Call Center Workforce Management Blog
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 the contact center, but would also work for any number of professional pursuits. When we think WFO for our industry, the definition incorporates specific functionality 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 companies 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 contact 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.
There certainly seem to be a lot of surveys released these days, all focusing on the contact center industry and the impact of technology on the customer experience. We like to bring these to you when we find them, because if they’re done well they usually have something important to tell us about the state of our business.
We just found one from the United Kingdom that spoke to 100 contact center professionals about their workforce management adoption and challenges. If we had to summarize the findings in one sentence, we’d say it suggests that workforce management solutions are capable of making significant improvements in a contact center’s efficiency, but many businesses are still hesitant to commit to this improved technology: • Just 29% of respondents have a WFM solution in place
33% report disappointing experiences with off-the-shelf solutions
67% believe the WFM provider did not provide adequate support and training This is disappointing to read for a number of reasons. Workforce management has been around since the 1980s – this is not a shiny new toy that hasn’t been proven in the real world. If seven out of every 10 contact centers in the UK are still getting by with spreadsheets and other means, we can only wonder how much better they could be doing by embracing a solution that can revolutionize their forecasting, scheduling and staffing procedures. Even more troubling are the responses from those that have adopted a WFM solution, and found it wanting. This has a negative impact not just on the company that provides that WFM software, but also on all of us in this business. Looking closer at the survey results, we find the 33% that were disappointed in WFM found the system to be inflexible, and thus incompatible with the demands placed on the modern contact center. The challenges they found, in areas such as reporting, support, and overall performance, simply would not be an issue with a product like Monet Live WFM in the cloud. Great WFM solutions are available – it’s up to contact center managers to do their due diligence and find a solution with the customization, flexibility, user-friendliness and support they require.
How much can substandard customer service cost your business? Considering a recent Zendesk survey that reported 82% of customers stop doing business with a company that does not treat them well, we would guess the losses engendered by poor service are substantial.
As the contact center is the first point of contact for many customers, it’s a place where service must be constantly emphasized at both the agent and managerial levels. Here are some customer service trends that are gaining more attention in 2016, and may help to improve performance at your contact center. 1. Help Customers Help Themselves
At first “do it yourself” sounds like the antithesis of customer service, until you realize that many customers (more than 50% according to the Harvard Business Review) would prefer visiting a company’s website to having to call a contact center. By offering an array of self-service options, you serve customers better and eliminate many of the calls asking for basic information and services that could be addressed in another way.
But what exactly are those other channels referenced in our previous point? Web, online chat, email and texting are just some of the methods your customers would like to use – and sometimes an issue can be best resolved by switching from one channel to another, without having to close the first engagement. Make it easier for customers to transition from web to voice, and make sure you are tracking that customer journey for quality management purposes.
3. Social Media
Social media is still under-utilized as a business communication tool – but chances are your customers are already using it to discuss your business. It’s important to be represented there so you can respond to comments, positive or negative, as well as promote new offers and generate the types of discussions that will help you serve your customers better. There is an informal nature to Facebook chats that can produce more insight into what your customers are thinking.
4. Video Chat
This is not something you may have to think about yet, but some companies like Amazon have already incorporated this channel into their customer service strategy. Those who enjoy using various webchat services or Skype may wonder why they can’t order products and ask questions from companies the same way. Video chat won’t add much to a contact center budget, but some agent training will be required to acknowledge the differences between a phone conversation and a virtual face-to-face.
5. The Cloud Makes Everything Easier
Will 2016 be the year that the cloud becomes the top platform choice for contact centers? It’s too early to tell but the early returns are encouraging. We’ve covered the reasons for the cloud’s ascension before – lower costs, faster deployment, scalability, flexibility, ease of integration, user-friendliness, and the peace of mind of knowing that your business is always running the most recent and most secure version of the software you need.
If it’s time for your contact center to take a closer look at the benefits of the cloud, Monet WFM is a great place to start.
What are the first words your agents say to customers? According to one recent industry study, that greeting may be worth as much as $20 million to a business.
The study, “America’s Call Centers Revealed” analyzed conversations, hold times and call outcomes from more than two million contact center calls in 2015. Several interesting findings were uncovered, including:
Open-ended questions from agents (such as “Why are you calling today?” can boost conversion rates
Offering additional incentives works, as long as it is done in a ‘no pressure’ way
Hold times are critical; if the wait is longer than three minutes, 50% of callers hang up
About 10% of callers hang up if they hear an IVR But it’s the revelations regarding the greeting that should raise eyebrows the
highest. Turns out there is still a lot to be said for courtesy, and treating each customer with respect. The study reports that when calls are answered this way, a consumer is 22 percent more likely to buy a product or service.
What would a 20% increase in sales mean to your business? Another $1 million? Perhaps another $20 million? And the best part is, this is a change that doesn’t cost the business or the contact center anything at all. Take a second look at your scripted greeting, and review call recordings to examine if it is being used and how it is being communicated. Tell your coaches and trainers to pay more attention to this part of the call. The benefits can be substantial.
workforce management you have a lot of data at your disposal. And all of it is important – some to improve the efficiency of your contact center, and some to help you better understand the needs and preferences of your customers. Let’s take a closer look at that second category today, as this is where many contact centers are seeing an increased focus. Tools such as speech analytics deliver insights that might have been impossible to achieve a decade ago. When agents have this data at their disposal they can react accordingly, and increase the likelihood of a successful customer engagement. Here are three contact center trends that you should be utilizing: 1. Real-Time Data
What good is data if you get it when it’s too late to use it? Sure you can still make changes to affect future performance, but how much better would it be to deliver real-time guidance to agents, and alert managers when a call is going south? There is a predictive quality to this data, but if it’s compiled correctly you’ll be able to anticipate customer intentions and deliver a more customized response. It also works for online chat and email engagements.
2. Follow the Path
Think of every customer engagement as a journey with a starting point and an end point, where lots of different things can happen in between. The more you can understand about each customer’s journey, the better you can serve that customer. Analytics from a
workforce optimization suite plays a big role, but don’t stop there – you’ll also want to bring agents together in a collaborative way to discuss that actions they took and how well they worked (or didn’t work), and perhaps bring in personnel from other company departments that can provide additional data. If you do it right, you’ll figure out where a journey is headed while it’s still near the starting point, and react accordingly so the rest of the path is a walk in the park. 3. Keep it Simple
There is data you’ll want to see after the fact, and data that’s important right now. When deploying analytics, make it easier for agents and managers to see what they need to see, when they need to see it. This may require some customization of your
WFM solution, or simply bringing your system more in line with your business goals.
Since there is never a bad time to listen to good ideas about improving call center performance, we’ve rounded up some of the best we’ve heard recently. Any or all of them can make a difference in your business.
If IVR use is unavoidable, provide options that will make it easier to route customers to the agents best qualified to address their situation.
Maximize the Value of Every Call
How much data are you gathering from customer calls? Is there a way to add to that through a technology upgrade (such as
speech analytics) or by a renewed focus on quality management and analysis of information gathered through workforce management? Setting Personal and Professional Goals
Most contact centers establish achievement targets – lower average handle time, better first call resolution, etc. As these are implemented, agents and other team members should also be challenged to set personal goals, such as a renewed commitment to courtesy.
Improve the Agent Desktop
Do agents have the information they need when they need it? Do they have to dig through various programs to find appropriate data, while customers are waiting to have their questions asked or their orders processed? Maybe it’s time for a more user-friendly solution.
Share Successes and Good Ideas
When an agent finds an effective solution to a recurring problem, make sure that word gets out. Identify calls where everything went right, and schedule a group session so everyone can listen to it and learn from what they hear.
We’ve been discussing this often lately. Allow your agents to make decisions for customers – this not only requires a level of trust in agent judgment, it also necessitates a
workforce management solution that provides agents with the data they need in real time to make an informed decision. Review Remote Agent Practices
When instituted effectively, telecommuting agents can boost contact center efficiency, as well as staff retention and staff motivation. But it takes time and effort to bring about these positive results. Review your planning, execution and communication as it relates to home-working agents. Make sure you are getting them what they need to do their jobs, and that they are providing the same level of service you require from agents at your contact center.
Dig Deeper than KPIs
Average handle time is down? Great! But how did it get that way? Sometimes key performance metrics do not tell the whole story. Use this data as a launching point for an outcome-based strategy that places more emphasis on customer loyalty, customer satisfaction and new business sales.
“It’s the way we’ve always done it.”
That is the explanation managers to use for why certain contact center business practices have not changed for years, if not decades. But while some contact centers stick with traditional solutions, others have been more cognizant of how technology offers better ways to achieve customer satisfaction goals – and how this functionality is now available to contact centers of all sizes regardless of budget, thanks to the cloud. If it’s time to consider an upgrade, here are some questions that you might wish to ask of your next technology provider. Can I get important information on customers to agents in real time? You may already be collecting data on customers, but is there a way to make that available to agents so they can customize their handing of a specific call – or route it to the agent best suited to handle it? Real time information is no longer a luxury – it is a necessity if agents are going to effectively meet a customer’s needs. Can we provide 24/7 access? Your team should be able to stay connected to the contact center wherever they are. Find a browser-based software solution that makes working from home as easy as working in the office. Will this be easy to adopt? A more sophisticated product won’t pay dividends if your agents can’t figure out how to make use of its capabilities. Choose a solution that will allow for a shorter acclimation period, and that will facilitate collaboration among your team members both on and off-site. Will this help our agents be more autonomous? Customers prefer only talking to one person at your contact center, rather than being put on hold or transferred to a supervisor and explaining their issue a second time. More and more, managers are trusting agents to make decisions that might otherwise have required executive approval. However, agents need access to the right data at the service level to make an informed decision.
The purpose of many of our blogs and articles is to provide information and suggestions on
how to improve the quality and efficiency of your contact center. Of course, what works for a small center with 10 agents may not be equally appropriate for a large 24/7 facility with three shifts of 200 agents. So the goal of this piece is to offer so many different kinds of tips in one article, you are bound to find at least a few that will be beneficial. Welcome to our spring cleaning piece – here is all the good advice we’ve had laying around the office all winter. Let’s get started on making your contact center even better than it is right now. Smart Call Routing
WFO or speech analytics to route customer calls to the agent best suited to deal with each caller’s issue. Calls will be handled faster, and customers will be happier. Team Building
Take the agents that work together out for some friendly competition, especially if they are pitted against the managers. Arcades, go-kart tracks or any fun activity can encourage agent motivation and loyalty.
Keep your Door Open
Agents appreciate a manager that is available to them when a problem arises or a question needs to be asked. The closer managers are to the area where agents are fielding calls, the better sense they will have of what is working and what is not. This is important for team-building as well.
Provide Multichannel Access
Some of your customers may want to interact with your company without using the phone. At some contact centers as many as 40% of customer interactions are handled via live chat, while others are conducted with email.
Take potential agents on to the floor to listen to calls before they go into training. This makes training more relevant and ensures they feel comfortable with the role and environment. Then start new agents on the phones with support before letting them fly solo. It builds their confidence.
Create an External Knowledge Base
Is there a place customers can go to answer the most basic questions about your company before calling? Don’t just create it – promote it via social media and your IVR message.
Make Your Customers Happy to Be Customers
Courtesy on the phone, empathy when there is a problem, and a friendly greeting and close to each call can make a big difference.
Expedite the Customer’s Path to a Live Agent
While it might seem more efficient to collect a caller’s personal information via automated message, the customer often has to confirm some of it with a live agent anyway. Most callers would prefer speaking to an agent as soon as possible.
Ditch the Emoticons
Do you really think an emoji with a tear in its eye is going to make a customer feel better about the order they never received? This isn’t junior high.
Empower Your Agents
Trust agents with the authority to handle basic transactions without a supervisor’s involvement or to use his or her best judgment with more complicated issues. This expedites the customer’s call and also makes agents feel more valued.
Free Product Samples
When a new product is introduced, provide your contact center agents with one so they can get acquainted with it, and better understand what questions may arise from its use.
Use Metrics Wisely
Metrics are vital in providing data on customer service goals – but make certain agents aren’t trying to lower average handle time by rushing through customer calls. The first priority is always the customer.
Promote From Within
Managers that used to be agents will have more insight into how the front line works, and will be better able to structure their
forecasting, scheduling and training. Be Patient with Seniors
Remember that seniors did not grow up with the same technology you did – make sure your agents know this as well, and encourage patience as they instruct the AARP generation how to negotiate online portals.
Think you know what’s most important to your customers? Why not confirm it with a survey that covers what they expect from a contact center? You may be surprised with the results.
Show your agents that their work is valued. A free lunch here, a spa day there, even an encouraging word or inquiry about their family can make them feel appreciated. And don’t neglect your off-site agents if you have them – telecommuting employees need acknowledgment too.
Share Training Ideas
A good idea for training and development can come from an agent, a coach, or even from someone outside the contact center. Hold meetings to update training session procedures and always look for ways to improve them.
The Suggestion Box
Whether it’s handled though regular meetings or anonymous suggestions submitted through the old-fashioned suggestion box, make sure agents have a means to offer ideas for contact center improvements – many of which can be implemented at little or no cost.
Create a Suggestion Box for Customers as Well
If you don’t wish to do a customer survey, have your agents ask customers before closing each call if there is a way that the contact center can better serve them.
Communication Builds Relationships
Face-to-face interaction with different company departments should be encouraged. Shared knowledge about how different aspects of the company work will result in new ideas to create better synergy, and ultimately better service. Also make sure the lines of communication are always open within your team, by keeping them up to date with any news, company changes or notable customer feedback.
Lead by Example
Motivation is always more effective when it comes from someone who follows the same rules and exhibits the same enthusiasm. Agents will pick up on a “do as I say, not as I do” approach very quickly, and respond accordingly.
Did you achieve all of your goals this month? Great! Now set some new ones. Strive for continuous improvement every day.
Have you added
speech analytics to your contact center’s capabilities? It’s worth considering – merging call recording with speech analytics can significantly boost lead conversion rates, as well as increase customer retention levels. At the same time, it’s a way to be 100% assured that agents are always in compliance with federal and industry regulations. If and when you make that decision, here are some guidelines that can ease the implementation process and optimize the results this powerful solution delivers. Prioritize Goals Speech analytics can do a lot for your contact center – but it’s best to start by specifying one or two areas where attention is most needed, and setting goals for improvement. Don’t try to do everything at once. Training
Make sure your agents and managers and trainers know how to leverage
speech analytics capabilities and the data it delivers. It may take some time before the language and tone of every customer call can be accurately analyzed, but once you’re there the results will be very beneficial. Motivation
Dispel the notion that
speech analytics was added to keep a closer eye on how agents do their jobs. Educate your agents on how this tool can help the business achieve its corporate goals. Maintain Quality Monitoring
Speech analytics can enhance your
quality monitoring, but it shouldn’t replace it entirely. Patience
It will take time, and some trial and error, before
speech analytics becomes fully integrated into your best practices. Don’t look for perfection in the first week or even the first month.
Sometimes with accurate scheduling it’s not about what you do right, but what you do wrong. Here are six examples where scheduling elements can be overlooked or mishandled, resulting in problems that can impact customer service. Not Scheduling Breaks
If agents take their breaks when they feel like it, that might result in too many going off to lunch or the break room at the same time, leaving a shift under-manned. Avoid this by scheduling breaks – it may not be popular, but by providing agents some input in when they can take some time off, the transition might be made more easily.
Not Enough Part Time Help
If all of your agents work full time, they will always be there whether they are needed or not. Sometimes you’ll have too many people on the floor – occasionally there may still not be enough. By mixing in some part-time agents you can add more flexibility to your scheduling, and initiate split shifts. This will make it easier to cover peak hours, while not having to pay agents for sitting and waiting for the phone to ring.
Not Accounting for Shrinkage
Almost every contact center takes shrinkage into consideration, but the calculations are complicated without an automated workforce management system. With WFM and attendance reports, managers are more likely to get the numbers right.
Not Measuring Efficiency Properly
Schedule efficiency is a measure of how accurately and consistently the planned number of agents on staff matches the required staffing over the evaluation period.
WFM produces a more accurate picture, but make sure to use weighted averages when producing consolidated figures, while not neglecting outside business hours.
Assuming Everyone Wants the Same Shift
There is a tendency to struggle with filling evening and weekend shifts. But with a flexible and part-time work force this should not be an issue. Students may want to work weekends, and agents with outside obligations during the day may prefer an evening shift. Don’t look for a problem where none might exist.
Obviously this is the least excusable mistake, and yet there are still contact centers out there that just hope for the best. And to make it worse, they put off the hiring and training of new agents to replace those lost by attrition, and muddle through with a reduced roster that is even more vulnerable to unexpected schedule changes.
It takes both art and science to staff a call center. Next to hiring the right personnel, scheduling plays the key role in maximizing resources and making sure calls are handled in a courteous and efficient manner. The faster mistakes are corrected, the faster a contact center is delivering the level of service that customers deserve.
You have probably spent many hours studying the question of how you can provide better service to your contact center customers. Much of this attention will focus on the
performance of your agents. But agents have their own ideas about the state of their industry and what constitutes customer service. Can you learn anything from their insight? A recent survey of more than 250 agents produced some interesting findings. The Best Way to Get Things Done
Today’s contact centers offer a selection of channels for customer interaction, but which is the most effective? Nearly half of the agents surveyed (47%) still believe that the telephone provides the best opportunity to resolve a customer’s situation. Web chat finished second with just 26%.
But wait – isn’t the telephone outdated in this era of apps and social media? Not according to today’s agents. An overwhelming 90% of them are certain that there will always need to be a ‘call center’ component in the contact center. Perhaps some of these responses were motivated by job security but, as one explained, it’s easier for many customers to ask questions or describe a problem verbally than having to type out a long explanation. Taking the Time to Get it Right
Agents are certainly aware of the importance managers place on KPIs like Average Handle Time – but sometimes that leads to a choice between wrapping up a call more quickly and making sure the customer is happy. While nearly 40% of agents surveyed said they tried to complete calls in 5-10 minutes, 32% replied that effective problem solving may take longer, so they’ll take 15 minutes if necessary.
Virtual Queuing vs. ‘On Hold’
No one likes to be placed on hold, which is why 81% of agents support virtual queuing that allows customers to call back at a time when they will receive immediate agent access. However, some expressed concern that customers may neglect to call back at the right time, which can result in more frustration.
Do They Care? Good News
The agent hiring and screening process seeks to find people with empathy toward customer issues, and a sincere desire to get problems solved. Of course, everyone says the right things in a job interview, but do they really mean them? This anonymous survey provided a chance to find out – fortunately, 98% of agents surveyed feel a sense of duty to the client, and a desire to provide a positive customer experience.
“Without them,” one agent said, “our business would not exist.” Learn More
We tend to think of
speech analytics as a tool with a number of contact center performance benefits. Transforming voice data from customer interactions into business intelligence delivers the capability to improve:
First call resolution
Overall quality of service
You’ll notice that “reducing agent attrition” is not listed among its attributes. But when you take a closer look at the causes behind agent departures, it becomes clear that speech analytics can make a difference here as well. And not a moment too soon, as many contact centers suffer costly, time-consuming attrition rates of 50% or more every year.
Why do agents leave? Some are frustrated by ineffective training, or evaluations that do not reflect their actual performance. Some view the job as one that should lead to additional opportunities and incentives that never materialize.
But what happens when agent scoring is handled through speech analytics software? Supervisors don’t have to devote the same amount of time to agent evaluations, and coaching sessions can be more precisely tuned to address specific issues for each agent. Better training results in better performance, and more individualized attention results in agents feeling more valued by the company.
When agents are better trained and better motivated, customers receive better service. That makes it easier to offer incentive programs and income growth opportunities to outstanding performers.
The cost of replacing an agent who quits or is fired can be as high as $8,000 – half of that for hiring, the other half for training. At a 250-agent contact center with just a 15% attrition rate, that adds up to more than $300,000 every year. In addition to its many other virtues, speech analytics can help reduce this punishing annual expense.
We are in the midst of a particularly heated presidential campaign, with allegations flying in every direction. But when it comes time to cast a ballot, many Americans make up their minds based on the answer to one simple question – which candidate do I trust? For contact center managers, the trust issue is also central to the agent hiring and training process. These are the people engaging with your customers – what they say reflects on the entire company. There may also be additional personnel at the company, such as legal and compliance, who are cognizant of agent-customer interactions and may want to participate in reviewing recorded calls and agent scripts. Trust starts when all company personnel are on the same page as to what constitutes a quality engagement – this will likely be based on traditional compliance metrics and customer service data gathered through surveys and performance management reviews. But the real key here is communication, to alleviate suspicion over agents sticking to the script, doing their jobs even if they are working from home, and being motivated to deliver good service from the first call of their shift to the last. It’s important that everyone understands how quality management and customer experience are related – and this can be achieved by getting reps from all departments together for a roundtable discussion. Discuss quality, discuss trust, and figure out the best way forward.
What do omnichannel capability, self-service interactions and the cloud have in common? All are listed among the most prominent trends emerging in the contact center industry. Let’s take a closer look:
It’s a fancy word that simply means providing customers with a choice on how they interact with your company. The telephone continues to be a popular option, but email and online chat are preferred by those who don’t wish to speak directly with an agent. Contact centers should respond to these demands by making multiple channels available, and allowing customers to switch from one to the other during an enquiry.
And of course, it’s not just establishing these channels but having a workforce optimization solution in place to measure quality management and customer data that will impact service delivery. 2. Self-Service
No matter how many channels you add, some customers will prefer to settle their business without talking to anyone. The marketing firm Gartner predicts that by 2020 customers will manage 85% of their interactions this way.
Such predictions have a tendency to over-estimate the consumer reliance on new technology such as mobile apps – remember with eBooks were going to put regular books out of business? Still, this is ultimately a positive trend for contact centers as it reduces workload on agents (and may eventually reduce the number of agents you need). However, as with omnichannel, it’s wise to have a system in place where customers can easily transition from self-service technology to a more traditional communication channel. 3. The Cloud Platform
It’s not the #1 platform yet, but it is getting there quickly. The appeal of no large upfront investment, always running the latest and greatest software, ease of transition and ease of use and better scalability, in addition to other benefits, are driving the contact center industry toward the cloud platform in droves.
As a pioneer in cloud solutions, Monet has not only been at the forefront of the cloud trend, we continue to stay on the cutting edge of what this model can provide. Questions? We’re here to help. Contact us today
Any expert in business or marketing will tell you that it’s easier to keep the customers you already have than to get new customers. But how can you convert first-time customers into reliable repeat business?
Often, this responsibility falls on the contact center – and the agent that picks up the phone may have just one chance to get it right. This was the conclusion of a survey of more than 2,200 Americans by the PH Media Group. Almost 60% stated that if a first call to a company’s customer service line isn’t handled properly, they will not be calling again – or buying any more products from that company. If you are a business with products or services geared toward seniors, the news is even worse – 63% of those surveyed said you get one call to provide good service, and if you don’t they look elsewhere. And since seniors are still the group that is far more likely to contact a business via telephone rather than an online platform, it puts even more pressure on your agents. Millennials are slightly more forgiving, but more than half will leave as well after a negative call handling experience. That’s a more difficult loss, since with 18-24 year olds these could be customer relationships that will last decades. A Renewed Commitment to Service
The challenge is how to make certain that first-time callers are always treated right. That responsibility falls first on the agent, but managers have a role to play as well. They should have a reliable forecasting and scheduling system in place so there are always enough agents available to deliver quality service. They should be utilizing call recording for performance management, and making sure regular coaching and training sessions are scheduled to keep your team engaged.
Well-trained agents and quality technology, working together, improve the likelihood of a successful resolution. Learn More
“A goal without a plan is just a wish” – Larry Elder It’s February – are all your New Year’s Resolutions broken by now? Hopefully not, but if the ones pertaining to your contact center didn’t materialize as you hoped, it’s never too early or too late to start again. This time, you’ll have a better chance of success if each goal is accompanied by specific ideas on how to make it happen. Here are five common contact center goals, and some suggestions of ways you can put them in motion. 1. Reduce Agent Attrition
There are several options available here, starting with sprucing up the office – new chairs, clean restrooms, fresh snack food items in the break room. Agents are more likely to stay when they can work in a clean and welcoming environment. Also, try to inject a little fun into the daily routine, either by launching customer service contests with small prizes for the best-handled calls, birthday celebrations, or more creative spins on casual Fridays – “Fancy Dress Fridays” or “Monday Night Football” days where agents can wear the jersey of their favorite team or player.
While these steps can make the work day more pleasant, some agents – and likely your best ones – will also want to know if their hard work is going to be rewarded with raises or internal promotion for those who have earned it.
Another reason agents leave is when they can’t reconcile the demands of their job with their home life, going to school or working a second job. You won’t be able to solve all these problems, but you can build more flexibility into your schedules to better accommodate agent preferences. For example, consider introducing a shift that finishes at 2pm to help those who need to pick up their children from school.
2. Improve Customer Service
That’s the main goal, isn’t it? And yes, there are countless ways to make it happen. But too often contact center teams will gather at the start of a new year and hear a rah-rah “This year we need to be committed to providing the best service we can” speech, and then it’s back to business as usual.
That’s not enough. If you want better service, you have to first define what that entails. A good place to start is by asking your customers. Have you surveyed them lately? Create a survey that asks questions about your contact center’s performance, its agents and processes, targeting the areas where you believe there is the most need for improvement. Also pay attention to what those customers are saying on social media if you communicate that way. When you have their responses, act on them.
What sort of complaints do contact center customers usually lodge? Too much time on the phone? Too much time on hold? Agents waiting for approvals to provide the caller with what he or she needs? Then perhaps another way to boost customer service is to empower your agents.
You’ll know best where implementing this policy would be most effective – perhaps provide agents with additional training so they can talk down angry callers without transferring them to a supervisor, or giving them the authority to approve returns or restoring funds to a customer’s credit card. Not only will this make your customers happier, it will also free up your managers and supervisors to focus on other matters, which should further boost contact center efficiency.
Here’s another thought – how are you assessing metrics? Is it all about hitting predetermined numbers, or is it about making sure callers are getting the assistance they need? Make sure your focus is more on effectiveness. It’s worth putting up with calls that stray outside your Average Handle Time target if they result in a satisfied customer.
3. Improve Your IVR
Having IVR can boost call center efficiency in several ways: calls are routed faster, questions can be answered without agent involvement, hold times are reduced, and for contact centers that are not open 24/7, IVR offers a means for customers to still obtain information.
However, for some customers IVR is not only inefficient, it’s downright annoying. Customers over 40 in particular may not be as willing to “talk to a machine,” and if they have to repeatedly “press 1” or tell that overly-friendly recorded voice what type of service they need, they are more likely to just hang up.
How can you tell if your IVR is helping business – or hurting it?
Analyzing calls and listening in to IVR interactions will provide the insight you need to make this determination. So it’s important to start your
call recording and quality monitoring at the IVR, not when the agent takes the call.
If you are losing too many calls during the IVR process, it’s time to make changes. Is there a way to explain the caller’s options more clearly? Is there a means for the caller to bypass the system quickly if they insist on speaking to an agent? In addition to reviewing call recording data, a caller survey that requests feedback on the IVR stage of the call can also yield insight into what customers like, and what they do not.
4. Better Communication
In this case, the challenge is not communication between agent and customer, but between agent and manager, and within the other employee tiers at your contact center. Internal communication is just as important as external communication, and should be encouraged. One way to make it happen is to have agents serve as managers or coaches for a shift. Or make sure that managers spend at least some time on the contact center floor every day.
5. Upgrade Your Technology
A 2015 survey found that 67% of industry professionals specified budget as the biggest barrier to improving their contact center. But with the evolution of
cloud workforce management tools, a business can upgrade to state-of-the-art technology without the large upfront costs of hardware and software investment. Depending on the system, an on-premise solution could run $100,000 or more.
Better still, once the
cloud solution is implemented it will always be upgraded regularly to new software versions as they are released, at no additional cost to the business. When a manual software upgrade is necessary, the cost can be prohibitive enough to be put off, which reduces a call center’s ability to operate at maximum efficiency. Conclusion
Motivated agents, upgraded technology, better communication and a renewed focus on customer service – now you’re ready to tackle those resolutions.
Scheduling mistakes are frustrating for managers and agents, and ultimately for your customers. You review your forecasts and you do your best, but if the numbers on paper are not matching up with what happens during a shift, here are some possible reasons why, and what you can do to achieve better results.
Historical data reveals patterns that should make scheduling easier and more accurate. But don’t just stay in the shallow end of the data pool and factor in the obvious peak calling times and slower portions of a day or a week. Account for holidays and seasonal shifts, new product introductions and weather impact. And make sure your schedule includes lunch breaks, training sessions and other times when agents will not be available to take calls. An
automated workforce management solution is the easiest way to collect and analyze this data, and then schedule accordingly. Shrinkage
The further out you create a schedule, the more you’ll have to account for
shrinkage. You can foresee sick days and vacations for the week ahead – but two months from now? It’s impossible – so consider shrinkage so the circumstances you can’t anticipate now will not result in an under-staffed contact center. Schedule Breaks as Well as Work Time
It’s one thing to account for breaks within a schedule – it’s another to actually affix them to a specific time, and expect your agents to adhere to it. Otherwise you may have too many agents taking breaks or heading out to lunch together at the same time, which will derail any schedule. WFM software can automatically assign breaks at the optimum time, so that impact on coverage and service level is minimized.
Work With Your Agents’ Needs When Possible
Agents are more likely to
adhere to a schedule when the contact center is open to their work preferences. At a typical business there may be full time and part time agents, some working for home and some for whom this is a second job. Taking these factors into consideration will require more flexibility in schedule creation, but there are definite benefits to having a range of shift solutions available. Full-Time vs. Part-Time
There is a stability to a full-time agent team that many contact centers find more desirable. But call patterns may result in too many agents collecting salary for doing nothing. That’s why some contact centers hire enough full-time employees to cover anticipated demand, and use part-timers to handle peak hours. The right mix will vary depending upon the business, but many find a 75% to 25% ratio of full-time to part-time agents will suffice.
When it is easier for agents to manage their preferences, it is easier for managers to create schedules that take into account their future availability. This should be a consideration when choosing a
WFM solution. Don’t Make Assumptions on Agent Preferences
“No one is going to want to work Saturday night.” Really? What about the agent who would rather attend his daughter’s soccer game on Saturday afternoon? Chances are you won’t need as many agents for the types of shifts generally viewed as undesirable, but you may be surprised at how many part-time or work from home agents will gladly take them. Don’t look for scheduling problems where they may not exist.
Regular Shift Reviews
Most veteran agents do not embrace shift reviews willingly. But contact centers should go through this process at least once or twice each year to confirm whether shift schedules are meeting customer service goals, and to determine if personnel changes might further optimize the agent skill sets available at any given time.
Equal Access to Preferred Shifts
One aspect of maintaining agent morale is making sure your team members believe they are being treated fairly, especially when it comes to the hours and shifts they are assigned. Scheduling that allocates more desirable shifts to the same agents week in and week out will alienate some employees, and that could impact their job performance and productivity. By distributing shifts equitably during the scheduling process, you can avoid such resentments before they are passed on to your customers.
Fill Vacant Positions as Quickly as Possible
This may be obvious but it still needs to be said. Few contact centers are immune to the challenges of agent attrition. The recruitment, hiring and training process to fill open positions is one that nobody enjoys, as well as one that places additional cost burdens on the contact center. However, the alternative is moving forward short-staffed, which inhibits scheduling flexibility and puts more stress on the agents you still have. It also limits your capacity to dismiss under-performing agents, as someone taking calls is better than no one at all. Resist the temptation to wait for peak season to begin your next recruitment campaign.
The Right Tool for the Job
Part of optimum scheduling is making sure the right agents are handling the right calls. With a tool like
Monet Record you’ll have insightful data on how different agents handle different calls. That gives managers a way to determine which team members are best suited for different customer engagements. Monet Quality makes it easier to retrieve calls by specific type, and provides additional reporting and analytics to further assess each agent’s skills.
Unfortunately, the status quo rarely remains the same in any call center, so all these calculations must be regularly updated and re-examined.
Monet Metrics delivers agent analytics, real-time alerts, scorecards and customizable reports, as well as data on key performance indicators such as agent adherence and service levels. This information can then be used in conjunction with workforce management to further refine the art and science of scheduling. Learn More
In 2016, a process will begin in Connecticut designed to consolidate different municipal and district services, in an effort to both lower costs and to offer these services in a more streamlined and consistent manner.
Contact centers, including those devoted to public health, pension administration and emergency call handling, are among those that may be consolidated by region. According to one study, lowering the number of emergency call centers from more than 100 to just eight could be achieved without impacting service.
Such changes may be headed for the private sector as well. New contact centers are sometimes established for one individual line of business or new venture, which does not have to fit efficiently into a larger enterprise. That can result in wasted resources and replicated technology platforms.
The company that carried out the study, launched a program to achieve more efficient economies of scale based on resources, facilities, technology and processes. It was discovered that there were a number of opportunities for savings, including:
Resource pooling, combining hiring profiles and skill requirements (10-20% savings)
Process simplification and workforce management efficiencies (10-15% savings)
Common critical monitoring and reporting metrics (10-15% savings)
Shared CRM applications and improved call routing efficiencies (5-10% savings)
Optimized common agent desktop tools (5-10% savings)
Contact center consolidation is one of the primary ways to improve operational efficiencies and improve constituent satisfaction. Is it something your company should consider?
Agent reviews should be a mandatory part of your contact center regimen. Your performance management results depend in part on knowing you have a capable, motivated team of agents working on behalf of your business and your customers.
But what is the best way to handle these essential but sometimes challenging assignments? Most contact centers rely on one of two options: a company-wide review in which every agent receives their feedback at the same time (a focal review), or individual annual review sessions, dated from the day that each agent joined the company. It’s Your Anniversary! Now, Here’s What You’re Doing Wrong…
Of course, with new hires you probably won’t wait a full year before providing review feedback. But once any probation period has passed, the method of using annual written or verbal reviews has several advantages, starting with the obvious – it’s a logical approach that also makes it easier for managers to prepare, as they may only have 1-2 reviews in a week, as opposed to a focal approach, where the entire team is reviewed at the same time.
This is also a reliable strategy if the crux of your review is a measurement of agent performance against the contact center customer service criteria, rather than against the performance of other agents. However, scheduling often proves more difficult with this method – nobody really enjoys agent reviews, so managers sometimes procrastinate, resulting in delays or sometimes even neglecting to do them at all. Plus, if performance reviews reveal a flaw in a company process that needs to be changed, doing so may be harder to implement throughout the entire contact center. You’re All Slackers. OK, Back to Work
The advantage of a focal review is getting all the reviews out of the way quickly. This always makes a difficult task more palatable. And because you’ll have performance review data on all of your agents at the same time, it’s easier to compare and contrast their performances, and provide updated guidance on new company policies to the entire team. On the down site, focal reviews take longer to prepare, especially at larger contact centers.
Whichever option you choose, the most important thing is to make sure the reviews get done. When management neglects the review aspect of performance management, it makes it easier for agents to neglect the responsibilities of their position.
There are no shortage of blogs and articles online, including right here at
Monet, about the many benefits associated with moving your contact center technology into the cloud. By now you have likely read about the cost savings that results from a cloud migration, as well as improved flexibility and scalability, higher customer satisfaction and even improved agent engagement. What is not as well-covered in these pieces are the best steps to take right before making the transition, so the move into the cloud will be easier, and your contact center will be ready to make the most of its new capabilities. Here are a few ideas that may help. Embrace the Omni-Channel
With the cloud you’ll be able to achieve customer communication via phone, email or online chat. If you do not have all these channels integrated now, prepare your agents for what that will be like, and how to route customer contacts appropriately for the best service.
Sifting Through the Data
Whatever data you were using now to create forecasts and schedules and analyze performance will likely be multiplied by the workforce management and optimization solutions delivered through the cloud. The good news is it will all come via a single desktop, so there will be no need to switch between systems. However, you’ll want to start preparing ahead of time on which metrics to focus on, and how to optimize the real-time reporting capabilities you’ll now have to make changes as needed.
Always Be Prepared
Cloud solutions are more reliable than the software contact centers used to rely on. However, having a plan for when something goes wrong is always a good idea. Most companies devote just 2-4% of their IT budget to disaster recovery planning. And yet, the actions taken before a cyber attack are as significant, if not more so, than actions taken after the worst has become reality. Control measures can reduce some security threats; detective measures could help catch a potential man-made breach before it occurs.
Now that you’re ready, welcome to the cloud! If you need any additional help or information, contact us. Monet Software is a pioneer in contact center cloud solutions, and can make your transition as smooth and seamless as possible.
We don’t mean to sound jaded.
It’s always an honor when one of our products is singled out for recognition in the contact center industry, and that has indeed happened once again: Monet’s WFO Live – Workforce Optimization in the Cloud has been named a Product of the Year by TMC’s CUSTOMER magazine, a leading source for contact center news, product information and communications strategies. This is also the third year in a row that a Monet solution has earned Product of the Year honors, to go along with a Customer Experience Innovation Award bestowed by TMC in 2014. “What this award means to us, more than just another honor to hang on our wall, is the acknowledgment that WFM Live is making a real difference at contact centers of all sizes across the country,” said our CEO Chuck Ciarlo. “The improved efficiency and customer service experienced by our customers every day is the best award we can imagine.” What should such consistent recognition mean to you? If you are a Monet customer it means the WFO solution you selected is among the very best available. If you are still considering a migration to an automated WFO tool, we hope it means you’ll take a closer look at what Monet has to offer. Investing in WFO is a decision you only want to make once. So why not select a complete end-to-end cloud-based workforce optimization solution packaged and priced to deliver the lowest total cost of ownership? Monet WFO Live offers comprehensive capabilities including workforce management, call recording, quality management, screen capture, performance management, agent analytics and archiving and reporting capabilities. It’s easy to set up, easy to use, and provides software fixes and upgrades as part of its software subscription fee at no additional cost. Perhaps that is why the awards keep coming.
Find out more about WFO Live, and how it can boost efficiency at your contact center – at a price you can afford Learn More
If there were a way to buy stock in
cloud computing, this would be a good time to do it. A 2015 Research and Markets report states that the cloud telecom industry, which includes cloud contact center ecosystems, is expanding at an annual growth rate of more than 25 percent. Perhaps you can’t invest in an entire industry, but you can certainly invest in a cloud-based solution for workforce optimization, which will also pay significant dividends in benefits to your contact center budget, day-to-day efficiency, and customer service levels. Hosting contact centers in the cloud has also been known to significantly reduce aspirin and other pain relief usage among managers, as it eliminates many of the headache causes that used to be unavoidable in this business, from hardware failures and networking issues to the budget-bursting costs of maintaining an IT department and keeping up with new software versions. Consider the change in just one everyday contact center capability – call recording. In the pre-cloud era, adding call recording required the installation of an onsite PBX system with a VoIP packet that recorded calls onto a separate onsite platform. With the cloud? Installation for agents can be achieved with the click of a button. Cloud computing will continue to gain a larger percentage of the contact center industry because it offers benefits for businesses of every size and type. Large call centers enjoy a tremendous cost savings and a lower upfront equipment investment. Smaller contact centers can achieve the same technological sophistication of bigger companies on a smaller budget. And call centers with agents working from home or in multiple centers can tie everyone in to the same workforce management system regardless of location.
For these reasons and more, it seems likely that the popularity of cloud-based systems will continue to grow. Is it time you considered making the switch? Learn More
Forecasting determines many of the daily decisions made by contact center management, and plays a key role in a center’s ability to operate efficiently and deliver quality customer service.
How are contact centers today handling this ongoing challenge? One UK publication invited industry personnel to share their methods and assess their performances. The results, and the ideas generated, may provide you with more insight into how your contact center measures up, and where improvement may be possible. Using the Past to Predict the Present
Forecasting relies on historical data to anticipate call volume and other key factors in planning a schedule. Most forecast planners use at least two years’ worth of data, though some prefer five years. At contact centers where products and promotions are constantly changing, managers rely on just 12-18 months for forecast creation.
The average accuracy of forecast variance to actual calls falls into the 5-20% range. While some manage to stay in single digits (5-6%), others are still struggling with numbers as high as 80%. One contact center reported that service queues are typically more accurate than sales.
Nearly 75% of contact centers surveyed forecast at 15-minute intervals; the rest do so every 30 minutes. The goal of increasing forecast accuracy has inspired a wide range of strategies, from assessing holidays and other unique days separately to improving coordination between departments (such as marketing and finance) to boosting the precision of the numbers being used. And while relating ideas that went right, some managers also shared some memorable mistakes in the hope of helping others to avoid them. These ranged from a simple accounting error (missing a zero from the monthly total) to putting too much trust in a client’s forecast, to relying on insufficient data. However accurate a generated forecast may be, however, contact centers still sometimes experience a disconnect from company management on the number generated. This can lead to issues with appropriate staffing decisions, and challenges in meeting customer service needs while also having time for meetings, agent training and other activities. Such conflicts have been resolved by producing results that are consistently accurate, and presenting data to management in clear graphical models that are easy to understand. Manual or WFM?
All forecasts also rely on agents being in the right place at the right time – as this doesn’t always happen, contact centers have learned to build more flexibility into their forecasts. This is much easier to do with an automated workforce management solution. Survey responses were roughly split between those that use a
WFM tool and those that still rely on spreadsheets. Multichannel Forecasting
Finally, the survey asked respondents if they are also forecasting for email, webchat and social media. Historical data may be more limited in these communication channels, but most are still making the attempt, using whatever numbers are available.
Most people seem to take perverse pleasure in hearing horror stories about their profession – as long as the experience being described is one that didn’t happen to them.
Department store workers often gather after their shift to swap tales about difficult customers; police officers, between serious calls about crimes in progress, sometimes find themselves summoned to homes where they are asked to open a pickle jar, or to kill a bee inside a frightened person’s home. This is certainly true of contact center agents as well. One story you may find online is the agent who works at a body shop, who was accused of holding a customer’s car hostage for three weeks. Wonder if the agent sent that customer a ransom note after the call? Here is the part that isn’t so funny – too many of those calls can contribute to agent burnout. It’s a challenge for every contact center regardless of size or industry, as evidenced by consistently high attrition numbers. Given the investment required to hire and train a replacement every time an agent decides he or she has had enough, it is critical for managers to hire wisely, and take whatever actions are feasible to create a more positive professional environment. The Emotional Toll
The Wharton Financial Institution Center held a Call Center Industry Forum that explored how the front lines of a corporate contact center are often charged with emotion, and companies need to account for that when hiring and training workers to take on this critical role in customer contact.
“There is a growing need for workers who have to deal constantly with the public to manage emotions – and this is especially true for those on the phones,” said Steffanie Wilk, a Wharton management professor who has done extensive research on call centers. Is there anything that can be done to help agents better cope with stressful situations? Certainly the hostile calls aren’t going to stop, even if multichannel capability shifts some of them to email, online chat and social media. They still have to be dealt with, but reading an angry screed does not raise the blood pressure as much as being yelled at on the phone. One way to approach the situation is to focus on hiring agents that are a good fit, not just for the demands of the position but also for the company itself. Wanted: The Perfect Agent (for us)
Try that ad in a job listing and see what happens. Perfection may not be possible, but by presenting a more detailed sense of your company culture, the specific nature of incoming calls and other variables that are specific to your contact center, managers are more likely to weed out candidates that won’t be able to cope.
Does your contact center handle insurance claims or technology products, where close attention to detail is necessary? Is the contact center an important source for upselling, requiring agents to not just process orders but have some sales skills as well? Do you receive a high percentage of calls from seniors, which may require more patience in resolving an issue? The more you understand the particulars of your business, the easier it will be to find the right agents to handle them. Script Flexibility
While it’s important for new hires to adhere to the contact center script, as they improve their skills and become acclimated to the position, it may be more of a hindrance than help to experienced agents. The repetition of the same lines every day can certainly contribute to burnout.
Here is where ongoing coaching and training can help, as well as call recording and quality monitoring. Give proven agents more flexibility in script usage, then analyze the results. If the rate of successful outcome remains consistent, tell that agent to keep up the good work. Managers may also discover non-rehearsed responses used by veteran agents that are more effective than what was in the script, which can then be adopted company-wide. One other point with new agents – during their initial training it is beneficial to not just tell them what to say, but why they are saying it. Let them know the reasons behind the content, and make sure they understand why these decisions were made. While it might not seem necessary to reveal the strategy behind the script, it might make them feel more involved, and not compelled to read lines from a page because they are not trusted enough to converse with customers on their own. Anticipation and Autonomy
Many contact center customers don’t start out angry. They call with what they believe is a reasonable request or a simple question, only to be put on hold, or transferred from agent to agent, or asked to repeat their contact information three times. Result – what should have been an uneventful call morphs into the kind that contributes to agent burnout.
Such situations can be avoided with a review of your contact center’s current systems. Is there a way to reduce transfers by giving the agent more autonomy to solve the customer’s problem? Would a workforce management solution boost the accuracy of forecasting and scheduling, so there are always enough agents to handle incoming calls? Would an investment in speech analytics deliver data that helps to anticipate a caller’s needs, so that call can be routed more efficiently or resolved in a shorter time? Leave Your Worries on the Doorstep
Another contributing factor in agent attrition has nothing to do with how the contact center is run. If an agent is having problems at home, they can affect performance and increase stress levels to the point where something has to give. And most people will leave their job before they leave their family.
Obviously you can’t tell every agent who shows up in a bad mood to go home, but a few questions about the agent’s home and family during the hiring process may help identify those who are more likely to arrive at work in a more upbeat state of mind. Conclusion
Call centers average a 30% turnover rate, but that’s no reason to accept such substantial attrition. If your call center is at 25% turnover, set a goal to lower that to 20% in six months or one year. These steps may help with that process.
What is it that your customers really want?
That question is (or should be) the departure point for so many decisions that impact contact center operations. If you don’t know what they expect (or these days the better word might be ‘demand’) from your business, it’s a lot more difficult to give it to them.
You can ask them, of course, with customer feedback surveys, but analytics provides more detailed and accurate insight into every aspect of the customer experience. Used properly, analytics deliver a proactive view of current and future trends that will impact forecasting, product development, marketing and other operations.
Imagine: Analytics identifies a customer that, from their words or actions, is about to sever ties with your company. A special offer personalized to their needs, presented during this critical time, might save the relationship.
Monet offers both
speech and desktop analytics solutions that provide an array of customer information; often at the time it is needed most. As agents speak to customers, analytics can offer such important data as their purchasing history, their value as a customer, their temperament, and the outcome of their previous contact center experiences. Knowing this, an agent can react accordingly, or perhaps even route the call to an agent that worked well with that customer in the past.
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 50% of contact centers still lack any social media capabilities, much less the analytics that make these channels important sources of customer data.
Is it time for your contact center to discover the benefits of analytics?