Call Center Workforce

How Can Your Business Relate to the Millennial Community?

Millennials are arguably the most rapidly-evolving and flippant consumer base in the industry. It is a challenge in itself to understand what they desire in a product, and even moreso how to please them in the aspect of customer service.

In reality, millennials just want what everyone wants. All people generally tend to want to do the right thing, belong to a group, and avoid conflict. The difference between this generation and others is not their access to a plethora of information, but their reliance on that access of information. They rely on their online community just as much as we rely on our immediate neighborhood community.

Think of the neighborhood community you grew up in. Not so long ago, neighbors relied on each other for borrowing spices, taking care of pets, and generally looking after one another. Millennials look to devices, which many of them have grown up using, as their own community. Just as your neighbors would, these devices recommend bars & restaurants, barbers, dog walkers, carpools, and most importantly, connect them with like-minded people.

What a successful business looks like in the millennial community:

Then: Strong values. Now: Progressive values, and being able to exemplify each one.

Gusto, a payroll software company based out of San Francisco and Denver, is an excellent example of a company that makes their progressive values clear, and leads by example to see them through. Co-founder Tomer London took a two-month paternity leave after his daughter was born. In writing, any business can value a “work-life balance”, yet pressure their employees to work 12-hour work days. London takes it upon himself to set the example in his company, and follow through with the values he sets in place.

These types of stories circulate in the millennial community. In the click of a button, millennials can find exactly what people are saying about your business, whether these people are customers or employees. They rely very heavily on these reviews and take them very seriously: they will not be your customer if they don’t like what they see.

Then: Strong, ethical leaders. Now: Strong ethical leaders, and being able to connect with them.

Speaking of leading by example, executives of businesses can be reviewed just as much, if not more, than the business itself. Glassdoor is one of the most prominent resources when it comes to researching businesses and jobs. In the snapshot below, you can see how employees review Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, and actually read through each review.

To millennials, the ability to connect with the leaders of a business is crucial. For the millennial employees in a company, feeling ethically and morally aligned with the person they are working for drives productivity and purpose. The same goes for consumers. With business leaders under a constant spotlight, it is easier for consumers to decide with whom they’d like to do business. After Uber’s many PR disasters, and CEO Travis Kalanick’s inability to mend them, the hashtag #DeleteUber went viral, causing about 500,000 users to reportedly delete their accounts.

The force of the online millennial community is strong. Your business is under a spotlight, but that doesn’t have to be frightening. There is no secret code to learning what millennials like and what they don’t like. Your business does not have to look like Hillary Clinton trying to appeal to young voters through cringe-worthy and outdated slang. In fact, a majority of the Democratic millennials who did not vote for Hillary simply felt that she was untrustworthy.

The millennial generation holds businesses to a higher, more personal standard. If they feel comfortable doing business with you and trust you, chances are they will let their online “neighbors” know. On the other hand, if you’re deemed untrustworthy or unpleasant to do business with, they will certainly make sure their online “neighbors” know to never do business with you.

Fortifying the Career Path of the Contact Center Agent

Employers are experiencing a serious talent shortage, according to a 2016-2017 report from ManpowerGroup. Part of this could be because more and more employees want to work for an employer who will help them advance their career, and they’re happy to leave an employer who prevents them from doing so.

At the same time, contact centers are harnessing the power of AI and chatbots, eliminating the need for agents to perform repetitious, monotonous tasks. As a result, the agent’s role is becoming elevated. Customers want more adept service, too – when they have a complex issue, they want customized service from a knowledgeable, human agent who can creatively problem-solve and who is empowered to make important decisions. This circles right back to benefiting the contact center, because the way to stand out from the competition is to offer top-notch customer service.

Due to the changing workforce, smart contact centers are giving agents the opportunity to advance in their role as well as their career. As management puts trust and faith in their employees, agents feel that their long-term success is important to the company, which improves their performance and loyalty. Even if customer service agents move out of their current job and into a higher position, they bring with them in-depth customer knowledge that they gleaned during their time as an agent.

Even if an agent isn’t yet ready to move up and out of their position, they can become more essential to the contact center and more helpful to the customer by become an SME, or a subject matter expert. SMEs are the go-to agents who have deep understanding of a specific process or product. The SME can help train agents in the same field, deal with escalating calls, and enrich the self-service knowledge base. They may also be asked to work closely with other departments at the contact center, like marketing or product design.

If you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to elevating your workforce, start by asking agents what they’re most interested in. Let your employees shadow parts of the business that they want to know more about, then hold a meeting with the employee to learn about their experience. If your employee shows a strong interest in a different or more advanced area, speak with management to find out how to best accommodate the agent.

 

 

 

 

Dos and Don’ts of Contact Center Forecasting

 

Forecasting may just be the cornerstone of contact center success. The accuracy of forecasting can affect service level, average speed of answer (ASA) time and occupancy. Though contact center forecasting varies by industry, there are some core principles that just about every organization should follow.

3 Dos of Contact Center Forecasting

Do start with a historical baseline.

Your historical data is what you’ll use to predict the future. You’ll get an idea of what your forecast is going to look like. Then, you can start adding in changes as needed, like as you track productivity changes. By starting with a solid basis, you’ll have a better view of how every change impacts the forecast.

Do use forecasting technology.

The old school way of handling contact center forecasting just won’t work anymore – spreadsheets, no matter how detailed, aren’t smart enough to record and manipulate data. The more inputs you have that affect the forecast, the more you’ll need to rely on modern, smart technology that will communicate results in a way that you can act on.

Do understand that accuracy will change with time.

The farther out you forecast, the less accurate your forecast is going to be. A forecast for the next 30 days is going to be more accurate than a forecast for the next 90 days. Accepting that this is a reality and being transparent about it when discussing forecasting with management will give you credibility.

2 Don’ts of Contact Center Forecasting

Don’t create a target based on a blanket statistic.

If an executive says something along the lines of, “At my last contact center, we had 95% accuracy – let’s aim for that,” it’s important to know why that won’t translate to your contact center. A sweeping statistic like that doesn’t account for details like the specific metric measured or the frequency at which it was measured.

Don’t get hung up on averages.

Averages can be misleading because they can make things seem more placid than they are. Forecasting requires information that will help management make real decisions, not information that’s been watered down so that it’s easier to understand.

Contact center forecasting combines science with creativity. Processing data is the easy part. Figuring out how to add subjective changes requires more creative thinking. Knowing what to expect and what to avoid from the get-go is the best place to start.

How to Motivate Contact Center Agents

There are several reasons to motivate contact center agents: hiring new staff can get expensive; training new hires means there’s lag time between when they’re hired and when they can start working; and company morale can decrease if there’s a high rate of turnover. Here are 5 ways to motivate contact center agents.
All of the tools your agents use, from software to hardware, should work flawlessly. Faulty technology makes it impossible for agents to be efficient. One necessary type of tool are those that reduce customer frustration. Agents can get frazzled after speaking with one angry customer after the other. Software that allows for queue callback or voicemail can make customers happy, which in turn delivers agents fewer frustrating inquiries.
2. Setup seamless automation.
Quality contact center software will automate manual tasks so that agents don’t have to perform them with every single call or chat. Data should also be synced across all customer service tools. When their workload is streamlined, agents have more time and energy to handle more pressing issues.
3. Help agents hone their specialties.
Instead of having all of your agents trained in every area, figure out the strengths of your individual agents and help them specialize. Some agents may excel at handling agitated customers while others will have in-depth knowledge of your products. When you have agents who are experts in certain areas, they’ll be able to answer queries and solve problems more quickly than if they only had limited knowledge of the niche.
4. Open the lines of communication.
Your contact center agents are the closest people to your customers. It’s important that your agents know they can speak with you openly. Not only will you hear great ideas you haven’t thought of before, but agents who feel valued and needed are more likely to perform well in their job.
5. Use analytics to acknowledge excellence.
With call center reporting, you can see how agents are performing. When you find an agent who spends a short time on calls and has a high FCR rate, for example, you can reward them for their performance. You can also see which agents have positive customer reviews and reward them accordingly.
When your agents are motivated and happy, they’re better able to deliver the sort of customer experience you expect.

Why Your Contact Center Should Be Multilingual

While many contact centers have English-speaking support agents, customers often need multilingual services. Customers that come from various locations around the world look to brands that can offer help in their native language. Here’s why contact centers should consider being multilingual.

1. English isn’t 100% comprehensible to everyone.

Even customers who speak English as a second language may have difficulty understanding complex sentences and ideas. The more in-depth their support query, the more likely it is that they’re going to have trouble communicating with an English-speaking agent. This can also cause problems when it comes to understanding things like terms of agreement or the ordering process.

2. Multilingual support gives contact centers a competitive edge.

In a market where many contact centers are not multilingual, offering support in different languages can give your business an edge. Having multilingual live agents, both on the phone and via chat, as well as a website that can be viewed in different languages are excellent marketing to

3. Speaking the customer’s first language enhances personalization.

Today’s customers want personalized, one-on-one support experiences. By being able to communicate with them in their primarily language, they’ll feel important and catered to. When a customer knows they’ll receive customized support, they’re more likely to reach out to an agent if they have a problem or question.

4. Communication will improve, which increases the chance of success.

It’s easier to cooperate with a customer if communication is clear. The customer will be able to understand that the support agent is working on their behalf and both parties will understand the other’s point of view. Fluently speaking the customer’s language decreases the chance of misunderstandings and, in turn, can help support agents increase the rate of first call resolution.

5. You’ll have a chance to analyze your market.

To decide which languages your contact center should support, you’ll need to analyze your market, possibly in a different way than you’ve done in the past. Determine the geographical areas that make up your target audience, then figure out which additional languages are needed to accommodate those customers. In addition to language, features like dialects and location-specific customs should be considered.

How to Deliver Multilingual Support

Knowing why you should offer multilingual support doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to setup your contact center to meet those needs. The first step is to recruit agents who have advanced language skills – knowing which languages you most need to support will help you narrow down your options. Offer help materials, like FAQ website pages and product support documentation, in a variety of languages. Utilize translation software for when multilingual agents aren’t available to serve a customer or to help agents communicate in languages that aren’t supported yet by the contact center. To track performance, add location- and language-specific questions to post-support surveys, such as, “What is your primary language?”

Brands that reach customers globally or that are looking to expand should prioritize multilingual customer support. Optimized customer support has a better chance of meeting customer needs, which promotes brand loyalty and credibility.

How Contact Centers Use RPA

Robotic process automation (RPA) covers an assortment of advanced, intelligent tools that can carry out a variety of routine tasks. RPA systems are programmed to automate repetitive and rules-based actions that are normally performed manually by contact center agents. While these tasks are integral to the contact center as they help with essential functions, agents are most valuable when they can spend their time on more urgent and complex issues.

How Does RPA Work?

RPA integrates with contact center systems to catch and understand how various applications work. The RPA software is then taught to interpret different processes, such as processing certain types of transactions and triggering responses. RPA technology uses different tools to capture this digital data, such as image recognition and server access. Since RPA works at an interface level, it rarely needs IT support.

What Can You Automate with RPA?

There are a host of processes to automate with RPA. Everything from updating customer mailing addresses and order history to handling time-sensitive transactions for high-value customers can be programmed. While RPA has more in common with artificial intelligence than standard automation, it works best with processes that are defined, repetitious and rules-based. RPA can complete the following types of tasks:

  • Bill customers
  • Close fraudulent accounts
  • Compliance reporting
  • Order processing
  • Override transactions for VIP customers
  • Resolve disputes and complaints
  • Send shipping notifications
  • Update client profiles

RPA can also be programmed to carry out industry-specific tasks. For example, an insurance company may use RPA to generate renewal premiums and process claims. A bank could program RPA to process overdraft protection requests and credit applications. In the healthcare industry, RPA is used to register patients and verify credentials of healthcare providers. Human Resources departments can use RPA to manage W4 forms.

Will RPA Replace Live Workers?

There’s a lot of concern over whether or not RPA will impact staffing. It’s undeniable that RPA has numerous benefits for the contact center. It reduces agent workload, boosts efficiency and eliminates the risk of human error. The contact center overall enjoys a higher ROI and lower training costs. Customer interaction times are reduced and the customer experience as a whole is enhanced. While the answer depends on each specific company, some feel that instead of cutting down their staff, RPA is most useful because it allows companies to handle a higher work volume.

How to Measure the Costs of Agent Attrition: Inebriated Executives

ron.davis

Ron Davis, Founder, CEO: Tenacity

Call Center Managers Rarely Know the Actual Cost of Employee Attrition

As the CEO of a company that helps contact centers reduce employee turnover, I have a lot of conversations with executives about the cost of attrition. Their estimates are as random and dangerous as a game of drunk darts.

A Data Driven Industry?

I find this especially amazing, because year after year these leaders fill out surveys saying that agent turnover is their #1 problem. But after decades of hand wringing, they have no idea what it costs them. For an industry dedicated to painstaking measurement of employee performance, this is surprising. And for an industry suffering with razor thin margins whose biggest preventable costs come from agent turnover, it’s inexcusable.

It’s true that many of these senior managers think they know what it costs when employees leave. Perhaps they read an interesting article about agent retention online, or a consultant gave them a rule of thumb. Maybe they were a bit more ambitious and got someone from the finance team to try and model the cost of agent attrition in a particular call center four or five years ago. Or the executive herself sat down and did some back of the envelope calculations to figure out the hiring and training costs, and figured she had a pretty good grip on the total price of agent turnover. If only they knew.

In most cases, when I dig a little deeper, I learn that these call center bosses have very little idea of the actual, hard, measurable, bottom line costs of losing their employees. And unfortunately, just like in real drunk darts, ignoring your biggest money sink is a hazardous way to spend your time.

Off by 400%

As an example, we recently spoke with a very senior executive about employee retention at his North American contact centers. His thousands of agents go through six weeks of training and two weeks of heavily supervised calls afterward, and then have a nearly eight-month learning curve before becoming fully productive. He said the average cost per attrit is around $3,000. After asking a few more questions, it became obvious that the real, hard, measurable, tangible cost to his bottom line was a bit more than four times as much.

Why is Measurement So Poor?

The reason for this variance is twofold. The first is that the industry has no widely held best practices for measuring the cost of employee turnover, and none of the thought leaders seem to have dedicated enough mindshare to change the way the industry thinks. And fixing this requires more than careful intellectual work – it requires leadership. Unless someone drives the industry forward to embrace standard forms of measurement, the drunk dart “measurements” will continue.

The other reason is incentives. If 5% of your employees quit each month, and there is no standardized definition of the cost of attrition, would you rather report to your boss that this costs $3,000 per person, or $12,000? Mark Twain said there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Clearly, he had never seen a financial model designed by the person whose performance would be judged by its outputs.

Want to fix attrition? Start by getting honest with yourself about its costs.

6 Tips for Contact Center Workforce Scheduling

Contact center workforce scheduling is one of the most complex tasks a manager faces. In order to make the most optimized schedule, multiple details must be taken into account, including team preferences, number of agents, communication channels, call volume variations and customer expectations. Poor scheduling can have a negative impact on team performance as well as contact center costs. While challenging, managers must find the best way to optimize contact center workforce scheduling. Below are six techniques for creating an effective schedule.

1. Hire agents based on how their availability matches your needs. Other details to take into account when hiring and creating a schedule include agent skill level, specializations and types of contact to be handled.

2. Schedule your principal group of top agents to work during the business hours of the timezone of your biggest customer base.

3. Give agents flexible options when choosing their schedules, like working longer shifts for fewer days or adjusting start and end times. Certain agents should also be allowed to swap schedules with each other, so long as contact center needs continue to be met.

4. If there’s an unexpected need to keep contact agents on the floor, use real-time metrics to find the best way to adjust and reschedule the day’s breaks, meetings, training sessions and post-call tasks.

5. Setup a group of on-call agents who are able to work from home immediately if they’re needed in a pinch.

6. Test various strategic scenarios by creating multiple models with differing variables. Experimenting with alternative scenarios makes it easier to figure out the best trade-offs and enables managers to make quick decisions when necessary. Scheduling components to test include:

• Call routing alternatives, including skill-based routing and overflow procedures.

• Policy changes, including breaks and timing of non-call work.

• Specialized vs. pooled agent groups.

• Schedule horizon, i.e. scheduling far in advance while still maintaining accuracy.

• Shift swapping policies to remain flexible while having needs met.

Workforce scheduling is an ongoing process as seasonal demands, customer needs, contact methods and agent availability shift. Monitor call metrics in order to adjust schedules as needed. Instead of using antiquated scheduling techniques, like spreadsheets, rely on smart software that has a database with essential real-time metrics. Non-call activities, like after-call work, training and coaching sessions, and break durations should all be taken into consideration.

CRM Software and Workforce Optimization

The more efficient a workforce, the better customer relationships will be managed and the more profitable the company will be. According to Forrester Research, just 31% of brands carefully monitor customer interactions for quality. In 2015, contact centers will see better CRM software with features that will enable the brand to target, observe, and improve key performance indicators (KPIs), while also letting companies watch metrics in real time. Collected data will show companies where there are deficiencies in the systems and agents.

Fundamental Benefits of Contact Center Software

According to Klipfolio, a contact center has three primary goals: to reduce handling times, to increase productivity, and to satisfy service level agreements. At the base level, all CRM software should have the following four benefits:

  1. Measure: CRM software should turn agent metrics into reports to give management a clear overview of the successes and deficiencies in the contact center.
  2. Reduce Costs: When call volume increases, CRM technology should help agents handle more calls. Or, it should support a smaller number of agents in handling the same call volume.
  3. Scale Volume: Contact centers should be able to reply on intelligent software to handle an increasing number of interactions, including more calls overall and more calls per agent.
  4. Train More Efficiently: CRM software should include scripting and review to make sure agents always have correct information to deliver to customers.

Monitoring Metrics in Real Time

Contact center dashboards should allow for the monitoring of critical metrics in real time in order to help agents and managers handle challenges before they turn into disasters. Problems need to be addressed in real time, even if that means collaborating with other agents or departments.

When is it Time to Ditch the Old Contact Center Forecast?

This blog is contributed by Ric Kosiba, Interactive Intelligence

My last post discussed the attributes of a good contact center resource plan. We hinted at another aspect of contact center planning—that it truly is itself a process—and I wanted to elaborate here. In the 1990’s, a company would put together a plan and a budget for January and use it to restrict all additional resources and spending for the next twelve months– which is why “The Budget” was so important.

Over the last 10 years businesses have recognized that as operations change, business resourcing might also change. But the question we have to ask is when does an operation change so much that it is time to alter the previously sacrosanct budget?

The short answer is this: you alter the operational plan when it becomes too risky or too costly not to. But how do contact center planners know it is time?

Here are some guidelines for evaluating when it is time to change your forecasts:

  1. Monitor the plan for variance: Important performance drivers change, and it is up to the contact center planners to monitor and determine how much the real-world varies from the “planned-world”. Items to monitor include contact volumes, handle times, agent attrition, agent sick time, outbound contact rates, sales or payment rates, and customer experience scores.
  2. Determine the impact of the variance to the network’s performance: It is important to determine whether the variance is significant. Sensitivity analysis graphs are perfect for this. These graphs show the relationship between a performance driver and performance. For instance, it would make sense to plot volumes (if there is volume variance) against service level. If the volume difference takes the company far from its goals, then something needs to change. Simulation modeling is great for providing variance graphs.
  3. Reforecast and determine the range of “possibilities”: When important metrics, like call volumes, start to vary from the forecast it means that something is changing in the real world affecting that metric (it doesn’t always mean “the forecast is off”). New forecasts can be developed, but given that the particular metric is changing, it also makes sense to put bounds around the possible changes associated with that metric. Confidence levels might help determine “the possibilities”.
  4. Determine the effects of different management responses: Significant variance to performance drivers requires a management response. Executives should be shown, via an operational simulation model, the effect of the possible alternative resource decisions. If we assume the forecasts will come back into the “normal”, but they don’t, what will be the service performance? If we decide to staff for the worst-case scenario, what will be the costs if forecasts do come back into line? These are possibilities because, well, the future is hard to predict!
  5. Choose the resourcing decision that is appropriate for your company’s risk tolerance: Is your company focused on costs? Service delivery? Revenues? Choose the resource plan and forecast assumption that minimizes your operational risk.

We are excited about this year’s educational webinar series titled, Contact Center Forecasting, Planning, and What-if Analyses. We’ll discuss the forecasting and operational risk in more detail, along with tips and tricks about how to put together a great plan. Please feel free to join us for our first webcast on February 24th.