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How to avoid the 5 most common mistakes in forecasting

According to Nick Brook at Teleopti, resource forecasting in contact centers needn’t be a complicated affair. Start by avoiding the most common mistakes and stick to the basics.

Today’s contact centers are complicated beasts.  The people working in them are expected to be super-agents with multiple skills and knowledge.  While customers expect to receive consistent service in the channel of their choice ie by phone, email, Chat, SMS and social media.  At first glance, managing this complex environment might seem like an impossible task but it doesn’t have to be that way.  If you avoid some basic mistakes and combine a robust forecasting process with the latest Workforce Management (WFM) technology even the most magnificent beasts can be tamed.

Five common forecasting pitfalls and how to avoid them

Even with the perfect forecast and best intentions, things don’t always go to plan and mistakes can happen.  Here are the most common reasons for incorrect forecasts:

1. Lack of historical data

– and/or failing to archive previous forecasts. Access to accurate data along with a recorded audit trail of previous forecasting activities provides a solid foundation for future forecasts. Remember to archive all forecasts.

2. The validation process

fail to plan, plan to fail applies to forecasting. Everything changes over time including channels, agent preferences, and unplanned absences. Therefore it pays to keep on top of change and factor it into the forecast. That way, the contact center is always ready to react swiftly and effectively to the unexpected. Generate new forecasts by month, week or by day based on known forthcoming events.

3. Working in isolation

make sure planning teams communicate and work with other parts of the business to improve forecasting. Make it easy to work with sales and marketing to know about planned promotions and advertising campaigns so when they generate enquiries agents available are ready for action.

4. What about ‘what ifs

why waste time and money on forecasts that don’t work when a ‘what if’ exercise can help with forecasting and reliably model for future requirements? Choose a WFM solution that includes “what if” modeling and know how to use it. Remember to incorporate buffers to allow for unexpected spikes in activity and unplanned absences.

5. Once is not enough

processes like businesses are not static. They are constantly moving and require frequent re-evaluation to increase efficiencies and gain a competitive edge.  Reviewing processes and historical data should be a regular diary date, at a set time of the week and at least once a month.

Now you are aware of the pitfalls, adopt a process-driven approach to forecasting supported by the latest cloud-based Workforce Management (WFM) technology.  Download Teleopti’s “how-to” guide Tips and techniques for accurate, effective forecasting to fine tune your forecasting and get that margin of error as low as possible. Finally, whatever you do, don’t cut corners.  Successful forecasting is easier than it at first appears - just take a measured approach and avoid those five common pitfalls.

Nick Brook is a Project Manager and Consultant at Teleopti

Source: https://blog.teleopti.com/2018/10/29/how-to-avoid-the-5-most-common-mistakes-in-forecasting/

Publish Date: October 29, 2018


How to engage and develop the digital workforce: 8 best practices

Whether it’s mixing up training tactics or remembering the vitality of voice, engaging and developing customer service agents has never been more important as it is in today’s digital landscape. Rob Clarke, VP of Sales in North America, reflects on eight interesting initiatives from this year’s Teleopti Americas User Forum.

Aberdeen Group found that customer loyalty is the most popular topic for Fortune 1000 companies right now. Intrinsic to a customer’s loyalty is the service they receive from a company, and how accessible, helpful and engaging that assistance is. At Teleopti, we are particularly interested in the role of the employee taking those frontline communications, and what can be done to have them provide satisfying, useful guidance to customers. This year’s Americas forum dove into what our customers are or could be doing to engage and develop the digital workforce.

The forum was full of advice, lessons learned and productive debate with a mix of industry expert speeches and customer panels. Our team has brought together the eight practices that stood out as stimulating ways to reach a skilled, motivated digital workforce. Some require company transformation, of practice and thought, while others are small but essential tweaks to nurture capable employees, committed to customer experience.

1. Understand the generations in your workforce

Different generations come with different traits and therefore different needs as an employee. It’s not one size fits all. You must dig into the different generations in your workforce and see how to engage and motivate those varying groups. Millennials might prefer more teamwork options for training and feedback sessions whereas Gen Z could lean toward independence of online training and self-service possibilities. To explore what Gen Z employees are really looking for join our free webinar.

2. Provide a unified working experience

Continually changing between desktops and apps to access reports, conduct tasks or see their schedules is a frustrating and de-focusing task for employees as they go about their work, especially when speaking to a customer in real time. Choose apps and platforms with higher harmony and integration between them, rather than disparity, allowing employees to feel supported in their work.

3. Offer internship programs

One customer spoke of how they take a few frontline employees each month to intern part-time as workforce planners, learning about the role and responsibilities. This isn’t to absorb them into the WFM team but to make agents aware of why planning decisions are made, the impact of breaks and activity changes, and to understand what goals such as service level are there for. It’s all about creating champions for what WFM is really doing at the same time as teaching them and mixing things up. This can equally be reversed with another customer saying they have the planning team shadow an agent once a month to understand their needs better.

4. Raise the voice of the agent

As the voice of the company, whether via phone, chat or email, they’re a voice that shouldn’t be forgotten when it comes to improvement and input…but in the right setting. Customers all said that it’s about keeping feedback sessions casual rather than intimidating. Use anonymous surveys or bring in smaller group discussions with more of a ‘coffee machine mood.’ One question though was, how to sift through the ‘noise’ of feedback and find the areas to focus on? A customer interestingly said they’re using machine learning to create trends from the unstructured data, telling them where key areas of need lie. However, input is gathered, the major thing, as one planner said, is to keep communicating and show how you are acting on feedback. Demonstrate that their voice has an effect.

5. Utilize pilot user groups

When you’re trying out new processes, e.g. incorporating new overtime request automation, it is best to trial these changes with a pilot group so that you can understand the impact it will really have and get feedback on how to improve. However, to have a fair representation of workforce opinions and see the best option for all you need to test widely. One company working with an international workforce said that they always use a diverse pilot group from different countries, across genders and with varying ages.

6. Ensure all agents still have time on the phone

This came up a few times and is a simple but essential point. With the growth of other digital channels, there can be less direct contact with customers, but voice is a still a key, relationship-building channel. Make sure all agents still have some experience of voice in their schedule, so they have these closer communications, feeling connected to customers rather than distanced.

7. Don’t place service level above agent development

As customer expectations increase and automation and AI introduce chatbots as options for basic customer interactions, frontline employees need to be even more skilled as they handle more complicated matters, aiming for first-time resolution. This means training and development is crucial, rather than an afterthought. In a training panel discussion, one thing all our customer panelists agreed on is that training should be the last thing you cut when times are busy, rather than the first. Look for other activities that can be moved, or at least make training more flexible with e-learning so that it isn’t dependent on 2 hours in a classroom.

8. Make training digital, make it stick

With unexpected events or successful marketing campaigns putting demands on staffing levels, there may be the need for more flexible online training, rather than set, in-person sessions. Also, with many companies having continual recruitment, e-training means new employees don’t miss training that took place before they joined. Taking it digital can also allow for shorter, sharper bursts of information. Yet as customers discussed, there is the question of how to evaluate if employees are retaining the new knowledge. This is where it could be key to incorporate LMS (Learning Management Systems) in digital training strategies, as you then have the possibility to test and follow up if they absorbed the information.

The frontline workforce is becoming a more and more vital part of customer experience as service in turn becomes increasingly prioritized and digitalized. ‘This is how we’ve always done it’ isn’t a sustainable mantra. As the forum highlighted, companies need new ways to involve and develop the workforce, particularly as they become a more digitally active one.

Source: https://blog.teleopti.com/2018/10/12/how-to-engage-and-develop-the-digital-workforce-8-best-practices/

Publish Date: October 12, 2018


Tortoise or hare – which one best describes your contact center?

According to Carlos Muños, contact centers are sometimes too efficient for their own good leading to poor customer service and high agent attrition rates.  It’s time to introduce a ‘less haste, more speed’ culture supported by the latest technology.  Here, he explains how to build highly effective teams using WFM.

Running a contact center takes me back to my school days and Aesop’s Fable of the ‘Tortoise and the Hare’. We all know the one, it’s ingrained into our psyche but in a world obsessed with speed, do we really put its teachings into practice?  The faster hare is so confident of winning the race that it falls asleep and is beaten by the slower tortoise – the first to reach the finishing line using a steady, measured pace.  In a similar way, contact centers are often so determined to handle infinite numbers of calls as quickly as possible, they put unnecessary pressures on agents and lose sight of the customer.  In the process, staff leave along with customers and it takes much longer to get both back again.

Then, there’s the constant battle between operations (who want ‘fast and cheap’) and the contact center (whose job is to make ‘customers feel loved’).  This perennial tug of war is damaging to agent morale, the customer experience and health of the overall business.

The proverb ‘more haste, less speed’ springs to mind and contact centers should look to introduce a ‘less haste, more speed’ culture into their operations.  Real effectiveness is about providing agents with the right environment to give customers what they really want (fast, accurate answers to their problems first time around) while maximizing resources as cost-effectively as possible.

Metrics that matter

It all comes down to the basics so let’s start with how contact centers measure their success.  Most make the mistake of developing a set of metrics that focus entirely on satisfying their internal customers rather than those on the outside who are keeping them in jobs and the organization in business!  The top three culprits are:

  1. Number of contacts handled over a certain period of time – of course, this is great for managers who want to look productive by saying ‘we handle 100 calls every hour using only 10 agents’ but what does this really mean for customer service?
  2. Occupancy – it’s good to know how many of your resources are being used at any one time but it’s even better to keep some agents in ‘reserve’ to handle random contact arrival patterns and maintain service levels.
  3. Average Handling Times – if service is measured by how quickly agents can get customers off the phone or finish a web chat conversation, chances are they are not really listening to the customer who won’t get the outcome they expect and deserve.

Thinking from the outside in will yield a set of metrics that enable agents to focus 100% on the customer – the true meaning of effectiveness.

Ways to build effectiveness using WFM

With customer-centric success criteria in place, turn to innovative workforce management (WFM) technology to build a highly effective contact center environment:

  • Schedule administrative tasks and training during quiet times – using WFM to schedule offline activities such as administration, training and weekly huddles when it is quiet, maximizes time and resources and enables agents to give their full attention to the customer during busy periods
  • Add ‘travel time’ into schedules in a bid to save time, managers often take short-cuts and make schedules unrealistic.  For example, they don’t factor in the travel time needed to get from the contact center floor to the training rooms.  Adding a cushion of 5 minutes either side of a 30-minute training session will make it easy for everyone to arrive on time without running while adhering to their schedules
  • Flexible planning ‘on the go’ – the flexibility of modern technology means you can schedule - in advance - the right number of staff to match call demand.  Features such as Real-Time Adherence flag up when schedules are in danger of being breached while Intra-day Schedulers allow managers to reschedule the contact center workforce during the day taking into account unplanned changes in customer demand and unplanned agent absences
  • Create your best-performing team – use WFM to create a virtual library of agent talent, knowledge and qualifications to deploy the right-skilled agents to the right place at the right time.  Tap into this data to identify missing competencies and build tailored training programs along with meaningful career paths that keep agents stimulated, motivated and away from the competition
  • Empower agents - through self-service to control their own schedules, select breaks and lunches, swap shifts and request time off with immediate feedback from their manager. Then, make the most of advanced WFM reporting and dashboards to provide a real-time snapshot of employee and team performance against specific contact center KPIs or customer SLAs in a fair and transparent way
  • Future-proof operations – by maximizing the latest forecasting technology to right-size your contact center. Running a series of ‘what if’ scenarios helps to predict staffing needs for regular seasonal fluctuations such as public holidays or new marketing campaigns.  This provides the analytical evidence required to work effectively with outsourcing agencies to supplement in-house resources during busy periods while avoiding unnecessary staff costs during calmer periods.

Why be a hare when you can be the winning tortoise?  Put in place the metrics that really matter then back them up with WFM to build a highly effective contact center where talented agents are proud to work and go the extra mile to delight customers at every turn.

Carlos Muñoz Director, Sales Engineering, Teleopti Americas

Source: https://blog.teleopti.com/2018/10/05/tortoise-or-hare-which-one-best-describes-your-contact-center/

Publish Date: October 5, 2018


7 Steps to Smarter Scheduling in Contact Centers

From virtual teams to car pooling, running a contact center today is complicated business but it doesn’t have to be that way.  Nick Brook at Teleopti reveals 7 ways workforce management solutions hold the key to smarter, flexible scheduling.

Flexibility means different things to different people.  On the one hand, staff want more of it with 35% of employees considering a flexible work environment to be an important factor when making a decision about their career.  On the other hand, contact center leaders strive to build agility into their agent schedules to better meet customer service levels at minimum cost and effort to the overall business.

At the same time, the astonishing number of factors that need to be considered to achieve all-round flexibility make running a contact center today a complicated business.  Diminishing corporate budgets for example, are forcing organizations to think of more creative ways to pay for and deploy their staff.  Pay-as-you-go arrangements in the form of zero-hour contracts, reduced and annualized working hours and other cost-containing measures such as Time Off Without Pay stand alongside traditional permanent or part-time agreements.   Businesses are also looking to reduce spending on expensive office space and IT overheads by moving to virtual teams or by introducing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs.  Furthermore, environmentally-minded organizations with a strong sense of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or those who have simply re-located to rural areas to escape high City-centre rents are now facing the realities of poor public transport links and implementing car pooling schemes.

All these factors have a massive direct impact on contact center operations, in particular agent scheduling. From fixed, split and micro-shifts to the rise of reserve working ie the scheduling technique that keeps up to 25% of the team on fluid shifts, means that bringing a team of full-time, part-time, contract and virtual agents together is a major challenge. So how can organizations achieve all-round flexibility in the contact center in a way that satisfies staff, customers and the business?

7 steps to smarter scheduling

Contact center leaders should first establish the payment structures and types of shift that will motivate agents to meet customer service targets while lowering attrition rates and minimizing recruitment costs.   After that, it comes down to releasing the top seven capabilities and benefits of today’s automated workforce management technology:

1. All-in-one, easy to use package – the biggest barrier to embracing new technology is ease-of-use or rather the lack of it.  Fortunately, today’s fully automated solutions make light work of managing staff effectively, forecasting demand, creating schedules, developing accurate and insightful reports and improving overall customer satisfaction.

For example, when it comes to reserve working, there’s no need to re-design entire shifts and rotas every week.  The flexibility of modern workforce optimization systems means you can schedule, in advance, the right number of reserve staff to match call demand and factor in sickness and training accurately.  Transparency is an added bonus.  At a glance, agents can see that everyone is taking turns to cover the most unpopular shifts!  Then, add in an extra column to group people with the same start and finish times to help organise and communicate car sharing opportunities in a timely manner.

2. Easy access, anytime, anywhere – agents can log in from home or on the move to check their schedules, see who they are working with and let their manager know when they are available for work.  Managers and resource teams are able to build efficient schedules at any time and from anywhere to gain complete control of their contact center operations in a highly flexible way.

3. Intelligent resourcing – using historical data, resource teams have the power to predict how many agents they will need, the skills they require and pick and choose the right people at the click of a button.  They can even support a number of different shift patterns including short shifts or split shifts rather than employ a set number of people at set times of the day.

4. Flexible planning ‘on the go’ – features such as real-time adherence monitor agent adherence to schedules.  Automated alarms flag up when schedules are in danger of being breached and a real-time data feed, updated in seconds, enables fast decision-making.  Intra-day scheduling allows small changes during the day while taking into account unplanned changes in customer demand and unplanned agent absences. For example managers can flexibly change break times and lunches or move people between skill groups, front office and back office work. The changes are often only by a few minutes but those small changes can make the difference between meeting service levels during peaks and losing valuable calls.

5. Fit for the future - the latest forecasting technology helps to right-size your contact center for the future.  Running a series of ‘what if’ scenarios can predict staffing needs for regular seasonal fluctuations like Christmas, upcoming new marketing campaigns and even the organization’s long-term business plan.

6. Self-service –self-service capabilities empower agents to trade shifts, voice their preferences for overtime shifts and request time off.  Setting up auto-approvals means staff don’t have to wait until the next day for an answer if management is not available - contact center flexibility and agent satisfaction in one fell swoop.

7. Time and cost efficiencies – the automation provided by workforce optimization technology combines strategic planning with instant fine-tuning throughout the day to create a highly flexible contact centre framework that keeps agents motivated, customers satisfied and CEOs happy.

Your countdown to flexible, smarter scheduling starts here.  What are you waiting for?

Source: https://blog.teleopti.com/2018/09/21/7-steps-to-smarter-scheduling-in-contact-centers/

Publish Date: September 21, 2018


Is it really a ‘tug of war’ in contact centers?

When operations wants one thing and agents want another the atmosphere can become tense.  Karim Chabane at Teleopti reveals how to work as a team and outlines several Workforce Management (WFM) practices to bring a meeting of minds in contact centers.

The term ‘contact center’ can still conjure up the vision of a massive open-plan office where people are packed like battery hens with their headsets on answering routine questions, a perception that is, quite rightly, becoming increasingly outdated. As more organizations adopt a customer-first approach to doing business, the role of agents, the frontline to customer and organizational profitability, is changing along with their expectations.  The newest entrants into the workforce may appear to want it all, i.e. independence in a collaborative environment and the latest technology combined with face-time and career progression without the need for job-hopping.  All this can lead to a tug of war especially when operations wants one thing and agents want another, a situation that is bad for the contact center and bad for business.

Three top tips to turn a Tug of War into a Meeting of Minds

Agents may well be the gateway to customers but they are also a great source of information from an operational point of view.  Contact center leaders should take note to achieve a true meeting of minds that combines business needs with employee engagement.  Here are three ways to help steer you in the right direction:

Keep talking – conduct annual employee surveys and act on the results, good and bad. Hold weekly drop-ins for agents and invite the planning team to attend.  Focus on the hot topics that matter for agents and share your own, to promote interactive, constructive discussion.  Why not develop focus groups where agents can raise customer pain points and share learning with other parts of the business to help boost their self-esteem and elevate the status of the contact center?

Keep things clear and transparent – processes should be clear, transparent and supplemented with easy-to-understand documentation. The same applies to learning: communicate individual and team goals effectively and develop meaningful career paths that release the full potential of agents and make the whole contact center shine.

Keep staff happy – remember your agents are your customers and need to be kept on side. Everyone wants to feel involved so create a work environment where agents feel part of everything ranging from the company mission, to their fellow team members and the customers they serve.  Actively gain their feedback for important decision-making.  Having a ready-made pool of agent champions makes it so much easier to instigate cultural change and introduce new ways of working.

Let technology take care of the rest

The introduction of new technology can be threatening to users but WFM should be viewed as a powerful tool that enables collaborative thinking, working and results.  Rather than seen as a controlling “big brother” phenomenon, make technology a part of the Meeting of Minds!

Here are five ways to use WFM to:

Boost scheduling through agent self-service – get agents more involved by having them enter their preferred shifts for an upcoming schedule period. By having a “Meeting of Minds” approach it creates a culture that will lay the ground for a process of agent self-service. Understand what works and what doesn’t for them. Some prefer to start late and work later, while others may be early-birds or like split shifts. Using self-service, at their desks or via their mobile devices, agents are empowered to control their own schedules, select breaks and lunches, swap shifts and request time off with immediate feedback from their manager.

Minimize stress - nothing is worse than overwork and stress to make staff run for the hills. Maximize the latest forecasting technology to right-size your contact center for the future.  Running a series of ‘what if’ scenarios helps to predict staffing needs for regular seasonal fluctuations such as public holidays or new marketing campaigns.  By using ‘what if’ scenarios different staffing methods can be used to minimize stress! Empower agent self-servicing by having a pool of flexible part-time agents that will fill in the gaps when and wherever necessary. Forecasting also provides the analytical evidence required to work effectively with outsourcing agencies to supplement your in-house resources during busy periods while avoiding unnecessary staff costs during quieter periods. Two-way collaboration with double the impact!

Re-invigorate the learning program – first of all, use WFM to schedule offline interactive activities such as weekly huddles and feedback sessions that give agents the opportunity to air key issues and discuss potential solutions. Then, tap into the virtual library of agents’ skills, knowledge and qualifications provided by today’s WFM solutions. At a glance, identify missing competencies and build tailored training programs that challenge and fulfill agents while supporting the needs of the overall contact center.  The core data capabilities of WFM can be boosted with dedicated training functionality that streamlines scheduling and ensures lessons are learnt from regular wrap-up sessions.  Everything is connected, by talking consistently with agents and identifying gaps in the forecast, you can take advantage and use it for a thoughtful learning program and make the “Meetings of Minds” work with the technology.

Just be sure to develop a portfolio of different learning styles, a mixture of traditional in-classroom training and online or virtual sessions, to meet the needs of a multi-generational team.  Today’s Snapchat generation appreciate a mix of technology and face-to-face contact so consider exploiting different chat apps such as, WhatsApp, and Messenger to appeal to this highly visual and growing sector of the workforce.

Foster staff motivation – make the most of advanced WFM reporting and dashboards to provide a real-time snapshot of employee and team performance against specific contact center KPIs or customer SLAs in a fair and transparent way. Introduce the latest gamification features to motivate employees, provide a forum for sharing top tips, encourage healthy competition and reward individual and team performance in a fun environment. Don’t shy away from using catchy names i.e. “Game of Phones” for gamification campaigns, small things can have a tremendous impact on team spirit as well as on agents’ motivation and performance.

Automate simple tasks – why not invest in artificial intelligence (AI) technology and blend it with your WFM and scheduling processes so that agents have more time to devote to brain-teasing activities rather than be resigned to handling routine enquiries such as brochure fulfilment and utilities meter readings. When agents are mentally stretched and positively challenged, they are more likely to go the extra mile and support your own Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

With just a few simple tweaks and modern WFM practices, turn any potential tug of war into a meeting of minds in your contact center - to everyone’s benefit.

Source: https://blog.teleopti.com/2018/09/07/is-it-really-a-tug-of-war-in-contact-centers/

Publish Date: September 7, 2018


What came first the chicken or the egg? Happy customers or happy employees?

Tommy Palomäki at Teleopti considers the connection between happy customers and happy employees and suggests five ways to use workforce management to achieve both.

What came first: the chicken or the egg?  It’s a conundrum that’s baffled people for years but does it really matter?  The same could apply in contact centers.  Why debate whether happy customers or happy staff come first when the two are inextricably linked?  It is commonly accepted that motivated, engaged agents result in positive customer outcomes with many studies indicating a strong correlation between customer and employee satisfaction. So how can workforce management (WFM) help to achieve both?

Five ways to use WFM for happy employees and happy customers

Take a look at your contact center.  Are your agents happy?  If not, why not?  What motivates them to go the extra mile and what do you need to do to attract and keep the best people? Gone are the days when agents were not expected to think for themselves and sat with headsets on, answering routine enquiries all day long.  Digitalization, a mobile work ethic (if you’re not happy, you simply go elsewhere) and a growing customer-centric approach to doing business have turned this outmoded perception on its head.  Today’s multi-skilled agents are highly prized assets, the frontline to customers with the power to make or break customer experiences, corporate reputations and profitability.

Agents like to feel they are valued, engaged and have the opportunity to make a real difference to the company they work for.  Using the latest WFM including a life-style and self-service dimension is central to understanding and galvanizing this human factor to ensure happy and  profitable customers.  Use WFM to:

1. Make life easier – minimize the stress of stretched resources by using automated forecasting and intra-day scheduling to right-size your contact center throughout the day or run ‘what if’ scenarios to better prepare for busy seasonal periods or special marketing campaigns.

Then let automation take away the monotony of handling routine enquiries using Artificial Intelligence solutions or “bots”.  This leaves well scheduled agents free to do the clever stuff like helping customers with highly emotive or sensitive issues or turning around upset or angry customers – all the things that spur them on to excel rather than just do a good enough job.

2. Empower agents - by giving them control over their working lives.  Through self-service, allow them to select breaks and lunches, swap shifts, advise overtime availability and request time off with immediate feedback.  If working from home is easier, let the latest web-based WFM technology give them the option to log in securely using their own devices including tablets and other mobile devices to check schedules, coaching and training sessions.

3. Retain the best – as the role of agents becomes more strategic, they can expect higher wages and better prospects.  Companies need to work harder at attracting and then keeping the best talent.  Use WFM to develop an effective skills matrix to keep up-to-date with agent skills and training and use the information to support tailored personal development plans, one-to-one sessions and meaningful career paths in a proactive way.

Introduce the latest gamification features to motivate employees, provide a forum for sharing top tips, encourage healthy competition and reward individual and team performance in a fun environment.

4. Build a team of ambassadors – like all technology, the more you use it, the more confident you become to the point where you fervently champion it.  The same applies to WFM.  Keep an eye out for these new champions in the contact center and make them ambassadors of WFM to boost agent involvement and the role of technology to help deliver outstanding customer service.

5. Close the loop – your agents might be your new customers but close the loop with end customers to provide a seamless, end-to-end experience.  Listen to your agents, on the frontline, they know if your customers are happy, what works and what doesn’t.  Devise a mechanism for agents to share best practice – building in time for workshops to hear what works in terms of scheduling and suggestions from the floor as to how it could be improved and remember to celebrate any successful changes adopted as a result.

The more you understand what makes your agents and customers tick, the more effective you’ll be at creating a well-balanced contact center inside and out. Then whether the chicken or the egg came first becomes irrelevant it’s a continuous virtuous circle of happy employees and customers.

Source: https://blog.teleopti.com/2018/08/24/what-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg-happy-customers-or-happy-employees/

Publish Date: August 24, 2018


Multi-skilled scheduling, can it be solved in theory?

Göran Svensson, Research Lead at Teleopti in the field of  Optimization and Systems Theory, recounts the key factors explored in his mathematical research into multi-skilled call centers. How can Quality of Service be maintained when scheduling multiple skills with a limited budget and number of available agents for certain skills?

This year I attended International Conference on Operations Research and Enterprise Systems (ICORES) 2018 in Portugal, where I presented my research results on resource allocations for a system of multi-class, multi-server queues. The ICORES conference covers topics in Operations Research (OR) and Systems Engineering. WFM is a subfield of these more general disciplines. The days were filled with interesting talks, many occurring in parallel sessions. One of the keynote speakers was a professor from Technion, which is one of the more prestigious universities for OR in general and WFM in particular. There were several presentations on optimization methods, resource management and decision analysis. The talks spanned most of the more mathematical parts of OR, from military logistics to fairness in healthcare scheduling.

I presented my work in the field of multi-skilled call centers and the corresponding decision processes. The problem is solved as a multi-objective optimization problem via the Marginal Allocation Algorithm with constraints on the total budget and availability of agents (customer-facing employees).

That a problem is multi-objective simply means that one tries to optimize several factors at the same time. Normally such a problem produces what is known as an efficient front or a pareto solution. This means that one gets a set of solutions where one goal cannot be improved without obtaining worse outcomes for the other goal(s). It is then commonly up to an expert to choose which of these solutions best serves their specific needs. An example would be the tradeoff between service quality and the cost of using more agents.

The first objective (goal) is to keep the cost of employed agents as low as possible, the second objective is to deliver as good a service to customers as possible. The cost of agents is kept low by using fewer agents while the quality of service improves with an increase in the number of agents employed. Now we can clearly see that there is a conflict between these two goals.

The service provided is measured by something known as a Quality of Service (QoS) measure. Average Speed of Answer (ASA), Service Level (SL, which is a type of Value-at-Risk measure for the ratio of calls, or other inbound contact types, answered within a certain amount of time) and probability of delay are different types of such QoS measures. In the presentation I focused on two QoS measures: One that is closely related to the Service Level measure, called the Conditional Value-at-Risk (CVaR), and the other which is based on the fraction of customers abandoning the queue before receiving service.

The CVaR measure is in many ways superior to the VaR type measure of Service Level. It has some nice mathematical features as well as providing a means to control the outcome, not just for the customers that receive service in time, but also lends itself to control the outcomes for the customers not serviced within the acceptable time.

The optimization method used is known as the Marginal Allocation Algorithm. It is an iterative algorithm that step by step adds the agent that provides the greatest marginal benefit and provides the corresponding efficient point. The main advantages of using this algorithm is that it is easy to implement and that it can solve large systems at a low computational cost. The main disadvantage is that it requires strong assumptions on the goal functions. One such requirement is that the functions should be what is known as convex (read more about convex functions here). Convexity is a characteristic that simplifies optimization procedures in general, which is in addition to the existence of many reliable software solvers for convex problems.

One important contribution of this work is to show that the CVaR (Conditional Value-at-Risk) measure is convex in the number of agents employed, thus it may be used in conjunction with the Marginal Allocation Algorithm.

In my case, a problem with N different queues, representing different skills, is considered when there is a budget constraint on the system, as well as a limit on the available agents with certain skills. In the work, I compare the two different choices of the two Quality of Service (QoS) measures, CVaR and abandonment based. I highlight the similarities as well as the differences. A large-scale system is also provided and then solved (quickly) to show the power of the Marginal Allocation Algorithm.

The paper, on which I based my presentation, had been peer reviewed by three external professionals and has been published in the proceedings booklet. I have also been invited to extend my paper and have it published in a book by the Springer publishing company, as a chapter. The audience was attentive and interested, which led to a fruitful discussion on measures.

This means that my purposed method can be used to procure the staffing needs for large queueing systems quickly. The CVaR measure is suited for situations where all customer service times are of importance, like in a healthcare situation.

Source: https://blog.teleopti.com/2018/08/10/multi-skilled-scheduling-can-it-be-solved-in-theory/

Publish Date: August 10, 2018


Eight Tips to Minimize Customer Effort and Maximize Customer Satisfaction

Making life easier for customers is the first step towards brand loyalty and business success.  Magnus Geverts at Teleopti shares his eight top tips for reducing customer effort in contact centers.

All customers want is a quick and easy answer to their enquiries.  It might sound simple but the two biggest annoyances for customers, which are having to repeat themselves and being transferred from department to department, can do untold damage to an organization’s reputation and revenues. Every week I meet with contact center executives struggling to break down the silos in an effort to create consistency across all channels. Making it easy for customers requires hard work.

In today’s viral world of social media, the risks of upsetting customers are even higher as dissatisfied consumers take out their frustrations via Facebook, Twitter and TripAdvisor.  In fact, according to the Institute of Customer Service, 58% of people would stop buying from a company as a result of poor customer service and, even scarier, 70% of them would actively discourage others from engaging with a company when given poor customer service.

Winning contact centers are those that deliver quick fixes, instant results and exceptional customer satisfaction.  It all comes down to giving customers what they want with very little effort on their part.  Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and ask, “How do I make life easier for my customers?”  It’s time to review your processes and technology – here are a few tips to point you in the right direction.

Eight tips for designing service to reduce customer effort
1. Find the right people

Your agents are your most valuable asset but gone are the days when all they had to do was answer as many calls as possible as quickly as possible. Today’s superagents’ must be capable of solving complex problems for customers so look for highly flexible, emotionally intelligent candidates with a positive ‘can-do’ attitude, train them properly and keep them motivated.  Use Workforce Management (WFM) technology to create a ‘go-to’ place for all your talent and resources. Use it to flag up skills gaps, build meaningful training programs and combine with Real-Time Management capabilities to set up training during idle time.  Then, maximize WFM to schedule your right-skilled agents to the right place at the right time.

2. It’s the simple things that count

Prominently display freephone customer support telephone numbers on every web page, enable agents to conduct Web Chat and keep FAQs up-to-date and easy to find. Be sure to share customer stories with other parts of the organization to create a unified understanding and response to common customer issues.

3. Make time to understand your customers

Listen to your agents – they know if your customers are happy and what works and remember to devise a mechanism for agents to share hints and tips. Then combine agent feedback with speech analytics and silent monitoring to capture the voice of the customer.  The more you understand what makes your customers tick, the more effective you’ll be at deploying efficient processes and technology to support enhanced customer interactions.

4. Automation is the way to go

It tangibly enhances the customer experience. Take Web Chat, where automated Chatbots can be used as the first line of enquiry.  Chatbots can be programmed to perform more mundane tasks using automated responses in Chat before the customer is connect to a human at the right time.

5. Up your self-service game

The latest Artificial Intelligence (AI) driving contact center solutions include self-service capabilities that allow people to find out information, ask questions, broker a mortgage, book their next holiday, buy the latest must-have gadget or fashion item and return a faulty kettle at a time to suit them without having to speak to a single human being. Think about it, could you reduce customer effort by introducing a wider use of self-service?

6. Make mobility work for you

Consumers expect to use their mobile devices to find information, ask questions and access social media to connect with their favorite brands 24 hours a day. Make sure your customer service is fully optimized for mobility with a fully responsive website, by offering web chat and by providing a choice of different contact options such as SMS, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Twitter.

7. Omnichannel is the new multichannel

Modern consumers want a consistent, satisfying and effortless experience, every time, whatever the device or communication channel. They also want organizations to recognize their buying history and previous interactions so they don’t have to keep repeating themselves.  The latest technology solutions automatically flag up how customers want to interact.  From the same screen agents can switch between telephone, emails and Chat to deal with enquiries whatever the channel. This often requires extensive integration of back-end systems or a complete rebuild of the back-end systems which feed your customers and agents with information.

8.Chatbots

Can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to tailored communications such as receipts, shipping notifications and live automated messages - fast. Customizable greetings mean Chatbots make it possible to offer a more personal, more proactive, and more streamlined customer experience.

Take a step back, put yourself in your customers’ shoes and see what their experience is really like.  You might need to overhaul your approach to customer service completely or perhaps a few simple tweaks will suffice.  Either way, design your service strategy to give your customers first-class service, with very little effort on their part, for brand loyalty and business success.

Source: https://blog.teleopti.com/2018/07/26/eight-tips-to-minimize-customer-effort-and-maximize-customer-satisfaction/

Publish Date: July 26, 2018

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