Workforce Management Hints, Tips & Best Practices
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.
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.
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.
Read More About Empowered Agents are Successful Agents
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
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.”
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.
Read More About Words, Actions and Acknowledgements: The Tools of the Trade for Contact Center Agents
Another football season is underway, and as always there will be teams that excel on their way to the playoffs, and teams that stumble and fumble their way to a high draft choice.
Can we say the same about contact centers? Certainly there are a few similarities worth exploring. If you don’t have a good team on the field, you are not going to achieve your goals. The best football coach can make a good team great, but he can’t make a bad team into a Super Bowl champion. In the contact center, the right coaches and managers can inspire their agents to always improve their game, but they probably won’t be able to transform an unmotivated employee into “Agent of the Year” material. This also means that having 47 out of 50 well-performing agents is not sufficient. Just as one bad player can fumble away a game, one bad agent can turn customers away and lower the center’s performance standard. When you are drafting new agents, be careful to avoid a bust. In football, sometimes top players walk away because they don’t like their contract. You can lose agents in the same way as well. A competitive salary with incentives and a positive working atmosphere can help you keep your star players. And while we’re saying coaches can’t be miracle workers on the gridiron or at the contact center, they do bear some responsibility for team performance. In the NFL, winning coaches take time to get to know each of their players, to ask about their families and what is important to them. They provide ongoing support and encouragement. They know which plays to call that work to a player’s skills. Hopefully, if you are a contact center manager, you are doing the same things. Finally, NFL teams invest in training facilities and equipment to give their players the tools they need to excel. Do your agents have the technology tools they need to deliver service to customers, and match call types with the agents best equipped to handle them? Can you provide service via web chat and email and social media with the same professionalism? In a sense, every call that comes into your contact center is a game in itself that can result in victory or defeat. Make sure you have the team and the technology in place for a winning season – this year and every year.
Read More About Run Your Contact Center like a Football Team
The 2015 ICMI Contact Center Demo and Conference (October 19-21) is just weeks away, and at Monet we are proud to be a sponsor of this popular annual event.
If you haven’t made plans to attend yet it is certainly not too late – we hope to see you at the Rio Las Vegas. Monet Software will be located at Booth #420. While we think it’s worth the trip to Vegas just to come and see us and hear about some exciting plans we have for the future at Monet, there are many other good reasons why this conference is an excellent investment. This year’s workshops include such critical topics as: • Conquering the Cross-Channel Customer Experience
Agent Optimization: Maximizing the Frontline’s Performance and Productivity
10 Essential Principles for Writing to Customers in a Multichannel World
Positioning Call Center Leaders for Success in a Sea of Change
Contact Center Technology 101: What Every Professional Needs to Know
Deriving Measurable ROI and Impact from your VOC Data and Tools
Secrets to Developing an Award-Winning Customer Service Team
From Common to Intelligent: Keys to “New” Self Service
At a time when so many aspects of the contact center industry are changing simultaneously, here is an opportunity to find out more about new technology, new customer engagement channels, and new ways to recruit and train agents. And maybe enjoy a great all-you-can-eat buffet and see a Cirque du Soleil at the same time.
Read More About Hope to See You at ICMI!
When the first cloud service providers emerged more than 10 years ago, there was some confusion as to what differentiated them from the hosted services that have been around since the early years of commercial computing.
As a pioneering provider of workforce management solutions through the cloud, Monet Software salespeople and other personnel were accustomed to answering questions on how the two solutions were different. However, with more contact centers and other types of businesses discovering the cost and convenience benefits that the cloud provides, it’s surprising that questions still persist about whether a hosted solution can be rebranded as a cloud solution, when nothing else changes besides the product description. Let’s put this issue to rest. Hosted services are technology services offered to you or your company by a provider that hosts the physical servers running that service somewhere else. Web hosting is the business of providing server space, web services and file maintenance for websites controlled by companies or individuals that do not have their own web servers. Cloud solutions are distinguished from hosted products by a distributed delivery model. This is a multi-tenant solution that provides guaranteed service levels and up times, full scalability, and easily allows for frequent updates. With client-server (hosted) Workforce Management, it’s the vendor that controls the product from a hosted facility, where such virtualization and scalability are simply not possible. If a vendor’s product does not provide continuous and instantaneous access to the latest product upgrades, it is not a true cloud solution. Product upgrades are free and automatic in the cloud – with a non-cloud solution, customer upgrades are handled by the vendor in a way that could delay implementation by months. To make certain you are getting a true cloud solution, ask the right questions: does it use multi-tenant architecture? Are upgrades automatic? Will all customizations and integrations work with future upgrades? Is your service level uptime 99.5% or higher?
At Monet Software, the answer to all of these questions is yes.
Read More About Hosted and Cloud WFM Solutions: What’s the Difference?
The Workforce Management market continues to evolve and transform, especially when it comes to the back office.
In 2014, back-office WFM solutions sales increased more than 16%. Why is this happening? More contact center executives have started to appreciate the need for more data and more control over their back office. It also helps that the solutions themselves have improved. Back-office tasks are often manual and complex, making it difficult to automate, manage and forecast workload. But with the WFM now available, contact centers can improve service levels. It’s possible to:
Improve forecast accuracy of manual back-office tasks and activities
Deliver more efficient resource planning and scheduling to consistently meet service levels and control costs
Increase employee productivity by monitoring adherence, backlog and other metrics in real-time, allowing for more immediate actions
Track and analyze key metrics to optimize service quality and back-office performance All of these capabilities can make a critical difference in back office operations, as long as companies select the right solution. If you are exploring the market, find a WFM product that will integrate easily into your current ACD or PBX system, and one that offers multi-channel efficiencies, clear and organized dashboards and intra-day visibility.
Read More About 2015: The Year of the Back Office Solution
You’ve probably read articles and blogs (including some here) about steps that can be taken to keep your agents happier. It’s a noble gesture that is also good for business, and can pay dividends in the quality of your customer service.
But can you actually keep your agents healthier as well? This can be a stressful business at times and there is no way to avoid the pressure generated by angry callers, strict scheduling requirements and job performance expectations. However, a contact center manager that is sensitive to these challenges can create a healthier work environment. Trainers and supervisors can play a key role. Beyond their normal function of reviewing job performance, coaching and review sessions also provide an opportunity to ask questions about physical and emotional health. How is the agent handling the pressure? How do agents feel like they are treated by the business and the boss? Do they feel valued for their good work? Recognition and reward can make an agent feel better – and perform better. Contact centers that enjoy the advantage of workforce management software can employ more flexibility in forecasting and scheduling. That makes it easier to accommodate special requests for taking shifts off or swapping shifts with another agent. Such allowances reduce the tendency in some contact centers to treat agents like children and not adult employees without outside interests and priorities. That lowers stress levels. Since a sick agent is one that won’t be showing up for work, contact centers can also offer free flu shots, or help agents monitor health conditions such as diabetes, arthritis or asthma, by fostering relationships with local clinics and other care providers. Some of these agents might be good candidates for working from home, which can also keep them healthier. Some extra investment may be necessary to take these steps, but if the result is healthier employees, fewer under-staffed shifts and lower attrition rates, it’s an investment worth considering.
Read More About Can You Keep your Agents Healthier?
Agents have good days and bad days just like the rest of us. But when the bad days become prevalent, action should be taken. An agent that has lost interest is one that may be costing you customers with every call. Recognize the warning signs of impending agent apathy – then decide if this is an employee that can be re-inspired, or should be let go. 1. Showing up Late
With a workforce management solution it’s easy to identify agents who start their shifts late, and add a few extra minutes to their lunch and other breaks. The more difficult assessment is identifying those agents who don’t maintain focus even when they are at their desks. Call recording will be useful here. Once the problem is known, it may call for more than just coaching – usually these agents know what to do, they just don’t care enough to do it. Is there an underlying issue, such as trouble at home? Having someone to talk to might be the first step to reinvigorating performance.
2. Excessive Sick Leave
This can be tricky, but when the days missed become excessive the situation must be confronted. A meeting here can be used to remind the agent of how valuable he or she is to the company, as well as how absenteeism has a negative impact on the business and on other agents.
3. Finding Reasons Not to Take Calls
There are more ways to avoid picking up the phone than you might imagine – and some agents know them all. “Oh, it’s the last call of the day and I’ve already put my stuff away”; “I’ve had an IT issue accessing our service department all day – might as well wait until that’s fixed in case this customer needs that information,” etc. Gently call out such behavior as you find it, or hold a team meeting expressing concern about this issue without naming names. The guilty parties will know who they are.
4. Transferring Too Many Calls
Patience is a virtue in call center work, but some customers exhaust that patience more quickly than others. Agents who lack the initiative to tackle these issues will pass such calls on to a supervisor. When this happens too often, the supervisor should have a chat with that agent to find out why. Once again, just identifying the problem may be enough to resolve it.
5. Lowering Team Morale
That old saying about one bad apple spoiling a whole bunch is, unfortunately, true. If one agent becomes lax in his or her efforts, other team members will pick up on this behavior. And if they don’t see that agent disciplined, they’ll stay at it. No resting on this one – private direct confrontation is required, followed by a general “It has come to our attention…” announcement. After that, it’s time to employ another old saying – shape up or ship out.
Read More About Five Signs Your Agents Don’t Care – and What to Do Next
We live in an era of specialization. Look up any listing of doctors in your city and try to find one general practitioner. They used to be commonplace, but today it’s the rare physician that does not graduate medical school with one specific field of interest, whether it’s pediatrics or cardiology or sports medicine. The contact center has also witnessed the encroachment of specialization; in the way certain calls are routed to certain agents, and in multi-channel centers where customers also communicate via email and online chat. But is specialization really the best option? Or is there still a place in our industry for a good general practitioner agent? Dedicated Agent Pools
Multi-channel forecasting typically begins with a specification of service goals based on the types of channels the call center must handle, followed by agent skill assessment within each of these channels.
Once these standards are set, forecasting will require accurate calculation of the Average Handle Time (AHT) for each contact channel. This is easier to do with calls than with emails, but a workforce management system can make volume forecasting easier. With this information, the contact center manager has two options to choose from – dedicated agent pools or the universal queue. In the first scenario, once an agent’s skill sets are determined, he or she is assigned to a dedicated group that focuses solely or primarily on their best channel, whether that is inbound calls, emails or web chat. Such specialization also exists within call centers that only handle incoming telephone calls, as agents are assigned to specific areas such as handling complaints, closing sales on high-ticket items, and solving the problems no one else can solve. Over time, through the use of call monitoring and call recording software, managers discover these special talents within certain agents, and funnel calls to them where their skills can be deployed. The Universal Queue
With this simpler method, all contacts are routed to agents based on order and availability – first come, first serve. In a call center, that means the same agent should be able to handle a billing question and a technical support question, without having to transfer the call (or put the customer on hold while they find someone who knows the answer).
In a multi-channel contact center, universal queue agents might first respond to an email, then resolve a customer’s issue via web chat, and then take a phone call. The advantage to this method is how it facilitates cross-training and forces agents to become adept at handling the various methods of customer communication in a shorter time span. Cost is another advantage. If agents can support multiple channels, less staff will be required. Not every agent will have the skill set to become a “universal” agent. In addition to product, service and support knowledge, these agents must be talented, motivated and able to command a wide range of technologies. As a result, contact centers that opt for the universal queue approach will inevitably devote more time and effort to coaching and training on multiple customer touch points. Some people have a natural inclination to communicate verbally, and may need more help with the written word. Others will arrive with an inverse set of abilities. Thus, managers need to determine if the additional time and capital investment in agent evaluation and preparation will be more than offset by the advantages that universal agents provide. The Role of Technology
Whether a contact center opts for dedicated agent pools or a universal queue, it is also necessary to have the right technology platform in place, and agents fully trained on the platform. For agent pools, that means routing various methods of customer contact to the right agent. For the universal queue, it means integrating data from all communication modes, and scheduling agents to maximize productivity.
In a corporate era where specialization is the goal, some contact centers are re-discovering the benefits of universal agents. Team members who can perform multiple tasks and communicate through different channels provide a valuable resource. It requires additional time and investment to train these agents, but ultimately their knowledge and efficiency add value to the contact center. Universal agents drive customer loyalty through the quality service they provide, while lowering costs to the company.
Read More About Multi-Channel Forecasting: Dedicated Agent Pools vs. The Universal Queue
When companies seek to gather more information about what their customers like and don’t like about products and services, they often turn to the contact center. This is the front line of customer communication, where calls deliver feedback that becomes data than can be analyzed to improve performance. What does it take for a contact center to become an ‘insight’ center? Start with the right agents and managers, working with the right technology, within a system that incorporates analytics, performance management and coaching. When the system works right, it identifies issues quickly so they can be solved, limiting any damage. One large communications company with 45 call centers discovered that average handle time was four times longer at one center. The issue – agents having trouble answering questions about a new device – was discovered within a few hours. Without the actionable insight provided by the company’s workforce management technology, it might have taken days – or even weeks. Boosting Insight with 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. Contact centers are incorporating this capability into WFM solutions, as well as using the identification of repeated words and phrases to identify emerging trends. How? One payment processing company used speech analytics to discover that a growing number of customers were on the verge of finding another company for the service its provides. It then began flagging those calls and scheduling immediate follow-up contacts to keep those at-risk accounts. Result? Almost 600 accounts saved, worth more than $1.5 million. When a contact center is able to identify customers that are thinking of leaving before they actually do so, that is what being an ‘insight’ center means. Sometimes it might be as simple as tagging calls where the word ‘cancel’ is used; other times the indications are subtler. But when qualified agents have the tools they need, and managers can access vital data and analytics, the transition to insight center becomes less challenging.
Read More About Turning Contact Centers into 'Insight Centers'
More effective. More comprehensive. More centralized. More accurate. These are just some of the predictions of how
workforce management (WFM) software will change over the next few years. It takes forward-thinking companies to stay on the cutting edge of future developments and changes in the demands of the marketplace. Monet is now designing the next generation of WFM, and we’ll have more to say about that in the months to come. In the meantime, this is what you can reasonably expect from workforce management within the next few years – and beyond. Precision Forecasting
As contact centers become more multi-channel and multi-skilled, forecasting will have to keep pace. Programs and computer simulation modeling will make it possible to predict multiple tasks and media within one interaction.
One Stop Solutions
As systems become more integrated and centralized, metrics will be available to link front office and back-office functionality, and provide a wealth of data drawn from every aspect of the contact center and the company at large.
Tomorrow’s WFM solutions will help agents use their time more efficiently (example: automatically finding slow periods and scheduling coaching sessions during these lulls), while also providing even more tools to enhance the customer service they provide. In addition, as WFM gains the ability to automatically identify which agents are best suited for which platforms (phone, chat, email, etc.), they can be scheduled accordingly. That results in more confident, satisfied agents and happier customers as well.
The boring stuff managers have to do every day? With WFM assuming those tasks, managers can focus more on other aspects of business improvement and customer service. And with the cloud, agents can log into a contact center from anywhere in the world, and contact centers have access to a remote workforce that can step in on short notice if the unexpected occurs.
It’s already here but it’s going to become more prominent. As automated
speech analytics tools become mainstream, WFM will generate additional data from customer interactions that will allow for the resolution of issues as they arise. It will also help agents know the right words and phrases to use not only for compliance issues but to communicate clearly with customers.
Automated training processes will recognize when agents are doing well and require less attention, so more focus can be put on agents that under-perform. E-learning, especially as incorporated into other training sessions, will make it possible for agents to get better at their jobs at times when they are not busy doing them.
Access via Cloud
As it becomes imperative for WFM to be accessible from multiple places and devices, the cloud makes that flexibility possible.
Sound promising? If so, here is some good news – many of these applications and capabilities are already incorporated into Monet’s WFM Live. If this technology is in your contact center, you already have the solutions that are on the wish lists of other companies. Now let’s see what some technology experts believe may be coming to call centers in 5-10 years. Taking the Lead
We’re not at the artificial intelligence level yet, but workforce management will certainly become more perceptive, more automated, and more functional. Today’s intra-day tracking and reporting will give way to WFM identifying places were changes can be made to schedules and queues to deal with discrepancies, without any manager or agent having to do anything.
Better Front and Back Office Communication
The same WFM used in contact centers will make its way into back office processes. Now the needs of the customers will be known to every aspect of the business, and in some cases WFM will pre-empt their needs and have automated reactions ready for different situations.
The End of Offices?
While technology now makes work from anywhere possible, some believe the need for physical workplaces will continue to decline, as it will be more preferable for many employees. For this to happen, WFM will need to run smoothly on any computer and mobile device. The system will also have to provide the knowledge and guidance for agents working remotely to navigate complex issues, and have the functionality to meet the needs of virtual individuals and teams.
I’ll Work When I Feel Like It
For those old-school managers who may think working from home is acceding too much to agent preference, just wait – the future is ready to further raise your blood pressure. Some expect that agent preference will one day be the first consideration when it comes to scheduling. Employees will be allowed to set their own working hours, requiring WFM to be more flexible to work out the forecasting and scheduling details.
The Internet of Things
In the future, the person who bought a TV might not be the one calling to report a problem – the television itself may send the message through Internet-enabled technology.
Ditching the Desktop
Today WFM makes it possible to work via mobile device when one is not at the computer. Will people still want to work through a desktop machine 10 years from now? Or will the smartphone that so many of us already stare at for hours also become our primary work device?
New Monet Platform: Coming Soon
While many of these developments may be years away, Monet is already working hard on the new version of its award-winning platform.
We have special plans for this next-generation solution, which will include a tightly integrated range of both new and improved features. These innovations will impact workforce management, quality assurance, performance management, speech analytics and desktop analytics.
We are also adding expanded usability, enhanced flexibility, increased compliance with industry-specific regulations, and greater scalability to adapt and adjust to the daily realities of contact centers regardless of size and number of agents.
Check back for more updates as they are announced. We look forward to bringing you the details both on our
website and our Facebook, Linkedin or twitter
Read More About What’s Next for Workforce Management?
How will IoT impact the contact center? Theories already abound: here are just some of the predictions.
• The role of the agent: IoT provides more proactive outbound communication with connected devices, which can self-correct issues that previously might have generated a phone call. Agents may thus become more specialized to handle specific issues that fall outside the technology’s capabilities. • More extended service contracts: Manufacturers will likely offer IoT as a service upgrade, and agents will manage these tiered service offerings. • Proactive solutions: If the machines are talking to each other, the contact center agent’s computer will be in on these communications, so the agent will know about the issue before the customer calls – he might even be able to implement a solution in advance. • “There’s a call from Jane’s blender on line 2…” Contact centers are accustomed to communication via smartphones and tablets; with IoT, other electronic devices may also have a ‘contact’ button from which customers can reach out to contact centers – or allow the device to automatically send a message that describes the problem. • Better customer experience: gathering data from new devices will deliver more insight into how they are used, which could inspire changes that have a positive impact on the customer experience. Plus, if the agent already knows the specifics of the problem, it will shorten call times. Not everything will change. Widespread adoption of devices with this technology is likely many years away, and even after it happens millions of consumers will opt for less sophisticated (and likely less costly) traditional appliances and electronics. Whatever the future brings there will always be a need for the same contact center services being provided now.
Read More About How will the Internet of Things Change the Contact Center?
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.
Read More About Contact Center Leadership: Four Tips for Success
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.
Read More About Can Your Contact Center Follow the Zappos Model?
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.
Read More About Workforce Management: Guiding Principles and Best Practices
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.
Read More About Call Center Week 2015: Contact Center Trends to Watch
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.
Read More About Why Contact Centers Aren't Going Anywhere
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.
Read More About Attracting Quality Agents in Competitive Communities
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.
Read More About Why Your Best Contact Center Agents Leave – and How You Can Keep Them
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.
Read More About Viva Las Vegas: Wrapping Up Call Center Week
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.
Read More About Are Contact Center Agents Buried Under Information?
“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.
Read More About Boost efficiency of staffing and scheduling: a case study
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.
Read More About Hiring Veterans as Call Center Agents
Artificial Intelligence is not yet a reality. And if you saw Avengers: Age of Ultron, you know that may be a good thing.
Sometimes we get the feeling that the machines are taking over. They have already assumed many jobs that used to require people, and complete them more quickly and efficiently. This is true in the contact center as well, and has been since interactive voice response began routing calls to available agents. But will they ever take over entirely? Will a contact center one day be comprised of a roomful of voice-activated machines taking calls, completing tasks and analyzing the data thereafter? That this could happen is undeniable; the question is, should it happen? And the answer is no. Regardless of how sophisticated technology becomes, there should always be a human element in some forms of customer communication. The goal for contact centers will be to find the right workforce optimization balance between sophisticated technology and professionally trained agents. Anyone who has ever become trapped in a conversation with a virtual call recipient and their menu of pre-recorded options (press 1 if you are calling to place an order, press 2 if you would like to return a product, etc.) soon realizes that their business could be conducted more efficiently with a human being at the other end of the line. And while there are now younger adults who have never known a world without smartphones, ATMs and self check-outs at the grocery store, some tasks simply cannot be handled by an automated response. This is especially true if a customer is angry or disappointed – when that happens you want someone who will listen to the problem, empathize with your situation, apologize for your inconvenience and try to provide a solution. No matter how intriguing the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) agents may be, contact center technology that is not supported by living, breathing agents can never provide the same positive customer experience.
Read More About Balancing Technology and Human Resources
Everyone looks forward to a 3-day weekend – with the exception of those who have to work one or all of those days, and those that have to make sure resources are allocated at a contact center to meet consumer demand.
As Memorial Day weekend approaches, here are some of the ways that workforce management can help contact center managers anticipate and optimize for the three-day holiday. Gathering Data – historical reports from the ACD provide the best indicators of what to expect. Go back at least two years and analyze call volume and other important KPIs. Remove Variances – a holiday is a variance in itself so that will obviously be taken into account, but watch for other issues that might be responsible for lower or higher numbers. Follow the Pattern – what specifically happened last Memorial Day weekend? Perhaps call volume dropped on Friday, was almost nonexistent Sunday but picked up again on Monday. Will that pattern remain consistent? Or is there some reason it might change? Check with Marketing – Has the company announced a new Memorial Day sale or promotion? How will that factor into call volume? Once you have this information, it will be much easier to calculate staff requirements to meet service goals.
Read More About Workforce Management and Memorial Day