When we talk about employees that are “engaged”, what we actually mean are those employees within your call centre that are motivated, enthusiastic about their company and excited about their future with that company. Essentially, if you are truly engaged at work it means being professionally happy. This is a huge trending topic in the call centre sector currently, and rightly so because of the nature of the work and the resulting impact on customer service.
A recent study suggests that just over 70% of employees are actively engaged. This means that the remaining 29% are either satisfied but not contributing, or contributing and not satisfied, or worst of all actually, actively disengaged.
Some suggestions are that as many as 10% of employees display such a level of hostility that they are actively sabotaging the activities of their colleagues.
The drivers of employee engagement vary between men and women and depending on the age of the employee. It is easy to throw ideas around when talking about work / life balance, some organisations have installed games rooms, healthy eating options in the canteen and so on. These are all valid options and increasingly becoming the norm, however from a call centre point of view. Is this merely paying lip service to the issue and ignoring the real challenges?
There are control factors that the organisation can put in place to impact the workplace engagement. Thinking about Workforce Management, in the face of everyday pressures from things like managing shrinkage, controlling absenteeism, random unpredictable weather events, changing client demands and technological restraints, the focus is of course on the customer historically, but more and more there is a realisation that engaged employees are more likely to feel a sense of responsibility, urgency and ownership that positively impacts customer experience.
In order to get it right and meet and indeed, succeed the expectations of the employee and the customer, it’s vital to come up with a creative approach to scheduling. More often than not, it’s the everyday dilemmas which pose the biggest problems. Every day, planners in the real world of call centres find themselves in positions where the demands of the business and liquidity of the available resources require creativity in order to successfully address the delicate balance of efficiency of the operation and the preferences of the employee. It’s the latter which has been voted the biggest challenge in call center scheduling.
Effective and creative scheduling can be used as a powerful incentive in the right hands. For example in a successful sales campaign, you can use gaps in scheduling as incentives where staff would be allowed to leave early if they’d gone above and beyond their sales targets. Nothing gets a good sales person firing on all cylinders like the opportunity to spend some hard earned bonus dollars on a few extra hours in the pub on a Friday afternoon.
In the planning world the priority is often on the busy periods and maximising resources at peak times. The troughs are less of a focus and can potentially become unavoidable resource black holes where ‘wait’ or ‘ready’ times can creep up. A keen eyed analyst is able to highlight these and use them to their advantage, in this particular case as an effective reward for a job well done.
This flexible approach really helps to reinforce staff engagement with the planners and also goes a long way to dispelling the negative connotations of Orwellian control some Resource and Planning departments can become tarred with, especially when introducing the process and tools for the first time to an existing workforce.
There are of course many other ways that call centres can incentivise staff for accepting some more flexibility in the shifts they are prepared to work. Some US-based organisations have introduced limits to pay increases and promotions to staff unless they are prepared to be flexible in the shifts they are willing to work.
A possibly better incentive could be to allow bidding to take place on different shifts. This can be successfully adapted so that the operation gives choices to agents in hours worked and agents then bid for pre-optimised shifts. This is a win-win-win scenario. The business wins, the customer wins and the employee wins, everyone’s happy. An extension to this idea is the use of shift swaps, clearly nothing new about this tactic no matter what industry, but some call centre organisations have a blanket ban on this because of the administrative headache it can cause. For example, how does it impact employee contracts, does it take into account skill proficiency levels, etc. However this approach, if technically possible to automate effectively, can engage and create a sense of empowerment with the employee.
Another creative suggestion was to create different levels of schedule availability. Categorised in 3 ways, for example as High, Medium and low level. High level, where there is a significant family commitment, i.e. single parents who need to pick up sick children. An example of a low level commitment would much less life critical but maybe important for the individual and their work/life balance, i.e some form of sporting commitment. If everything matches up, it would be classified as a nice to have. If this is communicated well it’s possible for employees to define for themselves what is high or low level availability.
This way, the guy who wants to go and play for his 5-a-side football team is perfectly cool with the single mother going before him, even though she also had the “good” shift, last week. This suggested approach is for long term availability. In short term availability for example, funerals, emergency dentist appointments, etc. It would be possibly the team leaders that take an ad-hoc decision, based on the impact of service on the day.
The use of home based workers is increasing dramatically and can be a creative way of dealing with increasing demand, and limitation on capacity. According to Ovum the number of home based contact centre agents in the UK will reach 160,000 by 2017, with a compound growth rate of 17.5% per year.
This approach is a great way of covering the M-curve, with increased flexibility in the scheduling approach and home workers can take advantage of this more than most. Home based workers find that split shifts are much easier to manage around their home life when the commute to the office is no longer required. It’s also been argued that by tapping into the home-worker market organisations are able to recruit better calibre agents. Additionally, the advent of cloud based technologies means that home based virtual workers have the same access to the systems as on-site based agents. There are now 3 clearly defined categories, fully-virtual home workers, locally-based home workers and hybrid home workers that can work in a split environment.
Scheduling is the heart of any effective workforce planning strategy, and more specifically optimised scheduling is the art of getting it right. As with any art form there must be a creative spark in order for that process to achieve it’s desired outcome.
“Your clients are not the most important. Your staff are the most important. Take care of your staff and they will take care of your clients.” - Richard Branson.
Publish Date: September 9, 2016 5:00 AM
Post Brexit, the job market has seen a shift in that the number of people in the UK securing jobs has fallen for two months in a row, according to a recent BBC report. This makes it even more essential for WFM job seekers to perform in the right manner when given the opportunity to interview, as not doing so can have a detrimental impact.
So what are we recruiters recommending that candidates do during interviews to achieve the right results? Here we explore the top 10 tips for a successful WFM interview:
Once you’ve got your foot in the door for that first face-to-face interview, it’s imperative to have some knowledge about the company you are being interviewed by so you can make a good impression from the start.
Often, companies will help you with this process by telling you all you need to know on their careers page and the ‘about us’ section on their website, so be sure to spend some time here. In addition to the website, you can do some research on LinkedIn about the interviewer you will be meeting, so you can get an understanding of their background. This could help to give you further insights into the kind of person they are searching for.
Ask the recruitment consultant to give you as much detail as possible about the Contact Centre and also WFM function. What is the current FTE? How many sites do they have? What challenges are they currently facing in the business? What improvements is the business likely to experience once this person is in place? What WFM system do they have? All of these questions will help you to build a clear picture of what you are potentially walking into.
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. This saying couldn’t apply more, as preparation is the very key to success in securing your next WFM position. Make sure you know exactly where you will be going for the interview, dress appropriately (business attire unless told otherwise) and make sure you know exactly who you will be meeting so you can address the person correctly. Spending at least 30mins reviewing your CV, looking through the job advert and re-reading the job spec to align your skills with the requirements of the role before your interview will help to structure your thoughts for when the time comes.
Many WFM candidates tend to focus too hard on demonstrating their technical knowledge that they forget a very crucial step at this stage:They forget to ask questions. You are there to ask questions too, so make sure you spend time during the interview to find out as much as you can about your potential new employer. When done correctly, asking the right questions can help to confirm that your experience and abilities are well suited to the job. Another important factor to remember is that by asking questions, you are showing an interest in the role, the company and the people you are speaking to, therefore leaving a good impression when you leave the interview.
Often, it’s not the person who has the strongest forecasting skills or is an expert with a particular WFM system, it could be simply down to the person the hiring managers get on best with during the interview. While your skills and expertise are important components in securing a job offer, your ability to build rapport in an interview is just as crucial. Learning how to build rapport and engage with your interviewer will give you a much better chance of being successful.
Some techniques that I’d recommend to help with build rapport are as follows:
It’s always a good idea to bring a portfolio of your past work to show interviewers exactly what you have done in recent or previous roles. Bringing in spreadsheets, proposals/business cases you’ve written and any models you’ve built (remembering to always remove any sensitive information) will always go a long way in showing your ability to communicate technical thoughts and ideas to a wide audience whilst providing recommendations which could apply to the role you are interviewing for. However, once you start to show your mastery over the tools and systems you’ve used or built, be careful to use easy to understand language, fit for an audience made up of various backgrounds/levels to ensure that everyone is able to fully understand exactly what you are referring to.
Pausing after being asked a question is not a bad thing. Once you understand the question you’ve been asked, take a minute to really think and process the information before you start to solve the problem. Of course, don’t take too long to think about your answer. This could be counter-productive. You want to avoid awkward silences and blank faces during the interview. This goes back to why preparation is key as using time upfront to structure your approach will equip you with the right tools to use at the right time.
During an interview, your inner WFM self can take over, leaving little room for demonstrating the interpersonal skills that you are also able to offer. Allowing time to show your people skills will assure the hiring manager that you can work with colleagues, stakeholders and any other operational people in the contact centre. But “people skills” can be seen as very general term. Tell the interviewer specifically what skills you have; this could be strong negotiation skills, building and gaining trust or communicating with a variety of different people at all levels. One way to do this is to relate these skills back to the required job duties. For example, if you are interviewing for a WFM position with an outsourcer, you’ll want to emphasise your ability to build relationships, solve difficult problems and to listen effectively to your client’s needs.
Most companies will have the interview panel made up of a combination of interviewers at different hierarchical positions. Questions can come at you from all angles, so you need to be ready so as to not feel under fire if everyone starts talking at once. Instead of giving you a standard competency based question, some interviewers may even draw you into a challenge that the WFM function is facing. Again, they are trying to find out how your brain operates, how you work with others and how quickly you can get up to speed with the company. This kind of interview question doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s an excellent chance for you to shine.
When the interview is approaching an end, try to conclude on a positive note. This could be as simple as saying something like, “I look forward to hearing from you” or “is there anything in this meeting that you would like me to go over again?” This is also great way to use the time to go back through some of the points that you wanted to be sure to make to the hiring managers during the interview. After the meeting, take any notes with you, including feedback and also the names of the interviewers, their job roles and any other useful information.
Whether or not it’s good news, this is a great opportunity to get some constructive feedback. At times it could be a close call between you and another candidate, but once you know the reasons for not getting the job, you can then decide if was something within your control or not which impacted the result. Make sure you learn from your mistakes, always seeking advice, using feedback from past interviews to improve your confidence and interview technique.
Publish Date: August 24, 2016 5:00 AM
What do you think about when you forecast? For most people, it’s the data, more specifically it’s taking historical data, applying algorithms, then publishing a forward-looking set of projections based on that. Many forecasters spend 90% or more of their time on the “historical” part of forecasting. However, what’s happened in the past is only part of the equation when looking forward. This is just the start.
Business intelligence is a critical component to getting the forecast right. What is Business Intelligence? It’s taking in the internal and external operating influences that can drive volume or productivity. This part of the process requires close relationships and regular touch points with several departments, including client management, operations, marketing, finance, sales and IT. Often, WFM (Workforce Management) has to take a very active role in engaging with these departments. You can’t wait for them to come to you because often they don’t know or understand the impact. WFM does.
Let’s look at a few of the areas to look at when forecasting. First are the things that will impact productivity:
Generally, productivity is represented by “AHT” or Average Handle Time in a contact center. The longer a call takes, the fewer calls an agent can handle in a day. When Average handle time increases, productivity decreases and the headcount required goes up. This concept is pretty straightforward to workforce management (WFM) professionals. So, how can we get an even more accurate forecast for productivity?
First, talk to the operations leadership team. Is there anything inherently that will make handle time higher or lower than what it’s seen in the past? Some examples here may be, a policy change that requires the agent to read a longer script, or verify a customer’s information. Quite often these changes are made independently of WFM, because they’re seen as “small changes” to AHT and focused on legal or customer service requirements. It may be determined that the increase in AHT is offset by some other factor. Unless this is tested through WFM though, it can mess up the forecast.
In this example, a call center takes on average 95K calls per month with a 5-minute handle time and an 80/30 service-level goal. The difference between AHT being up or down 5% to the forecast can result in a 6 FTE swing in requirements. To put that into context, once you load shrinkage on, your 6 FTE becomes 10 heads. The impact to the financials is even greater because you’ll have additional salaries and benefits costs for that additional labor.
The following drivers will change by industry and contact type, but they are common in many contact centers and can have a significant impact on the actual contact volume you receive.
The takeaway here is that WFM has to be actively engaged with the operations team to really understand how AHT will be different in the future than the past. It’s worthwhile creating a checklist, so you don’t have to remember every impact factor. Here are some examples to include in that checklist:
How should you divide your forecasting time up between data analysis and business intelligence? In my experience best-practice is to spend at least 1/3 of your time on the business intelligence side. That means if you took a 40-hour work week to build a forecast, you should spend about 13 of those hours on discussions with business partners to understand how changes in the business will impact the forecast, as well as, figuring out how best to capture those into your forecast.
This rule-of-thumb will vary. As you mature the relationships and regular touch points, you’ll be able to get the business intelligence factored in with less and less time investment. Additionally, for businesses where the data analysis is buttoned up, or that have a lot of automation in the regression analysis, you’ll have more time to reinvest into the quality of the business intelligence. The first step is to build in time for business intelligence and make sure you have a checklist of topics to surface, so that you don’t leave it to chance that you’ll get the information you need. You’ll not only get more accurate forecasts, but you’ll have stronger relationships with critical business partners.
Publish Date: July 28, 2016 5:00 AM
Web chat is one of the fastest growing contact channels. From the customer perspective, it’s instant, it’s easy and it’s text based. For the call centre it offers some tempting efficiency gains over phone calls and the chance to improve customer engagement. But the old saying ‘the devil is in the detail’ definitely applies here. In this podcast we discuss the pros and cons of chat, as well as providing some tips for getting chat right in your operation. Chris Dealy of injixo is joined by industry experts Carolyn Blunt (LinkedIn, Twitter), Managing Director of Real Results Training, and Tina Squire (LinkedIn), Strategic Contact Centre Operations Director at Interact CC.
Press click on the play button and enjoy the podcast!
Jump to (00:00)
“In this podcast we discuss the subject of using Contact Centre web-chat. Over recent years, chat has been one of the fastest growing contact channels. From the customer perspective, it’s instant, it’s easy and it’s text based. For the call centre it offers some tempting efficiency gains over phone calls. But the old saying ‘the devil is in the detail’ definitely applies here.”
“In this podcast we are going to discuss the pros and cons of chat, as well as providing some tips for getting chat right in your operation.”
“Chris is joined by Carolyn Blunt, Managing Director of Real Results Training, specialist in training and development for the contact centre industry. As well as running Real Results, Carolyn is a professional speaker and prolific author in contact centres field and also by Tina Squire, Strategic Contact Centre Operations Director at Interact CC a contact centre outsourcer, handling contracts that cover sales & customer support, inbound & outbound, B2C & B2B, via phone and web chat. Interact’s USP is to do things differently, for the benefit of both clients, and the people working in the contact centre. Tiina has 14 years’ experience in contact centre operations management, working with blue-chip clients.”
Jump to (02:01)
“Definitely still growing, lots of our clients are looking at developing their strategy and train front line advisors who are going to be handling their chat. The millennial generation much prefer the use of text based (customer service). The evidence is there in how they prefer to communicate with friends and family.”
“Agree that it is still on the rise and we have clients that want to expand into that area. The ROI is higher, the cost of sale is lower, this is the way I see things still evolving.”
Jump to (03:30)
“The convenience of web-chat and the fact that it is less committal than a phone call and as there is no need to go through lengthy IVRs and be put on hold, listen to music. This also gives the customer the ability to multi-task at home while you’re making an enquiry to an organisation.”
“Companies can capture a whole group of people that perhaps may not have been quite ready to take that plunge to pick up the phone.”
“Webchat is less intense and overall offers a more convenient way for people, and overall it just works.”
Jump to (04:41)
“The benefit is mainly driven by the Cost per sale for our clients.”
“When a customer comes in on a webchat channel, from then on in - that is their preferred channel on which to interact. Once they have tried it once and realise they are talking to a real person they will stick to that channel.”
“In customer satisfaction scores it is consistent. There is an average of 88% and does not really fluctuate. In fact only from 86% to as high as 92%. So we are seeing a great satisfaction rate and importantly customers are returning.”
“Yes absolutely, however there is more call for AI to be handling basic live chat, it does not necessarily have to be a human. A client is using a large proportion of their live chat through automated messaging and that is helping to make them competitive against much bigger competitors. They can automate a lot of repetitive simple contact, and customers don’t even know that it’s not a real person and that it is automated.”
Jump to (06:38)
“We have had great success in agents handling multiple interactions. Currently one of our biggest Telcos are averaging three and a half interactions at any one time. So that means anything from 4 to 6. That sounds amazing from an efficiency POV, it does really depend however in what sort of query you are dealing with.”
“On a more complicated Customer Service query, a complaint maybe that would come down to 2 to 3 concurrent interactions on average. But, with that I don’t see that customer satisfaction goes down if we increase that. There are great wins to be had there.”
“An example of a flooding you can increase concurrency of chat massively to deal with customers whereas with voice it is constantly 1 on 1, you have to get through those very quickly in order to be able to do more. Actually, as a Contact Centre you don’t really lose out that much even though people in the short term if they can’t make it to the office you can actually tweak that around other parameters which has been really great.”
Jump to (08:37)
“This is something you have to look at on a case by case basis, depending on the organisation, the customers, what the chat content is about, what your self-service and knowledge base is like behind the scenes. An agent may be able to handle three chats really easily at the same time, if he/she has all the information and quickly searchable at their fingertips and they are able to cut and paste things into the chat and redirect customers to things online and while they are looking at that the agent can be chatting to the next customer. However, if the chat is very complicated and personalised and there is lots of detail to read, the other two customers looking to chat are going to have to wait. That is where customer experience can suffer. This can impact response time while the agent completes wrap up from customer number one, customer number two and three are typing and waiting for me to read. This is when we start seeing question marks from customers asking ‘are you still there?’ That is where customer experience in chat can be impacted if we are not careful. This can put undue pressure on the advisor who is being pulled in all these directions. If they are not careful they can skim read and not get to the right answer correctly. I would like to put a limit of three generally but it really does depend on the advisor’s knowledge, the systems and the content of the chat.”
Jump to (11:01)
“Technology is really key. Whatever chat vendor you use would really depend on what you what to achieve as a business and what you need to measure. As chat has grown, more and more suppliers are coming on to the market. It is really about what you can do with the back end of it from a productivity and operational perspective”
“The really important thing for me is the integration of chat with your other channels. I much prefer a vendor who can do my voice solution, email, chat and social rather than 4 different systems bolting together and that that platform is then linked to the CRM and we have one single view, omnichannel of that customer journey, so that if today I chat tomorrow I tweet and the next day I phone and I am dealt with by three different advisors they can still see all that interaction history and its linked to all my accounts my buying behaviour so that there is a joined up view on the information. The problem with chat is that if we use it as a stand alone channel we don’t really know who it is we are talking to. So, I could be a really loyal customer of yours and been with your brand for ten years and spent an awful lot of money, but if you don’t have visibility of that you can’t then bring that into account when you are dealing with my compliant. And really, that is what we should be doing when we are thinking about customer journeys and life time value of customers.”
Jump to (13:09)
“As always in a Contact Centre it is essential to get your staffing right. I find that working with a dedicated big ‘Chat’ team it is essential to have a Workforce management solution that can really cater for that and I think that on a big chat channel like that where you have multi-skilled staff, you have individual ability in terms of concurrency, having a Workforce Management solution where you can really tweak that individually you are always going to have the ultimate staffing at any time. With chat you have different peaks and troughs through the day, all of that becomes very very relevant with chat particularly when you have so many different parameters that you can tweak and work with from a productivity and efficiency POV. We found that absolutely invaluable.”
“It depends on how specialist your advisors need to be and the knowledge they’ve got and whether you are doing skills based routing through voice already as to how you are going to set up your team. But, for me it is really helpful to select advisors for chat teams that have good spelling, grammar and typing speed which is really important. If we can think about having multi-skilled agents it gives us that flexibility because webchat can be unpredictable. We can overflow, if we have increased chat demand I can pull a voice advisor onto chat and I can say ‘right I want you to take some because it’s queuing.”
“I am a massive fan of extending the hours that we make chat available, because people are browsing in the evenings and weekend. If you are a retailer and you are not offering chat on weekends you are missing a massive trick. Agents don’t particularly want to work evenings and weekends, I would like to see us using Home-workers more for live chat. Advisors are happy to do that work from home and you don’t have the issue of TV’s on in the background, because you just won’t hear it, it is a completely text based channel. And as long as we are quality monitoring chatlogs in the same way as we quality monitor call recordings, there is no reason we can’t have chat as a home working role, which gives us even more flexibility in crisis situations, agents can be pulled in without having to come and sit in a physical building.”
“Couldn’t agree more, the hours are absolutely essential. Our operation runs until 11.00pm at night from 7.00am and those are our busy times, early in the morning and late at night, slump in the afternoon and again the slump in the afternoon really lends itself to home-working. And, because you are working in the digital space it is just a lot easier to manage home-working staff.”
Jump to (16:50)
“That concludes Part 1 of this Podcast. Thank you for listening we hope you enjoyed it. We will continue on Part 2 with more from Carolyn and Tina on more top tips and pointers about where Web-chat goes wrong, recurring themes when Call Centers fail to implement web-chat and any stumbling blocks to watch out for. Also, how do we overcome those. You can subscribe now to get notified when Part 2 will be available. Bye-bye”
Publish Date: July 20, 2016 5:00 AM
In Part 1/2 of these post series we listed the first 5 daily habits of a successful workforce planner: keeping an eye on the figures, reacting quickly and appropriately to intraday issues, offering time off at short notice, processing holiday requests quickly and making time for learning.
Now we will focus on:
Make sure that you are abreast of what is going on in other departments to avoid nasty surprises like unplanned marketing campaigns or price increases, which will trigger changes in contact patterns. Make sure you are copied in on all relevant communications and make a point of attending meetings which have the potential to impact planning metrics like service level.
Interruptions are the thief of time, so avoid them by regularly delivering succinct planning performance information to stakeholders such as senior management, HR and team leaders. You will delight your internal customers by providing timely and accurate Management Information (MI). It is much better to create MI at a time that suits you than to find yourself on the back foot when someone asks for a report just when you’re struggling to keep all the plates spinning on a busy day.
Listen to front-line employees on a regular basis to get feedback on their schedules, how they are accessed, the holiday and shift swap process and other planning-related topics. There is an argument that agents are simply there to do a job and they should just work the shifts they are given. But let’s not forget that happy staff are productive and motivated staff, so you overlook agent morale at your peril. Staff turnover has a real impact on the bottom line, since it typically costs thousands to hire and train a new starter.
Murphy’s Law states ‘If it can go wrong, it will go wrong’. Take a note of those days when forecast accuracy was bad, you were seriously understaffed or service level took a hit. Identify the reasons why and the steps you took to correct the situation. Things do go wrong and mistakes are made; there is no shame in that. Good planners make sure that they don’t make the same mistake twice.
Just-in-time delivery is proven to maximise efficiency in industries ranging from car manufacture to retail distribution to software development. But it should only be used in a business-as-usual context. When making changes to people (e.g. updated contract terms), technology (e.g. scheduling software) or processes (e.g. holiday approvals), the planner who leaves plenty of time for testing is the one who will succeed. A day spent finding and fixing problems before going live will save a week of headaches afterwards.
Publish Date: June 29, 2016 5:00 AM
The days of contact centers handling only inbound phone calls are certainly waning if not over. Many centers now handle emails, web chats, text messaging, make outbound calls, and some are taking on video interactions and social media as well. Vendors are offering integrated queuing that can line up mixed media in the same queue so that agents take a variety of contacts types. The question is, what if any of this omni-channel queue capability will be beneficial to your center, staff and customers?
Even with all the new ways for customers to interact with the company, inbound phone calls still comprise the bulk of the workload for most contact centers today. The mix of other activities varies from one operation to another and these other contacts are growing as a percentage of total activity. In some centers, the frontline staff members are dedicated to one type of contact and rarely handle any other. But some are hiring and cross-training staff to handle more than one type. This is largely based on the idea that any available time from one work type can be filled with some other work to improve efficiency and productivity. But how well does it really work?
The automated outbound call dialers initiated the first move in the direction of mixed contacts. The concept was to ensure that answering the inbound calls took priority but that any idle time would be filled with outbound calls generated by the dialer. It sounds great in theory, but the practice has proved problematic. One of the most important timing criteria for outbound calling is to generate the calls when there is the greatest potential for live answer. That is why many of these outbound contacts are scheduled to coincide with the evening mealtime when most people are at home. But if the outbound calls are just stuffed into the inbound idle times, they are likely to be made during times when there is less chance of live connection. In some cases, there is also a restriction on how many times a single number can be attempted so wasting opportunities is to be avoided. So the integration may ensure busier frontline staff, but not necessarily better overall results in terms of revenue generation or collections on the outbound side.
Let’s look further into the challenges of mixing the contacts. First, the different media types need to be sorted into those that require an immediate or near-immediate response and those that can be stored for later handling:
The immediate response group generally has a speed of answer goal that is focused on balancing efficiency with customer satisfaction. The maximum wait for most is measured in minutes if not seconds. On the delayed response group, the timing is generally longer but no less critical. The goal for responding to emails may be hours or even days. Outbound calls are totally within the control of the center and can be generated as staff is available, although this is typically balanced with the need to complete the calls to generate sales, collect past-due bills, or achieve other goals. Failure to monitor and respond to social media comments can result in significant problems as many people can see these posts within a very short time.
One of the hopes for mixed media contacts is making it easier to staff the center with the right number of people for all the time periods. For example, staff the center for the peak immediate workload periods and use their idle time during the valleys for the other contacts. However, when the same frontline staff handles the immediate and delayed contacts, the demands of one can significantly impact the other. If the workload in the immediate queue is high and produces little idle time, the delayed response work can be put off repeatedly until it misses even the longer deadlines. But when the team tries to catch up on the delayed response work, the speed of answer goals for the immediate may suffer. These challenges are particularly difficult in large groups where the natural result of economies of scale produce high occupancy rates for the immediate response workload. Finding that perfect balance of staffing to meet all of the goals is a significant challenge. It takes a sophisticated set of mathematics to produce staffing models when the same personnel handle a mix of contact types. Omni-channel queues are not an answer to habitual understaffing.
There is a significant difference is the capabilities needed to handle calls versus written communication. Frontline staff that are well-spoken, empathetic and effective oral communicators may not be able to construct a written response that is clear and concise, uses proper language, has appropriate punctuation, sets the right tone, etc. People who write well may find real-time call handling stressful. It is hard enough to find enough people to staff the center overall, but asking the Human Resources team to find people who can communicate both orally and in writing, create the appropriate company image in email, text and social media responses and work in conditions that fill every idle moment is a tough order.
There is also the challenge of switching back and forth between contact types on a random basis. This is often difficult for the staff and can result in longer handle times and higher error rates. It is a good practice to study the results of a team dedicated to one type of contact versus those who mix them up and see if there are tradeoffs in your operation. It may also be worthwhile to study the results for individuals to find the best utilization for each.
Career path is another consideration. Bringing personnel into the center to do one type of contact and then training them for another to advance their careers is one option. However, it is not unusual for personnel to resist or refuse additional training when it leads to a job with more stress or competition with a smaller, more tenured team for desired schedules. Perhaps pay steps or some other benefit can be associated with the addition of each new skill to overcome some of these issues.
While teams dedicated to only one type of contact are on one end of the spectrum, and totally mixed media queues are on the other, there are some in-between choices as well. In some centers, personnel may be cross-trained to handle more than one type of contact, but they only handle one type at a time. For example, the person may be dedicated to inbound calls during the busiest calling time and then switch to handling only emails in other periods. But these blocks of time are dedicated to one or the other. This allows the concentration needed to handle each type efficiently without interruption but also gives the center flexibility to move people to meet the current workload demand. The staffing process and workforce scheduling are also somewhat simpler than the mixed media queue would require.
It may also be possible to mix the contacts that are either all oral or all written. In this case, some staff may take inbound and outbound calls only and other staff handles emails, text chats and other written communications only. This focuses the skills and capabilities of the staff on the type of work for which they are best suited which can shorten handle time and improve efficiency.
Omni-channel contact handling is clearly a case of “just because it is possible doesn’t mean it is right for everyone”. There are certainly some frontline personnel who can do it all and switch back and forth, loving the variety in their day. But they are pretty rare. Forcing people to handle a mix of contacts that include some they are good at and others that are a struggle creates stress and potential turnover, not to mention loss of efficiency.
Finding the right set of work assignments for each individual in your operation is challenging, but it is well worth the time and effort. Where we once recruited and hired people for a specific job that was well defined, now we have both the opportunity and challenge of also finding the right contact type balance to maximize efficiency and frontline staff satisfaction and retention. Each center is likely to have some personnel who handle only one contact type, some who handle several, and a few who can do it all. Each is a valuable member of the team. Our job is to figure out how to find the right balance of customer expectations, efficiency, and employee satisfaction/retention.
Publish Date: June 20, 2016 5:00 AM
Getting customer service right every time – now that’s customer obsession for you. Striving for perfection, anticipating what the customer wants, giving them more than they expect, it’s a goal that most of us strive to achieve. Sometimes we get it right, but more often than not things go wrong. We simply can’t be perfect all the time, we are human after all. Considering this, is customer obsession something we should be implementing in our organization? Are there times when it can do more harm than good, regardless of it being a positive thing to aspire to?
Let’s first consider some of the positive impacts customer obsession can have on an organization:
One of the benefits of customer obsession is that it puts the customer at the core of the business. Every decision that is made, whether it’s a new marketing campaign or installing a new IT system is reviewed in terms of the customer. Is it something the customer wants? Will it make their life easier? Will it save them time and money? Without this view companies often implement systems and strategies aimed at improving their bottom line or streamlining internal systems, without thought as to how it will impact customers. A prime example of this is Scottish Power who were fined £18 million in April 2016 for their exceptionally poor service delivery. In 2013 they implemented a new IT system, but there were so many problems in the implementation that it generated more than a million customer complaints.
When a company has values worth aspiring to, it can pull people together. It becomes part of the company culture and helps to bring out the best in people resulting in a positive energy in the organization. With customer obsession as a core value it can inspire people to find ways to serve customers better, regardless of their role.
When customers feel valued and looked after they become loyal supporters and a company’s best marketing tool. Customers sell your brand for you because you are doing something different. This customer loyalty shows on the business bottom line and repeat customers help generate consistent growth in a business.
As much as there are positives to implementing a culture of customer obsession, there are times when the wheels fall off and this can be very damaging.
Digitization can offer many tools to improve customer service, but only if they work effectively and integrate properly. Without a good structure of systems and support customer service will be endlessly frustrated. The idea of customer obsession without organizational support is doomed.
I once had an experience of sitting in a boardroom before giving a training session. The manager was making introductions and giving a speech on how customer service evolves from every person in the organization being valued and respected, regardless of their role. “Even if they’ve done something wrong, you should still treat people with respect.” She said. Just then the door opened and in stepped a junior agent. Fuming at the interruption the manager laid into her. “How dare you be late! How disrespectful to your colleagues, what were you thinking just walking in while I was talking?” The poor agent just burst into tears and the rest of the room held a stunned silence. What a contrast to what the manager had been saying two minutes before. There was no respect in how she’d spoken to the agent and her reaction had been the complete opposite of what she was telling others to do.
Unless managers are authentic in their interactions with staff, they can’t expect them to buy into any talk of caring customer service. Before customers can be valued, staff need to be valued. Customer obsession starts with a caring culture within the organization, inspiring people to want to do more, and always do their best.
One of the cornerstones of getting customer service right is doing what you said you’d do, when you said you’d do it. This is something you can’t force and you can’t expect your staff to live those values if you don’t. It simply comes across as false. Customer obsession can only be achieved when everyone in the organization buys into it. True customer culture is engagement driven and it starts at the top.
There is an age old saying that “it takes a village to raise a child”. This highlights the importance of community, support and engagement. Customer service is no different. Obsess about giving your customers your best, but without the support of systems, staff, management and the rest of the service chain it won’t be sustainable and is very difficult to implement effectively by the contact centre alone.
Publish Date: May 31, 2016 5:00 AM
As workforce management calculates the number of staff required to support a contact center, they have to look at 4 critical factors. The first is the FTE required to do the actual work. In a perfect world, this would be your final number. However, that number has to be grossed up, significantly, to get to the total number of heads you actually have to employ to effectively run a contact center. The other factors that cause this number to balloon are: Lost time, Shrinkage, and Idle Time. In some contact centers, the FTE required for the actual work is only 50% of the employees being paid!
Lost time is the time that employees are being paid, but the time isn’t worked or tracked. An example of this is where employees log into a phone system, but are paid through a separate payroll system. Another example is time not worked during the shift (e.g. an employee logs out for 10 minutes and no exception is put into the system). Most companies report shrinkage based on exceptions into the workforce management system. When you see a schedule adherence number of 90%, did the employee work 100% of their schedule, but only 90% of it at the right time? Or did they only work 90% of their schedule? This gap needs to be recorded as part of lost time.
These gaps can be addressed in a few ways. First, tie together your workforce management system with your payroll system. If payroll is driven from actual work scheduled and worked, this gap becomes much smaller. Also, report on the % of schedule worked, not just schedule adherence. Often schedule adherence is seen as “big brother” and not addressed as it should. But when you paid time not worked, this is a direct impact on the financials and customer service.
Most contact centers track shrinkage, which is the time you pay agents to not be in direct production. Some examples of shrinkage are training, meeting, coaching, sick, and vacation time. The amount of time agents spend in shrinkage is generally between 25% - 35% of their work week.
Shrinkage is generally measured using exception codes from your workforce management system. Each reason for an agent to be off the phone is assigned a particular code. This coding allows the WFM and operations teams to do analysis on the reasons why people are off the phones. It’s a critical component to forecasting the ongoing FTE required as well.
Because most operations have dozens of exception codes, it’s best to categorize shrinkage into buckets to assess. When creating these buckets, you want to put together logical groupings to help manage. For example, many contact centers will have 3 large buckets: Discretionary, Non-discretionary and Value-draining. Let’s look at each of these:
Discretionary shrinkage represents time that employees are not in direct in production as a result of management or business practices. This can be investment or enrichment time (coaching, training), or offline work time (e.g. special projects, admin). The business needs to decide just how much time it can afford to have in this bucket. This time can be throttled up or down based on how the company is doing financially or based on how the service levels are performing. This is an important lever in managing the operations.
Non-discretionary shrinkage is time that management has little or no control over. Examples if this are Paid Time Off (usually this is a corporate policy), sick time, or any government regulations that require agents to be out of production. Non-discretionary is often a “cost of doing business”. This time needs to be planned for in the forecast in the baseline.
Value-draining shrinkage is time that has little or no value. This bucket contains pretty much anything not covered in the first two buckets. A great example of this is systems outage time – your computer or phone system isn’t working. Another example is “lost time”, which is time that isn’t tracked. This should be an area of focus for operations. It generally runs 2%-4% in a typical call center.
Idle time is available time where agents are on the phone, ready for calls, but not occupied. The metric used to measure this is Occupancy which is the inverse of Idle Time. If you have 80% occupancy in your contact center, it means you have a 20% Idle Time. Some of the key factors that drive down occupancy are: Service Level Targets (e.g. 80/20), Inflexible Workforce (employees can’t be moved as the demand changes), Schedule Constraint (inability to schedule the employees efficiently), and Ineffective Scheduling (not measuring an managing the workforce management’s effectiveness).
For all of these measures, it’s important to benchmark your performance as well as the industry and set targets to improve them. Even a factor that seems like a hard constraint such as service level should be looked at. Changes in service level can have a dramatic impact on cost, for better or worse. Take a look at how service levels correlate to customer satisfaction. You may find you’re over servicing.
The actual cost to staff a contact center is driven by several manageable factors. Each of these can be actively measured and managed. Ensure you are actively setting targets for each of these, and understand the downstream impact these have on other areas of the organization. All of these can be quantified so you understand the dollar value of a change versus any other impacts a change may have. You likely have several points of productivity, and therefore financial savings, just sitting there waiting for you!
Publish Date: May 10, 2016 5:00 AM
Whenever the concept of standard deviation is mentioned, I see a lot of eyes rolling. But the good news is that this useful calculation is really easy, especially when done in a spreadsheet program.
What is it and why would you want to use it? By definition it is a measure that is used to quantify the amount of variation or dispersion in a set of data values. Really? What does that mean? If you have a bunch of numbers that you want to analyze, it is one of the tools that will help you to understand how widely the data points spread from the top to the bottom and how tightly they cluster around the average. The distribution can be visualized on a graph that has the appearance of a bell. It looks a lot like the distribution that teachers use in school to give most of the students a C, a smaller number a B or D and very few an A or F.
The calculation provides a single number that identifies the distribution pattern in the following manner:
In a contact center, you would want to use this type of analysis to study a single population at a time such as one call type, one line of business, just new hire agents versus all combined, for example. Let’s say you have the AHT statistics for every agent in your center that takes a specific type of call. You can calculate the average handling time (AHT) and that tells you part of what you want to know, especially for workforce planning calculations. But it is also useful to know how wide the spread is. You could just look for the lowest number and the highest. But that won’t help you to determine whether the distribution of the AHTs is strongly clustered around the average or more evenly spread out from lowest to highest. That is where standard deviation comes into play. It is single number that provides a clear picture of that distribution.
Assume your AHT data provides an average of 359 seconds per call for all of the agents. The lowest number in the group is 213 seconds while the highest is 590 seconds. You see already that the spread is pretty wide. But what we don’t know yet is whether these high/low numbers are real outliers or whether a lot of your agents have AHTs that are very high or low. Calculating the standard deviation for this data set results in a number of 38. That means that 68% of our agents have AHTs that are only 38 seconds higher or lower than the average. In this case, that is 321 to 397. If we add another 38 seconds to these results to pick up 95% of the data points, we find that very few of our agents have AHTs shorter than 283 or higher than 435. So the 213 low and 590 high are real outliers and very few agents have results like this.
Further investigation for just these agents in the 5% on either end of the scale is needed. They may have a technical problem; more likely what is needed is 1:1 coaching to help them handle calls in the proper way.
But let’s look at another set of AHTs with an average of 359 seconds, with a low of 213 and a high of 590. This time when we calculate the standard deviation, it comes out to 70. Now we add 70 and subtract 70 from the average to find the bulk of our agents range from 289 to 429 (rather than 321-397). By expanding with another 70 seconds, we are now at a range of 219 to 499. This second band includes 27% of our staff, and that wide range suggests a more widespread problem.
Some overall training program in the center might be needed to encourage adoption of the standard approach to this type of call. This will likely have the effect of lowering the AHT overall - result!
Of course there are many reasons why these AHTs vary so much and further analysis may help to narrow down the potential causes. Perhaps looking only at the AHTs on individual days of the week or certain times of day will reveal some patterns to explore. It is common to see higher AHTs on evenings and weekends, for example. This could be caused by a higher percentage of new hires in unattractive shifts, fewer supervisors during these periods, fewer resources to handle complex referral calls. Or it could just be that the callers save their most time-consuming calls for when they are off work. It has even been reported in some centers that calls are shorter during the day because agents don’t want the boss to hear them on personal calls.
Now that we see how this kind of calculation might be useful, how is it done? The easiest way is with a spreadsheet tool. These are the steps:
If you really want to know how to do this manually with a calculator, you can search Excel help, Wikipedia or other sources for the details – I won’t bore you with them in this article.
Standard Deviation is a useful tool to apply to the plethora of data that we have in call centers. Averages alone never tell the whole story. It is quite helpful in analyzing forecasting accuracy, schedule efficiency and intraday effectiveness, which are the standard measures of workforce management team performance. For these metrics you will want to do your standard deviation calculation on the percentage of variance in your statistics rather than the specific count of differences (due to the changing workload). When used like this, it really doesn’t matter if it is a busy or slow time, the deviation pattern will emerge regardless. Using this single number, it is easier to track progress in managing these performance statistics.
Give it a try and you will likely find it is easy to do and a great help in managing your operation. And you will sound fabulous in meetings!
Publish Date: April 18, 2016 5:00 AM
It seems that nearly every contact center struggles to control absenteeism. No matter how accurate the planning is, when more people are missing than expected, the service suffers. Addressing this problem takes many forms and some solutions will work better in individual centers than others.
A good place to start is analyzing the nature of the absenteeism. For the purposes of this article, absenteeism is defined as loss of staff who were scheduled to be available for incoming contacts. For example, when a shift bid is prepared for the upcoming quarter or longer, the schedules are defined on a generic basis without knowledge of who will want vacation during that period, which agents will be ill, training class schedules, etc. To account for these anticipated losses before the specific details are known, the planning process uses a placeholder for them called “shrinkage”. This is generally a percentage of paid time that people will not be available to handle incoming calls and it is spread across the time periods in a pattern that reflects historical losses. That percentage ranges widely from as little as 20% to more than 60% depending on the type of work done in that center, the benefits package, the day of week, time of day, and other factors.
Once the schedules are assigned to individual agents, the details can begin to be inserted into these schedules to replace some of the shrinkage assumptions. A lot of vacations are determined well ahead of time and major training functions may be scheduled in advance. Established plans for team meetings and coaching sessions can be preplanned as well, once the agents and supervisors are matched up through the schedule assignment process. All of these are normal and expected losses.
However, there are many last minute losses that are not built into the schedules before the workweek begins. These include such things as sick time, tardy, short-term medical or family leave (FMLA in the US), unplanned off-phone time, and general lack of adherence to the details of the schedule. Even the case of “no call no show” falls in this category. These types of absences cause the team to scramble to cover the loss by reshuffling available personnel, asking for overtime, and routing calls differently (to another center in the network, or an outsourcer, for example). But there is only so much that can be done within the day, so often these absences cause higher occupancy for the remaining staff on the floor and longer waits for customers.
The next step to controlling absenteeism is to analyze the details. First, look at the “when” of absences by analyzing the distribution pattern of when the absences occur. Do they seem to cluster on certain days of the week, on the weekends, the overnight shifts, with specific call types, shifts starting at certain times of day, agents on certain supervisor teams, etc.? Each of these can be analyzed using a simple scatter diagram with the number absent on one axis and the cause you are considering on the other axis. One analysis that tends to show a correlation is looking at the impact of occupancy percentage on absenteeism (and ultimately on turnover). There seems to be “sweet spot” in occupancy. If there is not enough work to do, agents get bored, but if there is too much work and call after call, they feel overwhelmed. Both of these can cause higher absence rates.
The other analysis is the “why” or the reason for the absences. Look at sick time, disability, tardy, unplanned off-phone time, lack of adherence, and other causes such as jury duty or family problems. Perhaps a Pareto chart of these various causes can reveal some that seem to be bigger problems than others and worthy of more attention.
In one center I worked with, there was a spike of absences about every 3 weeks and most of it on Monday, this center’s busiest day of the week. Analysis revealed that the employees accrued paid time off at a rate that gave them a day about every 3-4 weeks depending on their tenure. There was a significant percentage of the call center agents who felt compelled to take their accrued day as soon as it was available and there was not a lot the call center could do to change that behavior. However, it was also the general practice of the Human Resources department to make the accrual available on Saturday of the week it was earned. That drove a lot of the Monday absences. By working with the HR team, the call center staff accruals were changed to Tuesday so that employees who wanted to take the day immediately were less likely to take in on the following Monday. The impact was the same rate of loss overall, but less of a spike on the busiest day of the week.
In another center, there were several agents who could not seem to return from their lunch break on time. These employees had been put on disciplinary action and some were even terminated for this reason. Further discussion with these agents revealed that they wanted to do other things at lunch outside of the center and the current lunch period schedule did not accommodate that. At the same time, the center was finding that it needed more people early and late and fewer in the mid-day period. This center defined some split shift options with a 2-hour break in the middle of the shift and the employees who wanted this shift were happy to take it. It solved the problem of tardiness for these individuals and helped smooth out the staffing plan for the center at the same time.
In a large multisite center, daily absenteeism was very high and a high percentage of it was unpaid time. The agents simply were willing to forgo some income to get more time off and there was no penalty for doing so. Rather than put a punitive process in place to address the problem, this center chose to implement a performance-based shift bid ranking. A major element of the performance criteria was based on attendance so that those who showed up more often got a higher rank and a better chance of getting their desired schedules. In just a couple of months, the absentee rate dropped. It seems that choice of schedule is a powerful motivator to encourage the desired behaviors.
The point is that there is no one answer to high levels of absenteeism. There are many causes and some are not obvious without analysis of the historical patterns. However, this will require that the center gathers the information on the absences in more detail than may have been used in the past. Every type of cause reported needs to be tracked separately. With good detail in the data, the analyses can help to reveal the patterns and causes so that meaningful action can be taken to address the situation. If your current data does not provide the detail you need, develop a plan to ensure it is available in the future. Look for the “when” to identify potential patterns and complete the suggested scatter diagrams to identify the cause and effect relationships. Armed with this level of detail, you can perform some “what if” analysis and cost/benefit scenarios to show to management and support any suggestions for improvements. Management is much more likely to be convinced of the scope of the problem and the value of the suggested changes when there are solid facts and data to back it up. This makes WFM a true partner in solving problems.
Publish Date: February 1, 2016 5:00 AM