Teleopti - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
Whether it’s mixing up training tactics or remembering the vitality of voice, engaging and developing customer service agents has never been more important as it is in today’s digital landscape. Rob Clarke, VP of Sales in North America, reflects on eight interesting initiatives from this year’s Teleopti Americas User Forum.
Aberdeen Group found that customer loyalty is the most popular topic for Fortune 1000 companies right now. Intrinsic to a customer’s loyalty is the service they receive from a company, and how accessible, helpful and engaging that assistance is. At Teleopti, we are particularly interested in the role of the employee taking those frontline communications, and what can be done to have them provide satisfying, useful guidance to customers. This year’s Americas forum dove into what our customers are or could be doing to engage and develop the digital workforce.
The forum was full of advice, lessons learned and productive debate with a mix of industry expert speeches and customer panels. Our team has brought together the eight practices that stood out as stimulating ways to reach a skilled, motivated digital workforce. Some require company transformation, of practice and thought, while others are small but essential tweaks to nurture capable employees, committed to customer experience.
1. Understand the generations in your workforce
Different generations come with different traits and therefore different needs as an employee. It’s not one size fits all. You must dig into the different generations in your workforce and see how to engage and motivate those varying groups. Millennials might prefer more teamwork options for training and feedback sessions whereas Gen Z could lean toward independence of online training and self-service possibilities. To explore what Gen Z employees are really looking for join our free webinar.
2. Provide a unified working experience
Continually changing between desktops and apps to access reports, conduct tasks or see their schedules is a frustrating and de-focusing task for employees as they go about their work, especially when speaking to a customer in real time. Choose apps and platforms with higher harmony and integration between them, rather than disparity, allowing employees to feel supported in their work.
3. Offer internship programs
One customer spoke of how they take a few frontline employees each month to intern part-time as workforce planners, learning about the role and responsibilities. This isn’t to absorb them into the WFM team but to make agents aware of why planning decisions are made, the impact of breaks and activity changes, and to understand what goals such as service level are there for. It’s all about creating champions for what WFM is really doing at the same time as teaching them and mixing things up. This can equally be reversed with another customer saying they have the planning team shadow an agent once a month to understand their needs better.
4. Raise the voice of the agent
As the voice of the company, whether via phone, chat or email, they’re a voice that shouldn’t be forgotten when it comes to improvement and input…but in the right setting. Customers all said that it’s about keeping feedback sessions casual rather than intimidating. Use anonymous surveys or bring in smaller group discussions with more of a ‘coffee machine mood.’ One question though was, how to sift through the ‘noise’ of feedback and find the areas to focus on? A customer interestingly said they’re using machine learning to create trends from the unstructured data, telling them where key areas of need lie. However, input is gathered, the major thing, as one planner said, is to keep communicating and show how you are acting on feedback. Demonstrate that their voice has an effect.
5. Utilize pilot user groups
When you’re trying out new processes, e.g. incorporating new overtime request automation, it is best to trial these changes with a pilot group so that you can understand the impact it will really have and get feedback on how to improve. However, to have a fair representation of workforce opinions and see the best option for all you need to test widely. One company working with an international workforce said that they always use a diverse pilot group from different countries, across genders and with varying ages.
6. Ensure all agents still have time on the phone
This came up a few times and is a simple but essential point. With the growth of other digital channels, there can be less direct contact with customers, but voice is a still a key, relationship-building channel. Make sure all agents still have some experience of voice in their schedule, so they have these closer communications, feeling connected to customers rather than distanced.
7. Don’t place service level above agent development
As customer expectations increase and automation and AI introduce chatbots as options for basic customer interactions, frontline employees need to be even more skilled as they handle more complicated matters, aiming for first-time resolution. This means training and development is crucial, rather than an afterthought. In a training panel discussion, one thing all our customer panelists agreed on is that training should be the last thing you cut when times are busy, rather than the first. Look for other activities that can be moved, or at least make training more flexible with e-learning so that it isn’t dependent on 2 hours in a classroom.
8. Make training digital, make it stick
With unexpected events or successful marketing campaigns putting demands on staffing levels, there may be the need for more flexible online training, rather than set, in-person sessions. Also, with many companies having continual recruitment, e-training means new employees don’t miss training that took place before they joined. Taking it digital can also allow for shorter, sharper bursts of information. Yet as customers discussed, there is the question of how to evaluate if employees are retaining the new knowledge. This is where it could be key to incorporate LMS (Learning Management Systems) in digital training strategies, as you then have the possibility to test and follow up if they absorbed the information.
The frontline workforce is becoming a more and more vital part of customer experience as service in turn becomes increasingly prioritized and digitalized. ‘This is how we’ve always done it’ isn’t a sustainable mantra. As the forum highlighted, companies need new ways to involve and develop the workforce, particularly as they become a more digitally active one.
Publish Date: October 12, 2018 5:00 AM
According to Carlos Muños, contact centers are sometimes too efficient for their own good leading to poor customer service and high agent attrition rates. It’s time to introduce a ‘less haste, more speed’ culture supported by the latest technology. Here, he explains how to build highly effective teams using WFM.
Running a contact center takes me back to my school days and Aesop’s Fable of the ‘Tortoise and the Hare’. We all know the one, it’s ingrained into our psyche but in a world obsessed with speed, do we really put its teachings into practice? The faster hare is so confident of winning the race that it falls asleep and is beaten by the slower tortoise – the first to reach the finishing line using a steady, measured pace. In a similar way, contact centers are often so determined to handle infinite numbers of calls as quickly as possible, they put unnecessary pressures on agents and lose sight of the customer. In the process, staff leave along with customers and it takes much longer to get both back again.
Then, there’s the constant battle between operations (who want ‘fast and cheap’) and the contact center (whose job is to make ‘customers feel loved’). This perennial tug of war is damaging to agent morale, the customer experience and health of the overall business.
The proverb ‘more haste, less speed’ springs to mind and contact centers should look to introduce a ‘less haste, more speed’ culture into their operations. Real effectiveness is about providing agents with the right environment to give customers what they really want (fast, accurate answers to their problems first time around) while maximizing resources as cost-effectively as possible.
Metrics that matter
It all comes down to the basics so let’s start with how contact centers measure their success. Most make the mistake of developing a set of metrics that focus entirely on satisfying their internal customers rather than those on the outside who are keeping them in jobs and the organization in business! The top three culprits are:
- Number of contacts handled over a certain period of time – of course, this is great for managers who want to look productive by saying ‘we handle 100 calls every hour using only 10 agents’ but what does this really mean for customer service?
- Occupancy – it’s good to know how many of your resources are being used at any one time but it’s even better to keep some agents in ‘reserve’ to handle random contact arrival patterns and maintain service levels.
- Average Handling Times – if service is measured by how quickly agents can get customers off the phone or finish a web chat conversation, chances are they are not really listening to the customer who won’t get the outcome they expect and deserve.
Thinking from the outside in will yield a set of metrics that enable agents to focus 100% on the customer – the true meaning of effectiveness.
Ways to build effectiveness using WFM
With customer-centric success criteria in place, turn to innovative workforce management (WFM) technology to build a highly effective contact center environment:
- Schedule administrative tasks and training during quiet times – using WFM to schedule offline activities such as administration, training and weekly huddles when it is quiet, maximizes time and resources and enables agents to give their full attention to the customer during busy periods
- Add ‘travel time’ into schedules – in a bid to save time, managers often take short-cuts and make schedules unrealistic. For example, they don’t factor in the travel time needed to get from the contact center floor to the training rooms. Adding a cushion of 5 minutes either side of a 30-minute training session will make it easy for everyone to arrive on time without running while adhering to their schedules
- Flexible planning ‘on the go’ – the flexibility of modern technology means you can schedule - in advance - the right number of staff to match call demand. Features such as Real-Time Adherence flag up when schedules are in danger of being breached while Intra-day Schedulers allow managers to reschedule the contact center workforce during the day taking into account unplanned changes in customer demand and unplanned agent absences
- Create your best-performing team – use WFM to create a virtual library of agent talent, knowledge and qualifications to deploy the right-skilled agents to the right place at the right time. Tap into this data to identify missing competencies and build tailored training programs along with meaningful career paths that keep agents stimulated, motivated and away from the competition
- Empower agents - through self-service to control their own schedules, select breaks and lunches, swap shifts and request time off with immediate feedback from their manager. Then, make the most of advanced WFM reporting and dashboards to provide a real-time snapshot of employee and team performance against specific contact center KPIs or customer SLAs in a fair and transparent way
- Future-proof operations – by maximizing the latest forecasting technology to right-size your contact center. Running a series of ‘what if’ scenarios helps to predict staffing needs for regular seasonal fluctuations such as public holidays or new marketing campaigns. This provides the analytical evidence required to work effectively with outsourcing agencies to supplement in-house resources during busy periods while avoiding unnecessary staff costs during calmer periods.
Why be a hare when you can be the winning tortoise? Put in place the metrics that really matter then back them up with WFM to build a highly effective contact center where talented agents are proud to work and go the extra mile to delight customers at every turn.
Carlos Muñoz Director, Sales Engineering, Teleopti Americas
Publish Date: October 5, 2018 5:00 AM
From virtual teams to car pooling, running a contact center today is complicated business but it doesn’t have to be that way. Nick Brook at Teleopti reveals 7 ways workforce management solutions hold the key to smarter, flexible scheduling.
Flexibility means different things to different people. On the one hand, staff want more of it with 35% of employees considering a flexible work environment to be an important factor when making a decision about their career. On the other hand, contact center leaders strive to build agility into their agent schedules to better meet customer service levels at minimum cost and effort to the overall business.
At the same time, the astonishing number of factors that need to be considered to achieve all-round flexibility make running a contact center today a complicated business. Diminishing corporate budgets for example, are forcing organizations to think of more creative ways to pay for and deploy their staff. Pay-as-you-go arrangements in the form of zero-hour contracts, reduced and annualized working hours and other cost-containing measures such as Time Off Without Pay stand alongside traditional permanent or part-time agreements. Businesses are also looking to reduce spending on expensive office space and IT overheads by moving to virtual teams or by introducing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs. Furthermore, environmentally-minded organizations with a strong sense of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or those who have simply re-located to rural areas to escape high City-centre rents are now facing the realities of poor public transport links and implementing car pooling schemes.
All these factors have a massive direct impact on contact center operations, in particular agent scheduling. From fixed, split and micro-shifts to the rise of reserve working ie the scheduling technique that keeps up to 25% of the team on fluid shifts, means that bringing a team of full-time, part-time, contract and virtual agents together is a major challenge. So how can organizations achieve all-round flexibility in the contact center in a way that satisfies staff, customers and the business?
7 steps to smarter scheduling
Contact center leaders should first establish the payment structures and types of shift that will motivate agents to meet customer service targets while lowering attrition rates and minimizing recruitment costs. After that, it comes down to releasing the top seven capabilities and benefits of today’s automated workforce management technology:
1. All-in-one, easy to use package – the biggest barrier to embracing new technology is ease-of-use or rather the lack of it. Fortunately, today’s fully automated solutions make light work of managing staff effectively, forecasting demand, creating schedules, developing accurate and insightful reports and improving overall customer satisfaction.
For example, when it comes to reserve working, there’s no need to re-design entire shifts and rotas every week. The flexibility of modern workforce optimization systems means you can schedule, in advance, the right number of reserve staff to match call demand and factor in sickness and training accurately. Transparency is an added bonus. At a glance, agents can see that everyone is taking turns to cover the most unpopular shifts! Then, add in an extra column to group people with the same start and finish times to help organise and communicate car sharing opportunities in a timely manner.
2. Easy access, anytime, anywhere – agents can log in from home or on the move to check their schedules, see who they are working with and let their manager know when they are available for work. Managers and resource teams are able to build efficient schedules at any time and from anywhere to gain complete control of their contact center operations in a highly flexible way.
3. Intelligent resourcing – using historical data, resource teams have the power to predict how many agents they will need, the skills they require and pick and choose the right people at the click of a button. They can even support a number of different shift patterns including short shifts or split shifts rather than employ a set number of people at set times of the day.
4. Flexible planning ‘on the go’ – features such as real-time adherence monitor agent adherence to schedules. Automated alarms flag up when schedules are in danger of being breached and a real-time data feed, updated in seconds, enables fast decision-making. Intra-day scheduling allows small changes during the day while taking into account unplanned changes in customer demand and unplanned agent absences. For example managers can flexibly change break times and lunches or move people between skill groups, front office and back office work. The changes are often only by a few minutes but those small changes can make the difference between meeting service levels during peaks and losing valuable calls.
5. Fit for the future - the latest forecasting technology helps to right-size your contact center for the future. Running a series of ‘what if’ scenarios can predict staffing needs for regular seasonal fluctuations like Christmas, upcoming new marketing campaigns and even the organization’s long-term business plan.
6. Self-service –self-service capabilities empower agents to trade shifts, voice their preferences for overtime shifts and request time off. Setting up auto-approvals means staff don’t have to wait until the next day for an answer if management is not available - contact center flexibility and agent satisfaction in one fell swoop.
7. Time and cost efficiencies – the automation provided by workforce optimization technology combines strategic planning with instant fine-tuning throughout the day to create a highly flexible contact centre framework that keeps agents motivated, customers satisfied and CEOs happy.
Your countdown to flexible, smarter scheduling starts here. What are you waiting for?
Publish Date: September 21, 2018 5:00 AM
When operations wants one thing and agents want another the atmosphere can become tense. Karim Chabane at Teleopti reveals how to work as a team and outlines several Workforce Management (WFM) practices to bring a meeting of minds in contact centers.
The term ‘contact center’ can still conjure up the vision of a massive open-plan office where people are packed like battery hens with their headsets on answering routine questions, a perception that is, quite rightly, becoming increasingly outdated. As more organizations adopt a customer-first approach to doing business, the role of agents, the frontline to customer and organizational profitability, is changing along with their expectations. The newest entrants into the workforce may appear to want it all, i.e. independence in a collaborative environment and the latest technology combined with face-time and career progression without the need for job-hopping. All this can lead to a tug of war especially when operations wants one thing and agents want another, a situation that is bad for the contact center and bad for business.
Three top tips to turn a Tug of War into a Meeting of Minds
Agents may well be the gateway to customers but they are also a great source of information from an operational point of view. Contact center leaders should take note to achieve a true meeting of minds that combines business needs with employee engagement. Here are three ways to help steer you in the right direction:
Keep talking – conduct annual employee surveys and act on the results, good and bad. Hold weekly drop-ins for agents and invite the planning team to attend. Focus on the hot topics that matter for agents and share your own, to promote interactive, constructive discussion. Why not develop focus groups where agents can raise customer pain points and share learning with other parts of the business to help boost their self-esteem and elevate the status of the contact center?
Keep things clear and transparent – processes should be clear, transparent and supplemented with easy-to-understand documentation. The same applies to learning: communicate individual and team goals effectively and develop meaningful career paths that release the full potential of agents and make the whole contact center shine.
Keep staff happy – remember your agents are your customers and need to be kept on side. Everyone wants to feel involved so create a work environment where agents feel part of everything ranging from the company mission, to their fellow team members and the customers they serve. Actively gain their feedback for important decision-making. Having a ready-made pool of agent champions makes it so much easier to instigate cultural change and introduce new ways of working.
Let technology take care of the rest
The introduction of new technology can be threatening to users but WFM should be viewed as a powerful tool that enables collaborative thinking, working and results. Rather than seen as a controlling “big brother” phenomenon, make technology a part of the Meeting of Minds!
Here are five ways to use WFM to:
Boost scheduling through agent self-service – get agents more involved by having them enter their preferred shifts for an upcoming schedule period. By having a “Meeting of Minds” approach it creates a culture that will lay the ground for a process of agent self-service. Understand what works and what doesn’t for them. Some prefer to start late and work later, while others may be early-birds or like split shifts. Using self-service, at their desks or via their mobile devices, agents are empowered to control their own schedules, select breaks and lunches, swap shifts and request time off with immediate feedback from their manager.
Minimize stress - nothing is worse than overwork and stress to make staff run for the hills. Maximize the latest forecasting technology to right-size your contact center for the future. Running a series of ‘what if’ scenarios helps to predict staffing needs for regular seasonal fluctuations such as public holidays or new marketing campaigns. By using ‘what if’ scenarios different staffing methods can be used to minimize stress! Empower agent self-servicing by having a pool of flexible part-time agents that will fill in the gaps when and wherever necessary. Forecasting also provides the analytical evidence required to work effectively with outsourcing agencies to supplement your in-house resources during busy periods while avoiding unnecessary staff costs during quieter periods. Two-way collaboration with double the impact!
Re-invigorate the learning program – first of all, use WFM to schedule offline interactive activities such as weekly huddles and feedback sessions that give agents the opportunity to air key issues and discuss potential solutions. Then, tap into the virtual library of agents’ skills, knowledge and qualifications provided by today’s WFM solutions. At a glance, identify missing competencies and build tailored training programs that challenge and fulfill agents while supporting the needs of the overall contact center. The core data capabilities of WFM can be boosted with dedicated training functionality that streamlines scheduling and ensures lessons are learnt from regular wrap-up sessions. Everything is connected, by talking consistently with agents and identifying gaps in the forecast, you can take advantage and use it for a thoughtful learning program and make the “Meetings of Minds” work with the technology.
Just be sure to develop a portfolio of different learning styles, a mixture of traditional in-classroom training and online or virtual sessions, to meet the needs of a multi-generational team. Today’s Snapchat generation appreciate a mix of technology and face-to-face contact so consider exploiting different chat apps such as, WhatsApp, and Messenger to appeal to this highly visual and growing sector of the workforce.
Foster staff motivation – make the most of advanced WFM reporting and dashboards to provide a real-time snapshot of employee and team performance against specific contact center KPIs or customer SLAs in a fair and transparent way. Introduce the latest gamification features to motivate employees, provide a forum for sharing top tips, encourage healthy competition and reward individual and team performance in a fun environment. Don’t shy away from using catchy names i.e. “Game of Phones” for gamification campaigns, small things can have a tremendous impact on team spirit as well as on agents’ motivation and performance.
Automate simple tasks – why not invest in artificial intelligence (AI) technology and blend it with your WFM and scheduling processes so that agents have more time to devote to brain-teasing activities rather than be resigned to handling routine enquiries such as brochure fulfilment and utilities meter readings. When agents are mentally stretched and positively challenged, they are more likely to go the extra mile and support your own Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
With just a few simple tweaks and modern WFM practices, turn any potential tug of war into a meeting of minds in your contact center - to everyone’s benefit.
Publish Date: September 7, 2018 5:00 AM
Tommy Palomäki at Teleopti considers the connection between happy customers and happy employees and suggests five ways to use workforce management to achieve both.
What came first: the chicken or the egg? It’s a conundrum that’s baffled people for years but does it really matter? The same could apply in contact centers. Why debate whether happy customers or happy staff come first when the two are inextricably linked? It is commonly accepted that motivated, engaged agents result in positive customer outcomes with many studies indicating a strong correlation between customer and employee satisfaction. So how can workforce management (WFM) help to achieve both?
Five ways to use WFM for happy employees and happy customers
Take a look at your contact center. Are your agents happy? If not, why not? What motivates them to go the extra mile and what do you need to do to attract and keep the best people? Gone are the days when agents were not expected to think for themselves and sat with headsets on, answering routine enquiries all day long. Digitalization, a mobile work ethic (if you’re not happy, you simply go elsewhere) and a growing customer-centric approach to doing business have turned this outmoded perception on its head. Today’s multi-skilled agents are highly prized assets, the frontline to customers with the power to make or break customer experiences, corporate reputations and profitability.
Agents like to feel they are valued, engaged and have the opportunity to make a real difference to the company they work for. Using the latest WFM including a life-style and self-service dimension is central to understanding and galvanizing this human factor to ensure happy and profitable customers. Use WFM to:
1. Make life easier – minimize the stress of stretched resources by using automated forecasting and intra-day scheduling to right-size your contact center throughout the day or run ‘what if’ scenarios to better prepare for busy seasonal periods or special marketing campaigns.
Then let automation take away the monotony of handling routine enquiries using Artificial Intelligence solutions or “bots”. This leaves well scheduled agents free to do the clever stuff like helping customers with highly emotive or sensitive issues or turning around upset or angry customers – all the things that spur them on to excel rather than just do a good enough job.
2. Empower agents - by giving them control over their working lives. Through self-service, allow them to select breaks and lunches, swap shifts, advise overtime availability and request time off with immediate feedback. If working from home is easier, let the latest web-based WFM technology give them the option to log in securely using their own devices including tablets and other mobile devices to check schedules, coaching and training sessions.
3. Retain the best – as the role of agents becomes more strategic, they can expect higher wages and better prospects. Companies need to work harder at attracting and then keeping the best talent. Use WFM to develop an effective skills matrix to keep up-to-date with agent skills and training and use the information to support tailored personal development plans, one-to-one sessions and meaningful career paths in a proactive way.
Introduce the latest gamification features to motivate employees, provide a forum for sharing top tips, encourage healthy competition and reward individual and team performance in a fun environment.
4. Build a team of ambassadors – like all technology, the more you use it, the more confident you become to the point where you fervently champion it. The same applies to WFM. Keep an eye out for these new champions in the contact center and make them ambassadors of WFM to boost agent involvement and the role of technology to help deliver outstanding customer service.
5. Close the loop – your agents might be your new customers but close the loop with end customers to provide a seamless, end-to-end experience. Listen to your agents, on the frontline, they know if your customers are happy, what works and what doesn’t. Devise a mechanism for agents to share best practice – building in time for workshops to hear what works in terms of scheduling and suggestions from the floor as to how it could be improved and remember to celebrate any successful changes adopted as a result.
The more you understand what makes your agents and customers tick, the more effective you’ll be at creating a well-balanced contact center inside and out. Then whether the chicken or the egg came first becomes irrelevant it’s a continuous virtuous circle of happy employees and customers.
Publish Date: August 24, 2018 5:00 AM
Göran Svensson, Research Lead at Teleopti in the field of Optimization and Systems Theory, recounts the key factors explored in his mathematical research into multi-skilled call centers. How can Quality of Service be maintained when scheduling multiple skills with a limited budget and number of available agents for certain skills?
This year I attended International Conference on Operations Research and Enterprise Systems (ICORES) 2018 in Portugal, where I presented my research results on resource allocations for a system of multi-class, multi-server queues. The ICORES conference covers topics in Operations Research (OR) and Systems Engineering. WFM is a subfield of these more general disciplines. The days were filled with interesting talks, many occurring in parallel sessions. One of the keynote speakers was a professor from Technion, which is one of the more prestigious universities for OR in general and WFM in particular. There were several presentations on optimization methods, resource management and decision analysis. The talks spanned most of the more mathematical parts of OR, from military logistics to fairness in healthcare scheduling.
I presented my work in the field of multi-skilled call centers and the corresponding decision processes. The problem is solved as a multi-objective optimization problem via the Marginal Allocation Algorithm with constraints on the total budget and availability of agents (customer-facing employees).
That a problem is multi-objective simply means that one tries to optimize several factors at the same time. Normally such a problem produces what is known as an efficient front or a pareto solution. This means that one gets a set of solutions where one goal cannot be improved without obtaining worse outcomes for the other goal(s). It is then commonly up to an expert to choose which of these solutions best serves their specific needs. An example would be the tradeoff between service quality and the cost of using more agents.
The first objective (goal) is to keep the cost of employed agents as low as possible, the second objective is to deliver as good a service to customers as possible. The cost of agents is kept low by using fewer agents while the quality of service improves with an increase in the number of agents employed. Now we can clearly see that there is a conflict between these two goals.
The service provided is measured by something known as a Quality of Service (QoS) measure. Average Speed of Answer (ASA), Service Level (SL, which is a type of Value-at-Risk measure for the ratio of calls, or other inbound contact types, answered within a certain amount of time) and probability of delay are different types of such QoS measures. In the presentation I focused on two QoS measures: One that is closely related to the Service Level measure, called the Conditional Value-at-Risk (CVaR), and the other which is based on the fraction of customers abandoning the queue before receiving service.
The CVaR measure is in many ways superior to the VaR type measure of Service Level. It has some nice mathematical features as well as providing a means to control the outcome, not just for the customers that receive service in time, but also lends itself to control the outcomes for the customers not serviced within the acceptable time.
The optimization method used is known as the Marginal Allocation Algorithm. It is an iterative algorithm that step by step adds the agent that provides the greatest marginal benefit and provides the corresponding efficient point. The main advantages of using this algorithm is that it is easy to implement and that it can solve large systems at a low computational cost. The main disadvantage is that it requires strong assumptions on the goal functions. One such requirement is that the functions should be what is known as convex (read more about convex functions here). Convexity is a characteristic that simplifies optimization procedures in general, which is in addition to the existence of many reliable software solvers for convex problems.
One important contribution of this work is to show that the CVaR (Conditional Value-at-Risk) measure is convex in the number of agents employed, thus it may be used in conjunction with the Marginal Allocation Algorithm.
In my case, a problem with N different queues, representing different skills, is considered when there is a budget constraint on the system, as well as a limit on the available agents with certain skills. In the work, I compare the two different choices of the two Quality of Service (QoS) measures, CVaR and abandonment based. I highlight the similarities as well as the differences. A large-scale system is also provided and then solved (quickly) to show the power of the Marginal Allocation Algorithm.
The paper, on which I based my presentation, had been peer reviewed by three external professionals and has been published in the proceedings booklet. I have also been invited to extend my paper and have it published in a book by the Springer publishing company, as a chapter. The audience was attentive and interested, which led to a fruitful discussion on measures.
This means that my purposed method can be used to procure the staffing needs for large queueing systems quickly. The CVaR measure is suited for situations where all customer service times are of importance, like in a healthcare situation.
Publish Date: August 10, 2018 5:00 AM
Making life easier for customers is the first step towards brand loyalty and business success. Magnus Geverts at Teleopti shares his eight top tips for reducing customer effort in contact centers.
All customers want is a quick and easy answer to their enquiries. It might sound simple but the two biggest annoyances for customers, which are having to repeat themselves and being transferred from department to department, can do untold damage to an organization’s reputation and revenues. Every week I meet with contact center executives struggling to break down the silos in an effort to create consistency across all channels. Making it easy for customers requires hard work.
In today’s viral world of social media, the risks of upsetting customers are even higher as dissatisfied consumers take out their frustrations via Facebook, Twitter and TripAdvisor. In fact, according to the Institute of Customer Service, 58% of people would stop buying from a company as a result of poor customer service and, even scarier, 70% of them would actively discourage others from engaging with a company when given poor customer service.
Winning contact centers are those that deliver quick fixes, instant results and exceptional customer satisfaction. It all comes down to giving customers what they want with very little effort on their part. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and ask, “How do I make life easier for my customers?” It’s time to review your processes and technology – here are a few tips to point you in the right direction.
Eight tips for designing service to reduce customer effort
1. Find the right people
Your agents are your most valuable asset but gone are the days when all they had to do was answer as many calls as possible as quickly as possible. Today’s ‘superagents’ must be capable of solving complex problems for customers so look for highly flexible, emotionally intelligent candidates with a positive ‘can-do’ attitude, train them properly and keep them motivated. Use Workforce Management (WFM) technology to create a ‘go-to’ place for all your talent and resources. Use it to flag up skills gaps, build meaningful training programs and combine with Real-Time Management capabilities to set up training during idle time. Then, maximize WFM to schedule your right-skilled agents to the right place at the right time.
2. It’s the simple things that count
Prominently display freephone customer support telephone numbers on every web page, enable agents to conduct Web Chat and keep FAQs up-to-date and easy to find. Be sure to share customer stories with other parts of the organization to create a unified understanding and response to common customer issues.
3. Make time to understand your customers
Listen to your agents – they know if your customers are happy and what works and remember to devise a mechanism for agents to share hints and tips. Then combine agent feedback with speech analytics and silent monitoring to capture the voice of the customer. The more you understand what makes your customers tick, the more effective you’ll be at deploying efficient processes and technology to support enhanced customer interactions.
4. Automation is the way to go
It tangibly enhances the customer experience. Take Web Chat, where automated Chatbots can be used as the first line of enquiry. Chatbots can be programmed to perform more mundane tasks using automated responses in Chat before the customer is connect to a human at the right time.
5. Up your self-service game
The latest Artificial Intelligence (AI) driving contact center solutions include self-service capabilities that allow people to find out information, ask questions, broker a mortgage, book their next holiday, buy the latest must-have gadget or fashion item and return a faulty kettle at a time to suit them without having to speak to a single human being. Think about it, could you reduce customer effort by introducing a wider use of self-service?
6. Make mobility work for you
Consumers expect to use their mobile devices to find information, ask questions and access social media to connect with their favorite brands 24 hours a day. Make sure your customer service is fully optimized for mobility with a fully responsive website, by offering web chat and by providing a choice of different contact options such as SMS, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Twitter.
7. Omnichannel is the new multichannel
Modern consumers want a consistent, satisfying and effortless experience, every time, whatever the device or communication channel. They also want organizations to recognize their buying history and previous interactions so they don’t have to keep repeating themselves. The latest technology solutions automatically flag up how customers want to interact. From the same screen agents can switch between telephone, emails and Chat to deal with enquiries whatever the channel. This often requires extensive integration of back-end systems or a complete rebuild of the back-end systems which feed your customers and agents with information.
Can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to tailored communications such as receipts, shipping notifications and live automated messages - fast. Customizable greetings mean Chatbots make it possible to offer a more personal, more proactive, and more streamlined customer experience.
Take a step back, put yourself in your customers’ shoes and see what their experience is really like. You might need to overhaul your approach to customer service completely or perhaps a few simple tweaks will suffice. Either way, design your service strategy to give your customers first-class service, with very little effort on their part, for brand loyalty and business success.
Publish Date: July 26, 2018 5:00 AM
When properly utilized, few contact center software platforms can outperform Workforce Management in terms of ROI whilst simultaneously improving customer experience. Ben Willmott explains how to leverage the latest workforce management (WFM) solutions and make quick-and-easy wins to maximize your return on investment (ROI).
Workforce Management (WFM) solutions are a wonderful thing. They can be all things to all people, offering multi-dimensional value when it comes to driving improvements in employee engagement, customer experience and profitability. Let’s focus on one challenge that never goes away and affects every single contact center around the world, large and small: how do you improve customer satisfaction and decrease costs at the same time?
Teleopti have developed an online Savings Calculator that uses data captured from real customers to estimate the potential savings from a given start point. When this calculator was used for Sparkly Boots Ltd, a fictitious example of a typical medium-sized contact center, the results are startling. With 250 agents each costing £1,950 a month, sickness rates running at 6% and an annual attrition rate of 23%, it is expected to take just eight months from initial deployment to achieve a return on the WFM technology along with several staggering improvements in time and cost savings:
- Total cost savings of £66,628 (mainly through optimized schedules and more efficient schedule adherence);
- Estimated annual time savings of 5,653 hours through better scheduling and adherence alone, nearly 500 hours every month!
- Anticipated savings of around 4% on sickness and staff attrition rates year-on-year.
So, what’s the secret behind Sparkly Boots Ltd impressive payback on their investment in WFM and how can you achieve similar successes?
3 ways to leverage your WFM and drive ROI
Like many success stories, you can’t achieve everything through technology alone. Process and technology make perfect partners and it pays to take a considered, carefully planned approach to your WFM implementation and usage. Here are three steps to get you started:
1. Bring the workforce with you on the journey
The majority of the savings and benefits that a WFM platform can deliver will be directly linked to your agents’ work life. For example, introduction of more flexible scheduling will almost certainly improve your ability to meet customer demand efficiently and minimize periods of overstaffing and understaffing but needs to be managed carefully in order to ensure agent engagement. Offering benefits such as holiday bookings and automation, preference entry and shift trading to give more control over future schedules and access through a mobile app can help to ensure that the agents are with you as you start the WFM journey rather than against you. Seeking to gain insight and communicating clearly with all stakeholders from early on in the project is key. Most Teleopti customers see a reduction in shrinkage and attrition after implementing Teleopti WFM which reduces recruitment and training cost and can also reduce overall headcount requirement.
2. Ensure your forecasting is as accurate as possible
Understanding your customer demand is key to meeting your service levels and keeping your customers happy. A schedule perfectly tailored to an incorrect forecast will not do the job! Make sure that external factors are considered in your long and short-term forecasts, including strategic plans and ad hoc events. Make sure that your marketing team and other departments that directly impact your contact center volumes and handle times let you know when they undertake activities such as mailing campaigns so you can build this into your forecast plans and optimize your schedule accordingly. Keep an eye on your forecast vs. actual results from a long-term and intraday perspective to ensure that you can react to any trends that threaten to impact your schedule performance without resorting to expensive options like last minute overtime or agency staff. A balanced and consistent workload make for happy agents as well as satisfied customers.
3. Focus on the quick and easy wins that matter!
Shaving excess from the payroll is a sure-fire way of saving money, boosting efficiencies and keeping your CFO happy. This could take the form of reduced overtime, better annual leave planning removing the need to pay out for untaken leave or introducing more flexibility in the agent’s contracts.
Let’s assume that everyone in your 100-agent contact center works a 40-hour work week. How often do you actually need all of your agents working all 40 hours every week? What if you were to set up your WFM solution to give a range of hours between 38 and 40 hours? Shaving a mere two hours a week across half of your agents quickly turns into significant payroll savings: 2 hours per week x 50% of your agents x £15/hour x 52 weeks = £78,000 of payroll savings per year. I’m sure you’ll agree this is one simple but very effective way to make incredible financial savings!
Now, look at your own contact center – what other ways could you use to reduce costs with the same number of people? You’ll be surprised at the number of creative ideas you can come up with.
It’s time to take proactive action. Plan ahead, deploy the right technology and focus on some quick wins to drive ROI. Follow this three-pronged approach and you’ll be rewarded with engaged and positive employees who in turn will help you meet the eternal challenge of delivering customer satisfaction and profitability.
Check out Teleopti’s free online Savings Calculator to reveal more about the savings could achieve in your own contact center through leveraging WFM.
Publish Date: July 6, 2018 5:00 AM
Rather than fear robots taking over the contact center, Nick Smith at Teleopti says it’s time to harness the power of both worlds to improve the customer experience. Here he outlines six reasons to celebrate today’s superagents.
You often hear about the struggle between man versus machine and robots taking over agents in the contact center but it’s not quite that black and white. According to Dr Nicola Millard at BT, the more likely scenario is “man plus machine”, a winning combination where “smart people partnered with smart machines have the power to superpower us.”
Our own experience at Teleopti suggests that both human agents and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have a powerful role to play. On the one hand, AI and chatbots are simultaneously revolutionizing customer service and elevating the status of agents. For example, WeChat in China is one of the most successful pioneers of chatbots supplying 10 million businesses and enabling people to hail a taxi, order food, pay a bill and book a doctor’s appointment without human intervention. On the other hand, AI is only as good as the data that fuels it and the things AI finds hard are the qualities that make humans unique: conversation, empathy, creativity, intuition and negotiation.
The silver bullet solution for today’s customer journey
The combination of AI and well scheduled human agents, with the right skills, might be the silver bullet for effective customer service but are agents ready to support today’s customer journey? By the time a customer gets to speak to a live agent, the chances are they have already used your mobile app, searched for answers on your website and trawled numerous YouTube clips to no avail. They are frustrated and want to speak to someone who knows all the steps they’ve taken, why they are frustrated and how to solve their query from one single encounter of the human kind. In short, they are looking for a superagent!
To create a team of superagents, organizations need to re-think their learning environment, capture an organization-wide talent pool in a centralized Workforce Management (WFM) solution and then add Real-Time Adherence (RTA) to re-allocate idle time to training. Through advanced forecasting, scheduling and competence management, human agents will remain more productive and valuable than robots can ever be. Let’s take a closer look.
Six reasons to celebrate superagents
- Dealing with complex conversations - counter-intuitively, digitalization has elevated the role of the contact center agent and businesses are paying a premium for this new breed of superagent. Nowadays, the calls agents handle take longer, are more complex and require moral judgment and empathy. What is more, whereas the computer “says no” humans have the power to negotiate mutually acceptable outcomes for customers leading to enhanced customer satisfaction and profitability.
- Emotional Intelligence – being on the front line, agents have the benefit of direct contact to truly understand the emotional triggers behind what customers want. The best agents will also be able to read through a conversation, for example with a chatbot, before picking up seamlessly with the customer. Wise organizations then blend agent intuition with the scientific evidence of speech analytics technology to improve future customer conversations.
- Collaboration - successful agents work closely with other departments to get the answers and support they need to think outside the box and come up with their own ideas for delighting customers. Help agents engage proactively across the organization by giving them an effective set of collaborative tools such as internal chat and enterprise social media.
- Flexibility – the beauty of the human brain is adaptability. If one solution doesn’t work for a customer, agents can use all their powers of conversation, empathy, creativity, intuition and negotiation to find the right one. Then add WFM technology into the mix to produce flexible schedules and manage your precious talent and resources effectively.
- Tact and diplomacy – this is where the human touch comes into its own because AI driven robots learn responses based on the data fed into them but humans can interpret and act on that data to deliver highly personalized customer interactions. The emergency services and organisations with a large proportion of emotional or complex enquiries will always rely on humans to accommodate their customers’ specific needs and conduct sensitive, tactful and diplomatic conversations.
- Just being Human! - good customer service starts with people rather than machines. It is your human agents who know if customers are happy and which channels they prefer and it’s their human managers who will act on customer feedback, improve calls scripts and agent training and then enhance business processes that proactively manage predictable’ situations and resolve problems quickly.
Of course, AI is radically transforming customer interactions but there is no substitute for the human touch when it comes to closing sales calls or delivering an exceptional, personal customer experience.
Publish Date: June 21, 2018 5:00 AM
The customer care business is going through an evolution driven by digitalization. As an example, we hear a lot about e-commerce these days. One of the world leader’s in the e-commerce space is Amazon. Their 2017 revenue of $178 billion exceeded the gross domestic product of 13 European nations. And Amazon is by no means the only successful e-commerce company.
Given the buzz about customer self-service and virtual assistants you might think that unemployed customer service representatives (CSRs) would be flocking to trade schools to learn new crafts. But this has not been the case. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 the number of people employed as CSRs increased by 4.3% compared to only 2.6% for the overall workforce.
This highlights how people-led customer service and support is far from dead. While many of retail’s most iconic companies struggle, shops that offer specialized products and highly personalized services are thriving. Ulta Salon, where customers can get their brows done, a new haircut and a basket full of cosmetics, is ranked number 9 among the 100 fastest-growing retailers in the United States. Consumers continue to insist on talking to real individuals, either in person or via other channels.
So how do you hold onto employees that deliver personalized outstanding service – whether it’s in person, via call, through email or over chat?
Teleopti, a global leader in workforce management software, has long understood the strong correlation between agent satisfaction and customer satisfaction. Teleopti’s tagline is “Humanize the Workplace.” This is not a jab at robotics and artificial intelligence - Teleopti is a leader in those fields as well. It’s about applying technology to complement the human touch. We know that for complex queries people simply prefer to talk to other people. (Machines are a little weak on the empathy scale and often can’t handle complicated matters). And we know the world is getting more complex. After extensive research and in collaboration with Teleopti we have identified the following eight ways to retain top employees by humanizing the workplace.
- Self-Driven Career Development - Provide the tools and support to help employees manage their own career development.
- Culture - Maintain a culture that values employee satisfaction, fosters work-life balance and supports the customer experience.
- Empowerment - Empower your employees to solve customer problems, let them influence scheduling decisions and involve them in decisions on how to improve contact center performance.
- Personalization - To the extent practicable, structure work schedules and training that respect the personal needs of employees.
- Stress reduction - Contact centers can be stressful environments, which contributes to turnover. Create a work environment that eliminates or sharply reduces unnecessary stress.
- Team building - The contact center environment presents a unique opportunity to build a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie. Management can harness the natural spirit of friendly competition to boost morale and improve performance.
- Automation - Diverting routine tasks to self-service boosts morale and reduces stress by relieving agents from mundane activities.
- Technology - From the mechanical ACDs of the 1970s to today’s AI-powered chatbots, contact centers have long been incubators of advanced technology. Today’s millennial employees embrace new technology and seek out employers that are on the leading edge.
Attracting and retaining top quality customer service representatives has never been more important to the success of your customer engagement efforts then it is today. Teleopti’s eBook, Humanize the Workplace: 8 Ways to Retain Your Top Talent offers somed terrific ways to hold onto your top people and help them perform even better.
Publish Date: June 8, 2018 5:00 AM
Following the launch of Teleopti’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) initiative, infusing core WFM with machine learning to make it more efficient and adaptive, Jeremy Hamill-Keays looks at the reality of AI for WFM. What is AI really and what effect is it having on WFM software and processes?
There is a lot of news, even hype, around AI and machine learning. The long-term promise held by AI could lead to all manner of developments, from the cure for cancer to flying taxis. To many it can seem like magic, but AI is more than that, it is a real “thing” built on advanced algorithms. So what is the reality of AI, beyond the magic?
AI and machine learning are terms encompassing a very wide range of different mathematical and SW methods, and these are often used in combination.
Rules-based systems are popular in modern business and life; a good example is an auto landing system for airplanes which provide a “path” for the plane to follow. If the plane starts to deviate from the path, it corrects itself using a simple rule. In contact centers rules-based systems are also common, for example for handling agent absence requests by having a service level rule. However, with rules-based systems, changing rules often mean reconfiguring the whole system, but AI goes beyond this by introducing the ability to adapt freely to work towards the desired outcome. For instance, Teleopti’s new AI tool, which uses machine learning, automatically reprograms shift category rules nightly. It recalibrates the shift category sets based on the contact center’s current data, - avoiding manual reprogramming but aligning to the contact center’s most recent historical data and situation. The result being that a complicated process is simplified, user experience is cleaner, and there is higher overall accuracy of shift data.
There are lots of other sophisticated techniques, some based on statistical methods, others using software neural networks and so on. Rather than look at how these work, I would like to take a look at what their usage means for the future of contact center planning. In particular, how AI impacts Workforce Management (WFM) software and processes.
AI & WFM stand united
One thing I am fairly certain about, is that demand on contact centers will increase. The world is moving to an online economy, delivering convenience and amazing choice to consumers. This leads to an ever-increasing demand on, and complexity within, contact centers, and there is an obvious need to automate simpler processes to provide time and space for WFM planning teams to focus on effective management and scheduling. In addition, clarity and understanding must be brought to large multi-dimensional data sets – these data sets will only increase with the rising online demand on contact centers. At Teleopti we see that AI will have a big effect on the development and performance of the WFM software itself. This is both exciting and necessary when it comes to contact centers planning efficient customer meetings to fulfill such a growing digital demand.
Adaptive to Each Contact Center
There is a huge diversity and range of needs in each contact center. As an example, request approval for an hour off will be different depending on the employees’ contract: full-time fixed hours, full-time flexible hours, part time rotation etc. Just when we think we have got a grasp on one particular setup, everything changes and new absence rules are brought in. In essence, a modern-day WFM system must be capable of quickly meeting a wide variety of needs and be able to quickly adapt.
The nature of AI means that it doesn’t rely on fixed and pre-defined equations, so it is able to adapt and react to data that is continuously changing. AI trains on new data as it comes in. This also means that it creates solutions that are specific to each contact center – the AI is the same in the WFM software but the results are unique and different for contact center A, B and C and even different between customer service teams within the contact center.
Increasingly Intelligent Over Time
Intelligent WFM software has existed for a long time using advanced statistical methods, with some conditions: the more historical data the better the results. By this, I mean that each contact center, even each skill, has unique data and attributes. AI allows each of these to be learnt and the corresponding results are improved, specific to that data/those attributes, e.g. for a skill. As time passes and more data is collected, not only does the system’s accuracy improve, but if there is an underlying change, an AI system will more easily adapt to that change – far more easily than statistical methods which have less flexibility to handle incoming change. This is where machine Learning and AI become blurred. True AI can adapt it’s own algorithms in each neuron to improve itself. Sounds scary, but neural networks are just complicated interlinked nodes (pieces of code) that can inter-work to reach the correct answer by trial and error with self-adjustment, eg IF x>2 then y = 5. More detail on how they work is beyond the scope of this article! In today’s dynamic world, consumer behavior changes month by month, so this ability to adapt is hugely attractive.
In addition, the more complex the situation, the harder it is to understand. Pivot tables can only take you so far. AI software can scale well while maintaining such combined accuracy and adaptability.
Contact centers hold a multitude of complex situations that need to be analyzed and balanced all at once, in combination. Humans are very good at this, and often don’t even think twice about it, bringing in experience and knowledge without consciously thinking of it. However, humans can only handle a limited number of tasks at one time. What we really need is an intelligent assistant that can do much of the analysis for us and make recommendations. AI can be very good at spotting trends that we may miss, for example Bob is always 30 minutes late back from lunch on the second Tuesday of each month. AI can spot such a pattern and help us schedule him a longer lunch break, as he would’ve come back later anyway, but then schedule him to work until later to keep to his contracted hours.
Better User Experience
As mentioned in my intro, there are AI techniques which can greatly help us simplify user interfaces, and in doing so make us more efficient and productive. It does this by identifying the important factors and hiding any information not needed. A good example of this is Teleopti’s machine learning functionality, automating shift categorization rather than having manual shift category selection menus. The scope is huge and even encompasses complex voice recognition chat systems. We fully expect AI will soon be very noticeable in WFM solutions, making life easier for those using the software.
Improved Employee Engagement
In the modern contact center it is recognized that techniques targeting employee satisfaction result in better efficiencies and happier customers. However, the demands on a modern contact center can make this a difficult challenge. With the best will in the world, resource planners are often too busy to handle employees’ requests. At worst this can lead to resentment along with a lack of flexibility when both the center and agents most need it.
Automation features, driven by AI, remove administrative, non-strategic work to change schedules and deal with agent requests for time off, break moves or shift trades. Not all items can be handled by AI, a request due to a bereavement for example should be handled by a manager, but the majority of requests along the line of “the sun is shining, can I head off early” are easily handled by AI systems, without any negative impact on service levels. This is especially useful where agents are scheduled for a minimum amount of time due to contracts and can result in better optimization of the center, not worse. AI also allows negotiation in the form of “take an hour off now, work extra where we have an issue next week”. For multi-skill, large contact centers this ability to spot these opportunities would be highly welcomed.
The real result?
Rather than fearing the advent of AI and seeing it as a way to cut back on staff, it should be welcomed as a chance to work with more intelligent software, challenge WFM practices, support agents in the contact center, and expand business by improving customer service.
Teleopti sees AI as an exciting opportunity to enter a brave new world of WFM and customer service excellence, read more about Teleopti’s AI initiative and recent machine learning release here.
Publish Date: May 25, 2018 5:00 AM
In today’s super-connected world, products are easy to find so how do you stand out from the crowd? Three rules to help your contact center deliver a “wow factor” from Cecilia Tengborn at Teleopti.
The Internet and e-commerce sites like eBay and Amazon make it easy for consumers to find what they want, at the price they want at any time of the day or night so how does anyone else compete? Today’s super-connected world has revolutionized consumer behaviour. Many customers demand round-the-clock service, immediate answers to their queries and they want to interact via their channel of choice be that voice, digital, mobile or social. At the same time, they still expect a highly personalized experience. So, what does this mean for contact centers and for the future of workforce management?
Follow these three simple rules to help your contact center stand out from the rest:
Rule 1: Understand your customer
The contact center industry talks about meeting or exceeding customer expectations but what does this actually mean? Let’s face it, some people are easier to please than others and it all comes down to personality. So, if your online supermarket shop delivers the wrong item to your door but immediately refunds your money and sends you a bouquet of flowers 30 minutes later, are you delighted or do you just want the chicken you ordered? It all comes down to understanding your customer and knowing what they really want, therefore:
- Listen to your agents – they are the frontline, they hear what customers like and what they don’t like. Encourage them to share their experiences and learning with colleagues to establish best-practice service principles across your organization.
- Don’t just follow the herd – Challenge traditional performance metrics like AHTs or FCRs. Take online shoe retailer Zappos.com. It has built a whole corporate culture around doing whatever it takes to make customers happy. There are no limits on the number of customer service calls and no KPIs around call handling times. Every sales and contact center representative focuses 100% on creating an amazing customer experience.
In just the same way, appreciate that not everyone wants to embrace digitalization and certain enquiries will always require the human touch.
Rule 2: Empower your agents
Happy agents, equal happy customers so keep them motivated and engaged and make sure they stay with you rather than stray to the competition. Step up your workforce management (WFM) self-service capabilities that empower agents to indicate their own scheduling preferences, update their availability or make shift requests.
Why not introduce some gamification techniques to reward good performance and introduce a more fun element to work? Combine this with regular training and meaningful career paths. This is where the latest WFM solutions can help by providing one unified central repository for training plans and competence overviews.
Rule 3: Make WFM work for you
Now that you understand what your customers want and your agents are raring to go, it’s time to let technology do the rest. The latest WFM innovations deliver:
- Speed – increasing competition and growing customer expectations make managing large numbers of staff, across multiple touch points in the customer journey, a challenge. At the same time maintaining flexible, empowering experiences for employees makes it even harder. In Sweden, Telia relies on WFM technology to bring agility to both its contact center and retail customer service. Today it produces schedules for 4000 contact-center agents across its unified omnichannel platform, and it has also revolutionized customer’s retail experiences with increased employee availability, shorter customer waiting times and employees now feeling the truth of the phrase “work-life balance.”
- Self-service – customers want a simple, convenient and low effort resolution to their issue. The latest contact center solutions include self-service capabilities that customers can use to find out information, ask questions, look up their bank balance, pay their electricity or gas bill without talking to a single human being. Adopt a similar approach to WFM where agents can swap shifts, book holidays and show their availability using their mobile devices.
- Omnichannel - Email, Chat, social media, Skype, mobile? The modern consumer wants a consistent, satisfying and effortless experience, every time, whatever the device or communications channel. They also expect organizations to recognize their buying history so they don’t have to keep repeating themselves. Integration with the latest WFM solutions in the contact center makes a seamless omnichannel experience possible with the best qualified agent on hand to help – whatever the channel.
The wow factor in any contact center is learning how to give customers the service they really want, when they want it. Stick to these three simple rules and you’ll be on the fast track to success.
Cecilia Tengborn is Head of Global Professional Services at Teleopti.
Publish Date: April 27, 2018 5:00 AM
As communication channels multiply and the potential of chatbot-driven service grows, Monika Götzmann, guest blogger for Teleopti and EMEA Marketing Director of Miller Heiman Group, highlights what needs to be considered before taking a grip on this opportunity.
Chatbots have emerged as one of the biggest customer service technology breakthroughs of recent times. Indeed, the technology’s increased prevalence has coincided with a greater reliance on instant messenger apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Slack, allowing businesses to keep pace with changing consumer behavior.
Although chatbot technology has been in use in other areas for many years now, its deployment as a customer service tool is still a relatively recent trend, meaning there are still some limitations and things to be aware of. Here, we take a look at some key considerations you should have before including chatbots as part of your strategy.
1. There Are Good Reasons For Using Chatbots
Facebook Messenger now has more than one billion active users, according to AdWeek, while other instant messenger services like WhatsApp are not far behind. Therefore, one of the key benefits chatbots deliver is the ability to meet customers where they actually are, improving the relationship between brands and consumers.
In addition to some of their more traditional customer service functions, chatbots can also play a role in generating revenue. For example, chatbots can be used to send personalized alerts to customers about new products, sales or special offers. By alerting customers to these products or services in a personalized and timely manner, companies are benefitting from incremental sales. Additionally, the costs for these sales are minimal due to this being a mainly automated digital service, which is more cost effective than more traditional forms of marketing. Chatbots can also deliver news, provide updates about your services, or schedule meetings.
2. Chatbots Can Not Replace Contact Centers
Despite the clear reasons why chatbots can be a useful part of a customer service strategy, it is equally important to understand that chatbots cannot completely replace contact centers. Ultimately, they need to be viewed as a way of assisting reps, because they cannot compete with the customer service skills that humans possess.
“Surprisingly, those that have deployed are not seeing this as a contact center decimator, at least in public,” says Wayne Butterfield, writing for LinkedIn’s Pulse platform. “[They] are highlighting the benefit of immediate response to queries and driving additional revenue opportunities as key drivers instead.”
As the focus on customer service continues to intensify as consumers expectations keep rising, chatbots provide a great opportunity for companies to develop their relationships with customers on a more personalized level, keeping the customer engaged which ultimately should lead to greater loyalty from them. We have seen that great loyalty not only leads to further purchases from customers for companies, but additionally customers are also prepared to pay higher prices for goods or services where they perceive the customer service to be exceptional.
3. Response Times Can Be Improved Dramatically
One of the biggest challenges businesses face is keeping pace with customer expectations when it comes to response times, which is why many companies invest heavily in customer service coaching and training. Research shows, for instance, that 72 percent of people who complain on Twitter expect a response within one hour.
While this may seem unreasonable to some, it is the reality of the modern world, with customers expecting to be able to use social media to get response times that are equivalent to traditional channels like the telephone. Chatbots can help immensely in this sense, because they can provide almost instantaneous responses, 24/7.
4. Monitoring Chatbots is Extremely Difficult
One potential disadvantage of using chatbots is the inability to accurately monitor them at all times and measure their performance. At present, most platforms do not offer much in the way of analysis tools and this can be especially problematic where AI is being used to evolve the customer service skills of the bots.
“Companies will naturally be hesitant to use bots because a bot will be a voice for the brand, and it can’t be monitored at all times,” says Carey Wodehouse, writing for Upwork. “Unfortunately, Facebook Messenger doesn’t provide much insight into the performance of your bot, so it’ll be difficult to know how it’s doing.”
5. With Chatbots, It’s Best to Keep Things Simple
Chatbot and AI technology is advancing rapidly, but it is still generally best to keep things simple when deploying bots for customer service purposes. In most instances, chatbots are useful for dealing with basic questions, directing people to information and sending alerts, rather than coping with more complex tasks.
Moreover, it is best that chatbots are used as part of a wider customer experience strategy. When things become a bit more complicated, bots should be set up to pass over to a human rep and customer service coaching can be used to teach reps when and how to take over in the most seamless way possible.
6. Customer Feedback Has Been Very Positive
So far, the public response to chatbots has been extremely encouraging. In fact, according to research carried out by Retale, 58 percent of 18 to 34 year old’s have interacted with chatbots on social media and more than half of those who have not are interested in doing so in the future.
Almost all of those who have interacted with chatbots cited that their experience was either positive or very positive, while 86 percent of those surveyed agreed that brands should deploy chatbots in an effort to promote products, services or deals. The biggest areas for improvement were greater accuracy and more natural conversations.
Publish Date: March 16, 2018 5:00 AM
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