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Service Level Hints, Tips & Best Practices

When used as a call center metric, “service level” measures the percentage of incoming calls that an agent answers live in an established amount of time. This level is defined as a pair of numbers: a percentage value and a time value in seconds. So, for example, an “80/20” service level means 80% of calls answered in 20 seconds.

Anything that can be done to raise call center service levels should be explored. It’s a process that begins by asking the right questions about goals and the changes and costs required to achieve them.

In our blog you’ll find several ideas for efficiently maintaining practical service levels. The right software solution can help, too – find out more about what Monet has to offer.

Questions? Search for answers here.

Brushing up on the Basics for 2017

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

Every so often it’s a good idea to go back to basics: what is it that makes a call center successful, and what are the goals that should be strived for in the New Year? 

Here are some of the factors to consider. 

Key Performance Indicators

Track them – not sometime but all the time. It’s a tough job without a workforce management (WFM) solution, but with WFM the appropriate data is automatically collected and delivered so you always know how you’re doing. There are several KPIs – the most important to watch are how quickly calls are answered (less than 20 seconds is a good benchmark), average handle time, and lost calls. 

Agents

Many companies have outsourced their call center operations, but several of them have reversed course after too many customer complaints about agents that could not be clearly understood. When someone calls a U.S.-based business, they expect to speak to someone who is proficient in English. If you encounter agent applicants without this trait who are otherwise qualified (smart, courteous, understanding), your call center can still use their skills on another communication channel, such as email or online chat. 

Script

How specific do you want your script? Some call centers give agents word-for-word opens, closes and question responses, while others set a more general tone and allow agents the freedom to engage in conversation. The latter is generally considered the better option, but you’ll need agents you can trust to make it work. 

Technology/Software

As referenced earlier, a workforce management solution makes everything more efficient. But if you installed one several years ago, it might be time for an upgrade. Each new WFM product adds additional capabilities, improves existing functionality, and corrects issues with previous versions. With traditional software, these upgrades can also be expensive, which is why many companies delay implementation. But call centers that get their WFM in the cloud will always be on the most recent version, as it is automatically installed at no additional cost. 


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Seasons Change: Make Sure Your Call Center Changes With Them

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

For all the beautiful photos you’ll see of leaves changing color in Vermont and harvest festivals and pumpkin pies, the fact remains that autumn can be a depressing time. The summer is over, the days are shorter, and in some parts of the country the temperatures are already dipping below freezing. 

Coping with such changes can cast a pall over your call center, and affect agent performance – but only if you let it. Here are some ideas that can result in a more productive fall. 

Daylight Savings Time

The one part of autumn that no one likes is setting the clocks back, which throws everyone’s internal clock off for a while, and offers one more hour of darkness at the end of the day. If the transition was rough on your agents this year, next year try to make it more gradual, by adjusting shifts incrementally – say, 15 minutes a day for the four days preceding the change. Lighting adjustments in the call center – especially those that mimic natural light – can help as well, and even prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder. 

Fresh Air

Breaks are part of every call center shift, but can be more beneficial if agents are encouraged to spend at least part of that time outside. The crisp fall air is stimulating and will boost alertness for when they return to work, especially in the afternoon when attention to detail often begins to slip. 

Celebrations

Emphasizing the fun parts of fall can make the season less depressing. Have a costume contest in the days leading up to Halloween. Offer free turkeys or pumpkin pies to agents who perform the best in November. 

Redecorate

Autumn holiday decorations can make a call center more festive. Some new furniture, a fresh coat of paint and some plants (real ones, not the plastic variety) also contribute to a more pleasant work environment. 

Plan Ahead for Cold and Flu Season

This tip benefits your agents and your customers as well. More of your employees will get sick this time of year. Recognize that it’s coming, give them the time off, and call upon your holiday file of backup and temporary agents to fill in before the Christmas season starts.


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How Cultural Diversity Benefits Call Centers

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

There has in recent years been a significant push –  some would say one that’s long overdue – toward cultural diversity in business. And call centers are no exception. 

It’s a result that can occur naturally through a process of hiring the most qualified agents and management personnel for the job. But in geographic areas where the talent pool is more homogeneous, it can still be a goal worth pursuing. 

Why? These are just some of the benefits: 

New Perspectives

People from the same place often tend to view challenges or opportunities in the same way. A diverse workforce almost always results in a wider range of ideas being generated, and new ways to look at old problems. 

Productivity

Different types of employees often bring different skill sets to the business, resulting in greater efficiency. 

Better Customer Connections

With few exceptions your business will be (or is at least trying to be) appealing to customers of different ages, genders and races. There’s no telling which of these customers will want to reach out to your call center. With a diverse hiring policy you’ll be prepared for customers that speak different languages, or have different questions and concerns that will be recognizable to someone on your team. The more your call center looks like your customer base, the better than chances of optimizing the customer experience. 

Workplace Harmony

Studies have shown that diverse workplaces contribute to employee engagement and are happier places to work – and that’s certainly good news in an industry where employee turnover is traditionally among the highest.  


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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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Five Workforce Management Trends You Should Know

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

Considering an 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.  

Compliance

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.

Remote Locations

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. 

Skills-Based Scheduling

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. 



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Abandoning Spreadsheets at a Healthcare Call Center

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Greater transparency

Happier agents and customers

Spreadsheets simply cannot compete. Find out for yourself by reading the whitepaper. 



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Prioritizing Healthcare Call Center Data

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Defining Workforce Management for Healthcare Call Centers

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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. 


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Insurance Call Center Agents: What Skills are Most Important?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

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

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

Professionalism

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

Attendance

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

Communication

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

Self-Sufficiency

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

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



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WFM Trims Waste and Costs at Contact Centers

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

It’s a challenging time to be in business. Economic, technological and political factors are driving companies to make difficult decisions in order to maintain productivity and increase (or, at the very least, safeguard) profits.  

Some of this activity is concentrated on the contact center, where the quest is always to improve productivity. The first step to achieving that goal may be to improve workforce visibility. 

This is just one of the benefits of workforce management (WFM)

Consider how much time both managers and agents may be spending on tasks not related to their core job function, which cannot help but impact customer service. Consider how much costly overtime is entailed by improper allocation of time during regular shifts. Consider the time that could be spent on imagining ways to improve efficiency, or new ideas to generate profits, if that time was not occupied by hours spent forecasting and scheduling with spreadsheets. 

Yes, adding WFM does entail another investment. But in this time when there is pressure on all areas of an organization to implement solutions that reduce costs and increase revenues, it’s an investment that accomplishes both goals while quickly achieving ROI. 

A common misconception is that WFM software is associated with a large upfront cost. That may indeed have been the case with the on-premise solutions of the past. But a cloud-based WFM solution provides the highest ROI and savings of any WFM strategy due to its low upfront investment and low operating costs. 

With WFM managers can achieved total, real-time contact center visibility, empowering them to enhance schedule flexibility, an important step in employee engagement, and increase agent productivity. Managers can react to changing conditions, so problems are detected and solved before they impact service. 

Challenging times call for effective solutions – like workforce management.


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Beneficial Technologies for Virtual Contact Centers

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

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

Workforce Management

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

Automated Call Routing

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

Automated Training

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

Gamification

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



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Victory at the Contact Center: Should Managers Run The Business with Military Precision?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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. 

Discipline

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

Quality Monitoring

Performance Management

Speech Analytics

Desktop Analytics

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. 



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Another Major Company Moves to the Cloud

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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



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Easing the Transition to a Self-Serve Customer Experience

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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. 



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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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(Even More) Ways to Make Your Contact Center Better

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

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

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

Smart Call Routing

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

Team Building 

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

Keep your Door Open

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

Provide Multichannel Access

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

Basic Training 

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

Create an External Knowledge Base

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

Make Your Customers Happy to Be Customers

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

Expedite the Customer’s Path to a Live Agent

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

Ditch the Emoticons

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

Empower Your Agents

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

Free Product Samples

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

Use Metrics Wisely

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

Promote From Within

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

Be Patient with Seniors

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

Customer Survey

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

Employee Appreciation

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

Share Training Ideas

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

The Suggestion Box

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

Create a Suggestion Box for Customers as Well

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

Communication Builds Relationships

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

Lead by Example

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

Never Settle

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



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Six Scheduling Mistakes to Avoid

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Not Scheduling Breaks

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

Not Enough Part Time Help

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

Not Accounting for Shrinkage

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

Not Measuring Efficiency Properly

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

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

Assuming Everyone Wants the Same Shift

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

Doing Nothing

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

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



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Customer Service – From the Agent Perspective

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

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

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

The Best Way to Get Things Done

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

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

Taking the Time to Get it Right

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

Virtual Queuing vs. ‘On Hold’

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

Do They Care? Good News

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

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


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3 Technology Trends: Is Your Contact Center Ready?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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: 

1. Omnichannel

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



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Regional Sharing for Contact Center Services

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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? 


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Another Year, Another “Product of the Year” Award

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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


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Forecasting: What’s Happening Now

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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. 

Forecast Accuracy/Intervals

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. 


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How to reduce agent attrition?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

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

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

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

The Emotional Toll

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

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

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

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

Wanted: The Perfect Agent (for us)

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

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

Script Flexibility

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

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

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

Anticipation and Autonomy

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

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

Leave Your Worries on the Doorstep

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

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

Conclusion

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



 

 

 


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Choosing a WFM Solution: What's Most Important

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

Perhaps this is the year your contact center will make the investment in a workforce management (WFM) system. This is something you only want to do once, so take the time to investigate the options available. 

What is most important? For most contact centers the decision to pursue automated WFM stems from a desire to improve forecast accuracy. Forecasting impacts scheduling, staffing, customer service, contact center budget, and nearly every facet of the business. Get it right, and you’re well on the way to an efficient operation; get it wrong, and there’s no end of trouble. 

With that in mind, here are four factors to keep in mind when selecting a WFM solution

Integration

It should be easy. When you acquire workforce optimization, workforce management, quality monitoring, call recording, speech analytics and whatever else you need from the same trusted provider, it’s never an issue. But if you have other vendor applications that must work with a new WFM solution, make sure the tools are available for integration before purchasing. The contact center will always be more efficient when all of its technology resources are working together toward the same goal. 

User-Friendliness

This is often overlooked – “our agents will figure it out eventually.” Well, maybe. But what happens when agents leave and new arrivals have to be hired and trained? And if certain tasks are too difficult or cumbersome, even agents familiar with the system will likely ignore them, passing any resulting delays and inconveniences on to your customers. There are quality WFM solutions available that are easy to adopt and easy to use. Why consider one that is not? 

Flexibility

You may not be able to anticipate all of your contact center’s future needs at the time of your purchase. Nothing wrong with that – just make sure you invest in a system that can grow with your business. 

Return on Investment

WFM in the cloud has substantially reduced the upfront investment necessary in acquiring this vital functionality. But that doesn’t mean ROI is any less important because the investment is smaller. With all of the efficiencies that WFM can improve, it shouldn’t take more than a year to achieve ROI – many Monet clients do so in a fraction of that time. 


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Is Your Contact Center Ready for 2016?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Engaging Millennials

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


Social Media

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


Anyone Not in the Cloud Yet?

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

Turning Agents into Salespeople

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

De-Stressing Average Handle Time

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



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A More Efficient Call Center in One Minute?

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

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