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Agent Training Hints, Tips & Best Practices

Agent Training – both initial and ongoing – is among the most essential investments of a call center’s resources. Your agents are on the front line when it comes to customer service. How well do they represent your company?

Every call center has different training needs and operational characteristics, as well as ideas for how to get the most from a team. We’ve collected a wide range of training ideas and tips, both from our clients and top industry personnel, in the following blogs and articles. Still have questions? Search for answers here.

Monet’s Workforce Optimization Software solution can play a critical role in agent training. Find out how.

Does Your Call Center Have to Be Bilingual?

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The short answer to the question posed in the title of this blog is yes. 

Perhaps there are still some regional businesses with a homogeneous customer base that can be effectively served in one language, but that type of company is clearly a vanishing breed.

Today, especially in this era of online retail, even smaller businesses may attract customers from anywhere in the U.S. or around the world. Obviously it would be impractical to have agents that speak every global language, but hiring bilingual agents should be a priority when possible. 

This will be more essential in some industries than others. In these types of call centers it should be a priority:

Online Retail

Your order history will tell you where your customers live. If you only get one order a year from Germany it’s not necessary to have a German-speaking agent available. But if you receive a thousand orders from Mexico or China, you should have someone there to serve those customers.

Health Care 

Here you may not be dealing with clients from 20 different countries, but if your health care facility is located in a large city near various ethnic and immigrant populations, you’ll want to make it as easy as possible for them to make appointments, get answers to billing questions and order prescriptions. 

Travel/Tourism

This one is so obvious that we probably don’t need to include it. Companies focused on international tourism know how important it is to be able to provide information on hotels, sights, and other travel arrangements in the language of the caller. 



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Giving Agents What They Need to Succeed

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Call centers expect agents to be alert, engaged, up to date on company policy, and ready to give 110% every day. 

That’s fair – but is your call center helping them to achieve such consistent performance? 

Here are two areas where actions can be taken that will boost productivity, and make your business more efficient. 

1. Information: Where they want it, when they need it

Technology and data drive successful call centers. Usually that refers to the KPIs measured to gauge customer service, but it also applies to the optimized knowledge base that makes it easier for agents to deliver great service by being able to quickly access each customer’s information. 

Training materials should also be easily retrievable, so agents can review proper procedure on their own if a question arises. This encourages the healthy habit of self-monitoring of performance. 

And since call centers are typically part of much larger organizations, agents and managers benefit from online collaboration platforms where documents can be shared, and everyone can be kept up to date on new projects. This also encourages consistency and cooperation between departments. 

2. Stress relief

Breaks are necessary in the agent workday, but can and should consist of more than leaving one’s desk, stretching one’s legs, and perusing the leftover pastries in the break room. This is the time to de-stress. Since different agents achieve that goal in different ways, why not cater to both of them?

For those who prefer to burn off tension while burning off calories, a small workplace gym would be greatly appreciated. Those who prefer a quiet, peaceful respite would enjoy a relaxation room that might even offer sleeping quarters for a quick nap. 

Bonus benefit: These steps will make your call center the type of place where agents feel valued, and that means they’ll stay with you longer. 


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Three Irreplaceable Call Center Agent Skills

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What do you look for most when you hire call center agents? Experience is obviously important, along with a clear speaking voice (and/or writing and spelling skills for communication channels like video chat). It’s also beneficial to have someone who takes guidance well, is punctual and gets along well in a team environment. 

But there are some skills that are equally important but not always evaluated during the interview process. Pay attention for signs of them in your next recruitment drive: 

An Even Temperament

It’s not easy being yelled at by strangers several times a day. Hopefully that is not a regular occurrence at your call center, but when hostile customers need to vent it’s important to have an agent who is cool under pressure. It might mean the difference between keeping and losing those customers. 

Winning isn’t Everything – It’s the Only Thing

I know we live in an era where everyone gets a trophy for just showing up, but you want agents that don’t take such consolation prizes seriously. They want to be the best – especially if there are real rewards attached to that status. You don’t want to encourage cutthroat competition, but friendly rivalries between ambitious agents can be healthy. 

Independent Thinking

Yes, the script is important, but you can hire anyone to read words off a computer screen. It’s what happens between and around those scripted directions that make the difference between good agents and great ones. Find someone who will listen – who can project empathy in a difficult situation, and who can get creative to solve a problem, even if it adds a few minutes to average handle time. 

One more idea: When you find these outstanding agents, give them the technology they need to really succeed – such as Monet WFM Live. When you make it easier for them to do their jobs, they are likely to keep doing them longer. 


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Have You Put Your Holiday Staffing Plan in Action?

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Oh, the weather outside is…still pretty warm, actually. But it won’t be long before the temperatures drop as the holidays approach. If you haven’t already, now is the time to get started on making sure you have the seasonal staffing place to handle increased call volume.

Hopefully you can consult a list of stand-by agents already in place. These are the folks that are accustomed to working a couple of months for you and then moving on until you need them again. If they have already spent time at your call center they will just need a refresher rather than the full training regimen, and can get up to speed very quickly. 

Of course, some of these temp workers will have moved on to full-time positions elsewhere in the interim, or for whatever reason may not be available this year. That means new recruiting, hiring and training, all of which take time. Even though you are hiring temporary, likely part-time help, use the same procedures you would to qualify a full-time agent hire. 

Since you’ll have so many new faces on the floor, it’s a good idea to also have your best agents available during peak periods. They can pick up the slack and help the newcomers as well. When you have a mix of full-time and temporary agents on the floor, have a system in place to route the more complicated calls to experienced agents, leaving new hires free to handle more basic transactions.

As busy as you’ll be, don’t stop quality monitoring throughout this time. That’s how you’ll discover which of your new agents are thriving, and which may not be invited back next year. 

Forecasting will be different from a typical week as well. Thankfully, Workforce Management software makes it easy to review call patterns from previous holiday seasons so you’ll know what to expect in the months ahead. Run simulations based on this data and review the results so they can be as fine-tuned as necessary. 

With the call center running at peak efficiency, you may actually get your holiday shopping completed on time this year! 



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Managing a Call Center: What’s the Best Approach?

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When agents talk about the different call center jobs they’ve had, they will always compare managers and managerial styles, and which one they prefer. 

Which type of manager are you? Adopting a specific “style” is not necessary, and in fact most managers perform their duties in a way that is an extension of their personalities. But sometimes it can be helpful to consider whether a change in approach might be beneficial. 

For instance, some call center teams respond better to a supportive manager that downplays the distinction between management and labor for a “we’re all in this together” philosophy. With a responsible team the results may be impressive – but there must be some oversight to make sure agents are not taking advantage of an informal managerial style. 

At the other end of the spectrum is the taskmaster. He or she drives the team like a college football coach, with inspiring motivational speeches and continuous urging to go the extra mile for the company. Some agents will respond to this more aggressive approach, but others may fold under the pressure or be worried about falling short of expectations. Just remember that the best coaches always make time for their players, to help them be the best they can be. 

Enthusiasm is another positive trait in a manager, as long as it is channeled the right way. It becomes a problem when every idea suggested in a meeting is implemented with expectations of success, and then quickly discarded when it doesn’t perform as planned right away. This leads to inconsistent performance and frustrated agents. 

Change can be good; too much change too quickly often has the opposite effect. 

Not sure if you need to change your style? Talk to your agents. Ask them if there is something they are not getting from you, whether that’s guidance or support or even criticism. The more you can match your approach to the temperament of your agents, the better the odds of a successful call center. 


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Workforce Management and Personnel Time Management

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Time, and how we use it, is one of the most important call center resources. We need agents to show up on time. We need calls to be completed quickly while still maintaining great service. Managers have to create forecasts and schedules, while still leaving time for other important tasks. 

Workforce management software can help with all of this. But it won’t help agents who either don’t own a watch or don’t pay attention to it. The efficiency of your call center demands team members that are organized, and possess reliable time management skills. 

Coaches can help where needed. They can encourage agents to set goals for how many calls they should complete in on day, and reinforce the importance of start times, end times and break times. Monitor progress and reward those that are able to change their habits. 

At first the coach or trainer may have to set up a goal schedule for these agents. But ideally this is a habit they should begin to pick up themselves. Suggest that it become customary to take 10 or 15 minutes at the end of a shift to review performance for that day, and to plan a schedule for tomorrow (or the next active day). The more they can plan ahead, the easier it will be to adhere to the schedule. 



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Do Your Agents Have the Freedom and Confidence to Go Above and Beyond for Customers?

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Every so often the media will pick up on a story of something unique that happened at a call center. Many of these feel-good tales feature a call center agent who decided to do something special for a customer. 

We came across this one that is worth sharing: an agent at Capital One received a call from a woman whose credit card was shut down due to “suspicious activity.” This was triggered by her attempt to purchase furniture and have it shipped to an address that was not the one the credit card company had listed for her.

Customers who get their cards shut down are usually in a shouting mood, but this woman had recently separated from her fiancé and was in the process of moving to a new place – hence the different address. She seemed more sad than angry, and when the agent found out what was happening in her life, she gave the woman 4,500 free airline miles to help her feel better. 

And that’s not all – the agent then sent flowers to the customer, with a note saying “Please know that you are in my thoughts and I hope these can brighten your day.”

Why is this important?

Two reasons: First, the story went viral. The customer related the experience on a Facebook post, and the agent was heralded as a hero on dozens of websites and message boards, all of which mentioned that she worked for Capital One. 

Capital One is a company that spends a lot of money on advertising (you’ve doubtless seen the TV commercials with Samuel L. Jackson). What did all this great positive publicity cost them? The 4,500 airline miles are really only worth about $45, plus whatever the going rate is on a nice flower arrangement. That’s a pretty solid return on investment.

Second, it raises the question of whether your agents believe they have the freedom to offer a similar gesture of kindness to one of your customers. Would they be appreciated or criticized for doing something that is not company policy? 

These stories make the news because they don’t happen every day, and they shouldn’t – but when the circumstances are right, encourage your agents to go above and beyond. 



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Prioritizing Healthcare Call Center Data

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Automated workforce management software can deliver an abundance of data to a healthcare call center, and all of it can be useful. 

But which metrics are most important? According to this ICMI article, many call centers prioritize data based on what it can do to lower operating costs. But in a healthcare call center, it is more important to review metrics that impact customer experience. In many situations the call center plays a role in patient care, so every effort must be made to handle calls quickly and to have agents that are qualified to listen and make appropriate recommendations. 

How do you know how well you are doing? Patient surveys can help. This information can be collected either right after the call, or at a later date with questions sent through the mail. The feedback you receive is the most direct assessment available of your call center operation. 

Quality management and call scoring can also play a role in customer and patient service measurement. Where is your business succeeding, and which areas could use some improvement? You’re not just looking for trends here, but the root causes that created those trends. Once you identify the problems, you can begin to design solutions. 

According to the ICMI article, all of this is easier to do if you “invest in the right systems and processes.” 

Is Monet WFM Live the right system for your healthcare call center? Our WFM and call recording solutions have been successfully employed by many call centers of all sizes in this industry to collect and analyze customer satisfaction feedback, and to link data points together across the contact center spectrum. Thus, managers always have specific analytics on every aspect of patient interaction, along with a “big picture” view of how all the moving parts are – or should be – working together. 



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Emails and Webchats are Great, But Calls are Still Critical

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A Deloitte 2015 Global Contact Center Survey reports that the number of customer interactions by telephone continues to decline, as other options become more prevalent.

But while the volume of customer calls may be shrinking, the importance of each of those engagements has been elevated. More people may be reaching out via email or web chat or social media, but if these channels prove insufficient the next step is a phone call - and for the company this may be the final hope for keeping that customer's business.

This happens more than you might think. A recent report showed that more than one-third of customer engagements that started online or through a self-service channel eventually escalated to voice.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the company is doing something wrong - there is real, proven value in omnichannel. But some issues are just too complex for anything other than direct contact with a real agent or supervisor. This is how customers still expect questions to be answered, and results to be achieved.

Knowing this, what can you do?

First, forget all those predictions about fully automated contact centers. Agents will always be needed to provide service that machines cannot.

Next, understand that a customer that has already failed to get results from another channel may be more frustrated or impatient when he or she calls. Agent training should focus on being calm and courteous when confronted with hostility.

Finally, make sure agents have the technology they need to deliver an efficient and satisfying customer experience, especially if this is the last opportunity to do so.


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Tips for Avoiding Call Center Agent Burnout

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One need only to look at the attrition rates among call center agents to appreciate the pressures and challenges that come with the job.

Where employee turnover for all industries is approximately 17%, the range for call centers is typically between 30-45%. If you're dealing with those numbers you know how time-consuming and expensive it is to constantly find and train new agents to replace those that leave.

That makes agent retention a priority. What can you do to help these valued employees avoid symptoms of burnout? Try these tips:

Recognition

Everybody likes to feel appreciated. When agents excel at their work they deserve to be recognized and rewarded. Such rewards can be straight up - a salary bonus - or something customized for each agent - an extra paid day off, movie  theater tickets, or dinner at a nice restaurant (one without a drive-thru window).

Responsibility

Scripts are important, but reading the same text hundreds of times a day can certainly contribute to burnout. By allowing agents some flexibility you'll not only make the job less repetitive, you'll be boosting customer service - most callers appreciate an agents who speaks and listens to them over one reading words off a computer screen. Also, when possible, give agents the responsibility of handling some issues without the approval of the supervisor or manager. That will shorten the call length, and make the agent feel more valued as a company team member.

Recreation

There are ways to make a call center a more enjoyable place to work without sacrificing efficiency or customer service. Ask for feedback on ideas for special themed days, or schedule a reception on the last day of every month with snacks and entertainment.

Resources

One of the best ways to avoid agent burnout is to provide your team with the technological tools they need to make their jobs easier. That starts with a workforce management solution that delivers caller data, easily automates everyday processes, and monitors schedules so agents handle an appropriate amount of calls in each shift.


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What's the Difference Between Multichannel and Omnichannel?

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When call centers became contact centers, the telephone suddenly became just one of several options available for customers to take care of business.

This evolution has been taking place over the course of more than ten years. Email was added, then web chat, then social media. Video chat has become yet another possibility. And when people are able to communicate through Google Glasses, and other futuristic devices that probably  aren't that far away, it will be up to the call center to accommodate these customers as well.

Has your call center embraced multichannel? Great! Now it's time to get ready for the next challenge: omnichannel.

The difference is interactivity. In a multichannel environment every communication option is a separate one, and the objective is to deliver consistent, quality service across the entire spectrum. Omnichannel introduces an additional option, of moving a customer from one channel to another within the same engagement.

Of course, it's important to not just provide the capability of switching from email to phone or from phone to web chat, but to also be able to track quality throughout these interactions through recording and agent performance managements. This is important to make certain you are delivering a consistent customer experience form one channel to another. 

There will still be decisions: should the same agent follow the customer from one channel to the next? Or should an agent specializing in phone communication hand off the call to an agent better suited for web chat? Different contact centers employ different degrees of agent specialization, so there is no one-size-fits-all correct answer.

If you are ready for omnichannel, one place to start is with an analysis of your current customer base. Which multichannel options do your customers use most often? What are the most likely transitions from these channels based on the reason for their contact?

Next, make sure you are able to provide the same service with each channel. For instance, a switch from voice to text-based communication should not infringe on upsell opportunities that an agent would have described over the phone. Finally, be certain to evaluate the performance of your agents across all channels - this is made easier with a workforce optimization solution that delivers call recording and quality management.


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Insurance Contact Centers: Confronting Your Greatest Challenge

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In the highly competitive insurance industry, every customer contact counts. That places even greater pressure on insurance call center environments, where agents  are expected to deliver exceptional customer service, whether it's claims support, answering policyholder questions, setting appointments for agents or promoting new insurance products.

That challenge - to provide quality service every day at a cost within the budget, is the most significant one we face. So what's the best way to achieve this goal?

Let's start with this: your agents cannot deliver excellent service unless they have the customer information they need, and when they need it. When John Smith calls with a question about his auto insurance policy, the agent should have all the pertinent details on that policy on their computer screen so questions can be answered and changes made if necessary.

But now let's take it one step further, by providing managers with historical data so they can run various scenarios before a shift begins, to prepare for contingencies. As the shift progresses, managers should see real-time insights delivered via dashboards and reports on KPIs, as well as alerts so they can adjust forecasts and schedules when the unexpected occurs.

Information: what you need, when you need it - that is how the determination to provide great customer service must begin.

Unfortunately, you won't get it from spreadsheets. It takes an automated workforce management solution to provide the actionable insights necessary to be proactive in decision-making, so every shift of every day will be prepared to deliver the kind of customer service that keeps your policyholders loyal and happy. And when the contact center is running at peak efficiency, that reduces costs as well.


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Insurance Call Center Agents: What Skills are Most Important?

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Your agents are on the front line of your customer service efforts. When policyholders call with questions or concerns, the agent they reach becomes the voice of your entire company. No pressure there. 

Obviously it is incumbent on your insurance call center agents to do their jobs well. But that process starts with managers hiring the best candidates for these crucial positions. 

What skills should you be looking for when hiring an agent? Here are some of the most important:

Professionalism

Courtesy always sets the right tone for a customer engagement. And when that customer is stressed or frightened or angry, as is often the case with insurance issues, it’s up to the agent to maintain a professional tone and stay calm and focused throughout the conversation. 

Attendance

This doesn’t mean just showing up for work every day, but showing up on time. Customer service suffers when agents show up five minutes late and leave five minutes early. Agents should be willing to adhere to a strict shift schedule.

Communication

Intelligent verbal communication is one of the most basic requirements of this job, but as insurance call centers evolve into contact centers, it is advantageous to hire agents that can also communicate effectively in writing, so they can handle webchat or even social media. 

Self-Sufficiency

While you want to recruit agents that can be positive team players, it’s also important for agents to feel confident enough to work independently – especially if you hire those that telecommute. When agents can solve customer claim issues without putting customers on hold and having to track down a supervisor, it improves average handle time and makes the customer happy as well. 

Monet’s Workforce Management solution can play a key role in helping agents to achieve optimal performance, by giving them the information they need to succeed. 



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They’re Not Agents – They’re “Service Professionals”

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What’s in a name? 

William Shakespeare had some thoughts on that, as do the people who think referring to used cars as “pre-owned” will make them more desirable. 

At the call center, agents are agents, and most don’t have a problem with that job description. But what if we tried to look upon them as service professionals? 

It’s not just doublespeak – when you really look at the tasks performed by contact center agents every day, it is obvious businesses are placing a great deal of trust in them, in making sales, in customer care, and in dispute resolution, among other responsibilities. Call centers are now viewed as revenue-generating operations, and while managers provide the tools and the guidance, it’s the agents that are on the front lines of this effort. 

There is no such thing as a “typical” agent, just as there is no such thing as a typical contact center. But we would guess that the call centers that are most successful are those that are already treating agents like service professionals, even if they haven’t adopted that term.

That doesn’t mean the new job description has to come with a higher salary and a parking place with the agent’s name on it. This is still (and likely always will be) an entry-level position, but it is one that provides access and insight to many other departments such as marketing, sales, and product development. Agents who are paying attention can, in the course of their daily duties, gather actionable information that can be valuable to the company and their own careers.

That starts with hiring and training. Don’t just look for people with good telephone voices that can read a script. Treat the process as a recruitment of not just today’s agents but also tomorrow’s managers. Let them know there’s a path to advancement available, and provide incentive compensation to identify your best candidates. If you focus on hiring professionals, you’ll stand a better chance of inspiring professional job performance. 


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Beneficial Technologies for Virtual Contact Centers

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Virtual contact centers operate differently from their brick-and-mortar counterparts – but they face many of the same challenges in resource planning and customer service. 

If your contact center is considering the move to a virtual environment, or you’ve already made the transition, here are some of the technology solutions that will help make the business a success. 

Workforce Management

Whether all your agents are in the same room or working from homes and offices throughout the U.S., the ability to create accurate forecasts and schedules to achieve adequate staffing levels remains vital. In a virtual situation managers sometimes have the luxury of more flexibility, which creates additional part-time and split-shift opportunities. But sometimes more options can also mean more headaches. Workforce management software automates these tasks so they get done faster and with greater precision. 

Automated Call Routing

The process of matching customer inquiries with the agents best suited to handle them can be achieved with the same efficiency in a virtual contact center with an integrated contact routing solution. Incoming contacts can be routed not only by topic but by communication channel as well, since most centers have agents better qualified for online chat and email. 

Automated Training

In a brick-and-mortar contact center, training sessions are often conducted in person. That would be impractical in a virtual environment, so training must be delivered online via one-on-one chat or other means of getting agents, trainers and managers together to review past calls and discuss concerns. 

Gamification

Studies have shown that gamification – redesigning everyday routines and tasks to be more game-like and interactive, results in a work experience that is more engaging, more fun, and (hopefully) more productive. As a motivating technique this is even more important when agents are outside an office where other direct means of support and encouragement are not present. 



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Insurance Company Contact Centers – Four Ways WFM Can Improve Performance

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Customer care is a crucial aspect of performance at the contact center, particularly for those affiliated with insurance companies. This is a process that begins before the first call is picked up every day, with the policies, procedures, and technology in place to meet the goals of the center. Accurate forecasting and scheduling and adherence are important factors, and are easier to achieve with an automated workforce management (WFM) solution

Here are four tips on establishing policies that boost customer service, and how WFM can help.  

1. Setting Specific Goals

“We want to improve customer service.” “We want to improve our training.” Great  – now how are you going to do it? The more specific you can get with your objectives, the more likely you will be to accomplish them. When you set more precise goals (“We want to lower our average handle time”), WFM will provide the data that can be used to make it happen. 

2. Targeted Training

Once basic training has been completed, insurance contact center agents should be regularly guided toward and tested on their abilities to meet service goals. With the Performance Analysis component of WFM, managers have access to reports and analysis of all agent activities, including their schedule adherence and key performance indicators. That will help to further target training sessions. 

3. Set Quarterly Goals

Don’t make a list of goals for the year and wait until December to review them. With quarterly targets, you’ll know sooner if your efforts are working, and can make beneficial changes – which is certainly better than going another 6-7 months with a less than optimal system in place. The real-time monitoring and work history data delivered by WFM allows managers to track progress toward quarterly goals. 

4. Avoid Agent Burnout

Agents are employees but they are people first, with families and outside interests and holiday plans they would like to keep. Flexible scheduling makes it easier for agents to work shifts that are more convenient, and when they have that option they are likely to be more productive and provide better service. With WFM, shift-bidding and shift-swapping (with a manager’s approval) is streamlined, while holidays and other special events can be factored more efficiently into overall scheduling. 


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Millennial Agents, Millennial Customers: Keeping Them Happy

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It’s possible that no generation in history has come under more scrutiny – and attack – than Millennials. They’re rude; they’re entitled; they want everything free. 

Of course, there are overgeneralizations. Every generation has had its achievers and failures. But there is no question that Millennials approach work and communication differently than those that preceded them, and this is important for contact center managers. These are your current and future employees (Millennials are already almost 35% of the American labor force), as well as your current and future customers. 

How can you make them happy? Try thinking like they do.

Agents

Statistics show that Millennials often leave jobs in three years or less. In the contact center industry where high agent attrition is already an issue, three years might be seen as an improvement. Still, each new employee is an investment in training; so the longer you keep them around the better your bottom line will look. 

Perhaps it’s time to think differently, by shortening the initial ramp-up phase of preparation (lowering associated costs) and then relying on more context-sensitive refreshers in the days and weeks that follow. 

Millennials grew up with technology, and have a comfort level with instant communication and instant feedback shared by no previous generation. Every Facebook post they make generates “likes” and responses within seconds. Millennial contact center agents are more open to the same type of instant feedback. Monthly training sessions are fine, but with the real-time data generated by a workforce optimization solution, managers can offer ongoing coaching and assessments based on performance. 

Sure, it may take a little more time. But if that coaching is immediately integrated into performance, it results in better customer service right away. 

You’ll also find Millennials are often adept at self-evaluation – why do you think they take so many selfies? With WFO generating data on each call, these agents can review how each interaction fared while the details are still fresh, and figure out if something could have been handled more efficiently. 

If you still doubt that Millennials communicate differently than previous generations, just check out their emoticon-fueled texts. It is practically a different language. Texting is a comfort zone, certainly more so than traditional face-to-face communication. The closest comparison to this in a professional contact center environment is the webchat application. As this channel becomes more popular among customers, managers will find no shortage of agents adept as chatting online.

Can chat be used for coaching or training as well? Certainly it wouldn’t seem to be as effective as meeting with an agent in person, but times are changing. 

Customers

The Millennial customer will share the same preferences as the Millennial agent, starting with a fondness for webchat. Perhaps that is why there has been so much recent refinement in the “chat with an agent” option, with even more sophisticated solutions on the horizon. 

All webchats are already not the same. Some are still what you’d expect – one agent typing messages in response to customer questions. But at some companies the human element has been replaced by coded auto-response software that interacts with customers the way Siri responds to you on your iPhone. 

Most customers are savvy enough to spot the difference. But the next-generation virtual assistants will be able to respond in sentences that sound more authentic than the overly formal speech programmed by technology. Facebook is leading the way on this with an intelligence “Facebook Bot Engine Development Tool” that learns by interacting with current Facebook-based communication. 

Yes, this can be an advantage or a lawsuit waiting to happen, based on some of the Facebook pages we’ve seen. 

We may be at the point one day soon when a customer will not be able to tell the difference between a live agent and a program on webchat. This will make it easier for companies to switch back and forth during a customer engagement as needed – the bot can be relied up to answer basic, common questions and offer standard responses to everyday transactions. When the conversation turns to something more specialized, the agent can be alerted to step in. 

This will happen without the customer’s knowledge and, given what we’ve already said of the Millennial comfort level with technology, it likely won’t matter to them whether the responses they receive are human or machine-driven. 

As this technology becomes mainstream, it can be used at the contact center for coaching as well. Think of it – a virtual coach communicating via webchat, linked to all previous customer and agent data, providing real time reminders (“Ask this customer if he wants the extended warranty”) and feedback on a customer engagement. 

Regular coaching sessions would still be helpful ¬– but now coaches will have even more specific data for each agent.   

There are additional benefits to webchat coaching as well: it is equally accessible for remote agents as for those in an office; and it takes some of the intimidation factor out of coaching, and that might make the sessions more effective.  

Conclusion

Whether one is more likely to condemn Millennials or defend them, there is no question that they are likely to change the structure of the workplace more than any previous generation. 

It is natural for those who came up through the ranks with different rules and procedures to be resistant to new ideas, but that presumes that anyone has a choice. It is those entering the job market who have options – and if they find a contact center that is open to providing a professional environment more accommodating to their preferences, that is where they’ll direct their Nike Jordan Instigators. 



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The Contact Center in 2020

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If you’re old enough you may remember the television series Lost in Space, in which the Robinson family blasted off earth en route to Alpha Centauri, but went off course and couldn’t find their way home. The series debuted in 1965, but was set in the year 1997, a time when the show’s creators apparently envisioned interstellar space travel but not GPS.

That’s the thing about the future – it always catches up and eventually becomes the present. So when predictions begin appearing online about what the contact center will look like in 2020, it might be wise to pay attention, especially as 2020 is less than four years away. By preparing now for the changes to come, your contact center can get ahead of the technology curve, and provide better customer service than other companies in your industry. 

Let’s take a closer look at what the future holds.

The Role of Contact Center Agents

As contact centers embrace multiple channels for customer communication, agents will have to be skilled in more than one discipline. Companies that have already incorporated email, online chat, texting and social media may have agents trained in one of these channels. But in 2020, most agents will have the knowledge and skills to shift from one assignment to another. 

As customers embrace more self-service options, find answers to basic questions and handle simple orders and returns on their own, they will not have a need to reach out to a contact center unless the situation calls for more extensive information. That means agents will need to be prepared to handle a wider range of product and service issues. Obviously this impacts training – and may manifest in prospective agents going through a more in-depth orientation that includes spending a day or two with different business departments within the company.

However, even with all of this additional knowledge and instruction, agents will also need to retain the qualities that companies require of them now – strong communication skills and listening skills, courtesy and empathy, and the ability to make decisions and resolve issues through their own initiative. Management, of course, will have to bestow the freedom on these agents to rely on their training and intelligence to act.   

Given all the demands on the agent, this is a job that will no longer be classified as an entry-level position. A higher investment will be needed in qualified professionals. The hope is this will not just pay off in improved customer service, but also lower attrition rates. 

The Role of Contact Center Managers

While agents will become more intimately involved in operations, managers will transfer out of a primarily operational role and adopt a more “big picture” outlook on the organization, and the strategic role of the contact center. Rather than monitoring KPIs, managers will be meeting with executive teams from other divisions on how departments can successfully work together to deliver a more efficient end-to-end customer experience. 

To make sure agents receive the training they need to prosper in the contact centers of the future, managers will also have to make sure the contact center is recognized as a profit-boosting segment of the organization, and worthy of the additional investment necessary to make sure it functions at optimal efficiency. 

The Role of Customers

The term “contact center” has already replaced that of “call center.” By 2020, we may be referring to these entities as “customer interaction centers.” That’s because customers want more options for communication, as well as the ability to switch from one to another if it might get them on their way faster. 

Most customer contacts are still conducted by the telephone. Some experts believe that dominant role will gradually shift to webchat, as Millennials and subsequent generations come of age in technology-driven world where the answer to every question can be found on one’s smartphone. Fortunately, tomorrow’s agents will have grown up with the same technology and will be equally adept at these interactions. 

The Role of Workforce Management

Workforce management will play a more prominent role in tomorrow’s contact centers, as the drive to optimize resources will always be key to running a successful business. In the contact center that means accurate forecasting, as well as analytics, skills-based routing and capturing important customer data. 

Some WFM solutions, including Monet WFM Live, can do that now. As workforce patterns change, and more employees opt for flexible scheduling to balance their jobs with their personal responsibilities, WFM will have to keep up with even more accurate resource planning, and by making it easier for agents to bid on shifts in a way that does not negatively impact customer service. 

The Role of Analytics

Analytics already plays an important role in tactical decision-making. That figures to increase as the contact center plays a more prominent role in delivering actionable business intelligence. Customer data will become even more specific, providing guidance toward new customer-centric services. 

The Roles We Can’t Yet See

Speculating about future technology is always risky, as we learned from Lost in Space. But we do have some indicators about where contact center-related systems are headed. 

We have video chat now but we’re probably going to have a lot more of it by 2020, a result of easier access, more bandwidth and customer comfort with the video webchat they already use through Skype and other services. 

So if more customers opt for video, what channels will that replace? Some might say the phone, but according to a recent survey by Call Centre Helper it is email that is most likely to fall out of favor. 

As speech analytics is already improving the depth of data derived from every customer call, a voice biometrics component may be added to this functionality. With it, agents can authenticate a caller’s identity instantly, without the repetition of a social security number, account numbers or other personal information. That results in both a faster and more secure transaction. 

Speaking of faster – that’s what customers want, both now and in the future. The next-generation WFM solutions will strive to shorten average handle time by being even more intuitive in anticipating how calls should be routed and how issues can be resolved. The concept of “self-learning” functionality is no longer relegated to science fiction. The contact center of 2020 will be staffed by better agents working with better data, to drive customer satisfaction and retention, and deliver better value at a lower cost. 



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Three Steps to Greater Customer Insight

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With workforce management you have a lot of data at your disposal. And all of it is important – some to improve the efficiency of your contact center, and some to help you better understand the needs and preferences of your customers.

Let’s take a closer look at that second category today, as this is where many contact centers are seeing an increased focus. Tools such as speech analytics deliver insights that might have been impossible to achieve a decade ago. When agents have this data at their disposal they can react accordingly, and increase the likelihood of a successful customer engagement. 

Here are three contact center trends that you should be utilizing: 

1. Real-Time Data

What good is data if you get it when it’s too late to use it? Sure you can still make changes to affect future performance, but how much better would it be to deliver real-time guidance to agents, and alert managers when a call is going south? There is a predictive quality to this data, but if it’s compiled correctly you’ll be able to anticipate customer intentions and deliver a more customized response. It also works for online chat and email engagements. 

2. Follow the Path

Think of every customer engagement as a journey with a starting point and an end point, where lots of different things can happen in between. The more you can understand about each customer’s journey, the better you can serve that customer. Analytics from a workforce optimization suite plays a big role, but don’t stop there – you’ll also want to bring agents together in a collaborative way to discuss that actions they took and how well they worked (or didn’t work), and perhaps bring in personnel from other company departments that can provide additional data. If you do it right, you’ll figure out where a journey is headed while it’s still near the starting point, and react accordingly so the rest of the path is a walk in the park. 

3. Keep it Simple

There is data you’ll want to see after the fact, and data that’s important right now. When deploying analytics, make it easier for agents and managers to see what they need to see, when they need to see it. This may require some customization of your WFM solution, or simply bringing your system more in line with your business goals. 



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(Even More) Ways to Make Your Contact Center Better

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The purpose of many of our blogs and articles is to provide information and suggestions on how to improve the quality and efficiency of your contact center. Of course, what works for a small center with 10 agents may not be equally appropriate for a large 24/7 facility with three shifts of 200 agents. 

So the goal of this piece is to offer so many different kinds of tips in one article, you are bound to find at least a few that will be beneficial. Welcome to our spring cleaning piece – here is all the good advice we’ve had laying around the office all winter. 

Let’s get started on making your contact center even better than it is right now. 

Smart Call Routing

Use WFO or speech analytics to route customer calls to the agent best suited to deal with each caller’s issue. Calls will be handled faster, and customers will be happier. 

Team Building 

Take the agents that work together out for some friendly competition, especially if they are pitted against the managers. Arcades, go-kart tracks or any fun activity can encourage agent motivation and loyalty. 

Keep your Door Open

Agents appreciate a manager that is available to them when a problem arises or a question needs to be asked. The closer managers are to the area where agents are fielding calls, the better sense they will have of what is working and what is not. This is important for team-building as well. 

Provide Multichannel Access

Some of your customers may want to interact with your company without using the phone. At some contact centers as many as 40% of customer interactions are handled via live chat, while others are conducted with email. 

Basic Training 

Take potential agents on to the floor to listen to calls before they go into training. This makes training more relevant and ensures they feel comfortable with the role and environment. Then start new agents on the phones with support before letting them fly solo. It builds their confidence. 

Create an External Knowledge Base

Is there a place customers can go to answer the most basic questions about your company before calling? Don’t just create it – promote it via social media and your IVR message. 

Make Your Customers Happy to Be Customers

Courtesy on the phone, empathy when there is a problem, and a friendly greeting and close to each call can make a big difference. 

Expedite the Customer’s Path to a Live Agent

While it might seem more efficient to collect a caller’s personal information via automated message, the customer often has to confirm some of it with a live agent anyway. Most callers would prefer speaking to an agent as soon as possible. 

Ditch the Emoticons

Do you really think an emoji with a tear in its eye is going to make a customer feel better about the order they never received? This isn’t junior high. 

Empower Your Agents

Trust agents with the authority to handle basic transactions without a supervisor’s involvement or to use his or her best judgment with more complicated issues. This expedites the customer’s call and also makes agents feel more valued. 

Free Product Samples

When a new product is introduced, provide your contact center agents with one so they can get acquainted with it, and better understand what questions may arise from its use. 

Use Metrics Wisely

Metrics are vital in providing data on customer service goals – but make certain agents aren’t trying to lower average handle time by rushing through customer calls. The first priority is always the customer. 

Promote From Within

Managers that used to be agents will have more insight into how the front line works, and will be better able to structure their forecasting, scheduling and training

Be Patient with Seniors

Remember that seniors did not grow up with the same technology you did – make sure your agents know this as well, and encourage patience as they instruct the AARP generation how to negotiate online portals. 

Customer Survey

Think you know what’s most important to your customers? Why not confirm it with a survey that covers what they expect from a contact center? You may be surprised with the results. 

Employee Appreciation

Show your agents that their work is valued. A free lunch here, a spa day there, even an encouraging word or inquiry about their family can make them feel appreciated. And don’t neglect your off-site agents if you have them – telecommuting employees need acknowledgment too.

Share Training Ideas

A good idea for training and development can come from an agent, a coach, or even from someone outside the contact center. Hold meetings to update training session procedures and always look for ways to improve them. 

The Suggestion Box

Whether it’s handled though regular meetings or anonymous suggestions submitted through the old-fashioned suggestion box, make sure agents have a means to offer ideas for contact center improvements – many of which can be implemented at little or no cost. 

Create a Suggestion Box for Customers as Well

If you don’t wish to do a customer survey, have your agents ask customers before closing each call if there is a way that the contact center can better serve them. 

Communication Builds Relationships

Face-to-face interaction with different company departments should be encouraged. Shared knowledge about how different aspects of the company work will result in new ideas to create better synergy, and ultimately better service. Also make sure the lines of communication are always open within your team, by keeping them up to date with any news, company changes or notable customer feedback. 

Lead by Example

Motivation is always more effective when it comes from someone who follows the same rules and exhibits the same enthusiasm. Agents will pick up on a “do as I say, not as I do” approach very quickly, and respond accordingly. 

Never Settle

Did you achieve all of your goals this month? Great! Now set some new ones. Strive for continuous improvement every day. 



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Six Scheduling Mistakes to Avoid

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Sometimes with accurate scheduling it’s not about what you do right, but what you do wrong. Here are six examples where scheduling elements can be overlooked or mishandled, resulting in problems that can impact customer service. 

Not Scheduling Breaks

If agents take their breaks when they feel like it, that might result in too many going off to lunch or the break room at the same time, leaving a shift under-manned. Avoid this by scheduling breaks – it may not be popular, but by providing agents some input in when they can take some time off, the transition might be made more easily. 

Not Enough Part Time Help

If all of your agents work full time, they will always be there whether they are needed or not. Sometimes you’ll have too many people on the floor – occasionally there may still not be enough. By mixing in some part-time agents you can add more flexibility to your scheduling, and initiate split shifts. This will make it easier to cover peak hours, while not having to pay agents for sitting and waiting for the phone to ring. 

Not Accounting for Shrinkage

Almost every contact center takes shrinkage into consideration, but the calculations are complicated without an automated workforce management system. With WFM and attendance reports, managers are more likely to get the numbers right. 

Not Measuring Efficiency Properly

Schedule efficiency is a measure of how accurately and consistently the planned number of agents on staff matches the required staffing over the evaluation period. 

WFM produces a more accurate picture, but make sure to use weighted averages when producing consolidated figures, while not neglecting outside business hours.

Assuming Everyone Wants the Same Shift

There is a tendency to struggle with filling evening and weekend shifts. But with a flexible and part-time work force this should not be an issue. Students may want to work weekends, and agents with outside obligations during the day may prefer an evening shift. Don’t look for a problem where none might exist. 

Doing Nothing

Obviously this is the least excusable mistake, and yet there are still contact centers out there that just hope for the best. And to make it worse, they put off the hiring and training of new agents to replace those lost by attrition, and muddle through with a reduced roster that is even more vulnerable to unexpected schedule changes. 

It takes both art and science to staff a call center. Next to hiring the right personnel, scheduling plays the key role in maximizing resources and making sure calls are handled in a courteous and efficient manner. The faster mistakes are corrected, the faster a contact center is delivering the level of service that customers deserve. 



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Customer Service – From the Agent Perspective

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You have probably spent many hours studying the question of how you can provide better service to your contact center customers. Much of this attention will focus on the performance of your agents

But agents have their own ideas about the state of their industry and what constitutes customer service. Can you learn anything from their insight? 

A recent survey of more than 250 agents produced some interesting findings. 

The Best Way to Get Things Done

Today’s contact centers offer a selection of channels for customer interaction, but which is the most effective? Nearly half of the agents surveyed (47%) still believe that the telephone provides the best opportunity to resolve a customer’s situation. Web chat finished second with just 26%. 

But wait – isn’t the telephone outdated in this era of apps and social media? Not according to today’s agents. An overwhelming 90% of them are certain that there will always need to be a ‘call center’ component in the contact center. Perhaps some of these responses were motivated by job security but, as one explained, it’s easier for many customers to ask questions or describe a problem verbally than having to type out a long explanation.

Taking the Time to Get it Right

Agents are certainly aware of the importance managers place on KPIs like Average Handle Time – but sometimes that leads to a choice between wrapping up a call more quickly and making sure the customer is happy. While nearly 40% of agents surveyed said they tried to complete calls in 5-10 minutes, 32% replied that effective problem solving may take longer, so they’ll take 15 minutes if necessary.  

Virtual Queuing vs. ‘On Hold’

No one likes to be placed on hold, which is why 81% of agents support virtual queuing that allows customers to call back at a time when they will receive immediate agent access. However, some expressed concern that customers may neglect to call back at the right time, which can result in more frustration. 

Do They Care? Good News

The agent hiring and screening process seeks to find people with empathy toward customer issues, and a sincere desire to get problems solved. Of course, everyone says the right things in a job interview, but do they really mean them? This anonymous survey provided a chance to find out – fortunately, 98% of agents surveyed feel a sense of duty to the client, and a desire to provide a positive customer experience. 

“Without them,” one agent said, “our business would not exist.” 


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How to reduce agent attrition?

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Most people seem to take perverse pleasure in hearing horror stories about their profession – as long as the experience being described is one that didn’t happen to them. 

Department store workers often gather after their shift to swap tales about difficult customers; police officers, between serious calls about crimes in progress, sometimes find themselves summoned to homes where they are asked to open a pickle jar, or to kill a bee inside a frightened person’s home. 

This is certainly true of contact center agents as well. One story you may find online is the agent who works at a body shop, who was accused of holding a customer’s car hostage for three weeks. Wonder if the agent sent that customer a ransom note after the call? 

Here is the part that isn’t so funny – too many of those calls can contribute to agent burnout. It’s a challenge for every contact center regardless of size or industry, as evidenced by consistently high attrition numbers. Given the investment required to hire and train a replacement every time an agent decides he or she has had enough, it is critical for managers to hire wisely, and take whatever actions are feasible to create a more positive professional environment. 

The Emotional Toll

The Wharton Financial Institution Center held a Call Center Industry Forum that explored how the front lines of a corporate contact center are often charged with emotion, and companies need to account for that when hiring and training workers to take on this critical role in customer contact.

“There is a growing need for workers who have to deal constantly with the public to manage emotions – and this is especially true for those on the phones,” said Steffanie Wilk, a Wharton management professor who has done extensive research on call centers.

Is there anything that can be done to help agents better cope with stressful situations? Certainly the hostile calls aren’t going to stop, even if multichannel capability shifts some of them to email, online chat and social media. They still have to be dealt with, but reading an angry screed does not raise the blood pressure as much as being yelled at on the phone. 

One way to approach the situation is to focus on hiring agents that are a good fit, not just for the demands of the position but also for the company itself. 

Wanted: The Perfect Agent (for us)

Try that ad in a job listing and see what happens. Perfection may not be possible, but by presenting a more detailed sense of your company culture, the specific nature of incoming calls and other variables that are specific to your contact center, managers are more likely to weed out candidates that won’t be able to cope. 

Does your contact center handle insurance claims or technology products, where close attention to detail is necessary? Is the contact center an important source for upselling, requiring agents to not just process orders but have some sales skills as well? Do you receive a high percentage of calls from seniors, which may require more patience in resolving an issue? The more you understand the particulars of your business, the easier it will be to find the right agents to handle them. 

Script Flexibility

While it’s important for new hires to adhere to the contact center script, as they improve their skills and become acclimated to the position, it may be more of a hindrance than help to experienced agents. The repetition of the same lines every day can certainly contribute to burnout. 

Here is where ongoing coaching and training can help, as well as call recording and quality monitoring. Give proven agents more flexibility in script usage, then analyze the results. If the rate of successful outcome remains consistent, tell that agent to keep up the good work. Managers may also discover non-rehearsed responses used by veteran agents that are more effective than what was in the script, which can then be adopted company-wide. 

One other point with new agents – during their initial training it is beneficial to not just tell them what to say, but why they are saying it. Let them know the reasons behind the content, and make sure they understand why these decisions were made. While it might not seem necessary to reveal the strategy behind the script, it might make them feel more involved, and not compelled to read lines from a page because they are not trusted enough to converse with customers on their own. 

Anticipation and Autonomy

Many contact center customers don’t start out angry. They call with what they believe is a reasonable request or a simple question, only to be put on hold, or transferred from agent to agent, or asked to repeat their contact information three times. Result – what should have been an uneventful call morphs into the kind that contributes to agent burnout. 

Such situations can be avoided with a review of your contact center’s current systems. Is there a way to reduce transfers by giving the agent more autonomy to solve the customer’s problem? Would a workforce management solution boost the accuracy of forecasting and scheduling, so there are always enough agents to handle incoming calls? Would an investment in speech analytics deliver data that helps to anticipate a caller’s needs, so that call can be routed more efficiently or resolved in a shorter time? 

Leave Your Worries on the Doorstep

Another contributing factor in agent attrition has nothing to do with how the contact center is run. If an agent is having problems at home, they can affect performance and increase stress levels to the point where something has to give. And most people will leave their job before they leave their family. 

Obviously you can’t tell every agent who shows up in a bad mood to go home, but a few questions about the agent’s home and family during the hiring process may help identify those who are more likely to arrive at work in a more upbeat state of mind. 

Conclusion

Call centers average a 30% turnover rate, but that’s no reason to accept such substantial attrition. If your call center is at 25% turnover, set a goal to lower that to 20% in six months or one year. These steps may help with that process.



 

 

 


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Is Your Contact Center Ready for 2016?

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

Engaging Millennials

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


Social Media

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


Anyone Not in the Cloud Yet?

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

Turning Agents into Salespeople

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

De-Stressing Average Handle Time

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



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Workforce Management and Labor Costs

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

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

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

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

Reduced administrative costs from manually scheduling employees

Lower overstaffing costs through more accurate schedules

Less productivity loss due to unplanned absences

Better agent adherence with real-time monitoring

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




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A More Efficient Call Center in One Minute?

These are just some of the real-world benefits experienced after implementing Monet WFM software.

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