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Workforce Optimization in the Cloud

Follow the latest trends on cloud-based contact center software and workforce optimization

Back Office Workforce Management Hints, Tips & Best Practices

Take a Fresh Look at Your IVR

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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.

2. Clarity

Are the menu options clear? Will a caller always know which selection will get them where they need to go?

3. Anticipation

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? 

4. Inclusion

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)?

5. Automation

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. 



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A Three Point Plan for a Better Forecast

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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. 



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Why are Customers Frustrated with Contact Centers – and How to Change Their Minds

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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. 

Skill-Based Routing

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. 

Conclusion

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.  



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Holiday Season Preparation: 5 Steps to Take Now at your Call Center

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Are you already seeing Christmas trees going up in stores? Sure, it might be too soon, but there’s no such thing as rushing the season when it comes to contact centers – especially if November and December is your busiest time of year. 

There are more than 100 shopping days until Christmas, but the time to make sure you are prepared to handle the holiday season is right now. Here are 5 ways to start: 

 

1. Create or consult your stand-by agent list

Many contact centers hire temporary agents to keep up with increased call volume. You may have a list of these agents who helped out in previous years, as well as qualified agents that were interviewed for positions, and did not get the job. Start contacting them now to check their availability. If you don’t have a stand-by list, start putting one together. 


2. Forecasting

With Workforce Management software it is easy to review call patterns from previous years 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. 


3. Shift schedules

Have your best agents available during peak periods, and have a plan to make sure all holiday season schedules are easily accessible to all concerned parties so there’s never any confusion. Obviously there will still be some revisions along the way, but WFM should resolve any issues before they can impact performance. 


4. Streamline training

When adding temporary agents, you may need to train them in a more efficient way so they are prepared for what’s to come. If possible, streamline the desktop solutions available to temps so they can find the functionality they need without any confusion. 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. 

 

5. Monitor the new hires

Have personnel available for quality monitoring, focused in particular on your overflow workforce. Some will excel, and these are the agents you might want to keep on the payroll after January 1. If you don’t have a position available now, given the turnover rate in this business it’s only a matter of time before you will. Save their contact information. 



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Last year's Contact Center Predictions: How Did They Do?

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Hundreds of blogs, websites and magazines publish pieces about what a new year will bring. Not many of them go back later to review the accuracy of their predictions. So we found a piece from the beginning of 2014 featuring five technology trends believed headed for the contact center this year. Let’s see how it did. 

1. Hybrid Cloud Adoption

It was anticipated that 2015 would see more contact centers with a hybrid environment, where some solutions were accessed from the cloud and others were installed on-site. While such businesses exist, the more prominent trend has been turning everything over to the cloud, because of the flexibility and cost-savings possible. 

2. Virtual Agents

Would 2015 be the year of the virtual agent? Final stats aren’t in but thus far we are not seeing any indication of a significant increase in telecommuting, though this is a movement that has seen steady growth over the past decade. Cloud-based workforce management that allows agents to access the technology they need from any location will, if anything, expedite this trend. 

3. Customer Service Apps

The smartphone, many predict, will change how customers interact with companies, and may even result in the extinction of the contact center.  But while more companies have introduced customer service apps in 2015, contact centers are not going anywhere anytime soon. 

4. Attack of the Big Data

Frost & Sullivan defines Big Data as volumes of data so large and moving at such a high velocity that they are difficult or impossible to work with using traditional database management tools. There has indeed been a growing influx of data from both traditional and new sources, including data logs, social networks, and clickstream data in web interactions. Monet Software has devised solutions to make this data more accessible and better organized, so it can be used to bring a new level of customer insight, and help drive real-time decisions on customer handling and workflow. 

5. Multi-channel Access

This prediction was certainly accurate. Companies can no longer be content with traditional call center functionality. Customers now expect to reach out via other channels and receive the same quality response. For contact centers this means not just having qualified personnel in the right positions, but the ability to capture data across the channel spectrum that will help deliver better service in the future. 


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Where Does the Time Go?

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Reducing Payroll Losses from Time Reports with WFO

The expression “time theft” is one that is likely familiar to every business owner with employees, including contact centers. It refers to situations where employees are paid for time they did not actually work.

It’s the kind of phrase that makes managers angry because they feel as if employees are taking advantage, but it also makes employees angry because an accusation of stealing is never something to be taken lightly. 

But despite the discomfort it introduces into the workplace, time theft is an issue that must be confronted. While many contact center managers may not worry about an agent checking his or her Facebook page for a few minutes on company time, they will certainly not tolerate when one agent clocks in a fellow agent who never showed up at all. 

To be fair, that type of fraud is rare, but it does happen. It’s the more subtle forms of time theft – adding a few minutes to the beginning or end of a shift, counting a break time as work time, conducting personal activities while on the clock, that most impact productivity and business costs. 

It should also be acknowledged that many examples of time theft are inadvertent. Agents may honestly believe they worked the number of hours listed on their time sheets. Contact center work shifts can seem long and repetitive, and it is easier for mistakes to be made under these circumstances. But even without fraudulent intent, these situations can still be damaging. According to one estimate, time theft costs companies $400 billion annually in lost productivity. 

The Problem

According to studies by the American Payroll Association (APA), almost 75 percent of businesses in the U.S. are affected by time theft. These instances can take as much as 7 percent out of a company’s gross annual payroll. For a business with a $1 million payroll that adds up to $70,000 every year. 

When employees were asked if they have ever exaggerated the number of hours worked on a shift, 43% admitted to doing so at least once. It is worth repeating here, however, that these cases often happen without malicious intent. A contact center agent may stay a few extra minutes, or arrive ten minutes early, and not be aware they are doing something wrong when those minutes are recorded on a digital time sheet. 

The APA also reports that the average employee “steals” anywhere from 50 minutes to 4.5 hours per week by showing up late, leaving early and taking extended breaks and lunches. At the high end, this equates to approximately six weeks of stolen time per employee per year—as the study observes, whether the discrepancies are intentional or not, that is a staggering figure.

The Solution 

Contact centers have advanced a number of solutions to combat time theft, with varying results. Paper forms and traditional time clocks can help but are also vulnerable to agents who record their hours inaccurately or have someone else check them in. 

A biometric time clock, which uses an employee’s fingerprint to verify their identity before clocking them in, can be far more effective. It can also expensive to implement, and may strike some managers as overkill. 

A workforce optimization (WFO) solution may be the best option for making sure that there is no discrepancy between the hours declared and the hours truly worked. One of the primary benefits of WFO is increased productivity and service levels, and these are achieved in part by functionality that accurately records the number of hours worked. 

Monet Live, Workforce Optimization in the Cloud provides a means to optimize all aspects of the workforce, including scheduling and hours worked, in one solution. One way it achieves this by tracking agent adherence to planned schedules and determining agent work time accounts. In addition, Monet Screen Capture (included in WFO Live) provides full-motion video and audio capture, which shows what agents are doing at any given time during their shifts. 

Conclusion

The issue of time theft can be a difficult one to broach at a contact center. But if a business is losing too much money from agents inaccurately recording the hours they worked, it is an issue that must be discussed. 

Since managers cannot be there to monitor every agent before, during and after a shift, an automated solution is the best way to combat the loss of productivity caused by time theft. With recurrent coaching and training and a workforce optimization solution, a contact center can mitigate this problem.  




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2014: A Record Year for Contact Centers

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Did your contact center add more agents last year? If it did, it was not alone. 

According to Jobs4America, as many as 50,000 new positions were created in the contact center industry in 2014, about 15,000 of those in the fourth quarter alone. 

Some of this job growth can be attributed to a rebounding economy, and some is no doubt related to the number of companies that are moving contact center functionality back to the United States after years of outsourcing. 

What does it mean? Prepare for a busy year. And be aware that while you’ll be speaking to more customers going forward, none of them will be that interested in how much busier you are – they just want good service. 

Workforce management Software (WFM) is the key to delivering that service, and not just in the customer-facing operations of the front office. In the back office, WFM can streamline a variety of tasks, including simulations to improve forecasts for staffing and call volume, and scheduling improvements created by optimization of agent availability and service levels. 

Does your WFM solution have the multi-channel efficiencies necessary to provide the same functionality to your back office as to the front office? If not, perhaps it is time to investigate a system that will allow you to take a more proactive approach in managing back office activities – no matter how busy you get in 2015 and beyond. 



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A More Efficient Call Center in One Minute?

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

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