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Back Office Workforce Management Hints, Tips & Best Practices

Sales of Back office WFM solutions have steadily increased over the past few years, as call centers recognize the need for more data and more control. It also helps that the solutions themselves have become more sophisticated and customized.

WFM improves back-office service levels through greater forecast accuracy of manual tasks and activities, more efficient resource planning and scheduling and increased employee productivity. All of these capabilities can make a critical difference in back office operations, as long as companies select the right solution.

The following blogs and articles have additional information on back-office WFM solutions. Or, click here to discover how Monet’s WFM for back-office integrates easily into your current ACD or PBX system, and offers multi-channel efficiencies, clear and organized dashboards and intra-day visibility.

Still have questions? Search for answers here.

Workforce Management and Personnel Time Management

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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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The Contact Center in 2020

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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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Boosting Conversion Rates with a Better Customer Experience

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

From the “easier said than done” department is the advice that works for just about every type of contact center – listen to your customers and respond to their needs. When contact centers develop this habit, customer conversion rates go up. 

The way to get there is not through some sophisticated formula – it’s the basic business practices that we know we should be doing every day, but sometimes fall short amidst the day-to-day challenges that running a business entails. 

Here’s a refresher course on the some of the most prominent of these practices.

Accurate Forecasts

Part of responding to customer needs is answering calls quickly – 30 seconds or less is a reasonable goal. Accurate forecasting and scheduling through a workforce management solution that predicts call volume is the key to developing consistency in this critical skill. 

Recurrent Training

After initial agent training is complete, the process of learning and improving really begins. Reviews of recorded calls, positive reinforcement and coaching, and the flexibility to go off-script are just some of the ways that you can help agents sharpen their skills and instincts.

Adding Additional Channels

We’ve covered this before – webchat, email and mobile apps offer customers other options for placing orders or having questions answered. 

Use Analytics Wisely

Data generated by workforce management and quality monitoring can point managers toward efficiency goals – but people are always more important than numbers, and agents should feel confident in the freedom to take some extra time with a difficult customer to bring about a successful result. 

Never Stop Listening

You can’t turn full control over to your customers, but the more you listen to their preferences, the better you’ll be able to meet them. Don’t be afraid to test new procedures and experiment with script changes or other variables that might improve the customer experience. Not every test will be successful, but you’ll never know which ones will make your business better until you try them. 


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Where is the Next Contact Center Revolution Taking Place?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Keeping Up with Contact Center Tech

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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2015: The Year of the Back Office Solution

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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. 



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Can You Keep your Agents Healthier?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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. 



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Turning Contact Centers into 'Insight Centers'

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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. 



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Contact Center Leadership: Four Tips for Success

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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. 

4. Listen

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.



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Are Contact Center Agents Buried Under Information?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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. 


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Workforce Management for the Back Office

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

Give almost any company an unlimited budget, and it will probably succeed. Unfortunately, few companies can rely on such generous resources. The challenge for today’s businesses, including contact centers, is to get the most out of what’s available.

Contact center managers have become experts at doing more with less, and prioritizing goals. This means keeping the primary focus on customer service in the front office. Too often, that leaves the back office, which also performs several vital functions, at a disadvantage.

Is it possible to bring the same tools that benefit the front office to the back office, and stay within budget?

Workforce Management is the Key
Fortunately, the same workforce management (WFM) solution that has made your front office more efficient can have the same impact on back office tasks. Workforce Management helps contact centers better align and manage their resources so that service levels continue to be met, while costs are controlled.

Back-office tasks are often manual and complex, making it difficult to automate, manage and forecast workload. With WFM, contact centers can improve service levels. And with WFM in the cloud, the company further reduces both costs and headaches, as it avoids the upfront expenses and IT requirements of traditional workforce management software.

With workforce management for the back office, 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
Let’s take a closer look at what is possible with the right tools in place and extending contact center workforce management to the back office:

Forecasting
Use back office WFM to run simulations that will calculate a precise forecast for future call volume, agent requirements and average handle time for any time interval of the day, based on historical data from ACD.

Scheduling
WFM can incorporate all call types and other activities to generate staffing schedules that optimize a wide range of factors, including agent availability, work rules, skills, holidays, breaks, service levels and center budgets. 


Intra-day Management

Real-time updates are as critical here as they are in front office management. WFM can help to require and assign agents instantly, and display surpluses and shortages for each time period of the day.

Exception Planning
While exception planning is often a challenge, there are workforce management solutions with integrated exception calendars to simplify this task. Now managers will always know when agents are off, or in training meetings.

Performance Analysis

Easily report and analyze all agent activities including their schedule adherence and key performance indicators. Managers can review service level results, costs and revenue.

All of these capabilities can make a critical difference in back office operations. But while adherence was previously referenced, it deserves closer attention, as staffing remains the single biggest cost facing any contact center. Schedule adherence in real time allows managers to compare planned agent activity to actual activities throughout the day, to determine whether staffing decisions were appropriate for any given shift.

When every minute counts, WFM can monitor and record the real-time status of agents in the call center, and deliver alerts when agents are out of adherence, so schedules can be adjusted accordingly.

Choosing a Back Office WFM Solution
Different contact centers may have different priorities, but (in addition to those previously described) here are some of the attributes that should be part of your next workforce management solution.

Multi-Channel Efficiencies
The same WFM solution that forecasts, schedules and assigns resources for your front office should provide the same functionality to the back office.

Clear and Organized Dashboards
It should be possible to track and monitor key performance metrics for both front office and back office from one dashboard. Doing so delivers greater insights in resource needs and allocation, resulting in better customer service.

Intra-Day Visibility

Visibility into backlogs, workforce availability, employee activities and efficiencies throughout the day makes it easier for a contact center manager to take a proactive approach in managing back-office activities.

Integration

The system should easily integrate with the contact center’s ACD or PBX systems, through pre-built adaptors. Adherence and call history should be enabled when these systems are able to talk to each other in real time.

WFM in the Cloud
Compared with traditional workforce management software, a cloud-based WFM solution allows companies to:

Reduce upfront costs: Eliminate the significant investment just to get started, which would typically require the purchase of hardware, databases, and software licenses, as well as additional costs for installation and IT staff to support the system. Cloud-based WFM saves both time and money because there are no infrastructure costs.

Get started faster: Rather than having to ramp-up to a six- to twelve-month (or more) implementation, WFM solutions enable companies to start managing their workforce in the cloud within a matter of weeks.

Connect anywhere:  With the cloud, WFM can be accessed anywhere—whether on the other side of town or the other side of the world, with a computer and a standard web browser.

Minimize ongoing costs: Cloud-based WFM software doesn’t just save money during the implementation phase. Contact centers save time and money in the long term as well. The WFM firm supports all maintenance of the system, including free software upgrades and troubleshooting. Companies also benefit from the ability to quickly customize or add modules via a single, web-based interface.

Pay-as-you-go: Contact centers pay only for the capacity and infrastructure that are actually used, typically based on number of users. This usage-based, pay-as-you-go subscription pricing approach saves money while also delivering the flexibility to quickly scale to manage the demands of changing contact center sizes.

Conclusion
Back office workforce management offers the benefit of extending front office operational efficiency into back office processing environments. It automates manual processes, improves forecast accuracy, enables managers to view and manage resource capacity and adherence to scheduled tasks, and empowers employees to self-manage scheduling and time-off requests.

Please talk to us if you would like to learn more about back office workforce management.

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