Monday, July 21, 2014

Innovation in the Contact Center

All businesses want to be more innovative. But what does that really mean?

One could define innovation as the development of new ideas that result in the creation of a new process or service. It can also refer to the addition of new contact center technology and other solutions to generate value, whether that is defined as better customer service or saving money.

A recent survey found that nearly 90% of companies believe that innovation should be a priority. This is driven not just by an internal desire for improvement, but the threat of outside competition.

The contact center is certainly no exception. As contact centers evolve from call centers, the challenges posed by globalization, technological and knowledge revolutions and other issues have forced innovation to become an important element in strategic planning.

Unfortunately, some contact centers still choose to delay or forego such endeavors, having grown too accustomed to routine, or out of concern that change might “rock the boat,” or because they associate innovation with investment, and are fearful of the cost.

However, companies must recognize that new processes, new business systems and new methods of management could have a significant impact on productivity and growth. The alternative is stagnation and, eventually, extinction.

Five Places to Explore Innovation
The natural tendency is to focus first on technology, and certainly this is not an area that should be overlooked. But innovation also encompasses better processes and better strategy. Here are five areas where innovation can achieve results in the contact center.

1. Customer Experience
Review your processes and services delivery from the customer perspective. A recent industry survey found that call volume could be reduced by as much as 30% by introducing techniques that make customer service proactive, rather than reactive. Innovation sometimes means anticipating problems and solving them before they occur.

Chances are your call center agents are asked many of the same questions every week, perhaps even every day. Compile a list of these questions, create satisfactory answers for them, and send this information to all of your customers and prospects.

Assess your customers based on their needs, their expectations, and on their preferred methods of communication. The more you know about them, the better you’ll be able to make them happy. These answers can be gathered through a review of data collected by workforce management software, as well as through customer surveys.

Customer priorities will vary depending on the product or service involved. In some cases price will be the determining factor in making a purchase. Or it could be product durability, or a company’s safety record, or the service and support provided after the purchase. Identifying areas of concern and addressing them is what innovation is all about.

2. Process Efficiencies
A review of the call center’s processes and procedures can expose gaps and issues. Ideas should be solicited from managers, trainers, agents – and even customers through surveys and other means of assessing their feedback.

Document your processes, to uncover any inconsistencies. Take a fresh look at employee recruitment and staff retention procedures, as well as your forecasting and scheduling routine.

3. Communication
Communication is a key component of contact center efficiency. There are a number of ways to innovate and streamline in this area, all of which will improve productivity and morale. Best of all, many of them won’t add a dime to the company budget.

The objective is to open the lines between staff and agents, particularly when it comes to where the organization is going, and to avoid unpleasant surprises by providing advance notice. Innovative solutions may involve regular meetings, or matching the message to the agent – some prefer direct verbal communication in a one-on-one setting, others would be more comfortable with an email.

Of course, technology can play a role in improving communication as well, such as in shift swapping and other areas where ease of access to data can eliminate issues before they arise.

Decisions that are made in a collaborative manner are those more likely to be accepted by everyone involved.

4. Big Data
Big data is a buzz term at the moment, but it’s one that deserves attention. It simply means having data available automatically and then utilizing the right tools to find the information needed, including real-time dashboards and drill down capabilities. Having access to the right data at the right time provides a major step toward innovation in all of the areas previously discussed. Yes, this means a discussion of technology, and where it can and should be upgraded. That leads us to…

5. Technology
Once you’ve completed your customer assessment, review the contact center’s resources to make sure they are sufficient to meet customer expectations.

Do your agents have the tools they need to interact with customers by phone, email or online? Have resources been allocated correctly so staff and technology are optimally aligned? Are the processes now in place for handing calls, forecasting and scheduling agents, training/coaching, etc. all getting the job done, or are there areas where improvement is possible? Is the center using the most recently updated software versions? How much effort and cost are involved to maintain or upgrade each solution?

While cost considerations will have to be taken into account with any decisions on technology innovation, the ascendance of cloud computing solutions have removed many of the concerns over large upfront costs, challenges with transition, and time necessary to achieve ROI.

Once an option only for the largest call centers, cloud-based contact center solutions are now becoming more attractive to smaller and medium-sized businesses as well. In fact, as storage and bandwidth costs continue to drop, smaller companies looking to reduce technology investment costs may be a significant factor in the continued expansion of the cloud market.

The cloud model offers all of the advantages of call recording software without the upfront investment in hardware and software. System flexibility, scalability and ease of implementation are also benefits. Plus, all software upgrades are delivered automatically at no cost. And since all call monitoring data is stored “in the cloud,” it can be accessed from the office, from home and from a mobile device.

Contact centers must constantly evolve to meet the needs of customers. The success of innovation depends on the culture of each company, and the willingness of its personnel to discover, implement and embrace positive change.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Is it Time for a Workforce Management Health Check?

Does your workforce management system provide all the benefits you need at a reasonable price? If it doesn’t, it may be time to take a closer look at your solution, and if there is something that can be done to bring it back to optimum efficiency. In other words, perhaps it’s time for a check-up that will provide answers to these questions.

1. Are you using the latest version?
Each new WFM product adds additional capabilities, improves existing functionality, and corrects issues with previous versions. With traditional software, these upgrades can also be expensive, which is why many companies delay implementation. But call centers that get their workforce management in the cloud will always be on the most recent version, as it is automatically installed at no additional cost.

2. How do employees work with this system?
WFM is designed to make the agent’s job easier, but if personnel are not properly trained, or if the system is too complicated, your call center may not be getting the most out of its potential.

3. What are its ongoing costs?
For years, the only WFM solutions worth acquiring were those that also required hardware upgrades, ongoing IT support, and yearly (even monthly) costs for maintenance and operation. Call centers still in this situation must make a decision on maximizing their investment, or perhaps switching to the more economical option of WFM in the cloud.

4. How have our needs changed?
Call centers are still evolving into contact centers. Some may expand, some may contract based on other factors. It’s vital that WFM scales with the needs of the business.

5. Is it delivering as promised?
Call centers step up to a WFM solution to access real-time metrics and reports that impact forecasting, scheduling and day-to-day operation. Is the system providing the information you need to make better decisions?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

How to Improve First Call Resolution

Few statistics are more important in a call center than First Call Resolution (FCR). When this is achieved a customer issue is solved with maximum efficiency, and the customer is much more likely to be satisfied with the call center encounter, and will remain a customer in the future.

There are several actions that can be taken to improve FCR. Here are some of the most important.

1. Agent training
Knowledgeable, well-trained agents that provide clear communication and specific answers should be able to resolve almost every customer issue in one call.

2. The Right Tools
The software systems employed by the call center provide the resources agents need to deliver better FCR performance, as well as the analytics to help managers set policies that can also work toward this goal.

3. Identify the Trouble Spots
Which types of calls most commonly result in the need for a second (or third) follow-up? Take pre-emptive action to reduce these instances, by understanding the issues that cause them.

4. Reward Outstanding Performers
Every contact center has superstar agents who hit their FCR numbers consistently. Given the high rate of employee turnover in this industry, it is imperative for companies to do what they can to keep their best agents, by offering recognition, bonuses and preferred shifts.

5. Listen to Agent Feedback
Since your agents are on the front lines of customer service, find out what they have to say about the systems and processes that are in place, and what can be done to improve FCR rates.

6. Make Sure Rates are Coming Down the Right Way
One way to lower FCR is to provide abrupt and indifferent service, which would discourage any customer from calling back. The objective is to lower FCR by providing better service, not by instructing agents to wrap up calls by any means necessary.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Does Your Workforce Management System Deliver Real-Time Metrics and Analytics?

workforce management system metrics and anallytics
Data – on customers, on agents, on technology – is the life’s blood of the contact center. A workforce management (WFM) system plays a key role in collecting and analyzing this vital information source.

From the moment a call arrives, to the time it takes an agent to greet that customer, to the content of the conversation and the resolution (or lack thereof), WFM should be tracking and reporting on what has transpired. This is the data that will be used to evaluate customer behavior and assess agent performance.

And yet, even with the massive amount of data that is generated by each call – or, as in some contact centers, by email, online chat sessions, social media and other forms of customer interaction – a manager cannot achieve genuine visibility into the moment-by-moment occurrences at his business unless these performance metrics are captured in real time.

If a manager discovers on Tuesday that Monday’s call volume forecasts were not matched to demand, adjustments can be made for the following Monday, but that doesn’t change what happened the previous day, or the number of calls that may have been lost because customers grew impatient and hung up.

With real-time data, managers can address challenges as they arise, limit the damage and prevent small issues from evolving into major concerns.

The Risk of Non-Real Time Data
The provision of satisfactory customer service is the top priority at nearly every call center. This has always been a challenge but perhaps never more so than at the present time, when consumers are always pressed for time and busy with a dozen other work and family situations. When they call a contact center, they expect a satisfying service experience, and don’t really care about the problems of call center forecasting or scheduling or adherence or unexpected agent absences.

If a customer’s call is not handled quickly, courteously and professionally, that customer now has a way to share his experiences with thousands, or perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of other current and potential customers through company website message boards, email and social media. By then, the damage is done.

At a time when one negative experience can snowball into a PR disaster, it has never been more critical for call center managers to be made aware of problems while they are happening, and not hours or days later. A system must be implemented that consistently delivers professional customer service, with automated procedures that immediately identify and communicate problems to agents, managers and supervisors. Real-time data makes this possible, by allowing call centers to be proactive, rather that reactive, to negative situations. 

The Benefits of Real Time Information
Many call centers still lack the means to measure and track the key performance indicators (KPI) necessary to improve forecasting, staffing, scheduling and adherence in real-time.

But with a real-time workforce management system, managers gain access to a unified view of key performance metrics such as:
  • Adherence

  • Service levels
Answer and abandon metrics
  • Average handle time (AHT)
Average speed of answer (ASA)
Average talk time (ATT)

  • Forecast accuracy

  • Labor costs and staffing

  • Shrinkage and absenteeism

As the system automatically collects and displays real-time and historical performance data at agent, group and center level, KPI data is distributed through consolidated, web-based reporting, and alerts are delivered for situations such as calls running too long, agents becoming available and system failures that require more immediate attention.

Now, managers and agents can react to events as they are happening. The faster data becomes available, the faster it can be analyzed and decisions made based on its content.

In addition, real-time WFM should also allow for the ability to import or integrate other data to extend the metrics, and weigh them in conjunction with other KPIs.

WFM software can also set up scorecards for agents and supervisors that can assist with the conversion from reactive responses to a more proactive approach. While these will be chiefly utilized by agents and managers in the ongoing quest for better customer service, they can also be created for other specific company groups – for example, some call centers set up a cost scorecard for the company’s Chief Financial Officer, that can deliver such metrics as cost per sale, cost per contact, etc.

Choosing a Real-Time Workforce Management Solution
The selection of WFM software should be based in its ability to provide the insights and metrics to help call center personnel make better decisions. A comprehensive solution would include all of the following features:

•    Real-time performance snapshots and insight into emerging trends
•    Display of vital information on one screen, rather than multiple screens
•    Detection of patterns across multiple dashboard components
•    Identification of inefficiencies in agent skill sets
•    Generation of trending reports to provide evaluation feedback by day, week, month, quarter and year
•    Identification of actionable changes in your scoring process
•    Comparison of peers, groups or departments to highlight collective gaps and performance gains

Additional benefits can be derived by accessing this software in cloud, starting with the cost savings in not having to budget for the purchase of hardware, software, database or business intelligence tools. A lower investment means a more rapid return on the investment made in the cloud application, and updates and upgrades can be delivered automatically as they become available.

This type of WFM application can be accessed anywhere at any time via the Internet. As with any other business, call centers are discouraged from having all of their system data housed in one physical location. But with cloud computing, there is never a question of redundancy if a server breaks down or becomes overloaded.

There are environmental benefits as well, as information is stored in a climate that minimizes energy usage. And because servers can be shared in a virtual environment, the result is fewer servers and a reduction in the power required to operate and cool them.

With a workforce management solution that delivers alerts, and can monitor performance in real-time, it’s possible to transform call center performance management from a reactive to a proactive approach. Tools such as scorecards, key performance indicators, real-time alerts, agent analytics, dashboards, and customizable reports deliver a constant stream of intelligence helping you take the right action to better meet your business goals now and in the future. To learn more, we invite you to watch this workforce management demos.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Take Care of your Contact Center Agents, and They Will Take Care of your Customers

“Happy agents = happy customers” is a formula espoused by many in the contact center profession, and not just agents looking for a raise.

Studies have been done in this area and the results are enlightening. The SQM Group found that every 1% increase in employment satisfaction resulted in a 2% increase in customer satisfaction.

So the question becomes, how can a contact center induce happiness, while meeting the other productivity and budget obligations of the business? When it comes to employee satisfaction, respect and inclusion can mean as much as money. Here are 5 ways to get started.

1. Listen to Them
Agents will feel more motivated if their ideas are taken seriously, and they feel like part of a team. This practice benefits management as well, since agents are on the front line of call center customer service.

2. Training and Coaching
Make sure training sessions are not just about errors, but also provide encouragement and support. Some agents may view training as a necessary evil, but if these sessions are used to teach new skills, it provides motivation for the agent by adding variety to their daily obligations.

3. Make Agents Part of the Process
Include agents in the planning stages for new customer service endeavors and call center practices. Ask for their feedback and suggestions. Then, when the reports come in on these activities, share them with the team.

4. Act on Complaints/Suggestions
Listening to agents is great, but it won’t mean as much if it’s done only as a formality, and the suggestions received are never seriously considered.

5. Schedule Flexibility
Schedule flexibility, achieved through shift bidding/swapping and a clear process for changes, can make it easier for agents to achieve their desired work/life balance.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Have you Joined the Call Center Cloud?

Whether you take a formal survey or just ask around, you’ll find that by now, almost every call center has either investigated the cloud, or has joined the converts.
workforce management cloud

It’s never been easier, since all of the software necessary to deliver outstanding customer service is now available as cloud solution. From PBX, IVR and ACD to call recording, from workforce management and performance management to CRM and speech analytics, if it’s on a call center manager’s ‘want’ list it is available via a cloud delivery system.

And if these solutions are based in a true cloud, as opposed to all the cloud pretenders that have popped up in recent years, they all share the same benefits:

•    No large upfront investment
•    Lower operating costs
•    Faster, easier deployment
•    Seamless integration with current systems
•    Ease of use
•    Automatic upgrades
•    Environmentally responsible energy usage

If all of this sounds good, but you haven’t yet investigated the many advantages of a cloud solution, it might be time to take one out for a test drive. One of the best things about the cloud is that there’s always room for one more.

And if you are already using cloud solutions in your contact center, why not bring together your best employees and think about an overall cloud strategy, and how to make the most of this service? Don’t be surprised if one of the most frequent responses involves expanding the company’s cloud commitment, so it’s handling even more of the call center’s functionality.

Either way, it’s time to discover what a cloud solution has to offer. Don’t get left behind! Contact us to learn more if you are considering the call center cloud.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Is Your Workforce Management Software on the Most Current Version?

Companies that make quality products are always striving to make them better, and that’s a good thing. But when the customers for these products have to spend a lot of time and money to get these enhancements implemented, that can put a strain on a company’s resources.

With traditional, on-premises workforce management (WFM) software, vendors always seem to be rolling out new versions, fixing bugs and upgrading features. But contact centers have to pay for these new versions, through maintenance fees, re-customization projects, re-integration projects, IT resources and sometimes hardware upgrades, and even if it’s a free fix to a problem, it can disrupt productivity and result in costly downtime.

As a result, many contact centers may not be working with the latest version of their software system, preferring to postpone another complex, costly upgrade.

Of course, if upgrades were free, automatically implement over night and did not disrupt the workday, there wouldn’t be any holdouts. And that is exactly how upgrades are delivered with Workforce Management in the cloud. When they are ready to deploy, it happens automatically, during the overnight hours, and without adding a penny to the monthly subscription fee paid by the contact center.

Those not in the cloud might say, “We’ll get there eventually.” But in the meantime, how much productivity may be sacrificed with a system that is out of date?

Also, consider the advantage to call center users when upgrades are introduced incrementally, so any new functionality is more easily digested and soon becomes routine. Contrast this with a call center that schedules major upgrades every 2 or 3 years, which often require a much steeper learning curve to get up to speed on the new system.

These are just a few of the many reasons cloud solutions are set to grow six times faster than all software in 2014, according to IDC. But if you shop around for cloud vendors, please make sure you don't fall for a WFM cloud pretender - click the link to learn more.  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Forecasting and Scheduling When Call Volume is Inconsistent

Download Whitepaper
At some call centers, periods of call volume stability are followed by days or weeks where the numbers will fluctuate more noticeably. And that’s the best-case scenario.

With other contact centers attached to companies where new special offers, seasonal promotions and other aggressive marketing tactics are employed, fluctuations are more commonplace and even more difficult to predict. How can a manager create an accurate forecast and schedule in these circumstances? Here are 5 tips that might help.

1. Analyze call history
Very few events in a call center are completely unique. Whatever is happening this week or next week has happened before, and by using 1-2 years of call history, it is easier to anticipate the impact of an approaching event, based on what happened when a similar event occurred previously.

2. Run scenarios
Forecasting simulations based on 2-3 potential outcomes can help managers analyze routing policies and incoming call volume. That leads to more accurate forecasts and schedules.

3. Include all activities
Call-related activities are the primary data source, and it’s important to get a handle on incoming call load, average handle time, etc. But non-call related activities such as breaks, training sessions and meetings must also be considered – something that is much easier to do with an automated system (as opposed to spreadsheets).

4. Track internal and external events.
You know about the big sale coming up, and what that is likely to do to call volume. You can see the holiday approaching on the calendar and can foresee its impact by what happened last year. But there are other factors that will be unique to the day for which you are forecasting and scheduling. For instance, if the weather is supposed to be bad more customers might shop from home, which would require more call center resources.

5. Stay flexible
The more rigid the schedule, the more likely it will fall short of expectations. Built-in flexibility allows managers to be prepared for unforeseen fluctuations.