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Tips for More Effective Call Center Workforce Management

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

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Call Center Workforce Management Blog

Choosing a WFM Solution: What's Most Important

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Perhaps this is the year your contact center will make the investment in a workforce management (WFM) system. This is something you only want to do once, so take the time to investigate the options available. 

What is most important? For most contact centers the decision to pursue automated WFM stems from a desire to improve forecast accuracy. Forecasting impacts scheduling, staffing, customer service, contact center budget, and nearly every facet of the business. Get it right, and you’re well on the way to an efficient operation; get it wrong, and there’s no end of trouble. 

With that in mind, here are four factors to keep in mind when selecting a WFM solution

Integration

It should be easy. When you acquire workforce optimization, workforce management, quality monitoring, call recording, speech analytics and whatever else you need from the same trusted provider, it’s never an issue. But if you have other vendor applications that must work with a new WFM solution, make sure the tools are available for integration before purchasing. The contact center will always be more efficient when all of its technology resources are working together toward the same goal. 

User-Friendliness

This is often overlooked – “our agents will figure it out eventually.” Well, maybe. But what happens when agents leave and new arrivals have to be hired and trained? And if certain tasks are too difficult or cumbersome, even agents familiar with the system will likely ignore them, passing any resulting delays and inconveniences on to your customers. There are quality WFM solutions available that are easy to adopt and easy to use. Why consider one that is not? 

Flexibility

You may not be able to anticipate all of your contact center’s future needs at the time of your purchase. Nothing wrong with that – just make sure you invest in a system that can grow with your business. 

Return on Investment

WFM in the cloud has substantially reduced the upfront investment necessary in acquiring this vital functionality. But that doesn’t mean ROI is any less important because the investment is smaller. With all of the efficiencies that WFM can improve, it shouldn’t take more than a year to achieve ROI – many Monet clients do so in a fraction of that time. 


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Headline Wrap-up: The Year in Contact Centers 2015

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In looking back over a number of stories covering the contact center industry in 2015, certain themes quickly emerge. Putting aside those not relevant to this blog, such as the opening of new facilities and the trend toward insourcing, we selected two that merit renewed attention, as they will certainly be influential on the industry in this coming year as well. 

Let’s start with the prediction that contact centers will be primarily digital within the next two years.

It’s not exactly a surprising trend, but one that emerged out of the gradual adoption and acceptance of other communication channels in response to customer preference. 

Many stories on this topic came with dire forecasts about the demise of the traditional call center, as more people turn to email, Web chat, social media and mobile app interactions to get their questions answered. Instead, such capabilities have been folded into the contact center environment, where agents trained in these disciplines offer the same service they did on the telephone. And while these channels continue to gain in popularity, there are also strong indications that telephone agents will still be necessary for many years to come. 

The other theme found throughout 2015 coverage is that of optimizing the customer experience, and indeed there is some crossover here with the multichannel approach. But another aspect of this is shortening the customer’s progression from point A to point B by finding out more quickly what that customer needs, and finding more efficient ways to provide it. 

That responsibility falls primarily on the insight and experience of the agent, but can be aided immeasurably by analytics solutions that make it easier to determine the best course of action. 

Typically deployed as part of a workforce optimization (WFO) solution, analytics has become a primary driver of performance and quality monitoring improvements. 

Such capabilities have long been limited to only the largest contact centers with the largest operations budgets. But the advent of cloud-based WFO software has brought these sophisticated solutions within the reach of small and midsized facilities. 

The Monet version of speech analytics and desktop analytics is part of our award-winning WFO Live product. Both new platforms deliver detailed, data-driven insight into daily call center operations and customer behavior, but without the significant investment that such benefits used to require.


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Is Your Contact Center Ready for 2016?

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What is new for 2016? Predictions abound, but several trends are already underway that will certainly help to define priorities within the contact center. If you are still making New Year’s Resolutions, don’t forget to add these to the list. 

Engaging Millennials

Depending on how old you are now, it may be hard to believe that the generation born between 1980 and 2000 is in charge, and their expectations of customer service are different from that of their parents. They grew up with technology and are accustomed to instant communication, answers being available on their schedule, and getting what they need from a company without having to pick up a phone (unless it’s a smartphone with a retail app). Do you have a multichannel software platform in place to meet their demands? Are you using text messages to reach them with new offers and promotions? 


Social Media

Facebook and Twitter are no longer new, but their impact in customer service continues to grow. Once the exclusive domain of those under 30, these channels are now commonly used by everyone, including seniors, and not just for sharing memes and happy birthday wishes. The Harvard Business Review reports that people using Twitter for customer service grew 70% from 2013 to 2014, and 30% of social media users prefer to conduct business this way instead of over the phone.


Anyone Not in the Cloud Yet?

The move toward cloud contact center solutions continues unabated, for all the reasons we have covered in previous blogs – lower upfront cost, instant updates and upgrades of software, faster implementation, security, reliability, user-friendliness. According to Call Center IQ, 76% of surveyed organizations will have made the switch to the cloud by the end of 2016. If you haven’t done so yet, the time is now. 

Turning Agents into Salespeople

Agents who try to upsell customers? Not as annoying as we might have thought, as it turns out. The CFI Group’s Contact Center Satisfaction Index reports that more than 40% of consumers are open to an agent recommending additional products or services. Have you trained your agents in doing so? Is this part of your current script? 

De-Stressing Average Handle Time

Sure, it’s still important for agents to handle each call efficiently. But if the problem isn’t resolved, it doesn’t matter if the call lasted two minutes or ten minutes. The first priority is to bring each customer engagement to a successful conclusion. With multichannel customer service available, the new, hot KPI is “negative response rate,” a reference to those unresolved engagements. It’s worth taking more time to keep that number to a minimum. 



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Looking Back…and Looking Forward

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What happened at Monet Software in 2015? Glad you asked….

The year began on a high note back in January with two prominent industry awards. CIO Review selected Monet Software as one of its 20 Most Promising Contact Center Technology Solution Providers. This distinction was based on evaluation of Monet Software’s capabilities in providing cloud-based Workforce Optimization (WFO) solutions.

The annual list is selected by a panel of experts and members of CIO Review’s editorial board to recognize and promote technology entrepreneurship.

“Monet Software has been on our radar for some time for stirring a revolution in the Contact Center technology space, and we are happy to showcase them this year due to their continuing excellence in delivering top-notch technology-driven solutions,” said Harvi Sachar, Publisher and Founder, CIO Review. “Monet Software’s solutions continued to break new ground within the past year, benefiting its customers around the globe, and we’re excited to have them featured on our top companies list.”

That same month, TMC named Monet WFO Live – Workforce Optimization in the Cloud as a CUSTOMER 2015 Product of the Year Award winner. “On behalf of both TMC and CUSTOMER magazine, it is my pleasure to honor Monet Software with a 2015 Product of the Year Award,” said Rich Tehrani, CEO, TMC. “Its WFO Live solution has proven deserving of this elite status and I look forward to continued innovation from Monet in 2015 and beyond.”

Monet has been a pioneer in the development of cloud-based workforce optimization solutions for contact centers. In February, Monet CEO Chuck Ciarlo shared his thoughts about what he described as “The Fake Cloud Phenomenon” in an article published in Connections magazine.

Ciarlo expressed his concern over the way some companies have tried to market a hosted client server as a cloud solution, resulting in buyer confusion and unhappy clients. This is happening at a time when more companies than ever are making the transition from on-premises hardware and software installation to a cloud delivery model. The integrity of a quality product may be threatened if the situation does not change.

In March, Monet celebrated the release of contact center industry statistics on the insourcing of agent jobs back from India and The Philippines (a celebration no doubt shared by thousands of frustrated customers).

One aspect of this pivotal trend is how contact center technology changed during the outsourcing years, and how companies returning their contact center facilities to the U.S. realize that what worked in the past no longer gets the job done. That is why so many of these centers are ditching spreadsheets in favor of an automated workforce management (WFM) solution.

Every so often we like to share a Monet success story on our website or through our company newsletter, to illustrate how companies are saving money and boosting productivity with Monet solutions, In May of 2015, we published a case study on Bayview Loan Servicing, an investment management firm based in Florida.

The company was struggling with staffing issues caused by inaccurate scheduling, and an insufficient process for handling exceptions such as time-off requests. After searching for a workforce management platform to address these challenges, Bayview selected Monet WFM Live. Click here to see the results.

June was one of our busiest months, and also one of the most gratifying. It began with the inauguration of our new consulting services in conjunction with Marathon Partners, designed to help contact centers get the most from their technology and optimize professional practices.

These services focus on two primary areas: Operational Assessment, a 15-point review of the contact center or back office incorporating processes, quality management, service delivery and staff utilization; and Performance Improvement: which guarantees a minimum ROI of 2:1 through process excellence, best practice assimilation, performance management and implementation of a highly effective management system.

That same month Monet launched a partnership with Compassion International, the world’s largest and fastest growing child development-through-sponsorship ministry. Throughout the year of 2015, we were proud to help sponsor a child in need for every subscription to Monet Software SaaS Workforce Management Suite.

Children assisted through this effort will receive medical checkups, nutritious food, health and hygiene training, educational assistance and, where needed, access to such special services as surgeries and disaster relief.

Finally, we headed to Las Vegas on June 15 to attend the 2015 Call Center Week Conference and Expo at The Mirage. Our Booth #609 was a popular spot throughout the 4-day event.

In October we were back in Vegas at the Rio Hotel for the 2015 ICMI Contact Center Demo & Conference. Monet was proud to serve as one of the sponsors for this exciting annual get-together.

And as Halloween approached, we offered a holiday-themed webinar entitled “Slaying the Adherence Monster.” If adherence has ever been an issue at your contact center, you know what it can do to schedules and budgets. But the Adherence Monster is no match for Monet solutions with real-time adherence.

If you missed this 45-minute presentation, featuring tips and tricks to help you keep adherence issues away from your business, you can still check it out here.  

It was indeed a memorable year, one that would not have been possible without the support and enthusiastic response from our clients, as well as the hard work and dedication of our technology and sales teams. As we take a moment to look back on the highlights of 2015, it is also a good time to say thank you to all of those who helped make this year our best ever.

And while there are still a few days left in the year, at Monet we are already looking forward to 2016. While it is too early to reveal any details, the year ahead is one likely to feature the debuts of new solutions, new services, and more opportunities to meet with our clients and industry professionals at the top annual tradeshows. Stay updated on all of our latest news and announcements here, or on our Facebook page. 


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Quality Monitoring in 2016

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New year resolutions in business? Sometimes they work and sometimes, like that pledge to lose 10 pounds, they don’t. But making the effort helps contact center managers focus on priorities, and keep up with emerging trends and changing customer needs.

 

Take quality monitoring – we are in the midst of a major transition in how customers interact with companies. Mobile devices have changed the game, and businesses need to be aware of this and prepared to engage with customers however they choose to reach out.

 

How should this shape your 2016 plans? First, let’s look at what hasn’t changed – the responsibility of the contact center to provide excellent service, whether that is via telephone or email or online chat. Then, take action to make sure all of your customers are being properly served. Ask these questions:

 

Are we looking for what we’re doing right, or what we’re doing wrong?

Monitoring is the best way to spot problems. Sure, you’ll also find out what you’re doing well, but the sooner issues can be identified the sooner they can be solved.

 

Are we making the most of the data available?
With a workforce optimization solution you have access to a wealth of insightful data on contact center performance. Are you making use of all of it?

 

Are you getting the small things right?

Little issues in service eventually result in big problems. Use quality monitoring to make sure that best practices are being maintained in every aspect of the call from the greeting to the final ‘click’.

 

Do you have the right software solution in place?

Monet Quality – Quality Management in the Cloud makes it easier to evaluate agent performance and skills, achieve higher customer satisfaction through improved customer service, and increase staff productivity through improved call handling. Plus, it’s easy to set up, affordable to implement and delivers proven results. If you add it to your New Year’s resolution list, the rest of your quality monitoring challenges will be much easier to achieve. 


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Improving Quality Assurance? Easy as 1-2-3

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Quality assurance offers a way to turbo-charge the benefits of call recording and monitoring. The objective is to measure agent performance, and initiate changes in training or procedures as needed to boost customer service.

It’s an important effort but one that presents an array of challenges to achieve effectively. Here are three tips that can make a big difference in your quality assurance strategy.

1. Don’t Rely on Random Sampling

While every customer is important, some customer calls are simply more important than others, at least in how they pertain to quality assurance. Rather than selecting a random sample of calls for evaluation, focus on scoring calls with the most significant orders, calls from the highest-value customers, and/or those related to a specific promotion or upsell opportunity. Desktop analytics software (available from Monet) can make it much easier to classify calls and find those that meet any pre-determined criteria.

2. Close the Loop

Quality assurance does not work as a standalone program. It should be part of a customer service cycle that ends with satisfied customers, and begins when agents are hired and trained. Think of quality as a proactive process that fuels every contact center action, and necessitates regular updates based on customer feedback.

3. Reassess Your Training Efforts

Training is a vital component in agent performance, so regular training sessions should be a necessity, and should not be approached as an afterthought, or something to squeeze into brief respites of low call volume. Also, make sure training is supplemented with ongoing coaching that provides positive reinforcement and support. 


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IVR and the Smartphone: A Perfect Match

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A 2012 poll found that 80% of consumers would stop doing business with a company after a bad experience with an interactive voice response (IVR) system. Some consumers can’t imagine any encounter with an IVR that doesn’t end in frustration or shouting “Operator!” (among other choice words) as the recording rambles on about options available by pressing 1, or 2, or 9. 

Is there any way to make the IVR more appealing? Or are companies forced to use this technology doomed to the prospect of an angry customer base?  

Enter the Smartphone

The problem with the IVR is customers have to wait for audio instructions before following a series of steps that (hopefully) gets them to the answers they need. But when those options are provided via visual representation on a smartphone, those same customers don’t seem to mind. 

All of us when we’re online are used to clicking on the links that will get us the answers we need. We’re so accustomed to it that navigating a visual IVR menu can be completed much more quickly than waiting to hear the full list of options from a recorded message. If waiting for an agent still proves inevitable, a visual IVR can offer video presentations that may be helpful, and at the very least are more informative and entertaining than the musical selections that play while we’re stuck on hold. 

Best of all, this self-service technology is not expensive – an important consideration for companies that opted for the IVR to avoid the cost of a full-service contact center. 

So if you must resort to an IVR, a smartphone version provides a new way to access the cost and convenience benefits of the system, without the obstacles that drive customers away. 


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10 Tips to Improve your Quality Scores

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Quality scores still an issue? That’s not good. This is the feedback that illuminates how customers are being treated by your agents, and if they are getting the help and information they need. Here are a few steps you can take to start those numbers trending in the right direction. 

1. Identify the Agents that Need the Most Help

All of your agents should receive ongoing training and coaching. But with a quality management system you’ll know which agents need extra help. 

2. Target Negative Feedback

This may seem obvious, but many contact centers still base assessments on random samples of calls and surveys, rather than those with negative customer feedback. That’s where the problems are, so that is where training should start. 

3. Real-Time Analysis

When VoC data is added to quality scorecards, agents get real-time performance feedback, which can encourage self-correction. 

4. Screen Recording

Screen recording provides an added dimension to call recording and scoring, and gives you a much better idea of how every agent is performing his or her job. 

5. Schedule Training in Quieter Moments

Training sessions are too important to be subject to interruptions. With a workforce management solution, you can pinpoint activity lulls and schedule accordingly. 

6. Review Feedback on All Channels

Call centers are contact centers now. Review performance analytics for online chat and email as well, and incorporate these into training. 

7. Use After-Call Surveys

Surveys initiated immediately after the customer engagement are one way to accurately capture the respondent’s reaction. Given time to cool down, a customer may be more charitable when they fill out a form a week later. That’s nice of them, but it doesn’t help you identify where help is needed. 

8. Dump the IVR

This may not be possible, but if it is, it can only help. Routing calls directly to a live agent or the appropriate department is always preferable from the customer’s perspective. 

9. Improve Scheduling

When staff shifts are optimally scheduled to call demand patterns, calls are efficiently answered and customers have one less reason to be upset. 

10. Speech Analytics

Real-time speech analytics tools can allow you to start raising performance levels and quality scores immediately. It will be easier to detect when agents are not following the script or using language that is not compliant with company policy. 



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A Glowing Forecast for Cloud Based Contact Centers

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Global cloud-based contact centers were a $4.6 billion dollar market in 2015. What does the future hold? According to a study released by ReportLinker, that market will grow to a remarkable $14.7 billion by 2020. 

Surprising? Not really. Contact centers of all sizes and types are recognizing the benefits of the cloud delivery model, which is reflected in the growing adoption rates. No other solution offers a way to modernize technology while lowering costs at the same time. 

Today, software-based technology is still more prominent in the contact center industry. But the ReportLinker study suggests those days may be numbered. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between a cloud-based delivery model, and one that requires on-premises hardware and software installation. 

Set-up/Implementation

With a cloud model, set up can be completed in days, with secure access available to agents and managers in the call center and at remote locations. With a traditional hardware/software system, complete installation and configuration can take several weeks, if not months, which will add additional costs and inconvenience to the conversion process. 

Upfront and Operating Costs

Here the cloud model has a clear advantage, as users pay only a low monthly subscription fee with no upfront investment. Depending on the system, an on-premise solution could run $100,000 or more. Likewise, ongoing operating costs are higher given the need for back-ups, maintenance, upgrades and hardware replacement. 

Scalability

With a server, you can only expand your capabilities so much before another investment is required. The cloud platform allows for maximum scalability. 

Upgrades

When it’s time to upgrade the software, it can be delivered automatically with a cloud model at no additional cost. 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. 

Usability

Usability is a priority with most cloud-based solutions, so call center agents and managers can get started more quickly. Traditional solutions tend to be more complex.  

Isn’t it time you considered making the switch?


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The Contact Center Holiday Wish List

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Letters to Santa and holiday wish lists are a part of Christmas celebrations around the world. But if you could create a wish list for your contact center, what would you ask for?

This is not just a fanciful exercise. Writing down your goals for 2016 can be the first step toward achieving them. What is most important to the future success of your business right now – more accurate forecasts? A better way to create schedules? Call recording software? Finding improved ways to automate tasks?

Different call centers will have different lists, but a Workforce Management (WFM) solution in the cloud may figure prominently in the answers to many of them. Santa can’t bring it, but Monet Software can. 

Here are a few more items that may be on your wish list. 

Screen Recording 

Listening to recorded calls can boost the efficiency of your contact center. Listening to these calls while watching how agents relate to customers offers even more insight into employee performance, customer service and how technology is being leveraged for maximum benefit. With Monet Screen Capture, it is possible to review synchronized voice and video of your agents’ interactions. We’ve created a video demo that takes you through the process, from capturing customer interactions to the platform’s archiving and reporting capabilities. 


Speech Analytics

Since 2/3 of customer interactions still take place over the telephone, speech analytics has become a more prominent source for customer insight. With Monet WFO Live’s speech analytics capabilities, contact centers gain even more insight from their call recording solution. With automated alerts triggered by voice data, managers have access to critical business intelligence that boosts both agent performance and the customer experience. 

Desktop Analytics

If you want even more transparency into how your contact center functions, what agents are doing at their desks, whether your business is in compliance with government or industry guidelines on information gathering, and where your procedures are falling short of expectations, desktop analytics may have the answers. Where speech analytics is primarily customer-focused, desktop analytics (DA) delivers insight on your agents and your processes. It captures and analyzes all agent desktop activities in real time, and it improves process automation and workflow. 



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Test Drive Your Holiday Preparation Plan

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It’s December, so chances are you’ve already outlined and implemented your strategy for handling the increased call volume caused by the holidays. 

Is it working? Great! But if it’s not, it may be time to take a closer look at the plan and see if something was missed. 

Here’s an idea for the next time you anticipate a call spike: take the contact center for a test drive. There is no substitute for practice, not only to confirm that you have the right resources in place, but to allow your agents (particularly the newer hires) to acclimate to the pressures of a more hectic work environment. 

The objective is to recreate real-world conditions, which means you’ll need personnel to take on the role of callers, and agents and managers reviewing results as they happen. 

Perform multiple drills. The idea is to reveal unforeseen hurdles that can impact customer service. It may also be a good idea to add an unexpected challenge to observe how your team responds. Let’s face it: you can’t plan for everything, so this is a chance to find out if you have agents and managers in place who can adapt under fire. 

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

That is the question. A test drive will deliver the kind of insight that can detect and prevent problems before they occur at the worst possible moment. 

Try a few practice runs before your next busy weekend or special event – it will improve your odds of keeping the contact center running smoothly. 



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What are the Real Differences Between On-Premise, Hosted and Cloud Solutions?

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Download our Free New Whitepaper  

Technology plays a vital role in the contact center. Managers face a difficult choice when it comes to selecting a technology provider, as they must take into account not only the vendor but also the delivery method through which crucial contact center software will be accessed. 

There are three options: an on-premise solution, where hardware and software must be installed, deployed and maintained at the contact center; a hosted system, where software is purchased but is installed at an outside service provider, and a cloud system, which converts such physical resources as processors and storage into Internet resources. 

How should a manager decide which is best for his company? Our new whitepaper was created to answer the most common questions about the three systems, and to compare them based on several important factors, including:

Security

Start-up Time

Scalability

Upgrades

Integration

Flexibility


Of course, for many businesses the most significant determining factor will be cost. That’s why the whitepaper analyzes the many different budget considerations associated with each delivery method.

Don’t invest in your next workforce management or workforce optimization solution without downloading our new whitepaper: Cost and Benefit Comparison: Cloud vs. Premise vs. Hosted. It’s free!


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What are the Real Differences Between On-Premise, Hosted and Cloud Solutions?

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Download our Free New Whitepaper

Technology plays a vital role in the contact center. Managers face a difficult choice when it comes to selecting a technology provider, as they must take into account not only the vendor but also the delivery method through which crucial contact center software will be accessed. 

There are three options: an on-premise solution, where hardware and software must be installed, deployed and maintained at the contact center; a hosted system, where software is purchased but is installed at an outside service provider, and a cloud system, which converts such physical resources as processors and storage into Internet resources. 

How should a manager decide which is best for his company? Our new whitepaper was created to answer the most common questions about the three systems, and to compare them based on several important factors, including:

Security

Start-up Time

Scalability

Upgrades

Integration

Flexibility

Of course, for many businesses the most significant determining factor will be cost. That’s why the whitepaper analyzes the many different budget considerations associated with each delivery method.

Don’t invest in your next workforce management or workforce optimization solution without downloading our new whitepaper: Cost and Benefit Comparison: Cloud vs. Premise vs. Hosted. It’s free!



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Workforce Management Trends in 2016

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It’s never too early to start looking ahead to next year (as you may have noticed from all the news coverage about the 2016 presidential election). 

When the topic is workforce management, there are already signs of trends that will likely continue into next year and beyond. As 2015 winds down, here is what is happening at contact centers throughout the U.S. – how are you approaching these issues?

Higher Investments in Personnel

When employees are viewed as an asset instead of a cost center, it impacts how they are recruited, hired, trained and maintained. This takes into account management and contact center procedures as well, but workforce management can contribute to agent satisfaction by making flexible scheduling possible, and making it easier for agents to work the hours and shifts they prefer.

Hiring Millennials

This is a natural generational occurrence happening at all types of businesses, including contact centers. Millennials have grown up with technology and will know the difference on day one between WFM that makes them more efficient, and systems that fall short. 

The Infusion of Analytics

WFM is bolstered by speech and desktop analytics tools that deliver more insight into customers and their needs. 

Changing Platforms

More mobile devices, more social media prominence, and gamification are just some of the overarching technology trends that may impact the evolution of WFM software suites. Consumer devices now set the pace, so contact centers may anticipate the adoption of their features and functionality in the workplace. 



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The True Definition of Quality

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When you think of quality, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the efficiency of a contact center that is meeting its customer service goals? Is it the quality monitoring solution that helps managers identify issues and resolve them?

These are important, yes. But quality is more basic than that. It begins as a mindset, an approach to work and achieving goals that must be shared by every contact center manager, coach, trainer and agent. Yes, there are quality processes that can and should be put into place, but if the people behind them are not dedicated to making the best decisions for the business and its customers, these processes will not be sufficient by themselves. 

How can we take that quality mindset and put it into action? It starts by being proactive. The goal is to spot problems and solve them when there is still time to do so, even if it requires above-and-beyond effort. Stories of this abound in the business world – hotel managers who drive two hours to return a credit card to a guest about to board an international flight; the gift-wrap employee at the department store who adds an extra bow and the more expensive ribbon to make every package look special. 

That type of quality doesn’t exist solely at the top or the bottom of the organization – it must be present at all levels. It must be so prevalent that those agents or other personnel who lack the quality mindset will find themselves engulfed by it from every direction, so they must either rise to meet the same expectations or seek employment somewhere else. 

Author Amitava Kar, one of the world’s leading experts on quality management, once said “The quality of an organization will not improve unless, and until, we have (people) with a caring mindset…leaders must embrace quality as their personal responsibility and must demonstrate quality in their behaviors and actions before they can expect people to trust or follow them.” 

When this is achieved, then you may be confident that your contact center will maximize the great potential inherent in a quality management solution. 



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Workforce Management and Labor Costs

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We’ve discussed the convenience, efficiency and customer service benefits of workforce management software in previous blogs. We’ve also covered the cost benefits, but there is one aspect to this topic that perhaps isn’t as prominent as it should be – the positive impact WFM can have on labor costs

In the contact center, labor costs can amount to more than hourly wages. Overtime is becoming a common occurrence as businesses struggle to cope with more flexible shifts and schedules. Managers may not like it but they accept it as an unavoidable cost of doing business. 

With WFM, these same managers can achieve detailed insight into labor issues and agent schedules. That visibility results in more optimized schedules that proactively minimize overtime and can trigger alerts on when overtime thresholds are approaching, so action can be taken to prevent it. 

Ironically, one of the main reasons smaller and midsized contact centers hesitate to invest in a workforce management solution is how much it costs. But WFM in the cloud alleviates most of those concerns, and will be a wise investment for everything it delivers in return: 

Reduced administrative costs from manually scheduling employees

Lower overstaffing costs through more accurate schedules

Less productivity loss due to unplanned absences

Better agent adherence with real-time monitoring

Administrators who believe workforce management technology is beyond their budget would do well to examine the costs of doing nothing. The benefits of greater productivity, lower costs and better labor decisions provide ample evidence suggesting that this is one investment that contact centers can’t afford not to make.




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Three Reasons Customers Get Stuck on Hold – and How to Address Them

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In 2014, a Comcast customer tried to cancel his service. He was placed on hold…for three-and-a-half hours. After enduring that wait, the customer finally hung up and tried again, only to find that the service center had closed. 

At about the three-hour mark, our exasperated customer began recording his reactions. That video (“Comcast put me on hold until they closed”) has been viewed more than 1.8 million times on YouTube. 

It’s an amusing story, as long as you’re not the customer or Comcast. But putting callers on hold is nothing to laugh about, even when it cannot be avoided. 

Average Handle Time – and the Scourge of the Hold Button

One of the most important of the contact center’s key performance indicators (KPIs) is Average Handle Time (AHT), which records how much time an agent spends with one customer. It has been described as the bedrock for all contact center planning systems, which makes sense; if you guess wrong with this metric, it is difficult to plan anything else correctly. 

Most contact centers calculate AHT by added Total Talk Time, Total Hold Time and Total Wrap-Up Time. Some contact centers cheat by figuring hold time as a separate stat (Average Hold Time) but they are just kidding themselves. The agent is still working on that same caller’s needs. Every time a customer is put on hold, the handle time just keeps growing. 

How Do Your Customers Feel? They Hate It

The text message service TalkTo recently concluded that the average American spends about 13 hours on hold every year. Over the course of a typical lifespan, that adds up to 43 days of listening to “Thank you for your patience – your call is important to us”. No wonder they are upset. 

And while these numbers are not any worse than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago, callers today may not have the same patience as their parents did. Anyone that grew up with the instant gratification of an online purchase or finding answers to questions by typing a few words into a search engine is now accustomed to getting what they want and not having to wait for it. 

If you put these customers on hold, some will understand that you are trying to find the information you need to help them – but most will think you are just wasting their time. Among customers who feel they have waited too long on hold, 1/3 will hang up and never call back. Relationship over. 

Let’s take a closer look at the three reasons most customers are placed on hold, and what can be done to shorten those waits – or eliminate them altogether. 

1. Not Enough Agents Available

When there are too many calls and not enough agents, it results in the especially frustrating “ABC industries, please hold.” The call is answered but the customer is immediately relegated back to the limbo of hold. 

The Solution: Better Forecasting and Scheduling

Forecasts are made to anticipate caller demand and to make certain the contact center will never be short-handed. Many contact centers use spreadsheets to create forecasts, but the results are always time-consuming and often inaccurate.

A workforce management solution delivers automated workload forecasting and schedule generation. Managers can run simulations to calculate a precise forecast for future call volume, agent requirements and average handle time. Peak calling times can be identified based on trends and patterns in historical data. Once you know when incoming calls will be heaviest, it’s easier to readjust agent schedules as needed to handle the demand. 

Workforce optimization is the art and science of having the right number of employees, with the right skills at the right times to meet accurately forecasted volumes of work, and to do all that at a predetermined service level. With Monet WFM Live, you are able to forecast incoming work based on historical patterns, with the added ability to schedule and track employees based on preferences, skills and availability. 

2. The Agent Does Not Have the Information Necessary to Address the Caller’s Question or Situation

Callers expect answers. If a customer has to be placed on hold while the agent asks someone else, or needs to get an approval before authorizing a return (or whatever the situation may be) that caller will wonder why the company didn’t do a better job of training its employees. Yes, that is unfair in many cases, but perception is often reality, and customers will certainly be happier if their business can be conducted quickly by the person who answered the phone – without any on-hold delays. 

The Solution: Agent Training and Trust 

Most of these hold scenarios fall into two main categories: the agent either does not have the necessary information, or the agent could handle the situation but is forced to speak with a manager or supervisor before proceeding. By expanding the agents’ authority to make decisions, many of the latter instances can be eliminated. 

If an agent cannot answer a caller’s question, it’s possible the question is so unique and unexpected that no amount of training could prepare for it. But those situations are rare. More often, callers are placed on hold in these situations because the agent is still new and learning on the job. Better training might prepare new agents to answer the full array of common customer queries, without resorting to the ‘hold’ button so they can ask a co-worker or manager for help. Managers can also help avoid these situations by created an online knowledge base that can be accessed quickly and easily (and is updated regularly to include new offers, promotions, etc.). 

3. Insufficient Contact Center Resources

Resources, in this case, can refer to either personnel or technology. Forecasting and scheduling can optimize agent allocation, but if there are not enough agents on the payroll, customers will have to wait longer to be addressed. And technology exists to further refine data collection and improve agent preparation and performance, but it must be implemented to do so.

The Solution: Do What You Can

There’s no universal cure for this one. If the budget allows for hiring more agents, most contact centers will do so. If it doesn’t, it’s imperative to maximize the human resources available, and here once again WFM can be critical. When it’s delivered via the cloud like Monet WFM Live, there is no large upfront investment, so these capabilities are now within reach of small and midsized contact centers as well. 

What else might help? Some contact centers are using speech analytics to analyze call patterns and identify more frequently asked questions. By doing so, agents can be better prepared to handle specific situations so those callers do not have to be put on hold while answers are sought. 

Bonus Tip: Maximize Hold Time

Regardless of preparation and resources, there will always be times when a customer has to be placed on hold. Is there anything that can be done during this time to make it more tolerable – or to reduce abandoned call rates? 

Statistics shows that more customers hang up if their hold time is spent in silence. Music is preferable, but even better would be pre-recorded messages of relevant information about the company, that may not address their particular situation but might be helpful to them anyway. Another option is offering to call the customer back when the agent is available. 

Conclusion

Reducing the amount of time your customers stay on hold will not only result in shorter handle times, but will make your customers and agents happier.



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Where is the Next Contact Center Revolution Taking Place?

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This industry has seen revolutions before. The introduction of automated workforce management solutions to replace spreadsheets; the maturation on online communication channels that forced call centers to evolve into contact centers; the outsourcing of agent jobs overseas, and then the reversal of that trend in response to customer frustration. 

But it appears the next revolution will take place in the cloud – and it’s already underway. 

A 2014 North American Call Center Survey found that 78% of contact centers were premises-based, but an astounding 70% of those planned to move into the cloud. By now many have already done so, and the rest should be ready to go soon.   

When you look closer at previous industry revolutions, it makes sense for the cloud to be embraced as it has. As customers’ needs and communications preferences change, contact centers have to be more sophisticated, more multi-faceted, and more flexible. 

Where capital investment is not an issue, there are on-premise solutions to meet these demands. But without the cloud, smaller and mid-sized contact centers would struggle to keep up with such challenges as leveraging multichannel communication, and managing customer and contact center data. The cloud brings these capabilities within their reach through a subscription-based model without a large upfront investment. 

With the cloud, every call center regardless of size or type can have the technology it needs to provide excellent customer service, improve policies and procedures, anticipate call volume spikes and plan accordingly, and provide agents with the tools they need to engage with customers. 

The cloud revolution is upon us. And those contact centers that are using the cloud environment for integrated workforce management, workforce optimization and multichannel capabilities are those most ready for the challenges of 2016 and beyond. 



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Five Reasons to Be Thankful for Speech Analytics

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With Thanksgiving coming up, November is a time to be thankful for many things that make our lives easier and better. Many contact centers would count a speech analytics solution in this category. If you haven’t yet added a speech analytics tool to your business, here are five reasons you might be saying ‘thank you’ for it next year – or even sooner. 

1. It Turbocharges Customer Data Collection

Speech analytics delivers critical business intelligence that boosts both agent performance and the customer experience. Traditionally the same type of data was collected by call recording. But caller patterns that would take weeks to learn with that effort can now be achieved in minutes. 

2. Real Time Reactions

Speech analytics generates automated alerts triggered by voice data, whether that’s the use of profanity, use of 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 to impact their outcome, which could mean the difference between keeping and losing a customer.

3. Better Compliance

Should you ever need to demonstrate how your contact center is meeting established criteria for keeping credit card information safe, speech analytics can quickly search through thousands of calls and highlight any in question by locating the precise language used in each conversation. Even single words can be flagged and calls brought up for review. 

4. Improved Procedures

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 contact center policies and procedures might need to be changed. 

5. Cutting Costs

One public utility in Las Vegas, Nevada used speech analytics to deliver insights on delinquent customers. The data generated led to a change in procedure on how and when these customers should be notified. The result? More customers paying their bills. In one year the savings in cost avoidance in having to pursue these delinquent accounts reached $3.6 million. Speech analytics also delivers better marketing intelligence in other areas at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods. 



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Keeping Up with Contact Center Tech

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Good customer experiences often start at the contact center. To achieve those positive results, contact centers are active in the data acquisition business, using KPIs and analytics to take a closer look at every customer interaction.  

Sometimes, however, a company’s reach can exceed its grasp. Innovation often comes slow to the contact center, so while there are now a multitude of effective tools available to transform a wealth of data into real-time solutions, managers may not have the means to maximize this potential. 

Downtime is one area where this gap is especially noticeable. When agents experience downtime, it should be leveraged to enhance productivity by making good use of that time. 

Speech analytics provides another example. Here is a system telling you important information about a customer while he or she is still on the phone – can you react to that information in time? If not, all this technology is buying is a lost opportunity. 

Does your contact center have intraday automation that triggers real-time workforce adjustments during a shift? Can you change staffing levels when there’s a decrease in demand, freeing agents to begin a training session? 

The goal of all of this is providing excellent customer service. When customers are happy, the business thrives. One study by the Harvard Business Review found a whopping 240% annual revenue difference between customers who rate their experience as “great” and those who said it was “poor.” 

Data can deliver more “greats.” But it must be used in real time, and that may be the most essential aspect of contact center technology. 



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Quick Tips to Boost Contact Center Performance

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The thing about improving contact center performance is you’re never really done. Stats that are already improving can always get better. Good agents can become great agents. A change to a script can enhance customer service.

As you continue to refine and fine-tune performance at your contact center, here are some quick tips that may help. 

Role Play

Put yourself in the customer’s position and try various types of calls to discover what kind of service you receive. There is no faster, easier way to find out how your agents are treating your customers. 

Agents Reviewing Agents

Schedule time for agents to monitor other agents at work, and then have them get together and provide feedback and suggestions on how to get better. 

Think Positive

A positive attitude is always beneficial – encourage it by creating a display board with positive words and expressions that can be used during calls. 

Share Success Stories

By giving agents a chance to describe a situation where they shined, it provides both information and motivation to the rest of the team. 

Open House

Invite customers to visit your contact center. It’s a way to build a closer relationship, and they might have some ideas that prove useful in improving performance. 

Celebrate Courtesy

Good manners do make a difference. Remind agents of the importance of saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ 

Lighten up on AHT

Of course average handle time is an important stat. But if agents feel comfortable spending a few extra minutes with a customer to make sure they are satisfied or to answer questions, it makes their job easier and helps performance as well. 

Speech Analytics

Use speech analytics in conjunction with quality monitoring and customer surveys to better understand what is important to your customers. 

Recruit from Within

Have an opening for a new coach? Hire an experienced agent from within your contact center. It’s good for company morale, and you’ll have an employee that knows exactly what agents go through, and how they can adapt their performance to handle different types of calls and customers. 



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Managing the Telecommute Switch

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The evolution of technology has made it easier than ever for call center agents to work from home. And if you believe the “What work will look like in the future” articles all over the Internet, we are still at the beginning of a transition to a time when virtual workplaces may outnumber traditional offices. 

However, if your contact center is considering a work-for-home arrangement, it’s important to realize that there may be some bumps in the road throughout the transition process. 

The benefits are there – lower overhead, happier employees, reduced attrition rates, access to a larger potential workforce (since a daily commute to the contact center is no longer necessary), but here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you embark on this brave new virtual path:

Choose the Right Agents

When you offer your current agents a work-from-home option, many will leap at the opportunity, eager to “go to work” every day in their family room and watch TV when they should be focusing on calls. Present this as a privilege, not a right, and tie it to the set of performance standards they are currently meeting in the office. If those numbers slip, it’s back to the cubicle. Remind them that the requirements of the position are the same – only their surroundings will change. 

Choose the Right Technology

Telecommuting only works if agents can do everything at home that they can do in the office. Obviously a computer with high-speed broadband is essential, but the only way to be assured of the efficiency of a virtual workplace is through cloud-based technology. 

This way, you will always know that these agents are working with the current software versions, as with the cloud they are uploaded automatically (and at no cost) upon availability. Managers can access real-time and historic reporting so they will always be aware of current activity no matter where it is taking place. And remote agents can have their calls recorded and monitored for future training purposes.

Choose the Right Policies

During this time new rules will have to be written and new procedures learned. Will telecommuting agents have to come in to the office for coaching sessions, or should those be handled virtually as well? Will additional training be required for the home agent to interact with the office, receive shift assignments or schedule breaks remotely? 

The key to all of this is communication. As you begin your transition into a partially or fully virtual workplace, make certain there is an end-to-end communication plan in place so that agents have the knowledge, the tools and the guidance they need to deliver outstanding customer service, wherever they may be. 




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Empowered Agents are Successful Agents

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There is a true story about a business traveler, returning home after a long and difficult trip, who tweeted Morton’s Steakhouse with a request to meet him at the Newark Airport with a porterhouse. It was a fantasy that he thought would be good for a few laughs at the restaurant.

So imagine his surprise when Morton’s actually sent one of its waiters to the terminal to greet this weary traveler with the steak he ordered, plus all the trimmings. As gestures to engender customer loyalty go, this was as effective as it gets. 

What does this have to do with contact centers? The goal, just as in a restaurant, is satisfied customers. Getting there involves creating a set of guidelines for employees to follow intended to achieve that goal. It also means that sometimes employees should be able to break those rules and go above and beyond to make a customer happy, even if it doesn’t always conform to company policy. 

Zappo’s, the online shoe store, has become famous for this. One woman ordered several pair of shoes for her mother, who had undergone a medical procedure that left her feet numb and sensitive to pressure. However, none of the shoes ordered helped with her condition. The woman explained this to a Zappo’s call center agent. 

A good company would have gladly accepted the return. Zappo’s went further – they sent the woman’s mother a bouquet of flowers with a note saying they hope she felt better soon. Then they upgraded both the mother and daughter to VIP status, so they would receive free shipping on all future orders. 

Result? Two new loyal customers, great publicity, and a happy Zappo’s employee who felt free to bring this idea up to management, and represent the company in a positive way. 

The Empowered Agent

Special moments like this can only happen when agents feel empowered to “go outside the box,” come up with creative solutions, and implement them without fear of being fired. 

Of course most customer-agent communications won’t require such grand gestures. But sometimes even smaller exceptions are not greeted warmly by supervisors. There are contact center environments where rules are enforced with military precision, and these are not the most comfortable places for agents to work. Rules are necessary, but the key to building a successful team of agents is to provide not just training, but confidence; not just correction, but encouragement; not just guidance, but support. 

Here are some suggestions for how to empower your contact center agents. 

The GROW Method

GROW is an acronym for Goal, Reality, Options and Will. It refers to a method of coaching that has proven successful at improving agent performance and encouraging agents to solve problems through their own creativity. 

Goal: Specify the goal of each coaching session, as well as the goals that the agent wants to achieve.

Reality: What is the current situation like at the contact center, and what aspects of that reality are getting in the way of achieving these goals? 

Options: What needs to change to make these goals a reality? Is there a business policy standing in the way? Or does the agent have to change his or her behavior or approach? Does management need to provide something different? 

Will: Include the agent in the decision on the best option to get to the desired goal. Better yet, let the agent actually make the decision, assuming it is viable (“We can get there if you double my salary” would not be acceptable). When agents devise the solutions they become more empowered, and they also have fewer excuses for not getting the job done. 

Avoid Sandwich Feedback

What’s the best way to deliver constructive criticism? “Sandwich feedback” suggests positioning that criticism between two instances of praise. Others believe this is a lazy option used in place of a properly structured coaching session. We think sandwiches are for lunch – there are more productive options available. 

Ask Questions

Perhaps the shortest distance to correction is simply for a coach or manager to tell an agent what is not being done right and how to fix the problem. But it’s worth the investment of extra time, and perhaps even a short trial and error process, to instead ask the agent how an issue can be resolved. This encourages the habit of solving problems without guidance, which will carry over into conversations with customers. 

Make Decisions as a Team

When decisions have to be made at the management level, it’s still a good idea to include agents in that process. Gather their input even if it is not ultimately accepted when the final choices are made. Just knowing their opinions matter can be empowering, while also boosting agent loyalty and hopefully cutting down on attrition.  

Use Mistakes as a Teaching Moment

Mistakes are unavoidable. Still, we all try to evade them as much as possible. But empowering agents sometimes means letting them make mistakes so they figure out what went wrong and why, and then learn from the experience. For reasons best left to medical professionals, our mistakes seem to stand out in our memories more than our triumphs. That creates fuel for change, and is the best incentive against making the same error again. 

Conclusion

If an employee is happy to come to work, he or she is far more likely to do a better job. This can be more of a challenge given the repetitious nature of contact center work, and having to deal with angry and impatient callers. But morale can be maintained through open communication between agents and managers, employee empowerment, and plenty of positive feedback. 

Managers set customer service policy, but agents put that plan into action. Make sure they have the capability to solve customer problems quickly. 




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Words, Actions and Acknowledgements: The Tools of the Trade for Contact Center Agents

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In the old Captain Marvel comic books, young hero Billy Batson was able to “summon awesome forces at the utterance of a single word.” 

Few words have that kind of power – but the words your contact center agents use when speaking with customers certainly can have a powerful impact, for better or worse.

For this reason it’s never a bad idea to review the scripted statements used by your agents and look for ways that they might be improved. Also, in those situations where going off-script is necessary, agents must be constantly coached to use the right words to deal with volatile situations, and to communicate with customers in a way that expresses regret for their problem and encouragement that a solution is possible. 

We’ve discussed empathy in previous blogs. For most of us it’s an easy emotion to conjure when we’ve actually done something we regret, or when a friend tells us about something that has gone wrong in their life. But since contact center agents were not directly responsible for the customer’s problem, an attempt to generate empathy from nothing may not be successful. 

I Feel your Pain

Empathy is expressing feeling – does that come through in your script? “I understand how you feel, that must be very frustrating…” “Many of our customers felt better after trying…” etc. 

One coaching method that has worked in the past is to ask agents about a time when they received poor service, or bought a product that didn’t work. Encourage them to remember how that experience made them feel, then channel those feelings into their responses.

The Name Game

It’s easier to establish a rapport between agent and customer when both are addressed by name. Using “sir” or “ma’am” is more formal and used to be a means to convey respect, but at this point there is no distinguishing the ‘sir’ you get at an executive board meeting from the ‘sir’ you get at the Burger King drive-thru window. 

Better to opt for “Thank you, Mr. Walker, let me take care of that for you.” And the agent should also introduce him- or herself at the beginning of each call. “Thank you for calling ABC Industries, my name is Robert, how can I assist you today?” 

Sincerity

The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made. 

--Jean Giraudoux ‘’

Sincerity is important – but it must be authentic. That involves not only the words used but also the tone of voice in which they are expressed. Customers are too smart now not to recognize over-scripted expressions of support delivered in a monotone voice for what it is – someone just doing their job:

“Thank you for calling ABC Industries. This is Jennifer – how can I brighten your day today?”

“How can I provide you with excellent service today?”

“How can I make you feel valued and be of help for you today?”

These lines were taken from actual contact center scripts. It takes the right type of agent to deliver them and make it work. 

Reassurance

Next to empathy, reassurance may be the most important message an agent can communicate. It lets the caller know that they are on their way to having their issue resolved. 

Reassurance + Empathy? That is the key to success:

“I am sorry to hear that this happened to you. I will be more than happy to assist you today and get this issue fixed.” 

“I am sorry you had to deal with this inconvenience. Let’s get this taken care of.” 

“I understand why this is upsetting – I would feel the same way. Here’s what we are going to do to get this resolved.” 

Note the use of “Let’s (let us) and “we” – that puts the caller and the agent on the same side of the issue, rather than the agent coming across only as a representative of the company that disappointed the caller. It’s a subtle change but it does make a difference. 

The Dreaded ‘Hold’ Button

Sometimes putting a call on hold is unavoidable. And if that caller has already had to wait once to speak with an agent, the request to put them back on hold may not be greeted enthusiastically. 

When it must be done, some call centers use the “ACT” Method. 

A – ask permission

C – create a timeline 

T – thank the customer

Ask Permission

Don’t tell them you’re going to put them on hold, ask them, “Do you mind waiting for a moment while I get that answer for you?” Very few will say ‘no’ because they want to get this over with as well.

Create a Timeline

Let them know how long you’ll be away. “This should only take a minute or two.” 

Thank the Customer

When the agent picks up the call again, his or her first words should be “Thank you for holding. I appreciate your patience.” 

Final Impressions

Once the crisis is passed, do not close the call without two essential elements: first, a suggestion on what to do should the problem return – preferably one that will not force the caller to repeat the same process they just experienced. Then, close on a note of appreciation for their business: “Thank you for choosing ABC Industries,” etc. 

Finding the Right Matches

While all of these tips can be helpful to any agent, a contact center increases the likelihood of their success by matching certain types of calls (or callers) with the agent best suited to handle them. A workforce optimization solution is essential for such call routing, particularly if it is equipped with a speech analytics solution capable of providing the data that will determine the optimal agent for each call. 


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Speech Analytics and Compliance

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Compliance is – let’s be honest – a pretty dull topic. 

But in our continuing quest to avoid what is boring, we cannot neglect the laws and regulations now in place that help to keep business transactions stable and secure. This can also be a costly topic to ignore, given the penalties that may be imposed on businesses that do not keep accurate, up-to-date records of telephone transactions. 

Recorded call records must be kept accessible for a minimum of six months, and that timeframe may increase with new legislation on its way. 

Is your contact center keeping up? Do you have transactions saved across multiple platforms? 

Speech Analytics Can Help

In addition to its many other benefits in customer service and cost savings, speech analytics also play an important role in your compliance effort. 

Should you ever need to demonstrate how your contact center is meeting established criteria for keeping credit card information safe, speech analytics can quickly search through thousands of calls and highlight any in question by locating the precise language used in each call. Even single words can be flagged and calls brought up for review. 

Having ready access to calls subject to compliance not only saves time, it reduces risk of exposure, as it now becomes easier for managers to check compliance during internal reviews. Doing so regularly can help your contact center avoid fines and negative publicity, at a time when the public remains concerned about secure transactions. 



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