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Workforce Optimization in the Cloud

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

Contact Center Strategy Hints, Tips & Best Practices

It’s hard to arrive at a contact center strategy without deciding upon an objective. A strategy provides a call center with a goal, as well as a direction towards that goal that it aspires to realize through the conscious and determined efforts of its staff and stakeholders.

Are you still formulating a strategy? Or do you have one in place and need some help in how to get there? Either way, the following blogs and articles may help.

Still have questions? Search for answers here.

Three Inaccurate Views of the Call Center

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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. 



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The Three Essentials of Workforce Optimization

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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. 

The People

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. 

The Process

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



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10 Tips for Reducing Average Handle Time

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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’

Use 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. 

No Interruptions

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. 



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One Formula for Calculating Call Center Service Levels

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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.). 

An automated 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. 



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Call Center Don'ts: Live Agent Coaching

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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


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What Will Insurance Contact Centers Look Like in 2020?

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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.

Human Resources

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

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.


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Medical Contact Centers: What is Workforce Optimization?

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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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Wrapping Up Another Successful ICMI Conference

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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. 


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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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What is Workforce Optimization?

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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.



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Time for a Software Upgrade?

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“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. 



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Five Contact Center Goals – and How to Achieve Them

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“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. 


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The Contact Center Holiday Wish List

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Letters to Santa and holiday wish lists are a part of Christmas celebrations around the world. But if you could create a wish list for your contact center, what would you ask for?

This is not just a fanciful exercise. Writing down your goals for 2016 can be the first step toward achieving them. What is most important to the future success of your business right now – more accurate forecasts? A better way to create schedules? Call recording software? Finding improved ways to automate tasks?

Different call centers will have different lists, but a Workforce Management (WFM) solution in the cloud may figure prominently in the answers to many of them. Santa can’t bring it, but Monet Software can. 

Here are a few more items that may be on your wish list. 

Screen Recording 

Listening to recorded calls can boost the efficiency of your contact center. Listening to these calls while watching how agents relate to customers offers even more insight into employee performance, customer service and how technology is being leveraged for maximum benefit. With Monet Screen Capture, it is possible to review synchronized voice and video of your agents’ interactions. We’ve created a video demo that takes you through the process, from capturing customer interactions to the platform’s archiving and reporting capabilities. 


Speech Analytics

Since 2/3 of customer interactions still take place over the telephone, speech analytics has become a more prominent source for customer insight. With Monet WFO Live’s speech analytics capabilities, contact centers gain even more insight from their call recording solution. With automated alerts triggered by voice data, managers have access to critical business intelligence that boosts both agent performance and the customer experience. 

Desktop Analytics

If you want even more transparency into how your contact center functions, what agents are doing at their desks, whether your business is in compliance with government or industry guidelines on information gathering, and where your procedures are falling short of expectations, desktop analytics may have the answers. Where speech analytics is primarily customer-focused, desktop analytics (DA) delivers insight on your agents and your processes. It captures and analyzes all agent desktop activities in real time, and it improves process automation and workflow. 



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What are the Real Differences Between On-Premise, Hosted and Cloud Solutions?

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Download our Free New Whitepaper

Technology plays a vital role in the contact center. Managers face a difficult choice when it comes to selecting a technology provider, as they must take into account not only the vendor but also the delivery method through which crucial contact center software will be accessed. 

There are three options: an on-premise solution, where hardware and software must be installed, deployed and maintained at the contact center; a hosted system, where software is purchased but is installed at an outside service provider, and a cloud system, which converts such physical resources as processors and storage into Internet resources. 

How should a manager decide which is best for his company? Our new whitepaper was created to answer the most common questions about the three systems, and to compare them based on several important factors, including:

Security

Start-up Time

Scalability

Upgrades

Integration

Flexibility

Of course, for many businesses the most significant determining factor will be cost. That’s why the whitepaper analyzes the many different budget considerations associated with each delivery method.

Don’t invest in your next workforce management or workforce optimization solution without downloading our new whitepaper: Cost and Benefit Comparison: Cloud vs. Premise vs. Hosted. It’s free!



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Three Reasons Customers Get Stuck on Hold – and How to Address Them

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In 2014, a Comcast customer tried to cancel his service. He was placed on hold…for three-and-a-half hours. After enduring that wait, the customer finally hung up and tried again, only to find that the service center had closed. 

At about the three-hour mark, our exasperated customer began recording his reactions. That video (“Comcast put me on hold until they closed”) has been viewed more than 1.8 million times on YouTube. 

It’s an amusing story, as long as you’re not the customer or Comcast. But putting callers on hold is nothing to laugh about, even when it cannot be avoided. 

Average Handle Time – and the Scourge of the Hold Button

One of the most important of the contact center’s key performance indicators (KPIs) is Average Handle Time (AHT), which records how much time an agent spends with one customer. It has been described as the bedrock for all contact center planning systems, which makes sense; if you guess wrong with this metric, it is difficult to plan anything else correctly. 

Most contact centers calculate AHT by added Total Talk Time, Total Hold Time and Total Wrap-Up Time. Some contact centers cheat by figuring hold time as a separate stat (Average Hold Time) but they are just kidding themselves. The agent is still working on that same caller’s needs. Every time a customer is put on hold, the handle time just keeps growing. 

How Do Your Customers Feel? They Hate It

The text message service TalkTo recently concluded that the average American spends about 13 hours on hold every year. Over the course of a typical lifespan, that adds up to 43 days of listening to “Thank you for your patience – your call is important to us”. No wonder they are upset. 

And while these numbers are not any worse than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago, callers today may not have the same patience as their parents did. Anyone that grew up with the instant gratification of an online purchase or finding answers to questions by typing a few words into a search engine is now accustomed to getting what they want and not having to wait for it. 

If you put these customers on hold, some will understand that you are trying to find the information you need to help them – but most will think you are just wasting their time. Among customers who feel they have waited too long on hold, 1/3 will hang up and never call back. Relationship over. 

Let’s take a closer look at the three reasons most customers are placed on hold, and what can be done to shorten those waits – or eliminate them altogether. 

1. Not Enough Agents Available

When there are too many calls and not enough agents, it results in the especially frustrating “ABC industries, please hold.” The call is answered but the customer is immediately relegated back to the limbo of hold. 

The Solution: Better Forecasting and Scheduling

Forecasts are made to anticipate caller demand and to make certain the contact center will never be short-handed. Many contact centers use spreadsheets to create forecasts, but the results are always time-consuming and often inaccurate.

A workforce management solution delivers automated workload forecasting and schedule generation. Managers can run simulations to calculate a precise forecast for future call volume, agent requirements and average handle time. Peak calling times can be identified based on trends and patterns in historical data. Once you know when incoming calls will be heaviest, it’s easier to readjust agent schedules as needed to handle the demand. 

Workforce optimization is the art and science of having the right number of employees, with the right skills at the right times to meet accurately forecasted volumes of work, and to do all that at a predetermined service level. With Monet WFM Live, you are able to forecast incoming work based on historical patterns, with the added ability to schedule and track employees based on preferences, skills and availability. 

2. The Agent Does Not Have the Information Necessary to Address the Caller’s Question or Situation

Callers expect answers. If a customer has to be placed on hold while the agent asks someone else, or needs to get an approval before authorizing a return (or whatever the situation may be) that caller will wonder why the company didn’t do a better job of training its employees. Yes, that is unfair in many cases, but perception is often reality, and customers will certainly be happier if their business can be conducted quickly by the person who answered the phone – without any on-hold delays. 

The Solution: Agent Training and Trust 

Most of these hold scenarios fall into two main categories: the agent either does not have the necessary information, or the agent could handle the situation but is forced to speak with a manager or supervisor before proceeding. By expanding the agents’ authority to make decisions, many of the latter instances can be eliminated. 

If an agent cannot answer a caller’s question, it’s possible the question is so unique and unexpected that no amount of training could prepare for it. But those situations are rare. More often, callers are placed on hold in these situations because the agent is still new and learning on the job. Better training might prepare new agents to answer the full array of common customer queries, without resorting to the ‘hold’ button so they can ask a co-worker or manager for help. Managers can also help avoid these situations by created an online knowledge base that can be accessed quickly and easily (and is updated regularly to include new offers, promotions, etc.). 

3. Insufficient Contact Center Resources

Resources, in this case, can refer to either personnel or technology. Forecasting and scheduling can optimize agent allocation, but if there are not enough agents on the payroll, customers will have to wait longer to be addressed. And technology exists to further refine data collection and improve agent preparation and performance, but it must be implemented to do so.

The Solution: Do What You Can

There’s no universal cure for this one. If the budget allows for hiring more agents, most contact centers will do so. If it doesn’t, it’s imperative to maximize the human resources available, and here once again WFM can be critical. When it’s delivered via the cloud like Monet WFM Live, there is no large upfront investment, so these capabilities are now within reach of small and midsized contact centers as well. 

What else might help? Some contact centers are using speech analytics to analyze call patterns and identify more frequently asked questions. By doing so, agents can be better prepared to handle specific situations so those callers do not have to be put on hold while answers are sought. 

Bonus Tip: Maximize Hold Time

Regardless of preparation and resources, there will always be times when a customer has to be placed on hold. Is there anything that can be done during this time to make it more tolerable – or to reduce abandoned call rates? 

Statistics shows that more customers hang up if their hold time is spent in silence. Music is preferable, but even better would be pre-recorded messages of relevant information about the company, that may not address their particular situation but might be helpful to them anyway. Another option is offering to call the customer back when the agent is available. 

Conclusion

Reducing the amount of time your customers stay on hold will not only result in shorter handle times, but will make your customers and agents happier.



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Free Webinar: join us and learn how to Fight the Adherence Monster

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Think Halloween is scary, with all those horror movies and little ghosts and monsters ringing your doorbell? 

That’s nothing compared to the frightening service problems that can result from adherence issues at your contact center. You’ll hear a lot of screaming this month, but you certainly don’t want to hear it from your customers. 

Thankfully, Monet has a free webinar for that. And you are invited. 

It’s called “Fighting the Adherence Monster,” and it is scheduled for October 28 2015 at 11 am PDT. 

If you have ever encountered the Adherence Monster, you know how it can seriously increase labor costs. Bullets won’t kill this beast – instead, you need a technology solution that has the capability to streamline schedule adherence goals and practices. 

How can you know that agent availability, holidays and breaks have all been accounted for? Can you make adjustments in real time? How do you know which agents are doing their part for schedule adherence and which may require additional guidance or training?

Fortunately, the Adherence Monster is no match for Monet solutions with real-time adherence. 

Don’t miss this informative webinar featuring tips and tricks to help you keep adherence issues away from your business. Spend 45 minutes with us, and you’ll save hours and hours of time lost to lapses in adherence. 

Register here, it's free!




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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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7 Contact Center Trends Happening Right Now

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There are two types of people – those that set trends and those that follow them. Here are 7 trends that are currently taking place in the contact center industry – are you keeping up, or is it time to play catch-up?

1. Moving to the cloud

Why is this a trend? Lower upfront costs, more flexibility, more scalability, quicker reactions to changes in customer behavior, no need to build complex and costly hardware and software systems, less downtime, automatic software upgrades as they become available, deployment in weeks, not months…shall we go on?

2. The omnichannel approach

It’s not just offering different customer contact channels besides the telephone, it’s making sure that all of them deliver a seamless customer experience. If you’re on top of this trend, you are ahead of the curve – a Deloitte survey shows that less than 20% of contact centers have fully integrated their channels. 

3. There’s an app for that

Self-service apps are becoming more popular with customers who prefer to resolve issues without speaking with an agent. If your company doesn’t have one in development yet, it’s something to start thinking about. 

4. Fielding the tough questions

Customers who opt for email and live chat and other communication means will still use the phone for complex issues and difficult questions. Agent training must take this into account so your team is prepared for interactions that involve more than taking an order. 

5. Telecommuting

Work from home opportunities are becoming more prevalent in the contact center industry, and workforce management software helps make telecommuting possible. This may be a preferable situation for some of your team members, and because of the lower overhead and churn rate, it’s good for the contact center as well. 

6. More emphasis on compliance

Security breaches and headline-making hacker stories have more companies thinking about regulatory compliance, especially with the handling of customer credit card information. When was the last time you reviewed your compliance needs and security measures? 

7. Likes and tweets

Social media was something that businesses and contact centers of previous generations never had to worry about. But these new online channels should be viewed as an opportunity, not a problem. Incorporate social media engagement into the company’s overall communication strategy. A Facebook ‘like’ will be read by thousands of other customers and prospects. 




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Why Scheduled Breaks are Still Preferable

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Workplaces have become more casual over the past ten years. The millennial generation is accustomed to less structure, and many businesses have tried to accommodate that preference in a way that does not impact productivity. 

In the contact center, this has prompted some discussion as to whether agent breaks should be strictly scheduled just like training sessions and other activities, or if more flexibility is feasible. There is even some documentation out there about agents being more efficient if they can take an unscheduled break as needed. 

However, at this point we believe that scheduling breaks is still the right way to go. The very idea of workforce management is built on methods of data analysis and numbers crunching that tells managers when breaks can be scheduled based on capacity. The WFM tool populates breaks when it deems them appropriate given the workload forecast. If adherence slips, it is then up to supervisors to reschedule breaks based on call volume, which can be done with the right WFM provider (such as Monet WFM Live). 

While it sounds more restrictive, there are still ways in which an agent’s preference can be accommodated. Indeed, once agents grasp the most common call volume patterns for days and shifts, they are able to request breaks and other time-off requests at times when such requests stand a greater chance of being approved. 

If everyone works from the same data, the process becomes easier. And as long as that remains the case, unscheduled breaks should be discouraged. When agents can change their own schedules, it makes it far more difficult, if not impossible, to gain any value from forecasting or measuring adherence. 



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How long have your contact center agents been working from the same script?

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If you can’t remember, this might be a good time to take a fresh look at that script, and decide if changes would result in a better customer service experience.

When you do so, request the help of several of your best agents in the process. These are the men and women who will be working from that script, so they should be comfortable with its content, and able to advise from past experience on which questions and responses will be most effective in different customer scenarios. 

For example, too many scripts use sentences that like this: 

“On behalf of ABC industries I want to let you know that we appreciate your business, and that we will continue to work toward earning your trust.”

Customers today have heard well-worn content like this countless times, and are well aware it is not coming from the agent but from a script the agent is reading. The sentiment is important, but it could be expressed in a less fabricated way. 

Agents – some of whom may have already taken to doing so – can suggest ways to make the customer feel valued that will sound more natural. These are the men and women on the front line of your customer service and loyalty efforts – they hear the reactions from customers every day (as you should as well through your quality assurance program). 

Speech analytics offers another way to gauge customer reaction to certain scripted lines and responses. The ultimate goal is to create a script that is more of an outline than a word-for-word speech. 

Some content must be expressed in a specific way to be consistent with industry regulations. It’s also likely that the answers to some basic questions will always be the same. But if every part of the call is scripted, the result is a robotic conversation that leaves the customer feeling more like a number than a person. When managers and agents work together on scripting, the result can be copy that encourages quick and efficient calls, while allowing agents to go off-script when there is a need. 


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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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2015: The Year of the Customer Experience

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There is never a time when customer experience should not be a priority at the contact center. 

But this year, we are seeing a renewed focus on this most important attribute, and through our blogs, articles and webinars are working to provide the information and resources that can help our clients re-dedicate themselves to delivering the best service possible.

This was the inspiration for our webinar “Monet WFO Live in Action,” which offered a guided tour of that product’s many features and benefits, and how they work together to serve your customers. These qualities were recently honored by TMC, which named WFO Live as a CUSTOMER 2015 Product of the Year

But what about cost? It’s not as significant an issue with a cloud-based solution like WFO Live, but we understand that it’s also a factor in the day-to-day decisions every contact center manager has to make. 

However, when the emphasis is on customer experience first, and fiscal challenges second, the result is a positive impact on both situations. 

Why? If a contact center delivers a great customer experience, it is going to make a difference in the bottom line.  Happy customers buy more products, and remain customers longer. And if they share an account of how well they were treated on social media, that brings more business, and more opportunities to convert first-time callers into satisfied customers. 



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See you at Call Center Week

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The annual Call Center Week Conference and Expo is one of the largest industry events of the year. Monet Software is proud to take part in the 2015 conference, which will be held at The Mirage in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 15-19. 

Please visit our booth (#609), where we look forward to meeting with customers and contact centers managers, and to exploring new trends in the industry. 

This year, the focus is on customer-centric service. Sessions and topics on the agenda include: “Value in the Voice of the Customer,” “Why the Customer Experience Matters and What you Can Do About It,” and “Customer Experience Journey Mapping in a Digital World.”

But as always, there will be speeches from industry experts on a multitude of other subjects, from how to ignite employee engagement to advanced strategies in chat support and call center cloud strategies. 

If you have not registered yet, or would like more information about the 16th annual Call Center Week Conference and Expo, visit their website at http://www.callcenterweek.com/.



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Missed our WFO Live in Action Webinar? Check it out Online

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Sometimes the best descriptions fall short. That is frequently the case with a contact center solution that offers as many features as Monet WFO Live. 

We could talk about all of the ways that this workforce optimization solution can make the management and operation of any contact center easier, and how these benefits are multiplied when they are offered via cloud, and how many problems and challenges can be eliminated when WFO replaces spreadsheets, but there’s really no substitute for taking a few moments to watch the system in action. 

This was the inspiration for our webinar, “Monet WFO Live in Action.” Monet Account Manager Nate Welsh and WFO Application Consultant Rich O’Farrell provide a guided tour of the product’s many features and benefits – ACD, WFM, forecasting, scheduling, call recording, quality, performance management and analytics, as well as how all these functions work in sync with each other. 

You’ll also find out how easy the system is to implement and use, which not only shortens ROI time but will make your agents happier as well. 

If you missed this webinar the first time around, it is now available for viewing free on the Monet website. Just click the link below, and get ready to discover what 21st century contact center efficiency looks like. Sometimes, seeing is believing.

Access the Webinar here 



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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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