Do you know how many times the average user checks his or her smartphone a day? It comes to a whopping 150 times a day! This explosive rise in mobile usage gives us the chance to stay connected 24/7. This also allows customers to shop and interact with businesses in ways that were unimaginable only a decade ago. Just look on any public transportation and you’ll see most passengers interacting on their smartphones.
Mobility – changing the world
How is mobility changing the world? The ubiquity and frequent use of smart devices are raising the expectations of customers that customer-service is available 24/7. Customer-service organizations are, besides being compared with their competitors, also to digital giants, such as Amazon and Expedia. Customers are becoming increasingly demanding and want answers instantly– not tomorrow, not be kept waiting or instructed to re-contact customer service.
Irrespective of channel – be it e-mail, chat, social media, Skype or other mobile applications, all of which are quickly outstripping the traditional modes of communication – they want and expect a consistent, satisfying and effortless experience each and every time. This, in the parlance of the customer-service world, translates to “first-contact resolution.”
Right agent, right skill, right time, right place – every time
From a customer-service point of view, this is of course extremely challenging, and necessitates that the right agents with the right skills levels are is in the right place at the right time. We all know the nightmares that may occur when trying to schedule shift workers.
Fortunately, there are, automated workforce management (WFM) solutions today that efficiently forecast and effectively match up the workload with requisite resources. Gone are the days of manual spreadsheet scheduling – or should be if you are to remain competitive. Managers further utilize the WFM system for real-time visibility into the schedules and availability of their employees and mobile workers. Real-time mobile scheduling software is no longer a luxury but a necessity in today’s digital world.
Engage and empower!
Mobile technology also provides opportunities and benefits for contact centers, back offices and retail outlets. New solutions allow customer servicing to be done from virtually anywhere, as long as managers and agents have access to the software tools they need to do their job. Employees can work from home, staying in touch at the flick of a button or screen. Mobile innovations are also being utilized today to empower and engage employees to improve performance and satisfaction, and thus reduce attrition.
Self-service portals – on the rise
Recent innovations in self-service capabilities allow agents to access their schedules through web-based portals. There, they trade shifts, pick up unexpected shifts just freed up, voice their preferences for overtime shifts and request time off. Having a say in schedule preferences gives them a sense of empowerment and offers them better work-life balance.
An increasing number of companies are joining the ranks, providing such self-service applications for their employees. In a DMG Consulting survey conducted worldwide to identify top service initiatives for 2016, 48.7 percent of respondents – compared to 40.8 percent the previous year – cited increasing the use of self-service applications; fourth on the list of initiatives.
Managers freed up – better decisions made
New mobile solutions give managers and supervisors more freedom and time to devote themselves to often more qualified, strategic tasks. Coaching can now also happen – managers are even able to make schedule changes while coaching.
Liberated from being stuck at their desks, team leaders can walk the contact-center or shop floor, and with tablet in hand, monitor performance or be on hand for trouble-shooting. In addition, access to data in real time on these rounds generally fosters more rapid problem correction and improved decision-making.
Leverage BYOD in your organization
Who doesn’t have a smartphone today? Does it then make sense for companies to provide tablets and phones to their employees and forbid them to use their own devices on the job? Does it make sense for companies to spend time and money on purchasing, maintaining and replacing mobile devices when nearly 100 percent of employees have a connected smart device on them? The answer is a resounding no.
Instead, it makes sense to allow employees to bring their own personal smart devices (BYOD: Bring Your Own Device) to work, and use them at work, for work. This also eliminates or cuts down on unnecessary training time, thanks to familiar usability. It also makes sense to leverage these devices with work-related applications that help both mobile workers and enterprises.
Mobile security – intact
If your concern is mobile security threats – no matter if for a BYOD or company-owned mobile program – last year, 2015, saw significant advances in Mobile Application Management (MAM) and Mobile Device Management (MDM) security technology. Don’t forget about security and/or deletion of data in the event of lost or stolen mobile devices. Most importantly, the technology to secure your mobile devices is here and available today.
Jump on the bandwagon – capitalize on mobility
Mobility is here to stay. Adapt to the booming mobile workforce and be prepared for employees using multiple apps, working from more than one device and working in various locations.
Publish Date: March 4, 2016 5:00 AM
Last week I had the opportunity to attend Michele Rowan’s Remote Working Summit for contact centers in Dallas, TX. The Summit was filled of companies both large and small looking to learn and share best practices about how they were able to successfully build their remote working strategies. The conference had many speakers including companies from Verizon, Capital One and FedEx.
During the two-day event I listened to attendees discuss some of the leading drivers behind implementing a remote agent strategy that included how to reduce agent turnover, methods used to attract and retain top employees and maybe most important of all, how to keep their remote workforce excited and engaged.
While technology certainly plays a key factor in this and has made it easier for companies to transition to a remote work environment many of them are still not quite sure what policies they need to adopt and what first steps to take to keep their remote employees happy.
If you are looking for ways to engage your remote employees (or brick and mortar) here are a few tips I picked up to get you on your way:
Hopefully, these tips will prove to be of value to you as you prepare or continue to enhance your remote working strategy. Look for future blogs from me as I explore each of these areas in more detail.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and best practices as I’m sure we all have something to learn from one another.
Thanks for listening and best of luck.
Publish Date: February 26, 2016 5:00 AM
Last month, Adobe Marketing VP, John Travis, shared insights from Adobe’s 2016 Digital Trends report, including which opportunities businesses are most excited about this year. The number one response? Customer Experience.
“In 2014, it emerged as a top priority for marketers. In 2015, it gained momentum. Now, in 2016, it’s so important, it pulls other priorities into its orbit,” explained Travis, drawing parallel between customer experience and the sun. But, if this burgeoning field is really the center of a business’s metaphorical solar system, then the contact center is the high-powered telescope through which the C-Suite can zero in.
Like a telescope, the basic structure and functionality of the contact center hasn’t changed very much since inception: A customer calls (or nowadays emails or starts a chat), a representative answers, an exchange occurs, then on to the next call. On its own, this one interaction may not be so useful to the development of corporate strategy, but multiply it over a few hundred times a day, 365 days a year, and a substantial set of quantifiable data will emerge. Calabrio helps businesses focus this lens.
During a 12-month period between 2014 and 2015, Calabrio recorded more than one billion calls. That’s a serious number of calls and a serious amount of power when it comes to examining how your customers are interacting with you – and it goes beyond the usual marketing and sales channels. However, simply collecting data and storing it is about as useful as pointing your telescope at the ground. In order to make it actionable, businesses must have the right technology in place.
For contact centers, that technology can include anything from omnichannel recording and analytics tools to workforce management (WFM) solutions or – better yet – Calabrio ONE, a comprehensive software suite that handles all of the above. With these technologies, businesses can sort and analyze data in real-time, revealing clear trends. With this information, organizations can both ask and answer questions to help drive decisions that improve the customer experience. Why are your customers contacting you? Are they left frustrated or satisfied? Do they have to make contact multiple times, and if so, why? These are just a few examples in a limitless list of possibilities, and every company can turn the insights gained from Calabrio ONE into tailored, empirical, customer-conscious business changes.
Learn more about how you can start better leveraging your contact center to improve the customer experience.
Publish Date: February 24, 2016 5:00 AM
All forecasts are wrong. This infamous statement may be among the first things professors preach in many university-level business courses on forecasting. Most of us are familiar with the frustration felt when we are unable to close a project within the budgeted scope, year-end business volumes are nowhere near the January forecasts, summer vacations are ruined by rain appearing out of nowhere and savings yield little profit in the stock market.
With forecasting so prone to error, why then do we continue to rely so much on them for critical decision-making? A reasonable hypothesis is that to be able to start planning the future, we feel that our planning efforts need to have a basis. It would be fair to say that most decision-makers are aware that predicting the future with 100-percent accuracy is impossible. Widely accepted is the fact that forecasting contains some margin of error and that forecasts with a lower margin of error are the ones that make a difference.
A healthier approach would therefore be to stop questioning why forecasts are always off and instead, try to minimize the margin of error. After all, in a world where chimpanzees beat Wall Street professionals in competitive salaries, room for improvement must be possible.
How then to maximize the accuracy of your forecasting? Here are some useful tips:
Know and embrace your errors
No one is Nostradamus. Errors are an inherent part of your forecasting. So, minimizing the margin of error while staying loyal to your overall data quality – making assumptions, rounding up or down statistics, etc. – will determine the success of your error handling. You may recall high-school science experiments when using one margin of error for one variable that was in direct correlation to another, it was useful to stick to the same margin of error with inter-dependent variables.
Another useful and often overlooked rule of thumb is to remember that the further we try to predict in the future, the greater normally the margin of error. Think weather forecasts: tomorrow’s forecast is often more accurate than that of next week’s.
Improve the quality of your data
Gathering, refining and analyzing data for forecasting is an art in itself. In this day and age with the use of big data skyrocketing, more and more data can be tracked, stored and crunched in a multitude of ways. Compared to forecasting in the 70s and 80s, finding the most relevant data – not just any data – has never been more important and is a challenge that forecasting professionals face today.
A good way to increase your relevant data sampling is through crowdsourcing. Sports Interactive (SI), the makers of the digital game, Football Manager, recently released a B2B version to professional football clubs, which successfully used and popularized the crowdsourcing model. Contrary to the traditional scouting model of sending individual scouts to different national leagues, SI’s crowdsourcing network of over 1,300 scouts (who constantly get feedback from fans and Football Manager players) – give much more updated and reliable data on individual players and eliminates the subjective views of individual scouts.
If you’re unable to outsource your data gathering in any way, a similar strategy could be to outsource your data analysis: i.e. crowdsource the forecasting process to different individuals in an organization rather than just delegating it to a few people. I’ll discuss this crowdsourcing aspect at length in a later blog.
Forecast more often
“If you have to forecast, forecast often.” This quote should be a no-brainer. The more frequently you forecast, the more you narrow down your forecasting horizon. This, in turn, allows you to do a reality check and reduce your margin of error.
Train and/or recruit “super forecasters”
“The herd instinct among forecasters makes sheep look like independent thinkers” (Edgar R. Fiedler in The Three Rs of Economic Forecasting-Irrational, Irrelevant and Irreverent, June 1977)
Super forecasters are not aliens or uniquely smart people. The talent to forecast can be taught, nurtured or, if training existing personnel is unaffordable, recruited.
In a recent forecasting blockbuster book, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, author Philip Tetlock states that most super forecasters have above-average IQs (not necessarily geniuses), strong statistical mindsets and the courage to go against pre-determined decisions or prejudices, that is, the power to say no and present their findings despite top management expecting them to forecast a particular scenario that supports their own arguments.
Gamification – i.e. arranging forecasting tournaments and competitions – is key to crowdsourcing the forecasting effort, increasing its accuracy as well as motivating and developing super forecasters.
The right software
You’ve improved the quality of your data, become more aware of the margin of error, decided on the optimal forecasting frequency and trained/recruited the right personnel. What’s the missing link in the chain? It’s investing in the right software, which, like the Big Lebowski’s rug, is the element that ties the room together. Briefly, the four main characteristics of good forecasting software are as follows:
You may have done everything right but you must still embrace the inherent randomness of every forecast. Sure, the level of randomness differs from forecast to forecast but accept the fact that luck – i.e. force majeure events – plays an important role in every forecast. It is therefore essential to prepare for the worst.
To be continued in the next blog posting on forecasting.
Publish Date: February 19, 2016 5:00 AM
In a survey conducted by Workforce Magazine, organizational efficiency was one of three major trends predicted for 2016. This was echoed by leading contact-center analyst DMG Consulting. In fact, #1 on the DMG list of top enterprise servicing goals for 2016 was productivity and cost reduction, beating service quality for the first time.
So, managers are prioritizing cost-containment initiatives and productivity this year, trying to find ways to slash operational costs while still delivering customer service rapidly and effectively. Not surprisingly, workforce process automation continues its march, gaining ground. Yet, the Workforce Magazine survey revealed that a whopping 35 percent of organizations still don’t embrace workforce automation. Instead, they still rely on antiquated, manual processes for workforce scheduling, time and attendance, absence and leave management, and labor analytics – with their employees still manually filling out paper time-sheets.
Over the years, I have seen contact centers spend considerable time entering data onto a payroll spreadsheet, challenged by hard-to-read handwriting and higher margins of error of manual processes. By simply automating payroll, many of them have reaped the immediate benefits of automation; not only in time savings but in greater accuracy.
Boost efficiency/productivity – with automated WFM
Organizations are at varying levels of automation. One thing is for sure: there’s no shortage in choice when it comes to solutions on the market for improving overall workforce efficiency and productivity. Today, automated workforce management (WFM) has become critical to the productivity of contact centers and service organizations employing hourly-wage earners.
In a nutshell, automated WFM improves efficiency and productivity. It forecasts the volume of various contact methods and schedules the number of agents accordingly – a complex juggling act – while taking into account agent skills, preferences, breaks, training, vacations and absences. It decreases idle time and rapidly fills unexpected shift vacancies, thus combatting the loss in productivity. WFM boosts agent adherence – a top metric of agent productivity – and customer satisfaction: inquiries are automatically routed to the agent with the most appropriate skills set for resolution. Organizations already using automated WFM should ensure it’s being utilized to its fullest potential. As you grow and as need dictates, your service provider often has add-on modules available for purchase.
Drive improvements – with workforce optimization (WFO)
Organizations are in search of WFO vendors that facilitate the implementation and integration of their capabilities with other operating and analytics solutions, thus increasing their investment benefits. What’s needed is for WFO vendors to introduce next-generation products, designed to easily interoperate with “big data” and the cloud. Teleopti offers open standards and integration ease, giving customers the freedom to select those sysems that match their needs or fo further build upon their current IT investments.
At Teleopti, we are proud to deliver one of the market’s most advanced, state-of-the-art WFO software. But even more important; we also provide outstanding post-implementation support, with a team of experts ready to jump in 24/7 – a huge benefit to customers which helps them secure efficiency improvements year after year.
Raise the bar – in real time
Workforce technologies that support real-time processes allow enterprises to manage their workforce much better. One example is the ability to identify productivity bottlenecks. Getting information in real-time, such as tracking the number of hours agents have been working, can avoid overtime and fatigue, thus improving overall productivity.
Another emerging real-time technology is speech analytics, used to identify sales/up-sell opportunities as well as identify unhappy and at-risk customers. Measures can then be taken to improve retention and the customer experience. According to DMG Consulting, this capability will be playing a part in the quality evaluation process of services rendered.
Create continual, positive agent experiences
A contact center is only as good as its agents. Agents first walk through the door because of the promised paycheck but that alone won’t keep them in the long run. Workforces that are overworked or underused, and are using inflexible systems frequently suffer from high employee turnover. Opt for a WFM solution that allows employees to feel empowered by having a say in scheduling (e.g. self-service where they indicate schedule preferences), that offers incentives or game-like competition, that rewards excellent performance (e.g. first choice in days off, work remotely from home), and that provides performance feedback, skills training and coaching.
Furthermore, ensure your agents have the best tools and conditions so they can do their jobs efficiently and productively. An advanced customer-relationship management (CRM) solution gives quick and easy access to customer information, eliminating agents flicking through multiple screens and systems – frustrating to agents and customers alike. Choosing the right software to seamlessly integrate with all data points to ensure full 360-degree customer visibility is all the more paramount when using multi-channels. These tried-and-true approaches improve agent engagement, empowerment and satisfaction. The bottom line? Good staff morale makes for better performance, meaning higher productivity.
Perform exceptionally – in the Cloud
Cloud infrastructure and automation are driving numerous business technologies and are likely to feature prominently in WFM this year, according to a trends assessment by WFS (Workforce Software Company, Australia). Teleopti has provided cloud solutions for many years and in the last two years we have experienced a fantastic growth in demand for our cloud solutions. We expect this growth to further accelerate in 2016 and stand ready to provide a scalable service experience from our multi-tenant platform. Other contact center application vendors are also heading to the Cloud to be able to provide their customers the flexibility required for rapid scaling with an expanding customer base or adding new features and updates online. Less expensive and easier to implement, cloud strategies are being adopted at record rates.
Stay ahead – stay competitive
One of the biggest challenges today is to deliver a consistently good experience across all channels. Customers increasingly expect a rich and personal journey, irrespective of channel – whether online, through their smartphone or a shop assistant. Your service scheduling software should be comprehensive; one that keeps customers in mind at every point of their process.This means managing the customer lifecycle from beginning to end, starting with customer inquiries and ending with completed service and satisfied customers.
Your contact center applications will need to be open, run on industry-standard hardware and be seamlessly ingrained in your overarching structure and IT strategy. Transforming your contact center into a hub that centrally manages the customer journey not only helps you in making real-time decisions based on data and context that better serve customers, but also helps you deliver on your objectives such as reduced overheads and increased revenue streams. In your efforts to maximize productivity and efficiencies in 2016, it will prove more essential than ever to select the right technologies that help you to achieve you goals and manage your costs.
Publish Date: February 12, 2016 5:00 AM