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Call Center Management Tips and Tools

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

There are innumerable responsibilities inherent in call center management, but the most significant is the delivery of satisfactory customer service. This is the only basis on which customers will assess their experience, and figures prominently in both client retention and the acquisition of new business.

Thus, one of the manager’s primary tasks is to create a model that correlates all of the call center’s operations that affect the customer experience, to best determine the drivers for effective service delivery. In most cases the result will list three major areas:

•    Call Center Personnel
•    Call Center Processes
•    Call Center Technology

While each of these categories is important in and of itself, call center management also explores whether they interact in a complementary manner, or if there is a disconnect that can result in service interruption. The most sophisticated technology will not be as effective without agents who know how to use it properly; conversely, the most qualified and courteous agent can be limited by technology that does not process calls efficiently.

Call Center Personnel
A call center agent is on the front line of the company’s customer service effort. Thus it falls to the call center manager to make sure that agents receive the proper training, are monitored regularly and receive additional coaching as needed.

Once qualified, motivated agents are in place, another key component of call center management is retaining their services, in an industry where high turnover is all too frequent. The decisions made by a manager and human resources team will have direct impact on this effort, particularly in how agents are empowered to resolve customer issues, and how much freedom they are allotted within the forecasting and scheduling practices of the call center.

In general, organizations that have fewer empowered employees have higher turnover. This suggests that agents prefer having more responsibility, without being directed by company policy to transfer a high percentage of calls to a specialist or supervisor. If training is implemented correctly, agents should feel comfortable dealing with a broad range of customer issues.

Turnover is to be avoided not only from a customer service perspective, but also because of the higher costs associated with recruiting and training new personnel. Call centers with higher average tenures tend to also have lower turnover. These numbers are also lower in organizations that offer opportunities for advancement and preferred schedule shifts.

And while money is also a factor, turnover is impacted more by work environment than compensation. Call center management must take into account whether the call center is a pleasant, professional and supportive place to work.

Call Center Processes
Processes specify, in simplest terms, how things will be done. A partial list of these functions would include:

•    Forecasting and scheduling
•    Problem resolution
•    Root cause analysis
•    Scripting and call guidelines
•    Reporting
•    Agent performance management
•    Hiring and training of agents
•    Coaching and agent development
•    Compliance with government and industry regulations
•    Quality assurance

It is the manager’s responsibility to implement internal processes that effectively utilize all of a call center’s resources and operations.

While “process” implies a system that is put in place and then demands rigid adherence, managers must be aware of shifts in needs or attitudes and be willing to change accordingly. Such flexibility can affect customer satisfaction and employee turnover.

Call Center Technology
The right call center workforce solution, perhaps more than any other component in a center’s operations, can deliver the customer service results that a manager strives to achieve. It has a profound and direct link to both the effectiveness of employees and the efficiency of every call center process. The right technology can make service delivery faster and more flexible, while achieving more consistent results day after day, month after month, and year after year.

Investment in new or upgraded technology should be made with the customer’s needs in mind. Will this investment impact capacity? Will it shorten average wait time? Will it route calls to the most qualified agents? Will it deliver the call recording and monitoring capabilities necessary for effective coaching and training?

System complexity must also be taken into account, as the capabilities of sophisticated technology can be limited by an agent’s ability to understand them and utilize these assets to their full potential.

For smaller call centers with limited budgets and resources it’s imperative to select the right technology solution that is both cost-effective, and also provides the same benefits and advantages traditionally enjoyed by those with larger IT budgets.

Cloud computing offers companies the option of transferring their IT operations into a virtual environment, where they can develop, deploy, and manage applications, and pay only for the time and capacity that they need. For a smaller call center, this means the ability to significantly lower upfront costs, while maintaining the option of scaling up as needed.

There are environmental benefits to cloud computing as well. Information can be stored in a climate that minimizes energy usage (and lowers energy costs). And because servers can be shared in a virtual environment, the result is fewer servers and a reduction in the power required to operate and cool them. This helps to minimize a company’s carbon footprint.

The Never-Ending Quest
Once personnel, processes and technology are in place, call center management demands that each be reviewed to maintain standards and improve customer satisfaction. Doing so will require the gathering of both objective data (measurement of KPIs) and subjective data (feedback from customers through surveys and focus groups, as well as quality monitoring).

The closed-loop structure offers a guideline for quality management, and helps the manager to establish links between technology, processes and personnel, so that everyone is working from the same approved procedures, and with the same goals in mind.

Step One: Formulate the Plan
What do you, as the manager, want the call center to achieve? What are the goals for the next three months, six months, or year? Write them down. Solicit input from agents.

Step Two: Create a Schedule
Executing the plan will require scheduling and staffing decisions that will impact the customer experience. Having the right number of agents on every shift, based on the day, the time of day, or other factors (data collected by a call recording software system can guide these decisions) should make it easier for customers to have their calls answered without prolonged delays.

Step Three: Gather Data
Once the plan has been implemented, review the results after a sufficient period of time has elapsed. Measure the performance indicators cited.

Step Four: Close the Loop
With this data in hand, analyze and explore additional opportunities to improve customer service and retention. Then formulate a new plan based on these objectives, and repeat the process. With each journey around the loop, the call center delivers better service and better results.

Call center managers face enormous pressure to provide excellent customer service. The keys to success in this endeavor are hiring and nurturing qualified personnel, introducing processes that are efficient and effective, and acquiring the technology that expedites call center processes and makes it easier for employees to reach their full potential. If you have questions about call center technology, please contact us or watch any of these videos to learn more.

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