Call Center Scheduling Hints, Tips & Best Practices
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!
Read More About Have You Put Your Holiday Staffing Plan in Action?
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.
Read More About Workforce Management and Personnel Time Management
automated workforce management (WFM) solution? Look for one that doesn’t just deliver a lot of data, but also functions in a way that complements how today’s call centers operate. This business has changed, and you won’t be able to change with it if you are burdened by yesterday’s technology. Here are five current WFM trends that should be part of your strategy, and that should benefit from the efficiency of an automated WFM solution. Flexible Staffing/Scheduling
The workplace of today is very different from what it was like 20 years ago. Agents, particularly those in the millennial age group, grew up in a world of on-demand service, and expect that same option at work. With WFM it’s easier for these agents to manage their schedules, bid for open shifts, request time off or select the shifts for which they are available. While some of this might sound like catering to the whims of people who despise a standard workweek, in the long run it results in happier employees, which is good for customer service. And while adjusting all of these shifts might have been a headache with spreadsheets, WFM streamlines the process so manager oversight is minimal.
With the automated processes made possible by WFM, managers don’t have to be as concerned about noncompliance with legislative and industry regulatory mandates. Just set up the system to accommodate applicable laws and requirements, and it will do the work for you, while also providing a full audit trail.
Real Time Adherence
Are some agents spending 10 extra minutes on their lunches or breaks? Has one agent left early twice last week? WFM provides tracking that makes it easier to enforce time and attendance policies. It’s an objective system that makes sure the same rules apply to everyone.
Enterprise and other growing entities may require more than one contact center, with locations in different states or perhaps even outside the country. Workforce management makes that single global system possible, integrating all functionality through one common interface. This method is more efficient than the regional siloes it replaces.
Today it’s not just about having the right number of agents for each shift, it’s having the right blend of skills and services within that agent pool so that every type of incoming call stands an excellent chance of achieving a positive outcome. With WFM you’ll always know you’re covered, and can plan ahead when selecting additional staff or replacements when certain agents are on vacation. A WFM system with
speech analytics makes it even easier to identify where agents excel, so calls in their specialty area can be routed to them.
Read More About Five Workforce Management Trends You Should Know
In healthcare, some treatments for illness have been effective for hundreds of years, while new treatments are always being developed that improve on older methods. The same can be said of a healthcare call center. Managers may still be relying on a traditional solution – spreadsheets – for forecasts and schedules, but this is one treatment that may have outlived its usefulness. If the data you have been generating with spreadsheets for 20 years is no longer sufficient, it’s time to make the change to WFM. We created a free whitepaper entitled Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling: Best Practices that explores this topic in more detail. What are some of the benefits of WFM, compared to spreadsheets? • More accurate forecasts
A streamlined scheduling process
More flexible management of start times, end times and break times
Easier skill-based scheduling
Happier agents and customers Spreadsheets simply cannot compete. Find out for yourself by reading the whitepaper.
Read More About Abandoning Spreadsheets at a Healthcare Call Center
How workforce management is defined may depend in part on how it is employed within a specific industry. Wikipedia provides us with a starting point: “In many markets and industries, workforce management is all about assigning the right employees with the right skills to the right job at the right time.” This definition certainly applies to healthcare contact centers. One of the primary goals is to have the right number of agents with the right set of skills available at all times to provide efficient customer and patient service. In this case workforce management describes not just the goal, but also the best means of achieving it. One of the most important responsibilities of a healthcare call center manager is to accurately anticipate the types and volume of calls expected within a certain day, or even hour-to-hour. This can be accomplished through the historical call center data collected and analyzed by an automated WFM solution. With precise predictions in hand, the manager thus creates a forecast and schedule to meet demand. Historical data, along with call recording, can also be used to review agent performance, which helps with finding the right mix of agents for each shift, and for coaching and training purposes.
How should you choose a WFM solution for your healthcare call center? The right choice will be one that delivers accurate call volume forecasting from historical data and ACD integration, flexible schedule creation that incorporates foreseen and unforeseen variables, agent exceptions, intra-day changes to both forecasting and scheduling, and performance management reports. In other words, everything you need to keep your business running at optimal efficiency.
Read More About Defining Workforce Management for Healthcare Call Centers
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:
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).
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.
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.
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.
Read More About Tips for Avoiding Call Center Agent Burnout
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.
Read More About Insurance Contact Centers: Confronting Your Greatest Challenge
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.
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.
Read More About Insurance Call Center Agents: What Skills are Most Important?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read More About Beneficial Technologies for Virtual Contact Centers
All business managers pursue exemplars of quality, efficiency and success that may serve as a model for how to run their company better. Usually these are sought out within their respective industry, or elsewhere in the private sector. But what if we looked outside those traditional channels and selected another inspiration – the military?
For the contact center that seems like a less than ideal fit – but is it? When you take a closer look, there are some common traits that benefit a platoon of call center agents as much as a platoon of soldiers. Grace Under Pressure
Sure, the average contact center agent won’t face a life-or-death situation on the job, but there is no shortage of pressure as he or she deals with angry callers and emotionally charged situations. Soldiers rely on their training when faced with a stressful situation, and agents should be able to do the same. There is a process in place for handling heated moments, and the best way to get through them is to stay calm and follow that process, with the agent controlling his or her reactions to whatever is hurled against them.
When these processes are automatically and consistently applied, it’s easier for the agent to keep a cool head and keep the engagement from spiraling out of control. Clear Communication
Knowing how to communicate clearly is one of the most important job requirements for the contact center agent, whether addressing customers via phone, text, email or online chat. Such skills cannot always be expected from customers, who may be furious, confused or introverted. Military personnel are often called upon to communicate with people from other countries and cultures, so they know it’s important to choose their words carefully and be specific in their message to avoid any misunderstanding. The agent who is able to do the same, while maintaining a calm, courteous demeanor, is one that any business would wish to keep.
What does it take for a contact center to meet its customer service goals? It starts with a commitment to excellence. Some agents walk in the door with that level of dedication, but many will need to acquire it through training, during which this ability can be instilled through instruction, repetition, and an awareness of what constitutes quality. Perhaps it won’t be as strenuous as the basic training the army provides but the end result should be the same – a disciplined team member who is part of a group with one shared objective.
Armed for Battle
Just as an officer would never send his men into war without the proper gear, a contact center agent cannot be expected to win the customer service battle without the right technology. In this case, that includes cloud contact center solutions that help analyze data, deliver more accurate forecasts and schedules, route calls to the agent best suited to handle them, and provide insight into which practices are working and which need attention.
Rifles, grenades and bulletproof vests? Not this time. Successful contact center agents will benefit from a different set of tools, skillfully wielded by sharp managers: • Call Recording • Workforce Management
Screen Capture Each in their own way can improve service levels and reduce call center costs, without the upfront expenses and IT requirements of traditional workforce software. A New Challenge for Veterans
If there are this many common qualities between soldiers and contact center agents, doesn’t it make sense to consider veterans when hiring?
Comcast Corp. certainly thinks so. Last year the company announced plans to hire 10,000 military veterans, reservists and spouses over the next three years. Since 2012, the company has hired more than 4,200 veterans. Many of them now work at Comcast’s contact centers. This is not only an admirable effort, especially with Memorial Day fast approaching, it is also a proven method for finding better agents that are more likely to provide excellent service, and to stay in their positions longer. Consider these additional attributes managers look for in a contact center agent, and how they also correspond with those in military service. No wonder this transition is one that works: • Accelerated learning curve: veterans can quickly learn new skills and concepts • Teamwork: the military encourages both individual and group productivity • Following orders: Military men and women are used to accurately following procedures • Integrity: Veterans are familiar with the concept of an honest day’s work, and will bring their ‘A’ game to their job every day. There are many qualities that are desirable in a contact center agent, and most of them have already been acquired by men and women who have served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Something to keep in mind next time your contact center is hiring.
Read More About Victory at the Contact Center: Should Managers Run The Business with Military Precision?
If you follow news from the contact center industry, you may have read about another high-profile convert to the
cloud. One of the largest technology healthcare service providers in the United States recently announced its adoption of flexible cloud-based technology to provide 24/7 customer access via phone, online video or mobile application. Technology health, or “telehealth,” is a growing trend in health care, which incorporates remote conferencing between doctors and patients for general questions and follow-ups. It’s more convenient and cost-effective for the patient, as it does not require driving to the doctor’s office and paying the fee that is requested as soon as you sign in with the receptionist. The cloud technology selected includes workforce management, automatic call distribution and IVR. At this early stage in the evolution of telehealth, positive patient experiences are particularly important. Those that try the system only to lose the connection, or be stuck on hold for long periods of time, may decide it’s not worth the effort. Thus companies must make certain that patient care is optimized, and agent performance (if someone other than the doctor is the first contact for users) is efficient. The same concerns within this burgeoning industry are ongoing challenges for every type of business with a contact center. This is why so many of these entities are moving to the cloud in unprecedented numbers. Managers have access to all the data they need through workforce optimization and workforce management to deliver accurate forecasts and schedules, without the large upfront cost that such technology used to require. If you haven’t considered the possibilities of WFM in the cloud, click here to find out more about Monet WFM Live.
Read More About Another Major Company Moves to the Cloud
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.
Read More About Insurance Company Contact Centers – Four Ways WFM Can Improve Performance
Remember when people used to be annoyed when full-service assistance with everyday tasks began to disappear in favor of self-service options? From pumping your own gas to checking out your own groceries, we have become a do-it-yourself world, and that mindset is now making its way into the contact center industry.
If you have not already started to accommodate customers who want to conduct their transactions without speaking to an agent, now is the time to do so.
This requires more than simply adding additional channels – text, online chat, email, mobile app – it means creating a seamless experience for customers that start in one channel and then switch to another. As you set up these other channels, the focus should also be on a user-friendly experience; that includes websites that are easy to navigate and proactive responses and FAQs. Also, make sure you have personnel trained for the omnichannel customer experience. An agent who excels in phone communication may not be suited for online chat.
Data-driven analytics are no less important in omnichannel than they are in the traditional call center. Have technology systems in place to monitor customer interactions, and gather the information you need from them to provide accurate forecasts, schedules and shift staffing.
Another consequence of our self-service world is that customers used to doing stuff themselves have become more impatient. That puts more pressure on contact centers to employ real-time analytics and routing capabilities to minimize wait times.
Preparing your customer service systems and teams for the self-service world will take some time, but the ultimate result will be happier customers, and that’s good for everyone.
Read More About Easing the Transition to a Self-Serve Customer Experience
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.
Read More About Millennial Agents, Millennial Customers: Keeping Them Happy
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.
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.
Read More About The Contact Center in 2020
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.
Read More About Boosting Conversion Rates with a Better Customer Experience
There certainly seem to be a lot of surveys released these days, all focusing on the contact center industry and the impact of technology on the customer experience. We like to bring these to you when we find them, because if they’re done well they usually have something important to tell us about the state of our business.
We just found one from the United Kingdom that spoke to 100 contact center professionals about their workforce management adoption and challenges. If we had to summarize the findings in one sentence, we’d say it suggests that workforce management solutions are capable of making significant improvements in a contact center’s efficiency, but many businesses are still hesitant to commit to this improved technology: • Just 29% of respondents have a WFM solution in place
33% report disappointing experiences with off-the-shelf solutions
67% believe the WFM provider did not provide adequate support and training This is disappointing to read for a number of reasons. Workforce management has been around since the 1980s – this is not a shiny new toy that hasn’t been proven in the real world. If seven out of every 10 contact centers in the UK are still getting by with spreadsheets and other means, we can only wonder how much better they could be doing by embracing a solution that can revolutionize their forecasting, scheduling and staffing procedures. Even more troubling are the responses from those that have adopted a WFM solution, and found it wanting. This has a negative impact not just on the company that provides that WFM software, but also on all of us in this business. Looking closer at the survey results, we find the 33% that were disappointed in WFM found the system to be inflexible, and thus incompatible with the demands placed on the modern contact center. The challenges they found, in areas such as reporting, support, and overall performance, simply would not be an issue with a product like Monet Live WFM in the cloud. Great WFM solutions are available – it’s up to contact center managers to do their due diligence and find a solution with the customization, flexibility, user-friendliness and support they require.
Read More About Workforce Management: The State of the Industry
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Did you achieve all of your goals this month? Great! Now set some new ones. Strive for continuous improvement every day.
Read More About (Even More) Ways to Make Your Contact Center Better
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.
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.
Read More About Six Scheduling Mistakes to Avoid
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.”
Read More About Customer Service – From the Agent Perspective
What do omnichannel capability, self-service interactions and the cloud have in common? All are listed among the most prominent trends emerging in the contact center industry. Let’s take a closer look:
It’s a fancy word that simply means providing customers with a choice on how they interact with your company. The telephone continues to be a popular option, but email and online chat are preferred by those who don’t wish to speak directly with an agent. Contact centers should respond to these demands by making multiple channels available, and allowing customers to switch from one to the other during an enquiry.
And of course, it’s not just establishing these channels but having a workforce optimization solution in place to measure quality management and customer data that will impact service delivery. 2. Self-Service
No matter how many channels you add, some customers will prefer to settle their business without talking to anyone. The marketing firm Gartner predicts that by 2020 customers will manage 85% of their interactions this way.
Such predictions have a tendency to over-estimate the consumer reliance on new technology such as mobile apps – remember with eBooks were going to put regular books out of business? Still, this is ultimately a positive trend for contact centers as it reduces workload on agents (and may eventually reduce the number of agents you need). However, as with omnichannel, it’s wise to have a system in place where customers can easily transition from self-service technology to a more traditional communication channel. 3. The Cloud Platform
It’s not the #1 platform yet, but it is getting there quickly. The appeal of no large upfront investment, always running the latest and greatest software, ease of transition and ease of use and better scalability, in addition to other benefits, are driving the contact center industry toward the cloud platform in droves.
As a pioneer in cloud solutions, Monet has not only been at the forefront of the cloud trend, we continue to stay on the cutting edge of what this model can provide. Questions? We’re here to help. Contact us today
Read More About 3 Technology Trends: Is Your Contact Center Ready?
In 2016, a process will begin in Connecticut designed to consolidate different municipal and district services, in an effort to both lower costs and to offer these services in a more streamlined and consistent manner.
Contact centers, including those devoted to public health, pension administration and emergency call handling, are among those that may be consolidated by region. According to one study, lowering the number of emergency call centers from more than 100 to just eight could be achieved without impacting service.
Such changes may be headed for the private sector as well. New contact centers are sometimes established for one individual line of business or new venture, which does not have to fit efficiently into a larger enterprise. That can result in wasted resources and replicated technology platforms.
The company that carried out the study, launched a program to achieve more efficient economies of scale based on resources, facilities, technology and processes. It was discovered that there were a number of opportunities for savings, including:
Resource pooling, combining hiring profiles and skill requirements (10-20% savings)
Process simplification and workforce management efficiencies (10-15% savings)
Common critical monitoring and reporting metrics (10-15% savings)
Shared CRM applications and improved call routing efficiencies (5-10% savings)
Optimized common agent desktop tools (5-10% savings)
Contact center consolidation is one of the primary ways to improve operational efficiencies and improve constituent satisfaction. Is it something your company should consider?
Read More About Regional Sharing for Contact Center Services
There are no shortage of blogs and articles online, including right here at
Monet, about the many benefits associated with moving your contact center technology into the cloud. By now you have likely read about the cost savings that results from a cloud migration, as well as improved flexibility and scalability, higher customer satisfaction and even improved agent engagement. What is not as well-covered in these pieces are the best steps to take right before making the transition, so the move into the cloud will be easier, and your contact center will be ready to make the most of its new capabilities. Here are a few ideas that may help. Embrace the Omni-Channel
With the cloud you’ll be able to achieve customer communication via phone, email or online chat. If you do not have all these channels integrated now, prepare your agents for what that will be like, and how to route customer contacts appropriately for the best service.
Sifting Through the Data
Whatever data you were using now to create forecasts and schedules and analyze performance will likely be multiplied by the workforce management and optimization solutions delivered through the cloud. The good news is it will all come via a single desktop, so there will be no need to switch between systems. However, you’ll want to start preparing ahead of time on which metrics to focus on, and how to optimize the real-time reporting capabilities you’ll now have to make changes as needed.
Always Be Prepared
Cloud solutions are more reliable than the software contact centers used to rely on. However, having a plan for when something goes wrong is always a good idea. Most companies devote just 2-4% of their IT budget to disaster recovery planning. And yet, the actions taken before a cyber attack are as significant, if not more so, than actions taken after the worst has become reality. Control measures can reduce some security threats; detective measures could help catch a potential man-made breach before it occurs.
Now that you’re ready, welcome to the cloud! If you need any additional help or information, contact us. Monet Software is a pioneer in contact center cloud solutions, and can make your transition as smooth and seamless as possible.
Read More About Migrating to the Cloud: How to Get Ready
We don’t mean to sound jaded.
It’s always an honor when one of our products is singled out for recognition in the contact center industry, and that has indeed happened once again: Monet’s WFO Live – Workforce Optimization in the Cloud has been named a Product of the Year by TMC’s CUSTOMER magazine, a leading source for contact center news, product information and communications strategies. This is also the third year in a row that a Monet solution has earned Product of the Year honors, to go along with a Customer Experience Innovation Award bestowed by TMC in 2014. “What this award means to us, more than just another honor to hang on our wall, is the acknowledgment that WFM Live is making a real difference at contact centers of all sizes across the country,” said our CEO Chuck Ciarlo. “The improved efficiency and customer service experienced by our customers every day is the best award we can imagine.” What should such consistent recognition mean to you? If you are a Monet customer it means the WFO solution you selected is among the very best available. If you are still considering a migration to an automated WFO tool, we hope it means you’ll take a closer look at what Monet has to offer. Investing in WFO is a decision you only want to make once. So why not select a complete end-to-end cloud-based workforce optimization solution packaged and priced to deliver the lowest total cost of ownership? Monet WFO Live offers comprehensive capabilities including workforce management, call recording, quality management, screen capture, performance management, agent analytics and archiving and reporting capabilities. It’s easy to set up, easy to use, and provides software fixes and upgrades as part of its software subscription fee at no additional cost. Perhaps that is why the awards keep coming.
Find out more about WFO Live, and how it can boost efficiency at your contact center – at a price you can afford
Read More About Another Year, Another “Product of the Year” Award
Forecasting determines many of the daily decisions made by contact center management, and plays a key role in a center’s ability to operate efficiently and deliver quality customer service.
How are contact centers today handling this ongoing challenge? One UK publication invited industry personnel to share their methods and assess their performances. The results, and the ideas generated, may provide you with more insight into how your contact center measures up, and where improvement may be possible. Using the Past to Predict the Present
Forecasting relies on historical data to anticipate call volume and other key factors in planning a schedule. Most forecast planners use at least two years’ worth of data, though some prefer five years. At contact centers where products and promotions are constantly changing, managers rely on just 12-18 months for forecast creation.
The average accuracy of forecast variance to actual calls falls into the 5-20% range. While some manage to stay in single digits (5-6%), others are still struggling with numbers as high as 80%. One contact center reported that service queues are typically more accurate than sales.
Nearly 75% of contact centers surveyed forecast at 15-minute intervals; the rest do so every 30 minutes. The goal of increasing forecast accuracy has inspired a wide range of strategies, from assessing holidays and other unique days separately to improving coordination between departments (such as marketing and finance) to boosting the precision of the numbers being used. And while relating ideas that went right, some managers also shared some memorable mistakes in the hope of helping others to avoid them. These ranged from a simple accounting error (missing a zero from the monthly total) to putting too much trust in a client’s forecast, to relying on insufficient data. However accurate a generated forecast may be, however, contact centers still sometimes experience a disconnect from company management on the number generated. This can lead to issues with appropriate staffing decisions, and challenges in meeting customer service needs while also having time for meetings, agent training and other activities. Such conflicts have been resolved by producing results that are consistently accurate, and presenting data to management in clear graphical models that are easy to understand. Manual or WFM?
All forecasts also rely on agents being in the right place at the right time – as this doesn’t always happen, contact centers have learned to build more flexibility into their forecasts. This is much easier to do with an automated workforce management solution. Survey responses were roughly split between those that use a
WFM tool and those that still rely on spreadsheets. Multichannel Forecasting
Finally, the survey asked respondents if they are also forecasting for email, webchat and social media. Historical data may be more limited in these communication channels, but most are still making the attempt, using whatever numbers are available.
Read More About Forecasting: What’s Happening Now