Workforce Optimization Hints, Tips & Best Practices
Customer expectations have
changed over the past decade. Business moves faster now, which is great, but it
has also become more impersonal, which presents another set of potential
Call centers dedicated to
improving customer service and customer retention understand that it all starts
with creating a relationship. Here are three things that must happen for that
to be successful.
1. You Must Make the Process Easy
Let’s face it – no one
looks forward to calling a call center. Customers dread the recorded prompts
and the minutes spent on hold, and having to provide their phone number or
order number more than once. It is vital for call centers to make the process
of speaking with an agent as efficient as possible, while also providing other
options such as email and chat and social media.
2. You Must Strive to Create a Connection
Whatever means a customer
uses to contact a business or a call center, there is an opportunity to make
that customer feel valued. Whether that’s an expression of appreciation for
their business at the end of a call, or a personalized response to a social media
post, the objective is to build a relationship with that customer so they are
more likely to return. Automated responses have their uses but won’t get you
3. You Must Collect Data From Every Customer
call recording, speech analytics and performance management, a contact center
can learn a lot about a company’s customers – what they like, what they don’t
like, what they want from the company that they’re not getting and what they
hope will never change.
Much of this analysis will
be after-the-fact, which certainly still makes it valuable. What you learn
today can pay dividends tomorrow. But sometimes a contact center can go one
better – with real time analytics, it can identify a moment within an ongoing
customer engagement in which action can be taken immediately to bring about a
Such moment-driven data is
already being generated by workforce optimization and speech analytics. Agents
must then be trained to recognize these moments and proceed accordingly.
In general, what do people think of call centers?
Maybe we shouldn’t use that kind of language.
Within the industry we see the efforts that have been made to upgrade technology and improve the quality of service, but too often these are not recognized by customers and by other divisions of the business. Is this important? Yes – because false perceptions undermine the services call centers provide, and may even limit their ability to make a positive contribution to their company.
Here are three opinions that are still far too common – and why they are inaccurate.
1. Call Centers Cost Money
Well, of course they do – someone has to pay agent salaries and buy the software solutions like workforce management that allow them to fulfill their function. But the data they generate through that software, and other solutions such as speech analytics, can be used in a variety of ways to generate revenue for the company.
Call centers boost customer loyalty. They provide direct customer feedback on which products and promotions succeed and which do not. They generate positive social media posts after a good experience that boosts brand reputation.
2. They Will Soon Be Obsolete
Who uses phones anymore to contact a company? That’s so last century now that we have apps and websites and Facebook.
Sounds good, but visit any call center and you’ll realize we’re nowhere near that point yet – and may never get there. According to a NewVoiceMedia survey, 59% of customers still prefer to contact a business by phone, and 75% believe it’s the most effective way of getting a response.
Perceptions that call centers are on the way out may result in a company hesitating before investing in the technology resources that allow them to be successful.
3. Cost-Per-Call is the Only Metric That Matters
For companies that view call centers as a necessary evil, the objective is to keep costs as low as possible. One way this is measured is in cost-per-call. It’s a number deserving of attention – but it’s not the most important metric anymore. The focus instead should be on customer satisfaction, and that sometimes takes a little more time and creativity to achieve. Besides, lowering cost-per-call the wrong way can result in lowering customers as well.
What makes workforce optimization such an effective call center solution is how all-encompassing it can be.
There are so many moving parts that must be harnessed to deliver a favorable customer experience, but according to several industry analysts there are three that emerge as the most significant – the actual work that needs to be done at the call center, the people charged with that responsibility, and the processes put in place to help them achieve the goals of the business.
Workforce optimization (WFO) helps with all three. The Work
Calls are received. In multi-channel environments so are emails and webchat requests and social media posts. Orders have to be filled, returns have to be processed, questions have to be answered. With the workforce management capabilities of WFO, accurate forecasts and schedules are generated so there are always enough agents ready to handle customer demand.
They make be working in the call center or from home. They all go through the same training but gradually develop specific skills that should be leveraged. They have different needs and preferences when it comes to shifts and schedules. And unfortunately, too many of them leave too soon, necessitating another round of recruiting, hiring and training. With WFO calls and other communications can be automatically routed to the personnel best suited to handle them. It provides flexibility to scheduling, making it easier to accommodate agent requests. And it provides the data agents need to make the job easier – which might induce them to stick around longer.
What WFO provides here is visibility. No manager can be everywhere, particularly in a call center with 50 or more agents. Workforce optimization provides quality monitoring of customer interactions, and the ability to track and analyze how well processes are working through real-time alerts. It also provides more insight into every customer interaction through speech analytics.
Monet's workforce optimization solution is cloud-based and delivered as a service, making it easy, fast and affordable to get started without the usual risk of software implementations. Find out more
October means Halloween and Halloween means scary stuff.
As you probably know, call centers can generate as many frightening situations as a haunted house, and they aren’t nearly as much fun.
Do you begin to shiver at the very thought of customer service problems caused by adherence issues?
Monet Software has a free webinar for that. It’s called “Fighting the Adherence Monster.”
Like most monsters, this one can do a lot of damage, but it isn’t very smart. That’s why it is no match for the real-time adherence solutions available in
Monet WFM Live. In this webinar, you’ll learn exactly how to use this solution to keep adherence issues at bay – it works even better than garlic does with vampires.
Question: How much would you estimate a 25-agent call center could save just by improving staff adherence by 2%, and reducing shrinkage by 15 minutes per agent per day?
The answer: more than $30,000. That’s a lot of candy corn.
Considering how much money lack of adherence can cost your business, anything that can be done to get a handle on this deterrent to efficiency should be worth a look – especially if it takes just 45 minutes. That’s our webinar.
Don’t miss this opportunity to find out how Monet Software can save you hours and hours of time lost to lapses in adherence. You’ll discover how WFM Live streamlines your scheduling goals and practices, and lets you keep a close, real-time watch on agent availability, holidays and breaks.
“Fighting the Adherence Monster” can be accessed at your convenience
Average handle time? Still important, we’re afraid. It’s a constant challenge but there are
ways to cut it down while still providing the quality of customer service that your company and your customers expect. Try these tips and let us know if they work! Skills-Based Routing
Agents that specialize in certain types of calls will almost always be able to handle them more quickly.
Automated Processes Made the switch from spreadsheets to workforce management? Then you’ve taken a significant step forward toward reducing AHT – now review any other manual processes and discuss whether they can be automated as well. Interview New Agent Candidates By Phone
One way to determine whether an agent can communicate efficiently is by interviewing them over the phone. You’ll find out how they respond to questions and unexpected situations, skills that contribute to AHT reduction.
No Cold Transfers
If a call must be transferred, always make sure the customer’s relevant data is transferred as well, so the same questions won’t have to be asked a second time.
Prepare for the ‘Top 5’
WFM and agent feedback to determine the top five reasons customers call. Focus on a streamlined response to these in training and equip agents with the authority to address them. Anticipate Questions
Similar to the previous tip, the more agents can anticipate what the caller may ask, the faster those answers can be provided.
Route Repeat Calls to the Same Agent
First call resolution is important as well, but when a customer has to call back, route his or her call to the agent that responded the last time. Familiarity with the situation should expedite the call.
This sounds counter-productive at first, as agents may want to get to their scripted procedure and move things along. But AHT benefits from listening as well, especially if the caller is not in a good mood. Interruptions will only make angry callers more irritated, and further decelerate the process.
Put Agents in Charge
Not of everything, of course, or they’ll pay themselves a lot of bonuses. But give them as much authority as needed to solve customer issues, investigate problems, and provide a solution. Transferring calls, even without excessive hold time, is never good for AHT.
Reward Top Performers
Give an agent a special prize for reaching the maximum number of accepted calls per shift – as long as they’re achieving this goal in a way that also provides courteous and attentive service.
A lot of us choose the careers we want based on one simple premise: whether or not there is math involved.
Unfortunately, math cannot be entirely avoided, even at jobs that seem to work more with words than numbers.
Take the task of providing great service at a call center. You need an effective script, and agents that know how to relate to customers, and a
workforce optimization system that deliver forecasts and schedules that keep the business running at optimal efficiency.
But how can you prove that service is where it needs to be? Here is one system that may help. And yes, some math is involved. Sorry.
First, you need to define the terms that will impact how service is assessed, starting with abandoned calls. Do you count the ones that hang up before an agent responds as a “call offered”? Or ignore them entirely since there was no opportunity offered to achieve a successful result?
Next, select a service level objective, and the service level formula that works best for your business. There are several to choose from:
Once you have your formula, select a time interval and clearly define exactly when a call starts (when the phone rings, or when the caller selects the IVR option that links them to a live agent, or after the recording opening message completes). Then, decide on a measurement interval (by hour, shift, day, etc.).
workforce optimization solution will be invaluable here, as it will gather the data necessary to calculate your service level. Analyze the data, review the results, and make appropriate adjustments in procedure or technology that could help you reach your service goals. Then start the process all over again. At least the second time, the math will be easier. Watch Demo
Your goal is to deliver outstanding customer service any time, any day. But there are days and times when achieving that goal is easier.
Should you share that information with callers that ask? Or offer a few recommendations on the company website or Facebook page? Why not? By doing so you're not only lightening the workload at peak calling time, you're also improving the likelihood that every call receives the personal attention and positive experience it deserves.
Yes, the public is more demanding now. They want what they want when they want it. But not everyone is like that, and most will appreciate any help that you are willing to provide.
Think of it this way - the next time you go to the DMV, would you like them to let you know the wait time could be three hours if you arrive at noon, but if you get there by 9am you will be in and out in an hour? Most people would be delighted to know the fastest way to resolve their solution.
How you do this, of course, depends on the calling patterns and hours of operation at your call center. For some business, a warning to avoid Mondays might be in order; but for call centers in the travel industry, Fridays might be busier as couples plan weekend getaways.
If there is a day that is typically lighter in call volume, let customers know. If there's a time when calls are answered faster, let them know. The first hour of operation may work, unless you have an issue with late-arriving agents.
You might also consider explaining IVR options in advance and in more detail, so customers will know which options to use before the call. Also, let them know what information you'll likely need for them, so they won't have to start searching for it after the call is initiated.
Finally, offer other options for finding the information they need - make sure business hours are clearly posted on your website, and that you have a FAQ page that explains common solutions to common problems.
A lot of lip service is paid to listening to customers. But there is a difference between actual listening and just hearing what they have to say.
The best call centers focus all of their efforts on gaining insight into every customer on every call. Comments made even in passing can offer valuable insight into satisfaction with a product or service, and should influence business development and marketing. There is no such thing as a routine transaction.
Are you really and truly paying attention to your customers? Here are a few ways to find out.
If you are getting too many repeat calls from the same customers about the same issue, something isn't right. Either your agents are not able to resolve the issue, or there is a problem with a product that cannot be solved. Whatever the reason, this is a communication breakdown that must be corrected. When possible, provide agents with the information they need to deal with the issue. Or inform a brand manager about the situation so action can be taken at that level.
"We don't have that service available"
Why not? If callers are repeatedly inquiring about something they want that you don't have, look into whether it's possible to provide it. Especially if it's a product or service already provided by other companies in your industry.
"Tell us how we're doing"
The fastest and easiest way to find out what customers want is simply to ask them. Sometimes it can be tempting to let
analytics do the work for you - and with the right system in place you will certainly collect valuable, relevant data. But there's also nothing wrong with the direct approach. Ask for feedback, and incorporate that feedback into the entire organization, not just the call center. Learn More
For contact centers that have yet to install the type of advanced software that provides real-time insight into agent activity, the only viable option for coaching is to do so during live customer calls.
However, this method presents a number of challenges for both the agent and the coach. The most obvious is the necessity to communicate information to the agent while the agent is speaking with a customer. This is achieved through "call whispering," which is exactly what it sounds like.
Call whispering puts the agent in the unfortunate position of listening to a customer and his supervisor at the same time. Even experienced agents may find this difficult. For new agents, it is next to impossible, and often leads to distracted agents and frustrated customers.
Call whispering also makes it impossible for agents to communicate with a supervisor during a coaching session. During these one-sided conversations, an agent may wish to ask a question or seek clarification on a point raised by the supervisor, but there is no way to do so without putting the customer on hold. Such feedback must be saved until after the call - and by then it might be too late to deliver the type of service that customer deserved.
Another limitation of live coaching is the inadequate sample sizes it generates to accurately assess how an agent is performing. The supervisor is present for a few calls but has no way of knowing how that agent is performing during the rest of his or her shift. Many critical coaching opportunities are missed as a result.
Fortunately, there is a better way. An advanced
workforce optimization solution provides greater visibility and insight into agent performance, and records calls that can be reviewed later during more substantive coaching sessions. It can also provide a means for two-way communication between agent and supervisor in a way that is not as distracting, so the agent can stay focused on the customer.
Find out more about the benefits of workforce optimization Learn More
Workforce Management (WFM) is important; Workforce Optimization (WFO) takes WFM to the next level.
With WFM, your
agent scheduling will become much easier, and much more accurate. You'll always feel confident that the right numbers of agent are serving your customers.
But why stop there? With WFO, you'll learn something from every one of those customer engagements.
Call recording protects your company from legal action and provides a valuable resource for agent coaching and training; quality monitoring helps you assess levels of customer satisfaction with your speed and service quality; speech analytics delivers more insight into what your customers want, so you can sometimes anticipate their needs before they even express them.
With WFO, managers have everything they need to attack key performance indicators and bring them into acceptable levels. And it helps your agents do a better job as well.
Once you've made the decision to explore workforce optimization options, it will become clear that, given the impact WFO will make on your business as well as the costs involved, it's important to choose the right solution the first time.
Monet's WFO Live makes it possible for companies of any size to scale IT quickly and efficiently, and to make changes without business interruption.
But what about security? Monet currently has customers with dozens of agents - and thousands of agents - successfully using Monet Live in a secure, scalable cloud.
Still have questions? Monet is always available to help address the concerns of companies considering a cloud solution, and to identify the many ways in which the cloud can benefit your contact center.
For those of us still waiting for our jetpacks, the promise of the future hasn't always lived up to its potential.
But the future always brings other changes, and that will be the case at the insurance contact center as well. The question is, will you be ready to embrace those changes, and perhaps even get ahead of the curve, or be stuck playing catch-up when the competition gets there first - and starts taking some of your policyholders?
Here is what we think is coming....sooner than you might expect.
As contact centers embrace multiple channels for customer communications, agents will have to be skilled in more than one discipline - email, online chat, texting and social media. At the same time, managers will transfer out of a primarily operational role and adopt a more "big picture" outlook on the organization.
Customers will still need insurance and will still have policy and claim questions that they'll want answered yesterday. Answers to many of the most basic are now provided on company websites, so that helps reduce some of the call volume. But Millennials coming of age in a technology-driven world will the answer to every question available on their smartphones. Thankfully, tomorrow's agents will have grown up with the same technology.
Workforce Management Workforce management (WFM) will play a more prominent role in tomorrow's insurance contact centers, as the drive to optimize resources will always be key in this highly competitive industry. Efficient contact centers rely on accurate forecasting, analytics, skill-based routing and capturing important policyholder data. There is no faster or more efficient way to do this than with an automated WFM solution.
And there's no need to wait for the future -
Monet WFM Live can do all of that now. Plus, as workforce pattens 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. Learn More
Six months ago, Fortune magazine published a story with the headline "Why Contact Centers Are Moving to the Cloud." It's just one of many such stories tracking what has become a mass migration. Insurance companies have been part of this phenomenon, as they begin to recognize the numerous financial and technological advantages of switching from on-premise hardware and software installation to a cloud delivery model. One of the most important of these is cost. By handling WFM in the cloud a call center doesn't have to budget for the purchase of hardware, software, database or data center infrastructure. With a subscription-based cloud system there is no large upfront cost and no licensing fees. Operating expenses are lower as well. The money that is saved can be re-invested in other parts of the company. The ability to make a fast and trouble-free transition has also helped to grow the cloud market. Traditional solutions take a great deal of time to install - how would an insurance call center be impacted during this long transitional period, when customers may not conveniently stop having policy questions until it's finished? Cloud solutions also provide a more intuitive end-user experience, which shortens the learning curve for call center agents. With the cloud, downtime is reduced and ROI is achieved faster. Flexibility? Scalability? These attributes are more easily achieved the cloud as well. Cloud service providers allow companies to increase or decrease existing resources as needed to accommodate changing demand. Plus, with the cloud it's easier to operate multiple contact centers from one facility, to accommodate agents working from home, and to make it more convenient for those that wish to access applications from a mobile device. If there has been one lingering concern with this technology, it has been security. For insurance companies and healthcare providers where the protection of customer information is paramount, any perceived vulnerability would be enough to steer clear of cloud adoption. But if that concern was ever justified, it certainly is not anymore. The cloud now offers a range of security measures to protect data, communications and the physical data centers where information is stored. Several layers of security measures and processes are built into the cloud infrastructure, platform and services. All client access endpoints are secured, with alerts for password brute-force attacks that prevent those accounts from being compromised. Built-in firewalls provide additional protection, and many clouds also offer encrypted data storage.
If your insurance call center has still not investigated the numerous advantages of cloud computing, what are you waiting for? Monet can help. Learn More
Perhaps you know the answer to that question. Or perhaps you just think you do.
There are two definitions for
workforce optimization (WFO) – one that provides a general assessment and one specific to the contact center industry.
The general definition, or at least the one offered by Technopedia, is: “A strategy used in business with a focus on maximum customer satisfaction and benefits with minimal operational costs and supported by integrated technologies, cross-functional processes and shared objectives.”
All of these qualities would certainly apply to a healthcare contact center, but would also work for any number of professional pursuits. When we think
WFO for our industry, the definition incorporates specific functionality that helps deliver better patient care, such as call recording, workforce management, quality management and speech analytics.
We’re exploring this topic because of a recent Gartner report predicting that by the end of 2018, 70% of organizations with more than 300 contact center agents will be working with an integrated workforce optimization solution, either on-premise or in the cloud.
That’s about 20 months away. If you have not yet explored the possibilities of
WFO, there is a real risk of falling behind other healthcare organizations committed to maximizing efficiency and customer service. It’s a big decision that will impact every aspect of your company, even beyond the confines of the call center itself.
When you’re ready, start with a list of priorities and then seek out the solution best suited to meet them. Also, as so many business processes will be affected, look for a
WFO application that can be implemented and integrated in a way that reduces the learning curve, while working toward ROI from day one. Price will also be a likely consideration, so a cloud solution may be the answer to achieving your technology goals at a cost you can afford.
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The IVR at a contact center is like the drill in a dentist’s office. It has to be there, but no customer ever wants to experience it. Still, this may be the first involvement a customer may have with your company, so it’s important to make the best first impression possible. Given most people’s reactions to recorded messages, that may be an uphill battle. When is the last time you reviewed your IVR, and whether it is helping or hindering customer relations? If it’s time for a checkup, here are some tips to help. 1. Brevity
The faster the IVR gets customers the answer they seek, or to an agent, the less intrusive it will appear. Long marketing messages incorporated into caller options are usually perceived as annoying, not informative.
Are the menu options clear? Will a caller always know which selection will get them where they need to go?
Have all of the most prominent reasons for customer contact been taken into consideration? Are most callers hitting the ‘0’ to speak to an agent right away because the IVR does not present them with a better option?
Have your customer demographics changed? Are recorded messages available in more than one language? Does the recording use phrases that may be familiar to some but not to others (slang)?
Can your IVR be tied to
speech analytics for even faster and more accurate call routing?
With these assessments, you should be able to arrive at a better assessment of what the IVR is supposed to achieve, view the system from the perspective of your customers, create a message that is clear and simple, and measure rates of IVR abandonment (and where they occur) to further fine-tune the end result.
We were so busy at the recent ICMI Contact Center Demo and Conference in Long Beach, California, we didn’t even have time to see the Queen Mary, docked just a short distance away.
But that’s not surprising when we’re gathered with thousands of contact center industry professionals, discussing what’s new in the industry, and helping managers realize the
benefits of automated workforce management, particularly when it’s delivered via the cloud. As always there were a number of sessions related to managing technology, operations and personnel, as well as fresh ideas for better strategy and leadership. There were also sessions on managing smaller contact centers with less than 50 agents. We had several discussions with managers at these smaller centers, who were looking for ways to achieve more accurate forecasts and schedules than what they were getting from spreadsheets. We offered demos of Monet WFM Live – Workforce Management in the Cloud, and they were always impressed by its capabilities. But was it worth the investment for a smaller business? We showed them how ROI could be achieved much more quickly with the cloud delivery model, and how they would never have to pay for another software update, as they would always be implemented automatically at no cost.
If you missed this year’s ICMI event, we hope to see you at the next one this fall, or at Contact Center Week next month in Las Vegas. Don’t miss these opportunities to find out more about new technology, new customer engagement channels, and new ways to recruit and train agents. Learn More
Customer service is often determined by forecasting, and forecasting is often determined by data. With a
workforce management (WFM) solution you are on your way to better forecasts. But are you making the most of the information at your disposal? Here is a short three-point checklist that will help. 1. The Holistic Approach
Numbers, whether they are good or bad, do not happen in a vacuum. While it can be helpful to analyze different KPIs individually, it is better to review them in tandem as well, while also taking a closer look at the conditions under which they are generated.
Of course you should review average handle time (AHT) and call volume, but you should also determine how one impacts the other. Is AHT better in the morning than overnight? Is that just a result of less calls coming in? Perhaps, but you may also have fewer agents working in the wee hours as well, so the answer may not be that simple. Maybe your night-shifters are dealing with lonely folks looking for someone to talk for awhile after midnight – or maybe they need a little more training.
2. Timing is Everything
Review monthly and weekly service levels, but understand that within those longer time periods there are a thousand variables that influence how the numbers worked out. To gain more insight, shorten the timespan to as little as 30 minutes – perhaps even 15 minutes for a busy contact center or for peak calling periods. You’ll receive a more accurate view of what you’re doing right and what needs work.
3. Who is Messing With Our Numbers?
Sometimes the reasons your forecasts miss the mark have nothing to do with internal operations. You can adjust your staffing and shift numbers, but in a larger organization you have no control over when marketing announces a 24-hour sale, or how customer-billing cycles (that trigger billing inquiries) are structured.
Improved communication between departments can make it easier for contact center managers to anticipate the effect of such anomalies, and adjust accordingly. The
WFM system will do most of the work for you, as long as you have the data in time to act upon it.
What happens when a business can no longer handle incoming call volume with the personnel they have? For some, it means the decision to create a contact center to make sure this important function is handled in a way that optimizes the customer experience.
If this seems like a difficult challenge, here is some advice on how to make the job a little easier. Even if you have a contact center in place now, this piece might offer some helpful advice on how to make it better.
Layout will obviously be determined by the space available – are you opening in a separate building, or devoting part of your current workspace to call center functions? Either way, the objective is to make it as conducive as possible to efficient service and teamwork. That means sufficient lighting and ventilation, work stations with comfortable chairs that make it easy for agents to communicate with each other, but not so close that they’re interfering with each other’s calls. For a quieter atmosphere add acoustic wall panels or carpeting. Don’t forget a nice break room.
If you already have contact centers and this is an additional location, the first place to look for agents, managers and coaches is within your organization. Perhaps some will want to move to a newer facility that might be located closer to their homes. Otherwise, follow the same practices you do when offsetting attrition at your current businesses. Make sure to hire bilingual agents, as well as those more adept at text, online chat and social media.
Obviously start with the essentials – a secure LAN, predictive dialers for outbound calls, VoIP, IVR, and an automatic call distributor that routes calls to specific agents. A call recording system is a must for legal protection and agent training. This can be acquired as part of a workforce optimization solution that includes
workforce management, quality management, screen capture, performance management and agent analytics. With this technology in place, you’ll be able to do a better job of forecasting and scheduling from day one, while providing your agents with everything they need to serve your customers. Learn More
The calendar says we’re closer to Easter than Halloween, but we have a few contact center horror stories to share, and they’re too good to keep until October.
A customer opened a web chat with a cable TV provider. The company responded only with pre-prepared template messages – until the customer was shocked to see the personal information of another customer pop up on his screen. When this was brought to the agent’s attention, she typed, “Oh, sorry… hehe… I am typing in 2 other windows, and got confused." Another cable TV customer called to cancel service that had originally been ordered in her husband’s name. Her husband had recently died. When she explained this to the agent, the agent responded that he would still have to contact them to cancel. A corporate customer called a computer company to report that the 12 laptops he had purchased were not working. The agent’s response: “What do you want me to do about it?” A customer with a billing question was transferred to an account specialist. As soon as the call picked up, the agent yelled, You, I told you not to call me again.” When the customer questioned what was going on, the call was disconnected. The customer of an Internet service provider called to ask about a company’s bundling offers with cable TV, and the agent tried for more than 30 minutes to sell that customer a home security system. After the call ended, during which the customer did order cable, a technician arrived a few days later to install the cable – and the home security system that was never ordered. Some of these sad-but-true anecdotes, like the now-famous tale of the customer that was on hold with Comcast for more than three hours, are clearly aberrations from normal procedure. But we live in a time when one bad experience gets shared on social media, repeated on industry blogs, and may even go viral. So when we ask the question of why customers hate contact centers, these exceptional examples of bad service cannot be ignored. And as a recent survey from analytics company ForeSee illustrates, customer satisfaction derived from the contact center is crucial to company reputation, brand loyalty and future sales. After receiving feedback from approximately 11,000 contact center customers, each asked to grade their experience on a 100-point scale, ForeSee found that most businesses achieved scores around 70. Those in the 80s are on the right track – but some only managed to edge into the 50s, indicating the need for significant changes to policies, procedures, or personnel. Service-based contact centers tended to receive lower scores, which is not surprising. These are the types of businesses that hear primarily from customers that are already angry or confused, making the agent’s task even more difficult. Two Solutions: Technology and Sensitivity
How is your contact center doing on the customer service scale? Would you hit that 70-range of average success, or is there work to be done?
If it’s time for a fresh look, there are two areas where changes are more likely to bring about better results. Let’s start with agent training, which should extend beyond learning a script or becoming familiar with contact center procedures, and should also stress empathy, patience and understanding. Scripted responses might be more efficient, but it makes customers feel better if they believe they are connecting with a person who acknowledges their frustration, and reassures them that they have come to the right place for the help they need. We’ve mentioned the CARP Method before but it’s worth acknowledging again. CARP is an acronym for “Control, Acknowledge, Refocus, Problem Solve.” It was created by Robert Bacal, who wrote the book If It Wasn’t for the Customers I’d Really Like this Job. His advice for handling complaints – “Control” the situation with polite but firm responses; “Acknowledge concerns in a way that takes them seriously; “Refocus” the conversation to solving the problem rather than complaining about its existence, then “Problem Solve” and wrap it up. However, to be fair to your agents, it is also appropriate to train them on the difference between angry callers open to best practices communication, and the acceptance of an apology when merited, and abusive callers who just want to vent. It may not be possible to salvage these encounters, and it’s acceptable to give up on them when the threats and profanities start flying. Workforce Management Software
All of the burden for customer service should not fall on the agent’s shoulders. The contact center must provide the tools necessary for that agent to do his or her job, as well as provide forecasting and scheduling that assures the presence of enough agents to efficiently handle incoming calls.
That used to be handled with spreadsheets but can now be covered with a workforce management (WFM) solution. With the advanced functionality and the more accurate forecasting and scheduling made possible by WFM, as well as the data it delivers on agent performance, schedule adherence and KPIs, contact center managers can always be assured the contact center’s resources are being utilized in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. Among the benefits: Real-Time Adherence
Tracking and schedule adherence are difficult, if not flat-out impossible, with just a spreadsheet. Spot-checks are fine as far as they go, but without the real-time tracking provided by WFM there is a higher risk of over/under staffing, shrinkage and missed service levels.
You know what types of calls your contact center receives, and you know which agents are adept at handling those particular calls. But the process of routing calls to the best recipients is more complex given the number of calls expected in any shift, and the number of agents available to handle them. Skill-based routing becomes less challenging with a WFM solution.
Multi-Location and Multi-Channel Coordination
Companies with multiple contact center locations require a means to coordinate personnel, resources and schedules at each facility so the service they provide is consistent. There may also be agents working from home that must be accounted for. WFM delivers these multi-site capabilities.
Choosing the Best Solution
If you are considering the addition of
WFM, it can be a confusing process. The best way to be assured of choosing the right solution the first time is to be prepared. Have a list of capabilities that you’ll want from your system, such as: • The ability to coordinate in multi-skill, multi-contact environments
Support for email, phone and chat contact channels
The ability to run simulations based on required skills and personnel
The capability to analyze and report on a wide range of agent and scheduling data Next, have your questions ready for the vendors you contact. We’d suggest including these on your list: How will this system integrate with my business? The optimal WFM solution will improve a contact center’s procedures without requiring a complete overhaul of its current system. How much does it cost?
An obvious question but also one that, for many smaller and midsized contact centers, marks the end of the discussion – unless they choose a cloud provider.
How long will it take to set up?
Once again, advantage: Cloud. Set up can be completed in days, with secure access available to agents and managers in the call center and at remote locations.
Is the system easily usable/scalable?
Usability is a priority with most cloud-based solutions, so call center agents and managers can get started more quickly from any location.
No contact center has ever achieved a 100% perfect service record. However, it’s a worthy goal to pursue even if one is doing so with imperfect people – and that includes managers as well as agents. But armed with better training that emphasizes courtesy and customer empathy, combined with a workforce management solution that locates the gaps between the contact center’s available personnel skills and resources, the contact center that inspires customer derision can be transformed into a sales-building protector of the brand.
Perhaps you know the answer to that question. Or perhaps you just think you do.
There are two definitions for workforce optimization (WFO) – one that provides a general assessment and one specific to the contact center industry. The general definition, or at least the one offered by Technopedia, is: “A strategy used in business with a focus on maximum customer satisfaction and benefits with minimal operational costs and supported by integrated technologies, cross-functional processes and shared objectives.” All of these qualities would certainly apply to the contact center, but would also work for any number of professional pursuits. When we think WFO for our industry, the definition incorporates specific functionality such as call recording, workforce management, quality management and speech analytics. We’re exploring this topic because of a recent Gartner report predicting that by the end of 2018, 70% of organizations with more than 300 contact center agents will be working with an integrated workforce optimization solution, either on-premise or in the cloud. That’s about 20 months away. If you have not yet explored the possibilities of WFO, there is a real risk of falling behind companies committed to maximizing efficiency and customer service. It’s a big decision that will impact every aspect of your company, even beyond the confines of the contact center itself. When you’re ready, start with a list of priorities and then seek out the solution best suited to meet them. Also, as so many business processes will be affected, look for a WFO application that can be implemented and integrated in a way that reduces the learning curve, while working toward ROI from day one. Price will also be a likely consideration, so a cloud solution may be the answer to achieving your technology goals at a cost you can afford.
How much can substandard customer service cost your business? Considering a recent Zendesk survey that reported 82% of customers stop doing business with a company that does not treat them well, we would guess the losses engendered by poor service are substantial.
As the contact center is the first point of contact for many customers, it’s a place where service must be constantly emphasized at both the agent and managerial levels. Here are some customer service trends that are gaining more attention in 2016, and may help to improve performance at your contact center. 1. Help Customers Help Themselves
At first “do it yourself” sounds like the antithesis of customer service, until you realize that many customers (more than 50% according to the Harvard Business Review) would prefer visiting a company’s website to having to call a contact center. By offering an array of self-service options, you serve customers better and eliminate many of the calls asking for basic information and services that could be addressed in another way.
But what exactly are those other channels referenced in our previous point? Web, online chat, email and texting are just some of the methods your customers would like to use – and sometimes an issue can be best resolved by switching from one channel to another, without having to close the first engagement. Make it easier for customers to transition from web to voice, and make sure you are tracking that customer journey for quality management purposes.
3. Social Media
Social media is still under-utilized as a business communication tool – but chances are your customers are already using it to discuss your business. It’s important to be represented there so you can respond to comments, positive or negative, as well as promote new offers and generate the types of discussions that will help you serve your customers better. There is an informal nature to Facebook chats that can produce more insight into what your customers are thinking.
4. Video Chat
This is not something you may have to think about yet, but some companies like Amazon have already incorporated this channel into their customer service strategy. Those who enjoy using various webchat services or Skype may wonder why they can’t order products and ask questions from companies the same way. Video chat won’t add much to a contact center budget, but some agent training will be required to acknowledge the differences between a phone conversation and a virtual face-to-face.
5. The Cloud Makes Everything Easier
Will 2016 be the year that the cloud becomes the top platform choice for contact centers? It’s too early to tell but the early returns are encouraging. We’ve covered the reasons for the cloud’s ascension before – lower costs, faster deployment, scalability, flexibility, ease of integration, user-friendliness, and the peace of mind of knowing that your business is always running the most recent and most secure version of the software you need.
If it’s time for your contact center to take a closer look at the benefits of the cloud, Monet WFM is a great place to start.
Since there is never a bad time to listen to good ideas about improving call center performance, we’ve rounded up some of the best we’ve heard recently. Any or all of them can make a difference in your business.
If IVR use is unavoidable, provide options that will make it easier to route customers to the agents best qualified to address their situation.
Maximize the Value of Every Call
How much data are you gathering from customer calls? Is there a way to add to that through a technology upgrade (such as
speech analytics) or by a renewed focus on quality management and analysis of information gathered through workforce management? Setting Personal and Professional Goals
Most contact centers establish achievement targets – lower average handle time, better first call resolution, etc. As these are implemented, agents and other team members should also be challenged to set personal goals, such as a renewed commitment to courtesy.
Improve the Agent Desktop
Do agents have the information they need when they need it? Do they have to dig through various programs to find appropriate data, while customers are waiting to have their questions asked or their orders processed? Maybe it’s time for a more user-friendly solution.
Share Successes and Good Ideas
When an agent finds an effective solution to a recurring problem, make sure that word gets out. Identify calls where everything went right, and schedule a group session so everyone can listen to it and learn from what they hear.
We’ve been discussing this often lately. Allow your agents to make decisions for customers – this not only requires a level of trust in agent judgment, it also necessitates a
workforce management solution that provides agents with the data they need in real time to make an informed decision. Review Remote Agent Practices
When instituted effectively, telecommuting agents can boost contact center efficiency, as well as staff retention and staff motivation. But it takes time and effort to bring about these positive results. Review your planning, execution and communication as it relates to home-working agents. Make sure you are getting them what they need to do their jobs, and that they are providing the same level of service you require from agents at your contact center.
Dig Deeper than KPIs
Average handle time is down? Great! But how did it get that way? Sometimes key performance metrics do not tell the whole story. Use this data as a launching point for an outcome-based strategy that places more emphasis on customer loyalty, customer satisfaction and new business sales.
“It’s the way we’ve always done it.”
That is the explanation managers to use for why certain contact center business practices have not changed for years, if not decades. But while some contact centers stick with traditional solutions, others have been more cognizant of how technology offers better ways to achieve customer satisfaction goals – and how this functionality is now available to contact centers of all sizes regardless of budget, thanks to the cloud. If it’s time to consider an upgrade, here are some questions that you might wish to ask of your next technology provider. Can I get important information on customers to agents in real time? You may already be collecting data on customers, but is there a way to make that available to agents so they can customize their handing of a specific call – or route it to the agent best suited to handle it? Real time information is no longer a luxury – it is a necessity if agents are going to effectively meet a customer’s needs. Can we provide 24/7 access? Your team should be able to stay connected to the contact center wherever they are. Find a browser-based software solution that makes working from home as easy as working in the office. Will this be easy to adopt? A more sophisticated product won’t pay dividends if your agents can’t figure out how to make use of its capabilities. Choose a solution that will allow for a shorter acclimation period, and that will facilitate collaboration among your team members both on and off-site. Will this help our agents be more autonomous? Customers prefer only talking to one person at your contact center, rather than being put on hold or transferred to a supervisor and explaining their issue a second time. More and more, managers are trusting agents to make decisions that might otherwise have required executive approval. However, agents need access to the right data at the service level to make an informed decision.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish” – Larry Elder It’s February – are all your New Year’s Resolutions broken by now? Hopefully not, but if the ones pertaining to your contact center didn’t materialize as you hoped, it’s never too early or too late to start again. This time, you’ll have a better chance of success if each goal is accompanied by specific ideas on how to make it happen. Here are five common contact center goals, and some suggestions of ways you can put them in motion. 1. Reduce Agent Attrition
There are several options available here, starting with sprucing up the office – new chairs, clean restrooms, fresh snack food items in the break room. Agents are more likely to stay when they can work in a clean and welcoming environment. Also, try to inject a little fun into the daily routine, either by launching customer service contests with small prizes for the best-handled calls, birthday celebrations, or more creative spins on casual Fridays – “Fancy Dress Fridays” or “Monday Night Football” days where agents can wear the jersey of their favorite team or player.
While these steps can make the work day more pleasant, some agents – and likely your best ones – will also want to know if their hard work is going to be rewarded with raises or internal promotion for those who have earned it.
Another reason agents leave is when they can’t reconcile the demands of their job with their home life, going to school or working a second job. You won’t be able to solve all these problems, but you can build more flexibility into your schedules to better accommodate agent preferences. For example, consider introducing a shift that finishes at 2pm to help those who need to pick up their children from school.
2. Improve Customer Service
That’s the main goal, isn’t it? And yes, there are countless ways to make it happen. But too often contact center teams will gather at the start of a new year and hear a rah-rah “This year we need to be committed to providing the best service we can” speech, and then it’s back to business as usual.
That’s not enough. If you want better service, you have to first define what that entails. A good place to start is by asking your customers. Have you surveyed them lately? Create a survey that asks questions about your contact center’s performance, its agents and processes, targeting the areas where you believe there is the most need for improvement. Also pay attention to what those customers are saying on social media if you communicate that way. When you have their responses, act on them.
What sort of complaints do contact center customers usually lodge? Too much time on the phone? Too much time on hold? Agents waiting for approvals to provide the caller with what he or she needs? Then perhaps another way to boost customer service is to empower your agents.
You’ll know best where implementing this policy would be most effective – perhaps provide agents with additional training so they can talk down angry callers without transferring them to a supervisor, or giving them the authority to approve returns or restoring funds to a customer’s credit card. Not only will this make your customers happier, it will also free up your managers and supervisors to focus on other matters, which should further boost contact center efficiency.
Here’s another thought – how are you assessing metrics? Is it all about hitting predetermined numbers, or is it about making sure callers are getting the assistance they need? Make sure your focus is more on effectiveness. It’s worth putting up with calls that stray outside your Average Handle Time target if they result in a satisfied customer.
3. Improve Your IVR
Having IVR can boost call center efficiency in several ways: calls are routed faster, questions can be answered without agent involvement, hold times are reduced, and for contact centers that are not open 24/7, IVR offers a means for customers to still obtain information.
However, for some customers IVR is not only inefficient, it’s downright annoying. Customers over 40 in particular may not be as willing to “talk to a machine,” and if they have to repeatedly “press 1” or tell that overly-friendly recorded voice what type of service they need, they are more likely to just hang up.
How can you tell if your IVR is helping business – or hurting it?
Analyzing calls and listening in to IVR interactions will provide the insight you need to make this determination. So it’s important to start your
call recording and quality monitoring at the IVR, not when the agent takes the call.
If you are losing too many calls during the IVR process, it’s time to make changes. Is there a way to explain the caller’s options more clearly? Is there a means for the caller to bypass the system quickly if they insist on speaking to an agent? In addition to reviewing call recording data, a caller survey that requests feedback on the IVR stage of the call can also yield insight into what customers like, and what they do not.
4. Better Communication
In this case, the challenge is not communication between agent and customer, but between agent and manager, and within the other employee tiers at your contact center. Internal communication is just as important as external communication, and should be encouraged. One way to make it happen is to have agents serve as managers or coaches for a shift. Or make sure that managers spend at least some time on the contact center floor every day.
5. Upgrade Your Technology
A 2015 survey found that 67% of industry professionals specified budget as the biggest barrier to improving their contact center. But with the evolution of
cloud workforce management tools, a business can upgrade to state-of-the-art technology without the large upfront costs of hardware and software investment. Depending on the system, an on-premise solution could run $100,000 or more.
Better still, once the
cloud solution is implemented it will always be upgraded regularly to new software versions as they are released, at no additional cost to the business. When a manual software upgrade is necessary, the cost can be prohibitive enough to be put off, which reduces a call center’s ability to operate at maximum efficiency. Conclusion
Motivated agents, upgraded technology, better communication and a renewed focus on customer service – now you’re ready to tackle those resolutions.
Scheduling mistakes are frustrating for managers and agents, and ultimately for your customers. You review your forecasts and you do your best, but if the numbers on paper are not matching up with what happens during a shift, here are some possible reasons why, and what you can do to achieve better results.
Historical data reveals patterns that should make scheduling easier and more accurate. But don’t just stay in the shallow end of the data pool and factor in the obvious peak calling times and slower portions of a day or a week. Account for holidays and seasonal shifts, new product introductions and weather impact. And make sure your schedule includes lunch breaks, training sessions and other times when agents will not be available to take calls. An
automated workforce management solution is the easiest way to collect and analyze this data, and then schedule accordingly. Shrinkage
The further out you create a schedule, the more you’ll have to account for
shrinkage. You can foresee sick days and vacations for the week ahead – but two months from now? It’s impossible – so consider shrinkage so the circumstances you can’t anticipate now will not result in an under-staffed contact center. Schedule Breaks as Well as Work Time
It’s one thing to account for breaks within a schedule – it’s another to actually affix them to a specific time, and expect your agents to adhere to it. Otherwise you may have too many agents taking breaks or heading out to lunch together at the same time, which will derail any schedule. WFM software can automatically assign breaks at the optimum time, so that impact on coverage and service level is minimized.
Work With Your Agents’ Needs When Possible
Agents are more likely to
adhere to a schedule when the contact center is open to their work preferences. At a typical business there may be full time and part time agents, some working for home and some for whom this is a second job. Taking these factors into consideration will require more flexibility in schedule creation, but there are definite benefits to having a range of shift solutions available. Full-Time vs. Part-Time
There is a stability to a full-time agent team that many contact centers find more desirable. But call patterns may result in too many agents collecting salary for doing nothing. That’s why some contact centers hire enough full-time employees to cover anticipated demand, and use part-timers to handle peak hours. The right mix will vary depending upon the business, but many find a 75% to 25% ratio of full-time to part-time agents will suffice.
When it is easier for agents to manage their preferences, it is easier for managers to create schedules that take into account their future availability. This should be a consideration when choosing a
WFM solution. Don’t Make Assumptions on Agent Preferences
“No one is going to want to work Saturday night.” Really? What about the agent who would rather attend his daughter’s soccer game on Saturday afternoon? Chances are you won’t need as many agents for the types of shifts generally viewed as undesirable, but you may be surprised at how many part-time or work from home agents will gladly take them. Don’t look for scheduling problems where they may not exist.
Regular Shift Reviews
Most veteran agents do not embrace shift reviews willingly. But contact centers should go through this process at least once or twice each year to confirm whether shift schedules are meeting customer service goals, and to determine if personnel changes might further optimize the agent skill sets available at any given time.
Equal Access to Preferred Shifts
One aspect of maintaining agent morale is making sure your team members believe they are being treated fairly, especially when it comes to the hours and shifts they are assigned. Scheduling that allocates more desirable shifts to the same agents week in and week out will alienate some employees, and that could impact their job performance and productivity. By distributing shifts equitably during the scheduling process, you can avoid such resentments before they are passed on to your customers.
Fill Vacant Positions as Quickly as Possible
This may be obvious but it still needs to be said. Few contact centers are immune to the challenges of agent attrition. The recruitment, hiring and training process to fill open positions is one that nobody enjoys, as well as one that places additional cost burdens on the contact center. However, the alternative is moving forward short-staffed, which inhibits scheduling flexibility and puts more stress on the agents you still have. It also limits your capacity to dismiss under-performing agents, as someone taking calls is better than no one at all. Resist the temptation to wait for peak season to begin your next recruitment campaign.
The Right Tool for the Job
Part of optimum scheduling is making sure the right agents are handling the right calls. With a tool like
Monet Record you’ll have insightful data on how different agents handle different calls. That gives managers a way to determine which team members are best suited for different customer engagements. Monet Quality makes it easier to retrieve calls by specific type, and provides additional reporting and analytics to further assess each agent’s skills.
Unfortunately, the status quo rarely remains the same in any call center, so all these calculations must be regularly updated and re-examined.
Monet Metrics delivers agent analytics, real-time alerts, scorecards and customizable reports, as well as data on key performance indicators such as agent adherence and service levels. This information can then be used in conjunction with workforce management to further refine the art and science of scheduling. Watch Demo
If there were a way to buy stock in
cloud computing, this would be a good time to do it. A 2015 Research and Markets report states that the cloud telecom industry, which includes cloud contact center ecosystems, is expanding at an annual growth rate of more than 25 percent. Perhaps you can’t invest in an entire industry, but you can certainly invest in a cloud-based solution for workforce optimization, which will also pay significant dividends in benefits to your contact center budget, day-to-day efficiency, and customer service levels. Hosting contact centers in the cloud has also been known to significantly reduce aspirin and other pain relief usage among managers, as it eliminates many of the headache causes that used to be unavoidable in this business, from hardware failures and networking issues to the budget-bursting costs of maintaining an IT department and keeping up with new software versions. Consider the change in just one everyday contact center capability – call recording. In the pre-cloud era, adding call recording required the installation of an onsite PBX system with a VoIP packet that recorded calls onto a separate onsite platform. With the cloud? Installation for agents can be achieved with the click of a button. Cloud computing will continue to gain a larger percentage of the contact center industry because it offers benefits for businesses of every size and type. Large call centers enjoy a tremendous cost savings and a lower upfront equipment investment. Smaller contact centers can achieve the same technological sophistication of bigger companies on a smaller budget. And call centers with agents working from home or in multiple centers can tie everyone in to the same workforce management system regardless of location.
For these reasons and more, it seems likely that the popularity of cloud-based systems will continue to grow. Is it time you considered making the switch? Learn More