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Workforce Management Software Hints, Tips & Best Practices

Workforce management (WFM) software provides the best means of optimizing personnel resources in a contact center.

Perhaps this is the year your contact center will make the investment in a workforce management (WFM) solution. This is something you only want to do once, so make a list of the qualities and capabilities that are most important, such as improved forecasting and scheduling, intra-day management, exception planning and real-time adherence.

How does Monet WFM Live stack up against other software solutions? Find out more here. Or read more about the convenience, efficiency and customer service benefits of workforce management software in the following blogs and articles.

Questions? Search for answers here.

Ten Ideas for Encouraging a Positive Call Center Culture

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There are enemies at the door every day at a call center – inaccurate forecasts, average handle time numbers headed in the wrong direction, angry callers, employee turnover.

Workforce management software can get the forecasts and the KPIs under control. Angry callers will always be with us, and they may be one of the reasons why agents leave. Since disgruntled customers can never be completely eliminated, the best way to reverse those high turnover numbers is to give agents a reason to stay. 

What is the culture like at your call center? How does the workspace look? How do agents feel when they start their shift every day? There are steps that can be taken to boost workplace culture and morale and help to keep spirits up, even when the work itself can be tedious and challenging. 

Try some of these ideas at your call center! 

1. Family Social Events

You know your agents – but have you met their spouses and kids? By arranging family events throughout the year – bowling tournaments, visits to local attractions or amusement parks – agents will get to know each other better and you’ll meet their families in a relaxed setting. Socializing in this way contributes to a positive culture, and encourages agents to think of their coworkers as a second family – and that will keep them around longer. 

2. Special Days Off

Many companies allow agents to treat their birthdays as a paid day off. It’s a nice gesture that makes them feel appreciated, and since these days can be planned for, it makes it easier to forecast and schedule around them. Some call centers take this concept a step further, allowing additional time off for special events such as a wedding in the agent’s family that requires out-of-town travel, or even something less momentous like a day off to go Christmas shopping. And for the ultimate in agent appreciation, offer one or two “Duvet Days” each year; these are days that can be taken off at short notice, with no explanation required. 

3. Rewards

We’ve mentioned this before but it’s always worth repeating – agents like to feel appreciated, especially when that is expressed through some reward for their consistent work. It encourages healthy competition among shifts and gives struggling team members a goal toward which to strive. Bottles of wine, restaurant gift cards, movie passes and extra days off are all worthy incentives, and perhaps a special annual prize could be reserved for your best performing agent each year. Trophies and certificates are nice too – but in this era when everyone gets a trophy just for participation, they are no longer enough. 

4. Breakfast

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why not help your morning shift agents get off to a positive start with a free breakfast? A few fresh pastries, or dry cereal, coffee, tea and juice won’t break the company budget, and will be appreciated. It can also help agents start their shift feeling more alert and more focused. At some call centers in England, a tea trolley serves tea and toast to agents at their desks. Classy – but potentially messy. 

5. Volunteer Projects

Encouraging agents and other employees to participate in community projects is not just good for morale – it’s the right thing to do. It allows agents to help organizations that are important to them and it can generate some positive media coverage for your company as well. Depending on the size of your team, giving each agent 3-5 days a year of paid leave to pursue these projects will have a positive effect on morale and on the community. 

5. Extra Help for Agents That Need It

Ongoing training should already be a part of your call center regimen – but there may be times when agents still require additional help on hitting performance targets. Keep in mind that the extra hours devoted to discussing these issues, working with them on improvement, and encouraging them throughout the process are a bargain compared to costs incurred in recruiting, hiring and training new agents. 

7. A Positive Start

Any new job is stressful. Chances are your call center has some sort of orientation program that follows initial training, but why not take this a step further? Spend some extra time with a new agent in his or her first week. Give them some welcome aboard gifts to further ease the transition. As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. 

8. A Break Room Makeover

Company break rooms should be places agents can relax, clear their heads and tend to personal matters before returning to their desks. If the place looks worn-down and dreary, it won’t have that positive effect. A fresh coat of paint (preferably bright colors), some plants (real, not plastic), snacks, a fish tank, an ATM machine (so agents won’t have to stop at the bank after their shift), happy photographs, comfortable furniture – these are the ingredients for an appealing break room. 

9. Fitness Classes

Call center agent work is sedentary – and let’s face it, most of us aren’t getting the exercise we should even when we’re not at our desks. Experts recommend 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week to help stay in shape. Call centers can encourage this positive lifestyle with onsite fitness classes. These can be created with the help of a local health club, or you might even find someone on your team that can lead a yoga, Zumba or aerobics class. 

10. Advancement Opportunities

Even your agents who are content in their work may not envision doing the same thing for the next 20 or 30 years. Resources should be made available for those interested in a career path to management – these can include meeting and training with current management personnel, sponsoring agents who wish to take business courses at local community colleges, and establishing a company policy of promoting from within whenever possible. 


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Call Center Workforce Management Solutions: Forecasting Separates ‘Good’ from ‘Great’

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The selection of a call center workforce management solution should not be entered into lightly. 

It’s a decision with the potential to revolutionize how your business handles forecasting, scheduling, staffing and many other tasks that can boost KPI results and customer service. Do your homework, ask questions, and make sure you get it right the first time. 

There are good qualities in almost every WFM solution available. But good is not good enough for your call center. 

What you want is “great.” And great starts with the forecasting tool. If the forecasts generated by WFM are not accurate, it creates a domino effect that will throw the rest of your numbers off as well. Result? Overstaffing, understaffing, missed sales and angry customers. 

What To Demand in a Forecasting Tool?

A WFM review of forecasting capabilities begins with the compilation and analysis of historical data. This is not just what happened at the call center on this day last year or five years ago, but also takes into account other variables that impact call volume – holidays, special promotions, annual events, weather conditions. Anything that can cause a fluctuation in workload should be considered. 

Now that call centers are now contact centers encompassing multiple communication channels, forecasting must provide an integrated view of all channels and the capabilities of the multi-skilled workforce, as this will be essential for proper scheduling

Most WFM solutions rely in part on forecasting based on averages. It’s effective, but not sufficient by itself. Find a forecasting tool that goes beyond that, one that can process every piece of data you provide and use it to deliver more accurate forecasts. 

The more you put into forecasting, the more you’ll get out of it. When WFM does most of the work, the result is more accurate forecasts, generated faster than spreadsheets. With the right system performing these critical functions that can grow with your call center’s needs, you can invest with confidence and achieve ROI faster. 


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Use Your Call Center Agents as Marketing Agents

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Here’s a question: who is the most prominent voice for your company’s brand or products?

Is it your president or CEO? Sometimes the man or woman in charge likes to be out front, appearing in TV commercials or giving a lot of interviews. Or perhaps it’s your marketing manager, who creates the ads that run in newspapers and magazines, as well as your social media campaigns. 

But there is another voice that is also representing your brand that can be overlooked – that of the call center agent. 

Each one of your agents may speak directly to dozens of your customers every day. For companies that sell primarily online, theirs may be the only voice a customer will associate with your brand. And according to a survey conducted by a company called Mattersight, 70% of consumers will cut ties with a brand after just one bad experience. 

That places a lot of responsibility on agents – but it is also a great opportunity.  

It doesn’t mean that every agent must be trained in marketing, but they should be made aware of the marketing tenets that customers associate with good service. 

That starts with making a customer feel valued. Personalized marketing campaigns attempt this by crafting messages designed to appeal to a consumer’s specific needs. But that kind of personalization is easier to achieve in a one-to-one conversation. 

With a workforce management solution, agents can pull up past purchases, the caller’s location and previous contacts. With speech analytics, agents will be in a better position to tailor each call to a customer’s preferences. And by using analytics, raw call data such as recordings can be fashioned into actionable insight. 

By providing experienced agents with the right technology solutions, your call center can serve as one of your most effective marketing outreach efforts. 



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Does Your Call Center Have to Be Bilingual?

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

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

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

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

Online Retail

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

Health Care 

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

Travel/Tourism

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



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Brushing up on the Basics for 2017

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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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What Will the Workforce Management Market Look Like in 2022?

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The Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of workforce management is expected to remain strong through the year 2022, according to a new comprehensive market research report. 

In many ways this simply continues a trend that has persisted for more than a decade. As more call centers realize the inefficiencies inherent in the conventional methods of keeping track of and maintaining their workforce, there is increased interest in WFM as an alternative. By automating these processes, workforce management software can reduce labor expenses, improve workforce utilization and streamline call center performance. 

Plus the complex analytics on workforce processes delivered by WFM make it easier to spot problems and correct them, thus ensuring an optimal use of existing resources.

The technology has already found acceptance in such industries as banking financial services and insurance, healthcare, government, retail, transportation and manufacturing. But according to the study, the main driver of future WFM growth will be in its adoption by small and medium sized businesses, who may have thought in the past that WFM was out of their price range. 

That has changed as a result of cloud-based solutions – the same kind being used by corporations with hundreds of call center agents. The analytics are just as sophisticated, the conveniences just as apparent – but both can now be acquired without the large upfront cost and recurring costs of system and software updates. 

Of course, nothing says you have to wait until 2022 to start enjoying these benefits. Check out Monet Software’s cloud-based WFM Live here


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Three Irreplaceable Call Center Agent Skills

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

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

An Even Temperament

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

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

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

Independent Thinking

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

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


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Have You Put Your Holiday Staffing Plan in Action?

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

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

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

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

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


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Have You Put Your Holiday Staffing Plan in Action?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Workforce Management and Personnel Time Management

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Why is this important?

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

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

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

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



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The Call Center Design of Tomorrow

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What will tomorrow’s call centers look like? If we’re lucky they might resemble the San Francisco facility designed for Airbnb. Check out the photos here

Clearly the idea was to create a call center that doesn’t look like a call center: no boring rows of cubicles, standard desks, drab break rooms etc. The space is more open and varied, with different settings to suit the preferences of each agent. 

There is more freedom of movement, as laptops now do everything that a desktop computer does, so employees do not need to be tied down to one plugged-in machine. There is more interaction between agents, but the work can still get done. 

You would think noise might be an issue in such an open environment. But as the article explains, the architects and designers worked with the company to install sound-absorbing materials, such as cotton padding in the ceiling and walls. Agents also used advanced headsets with a masking system in the microphone that reduces surrounding noise. 

Is this the future of the call center? With more customer contacts now being handled online or other means, fewer call center agents might make it possible to accommodate such flexible facilities. 


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Five Workforce Management Trends You Should Know

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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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Defining Workforce Management for Healthcare Call Centers

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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?

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

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

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

Professionalism

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

Attendance

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

Communication

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

Self-Sufficiency

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

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



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WFM Trims Waste and Costs at Contact Centers

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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

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

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

Workforce Management

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

Automated Call Routing

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

Automated Training

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

Gamification

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



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

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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

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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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Insurance Company Contact Centers – Four Ways WFM Can Improve Performance

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

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

1. Setting Specific Goals

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

2. Targeted Training

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

3. Set Quarterly Goals

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

4. Avoid Agent Burnout

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


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Easing the Transition to a Self-Serve Customer Experience

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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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Millennial Agents, Millennial Customers: Keeping Them Happy

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

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

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

Agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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



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The Contact Center in 2020

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

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

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

The Role of Contact Center Agents

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

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

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

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

The Role of Contact Center Managers

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

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

The Role of Customers

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

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

The Role of Workforce Management

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

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

The Role of Analytics

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

The Roles We Can’t Yet See

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

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

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

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

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



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