Teleopti - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
According to Annika Edberg at Teleopti, voice is no longer the endangered species many would have us believe. It all comes down to adaptability and flexible workforce management (WFM).
Voice may no longer be at the top of everyone’s technology wish list but the old beast still has plenty of life left. Just listen to the experts: research indicates that inbound telephone calls to live agents today account for 65.3% of all contacts with 53% of professionals claiming that this type of interaction is likely to increase greatly, slightly or simply stay the same in the foreseeable future. In today’s multi-channel contact centers, the continued existence of voice as a popular communications method puts added pressure on managers seeking to create a seamless, blended call experience for customers by ensuring the appropriately skilled agents are available to deal with telephone, email, chat, sms and social media at the right time.
The other part of the conundrum is that when combined, both inbound and outbound voice calls in contact centers are on the decline and have statistically been that way for some years now. But does it really matter? Well, it definitely matters if the status of voice affects the way that contact centers are run, evolve and even survive. Understanding how to replace voice channels and maximise schedules to maintain service levels is essential to the longer-term well-being of customer service, contact centers and the agents who work in them. Contact center leaders who choose to bury their heads in the sand or just accept that voice will eventually go away risk losing experienced staff as well as customers and revenues. Here we look at the major trends affecting voice in the contact center industry, what managers need to do to stay ahead of the game and how the latest Workforce Management (WFM) solutions can help.
Facing the future: a survival guide
1. Customer expectations are growing
This is something most of us have probably suspected but 80.3% of the 380 contact center professionals who responded to Call Centre Helper’s latest survey believe this to be the case. Advances in mobile technology and the Internet of Things have created an always-on culture that has radically changed the way that people consume information along with the goods and services they buy. They expect instant access to an organization’s shop window 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Technology is a great enabler and contact centers need to keep up with this trend and use WFM creatively.
2. Accept that new technology is here and make it work for you
Rather than seeing new technology as a threat to the status quo or another thing to worry about, contact center leaders should view their operations as a strategic part of the corporate digital eco-system where new technologies have the power to transform customer service. Email, web chat, social media and SMS are all on the rise.
However, first of all step back and consider if it is absolutely necessary to offer all channels because if you do, the quality has to be consistently high and meet expected service levels. Next, whatever channels you decide to offer, be sure to blend them successfully with traditional voice to create a true multi-channel contact center environment that gives customers greater choice of how they can communicate and delivers a faster, highly personalized customer experience. Likewise WFM should be blended enabling resources to be switched between channels while ensuring the most qualified agents respond to enquiries when and where required
3. Consider Artificial Intelligence (AI) to overcome staff shortages
According to Call Centre Helper, staff shortages represent a real barrier to providing great customer service, a situation that has risen steadily to 30% since 2015. In its report, ContactBabel reveals the alarming reality of agent skills today. In medium or large contact centers, 60% of agents handle voice only and 5-10% handle text only (email, web chat and social media). Perhaps it’s time to turn to the various forms of AI – virtual or digital assistants and chatbots or bots – to manage the gap between agent abilities/time and the customer experience? Start by making bots the first port of call for customers and remember to take them into account for WFM purposes.
Virtual assistants, for example, can begin by directing customers to the correct part of the website or accessing the correct part of the knowledge base. If they cannot answer a request, they may then seamlessly route the customer to a live web chat agent.
4. Chatbots – next stage in Internet revolution
Chatbots are computer programs that mimic conversations with people using AI and are fast transforming the way people interact. They are revolutionizing the mundane tasks in our daily lives, rather like having your own virtual butler. They can order lunch or a taxi, set up meetings, shop and book flights. Other more complex industries, such as insurance, are experimenting with conversational personal assistants to automate claims management.
5. When only the human touch will do
Despite all this, don’t force digital channels if your customers don’t want them. Why alienate certain demographics like the less technology-confident older generation when the spending power of the silver pound is legendary? Certain organizations, with a higher than average mix of emotional or complex enquiries (for example local housing authorities, chronic illness or emotional health charities) are more likely to consider retaining voice to accommodate their customers’ specific needs and conduct sensitive conversations. Voice will always play a part in crisis management situations such as emergency services. Maintaining service levels depends on having agents available at the right time, therefore to ensure survival when only a human will do, WFM will need to take priority
6. Look at the agent journey
Customer journey mapping is a hot topic but if a customer has a life cycle, what is the lifecycle of the agent? Enriching the agent journey will make them happier and more productive. Look at each stage – recruitment, training, working, personal development, potential attrition – to identify the delights and the pain points and then find the solutions and technology necessary to support them. Building agent friendly schedules and providing advisors with the right tools to handle customers, based on their own judgement, improves customer loyalty and delivers the quality of service that all customers deserve and expect.
Adaptability and flexible WFM is the name of the game and will ensure the survival of voice for many years to come. Act now to face facts, address the challenges ahead and take positive steps to support the evolution of voice. Make the most of this trusted channel and robust WFM to create high-performing agent teams and maintain exceptional levels of customer service now and into the future.
Publish Date: February 16, 2018 5:00 AM
According to Jeremy Hamill-Keays, old habits are hard to break and the use of technology is no different. Here, he recommends 5 approaches to contact center management that can be consigned to history.
Innovation is everywhere and it can seem as if we’re constantly encouraged to take on more and more technology to lower costs, improve customer satisfaction and increase market share; the list is endless. However, has anyone actually stopped, looked around and considered if and how this new technology can replace what is already there? It’s a bit like buying new furniture or the latest fashions without getting rid of the old. Sooner or later, you just end up with clutter rather than a fresh start. The same applies to running a contact center. Instead of making your operation more productive, maybe too much old technology is weighing it down and preventing your organization from reaching its full potential.
It’s the start of a new year so what better time to de-clutter and throw out the old? Here we explore five practices that are worth assigning to history:
1. Who needs ACDs?
ACDs, the traditional foundation of the contact center, are still a useful tool but they need to adapt to modern environments and customer needs. Voice-only ACDs may soon become a thing of the past, being replaced by fully-integrated enquiry distribution including multiple media channels. As alternative channels such as Web chat and social media become more commonplace, multi-media ACDs will provide a more integrated experience for agents and an improved omnichannel service for customers. Greater integration allows for easier reporting and comparisons – always a bonus.
Similarly, combining a multi-media ACD with other cloud-based applications, such as WFM software, allows for easily accessible data in real time 24/7, the ability to scale up and down user numbers instantly and add new features automatically all result in more time to spend on delivering an outstanding customer experience. What is more, a pay-as-you-go cloud business model means you pay only for what you use.
2. Time to ditch fixed-pattern spreadsheets and embrace responsive automation
There’s no doubt about it, people like spreadsheets because of the comfort factor. They give everyone their own version of the truth, with complete authority to update and amend their spreadsheets when they like, without interference from anyone else. The downside to spreadsheets is they bear no relevance to what is happening outside a user’s immediate department and being manual, are often out of date and inaccurate.
The very nature of spreadsheets tends to make them inflexible and personal to their creator. This can leave a contact center high and dry when that individual moves on. Any manual workings and knowledge walks out with the creator, often making changes such as adding a new skill, difficult and time consuming for those remaining.
Automated planning is definitely the way forward with the latest WFM solutions enabling clear visibility of agent activities, increased efficiencies and the ability to capture and manage big data.
Take the example of Rentalcars.com, the world’s biggest online car rental service. It produces effective, flexible work schedules for over 800 people and manages seasonal peaks and troughs from one single, automated solution. FEXCO, Ireland’s most successful multinational financial and business solutions provider with operations in 29 countries turned to automation to improve agent scheduling and adherence for 460 contact center staff and introduce smarter, consistent ways of working.
3. A whole new world of learning - say goodbye to irrelevant training sessions
The days of traditional classroom learning where the whole team sat conference-style listening to the trainer will soon be a thing of the past. Thanks to Intraday monitoring capabilities, often embedded in today’s WFM technology, contact center leaders can see how the day ahead looks and when time will be available for training. Understanding agent competences and utilization allows targeted training to address specific skills gaps either in individuals or workgroups.
WFM technology with intraday monitoring identifies periods in the day when staff can be safely withdrawn from the front line to receive either face-to-face training or undertake e-learning without risking service levels. People should be enabled to learn in a way that suits them best, for example some people prefer video learning while others respond better to text instruction. Contact center leaders can continue to train by sending novel “knowledge nudges” for quick updates and tips. Whatever the method of tuition, better skills means happier staff as well as better resolution rates and sales conversations.
4. Tear down paper-based, fixed schedules from notice boards
Today’s workforce (especially millennials) want schedules to be constantly available i.e. just a phone swipe or search away. Whether on a bus or at home, contact center professionals want to stay updated; especially as schedules are continually changing. Paper rotas pinned on a board quickly becomes outdated leaving people misinformed. A mobile application also helps raise adherence and time-keeping, how can an agent be on time for an 8am start if they didn’t know it had been switched from 9.30am? Looking forward, native, push notifications from self-service mobile apps will drive this awareness and ease the connection between work life balance and customer satisfaction
5. Supervision is out, coaching is in
To understand why supervision will become an old habit it is important to realize the difference between supervision and coaching. Supervision tends to be about telling and directing people for a specific outcome i.e. when to go on a break to maintain service levels. It usually produces the best results with new recruits or when demand goes crazy. However, coaching works best with experienced agents who are already performing to a pretty high level. All management is about providing people with the environment and skills to excel, now is the time to work with contact center professionals rather oversee them by building valuable, engaging relationships.
It’s time to clear out the old and focus on the new. Take a closer look at your own contact center technology and processes. What can you throw away? Is your faith in hardware, spreadsheets and traditional learning methods weighing you down? Is clinging to what worked in the past holding you back from realizing your organization’s full potential? Look again to discover whether it’s time to embrace the cloud, responsive automation, a new world of learning, self-service applications and updated coaching to improve agent skills, increase productivity and save money in 2018.
Publish Date: February 2, 2018 5:00 AM
Think of workforce management (WFM) as a cockpit with instruments, indicating how your flight or – in this context – “business” is going. Without WFM, you’re practically flying in the dark - if not blindly so! Where are you headed exactly? What’s going on? What should you do? What decisions should be made? Tremendous development and evolution, both in cockpits and WFM, have taken place in the past decades. Are you keeping up?
The term “WFM” is hardly new and dates back thirty years or more. Twenty years ago, the general talk was about inbound and outbound centers. At the turn of the century, the buzz turned to increasing efficiency, and the multi-skill environment arose in response.
At the beginning of this decade, the talk turned to multi-channels. Not only were there ten different kinds of phone calls but also different channels – e.g. e-mail and chat. Voilà the rise of the multi-channel contact-center and agent. Today, it is not unusual for agents to have 20 skill areas in their profiles in conjunction with different types of interactions.
Two to three years ago, we got into the world of omni-channel. What does this mean? Let’s say you go into the website of your bank and browse. You then click the “chat” button. With omni-channel in place, what you were browsing need not be repeated: it’s already been recorded. This saves precious time, both for customers and the customer-servicing outfit.
If the chat person is unable to answer your query, you’re transferred to the appropriate agent and a live call. Again, thanks to “omni,” the history of your web browsing and the chat now goes to the live call – without your having to repeat everything all over again. “Omni” gets rid of all the annoying repetition, thus improving the overall customer experience.
When discussing replacing or upgrading your WFM, multi-channels, multi-skills and omni-channels should absolutely be part of that discussion. Whatever system is being utilized for planning, forecasting or scheduling, these areas should become part of the equation, if they aren’t already – and, in my opinion, they should be done on the double. The WFM of today can no longer afford to think about just planning, forecasting and scheduling alone.
It is 2018 and the buzz in the contact-center industry is about market drivers in digital advancement. This applies to business intelligence (BI), artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots and wearable devices.
Let’s talk about BI. Your WFM is connected to your automatic call distributor (ACD) but could and should also be connected to multiple platforms - for example, to the Salesforce platform that then sends and receives information. This achieves and increases invaluable BI!
Utilize your WFM as a central system, like an octopus with many arms, connecting it to multiple platforms. And why not connect it to HR and payroll, automatically pushing data about agent behavior? Without this, someone has to collect this contact-center data and send it manually in a report.
What will this bring the contact center? Even better BI. For example, of the twenty agents on the job, who is most likely to break adherence within the next twenty minutes? AI will give you the answer. Boom. Mary Jane.
Providing BI to supervisors is already happening via the intra-day management feature of modern-day WFM: the system constantly analyzes campaigns and market behavior, makes assumptions, etc. This, and more, will become even more accurate and swifter in the near future. AI then takes it from there and based on this information, can make better, swifter decisions that will end up making your business run more optimally.
In today’s day and age, there never seems to be enough time – there’s always a million things to do. Sounds familiar? Robots to the rescue, sending warning flags! Many organizations are adopting the chatbot approach and automating customer care. But please don’t confuse these with interactive voice response (IVR) systems, saying: “Thank you for calling. Please dial….”
The chatbot platform analyzes your voice and message, and then responds accordingly. Isn’t it spooky that sometimes you can’t distinguish a robot’s voice from a real one! Think Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, in the 2013 blockbuster film, HER, where Scarlett Johansson plays the role of Samantha, an artifically intelligent, personified voice of a computer operating system – so empathetic and growing all the time…in fact, growing far beyond her britches!
Finally, we come to wearable and remote smart devices - a favorite! I’m talking about them setting the right temperature on your side of the bed or measuring your sleep IQ; opening the front door when the bell rings, even if 3,000 miles away; the sprinkler system watering the lawn only when necessary, popping your dog a treat when s/he behaves at home but you’re at work; Ralph Lauren taking your measurements through a shirt and sending it digitally. This is all happening here and now!
Imagine supervisors wearing Google glasses – even prescription-filled ones – receiving reports, red flags and warnings, right in front of them! It’s up-to-the-minute intelligence in an instant. Imagine agents stating shift preferences, getting time-off approvals and swapping shifts - right from their wearable devices. It’s cool and it’s where we’re headed.
Anyone thinking of investing in a WFM solution must think of its future and how it will play with the onslaught of these digital advances. To be up to speed, start thinking about how to blend your multi-channel capabilities with these digital advances. Doing so - i.e. accommodating your multi-channels - will bring you even greater efficiency of scale.
Publish Date: January 19, 2018 5:00 AM
To provide excellent customer-service experiences, agents have to be properly empowered so they’re motivated to give that little extra and go beyond just the call of duty. It has been proven time and time again that that properly empowered agents are the main catalyst for transforming organizations.
At a recent user forum, Teleopti led a panel discussion about employee empowerment and engagement practices. As a source of inspiration, I would like to share some of the practices that panelists shared they are currently employing. In response to asking what various call-center organizations are doing, here are some of their key practices:
Feedback and skills development encourages improvement
One organization developed programs where some of their top-performing call-center agents were trained in leadership skills to manage certain processes. They were then assigned to head certain tasks as well as oversee “super bees” that were assigned to work on those tasks. “Being empowered by developing those leadership qualities, it all came full circle for them, and it paid off for everyone,” said the panel member.
Another panelist shared that agents felt they were not being heard nor listened to: “We wanted to show them that what they had to say mattered to management. We’re situated all over the globe so we provided them with feedback portals. Teams, even while working with customers, could express directly and instantly what was not working. The feedback, once summarized, became the basis of what to work on. Agents choose to have their voice heard and we choose to make improvements, based on that feedback.”
The contact center of another company had a similar experience. So, brainstorming sessions were set up on a regular basis and it was seen to it that their suggestions and ideas would reach the right people – with some being acted upon. This panelist also confessed being obsessed with the employee life cycle- in a positive way, it turned out. “Mapping it out and providing agents with the lifecycle, broken up in three-month periods, made it easier for them to adjust to and get over the bumps more easily by anticipating the lows and highs ahead.”
Mobile WFM gives flexibility and agent satisfaction
The enablement of Chromebook for business continuity was what another organization implemented: “We don’t have a work-at-home program but when, for example there was a big snowstorm on the way, we let our employees know that they were not expected to come in, and that they could work from home. This made them feel that we really care about them. This is a big winner for all of us. We also allowed, for the first time, a top performer to move from Nebraska to Florida and work from home. We tried it out and her performance has been outstanding.”
A banking operation had not intended on implementing the mobile capabilities of Teleopti WFM (Teleopti MyTime)* for their agents: “However, agents caught wind of it somehow. Since it was so easy and intuitive to use, they caught on quickly and wanted this to be made available to them as well – right at their fingertips. So, we did and they’re loving it! We’ve also given agents more and better digital tools, as well as virtual training – bringing in consultants on how to lead a team virtually – on how to make best use of those digital tools, such as multi-screens.”
Another panelist voiced their agreement. “Half of our workforce now has Teleopti MyTime. They love being able to do swaps, sign up for extra time and what they especially love is getting approved time off quickly! We’re still working out some security issues and the other half, now knowing it exists, is very impatient to get it!”
One contact-center employing mostly students, were struggling with high attrition. Once Teleopti MyTime was implemented – so students could list their schedule availability and preferences, and make schedule swaps with instant confirmation – attrition declined dramatically. Everyone was happy. Students were able to work and go to school. The organization was able to make best use of the workforce – when they needed it; not when they thought they needed it the most.”
Yet another organization agreed that the automation of asking for time off has saved them hundreds of e-mails going back and forth for just this request alone and that their agents were all the happier for it – also that the process no longer took so long.
Interestingly enough, two panel members recalled that their call-center agents were initially not at all interested in doing shift trading digitally via their smart phones. One panelist elaborated: “But once they understood they were owners of the process themselves, and after incremental training - with three, instead of just one touchpoints - their attitude changed radically, but it does take time to get used to a major change in process.”
Another organization had a similar experience: “Once our agents started with it and got the hang of it, they loved it.” The contributing panelist also mentioned that automated WFM has streamlined their PTO (Paid Time Off) processes. “Thanks to auto-approval, problems here have diminished greatly, as it has the pressure placed on both managers and agents.”
Statistics for the good of the agent
Automated WFM allows agents to pull their own statistical report prior to an annual development talk. One panelist said: “It makes them feel empowered, seeing their successes and failures, and their strengths and weaknesses spelled out in front of them, and then knowing what they’re going to discuss in advance. What I found amazing is that they’re often tougher on themselves. It’s actually kind of a nice turn of events.”
Yet another panel member shared that he posts agents statistics on the wall – schedule adherence, handle time, and the like: “Agents were talking to one another and comparing their ranking. After three months of this, they were coming up to me, asking when the next batch of statistics was due to be posted! It has resulted in healthy competition and performance improvement.”
Along the same lines, another panel member said: “In our organization, agents have performance-metrics visibility and it has brought about major improvements in adherence. We encourage them to keep checking the numbers during the day and they love it. They can evaluate themselves, and they know what the one-on-one performance conversation will look like beforehand, which is hugely reassuring to them.”
Incentives for both customers and employees
Another organization encourages its agents to be truly transactional with customers and engage in small talk: “If a hardship comes up, agents can send a gift card or pick out flowers and send them. You won’t believe how successful our ‘Surprise and Delight program” is – from both the perspective of agents and customers! We got so many call backs from customers, thanking us and wanting to know where that particular agent was so they could express their gratitude personally!”
Another panelist cited the piloting of a “Be Well” program: “Agents could take off a certain number of hours in order to feel well.” That could take the form of going to the gym, going for a massage or pedicure - even meeting a financial advisor. It worked so well that we’ve now implemented it across the board.”
A similar measure was taken at a company where tenured employees were allowed to take breaks when they wanted: “This was empowering and gave them a sense of having control over their schedule.”
Yet another company built a hub spot in the office: a literal forum for sharing and collaborating. Even the supervisors sat there. The manager sharing, said: “Agents decorated it and felt they owned the spot. It’s not 1984. I don’t want to be looming over them. We actually went beyond just the company culture and worked on team culture; how to interact among each other and help each other out.”
When I asked what hadn’t worked, one members piped up that at one point, self-service had gone too far: “We tracked things that didn’t need to be tracked. We kept adding and adding, and we didn’t stop to pause and evaluate if we were doing the right things. So, some measures had to be reined in.”
Two other members related that supervisors, accustomed to ‘block scheduling’ where everyone comes in at the same time – including they, themselves – were really struggling with the newness of flexible scheduling, and that it was taking much longer than expected. “They’re creatures of habits, so at the end of the day, we may need to hire different kinds of managers,” explained one of them.
Another panelist shared that the creation of a specialization program for just answering web inquiries became seen as elitist. “Everyone wanted to work on the web team. We had to dial it back.”
Finally, a male panelist shared that he had pushed an extremely talented agent way too much and too quickly on the fast track. “She got burned out and we had to reel it back and take remedial action. Luckily, it all worked out.”
To summarize, lesson taken away from this panel discussion: Don’t treat employees like robots or children, but like humans, capable of much more when given the chance. The work, per se, is not that stimulating so they need stimulation and motivation to grow or advance in some capacity.
Give them your trust and some freedom. Let them have a say about their schedules and provide them with a forum where their ideas are heard and acted upon. Such measure will make them feel that they matter, and they do! Remember, they are the frontline of your organization. Poor experiences get bad-mouthed multiple times. By the same token, customer loyalty is maintained through providing great customer-service experiences.
* Teleopti WFM brings to the table a contact-center solution that empowers agents from a technology perspective, allowing them to enter scheduling preferences, time off, swap shifts, etc. via their smart devices. Teleopti WFM also provides gamification, boosting performance through natural, healthy competition. It also provides agent performance metrics.
Publish Date: January 5, 2018 5:00 AM
Teleopti’s Product Manager Jeremy Hamill-Keays explores the brave new world of digitalization and takes a look at three innovations worth watching.
Digitalization is revolutionizing the way we work and interact with each other and is even influencing the type of goods and services organizations sell. We are in the grip of what some experts call a state of ‘digital disruption’, the all-consuming period of change that occurs when new digital technologies and business models affect everything we do.
Call them what you will, Digital Add-ons such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Chatbots, speech recognition, natural language understanding and machine learning are no longer science fiction and have a powerful role to play in this brave new world. Although we are some way off fully functional talking robots, the impact of AI, for example, on everyday tasks (via Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana) is clear and at work in the customer service sector and contact centers.
Today, digital add-ons are used primarily in the back office to capture, analyze, cross-reference and share data to help enhance the customer service experience. Increased efficiencies and improved productivity are two other benefits enjoyed by contact centers which have invested in new digital technology. Automation is transforming manpower by performing simple, common tasks leaving highly skilled, experienced human agents to handle the more complex, sensitive or emotive issues. Starbucks is one example of how a company is integrating chatbots into its customer experience. Starbucks makes it ridiculously easy to place and order your favorite drink or snack, whether you prefer using voice commands or text messaging. The chatbot will tell you when your order will be ready and the total cost.
The news agenda is full of why we should be using these Digital Add-ons but it doesn’t necessarily explain how to use or introduce them. Let’s get started on some practical ways to digitalize customer interactions.
Step up your digital culture
Digital transformation is making its mark across organizations everywhere. New roles are being created specifically to operationalize the intent of becoming a digitally competent organization. A quick scan of Google reveals a plethora of new job titles such as digital strategist, chief digital officer and digital engagement manager. Digital marketing managers have been around for some time, as electronic communications overtook traditional print media as the favored promotional channel. Today, there are even digital finance and digital supply chain managers.
This shift in the world of work is having a profound impact on HR departments which are increasingly forced to re-evaluate their existing human capital and talent as well as revise the skill-sets required of new employees coming into the organization to support the business. One effective mechanism is to make digital tests an intrinsic part of the recruitment process. According to Deloitte Consulting “soft skills trump technical knowledge in driving digital transformation” so the first place to start is to look within. Take a close look at your team’s make up and strengths. Leaders should be forward-thinking and have a transformative vision whilst employees need to up their game in terms of technical literacy and strategic thinking. Both leaders and employees need to be highly adaptable or ‘change-oriented’. How do yours measure up? Take advantage of advances in automated Workforce Management (WFM) to capture agent skills in an instant and identify digital skills gaps to support relevant and effective onboarding, specialist training and ongoing coaching programs.
Reassess your technology
Once you have the right culture in place, then it is time to innovate and find the right technology. According to West Corporation, almost a third (31%) of participants in its recent study said the use of speech recognition, natural language understanding, machine learning and AI to create virtual assistants in contact centers would be a future trend. Stay ahead of the curve by deploying digitalized technologies such as Chatbots, voice analytics and video chat.
Chatbots - computer programs that mimic conversations with people using artificial intelligence – are transforming the way people interact and are an important part of today’s multichannel contact center environment. Combine them with the latest WFM solutions to make direct consumer to business connection easier; achieve unprecedented customer reach (1.2 billion people use Facebook Messenger alone every month ) and deliver a fast, streamlined, personalized customer experience. Chatbots, like fine wine, improve with age – their unique machine-to-machine learning means the more you use them, the better they get.
The right solution is out there
There are many solutions appearing in the market that claim to digitalize the customer experience, and which is best most often depends on who is using it. To give you a spring board for further research here are 4 interesting companies offering support for your contact center’s digital transformation:
- Facebook Spaces – part of the giant’s corporate plans to take virtual reality (VR) mainstream, Spaces is a new VR application that enables this social media gigant’s 1.3 billion users to hang out with friends in a fun, interactive environment as if they were in the same room. Similarly, Facebook Spaces could easily be deployed in the contact center as part of an integrated WFM solution to build highly interactive customer interactions that boost customer satisfaction and loyalty.
- Lucky Orange – encourages users to take a peek behind the digital curtain to see how visitors use their website and then help turn them into customers and clients. The company’s complete ‘conversion optimization’ package includes a real-time digital dashboard, daily email insights, dynamic heat-maps, live visitor recordings, conversion funnels, form analytics, feedback polls and interactive chat. Imagine if these analytics could be linked to agents’ dashboards in the contact center? They could become a powerful tool in delivering the right information - and experience - to the customer at the right time.
- Digital Genius - aims to combine the best of human and machine intelligence to deliver on increasing customer expectations. The technology allows machines to do what they do best unlocking valuable time for human agents to create superior experiences for customers across multiple channels. One such company using the technology is KLM Royal Dutch Airlines . It is taking the next step in what it calls ‘social servicing’ by testing AI to help answer common customer questions. A dedicated team of 235 social media service agents working for the airline engage in 15,000 conversations every week on Facebook, Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, WeChat, KakaoTalk and VKontakte.
- Reevoo – helps to turn customers into your best sales people. Ratings and reviews from customers keen to share their views can help boost SEO ratings and insights contained in reviews provide valuable information for product development, customer service and marketing plans. Customers soon become brand advocates and any negative reviews or customer queries can be dealt with quickly and transparently to keep customers onboard and keep prospects in the loop.
The moral of the story is if you can overcome your own organization’s period of digital disruption by fostering the right cultural change and deploying the right technology, Digital Add-Ons are a powerful weapon in the battle for competitive advantage. Make the most of new WFM innovations to blend people skills with technology and drive a successful digital transformation. Your organization will be rewarded with infinitely higher levels of agent productivity and customer engagement.
Publish Date: December 1, 2017 5:00 AM
The contact-center industry lacks visibility into job applicants’ capabilities across verticals and geographies. Brent Holland, EVP at FurstPerson, walks us through research on data captured from global contact-center applicants to help close the knowledge gap and provide insight into the relative strengths and limitations of talent pools.
Contact centers are an efficient, cost-effective vehicle for businesses to communicate directly with customers. A contact center is usually either a bricks-and-mortar facility or home office from which a person interacts with consumers via telephony and other technologies (e.g., live chat, email, and social media) while accessing real-time data to answer questions, solve problems, solicit new business, and myriad other activities.
Contact center agents draw on a vast array of skills to produce the customer engagement, contact handling efficiency, win-back percentage and revenue production companies expect. Although most industry-insiders recognize the complexities of these jobs and the unique skills sets required by employees to execute duties effectively, finding and hiring the right talent remains elusive in many contact centers. The sobering truth is that every company can improve the way in which it evaluates applicant potential for on-the-job success and matches people to the ideal job(s) and environment(s).
It is especially important to improve the process considering as much as 40% year-over-year increases in turnover among the hourly employed at an average cost of $4,284 per person1.
Before companies can improve quality of hire it is essential to understand the relative strength of the applicant pool in their respective markets – critical intelligence that has thus far remained elusive. FurstPerson’s 2017 Global Benchmarking Study sample consisted of 1,237,654 English-speaking job applicants who applied to contact centers between 2014 and 2016 in 293 locations distributed across 13 countries; sample sizes ranged between 587,558 (USA) and 294 (Dominican Republic). Job applicants applied to seven different types of contact center jobs, though not all jobs or contact center skills’ assessments are represented in every country. The study measured contact center skills using a variety of assessments and work-sample simulations. Note that the research summarized below has been standardized to permit direct comparisons across markets.
This research explored three socioemotional factors (Fig. 1) that underlie success in many contact center jobs. Results across eight countries portray important differences that could impact service quality. Colombia, Mexico, and Philippines achieve the lowest scores on Emotional IQ, suggesting that the candidate pools in these geographies are more vulnerable to stress and pressure than candidates in other regions. Interestingly, however, the Emotional IQ tendencies do not correspond to a substantially higher likelihood of burnout, suggesting that Emotional IQ could be more influenced by cultural factors and, therefore, may not have the same implications for job performance across geographies, though additional research is needed on this topic. It is important to note, however, that El Salvador achieves both the highest Emotional IQ score and a 17% lower score on potential for burnout than other countries. Creative problem solving illustrates the strength of applicants in Canada, El Salvador and Mexico in terms of identifying new solutions to everyday problems.
Four Important Contact Center Skills
Figure 2 summarizes four assessments used to measure contact center skills critical for common jobs. The tools include a written English skills assessment (1stScribe®), an inbound customer service simulation (CC Audition® Service), an inbound sales simulation (CC Audition® Sales), and a live chat simulation (CC Audition® Chat).
English Writing Skills
In terms of written communication skills (Fig. 3), the United States, United Arab Emirates, and Canada outpace other countries by a sizable margin. El Salvador and Philippines’ applicants demonstrate below-average performance on constructing complete sentences (34% and 35%), grammar (41% and 39%), instructional writing (41% and 43%), and overall writing skills (39% and 35%), though candidates from both countries outperform applicants from Columbia, India, Mexico, and St. Kitts. Columbian, Indian and Mexican applicants score similarly on most dimensions.
Inbound Sales Skills
Inbound sales roles are critical in contact-centers. By accepting incoming customer inquiries, representatives are presented with the opportunity to identify a need, educate the customer, position an offer, and close a sale. Those representatives with the greatest likelihood of success possess strong multi-tasking, data-entry, computer, and job-specific sales skills. One implication is that the best inbound sales representatives tend to draw on a broad skill set that allows them to perform multiple tasks simultaneously, such as searching for account or promotional information while interacting with the customer, to create a seamless, engaging experience.
Across the four markets with sales-related skills’ benchmarking data (Fig. 4), the USA (52%) and United Kingdom (49%) achieved the highest overall sales scores; it is important to note, however, that Filipino applicants came in a close third. Applicant scores showed the most variability on Data Entry Accuracy, with a range of 21% (Mexico) to 52% (USA) whereas scores appeared more consistent on Multi-Tasking – 42% (Mexico) to 51% (USA). The relative weakness of Mexican applicants on Computer skills is important and points to a critical development need if the country’s contact-center industry wishes to remain competitive for inbound sales jobs.
Live Chat Skills
In Figure 5 the markets show the most consistency in terms of computer ability. For example, Philippines’ applicants demonstrated computer skills equivalent to applicants in the United States. Conversely, chat applicants from Canada, Columbia, and India scored slightly lower than the Philippines and United States.
The data varies across geographies on the data accuracy scale. Applicants in Canada, United States, Philippines, and Dominican Republic achieved comparable scores. However, Columbia and India perform at a significantly lower level on this dimension. One implication of these findings is that chat programs based in India and Columbia may struggle with quality assurance and efficiency-related metrics compared to programs in other markets.
Scores on service orientation and multi-tasking show a similar pattern across markets. The United States, Canada, Philippines, and Dominican Republic achieve the highest scores on service and multi-tasking scales, reinforcing their position as the strongest chat-related markets in this study.
Inbound Customer Service
The pattern across all four scales is virtually identical (Fig. 6). India, United States, Philippines and Canada perform best across the scales; the lone exception for for India is Accuracy, with the score falling below the United States, Philippines, and Canada. The results reinforce the strength of international markets’ technology and engagement skills, though the simulation does not take into consideration English language accent or conversation ability.
As companies extend the footprint of their global operations, the markets they choose for expansion will impact their ability to recruit individuals with the skills necessary to perform at a high level. The above results suggest that El Salvador-based applicants perform best on Emotional IQ and Creative Problem Solving while Philippines’ applicants possess the lowest Burnout Risk. In terms of core contact center skills, United States’ applicants perform best on English Writing and Inbound Sales, India does best on Inbound Service, and Canada achieves the highest score on Live Chat Skills. Job candidates in the United Arab Emirates and Canada (English Writing) and United Kingdom and Philippines (Chat and Inbound Sales) perform nearly identical to those in the United States on specific skills. This blog offers a summary of which regions would perform best with which channels and in which particular roles, but for a deeper understanding of who your center should be hiring, and where, feel free to get in contact with FurstPerson.
- Call center recruiting and compensation survey (2009). FurstPerson, Inc.
Publish Date: November 2, 2017 5:00 AM
When it comes to WFM, there are some very important things that are generally not considered. What happens when contact-center agents, the frontline soldiers of your organization, are not happy?
Traditionally, WFM adopted in the past has not been very accommodating to agents. Managers would create forecasts, plan and schedule – the latter often done arbitrarily. Ok, fair enough; some would try for a measure of fairness, if possible, on their Excel spreadsheets.
What ended up happening, and still does for some contact centers, is that a good many agents with second or even third jobs, or studying in parallel, face having to leave, due to conflicts in their schedules. This creates a never-ending, down-ward, negative spiral:
- Agents, forced to quit, leave with a bad taste in their mouth;
- Their remaining time in the contact center – notice time of two weeks to a month – results in sub-optimal performance (understandably so);
- The contact-center’s environment is soured by high turnover - I mean, how cool is it to see colleagues come and go through a continually spinning, rotating door?
- Sub-optimal performance and low morale impact customers adversely;
- Attrition is costly: the company has to recruit, re-hire and re-train;
- Onboarding and learning curves too, end up costing time and money.
Attrition, due to agent dissatisfaction, is not much talked about but one thing is for sure; it leaves in its wake high costs, which, worse, are often intangible – ones difficult to estimate and keep track of.
Abracadabra – let WFM reach out and grab ya’!
Today’s WFM platforms are offering mobility. In fact, growth within the mobile side of the WFM equation is expanding in leaps and bounds. Why? Because they are necessarily adapting to this age and this generation of Millennials.
That said, there are stark differences as to what vendors provide in terms of mobility quality. By quality, I mean the extent to which agent availability, their skills set and preferences can and are taken into consideration.
In parallel, this must be balanced with the operational needs of the contact center. Which resources are best utilized where? Artificial intelligence engines analyze operational needs, based on demand, to pinpoint resource needs. Superior scheduling methodologies identify where and when to best utilize one’s resources. The advantages arising from the use of such modern, automated WFM are not only remarkable but tremendous:
- Organizations use resources more effectively and efficiently;
- Agents are more satisfied, feeling heard - scheduling preferences respected to a greater degree;
- Attrition is lowered;
- Customer satisfaction is raised (Studies have proven, again and again, that satisfied agents will provide a much better customer experience).
Don’t keep fun and games at bay - Let’s play!
Furthermore, gamification is now tied to the WFM process; a methodology or engine brought to the table that rewards agents with prizes in the form of, for example, gold, silver or bronze medals at the achievement of specific KPIs. For agents, this could mean better ranking for preference-based scheduling, time off, vacations, etc.
For some organizations today, gamification is the catalyst that pushes them to modernize their WFM. It’s the game changer: modern-day WFM with gamification implemented for KPI goal measurement. It keeps agents occupied and happy. A sense of competition gives meaning to coming to work, and staying on at the work place. Can it get better than that?
WFM across the board
Yes it can! WFM systems today are not just limited to contact-center operations. They can and are used across the organization to manage other areas of the business – back office, ground operations, etc. – extending the same functionality and mobility to the rest of the organization’s operations.
Modern-day WFM is also a source of rich business intelligence. It also be direcly linked to e.g. salesforce.som, human resources, payroll, etc. allowing for a synergistic effect. Some vendors offer a toolkit, free of charge, allowing for a multi-brand approach.
A last word of advice for those looking to evolve or replace or upgrade their WFM: purchase a couple of extra days of consulting. Consultants take a close look at your contact-center operations to see where improvements can and/or need to be made. You’d be surprised at how many things they can come up with that contact centers never even thought about – including improvements.
Publish Date: October 20, 2017 5:00 AM
Nick Brook at Teleopti explores the challenges faced by outsourcers today and how to solve them.
The outsourcing sector is on the up, with recent research indicating that the global contact center outsourcing market is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 9% during the period of 2017-2021. Indeed, it is the sheer number of outsourced agents being scheduled using Teleopti Workforce Management (WFM), over 80,000[i], that led me to take a look at some of the challenges that the majority of outsourcing contact centers face and how these challenges can be solved.
Having been involved in planning more than 8000 agents and multiple work streams during my time at an international outsourcer, it became clear that while outsourcing offers great potential for increased efficiencies in time, cost and customer service, the contact centers providing this service face a fresh set of challenges. Here is an outline of the key hurdles outsourcers face and how to overcome them using the latest WFM technology.
Seven Challenges Outsourcers Experience Today
- The need for speed – the biggest channel for many outsourcing contact centers is the constant call for operational and technical efficiency. From setting up new agents to accessing relevant and accurate client data, speed leads to cost savings, healthier profit margins and happier customers. However, manual forecasting or scheduling is slow and prone to error. Automated WFM solutions can import large volumes of data from previous systems to set up new team structures quickly and efficiently. Automation provides a single, clear view of past, present and future activities, removing the time-consuming triple effect of manual workload management while making the most of one-time data inputting such as agent profiles and shift preferences.
- Keeping cost conscious - according to Deloitte Consulting, 59% of companies said the primary driver for using outsourcers is as a cost-cutting tool. This is a challenge that will never go away. The contact center is under pressure to make operational savings and satisfy client demand to bring the greatest results for the lowest price. The main cost in a contact center is people, therefore resource planning must be accurate and efficient. The rise in cloud-based WFM provides the opportunity for companies to only pay for what they use while reducing investment in IT infrastructure. For example, Teleopti customer FEXCO has achieved 20% savings in annual license and maintenance costs by moving to cloud WFM. Every saving helps to strengthen the bottom line.
- The mobile age – mobility is everywhere from smartphones, tablets and laptops to TVs and even cars. The challenge is to turn mobility into an advantage. It is now possible to set up self-service portals that allow agents to view their latest schedules, swap shifts and request time off from anywhere, using any device. At the same time agents can log-in to cloud-based contact center technology from any location and provide the same excellent levels of customer service even when they are away from the office.
- Agent attrition – contact centers are notorious for high agent turnover with some reports revealing rates as high as 30%. This puts enormous cost and time pressures on recruiting and training new staff quickly (allowing for a lag in productivity while they settle in). Capturing agent skills alongside contract types and using these profiles to schedule people for their best activities can keep agents motivated. At the same time, identifying individual or team skills gaps to support effective training programs will reduce attrition rates and ensure agent engagement.
- Internationalization – managing global projects, with different languages and time zones, is challenging. Comprehensive profiling and scheduling will mean that the agent with the right language skill is available to communicate with the customer. The WFM solution should also offer time-zone insights to prevent less efficient situations, such as an agent in Dubai being given a shift at midnight by a team leader in the US. Team leaders and planners should have access to international overviews.
- Engaging expectations – rising customer expectations have transformed the skill sets required by agents. They need to be experts in customer relations as well as the products and services they represent. Therefore, it is important to avoid irritating the most productive agents, so take into account agent shift preferences, make absence requests a smooth process and let agents easily trade shifts. Boredom is another danger, so be sure to provide flexible breaks and varied, mixed activities to keep it at bay.
- Things go wrong – expect the unexpected, because even the best laid plans can go wrong as a result of freak events, system bugs and human error. The challenge is to be prepared rather than live in fear of things going wrong. Ensure there is access to a strong support team with a dedicated service desk staffed by engineers and technical consultants with the ability to troubleshoot at a moment’s notice. Then back this up with a continual evaluation program to assess the performance of the WFM solution and adjust it as circumstances demand.
To find out more and learn how three real-life contact center organizations have successfully overcome “the outsource challenge”, download Teleopti’s latest eBook “An Outlook on Outsourcing”.
[i] Teleopti CRM data as of June 2017
Publish Date: October 13, 2017 5:00 AM
Following Industry Head at Google, Anna Mossberg’s, presentation about customer-driven innovation at the Teleopti Nordic Forum 2017, Alyssa Fishwick, looks back at the key lessons learnt and what actions contact centers could take toward user-focused innovation.
When Anna Mossberg spoke about User-Focused Innovation at Teleopti’s recent Nordic Forum for customers and partners, she started by asking some vital questions to get the audience thinking about their own practices. The three questions that stood out to me were:
- Do you have time set aside in your calendar for innovation?
- Do you put yourself in your customer’s shoes every week?
- Do you agree that things change all the time?
These three questions felt particularly relevant as they came in a day of exploring the future of customer service. They also wrapped around Anna’s core message about why innovation is just so important for businesses today: “In a rapidly changing world, the only long-term sustainable strategy and competitive advantage is to learn things faster than the world changes around you and translate that learning into meaningful innovation…”
One striking examples of how companies are embracing innovation is that Amazon invests 12% of its revenue into innovation.
In line with Anna’s core message about innovation, she focused on three areas that are crucial for success: 1) Create a culture that stimulates innovation, 2) Innovate with a starting point in the customer journey, 3) Obsess about great customer experiences. What she said was alarmingly relevant for all companies today, whether B2C or B2B, so I thought it would be interesting to explore each area that Anna discussed but also see if it there are any contact center lessons that can be layered on top. Anna focused on the “user”, a word that to me has a two-fold emphasis, yes, a user can be the customer, but the user, especially with a product like WFM, can also be the agent and other employees. It feels that we always need to be looking at these two groups in parallel, therefore ideas here will often overlap between actions toward customers and actions with/for contact center employees.
Create a culture that stimulates innovation
Key to changing the actions we take and the results we reap is recalibrating the questions we ask, of ourselves, of the company and of the customer. A key thing is that the questions we pose need to turn from being internally driven to holding an external vision. If your current questions are either self-, career- or comfort-motivated, they must become geared around the customer, company and industry, such as “What is best for our customer?”, “What are the best in the world doing?” and “What is the long-term sustainable solution?”
Equally, when it comes to asking these questions, it shouldn’t be those with the most power whose answers are heard. Instead, companies should strive to create a flatter hierarchy and get everyone asking the same questions and listening to each other.
As well as creating a level platform for asking and answering the right questions, a culture of transparency and collaboration needs to be nurtured. For instance, Google has a TGIF session every Friday where all employees can send questions to the Founders and they will answer. Similarly, rather than rewarding lone achievements, Google rewards are based on collaboration and helping each other.
Actions for the contact center:
In terms of answering these questions in the right way, if two heads are better than one, then what about all the heads in your workforce? Agents are on the front line and have probably received much feedback about the service customers really need. Create a system of input, and thus, of innovation. Yet bring innovation to this process too, no more paper votes in the ballot box, create a space within your agent self-service portal where they can have their say, either publicly or anonymously. Take the stand out points and see what first small steps you can take to embrace these suggestions and catalyze development.
When it comes to transparency & collaboration - What transparency can you create? Do you have monthly meetings? Could you use that opportunity to be more transparent about the company financials or key projects? Similarly, make performance metrics visible, for teams and for the individual. For collaboration? The sense of working together toward the company mission is often seen to be a key incentive for employees, set up performance meetings to align employees’ efforts with company goals. Furthermore, introduce rewards based on collaboration, supporting the team not just the individual, e.g. Gamification driven mainly by team achievements and rewards.
Innovate with a starting point in the customer journey
To offer truly innovative and effective service experiences, many of us already know that companies need to look at the user’s buying journey, breaking it down into steps. However, from there, there is a whole plethora of layers to consider: the delights and the pain points for each step in that journey, the solutions for both solving the pain points and creating the delight, and then digitalizing the journey, diving into what technology is out there and overlaying it onto each solution. It is important to remember that it is often not as expensive as companies might first think, as many AI solutions (with open integrations) can be rented at reasonable prices. Finally, companies should think of the partnerships they have, or could make, to advance each step in the customer journey.
Actions for the contact center:
Of course, the first stage is to do exactly this for your customers – e.g. those wishing to buy a new internet package – and again involve all levels of employees, especially those who interact with customers.
Yet this should also be a journey that is mapped out for your agents. If a customer has a life cycle, what is the life cycle of the agent? Recruitment, training, working, development, potential attrition… Look at each stage and find the delights and the pain points, and then find the solutions and technology necessary.
Obsess about great customer experiences
Technology should answer consumer behavior. Look at how you fit into the digital eco-system of your customer’s daily life and buying process, and think about how you can push that territory. For instance, the growth of voice search, 29% of Google searches are voice search today. If you are not present in the right algorithms or systems then you might not come up or be chosen.
Actions for the contact center:
With the help of big data and machine-learning, speech analytics have moved beyond the frustrating, “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite understand that” and can be effectively integrated into your customer self-service channels or telephony options. How much can be learnt before the agent even answers the call?
Look at the general tendencies of both your customers and agents, and optimize to that, e.g. Prime Wardrobe’s “try before you buy” which responded to high return rates and costs for online clothing purchases. Equally, make sure that you are clearly and easily offering the options that users want, and next time, make that option even easier by customizing your service to their choices, like Netflix or Spotify.
Actions for the contact center:
Don’t block how customers wish to communicate with you – phone, email, chat, text or, in the future, virtual reality – create an omnichannel experience where, whatever the touchpoint, their journey up to then is mapped and seamlessly continued. Everything has to be remembered so as to speed up their customer experience each time – like Netflix, make sure they can pick up exactly where they left off last time.
Be faster than your competition, and fast needs to be real-time, not “soon” or even, in a few seconds. As an example, 53% of people browsing the web will leave a site if it takes longer than three seconds to load, last year this figure was 40% so clearly mankind is becoming less patient. Try Google’s Test My Site. If your company’s website comes in at over seven seconds, you need to worry, and do something.
Actions for the contact center:
For one, make sure that your website is optimized to be as quick as possible for users browsing for answers ahead of contacting your support teams. Yet also, when they do reach out, you need to be thinking, what does this growing impatience mentioned above mean for your current Service Level? What was acceptable last year may well not be now…
However, improving service levels shouldn’t be at the expense of agent wellbeing. So, how can Artificial Intelligence be incorporated into each interaction to man the gap between agent abilities/time and customer impatience? For chat and emails, chatbots could act as the first port of call, reducing Service Level and minimizing chat AHT before an agent actually gets to the case. For inbound calls, with the development of Speech Analytics, there can now be “call steering to route callers to the right consultant through automatic understanding of the problem”, registration of key facts ahead of the agent answering the call, or, based on the growing ability of AI to monitor stress levels, those customers demonstrating the greatest frustration can be routed to agents more quickly.
Furthermore, just as customers want real-time answers, your company and agents also need this. Real-time analytics offer the chance for proactive measures to be taken instantly rather than judgments made retrospectively. Tying in with an environment of transparency, agents similarly need to be able to see their metrics in real-time and take ownership of their work.
Conclusion - Your move.
Business can no longer stand by mottos such as “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or “It’s worked so far.” Audience demographics are changing, expectations are growing and digitalizing, and users expect every service they invest in to keep pace with this rate of development. Contact centers are no different. You need to be proactively asking questions, about your customers and your employees (as well as involving them in such investigative processes), and exploring the innovative solutions that modern technology and AI can bring. Time is required to build out this image and direction but remember, it’s not the thought that counts. Don’t just talk about innovation goals, in the ever-relevant words of Nike, Just Do It.
Publish Date: September 22, 2017 5:00 AM
Does your WFM solution lend itself to integration with other solutions?
Many customers, in the absence of internal development, don’t care about this: it doesn’t make any difference to them. But those that do, it’s a make or break deal.
In fact, an on-going trend in the contact-center industry is that more and more WFM customers, increasingly IT-savvy, are developing more and more of their own IT solutions.
Whether mobile or business apps, businesss intelligence (BI), portals, dashboards or reports, the pace of what’s being created in-house today is accelerating. To hire outside expertise is costly and worse, it takes too long. Many business can’t afford to wait six to nine months down the road for outside expertise to come up with what they need.
Another trend in parallel is that of a vast majority of customers, while discussing reporting, asking if this or that report is provided. To be sure, many WFM solutions have standard reports. However, in many cases, it’s not what is really wanted, nor is it the point in question.
The point in question is that there are WFM vendors out there that offer something much more invaluable: an open database so one can create one’s own reports with whatever system or platform already in place.
More precisely, customers are given a key – in the form of a Solution-Development Kit (SDK) – to access and tap into their own databases for any and all information needed to feed their reports. SDK doesn’t hold data; databases hold data. Customers are then given the key – SDK, a map of sorts – to open their database structure, indicating where to go and get the data.
With the SDK, customers can create custom apps that also leverage the power of the WFM solution itself. Unlike the majority of vendors charging, at times, very large sums for a copy of the SDK, customers using, for example, the Teleopti SDK can create apps that include the utilization of the Teleopti solution per se and its data – without having to pay one extra penny for this feature.
Customers creating business-intelligence (BI) dashboards or apps that gather data from different platforms, then centralize it for viewing and reporting purposes, when using the Teleopti WFM solution, they have the flexibility and openess to include the information that WFM contains into their BI and environment.
To be able to tap into and exploit your own data is therefore a huge advantage when considering the procurement or replacement of a WFM solution.
I cannot stress this fact alone enough: Teleopti distinguishes itself in the WFM industry as one of the few providers – if not the only – that offers an open solution where databases can lend temselves to be tapped for other internal developments, and the WFM application itself is open to be included in larger, internally developed apps.
In summary, the point made here is short and precise:
To raise awareness that a friendly, open WFM solution exists; one that won’t take you to the cleaners if your company or your contact center is doing internal development or plans to do so in the near future.
Publish Date: September 1, 2017 5:00 AM
Following the launch of Teleopti’s WFM Savings Calculator this week Dennis Müller, Teleopti’s Vice President – Latin America, explores some important areas to consider when discerning the Return on Investment (ROI) for a WFM implementation.
While contact centers may balk at the price of implementing a workforce management (WFM) system, the real and much more worrisome issue is how much the lack of a WFM system could be costing them. The overwhelming majority of ongoing contact center expenses are related to staffing. Again and again, across the WFM industry, online testimonials show spectacular results achieved by organizations adopting WFM, with the majority achieving ROI within a year or less.
Calculating ROI can, however, be tricky as the factors and their weight may differ from center to center but often savings are immediately and directly seen when it comes to reduced shrinkage per agent, per day (in minutes), reduced scheduled work and more accurate staffing.
For a quick and dirty calculation, if we assume 160 hours of work per agent per month at a cost of $15.50 an hour, and supervisors spend 15 percent of their total work time on forecasting/scheduling and earning $4,000 a month, even very conservative estimates of 15 minutes of shrinkage, a 25-percent reduction in scheduled work and a two-percent improvement in staffing accuracy brings about huge savings!
Even faster payback and ROI can be achieved through cloud implementation. In fact, an Oracle Nucleus study found that cloud application projects deliver 2.1 times the ROI of on-premise ones – up 24 percent since 2012. They also found that cloud applications used, on average, 91 percent less energy than on-premise ones.
Do you know which of your initiatives are having the greatest impact on your business? Can you measure the ROI of each initiative? What is also measurable and should be measured is:
- Percentage of savings in the reduction of repeat calls
- Reduction in average handling time (AHT)
- Improvement of customer satisfaction net promoter score (NPS), by reducing their effort (a critical driver)
- Improvement in first-call resolution (FCR)
- Higher sales conversion
As for this last bullet point, according to data from the International Customer Management Institute, more than 60 percent of companies believe that contact centers are a cost and a drain rather than a source of revenue or innovation. Yet, at the same time, more than 50 percent of respondents to a Deloitte survey believe that contact centers can help increase customer retention. WFM can definitely boost your profitability, helping to transform your contact center from a cost center that largely resolves customer service issues to strategic assets that can further customer loyalty and retention.
Besides these measurable cost savings, there are many more intangible benefits, with perhaps the most crucial of these being the addition of a sophisticated “what-if” planning tool.
Furthermore, today customers demand a consistent effortless journey, no matter the communication channel. If you still are not calculating the workload volume and AHT of these different channels accurately, then you should make this a priority for 2017. It is vital to keep up and position your business to be more competitive through leveraging the latest offered in WFM scheduling and software solutions. You’ll also have heightened opportunities to convert customers or upsell to them because of better visibility into the customer journey across these channels.
Remember, spreadsheets are guesswork at best while WFM schedules can be adjusted with much greater accuracy and as often as needed to satisfy demand.
Just as each center has its own set of value and performance indicators, ROI calculators will have particular factors that they analyze and balance. Teleopti’s new Savings Calculator focuses on the savings that could be achieved through schedule optimization and adherence, lower sickness and attrition rates, and less time spent on administration. These savings are just the start of the multi-faceted benefits that contact centers reap when automating their planning processes.
Eager to see explore these results for yourself? Visit the Teleopti WFM Savings Calculator now!
Publish Date: August 25, 2017 5:00 AM
Nick Smith at Teleopti gives 3 compelling reasons why RTA is here to stay
Scheduling disruptions are an everyday occurrence for frontline operations and a major headache for contact center leaders everywhere. Employees call in sick or run late to their shift, the latest promotional marketing campaign is so successful that product demand and call volumes are going through the roof or it’s just after Christmas when business is flat and too many agents are hanging around doing nothing. There was a time when managers were forced to process exceptions manually just to keep staffing levels where they needed to be but all that changed with the arrival of automated Real Time Adherence (RTA).
What an invention! RTA practically transformed contact center operations overnight. Real-time information from third-party feeds, such as an ACD, is used to update agent schedules automatically when adherence issues occur. Gains in efficiency and time are matched by employee compliance and customer support – allowing team leaders to see the bigger picture and focus their resources on more strategic tasks.
The latest WFM solutions with embedded RTA capabilities perform a variety of tasks effortlessly, including:
- issue email or SMS notifications to people with the right skills to ascertain if they can work at short notice and plug any gaps
- monitor agent adherence to schedules and compare them with the live ACD status - wherever you are, using a variety of desktop, tablet or mobile devices
- flag up when schedules are in danger of being breached with automated alarms
- offer a real-time data feed, updated in seconds, to enable fast decision-making and action.
What is more, RTA offers a three-pronged approach to maximizing the performance of the contact center, making it a popular choice for ambitious contact center leaders.
Here are 3 reasons why RTA is here to stay:
1. Stay in control
Performance and compliance issues are no longer able to slip through the cracks because managers are immediately alerted to them as they happen and are given valuable insight into how agents work on a day-to-day basis. This puts managers in complete control, giving them the power to make changes that have an immediate impact on call center performance. The faster these reactions occur, the easier it is to achieve and maintain targeted service levels.
2. Handle the unexpected
Automated tools such as RTA give organizations all they need to be prepared for, and handle, the unexpected. High visibility of dynamic data makes tracking agent adherence and adjusting schedules to maintain service levels at all times, effortless. Graphics mean it is easy to spot developing trends as they happen allowing for fast re-forecasting or last-minute optimization.
3. All round business benefits
Research shows that companies who have implemented Real-Time Automation (or Intraday Automation as it’s known in the US) enjoy a 55% year-on-year improvement in staff utilization rates compared to those who haven’t. The technology identifies periods in the day when staff can be safely withdrawn from the front line to receive training or coaching without risking service levels. Better skills mean happier staff, as well as better resolution rates and sales conversations. As a result, customer satisfaction rates often improve by 37% with the same companies reporting a 3-fold increase in revenues.
Finally, don’t just take our word for it!
There are many success stories around that cite the benefits of RTA. What is more, the most recent innovations encourage smarter ways of working. For example, when the contact center’s work (calls, emails, webchats etc.) varies from the forecast and staff attendance is not what is expected on the day, people can be moved around to where they are needed most – be it training or strategic offline work. This is indeed a major breakthrough when you factor in the intricacies involved - different agent skills, preferences, contracts, schedules and breaks.
When all is said and done, effective management is all about staying in control of the day and being ready to handle the unexpected. RTA can do this and so much more.
What’s not to love about it?
Publish Date: July 7, 2017 5:00 AM
The ways that people interact with the world around them and how customers expect to interact with companies aren’t what they once were. Hussein Kamel, Senior WFM Consultant at Teleopti, discusses how well-honed customer care via social media is no longer a choice but a necessity.
The world is changing around us, but how exactly? Here are some interesting facts.
In 2014 alone, smart phones and tablets today comprised 60% of all online traffic, and that was up from 50% in 2013. 82% of people using Twitter today are accessing it from their mobile devices, and of the 1.74 billion monthly active Facebook users, 56.5% ONLY login to their accounts via a mobile device. In a Gartner release about social media, they predict that refusing to use social media to communicate with customers will soon be as damaging to companies as failing to answer a call or email is right now. Adoption of social customer care programs increased fivefold from 12% in 2010 to 59% in 2013 for major customer service centers. 33% of users even prefer to contact brands using social media rather than calling them.
Social customer care is now becoming an imposing reality as opposed to traditional model of customers calling in and waiting to be answered. A lot of our communication amongst our groups, either social or professional, are through different mobile messaging applications on social platforms that are all in the palm of our hands. It is fast, and easy. Furthermore, when it comes to social media and “groupthink”, you can identify with other users, with users who share your interests or your common pains.
The speed at which this has been changing has led to companies having to deal with social media as a real channel to interact with their customers, this creates many benefits as well. It’s an easy way to learn about your customers and their preferences. It allows you to receive instant feedback. You can share content faster and more cheaply with social media.
The consequence of this of course, if this channel is ignored, can be detrimental to an organization’s reputation. If there is no clear strategy to keep up to date with how your company is being reacted to on social media - what is being posted, commented or tweeted about your brand - or how to respond to it, then this could create unexpected, likely undesired, repercussions for your brand.
So, if your organization does not have a clear strategy for dealing with social media as a very legitimate and real customer-interaction channel, with well-defined customer care in the coming period, it is highly recommended that this discussion should start. Ultimately, in all cases, the customers on FB, Twitter, and other platforms have probably started discussing your brand, it is your choice to participate in that discussion, or let them run away with it.
Social customer care is now a reality and here to stay.
Publish Date: June 30, 2017 5:00 AM
How can resource planners achieve the best balance between agents’ wishes for their schedules and the forecasted needs of the contact center? Rebecca Philp, Product Knowledge Manager at Teleopti, weighs up two options on offer.
As the contact-center world moves further and further into an omni-channel environment, the option to automate agent shift preferences is growing, replacing the older bidding systems based on manual scheduling. The question one must ask is: Why is this change occurring? To answer such a query, I will first look at the limitations in sticking to shift bids, and then explore the possibilities on offer with introducing a system that automatically optimizes schedules to agent preferences.
Shift bidding: The potential problems
With Shift bidding, contact centers can release the schedule of shifts on offer and agents can then bid for the shifts that they want, entering how much they would like to be paid for working those hours. At the end of the process, shifts are awarded, typically to those with the lowest bids (and the highest KPIs). Though the process is good for initiating agents’ involvement in building their schedules there are a few issues that will crop up time and time again:
Time consuming (with often little end improvement)
Using shift bids takes weeks upon weeks to execute, and in most cases, the schedules created are very similar to the ones that were in place before the bid. A lot of work for little gain.
Fixed and ill-fitting
Shift bids fail to account for the constantly changing landscape of contact-volume forecasts and, once a shift bid ends, it can cause the contact center to be locked into a set of schedules that allow for almost no flexibility, a problem for both the agent and the center. If a shift bid is designed around the first week in September, how does that solve scheduling issues in the third week of November? Equally, a locked-in schedule won’t work for many agents as they often work in contact centers as a second job, wanting the flexibility to fit shifts around other things in their life.
Stress for agents
Agents care first and foremost about their schedules and getting the right number of hours at the times that work best for them. If management is making them worry about their livelihood, then this will cause them to lose focus on the job that they are employed to do.
Just as the “best” shifts will end up with the lowest pay per hour, the “overtime”/unpopular shift times will have to be filled by paying agents at a much higher cost, causing payroll costs to rise. Furthermore, those agents who have to work the less favorable hours, might be being paid more but a “bad schedule” could leave them feeling tired and demotivated. In the long run, if agents are performing poorly, the company won’t reach their service level targets.
Agent Preferences: The strengths
Agent Preferences is an automated system that lets agents enter their preferences for shifts and days off for each day of the week of the upcoming scheduled period by choosing the desired shift category (e.g. early, daytime, late) or day off. There is no monetary bidding involved but agent-rank tiers can be brought in to determine what percentage of preferences agents receive in their schedule e.g. 80% for third tier agents and 100% for top tier agents. Using this option, there are multiple benefits on offer:
Firstly, while traditional shift bidding requires contact centers to undergo a bidding process only several times a year – taking weeks to complete each time – an ongoing agent preference system gives agents the freedom to continually request desired scheduling. Imagine being able to enact “mini-bids” every week, without any extra effort. Each mini-bid is specifically targeted to that week’s forecast.
Secondly, an automated Agent Preferences tool is responsive to the growth and evolution of the customer-service industry, rather than restraining it. While the cumbersome process of shift bidding makes it easier to only work with single-skilled agent groups, Agent Preference offers an easier, ongoing process that can work for multi-skilled, multi-channel contact centers.
The system also allows users to define metrics and weighted measures for ranking agents, typically by using performance metrics from built-in gamification features or from quality scores, or a combination of both. This process will guarantee that the highest performing agents will get most of their preferences awarded.
In addition, resource planners can set business (/service level) requirements so that the company’s customer-service needs are never overlooked.
Motivation and empowerment for agents
- Motivation - The frequency of “mini-bids” with this Agent Preferences system means that agents no longer need to feel locked-down or demotivated by shifts that are set for months on end. Instead, having this strategy of frequent preference iterations ultimately motivates agents to think: “If I’m a top performer, I need to maintain that level if I want to keep my shift-preference rank. But, if my performance is poorer, I don’t need to be too upset since I’m not trapped in this schedule for the next few months. I can work towards a better shift in just a few weeks.”
- Empowerment - In keeping with Teleopti’s own focus on agent engagement and empowerment, Agent Preferences (through a self-service portal) allows agent input on how and when they’d prefer to work. When scheduling time rolls around, the intelligent optimization engine kicks in and balances business needs with agent preferences.
As I said in my previous point, this fairness is found in regular ‘mini-bids’ and realistically balancing agent wishes with forecasts. Equally, unlike shift bidding, it doesn’t favor those that can afford to work at a lower cost per hour.
The closing balance
At the end of the day, Agent Preferences is an automated system that Teleopti offers and believes in, yet for a single-skilled contact center looking to set schedules for months at a time, sticking to shift bidding is perhaps the optimal option. However, for a multi-channel contact center working with multi-skilled agents, constantly adapting to consumer needs whilst satisfying employees, Agent Preferences seems, at least to me, to be the best way forward.
Publish Date: June 21, 2017 5:00 AM
Flexible working; a 3-point plan for time-off-without-pay, zero and reduced hours in contact centers
Zero and reduced hours, time-off-without-pay (TOWP) could be the answer when it comes to flexible working but how will it work in practice? Per-Arne Karlsson, Technical Director APAC at Teleopti, shares a simple 3-point plan
Flexibility in contact centers means many things to many people. It usually means making life easier for agents, enabling them to strike the all-important work/life balance. Or, it can apply to the automated technology that makes flexible working possible. Most recently, another meaning has emerged that focuses on the growing trend for companies to increase their business agility by introducing flexible or reduced hours working contracts.
As we all know, organizations everywhere continue to face the reality of squeezed budgets. In a race to cut costs, it’s easy to see how the concepts of zero or reduced hours contracts and offering time-off-without-pay (TOWP) are an attractive commercial proposition.
Permanent contracts translate into higher costs for employers in terms of increased insurance contributions, holiday and sickness pay, pensions and statutory redundancy payments should times get really tough. The new flexible ‘Pay-As-You-Go’ approach to employing staff means just that – employers only pay for the hours worked with the added bonus of not being legally obliged to offer all the other extra benefits on top.
Flexible working contracts are particularly appealing to industries with seasonal peaks and troughs or in sectors such as insurance, financial planning and even shopping channels, where periodic spikes in the weather, stock market surges or the demand for products promoted in short bursts are uncontrollable and often unpredictable.
This new take on flexibility makes perfect operational and business sense, but just how can you introduce the right flexibility strategy if you don’t know how volatile your demand is? That is the common conundrum faced by organizations today. How do the contact centers supporting them ensure that enough agents are in the right place at the right time and then keep them motivated to meet fluctuating customer requirements and service levels? Here is a three-point plan to keep you on track.
1. Understand the psychology of work
People like to be busy knowing they are offering a worthwhile service that is valued by their employers. Otherwise, they would prefer to be anywhere but at work, even if they are not paid. Nothing is more demoralizing or frustrating than wasting time sitting around waiting for a customer to call.
Zero hour contracts, where staff work when their employers need them, would appear to be the obvious answer. However, they have sparked a great deal of controversy and are sometimes viewed as an opportunity for unscrupulous employers to exploit staff during times of high unemployment. The truth is there are both pros and cons to this type of employment.
Despite the obvious negatives of no fixed income, being constantly on-call without any guarantee of work and feeling undervalued, the positives that zero hour contracts present are flexibility, more free-time, the chance to develop new skills and the freedom to find permanent work are real incentives for people to take the conscious decision to avoid permanent roles.
The biggest challenge appears to be for contact center leaders who fear losing their star performers and attracting the best new talent if they cannot offer a full-time permanent contract. This is where guaranteed minimum hour contracts can help.
2. Take the middle ground and include time-off-without-pay (TOWP)
The risks of flexible working and reduced hour contracts can be mitigated by following the safe middle ground. This is particularly relevant in environments where demand can be very unpredictable, for example during charity appeals, special offer advertising or 24hour shopping channels.
In contact centers of this type, demand depends on a number of factors such as viewing figures and demographics, the popularity of a presenter and the unpredictable demand for hundreds of different products. Even the weather plays a part, are people out enjoying a warm day or watching their TVs?
One option to maintain flexibility but reduce costs is to introduce minimum hours contracts that offer a fixed yet flexible number of working hours per week, say from 12-20, combined with ‘Time off without pay’. While it might sound ridiculous, TWOP can be very popular. Why? It is a win, win situation because managers can better control staff costs and meet customer demand while agents, though not paid for time off when not required, are guaranteed an income and the opportunity to devote more time to their home and social lives without having to ask for it! Give it a try and watch the queue of potential applicants grow.
3. Look beyond scheduling
Introducing flexible working contracts is definitely an important step forwards, but it doesn’t quite overcome the problem of enabling quick-build schedules to accommodate these new contracts. To maximize flexibility, choose Workforce Management (WFM) technology which includes a mobile app to support agents updating their availability to work at certain times/days in advance. The secret then lies in constantly adapting to change by conducting “what-if” scenarios using the latest WFM solutions.
A well-considered flexibility strategy combined with technical innovation offer a failsafe route to success and improved work/life balance for agents with minimum hour’s contracts. Also look out for WFM solutions with Real-Time Adherence (RTA) capabilities embedded in their DNA. These include the ability to:
- issue email or SMS notifications to people with the right skills to check if they can work at short notice and so plug in any gaps
- monitor agent adherence to schedules and compare them with the live ACD status - wherever you are using a variety of desktop, tablet or mobile devices
- flag up when schedules are in danger of being breached with automated alarms
- offer real-time data feed, updated in seconds, to enable fast decision-making and action to be taken.
Take control of this new world of flexibility by understanding the psychology of work, then use this knowledge to introduce flexible working contracts underpinned by technology that goes beyond simple agent scheduling. There’s no better way to release the full potential of your contact center and your overall business.
Publish Date: June 12, 2017 5:00 AM