Call Center Workforce Management Blog
Recently, one LinkedIn group related to contact centers conducted an interesting experiment by asking, “In one word, how would you describe the best customer service?”
How would you respond to that question? The words that were selected were revealing, as they forced contact center professionals to express the most important aspect of their service effort in a single word. These are the five words selected most frequently by those that responded. Do you agree with them? 1. Empathy/Understanding
In this context these two words refer to the same thing – an expression of support related from the agent to the customer, that goes beyond the words in the script or the service provided. Is this being emphasized enough at your business?
That’s the ultimate goal, so it’s not surprising that many would choose satisfaction. Different contact centers may try to achieve consistent customer satisfaction in different ways, but it should be the inspiration for every change in personnel, approach and technology.
Contact centers devote a great deal of time and energy to writing a script, but it’s what happens when the agent isn’t speaking that is even more important. Customers don’t want to be read the company policy; they want someone who hears their issue and responds accordingly.
This was an interesting choice. Average handle time is an important call center metric, but customers don’t care about that. Sometimes a few extra minutes are necessary to work through a customer’s issue, and to make certain they are happy with the result. It’s worth the extra time.
Caring seems closely tied to the #1 result. But it goes one step further. It’s not just that the agent is sorry the customer is having an issue and can identify with the frustration it caused – it’s making sure the customer is happy with the resolution, and then asking if there is anything else that the company can do at that time. It’s expressing appreciation for the business, and not just because that line is in the script.
If you agents have these five qualities, your contact center is poised for greatness. Learn More
Change is never easy. Perhaps that is why many contact centers are still reluctant to make a switch from their software-based technology to the cloud. Even the prospect of no longer dealing with maintenance, storage or utility costs is not enough to offset concerns about whether a hosted contact center solution really delivers on everything it promises.
Here are some of the most common reasons why businesses hesitate, and how we address them with our clients – most of whom ultimately make the cloud transition, and now couldn’t be happier. 1. I’ll lose too much business during the transition!
Actually, you won’t. The cloud solution will be customized, prepared and tested before it is live, and can run parallel with your hardware solution during the actual conversion, so it can continue to function if an issue arises. Typically, however, the switch to cloud is quick and easy.
2. Is it really better?
Absolutely. It is more flexible, it is more scalable, there are no upfront costs, you pay only for what you need, you’ll receive software upgrades automatically as soon as they come available (without receiving a bill every time that happens) which makes it easier to work with home-based agents and other telecommuting personnel. These are just some of the benefits you’ll enjoy from day one.
3. I’m worried about turning over control of my data to a cloud
Maybe they should have found a better word when the technology was introduced, so it doesn’t seem like your data is traveling somewhere so distant. But the reality is you are still in control, just as you were when the hardware was sitting in your contact center. You can make changes as you need them, and with Monet you’ll also have the expertise of our dedicated support team to answer any questions.
4. It costs too much
Not at all. Hosted solutions cost 1/3 less than hardware solutions (and that is a conservative estimate on total savings). In fact, cost is one of the primary reasons why companies make the switch.
5. The cloud is unreliable
Once again, the opposite is true. Cloud solutions are actually more reliable than hardware-based technology because of their built-in fail-safes and redundancies. When all of your equipment is in one place and something goes wrong, you are out of luck. With the decentralized nature of the cloud, even a power outage won’t shut you down.
According to a study sponsored in part by Oxford Economics, 69% of businesses surveyed expect to invest in the cloud either moderately or heavily over the next three years, migrating their core business functions as a result.
These findings are consistent with a Forbes magazine piece published in June of 2015, suggesting that 55% of enterprise predict cloud computing will enable new business models in three years.
Why are these transitions taking place, particularly at contact centers that seek the benefits of a comprehensive workforce optimization solution?
With the cloud, a call center can be up and running with new WFO software in just days. Traditional WFO can take weeks, and sometimes months, to install.
No upfront investment for hardware and software is required for WFO in the cloud. Instead, contact centers pay a monthly subscription fee that, in many cases, will also cover training, support, maintenance and upgrades. Operating costs are lower as well, as there is no need for backups or hardware replacement.
The cloud gives contact centers room to grow, and upgrade the functionality they need when they need it. With a server on-premises, a contact center is limited by what that server can handle. Many call centers also report better ease of use with a software as a service (SaaS) solution.
All upgrades are automatically delivered free with WFO in the cloud. Upgrades to traditional hardware and software are an important revenue source for their respective manufacturers, so they won’t be going away.
There is always some risk when a call center invests in new technology. But with a cloud system it is easier to cancel a service that is not satisfactory. This is not always the case with a substantial upfront hardware/software investment.
What qualities do you find in a successful contact center manager? If success is judged by how well agents perform at a call center under the manager’s leadership, then it’s important to identify the most effective ways to motivate and lead a team of individuals with different priorities and personalities.
Here are four tips that will generate positive results. 1. Join the Team
There is an unavoidable separation between labor and management. But when managers conduct themselves as part of a team whenever possible, it often inspires better agent performance.
2. Lead by Example
“Do what I say, not what I do” is a recipe for a hostile work environment. The best managers follow the same rules as their employees, leading by example and demonstrating confidence in the policies that have been put in place.
3. Recognize Achievement
While the team concept is important, recognizing individual accomplishments is also imperative, and can have a positive effect not only on the person being recognized but his or her coworkers as well. Knowing that hard work is appreciated is one of the best morale-boosters that a manager can provide.
Agents are on the front lines of customer service, and they will have ideas on how methods or scripts can be altered to better serve customers. Listen to those ideas and reward those that are implemented. The more an agent feels like he or she is part of the company, the more likely they are to stick around.
Quality Assurance (QA) provides the bridge between call monitoring and
quality monitoring. It introduces a critical grading component into the call monitoring process, so captured calls can be measured against call center guidelines and procedures. Indeed, the process of quality monitoring begins with the creation of a quality assurance scorecard used to measure agent demeanor and performance as related to KPIs. It’s an easy term to define, but a more difficult one to put into practice. Unfortunately, too many contact centers view quality assurance like it was one of those rotisserie ovens that used to be advertised on late-night informercials, where the pitchman says all you have to do is “set it, and forget it.” That won’t work here – QA is a program that requires frequent monitoring and adjustment. It’s also a company-wide process where agents, coaches, customer input and technology must be coordinated to achieve optimal results. If your contact center is not getting the most from its Quality Assurance efforts, here are some fine-tuning tips that may help identify and resolve any issues. The Role of Agents
If your agents have not bought into the goals of the QA program, its chance of success has already been compromised. It is vital for managers to create the perception that QA is a program that requires their participation, and not a program created just to catch them making mistakes. This is often a problem with new agents, or when QA evaluation is first considered.
The more managers can solicit agent input, the more they will feel like part of a process, rather than being singled out as the cause of service issues. Toward that end, keep the lines of communication open on the call selection process, and ask for agents’ help in writing the best questions to rate each call. It’s also helpful to encourage self-evaluation of each agent’s recorded calls. Another approach that works, especially with millennials, is to present aspects of the QA program as a game or company-wide contest. Offer prizes to agents for flagging their best calls, worst calls, funniest calls, and most unusual customer engagements. Not only will this make agents more attentive to QA during their shifts, it often collects the calls that will be most helpful in training current and future agents. One more tip – give agents the opportunity to view QA from the reviewer’s perspective. For agents accustomed to the receiving end of QA evaluation, this provides a chance to review the performances of their peers, and perhaps learn something in the process. Those that are most perceptive should be considered candidates for your permanent QA team. The Role of Customers
Customers provide the raw data used in Quality Assurance measurement. It’s essential to know what they’re telling you, in some cases what they are not telling you, and to make sure that customer survey scores are correlated with QA scores. If they are not, it’s possible you are not measuring what is most important to your customers.
When you are setting up your call selection criteria and creating QA forms, focus on the most significant type of customer feedback for this exercise, which is the content of their conversation with agents. The contact center can do little about other types of customer complaints (such as faulty products or confusing advertising) outside of noting patterns and passing that data on to other departments. For quality assurance purposes, only the conversation between the agent and the customer should be analyzed. The Role of Coaching
Many contact centers schedule one coaching session per agent per month – then fall behind and wind up rushing through the last few on the 30th and 31st. Set up a reasonable schedule of weekly sessions that covers the full agent roster, and provides consistent feedback. This also makes it easier for proper advance planning prior to each session, which should include granting agents advance access to their QA evaluation and recorded calls. That gives them time to review the data and provide feedback, which results in a more productive session.
Some other helpful coaching tips:
Follow-up with under-performing agents to confirm that recommendations from the last evaluation is being implemented
Recruit consistently high-scoring agents to conduct peer-to-peer coaching
Provide regular “job well done” feedback between evaluations to celebrate successful calls that stand out Finally, and this should be obvious, coach agents that really need the coaching more frequently than those who deliver consistently. The Tools of the Trade – and How to Use Them
Start with the QA form: confirm that the qualities that constitute a successful call are clear and well defined. Provide definitions and examples so there is no uncertainty. Make sure each part of the form is linked to a specific business goal or objective. Also keep in mind that there is something to be said for brevity – a form with 50 questions is not using anyone’s time efficiently. Like the express lane at the supermarket, keep it to 15 items or less.
Evaluating a random selection of calls will deliver valuable results, but the more you can target specific types of calls for review (by tagging them), the more insight you will gain into how these calls are being handled. From a technology standpoint, analytics can increase the effectiveness of any Quality Assurance program. Speech analytics and desktop analytics can reveal problems that may otherwise go unnoticed, identify trends, and uncover solutions to better serve high value customers and high value accounts. Should every call be monitored with speech analytics? Why not? As long as every call consists of the same components – greeting, closing, information verification, upsell opportunity, etc., it provides a way to analyze customer responses for a variety of factors, and further analyze agent performance on product knowledge, empathy and adherence to script. Conclusion
For call centers, a
Workforce Optimization solution that incorporates Quality Assurance, speech analytics and desktop analytics can play a significant role in boosting customer satisfaction and productivity, while reducing costs. But as the old song says, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Make sure your QA program and its personnel are striving toward the same goals.
Contact centers must contend with the challenges of creating a positive business environment, motivating and retaining outstanding agents, and developing a service-based culture that makes both agents and customers happy.
The ecommerce shoe retailer Zappos is often cited as a model for similar businesses to follow. They pay their agents a competitive wage, but it’s not just about salary – it’s about employee engagement, and building a management model that values communication, team-building, and motivation that also doesn’t forget to have fun. For traditional contact centers this would be a major adjustment. However, since a 2012 report called “Millennials in the Workplace” found that success is not tied to money among this generation, but to being “happy with work,” it is something worth considering. The Zappos mission is to “provide fun and engaging opportunities for employees that speak to their individual passions.” And it doesn’t take a genius in human resources to understand that when workers are engaged productivity increases, attrition is reduced, and job openings attract a higher caliber of candidate. But this doesn’t mean you need to turn your workspace into a playground or video arcade. At its heart, the Zappos approach simply means making sure agents feel valued every day, not just during training sessions and annual reviews. The responsibility for this will fall on managers, who will need to make certain agents buy into the company’s values. When that mindset has taken hold, the manager should then feel confident enough to allow agents to utilize their talents on behalf of the contact center’s customers. This approach should also extend to holidays and peak periods when temporary agents may be added to handle to increased workload. By making these workers feel valued and appreciated as well, you’ll not only boost the chance of customers receiving quality service, you’ll acquire a list of agents-in-waiting who can step in when others leave.
A poll in 2014 found that more than 20% of businesses did not measure any
contact center metrics. That approach is the equivalent of trying to build a bookcase without a set of assembly instructions. At the other end of this spectrum, a workforce optimization solution delivers a wealth of data covering nearly every aspect of customer engagement. All of these metrics are important and can contribute to a more efficient business. But managers should never lose sight of the fact that the ultimate goal of information gathering is to improve customer satisfaction. This should have an impact on how managers approach the data they have gathered. Advances in technology and the opening of other communication channels have only increased expectations among customers for faster responses and attentive service. Without proper focus on quality monitoring, it’s possible to improve the efficiency of a contact center without achieving the same improvement in customer service. The most important metrics are those that link directly to making your customers happier. That starts with customer service scores gathered through surveys and other means, followed by stats on service level and first-call resolution rate. Another figure that is trending upward is return on investment at the contact center. At first this seems out of place, but a spokesperson for the company behind the poll found that these four metrics are more closely related than one might think. “Customer satisfaction and loyalty is directly tied to ease of service,” the survey says. “First-call resolution has the greatest effect on people’s willingness to return to a company and recommend it to others. This is good news for merchants because the solution that improves loyalty also reduces costs.” With workforce optimization in the cloud, ROI is achieved much faster than through a traditional solution. And with Monet Software, WFO delivers the data that makes quality monitoring easier and improves your most important metric –
Every week, new contact center managers and agents discover this blog for the first time. We think that’s a good reason to occasionally go back to the basics, and explore the ways in which a quality workforce management solution (like
Monet WFM Live) should be utilized. This is technology that can really make a difference in how you serve your customers.
Follow these guidelines to make the most of a WFM solution:
Given the attrition rates at contact centers, require ongoing WFM training to avoid knowledge erosion
Refine your data gathering processes regularly to make sure the numbers are accurate
Monitor shrinkage and balance it correctly into forecasts
Set realistic adherence targets, and apply real-time calculations to achieving them
Make sure intra-day forecasting is consistent
Let the system manage holiday and shift swaps, so managers can focus on other tasks
Daily forecasts will usually be top priority, but do not ignore midrange and long-term calculations that can be important to future planning.
Invite agents to input schedule and vacation requests directly into the system
While Workforce Management can make a difference simply through the data it delivers and processes it expedites, it’s a tool that will ultimately be successful depending on the environment in which it is used.
Thus, managers are also urged to always treat agents fairly. For example, do not give preferential treatment on first choice of shifts, unless this perk is offered as a bonus for outstanding performance. Make sure contact center policies on this and other rules are clearly communicated so agents know what to expect.
When you know what to look for, when you have the information you need, when you need it, and when you can act upon it quickly, that’s workforce management made easy.
Among the many interesting experiences we had at Call Center Week was discussing the topics that were foremost on the minds of attendees. During the course of the week we spoke with hundreds of contact center professionals, and these were the subjects that seemed to pop up most frequently.
As one of the keys to improving the customer experience is improving the agent experience, there was much talk about how to support agents in the difficult job they have to do. The most oft-proposed solution was giving them the technology they need to prosper.
Multi-Channel Customer Service
The Internet has acclimated customers to getting the information they want when they want it, whether that’s a Sunday afternoon or at 2 in the morning. They also prefer other options besides picking up the phone (though that one remains the most popular and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future). Companies that do not yet provide multi-channel (and mobile friendly) support are falling behind the curve.
The Customization of Cloud-Based Technologies
So if agent experience and multi-channel support are important, what is the best way to meet these challenges? Much of the talk at Call Center Week focused on how the industry is migrating toward cloud-based technologies, and how they provide more customization and more scalability at a lower cost than traditional solutions. Contact centers are recognizing that one-size-fits-all products are often insufficient, especially in an era when it’s easy to find technology to match their specific needs.
As a pioneer of cloud-based contact center technology, Monet was busy all week answering questions and providing demos of our products. If your call center is considering stepping up to the cloud, we look forward to showing you the time-saving, cost-saving differences that these solutions can make in your business.
Three years ago, the CEO of a company that manufactures customer self-serve solutions predicted (perhaps rather self-servingly) that the call center’s days were numbered. He believed the smartphone would become the contact center of the future, and expected this major shift in communication to take place by the end of 2012. Yet here we are in 2015, and contact centers are not only still here, they are expanding. Here are two reasons why they won’t be replaced by smartphone service apps anytime soon. 1. Everyone Has a Phone
While other communication channels are now available, they have not diminished the convenience of the telephone. Service apps for smartphones are already in use (and at some companies in development) but not everyone has them yet and there’s a good bet that many of your older customers will never see a need to change. If customers want to speak to someone at your company, the first option is still dialing a phone number.
2. As Phones Get Smarter, So Do Contact Centers
The CEO’s assertion that a smartphone would supplant call centers did not account for the ways in which call centers evolved into contact centers. It also didn’t factor in the lower costs and technological advancement at these contact centers made possible by the cloud. The lower cost inherent in the cloud delivery system has made these businesses more efficient. Sophisticated forecasting and scheduling solutions such as
Monet WFM Live boosts productivity and assures businesses of having the number of agents they need to meet customer demand – not too many, not too few. Speech analytics delivers valuable insights into each customer that could not be gathered through many apps. It’s great that customers have more choices today. But when one is faced with a problem – say, a blu-ray player that won’t work – a phone call still sounds easier than finding, downloading and installing the manufacturer’s app, and then following an on-screen troubleshooting guide.
Even when we reach the day where everyone has a smartphone, most consumers will still prefer using that phone to call customer support. Learn More
If your contact center is located in an area where the next nearest contact center is 50 miles or more away, consider yourself lucky. Chances are you are getting first pick at the local workforce and can be more selective about which candidates to hire to serve your customers.
However, if your call center is In Tampa, Florida, Phoenix, Arizona, Greensboro, North Carolina, Las Vegas, Nevada or one of the other cities where the saturation rate for this type of business is high, the search for qualified labor can be more daunting. Here, the agent is picking you as much as you are selecting the agent, and you may find yourself in a constant competition to recruit and retain the best candidates. Each high-saturation market presents its own unique challenges. Las Vegas, for instance, still has a particularly large transient population. For contact centers, that might raise a red flag on candidates that have only lived in the city for less than one year. It can be frustrating to devote the time and effort necessary to develop and train a new agent, only to have that agent move out of state a few months later. However, regardless of the market there are a few initiatives that can be taken to improve the likelihood of attracting talented agents in competitive environments. A Desirable Place to Work
While specific policies and procedures may vary, the basic function of a contact center agent will be much the same wherever that agent works. So anything that can be done to improve the workplace look, its hospitality and its overall “vibe” might become a deciding factor in where that agent chooses to work.
For some businesses this could be as simple as a bright, welcoming atmosphere. Or it may be the offering of extra conveniences and perks, such as a child-friendly or pet-friendly workplace. Salary/Benefits
This is obvious. A competitive wage package is essential in cities where similar opportunities are plentiful.
Word of Mouth
Sometimes the best recruitment tools a contact center has are the agents that already work there. Make them a part of your recruitment process.
Veteran agents in particular will appreciate being able to ask the types of questions that only another agent can answer. They’ll want to know whether agent input is valued, or if an assembly line attitude pervades. Has a script or policy ever changed because of an agent’s suggestion? Are outstanding performances rewarded? Does the occasional mishandled call prompt an angry outburst, or a coaching moment? Opportunity for Advancement
Some people seek a job. Others seek a career. Those that fall in the latter category are typically more serious about their work and are looking for a business that provides an opportunity for growth and advancement. Is it possible at your contact center for an agent to progress from agent to coach to operations manager to site director? This comprises not just the possibility of such advancement, but also the creation of training programs and initiatives that encourage such transitions.
Since contact centers are among the workplaces that now allow employees to work from home, it may not even be necessary to recruit exclusively from the local community.
Call recording and workforce management (WFM) software provides agents with the same technological capabilities they would have at an office. This is particularly true when hosted call recording and WFM are accessed through cloud computing. But is it a good idea to allow agents to work remotely? Often, the comforts of home can make an agent more content in his or her work, and more motivated to maintain their employment by working hard and meeting the company’s needs. And depending on the home environment, there may be fewer distractions there than there would be at a busy contact center. Agents who work from home avoid the two-way commute every day, which saves money on gas. Parents can also save on daycare for their children and the need to maintain a ‘professional’ wardrobe for the office. The arrangement is more economical for the company as well, as it does not have to provide a workstation on its premises. In addition, an agent may feel more confident in knowing that he or she is trusted enough to work from home without a manager looking over their shoulder throughout the day. That said, not every agent will prosper in a telecommuting position. It takes self-motivation to work from home, and employees who lack this discipline may be distracted in a home environment, and their job performance will suffer. Agents may also miss out on the motivation that comes from the fervent pace in a competitive contact center, where agents and teams strive for more first call resolutions and shorter call times in friendly competition. While it’s certainly possible to compare notes via email, it’s not the same as when agents are working side by side. Work-from-home agents also miss out on some of the camaraderie and support they receive from fellow employees and managers. Conclusion
Any city that is home to a significant number of contact centers may be challenged by employee attrition rates and an escalation of wages – another $1 an hour somewhere else is reason enough for some agents to move on. But there are measures that can be taken to reduce attrition while attracting the agents with the greatest potential for future success.
Improving schedule adherence is an ongoing concern at every size and type of contact center. Productivity suffers whenever adherence slips, and that can result in lost revenue and lost customers. Sound management and an automated workforce management solution are important tools in this effort – but sometimes it takes a bit more to make sure contact center agents are following their assigned schedules.
Here are 5 steps that can be taken to keep your schedule adherence efforts on track. 1. Awareness
Stress the importance of schedule adherence throughout the hiring and training process, so every agent knows from day one that attendance goals are to be taken seriously.
2. Don’t Just Tell – Show
If agents see managers and other personnel coming in late or leaving early, it sends the wrong message. Supervisors, team leaders and trainers should be positive role models of schedule adherence.
3. Accurate Recording
Whether you use a biometric timekeeping system or a WFM solution that automatically tracks adherence, make sure there is an accurate, reliable system in place to record relevant data. Manual systems are prone to error and distortion.
4. Include Adherence in Agent Evaluation
Adherence should be a central component of every employee review and (if needed) coaching session. Agents with a habit of exceeding break times or starting shifts late must either be retrained or released.
5. Reward Top Performers
Just as agents that fall short of adherence goals should be reprimanded, those that provide consistent, outstanding service should be acknowledged and rewarded with bonuses, first choice of upcoming shifts, or through some other means. This will not just keep those agents at your business longer, it will also inspire the rest of your team to strive for the same goal.
There is a temptation to assume that a customer connecting with a contact center from a smartphone is the same as the customer calling from a landline in their living room. But that perspective may not be around much longer.
“Mobile customer care” is becoming a hot-button issue in the contact center industry, and there is an opportunity here to serve these customers better that many businesses have still not embraced. Given the capabilities of smartphones, mobile interaction now means a lot more than voice communication. It incorporates completing transactions online, posting and responding via social media, and then speaking to an agent before or after these other tasks have been completed. Many companies now provide mobile apps, which include basic contact center services. But such apps are capable of so much more, and customers will welcome the chance to access additional features. The majority of calls of any kind today are made through cell phones – contact centers need to recognize that and respond accordingly. Would your customers appreciate being able to access your company’s website, begin the order process, and then transition to a mobile voice channel with their account information transferring with them? It’s certainly better than making that switch, having to repeat the information to the agent, and then going back and having to start the order process over again because nothing was saved.
Some resignations are easier to accept than others. When it’s the agent who always takes the last donut just before you can get to the refrigerator, you can live with that. When it’s one of your top-performing veteran agents, it’s a much bigger cause for concern. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems like the under-performers are always there, while the superstars are always looking for a way out. If you’re faced with that type of situation, here are two reasons for why it may be happening, and how you may be able to keep your most valued employees. 1. Good Agents Have Other Options
The agent that can turn angry callers into satisfied ones and upsell a $10 order into a $50 purchase can get a job at almost any contact center – including those that pay more than you do. If you want to keep them, make sure they know their achievements have been noticed, and reward them accordingly. Better still, put them on a management track if they have the qualifications, and give them more responsibilities (with commensurate compensation). You can start by having them train new agents on the techniques that have made them successful.
Talking to different customers with different problems for hours on end is a tough job. You can’t change the callers, but you can perhaps change the contact center environment to one that is more supportive, where you build stronger relationships between managers and agents, and do what is necessary to keep agents happy in an often challenging occupation. Listen to them, even if they just need to vent for five minutes.
An added benefit to these measures is how it tends to attract even more quality agents, who will take note of the positive workplace vibe from their first visit, and perhaps even hear from your current agents about your center being a great place to work. But if it isn’t, they’ll probably hear that, too.
We can’t speak for all of the 2,500 attendees at Call Center Week, but the Monet team had a terrific time.
Throughout the five-day event, the Monet Software booth was among the busiest on the Mirage Resort convention floor. Yes, the popcorn we were serving was an effective enticement, but even those who weren’t in the mood for a snack stuck around to chat about the challenges at their contact centers, and to get acquainted with the workforce management, workforce optimization, quality monitoring and speech analytics solutions available from Monet Software. We spoke to reps from about 100 companies and provided a number of demos – if you were one of those we met, we thank you again for your interest, and have likely already followed up to find out more about your business and technology needs. Temperatures in Vegas topped 105º most of the week, but inside the Call Center Week attendees kept cool by checking out a wide range of seminars, speeches and products on display. We had an amazing time. It was a great conference and we really enjoyed meeting so many contact center professionals – both current customers who told us how Monet has helped their businesses, and new customers as well. We are already looking forward to next year.
Ah, the 1980s. Rubik’s Cubes and Cabbage Patch Kids and Duran Duran. Good times for those of us old enough to remember. And at the call center, we had the technology we needed to deliver great customer service.
The problem? Some call centers are still using a lot of the same technology. An IVR system with 5 (or 8, or 10) options (including the ever-popular “press 7 to repeat this menu”) was cutting-edge back when Dynasty was on television. Ever go through all the options, and select the one that best fits the purpose of your call, only to then hear the message: “Our offices are now closed. Business hours are 9am to 4pm Tuesday through Friday…” That won’t do anymore. People are busier now. They are used to faster (if not instant) communication, and the call to the contact center is just one more task in a multi-tasking day. The “Your call is important to us…please stay on the line and an operator will be with you shortly” message might sound polite, but to the caller it’s just more wasted time. Another 1980s holdover is separate IVR and agent systems, at a time when such systems are easily integrated. The caller enters their account number when prompted by the IVR, and then they are connected to an agent who asks for the same number again. Not fun. If your contact center is stuck in the ‘80s, it’s time to think about a 21st century technology makeover. Not sure where to start? Review recorded calls (or add a call recording system) and analyze the feedback from your customers. How many of them are frustrated by the time they speak to an agent? How many of them voice their displeasure over the time spent reviewing options and pressing buttons as prompted by the IVR? How many of these engagements could be handled more efficiently through email or web-chat or other channels? Does your call center need to change with the times?
Perhaps the most challenging occupational hazard of contact center work is dealing with angry customers.
It’s never pleasant, even with the training that agents receive on how to handle heated situations. But such calls are not only inevitable; they can also be valuable in the feedback they provide. Call recording and quality management are the tools available to discover something positive in a hostile customer engagement. There are opportunities here to salvage a strained customer relationship, and to avoid problems in the future. Anger vs. Abuse
This is not to suggest that every angry call is valuable. One of the agent’s first tasks is to assess a customer’s comments to determine whether any insight can be gained from their harsh words, or if someone just needed somebody to yell at.
Is it ever acceptable to hang up on a customer call? Believe it or not, the answer is yes. While the first goal of a contact center agent is to respond courteously to all customer questions and complaints, there will be instances where there is simply no possibility of a successful resolution. The challenge is separating angry calls, which may be turned around by a sympathetic agent, from abusive calls, in which an agent may have no choice but to terminate the conversation. Angry Calls
Most angry calls are the result of a previous product or service experience that went awry. The caller is angry with the company and is ready to vent that anger on the first company representative they reach. There should be best practices in place at the call center for dealing with such situations, which typically include a clear and direct apology for the customer’s inconvenience, and a steady, calm delivery that may diffuse the raised emotions on the other side of the call.
The main dividing line between anger and abuse is the nature of the verbal attack. An abusive caller will personally attack the agent, through derogatory comments and profanity. The challenge for the agent is to remain calm and try to reduce the caller’s hostility level. A reminder that the call is being recorded may change their attitude, but if it doesn’t it should be permissible for the agent to tell the abusive caller that their call will be terminated if he or she does not calm down. The agent should then inform the manager of what has happened.
Analyzing Negative Encounters with Call Recording
Recorded examples of angry and abusive calls can be valuable tools in training. Coach agents on the difference between the two, and review how the agents on those calls handled the situation. Exposure to “the dark side” of the contact center agent job can only help agents with they face similar situations.
After a few weeks on the job, an agent will recognize recurring patterns among angry calls. Some of the classifications may even be part of the training process.
There are customers that complain in the most mild and polite way imaginable, as if they are reluctant to inconvenience the agent with their problems. While these calls are less stressful, they can take longer because callers are so hesitant to describe the details of their complaints. At the other end of the spectrum are those who sound angry from the first moment of the call and never relent. If these calls don’t cross the line into being abusive, most can be handled with patience and calm. While the majority of complaint calls are one-time occurrences, most agents will eventually become acquainted with a few regulars that always seem to have a new issue every week. Some may just be lonely and want someone to talk to; others hope their persistent displeasure will eventually result in some type of compensation. Is it tempting to give in so they’ll go away? Sure – but then they’ll try it again and tell their friends how they pulled a 50% discount with their bad attitude. Yes, you must respect the caller and his or her opinions – while also respecting the procedures of the contact center and the company’s policy. Be respectful, be empathetic to the situation and do what you can to make them happy – but don’t try to save a relationship by any means necessary – ultimately it will backfire. Here are a few additional tips and guidelines for those times when the contact center seems more like the complaint department. The CARP Method
CARP is an acronym for “Control, Acknowledge, Refocus, Problem Solve.” It was created by Robert Bacal, who wrote a book with a title that should appeal to every contact center agent – If It Wasn’t for the Customers I’d Really Like this Job. His advice for handling complaints – “Control” the situation with polite but firm responses; “Acknowledge concerns in a way that takes them seriously; “Refocus” the conversation to solving the problem rather than complaining about its existence, then “Problem Solve” and wrap it up.
To Transfer, or Not to Transfer?
Imagine being an angry caller who finally reaches an agent. You describe the issue you’re having in detail, only to be told to please hold, and then you’re transferred to someone else and forced to repeat everything you just said.
There is no way this comes off as anything but frustrating – but sometimes it’s the only means to get the problem solved. Only transfer when no other option is available – but when you do, try to put the best possible face on your actions. “One moment, please…*click*” is not as helpful as “Let me put you in contact with our specialist who can take care of that for you.” Verify Satisfaction
Ending a conversation on a grace note of courtesy will always be appreciated. When the situation has been resolved, it’s worth the extra few seconds added to average handle time to ask, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
If Failure is Inevitable, Don’t Drag it Out
If a customer wants a full refund or to cancel an account, agents are trained to take appropriate steps to keep that customer. But as we observed in a recent
blog*, sometimes the best option is to accept that some relationships are not going to be saved. Learn what you can from the situation, and then let it go.
Star Trek fans are familiar with the phrase “open all hailing frequencies.” On the show, that means making sure all communication channels are open and being monitored, so no messages are missed.
For decades, call centers only had to worry about one communication channel. Every customer used the telephone to ask questions or place an order or to yell about something that wasn’t working. And call recording has been around since the 1980s to save, review and analyze these customer encounters, with the goal of improving service and efficiency. But today, quality monitoring must also consider forms of digital communication – emails, social media, web chat – while keeping pace with breakthroughs in call monitoring solutions such as speech analytics. Why do so many customers opt for online communication over the telephone that is likely always in their hand or in their pocket? Most perceive it to be faster, and with agent responses in writing the customer now has a record of what was said, and any assurances given about prices, delivery time or refunds. Contact centers need to monitor these channels as well, preferably via a single platform. The evolution of online communication has, if anything, only amplified the need for quality monitoring so that customers are receiving optimal service, agents that provide outstanding service can be recognized and rewarded, and contact centers are able to eliminate unnecessary processes and improve best practices.
Are all of the hailing frequencies open – and being monitored – at your contact center? Learn More
How efficiently does information flow through your contact center? If you have Monet WFM, the answer should be a positive one. But if your technology is not serving your agents, or if your agents are not as up to speed as the software systems they use, the results will be detrimental to customer service. Every time a procedural change is made, or a product is added, or a new promotion is taking place, it adds a document to the system that agents must be able to retrieve quickly. Eventually the locations of this data will be committed to memory, but in the meantime customers are either forced to wait or (even worse) are put on hold. If the number of additions continues to increase, even the best agents may find they are buried under reams of virtual paperwork found on various help systems and related sites. That cuts into average handle time and results in impatient customers. What is the solution? A review of the various touch points of information flow may reveal opportunities to expedite retrieval and eliminate frustrating logjams. There may be a more logical way to organize information so it can be found more rapidly.
Any possibility of shaving a few seconds off a single call is one that cannot be overlooked. Learn More
Can changing a word or two in the script your agents use, or in the IVR, have a significant impact on contact center performance? Sometimes, the little things can indeed make a big difference. If you have not reviewed your script or IVR in a while, take the opportunity to do so with these three tips in mind. 1. Be Informal
Formal business language sounds scripted and impersonal. Try a more conversational tone within shorter sentences that get to the point. The faster callers know what to do, especially with an IVR, the faster they can conclude their business and you can boost average handle time.
2. Choose Words Carefully
Many customers, faced with the prospect of corresponding with an IVR, will simply wait until the ‘speak to an agent’ option is presented. But by using more effective words and offering more specific options, some of these call transfers can be avoided. However, you have to give the script a chance to work. If the caller hears “talk” or “speak” too early in the engagement, he or she is more likely to wait out the system rather than try to get results before that.
3. Website Promotion
Many questions that prompt customer calls can be answered instead with a visit to the company’s website. If your script or IVR tries to encourage this transition, don’t just provide the URL – offer a reason for customers to try it. Words like ‘fast’ and ‘convenient’ and ‘instant’ can sway people toward trying an online channel. Emphasize the benefit, not just the option.
If you can’t remember, this might be a good time to take a fresh look at that script, and decide if changes would result in a better customer service experience.
When you do so, request the help of several of your best agents in the process. These are the men and women who will be working from that script, so they should be comfortable with its content, and able to advise from past experience on which questions and responses will be most effective in different customer scenarios. For example, too many scripts use sentences that like this: “On behalf of ABC industries I want to let you know that we appreciate your business, and that we will continue to work toward earning your trust.” Customers today have heard well-worn content like this countless times, and are well aware it is not coming from the agent but from a script the agent is reading. The sentiment is important, but it could be expressed in a less fabricated way. Agents – some of whom may have already taken to doing so – can suggest ways to make the customer feel valued that will sound more natural. These are the men and women on the front line of your customer service and loyalty efforts – they hear the reactions from customers every day (as you should as well through your quality assurance program). Speech analytics offers another way to gauge customer reaction to certain scripted lines and responses. The ultimate goal is to create a script that is more of an outline than a word-for-word speech.
Some content must be expressed in a specific way to be consistent with industry regulations. It’s also likely that the answers to some basic questions will always be the same. But if every part of the call is scripted, the result is a robotic conversation that leaves the customer feeling more like a number than a person. When managers and agents work together on scripting, the result can be copy that encourages quick and efficient calls, while allowing agents to go off-script when there is a need. Learn More
Speech analytics has not yet become standard equipment at contact centers, but with success stories like this one, it’s only a matter of time.
In Las Vegas, Nevada, the Las Vegas Valley Water District added speech analytics and it proved particularly beneficial at delivering 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. That reduced the number of trips by service technicians to shut the water off, as well as return visits to turn it back on. In one year the savings in cost avoidance reached $3.6 million. This is just one example of the ROI that can be achieved through a more precise identification of customer insights, made possible with speech analytics. Because the overwhelming majority of customer interactions through contact centers are unstructured, more companies are discovering the value in leveraging speech analytics to structure conversations and uncover customer preferences and needs. But right now such solutions used in less than 25% of all organizations. This market is projected to expand significantly in years to come. Sometimes, the voice of the customer is saying something without actually saying something. Speech analytics makes it possible for contact centers to place conversations in context and understand the meaning behind them. 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.
“The extensive reporting capabilities, graphs and charts presented senior managers with the tools they needed to make staffing decisions. We are satisfied with Monet Software and feel that the application has met our requirements.” Oscar Gutierrez, Contact Center Analyst, Bayview Loan Servicing
Bayview Loan Servicing, an investment management firm focused on all areas of mortgage credit, including mortgage servicing rights were scheduled manually using spreadsheets.
Comcast Corp. recently announced plans to hire 10,000 military veterans, reservists and spouses over the next three years. Since 2012, the company has hired more than 4,200 veterans. Many of them now work at Comcast’s contact centers. This is not only an admirable effort, especially with Memorial Day having recently passed, it is also a proven method for finding better agents that are more likely to provide excellent service, and to stay in their positions longer. Compare the attributes managers look for in a contact center agent to the attributes veterans obtain during their military service, and it becomes obvious why this transition is one that works: Accelerated learning curve: veterans can quickly learn new skills and concepts Teamwork: the military encourages both individual and group productivity Grace under pressure: if veterans can handle stressful combat situations, they can certainly cope with the rigors of tight schedules and angry callers Following orders: Military men and women are used to accurately following procedures Integrity: Veterans are familiar with the concept of an honest day’s work, and will bring their ‘A’ game to their job every day. There are many qualities that are desirable in a contact center agent, and most of them have already been acquired by men and women who have served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Something to keep in mind next time your contact center is hiring.
Reducing Payroll Losses from Time Reports with WFO The expression “time theft” is one that is likely familiar to every business owner with employees, including contact centers. It refers to situations where employees are paid for time they did not actually work. It’s the kind of phrase that makes managers angry because they feel as if employees are taking advantage, but it also makes employees angry because an accusation of stealing is never something to be taken lightly. But despite the discomfort it introduces into the workplace, time theft is an issue that must be confronted. While many contact center managers may not worry about an agent checking his or her Facebook page for a few minutes on company time, they will certainly not tolerate when one agent clocks in a fellow agent who never showed up at all. To be fair, that type of fraud is rare, but it does happen. It’s the more subtle forms of time theft – adding a few minutes to the beginning or end of a shift, counting a break time as work time, conducting personal activities while on the clock, that most impact productivity and business costs. It should also be acknowledged that many examples of time theft are inadvertent. Agents may honestly believe they worked the number of hours listed on their time sheets. Contact center work shifts can seem long and repetitive, and it is easier for mistakes to be made under these circumstances. But even without fraudulent intent, these situations can still be damaging. According to one estimate, time theft costs companies $400 billion annually in lost productivity. The Problem
According to studies by the American Payroll Association (APA), almost 75 percent of businesses in the U.S. are affected by time theft. These instances can take as much as 7 percent out of a company’s gross annual payroll. For a business with a $1 million payroll that adds up to $70,000 every year.
When employees were asked if they have ever exaggerated the number of hours worked on a shift, 43% admitted to doing so at least once. It is worth repeating here, however, that these cases often happen without malicious intent. A contact center agent may stay a few extra minutes, or arrive ten minutes early, and not be aware they are doing something wrong when those minutes are recorded on a digital time sheet. The APA also reports that the average employee “steals” anywhere from 50 minutes to 4.5 hours per week by showing up late, leaving early and taking extended breaks and lunches. At the high end, this equates to approximately six weeks of stolen time per employee per year—as the study observes, whether the discrepancies are intentional or not, that is a staggering figure. The Solution
Contact centers have advanced a number of solutions to combat time theft, with varying results. Paper forms and traditional time clocks can help but are also vulnerable to agents who record their hours inaccurately or have someone else check them in.
A biometric time clock, which uses an employee’s fingerprint to verify their identity before clocking them in, can be far more effective. It can also expensive to implement, and may strike some managers as overkill. A workforce optimization (WFO) solution may be the best option for making sure that there is no discrepancy between the hours declared and the hours truly worked. One of the primary benefits of WFO is increased productivity and service levels, and these are achieved in part by functionality that accurately records the number of hours worked. Monet Live, Workforce Optimization in the Cloud provides a means to optimize all aspects of the workforce, including scheduling and hours worked, in one solution. One way it achieves this by tracking agent adherence to planned schedules and determining agent work time accounts. In addition, Monet Screen Capture (included in WFO Live) provides full-motion video and audio capture, which shows what agents are doing at any given time during their shifts. Conclusion
The issue of time theft can be a difficult one to broach at a contact center. But if a business is losing too much money from agents inaccurately recording the hours they worked, it is an issue that must be discussed.
Since managers cannot be there to monitor every agent before, during and after a shift, an automated solution is the best way to combat the loss of productivity caused by time theft. With recurrent coaching and training and a workforce optimization solution, a contact center can mitigate this problem.