatient. That puts more pressure on contact centers to employ real-time analytics and routing capabilities to minimize wait times.
Preparing your customer service systems and teams for the self-service world will take some time, but the ultimate result will be happier customers, and that’s good for everyone.
It’s possible that no generation in history has come under more scrutiny – and attack – than Millennials. They’re rude; they’re entitled; they want everything free. Of course, there are overgeneralizations. Every generation has had its achievers and failures. But there is no question that Millennials approach work and communication differently than those that preceded them, and this is important for contact center managers. These are your current and future employees (Millennials are already almost 35% of the American labor force), as well as your current and future customers. How can you make them happy? Try thinking like they do. Agents
Statistics show that Millennials often leave jobs in three years or less. In the contact center industry where high agent attrition is already an issue, three years might be seen as an improvement. Still, each new employee is an investment in training; so the longer you keep them around the better your bottom line will look.
Perhaps it’s time to think differently, by shortening the initial ramp-up phase of preparation (lowering associated costs) and then relying on more context-sensitive refreshers in the days and weeks that follow. Millennials grew up with technology, and have a comfort level with instant communication and instant feedback shared by no previous generation. Every Facebook post they make generates “likes” and responses within seconds. Millennial contact center agents are more open to the same type of instant feedback. Monthly training sessions are fine, but with the real-time data generated by a workforce optimization solution, managers can offer ongoing coaching and assessments based on performance. Sure, it may take a little more time. But if that coaching is immediately integrated into performance, it results in better customer service right away. You’ll also find Millennials are often adept at self-evaluation – why do you think they take so many selfies? With WFO generating data on each call, these agents can review how each interaction fared while the details are still fresh, and figure out if something could have been handled more efficiently. If you still doubt that Millennials communicate differently than previous generations, just check out their emoticon-fueled texts. It is practically a different language. Texting is a comfort zone, certainly more so than traditional face-to-face communication. The closest comparison to this in a professional contact center environment is the webchat application. As this channel becomes more popular among customers, managers will find no shortage of agents adept as chatting online. Can chat be used for coaching or training as well? Certainly it wouldn’t seem to be as effective as meeting with an agent in person, but times are changing. Customers
The Millennial customer will share the same preferences as the Millennial agent, starting with a fondness for webchat. Perhaps that is why there has been so much recent refinement in the “chat with an agent” option, with even more sophisticated solutions on the horizon.
All webchats are already not the same. Some are still what you’d expect – one agent typing messages in response to customer questions. But at some companies the human element has been replaced by coded auto-response software that interacts with customers the way Siri responds to you on your iPhone. Most customers are savvy enough to spot the difference. But the next-generation virtual assistants will be able to respond in sentences that sound more authentic than the overly formal speech programmed by technology. Facebook is leading the way on this with an intelligence “Facebook Bot Engine Development Tool” that learns by interacting with current Facebook-based communication. Yes, this can be an advantage or a lawsuit waiting to happen, based on some of the Facebook pages we’ve seen. We may be at the point one day soon when a customer will not be able to tell the difference between a live agent and a program on webchat. This will make it easier for companies to switch back and forth during a customer engagement as needed – the bot can be relied up to answer basic, common questions and offer standard responses to everyday transactions. When the conversation turns to something more specialized, the agent can be alerted to step in. This will happen without the customer’s knowledge and, given what we’ve already said of the Millennial comfort level with technology, it likely won’t matter to them whether the responses they receive are human or machine-driven. As this technology becomes mainstream, it can be used at the contact center for coaching as well. Think of it – a virtual coach communicating via webchat, linked to all previous customer and agent data, providing real time reminders (“Ask this customer if he wants the extended warranty”) and feedback on a customer engagement. Regular coaching sessions would still be helpful ¬– but now coaches will have even more specific data for each agent. There are additional benefits to webchat coaching as well: it is equally accessible for remote agents as for those in an office; and it takes some of the intimidation factor out of coaching, and that might make the sessions more effective. Conclusion
Whether one is more likely to condemn Millennials or defend them, there is no question that they are likely to change the structure of the workplace more than any previous generation.
It is natural for those who came up through the ranks with different rules and procedures to be resistant to new ideas, but that presumes that anyone has a choice. It is those entering the job market who have options – and if they find a contact center that is open to providing a professional environment more accommodating to their preferences, that is where they’ll direct their Nike Jordan Instigators.
Every contact center strives toward the same operating efficiency and customer service goals. However, each one is also unique, and faces its own specific operating challenges.
The establishment of key performance indicators (KPIs) is the first step toward consistent performance. KPIs, which are optimally monitored and measured by a workforce management solution, provide the data that fuels analytics, testing, development, efficiency, and productivity.
There are standard KPIs for every contact center, and they are all important. It is the manager’s job to focus on those where improvement is needed most, so discussions can begin on how to make that happen.
Common contact center KPIs include:
Calls made per agent, per day
Call response times
Leads generated per hour
Average handle times
Agent talk times
Average wait time for agents
Once again, the main purpose of KPI establishment and analysis is to create clearly defined goals for improving efficiency and service at the contact center. It is much more difficult to achieve cost reduction or boost sales without knowing how many calls are taken per hour or per shift, how long they last, and how many result in a sale.
When you have your goals established, don’t keep them a secret. They will be created by managers but must be disseminated to every agent to keep them on task throughout their shift.
And of course, KPI tracking becomes much easier, as well as more accurate, with a
workforce management solution in place – preferably one that is cloud-based, so there is no issue with monitoring remote agents, and the contact center can avoid maintenance costs, hardware costs and software upgrade costs. Learn More
If you’re old enough you may remember the television series Lost in Space, in which the Robinson family blasted off earth en route to Alpha Centauri, but went off course and couldn’t find their way home. The series debuted in 1965, but was set in the year 1997, a time when the show’s creators apparently envisioned interstellar space travel but not GPS.
That’s the thing about the future – it always catches up and eventually becomes the present. So when predictions begin appearing online about what the contact center will look like in 2020, it might be wise to pay attention, especially as 2020 is less than four years away. By preparing now for the changes to come, your contact center can get ahead of the technology curve, and provide better customer service than other companies in your industry.
Let’s take a closer look at what the future holds.
The Role of Contact Center Agents
As contact centers embrace multiple channels for customer communication, agents will have to be skilled in more than one discipline. Companies that have already incorporated email, online chat, texting and social media may have agents trained in one of these channels. But in 2020, most agents will have the knowledge and skills to shift from one assignment to another.
As customers embrace more self-service options, find answers to basic questions and handle simple orders and returns on their own, they will not have a need to reach out to a contact center unless the situation calls for more extensive information. That means agents will need to be prepared to handle a wider range of product and service issues. Obviously this impacts training – and may manifest in prospective agents going through a more in-depth orientation that includes spending a day or two with different business departments within the company.
However, even with all of this additional knowledge and instruction, agents will also need to retain the qualities that companies require of them now – strong communication skills and listening skills, courtesy and empathy, and the ability to make decisions and resolve issues through their own initiative. Management, of course, will have to bestow the freedom on these agents to rely on their training and intelligence to act.
Given all the demands on the agent, this is a job that will no longer be classified as an entry-level position. A higher investment will be needed in qualified professionals. The hope is this will not just pay off in improved customer service, but also lower attrition rates.
The Role of Contact Center Managers
While agents will become more intimately involved in operations, managers will transfer out of a primarily operational role and adopt a more “big picture” outlook on the organization, and the strategic role of the contact center. Rather than monitoring KPIs, managers will be meeting with executive teams from other divisions on how departments can successfully work together to deliver a more efficient end-to-end customer experience.
To make sure agents receive the training they need to prosper in the contact centers of the future, managers will also have to make sure the contact center is recognized as a profit-boosting segment of the organization, and worthy of the additional investment necessary to make sure it functions at optimal efficiency.
The Role of Customers
The term “contact center” has already replaced that of “call center.” By 2020, we may be referring to these entities as “customer interaction centers.” That’s because customers want more options for communication, as well as the ability to switch from one to another if it might get them on their way faster.
Most customer contacts are still conducted by the telephone. Some experts believe that dominant role will gradually shift to webchat, as Millennials and subsequent generations come of age in technology-driven world where the answer to every question can be found on one’s smartphone. Fortunately, tomorrow’s agents will have grown up with the same technology and will be equally adept at these interactions.
The Role of Workforce Management Workforce management will play a more prominent role in tomorrow’s contact centers, as the drive to optimize resources will always be key to running a successful business. In the contact center that means accurate forecasting, as well as analytics, skills-based routing and capturing important customer data.
Some WFM solutions, including
Monet WFM Live, can do that now. As workforce patterns change, and more employees opt for flexible scheduling to balance their jobs with their personal responsibilities, WFM will have to keep up with even more accurate resource planning, and by making it easier for agents to bid on shifts in a way that does not negatively impact customer service. The Role of Analytics Analytics already plays an important role in tactical decision-making. That figures to increase as the contact center plays a more prominent role in delivering actionable business intelligence. Customer data will become even more specific, providing guidance toward new customer-centric services. The Roles We Can’t Yet See
Speculating about future technology is always risky, as we learned from Lost in Space. But we do have some indicators about where contact center-related systems are headed.
We have video chat now but we’re probably going to have a lot more of it by 2020, a result of easier access, more bandwidth and customer comfort with the video webchat they already use through Skype and other services.
So if more customers opt for video, what channels will that replace? Some might say the phone, but according to a recent survey by Call Centre Helper it is email that is most likely to fall out of favor.
speech analytics is already improving the depth of data derived from every customer call, a voice biometrics component may be added to this functionality. With it, agents can authenticate a caller’s identity instantly, without the repetition of a social security number, account numbers or other personal information. That results in both a faster and more secure transaction.
Speaking of faster – that’s what customers want, both now and in the future. The next-generation WFM solutions will strive to shorten average handle time by being even more intuitive in anticipating how calls should be routed and how issues can be resolved. The concept of “self-learning” functionality is no longer relegated to science fiction. The contact center of 2020 will be staffed by better agents working with better data, to drive customer satisfaction and retention, and deliver better value at a lower cost.
From the “easier said than done” department is the advice that works for just about every type of contact center – listen to your customers and respond to their needs. When contact centers develop this habit, customer conversion rates go up.
The way to get there is not through some sophisticated formula – it’s the basic business practices that we know we should be doing every day, but sometimes fall short amidst the day-to-day challenges that running a business entails. Here’s a refresher course on the some of the most prominent of these practices. Accurate Forecasts
Part of responding to customer needs is answering calls quickly – 30 seconds or less is a reasonable goal.
Accurate forecasting and scheduling through a workforce management solution that predicts call volume is the key to developing consistency in this critical skill. Recurrent Training
After initial agent training is complete, the process of learning and improving really begins. Reviews of recorded calls, positive reinforcement and coaching, and the flexibility to go off-script are just some of the ways that you can help agents sharpen their skills and instincts.
Adding Additional Channels
We’ve covered this before – webchat, email and mobile apps offer customers other options for placing orders or having questions answered.
Use Analytics Wisely
Data generated by
workforce management and quality monitoring can point managers toward efficiency goals – but people are always more important than numbers, and agents should feel confident in the freedom to take some extra time with a difficult customer to bring about a successful result. Never Stop Listening
You can’t turn full control over to your customers, but the more you listen to their preferences, the better you’ll be able to meet them. Don’t be afraid to test new procedures and experiment with script changes or other variables that might improve the customer experience. Not every test will be successful, but you’ll never know which ones will make your business better until you try them.
There are many reasons why call recording should be standard operating procedure at any contact center. These include ensuring compliance, agent training and for protection against he-said-she-said customer disputes.
But one of the biggest benefits of
call recording is visibility. You have a 100% accurate record of exactly what each caller said and how your agent responded. And one way to leverage that visibility is with the addition of automatic call distribution (ACD) reporting. Now you can distribute calls to the agent most qualified to handle that customer’s inquiry.
Both systems complement each other. With call recording you’ll discover very quickly which agents are adept at calming angry customers, which show more patience with seniors who may need some extra moments to provide information, and which are good at explaining technical information to those who don’t have a technology background.
When these agent profiles are assembled, the ACD provides information on call types through graphical screens that make routing faster and easier.
Best of all, this happens without the caller’s awareness. For all he or she knows, they were just lucky enough to have their call picked up by an agent who knew exactly how to solve their problem.
In this business we all recognize the importance of first call resolution (FCR) as a metric for tracking efficiency. It’s one of the best indicators of a well-run contact center, and one of the stats most closely associated with customer satisfaction scores. In fact, according to a study by The Ascent Group, FCR is listed as one of the five most important metrics tracked by call centers. Organizations that have low FCR rates also tend to have low employee satisfaction and high turnover rates.
So what better way to boost FCR than by using call recording paired with ACD to deliver fast service and optimal customer interaction?
What happens when a business can no longer handle incoming call volume with the personnel they have? For some, it means the decision to create a contact center to make sure this important function is handled in a way that optimizes the customer experience.
If this seems like a difficult challenge, here is some advice on how to make the job a little easier. Even if you have a contact center in place now, this piece might offer some helpful advice on how to make it better.
Layout will obviously be determined by the space available – are you opening in a separate building, or devoting part of your current workspace to call center functions? Either way, the objective is to make it as conducive as possible to efficient service and teamwork. That means sufficient lighting and ventilation, work stations with comfortable chairs that make it easy for agents to communicate with each other, but not so close that they’re interfering with each other’s calls. For a quieter atmosphere add acoustic wall panels or carpeting. Don’t forget a nice break room.
If you already have contact centers and this is an additional location, the first place to look for agents, managers and coaches is within your organization. Perhaps some will want to move to a newer facility that might be located closer to their homes. Otherwise, follow the same practices you do when offsetting attrition at your current businesses. Make sure to hire bilingual agents, as well as those more adept at text, online chat and social media.
Obviously start with the essentials – a secure LAN, predictive dialers for outbound calls, VoIP, IVR, and an automatic call distributor that routes calls to specific agents. A call recording system is a must for legal protection and agent training. This can be acquired as part of a workforce optimization solution that includes
workforce management, quality management, screen capture, performance management and agent analytics. With this technology in place, you’ll be able to do a better job of forecasting and scheduling from day one, while providing your agents with everything they need to serve your customers. Learn More
“Of course we have a quality management system,” most contact center managers say. “Does it work? Of course! It has ‘quality’ right in the title!”
If that’s true, congratulations. But here’s the problem – quality is not a fixed goal that, once achieved, can be maintained by repeating the same steps that got you there in the first place. Even if everything looks good, and you’d rather spend that time on other priorities, the objective here is continuous improvement, and that means ongoing attention.
Insight is the key to building the type of reliability that maintains quality year in and year out. Think of it as shining a light in every corner of the contact center, to illuminate what is being done right and to catch issues before they become serious.
Where You Are vs. Where You Want to Be
Gap assessment is the practice of identifying gaps between existing conditions and the quality processes you want to put in place. Start by comparing your quality management actions against what is referred to as standard operating procedure.
Where there are gaps at your contact center? Find out where and when they occur, define the problem that needs to be solved, and what control can be put in place to make sure the problem doesn’t come back. Chances are you won’t be able to answer these questions right away. Set time aside to interview key personnel, to observe processes over time, and to analyze the results.
If this results in change, be sure to give those changes time to work. Every time a new procedure is added, it will take agents time to adjust. And don’t change too many things at the same time, as it will make it more difficult to discern which new processes are working and which are not.
Avoid Silo Processes
Any kind of business is more successful when all of its divisions and employees are working together toward the same quality goals.
With larger companies, including contact centers, this can be easier said than done. Different divisions have different priorities, and while all of them may be similar in conception (better customer service, improved efficiency, lower costs, etc.), these efforts can always be improved (and can occasionally be hindered) by the data and employee input from other parts of the organization.
This is particularly true of quality management at a contact center. Such businesses are comprised of managers devoted to forecasting and scheduling, executives who review recorded and monitored calls to gauge customer service, and others who set goals for the organization based on agent and customer feedback. All of the functions are important for quality, but may be monitored separately.
Rather than take a siloed approach, where each system works independently without reciprocal operation with other divisions, having the right workforce optimization systems in place can provide easy access to cross-functional data that helps align teams, so they can work more effectively on common objectives. And access is immediate regardless of employee location, just one of the many benefits of a cloud delivery system.
With the centralized administration provided by unified WFO, there is no need to devote additional time and budgeting to costly integration projects, which can be effective but may not be scheduled more than once a month, if that. The fully integrated WFO framework automatically delivers important call center insights, metrics and alerts on an ongoing basis. Now managers can make more informed decisions and react more quickly to internal or external trends. Result? More consistent quality management.
Improvement Every Day
A lean quality management system is one that is intolerant to waste in all its forms by creating a culture that expects daily improvement. If there is something at your contact center that is not making a contribution, get rid of it, along with any other non-value-added steps in your processes.
Usually when organizations think about getting leaner it means cutting – less agents, less hours. And while that may be feasible, there are ways to add instead of subtract that can also contribute to a lean enterprise. These may include adding more flexibility and empowerment to the agent position, so that can deal with customer issues without additional assistance.
How the Right System Helps
As stated earlier, proactive quality management is made easier with an automated workforce optimization solution in place. Now you can quickly and accurately measure the metrics that are most critical to your quality system, analyze real-time data across different departments, and generate reports that help to share the knowledge faster.
Optimization and lean, continuous improvement programs are not just one-time projects, but a continuous cycle for improving your quality management system. It’s a worthy goal, as doing so can achieve a number of ROI benefits, from knowing you are always making the most efficient use of your resources, to the adoption of successful, sustainable processes, and the ultimate achievement of higher quality customer service delivered at a lower cost. Once you have the basics in place, introduce a maintenance program that can add modest refinements as needed for further optimization. You may be surprised at how much time and money can be saved by even the smallest change.
The calendar says we’re closer to Easter than Halloween, but we have a few contact center horror stories to share, and they’re too good to keep until October.
A customer opened a web chat with a cable TV provider. The company responded only with pre-prepared template messages – until the customer was shocked to see the personal information of another customer pop up on his screen. When this was brought to the agent’s attention, she typed, “Oh, sorry… hehe… I am typing in 2 other windows, and got confused." Another cable TV customer called to cancel service that had originally been ordered in her husband’s name. Her husband had recently died. When she explained this to the agent, the agent responded that he would still have to contact them to cancel. A corporate customer called a computer company to report that the 12 laptops he had purchased were not working. The agent’s response: “What do you want me to do about it?” A customer with a billing question was transferred to an account specialist. As soon as the call picked up, the agent yelled, You, I told you not to call me again.” When the customer questioned what was going on, the call was disconnected. The customer of an Internet service provider called to ask about a company’s bundling offers with cable TV, and the agent tried for more than 30 minutes to sell that customer a home security system. After the call ended, during which the customer did order cable, a technician arrived a few days later to install the cable – and the home security system that was never ordered. Some of these sad-but-true anecdotes, like the now-famous tale of the customer that was on hold with Comcast for more than three hours, are clearly aberrations from normal procedure. But we live in a time when one bad experience gets shared on social media, repeated on industry blogs, and may even go viral. So when we ask the question of why customers hate contact centers, these exceptional examples of bad service cannot be ignored. And as a recent survey from analytics company ForeSee illustrates, customer satisfaction derived from the contact center is crucial to company reputation, brand loyalty and future sales. After receiving feedback from approximately 11,000 contact center customers, each asked to grade their experience on a 100-point scale, ForeSee found that most businesses achieved scores around 70. Those in the 80s are on the right track – but some only managed to edge into the 50s, indicating the need for significant changes to policies, procedures, or personnel. Service-based contact centers tended to receive lower scores, which is not surprising. These are the types of businesses that hear primarily from customers that are already angry or confused, making the agent’s task even more difficult. Two Solutions: Technology and Sensitivity
How is your contact center doing on the customer service scale? Would you hit that 70-range of average success, or is there work to be done?
If it’s time for a fresh look, there are two areas where changes are more likely to bring about better results. Let’s start with agent training, which should extend beyond learning a script or becoming familiar with contact center procedures, and should also stress empathy, patience and understanding. Scripted responses might be more efficient, but it makes customers feel better if they believe they are connecting with a person who acknowledges their frustration, and reassures them that they have come to the right place for the help they need. We’ve mentioned the CARP Method before but it’s worth acknowledging again. CARP is an acronym for “Control, Acknowledge, Refocus, Problem Solve.” It was created by Robert Bacal, who wrote the book If It Wasn’t for the Customers I’d Really Like this Job. His advice for handling complaints – “Control” the situation with polite but firm responses; “Acknowledge concerns in a way that takes them seriously; “Refocus” the conversation to solving the problem rather than complaining about its existence, then “Problem Solve” and wrap it up. However, to be fair to your agents, it is also appropriate to train them on the difference between angry callers open to best practices communication, and the acceptance of an apology when merited, and abusive callers who just want to vent. It may not be possible to salvage these encounters, and it’s acceptable to give up on them when the threats and profanities start flying. Workforce Management Software
All of the burden for customer service should not fall on the agent’s shoulders. The contact center must provide the tools necessary for that agent to do his or her job, as well as provide forecasting and scheduling that assures the presence of enough agents to efficiently handle incoming calls.
That used to be handled with spreadsheets but can now be covered with a workforce management (WFM) solution. With the advanced functionality and the more accurate forecasting and scheduling made possible by WFM, as well as the data it delivers on agent performance, schedule adherence and KPIs, contact center managers can always be assured the contact center’s resources are being utilized in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. Among the benefits: Real-Time Adherence
Tracking and schedule adherence are difficult, if not flat-out impossible, with just a spreadsheet. Spot-checks are fine as far as they go, but without the real-time tracking provided by WFM there is a higher risk of over/under staffing, shrinkage and missed service levels.
You know what types of calls your contact center receives, and you know which agents are adept at handling those particular calls. But the process of routing calls to the best recipients is more complex given the number of calls expected in any shift, and the number of agents available to handle them. Skill-based routing becomes less challenging with a WFM solution.
Multi-Location and Multi-Channel Coordination
Companies with multiple contact center locations require a means to coordinate personnel, resources and schedules at each facility so the service they provide is consistent. There may also be agents working from home that must be accounted for. WFM delivers these multi-site capabilities.
Choosing the Best Solution
If you are considering the addition of
WFM, it can be a confusing process. The best way to be assured of choosing the right solution the first time is to be prepared. Have a list of capabilities that you’ll want from your system, such as: • The ability to coordinate in multi-skill, multi-contact environments
Support for email, phone and chat contact channels
The ability to run simulations based on required skills and personnel
The capability to analyze and report on a wide range of agent and scheduling data Next, have your questions ready for the vendors you contact. We’d suggest including these on your list: How will this system integrate with my business? The optimal WFM solution will improve a contact center’s procedures without requiring a complete overhaul of its current system. How much does it cost?
An obvious question but also one that, for many smaller and midsized contact centers, marks the end of the discussion – unless they choose a cloud provider.
How long will it take to set up?
Once again, advantage: Cloud. Set up can be completed in days, with secure access available to agents and managers in the call center and at remote locations.
Is the system easily usable/scalable?
Usability is a priority with most cloud-based solutions, so call center agents and managers can get started more quickly from any location.
No contact center has ever achieved a 100% perfect service record. However, it’s a worthy goal to pursue even if one is doing so with imperfect people – and that includes managers as well as agents. But armed with better training that emphasizes courtesy and customer empathy, combined with a workforce management solution that locates the gaps between the contact center’s available personnel skills and resources, the contact center that inspires customer derision can be transformed into a sales-building protector of the brand.
One minute doesn’t seem like a very long time. But try this: get a stopwatch or a watch with a second hand, and time out one full minute while sitting and doing nothing else. It will probably seem much longer than you think.
Now, imagine one of your customers waiting on hold that long. If this is happening often at your contact center, you might want to consider some changes. According to the advertising analytics company Marchex, 62% of callers will abandon a call if they’re not speaking to an agent after one minute. And no, those “your call is important to us” pre-recorded messages aren’t doing much to change their minds. Marchex then translated that abandoned call rate into economic impact, using the cable TV industry as an example. If just 10% of abandoned calls were turned into new customers, it adds up to an additional $15 million in revenue per year. Don’t Stop There
Of course, just picking up the phone quickly won’t result in a happy customer. It’s what agents do next that also counts. Reading a scripted greeting that launches the information gathering process is a fairly common practice: “Thank you for calling ABC Industries, where the customer always comes first. My name is Bob, can I have your account number please?”
Nothing really wrong with that, but the Marchex survey also found that something simpler, more personal and more courteous can also be more effective. A greeting as basic as, “Hello, how are you today?” can put a customer at ease, and add a personal touch to a professional call. The ultimate goal is always more sales, more conversions, and more customer satisfaction. If too many minutes are going by without calls being answered, it may be time to look at a workforce management solution that will help you make better forecasting and scheduling decisions, so you’ll always have enough agents available to promptly pick up calls.