The short answer to the question posed in the title of this blog is yes.
Perhaps there are still some regional businesses with a homogeneous customer base that can be effectively served in one language, but that type of company is clearly a vanishing breed.
Today, especially in this era of online retail, even smaller businesses may attract customers from anywhere in the U.S. or around the world. Obviously it would be impractical to have agents that speak every global language, but hiring bilingual agents should be a priority when possible.
This will be more essential in some industries than others. In these types of call centers it should be a priority:
Your order history will tell you where your customers live. If you only get one order a year from Germany it’s not necessary to have a German-speaking agent available. But if you receive a thousand orders from Mexico or China, you should have someone there to serve those customers.
Here you may not be dealing with clients from 20 different countries, but if your health care facility is located in a large city near various ethnic and immigrant populations, you’ll want to make it as easy as possible for them to make appointments, get answers to billing questions and order prescriptions.
This one is so obvious that we probably don’t need to include it. Companies focused on international tourism know how important it is to be able to provide information on hotels, sights, and other travel arrangements in the language of the caller.
Publish Date: January 19, 2017 5:00 AM
What makes workforce optimization such an effective call center solution is how all-encompassing it can be.
There are so many moving parts that must be harnessed to deliver a favorable customer experience, but according to several industry analysts there are three that emerge as the most significant – the actual work that needs to be done at the call center, the people charged with that responsibility, and the processes put in place to help them achieve the goals of the business.
Workforce optimization (WFO) helps with all three.
Calls are received. In multi-channel environments so are emails and webchat requests and social media posts. Orders have to be filled, returns have to be processed, questions have to be answered. With the workforce management capabilities of WFO, accurate forecasts and schedules are generated so there are always enough agents ready to handle customer demand.
They make be working in the call center or from home. They all go through the same training but gradually develop specific skills that should be leveraged. They have different needs and preferences when it comes to shifts and schedules. And unfortunately, too many of them leave too soon, necessitating another round of recruiting, hiring and training. With WFO calls and other communications can be automatically routed to the personnel best suited to handle them. It provides flexibility to scheduling, making it easier to accommodate agent requests. And it provides the data agents need to make the job easier – which might induce them to stick around longer.
What WFO provides here is visibility. No manager can be everywhere, particularly in a call center with 50 or more agents. Workforce optimization provides quality monitoring of customer interactions, and the ability to track and analyze how well processes are working through real-time alerts. It also provides more insight into every customer interaction through speech analytics.
Monet's workforce optimization solution is cloud-based and delivered as a service, making it easy, fast and affordable to get started without the usual risk of software implementations. Find out more
Publish Date: December 8, 2016 5:00 AM
Want to be a great baseball player? Study Kris Bryant’s swing.
Want to run a great call center? Study how the best ones are getting things done.
Maybe you don’t have time to travel the country visiting these successful businesses in person. That’s why we’ve collected some of their best advice and tips for better results. Hopefully they will work for you as well.
Start with this: Make things as easy on the customer as possible. Some customers may appreciate exceptionally friendly service, but for most the top priority is getting an answer, placing an order (or whatever prompted the call), and then moving on with their lives. So emphasize speed of answer, technology that rapidly delivers the customer’s information to the agent, and allowing agents to provide what is needed without putting someone on hold or transferring the call.
Are your communication channels fully integrated? That means knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each channel (ordering, conflict resolution etc.) and making sure well-trained and cross-trained agents are handling each interaction.
Next, make sure your agents are engaged. That starts with measuring attrition and absenteeism to weed out those that aren’t cutting it, and perhaps using speech analytics to track performance. But if you demand great performance from agents, you need to give them something in return besides a paycheck – flexible working hours, extra help when they need it, and a path to advancement for those seeking something better.
Is Net Promoter Score one of the KPIs you measure? It is at many top call centers. This gauges the likelihood of an average customer recommending or criticizing a business’s service. And it’s not enough to collect the data – you have to act on it.
Finally, don’t look for answers outside the business when they might be available from your own teams. Companies routinely hire outside consultants to tell them what their customers are thinking, what they want, which products should be introduced and which should be discontinued. Before paying someone else a fee to deliver this data, investigate whether your agents and managers already have this information, and put them in charge of putting it together.
By doing so, the company saves money while getting better answers, and offers an opportunity for agents to take on some executive-level business analysis, which may provide them with a path to career advancement.
Publish Date: December 6, 2016 5:00 AM
Call centers expect agents to be alert, engaged, up to date on company policy, and ready to give 110% every day.
That’s fair – but is your call center helping them to achieve such consistent performance?
Here are two areas where actions can be taken that will boost productivity, and make your business more efficient.
1. Information: Where they want it, when they need it
Technology and data drive successful call centers. Usually that refers to the KPIs measured to gauge customer service, but it also applies to the optimized knowledge base that makes it easier for agents to deliver great service by being able to quickly access each customer’s information.
Training materials should also be easily retrievable, so agents can review proper procedure on their own if a question arises. This encourages the healthy habit of self-monitoring of performance.
And since call centers are typically part of much larger organizations, agents and managers benefit from online collaboration platforms where documents can be shared, and everyone can be kept up to date on new projects. This also encourages consistency and cooperation between departments.
2. Stress relief
Breaks are necessary in the agent workday, but can and should consist of more than leaving one’s desk, stretching one’s legs, and perusing the leftover pastries in the break room. This is the time to de-stress. Since different agents achieve that goal in different ways, why not cater to both of them?
For those who prefer to burn off tension while burning off calories, a small workplace gym would be greatly appreciated. Those who prefer a quiet, peaceful respite would enjoy a relaxation room that might even offer sleeping quarters for a quick nap.
Bonus benefit: These steps will make your call center the type of place where agents feel valued, and that means they’ll stay with you longer.
Publish Date: November 29, 2016 5:00 AM
What do you look for most when you hire call center agents? Experience is obviously important, along with a clear speaking voice (and/or writing and spelling skills for communication channels like video chat). It’s also beneficial to have someone who takes guidance well, is punctual and gets along well in a team environment.
But there are some skills that are equally important but not always evaluated during the interview process. Pay attention for signs of them in your next recruitment drive:
An Even Temperament
It’s not easy being yelled at by strangers several times a day. Hopefully that is not a regular occurrence at your call center, but when hostile customers need to vent it’s important to have an agent who is cool under pressure. It might mean the difference between keeping and losing those customers.
Winning isn’t Everything – It’s the Only Thing
I know we live in an era where everyone gets a trophy for just showing up, but you want agents that don’t take such consolation prizes seriously. They want to be the best – especially if there are real rewards attached to that status. You don’t want to encourage cutthroat competition, but friendly rivalries between ambitious agents can be healthy.
Yes, the script is important, but you can hire anyone to read words off a computer screen. It’s what happens between and around those scripted directions that make the difference between good agents and great ones. Find someone who will listen – who can project empathy in a difficult situation, and who can get creative to solve a problem, even if it adds a few minutes to average handle time.
One more idea: When you find these outstanding agents, give them the technology they need to really succeed – such as Monet WFM Live. When you make it easier for them to do their jobs, they are likely to keep doing them longer.
Publish Date: November 22, 2016 5:00 AM
For all the beautiful photos you’ll see of leaves changing color in Vermont and harvest festivals and pumpkin pies, the fact remains that autumn can be a depressing time. The summer is over, the days are shorter, and in some parts of the country the temperatures are already dipping below freezing.
Coping with such changes can cast a pall over your call center, and affect agent performance – but only if you let it. Here are some ideas that can result in a more productive fall.
Daylight Savings Time
The one part of autumn that no one likes is setting the clocks back, which throws everyone’s internal clock off for a while, and offers one more hour of darkness at the end of the day. If the transition was rough on your agents this year, next year try to make it more gradual, by adjusting shifts incrementally – say, 15 minutes a day for the four days preceding the change. Lighting adjustments in the call center – especially those that mimic natural light – can help as well, and even prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Breaks are part of every call center shift, but can be more beneficial if agents are encouraged to spend at least part of that time outside. The crisp fall air is stimulating and will boost alertness for when they return to work, especially in the afternoon when attention to detail often begins to slip.
Emphasizing the fun parts of fall can make the season less depressing. Have a costume contest in the days leading up to Halloween. Offer free turkeys or pumpkin pies to agents who perform the best in November.
Autumn holiday decorations can make a call center more festive. Some new furniture, a fresh coat of paint and some plants (real ones, not the plastic variety) also contribute to a more pleasant work environment.
Plan Ahead for Cold and Flu Season
This tip benefits your agents and your customers as well. More of your employees will get sick this time of year. Recognize that it’s coming, give them the time off, and call upon your holiday file of backup and temporary agents to fill in before the Christmas season starts.
Publish Date: November 17, 2016 5:00 AM
There has in recent years been a significant push – some would say one that’s long overdue – toward cultural diversity in business. And call centers are no exception.
It’s a result that can occur naturally through a process of hiring the most qualified agents and management personnel for the job. But in geographic areas where the talent pool is more homogeneous, it can still be a goal worth pursuing.
Why? These are just some of the benefits:
People from the same place often tend to view challenges or opportunities in the same way. A diverse workforce almost always results in a wider range of ideas being generated, and new ways to look at old problems.
Different types of employees often bring different skill sets to the business, resulting in greater efficiency.
Better Customer Connections
With few exceptions your business will be (or is at least trying to be) appealing to customers of different ages, genders and races. There’s no telling which of these customers will want to reach out to your call center. With a diverse hiring policy you’ll be prepared for customers that speak different languages, or have different questions and concerns that will be recognizable to someone on your team. The more your call center looks like your customer base, the better than chances of optimizing the customer experience.
Studies have shown that diverse workplaces contribute to employee engagement and are happier places to work – and that’s certainly good news in an industry where employee turnover is traditionally among the highest.
Publish Date: November 10, 2016 5:00 AM
October means Halloween and Halloween means scary stuff.
As you probably know, call centers can generate as many frightening situations as a haunted house, and they aren’t nearly as much fun.
Do you begin to shiver at the very thought of customer service problems caused by adherence issues?
Monet Software has a free webinar for that. It’s called “Fighting the Adherence Monster.”
Like most monsters, this one can do a lot of damage, but it isn’t very smart. That’s why it is no match for the real-time adherence solutions available in Monet WFM Live. In this webinar, you’ll learn exactly how to use this solution to keep adherence issues at bay – it works even better than garlic does with vampires.
Question: How much would you estimate a 25-agent call center could save just by improving staff adherence by 2%, and reducing shrinkage by 15 minutes per agent per day?
The answer: more than $30,000. That’s a lot of candy corn.
Considering how much money lack of adherence can cost your business, anything that can be done to get a handle on this deterrent to efficiency should be worth a look – especially if it takes just 45 minutes. That’s our webinar.
Don’t miss this opportunity to find out how Monet Software can save you hours and hours of time lost to lapses in adherence. You’ll discover how WFM Live streamlines your scheduling goals and practices, and lets you keep a close, real-time watch on agent availability, holidays and breaks.
“Fighting the Adherence Monster” can be accessed at your convenience here.
Publish Date: October 31, 2016 5:00 AM
When agents talk about the different call center jobs they’ve had, they will always compare managers and managerial styles, and which one they prefer.
Which type of manager are you? Adopting a specific “style” is not necessary, and in fact most managers perform their duties in a way that is an extension of their personalities. But sometimes it can be helpful to consider whether a change in approach might be beneficial.
For instance, some call center teams respond better to a supportive manager that downplays the distinction between management and labor for a “we’re all in this together” philosophy. With a responsible team the results may be impressive – but there must be some oversight to make sure agents are not taking advantage of an informal managerial style.
At the other end of the spectrum is the taskmaster. He or she drives the team like a college football coach, with inspiring motivational speeches and continuous urging to go the extra mile for the company. Some agents will respond to this more aggressive approach, but others may fold under the pressure or be worried about falling short of expectations. Just remember that the best coaches always make time for their players, to help them be the best they can be.
Enthusiasm is another positive trait in a manager, as long as it is channeled the right way. It becomes a problem when every idea suggested in a meeting is implemented with expectations of success, and then quickly discarded when it doesn’t perform as planned right away. This leads to inconsistent performance and frustrated agents.
Change can be good; too much change too quickly often has the opposite effect.
Not sure if you need to change your style? Talk to your agents. Ask them if there is something they are not getting from you, whether that’s guidance or support or even criticism. The more you can match your approach to the temperament of your agents, the better the odds of a successful call center.
Publish Date: October 22, 2016 5:00 AM
Time, and how we use it, is one of the most important call center resources. We need agents to show up on time. We need calls to be completed quickly while still maintaining great service. Managers have to create forecasts and schedules, while still leaving time for other important tasks.
Workforce management software can help with all of this. But it won’t help agents who either don’t own a watch or don’t pay attention to it. The efficiency of your call center demands team members that are organized, and possess reliable time management skills.
Coaches can help where needed. They can encourage agents to set goals for how many calls they should complete in on day, and reinforce the importance of start times, end times and break times. Monitor progress and reward those that are able to change their habits.
At first the coach or trainer may have to set up a goal schedule for these agents. But ideally this is a habit they should begin to pick up themselves. Suggest that it become customary to take 10 or 15 minutes at the end of a shift to review performance for that day, and to plan a schedule for tomorrow (or the next active day). The more they can plan ahead, the easier it will be to adhere to the schedule.
Publish Date: October 11, 2016 5:00 AM
The call center business would be a lot more agreeable, if it weren’t for all those customers and their problems.
No matter how well a company is run, some complaints are inevitable. The challenge is not just keeping them to a minimum, but handling them in a way that salvages a customer relationship that, at that point, could go either way.
Complaints, like any other type of call, also deliver raw data on what the company is doing right and what could be better. Paying attention to that feedback and making adjustments accordingly is one of the most important contributions a call center can deliver.
Here are a few ideas that can make one of the most unpleasant parts of your job less difficult – and perhaps even beneficial.
On the Front Line
Whether a complaint is registered via telephone, online chat or social media, your agents will be the first to hear it, and their responses are the ones that matter. How much authority do your agents have to handle these issues?
Customers with a product issue may call requesting a refund. Can your agents provide it, along with the requisite apology? If so, that customer may not be lost for good. But if that customer has to be put on hold and transferred, or is required to fill out a form that goes through a formal complaint procedure, he or she is probably done with your company.
Also keep in mind that with that latter, more complicated procedure, all of the time invested by multiple employees means that complaint was more costly to the call center. With smaller purchases in particular, cut your losses quickly by letting the agent take care of it.
That objective ties into the always-important challenge of First Call Resolution (FCR). When agents feel they have been given enough autonomy to provide customer satisfaction, they can usually achieve a better result all the way around.
However, some agents simply don’t want the responsibility. “Hold, please” becomes a standard response even in situations that should be resolved without that referral.
With an workforce management solution, it becomes much easier to target agents on such metrics as FCR, and to monitor unnecessary referrals.
Here’s another unpleasant thought: sometimes it is the agent that inspires the complaint in the first place: “too rude,” “too abrupt,” “left me on hold for ten minutes,” “promised me something that was not delivered,” etc. With the data collected and reports generated by WFM and more specifically Quality Monitoring, managers will also gain insight into which agents are generating the most complaints, and require additional training – or a lesson in manners.
Hopefully such instances are minimal. If you used good judgment in the hiring and training process, your agents are your greatest assets for customer retention. Are you using them that way? That means listening when they tell you about recurring situations that are generating a negative response.
Perhaps a limited-time offer is worded in a way that is confusing to some customers. Agents will not only be the first to know, they may in listening to callers be able to provide a solution to the problem. Make sure their feedback is getting to the management team.
Communication is Key
The answer to almost every call center challenge is better communication – between agent and customer, agent and manager, manager and other department personnel.
A customer-centric approach starts at the top and filters down to the front line. Hitting performance targets and monitoring metrics should enhance this approach, and not dilute it by making average handle time more important than a satisfied customer.
Schedule regular meetings, company wide if possible, to review complaints. And when it’s time to present them, a personalized approach may induce a better response. For instance, a manager could report, “We’ve seen a 10% increase in customers upset about our new teddy bear not arriving on time.” Or, he could say “We had a call from Barbara in Texas who ordered the teddy bear in time for her little girl’s birthday, but it still arrived two days late.” That paints a more vivid picture of the problem than a dry statistic.
How are complaints logged at your call center? An internal audit can be beneficial, as sometimes general inquiries or a customer closing an account may be classified as a complaint. Not only does this falsely inflate the volume of incoming complaints, it clutters the system in a way that may prevent genuine service issues from being resolved faster.
One more objective that helps with complaint handling is consistency. That starts again with agents. Are the new hires handling customer problems with the same skill as those who have been there for years? Monitor them more closely to make sure they are on the same page.
A monthly review involving agents, managers, coaches and trainers can help with keeping track of complaints, detecting trends, and making sure appropriate responses are going out. The longer an issue is undetected, the more complaints it is going to generate.
Consistency across channels is equally imperative. If a social media message is not answered, that customer may resort to calling – now you have two complaints from one customer, which doesn’t look good on the balance sheet.
One More Tip – Though It Probably Sounds Strange
Here is one last piece of advice that may seem counterproductive at first – make it as easy as possible for your customers to provide negative feedback.
There’s no use trying to avoid complaints so you won’t have to deal with them. And yet some websites still try to bury the ‘contact us’ link where it won’t be easily noticed. There are just too many channels available now to try to duck angry consumers. By encouraging feedback, you remove one more frustrating obstacle from the customer’s path, and avoid multiple contacts from the same source.
Ultimately, complaints deliver content that can make your company better. Handling them efficiently is the most effective way to reduce them.
Publish Date: October 6, 2016 5:00 AM
Every so often the media will pick up on a story of something unique that happened at a call center. Many of these feel-good tales feature a call center agent who decided to do something special for a customer.
We came across this one that is worth sharing: an agent at Capital One received a call from a woman whose credit card was shut down due to “suspicious activity.” This was triggered by her attempt to purchase furniture and have it shipped to an address that was not the one the credit card company had listed for her.
Customers who get their cards shut down are usually in a shouting mood, but this woman had recently separated from her fiancé and was in the process of moving to a new place – hence the different address. She seemed more sad than angry, and when the agent found out what was happening in her life, she gave the woman 4,500 free airline miles to help her feel better.
And that’s not all – the agent then sent flowers to the customer, with a note saying “Please know that you are in my thoughts and I hope these can brighten your day.”
Why is this important?
Two reasons: First, the story went viral. The customer related the experience on a Facebook post, and the agent was heralded as a hero on dozens of websites and message boards, all of which mentioned that she worked for Capital One.
Capital One is a company that spends a lot of money on advertising (you’ve doubtless seen the TV commercials with Samuel L. Jackson). What did all this great positive publicity cost them? The 4,500 airline miles are really only worth about $45, plus whatever the going rate is on a nice flower arrangement. That’s a pretty solid return on investment.
Second, it raises the question of whether your agents believe they have the freedom to offer a similar gesture of kindness to one of your customers. Would they be appreciated or criticized for doing something that is not company policy?
These stories make the news because they don’t happen every day, and they shouldn’t – but when the circumstances are right, encourage your agents to go above and beyond.
Publish Date: October 4, 2016 5:00 AM
For several years, as the Internet and social media emerged as new communication methods, there were several call center industry stories speculating on whether live agents would soon be an endangered species.
The prospect now seems less likely than it once did, as there is still a need and often a preference for customers to actually speak with another person to resolve their issues.
But there is no question that agents are a more costly and complex service option than automated online responses or social media interaction. Two hundred agents? That’s a big investment. 500? Those call centers moved offshore to save money – and paid a different kind of price.
Industry estimates vary on how many customer interactions can and should be handled without live assistance. But it’s at least 40% on the low end – some have it as high as 90%.
The technology is in place now to make it happen – not just on the company end but from the customer side as well. Today almost all of us carry smartphones that plug us into a portable digital ecosystem. We now expect 24/7access to order information, return policies, special offers, store hour listings and other subjects that used to require a phone call.
Now is the time to encourage your customers to explore the other options available. Self-service has reached the point where it can be just as quick and responsive (in many cases faster), so you’re not risking a customer relationship by doing so.
The numbers show that about 30% of U.S. consumers have tried voice self-service to get things done. That number can and should go higher, with your help.
Let them know that for the most complex situations, or when there is a real need to speak with an agent, you’ll be ready. But if behavior can be changed to the point where these are the only types of calls received, you’ll be able to get by with less staff, and lower costs.
Publish Date: September 30, 2016 5:00 AM
Do you really need speech analytics at your call center? That depends:
Would faster recognition of caller intent improve service?
Do you want to know what is having the most significant impact on your customer relationships?
Do you want to boost the operational efficiency of your call center?
If the answers are yes (and of course they should be!) then speech analytics is right for you.
There is one more benefit that deserves special mention – savings. With speech analytics your agents can reduce the number of calls and repeat calls, as well as the length of the calls they receive. Along the way you’ll also identify processes that aren’t cutting it anymore, and find ways to make them more efficient.
Is there a catch? Just one – to make the most of speech analytics, it should be deployed within a workforce management solution that can analyze and disseminate call center data and deliver analytics insights into the KPIs that matter most:
• First-call resolution: By analyzing past customer interactions, patterns will emerge that will indicate to agents why this call is happening, perhaps even before the customer provides an explanation.
• Average handle time: when speech analytics identifies and removes recurrent issues, handle time drops.
But wait, there’s more!
Yes, this is starting to sound like a late-night infomercial. But speech analytics really can play an important role in so many everyday call center functions.
It can be integrated into your coaching to improve quality monitoring and agent performance.
Introducing a new product or marketing campaign? Speech analytics can also pick up key words and phrases that reveal how well it’s going over with customers, and whether some course adjustment would help.
Questions? Contact us – we look forward to letting you know about Monet’s speech analytics tool, and what it can do for you.
Publish Date: September 29, 2016 5:00 AM
Imagine going out to lunch with a friend. You tell him that your doctor said you need to have surgery, and your friend replies, “Oh well, that’s life – are you going to finish those fries?”
This is one of those situations when a person expects some expression of concern or sympathy. Another is when a customer has a problem and contacts a call center. The best agents are those that recognize when a customer is angry or disappointed, and respond accordingly.
It’s not difficult, it doesn’t add a lot of time to each call, and it doesn’t require changing company policy – all it takes is a few kind words – “I’m sorry this happened, I understand how frustrating this must be. But you’ve come to the right place – let me see what I can do for you.”
And it helps if they sound like they mean it, and are not just reading those words off a script.
Caring is the first essential trait of a successful call center agent; confidence is also important. It’s a quality that some possess naturally, but for those that don’t it can be taught – at least within the confines of the call center job.
A trainer may not be able to instill enough self-assurance in an agent to ask someone for a date, but for customer calls confidence emanates from knowledge about the company and its products or services.
It is particularly critical in outbound call centers, at a time when telemarketing-weary customers are likely to be less receptive to a marketing message. The successful agent is one who can break through those barriers, by explaining that this call is not an annoyance but an opportunity. When you speak to someone who really believes in the cause he supports, you are likely to be more receptive to what they have to say.
Caring and confidence – look for both of them when it’s time to hire new agents. As a bonus you’ll not just gain a quality employee that will boost your customer service, you may hire someone who can have a positive impact on your other agents as well. When these traits are encouraged, they can be contagious.
Publish Date: September 27, 2016 5:00 AM