The Connection - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
Managing a large group of call center agents with varying skill levels is not easy. If only all your customer service reps were really great at their job! Unfortunately, that is not generally the case. Most groups of agents could be graded on a curve, with clear highs, lows, and middle performers.
To boost overall performance, managers tend to zero in their two easiest targets — the best and least productive folks. It is easy to praise and reward your top performers because it only motivates them more. And it may seem like the lower performing agents are low hanging fruit, where any improvement from that group would move the needle.
However, let’s think for a moment about your middle-performing reps. Like the proverbial middle child, they tend to be ignored. But overlooking them may mean you are missing what might be your biggest and best opportunity to improve performance and thereby customer satisfaction. In fact, the Harvard Business Review recommends not just remembering your average performers but focusing your improvement efforts on them.
Why Focus on Your Middle-Performing CSRs?
Ignoring those in the middle allows them to remain average. That does not help customers, and it does not help your bottom line. It can even send a negative message to those agents actively trying to improve their work, suggesting that quality is not important. If average is OK, why bother to do more?
The problem with average is that it gives your customers the opportunity to find a better experience elsewhere, turning them into a lost customer (and therefore lost revenue).
Plus, consistency is critical. The goal is for every Agent is to deliver essentially the same, HIGH QUALITY experience, because a Customer who receives reliable service is a much more reliable Customer! Let’s not “wow” him/her one moment, and disappoint the next.
How Can You Lift Up Your Middle Performers?
Of course, you want to continue encouraging, training, and rewarding your top reps so they will keep up the good work. But also give your top reps an opportunity to share the wealth.
- Invite your best reps to help mentor and train their co-workers, especially newer people who don’t have the same level of company and product knowledge.
- Fostering an atmosphere of teamwork rather than only focusing on individual competition will encourage everyone to do better and reach common goals. So, encourage your Agents to share the ideas and approaches that are helping them deliver great customer service experiences.
- Coaches should feel empowered to spend more time doing side-by-sides with middle performers. This is the group that will most appreciate the attention, and will most likely respond positively. If you have automated speech analytics, you may well see improvements on a daily basis as a result of these side-by-side sessions.
Keep Helping Those Who Need it Most
Most people want to do a good job; some simply need more guidance and attention than others. By focusing on your middle performers while continuing to support and involve the best and narrowing the field of low performers, you can develop a team that delivers higher quality and more consistent customer service experiences. With the right combination of training, coaching, and positive feedback, your customers will be happy with the results.
Publish Date: September 18, 2018 5:00 AM
When you’re entering into a business relationship with another company, it can be a little scary! There is a lot of trust that goes into a partnership to believe that it will result in the desired outcome, whether that is higher revenue, more efficient operations, happier customers, or something else.
If you are already partnered with, or you are interested in partnering with a call center, you can appreciate the power that your call center holds: They represent your brand values, and therefore, represent YOU! So, our President and Founder, Fred Weiner, explains 2 ways you can tell if you are building a successful relationship with your call center partner:
Call Center Executives Should Be Extremely Involved
When should you expect to be in contact with your call center partner’s executives? From Day One! And further, they should continue to be involved in your business in every stage, from meeting with the clients and understanding what the needs are through the implementation and the launch of the program.
You should know who you can go to if you need something specific accomplished, know the roles and responsibilities of the executives in the company, and feel comfortable reaching out. Executives are there to help with strategy, to help with design and implementation, and to make sure that the contact center is moving on task. Can you say that about your call center partner?
Agents Should Be Top-Notch Quality
“At the end of the day, it’s the agents that really make the difference,” says Fred. Agents are the ones who are on the front lines, representing your company on the phones or online.
You should make sure that your call center partner has a quality pool of agents that they can pull from. Remember, agents represent your brand and finding quality CSRs is no easy task. That’s why having a partner with access to quality employees is so important.
Make a Connection With Your Partner
Here at The Connection®, we put our partners first. Not only do they get access to our top management, but they also receive our premium pool of call center representative talent! We believe that Our Team Members Are Superheroes in Plain Clothing. That goes for our employees and our partners, and we don’t take that distinction lightly.
Contact us to learn more about who we are, what differentiates us, and how we can serve you.
Publish Date: September 13, 2018 5:00 AM
Millennials may get a bad rap for their attention spans (or lack thereof), but they know their way around technology. In fact, they are changing the way we do everything, especially how we shop and communicate. And that is creating a huge impact on customer relations. So, let’s make sure your customer care center is thinking about Millennial customer service because Millennials are the next largest generation with spending power. To help, here are some tips for providing Millennial customer service.
Offer Help On Multiple Fronts (Channels)
First and foremost, Millennials are not only calling. In fact, they may never “dial” their phone to make a traditional customer service call. How many times have you heard your son or daughter say, “I was talking to…”, and you knew they never actually “talked.” It was their fingers doing the talking. Millennials prefer texting, social media and apps to do their “talking”. That means your contact center needs to offer an omni-channel presence that engages customers however they prefer — email, text messaging, social media. And, yes, even phone.
Provide Self-Help Options
Millennials do not expect an in-person conversation. They do not WANT to speak to a live person unless it is absolutely necessary. Instead, they are all about self-help. They have grown up helping themselves to information and advice through largely digital means, so that is what they expect from you. Give it to them, and you will win their hearts, not to mention their future business.
Millennials want speed and convenience. While some older folks may balk or find it weird to “speak” to an artificial intelligence, it seems perfectly normal to Millennials. Their homes are filled with smart devices of all types, each powered by an AI of some kind. So the idea that a chatbot can assist them faster, yet accurately, makes perfect sense.
Answer Simple Questions Quickly
Millennials like instant gratification and immediate answers. That's why when they Google something online, they expect a fast answer. And they expect the same from their customer service rep whether that comes from a chatbot, live chat, or self-help options. If they're going to talk to a live person, make sure your agents are knowledgeable and equipped with the proper technology to provide fast service.
Invest in Automated Call-Back
No one likes to wait, but Millennials may dislike it more than any generation before them simply because they're used to immediate responses from the internet. But if they do pick up the phone, they don't want to sit on hold for long periods of time. Instead of sticking callers on hold, invest in an automated call-back system so customers can leave their phone number, keep their spot in the queue, and receive a call back when an agent is available.
If You Think Like a Millennial, Are You Neglecting Older Customers?
Not a chance! Millennials may be the customers of the future, and they outnumber even the Baby Boomer generation. So, catering to them is a must. But, the truth is, older customers are not nearly as tech-phobic or digitally incompetent as they are portrayed! Besides, age has nothing to do with wanting a faster, more efficient customer service experience. And you still have live agents for those who prefer that channel of communication.
Strategizing to provide Millennial-friendly customer service is smart business. Companies and customer care centers that make the most of current technology and are quick to adopt or adapt innovative new options into their Customer Care offering can make a name for themselves with every contact. You are the brand that knows how to take care of people. Competitors that hesitate will be left in your dust!
Publish Date: September 11, 2018 5:00 AM
Customers are changing the way they interact with businesses. Gone are the days where someone’s first reaction is to pick up the telephone and call a prospective business. Often times, people start by doing a little research online, messaging with an online chatbot, and finally, reaching out via telephone. With all those steps, it is important that your business is on top of every user touchpoint!
Our CTO, Ken Unruh, breaks down how call centers have adapted to this changing technology:
Mobile Devices Encourage E-Chatting
From emailing to chatbots, mobile phones and websites drive the need to be present online. So, what types of technology does mobile usage encourage, and how are contact centers adjusting?
Chatbots Produce Strong Leads
Chatbots are an online messaging tool that allow your website visitors to quickly reach a representative. Have you ever been browsing a website and suddenly see a little window that pops up in the corner of the page with a “Have a question?” message (or something similar)? Those messages are usually initiated by chatbots.
Typically, chatbots collect the name, email address, and basic question from the visitor before automatically passing them on to a real person. Basically, they sort out the information and needs of the visitor and neatly package all that info for the representative who will handle the interaction from there. Sometimes, depending on the complexity of the chatbot, they can even send contacts to the appropriate representative based on the visitor’s needs. Talk about advanced!
Contact centers that keep up with technology have learned to adapt by building workflows that send website users to appropriate representatives. These centers should have teams of representatives ready to answer online questions.
Email Is Still Important
Of course, email is no new technology! But, all-encompassing contact centers should have a solid grip on email responses, as well. For instance, have you ever seen emails for businesses that look like “firstname.lastname@example.org”? These emails (and others like them) could be sent to contact center representatives, who should be eager to respond within 24 hours of receiving the message.
Text/SMS Provides New Opportunities
While relatively new to the contact center scene, SMS (Short Message Service) has become a popular way to contact businesses as well. Most cases of SMS messaging are from the business to the customer that has opted-in to receive text notifications. Think of a busy restaurant. Often, they send a text to a customer when their table is ready rather than provide them with those vibrating notification tools.
One of our favorite examples of texting in the business world is Domino’s Pizza. With Domino’s AnyWare program, you can text an emoji of a pizza to Domino’s, and they’ll deliver your favorite pizza in no time! But they didn’t stop there. You can now order a Domino’s pizza using Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and even Slack!
Contact centers should not only be aware of the power of text, but they should be actively involved in updating their technological capabilities to stay ahead of the competition.
Your Contact Center Should Stay Ahead
“Contact Centers need to evolve quickly in order to provide the sophisticated customer experience the customers and executives expect, and also provide all the different contact channels and flexibility,” Ken says.
Easier said than done! But, that is the job of contact centers nationwide. And with the quickly evolving technology comes the need to continually delight customers on all channels. Is your company currently using these different channels? If the answer is no, you should consider outsourcing your contact center team to someone who has the technology and resources available to grow your business.
Publish Date: August 30, 2018 5:00 AM
To ensure customer satisfaction, it is essential to have a well-functioning call center. But you work in an industry with one of the highest turnover rates in the world (60%!). So, no one could blame you for feeling stressed!
Do not fret, managing a call center efficiently is attainable, if we just treat our employees properly. With that in mind, try some of these employee-focused call center management best practices to make both your customers and employees happy.
1. Hire People With the Right Personality
Yes, it is tough out there, but we still need to find a way. Zero in on people who have the capability to handle the functional details of the job and the attitude to serve customers willingly, no matter what. Remember, you can teach skills but it is far more difficult to change someone’s personality.
Here's what to look for:
- Socially adept
- Retains knowledge
- Calm under pressure
- Effective communicator
2. Train Agents From Day One (and Never Stop)
Proper onboarding gets new hires off to the best start, so they can become the best possible employee. Properly-run call centers focus on training that begins on day one and never stops, even with veteran employees.
Teach techniques for handling difficult callers (because anybody could do the job it if was easy!). Agents who have the skills to turn irritated callers into satisfied customers are guaranteed to please everyone else.
Read our article to learn more about how to deal with difficult customers.
3. Provide Real-Time Feedback
Employees like to receive feedback so ensure that your call center utilizes performance metrics to gauge the quality and effectiveness of each person’s work. Look at metrics like first-call resolution, average handle time, and average wait time. These can serve to show the effectiveness and efficiency of how calls are processed. If you are not sure how these metrics can help, or if you are not familiar with these metrics, read our article on how to leverage quality assurance programs to improve your customer service.
Use that data — and recorded calls — to give real-time constructive feedback and personally coach each team member. Along with honing their personal skills, what tools or additional development opportunities do they need to go from good to great with their customer interactions?
4. Empower Agents to Make Decisions
Give your agents the authority to make decisions that resolve customer problems on the spot. It should come as no surprise that customers are not big fans of when you transfer them to someone else! If you provide great training, you can be confident your agents will do the right thing.
5. Listen to Your Agents' Feedback
Savvy call center managers know their agents are the ultimate source of customer insight. After all, they are on the front lines every day. Want to improve the experience your customers receive on the phone? Just ask your agents what problems or deficiencies need to be fixed. And ask how they would resolve those problems.
6. Encourage Agents to Take a Break
Is your call center busy? Great! But one of the best call center management tips we can give you is to help your agents reduce stress. Remind agents to take breaks throughout their shift. Downtime calms, refreshes, and fortifies individuals for the next round of high-test customer interactions. That is a good thing because the last thing frazzled customers want is to encounter a frazzled agent.
7. Express Gratitude to Your Employees
Working in a call center is a tough job. But it should not be a thankless one! One of the easiest ways to reduce turnover is to show employees that you appreciate them and their good work. Bring in pizza, host a happy hour (no, not when agents are still on the phone!), bring them together to brainstorm new ideas to help customers or make their jobs easier or more fun. Easiest of all — just say “thanks”!
Effective call center management requires great people who actually care about customer care. So, hire the best and never stop training, listening, or thanking your team for doing a great job. When employees are well-tooled and happy, customers will be happy with the results. Are you a superb manager, or what?
Publish Date: August 28, 2018 5:00 AM
Trusting another company to communicate with your customers is a big deal. It is one reason some companies hesitate to outsource their call center operations. But, you can do it! The key to success in finding a call center partner you can trust is all in the word “partner.” It takes a special relationship to grow sales and brand loyalty. And, frankly, not all call centers are up to it.
How can you tell a potential partner from just another vendor/supplier? Look for people you like because (hopefully) you will be working with them for a long time. And look for these five must-have traits, too.
Executive Team Engagement
Leadership sets the tone. If top execs are not actively engaged in their day-to-day business, you can bet they will not be actively engaged in your success, either. You will know you have found your true partner when, from the executive team on down, they are excited to roll up their sleeves and actively work with you to continuously improve. Why? When your business grows, so does theirs!
(P.S. They will be most effectively engaged if they understand your business and marketplace challenges. So take note of the executives who are inquisitive and interested in your business affairs.)
Culture shock does not bode well for a long-term relationship. A partner that has a similar “worldview” when it comes to things like ethics and employee relations will relate more easily to your company. After all, their people have to reflect your voice and personality to customers.
A call center that treats their people well usually has a low turnover rate. But the best way to get a sense of who they are is to visit in person and meet their people. Is this the team you want your customers to meet?
Quality Training Staff
Who is training their agents? You want a call center partner that makes training a top priority, with staff who can develop as well as deliver pertinent curriculum — successfully. Agents have to be good at the functional side of their job, but your customers expect them to know your products and policies inside and out. Do agents get ongoing training? How are they monitored for accuracy and attitude?
Insight Into Your “Agent Profile”
Not every agent is a great match for your company or your customers. You need a partner that gets that! One that employs people who have the right skills and demeanor to handle your customer care contacts. No skimping here because your company will live or die based on customer satisfaction with their call resolution and overall experience.
A call center that cannot deliver speedy, seamless service to customers across multiple contact channels is out of date — or getting there! It takes the right technology as well as the right people to impress your customers.
Does your potential partner record and live-monitor calls? Use speech analytics and virtual queuing? Chatbots or other self-service options? What KPIs and metrics do they use to measure their performance? More on point: can they still make the grade if your KPIs and metrics are different, or higher? Most important: do they have the infrastructure (and commitment) to flex and grow as your company grows and your needs change?
It Takes a Total Package
Look for a call center that is engaged from the top down, has a compatible management philosophy, emphasizes quality training, matches agents to your customers, and backs it up with technology and analytical tools that assure effectiveness. That company will be a partner, not just another supplier.
At The Connection®, we pride ourself on our ability to fit the mold of your company, while giving you access to the newest technology and our top management to ensure that you get the absolute most out of our services. Contact us for more information!
Publish Date: August 7, 2018 5:00 AM
Technology is always changing, and it’s transforming faster today than ever before! Systems we use now will likely be outdated in just a few years (but, hopefully not!). So, what does that mean for the contact center of the future? What technologies will shape the way we provide customer service?
Here are some key trends and predictions:
Social Media Becomes a Contact Channel
In the past, it was enough for companies simply to have a presence on key social sites. As long as you had a page, and you occasionally posted a cat meme or shared a customer’s comment, you were building awareness. Now, customers are using social media more broadly, and they expect to have service-related conversations online.
That means there can be no more half-hearted social media scanning as a way of managing your online presence! Instead, your team should be overtly engaged — regularly monitoring the traffic on your social channels, so you can control or correct information, respond to specific questions or issues, and participate in the conversation.
Chatbots and AI Boost Efficiency
Chatbots and more complex artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming the way the contact center of the future functions. In doing so, they are improving the experience for both customers and agents.
Many call centers are already using automated chatbots to provide initial triage or to vet contacts. For instance, chatbots will collect the name and email of the customer, and then pass along that information to a live agent to handle the actual question.
In some specific cases (where answers are simple), chatbots can handle everything from the initial triage to the actual answer itself, and can help customers without there ever being an agent involved. Right now, this typically only happens when someone wants to know store hours, locations, or some other simple question. Usually, however, chatbots cannot handle the entire transaction from start to finish. This is particularly true for calls involving sales or complex support.
Combining chatbots with full-system integration gives agents the knowledge they need to further assist customers without missing a beat. Agents can be more efficient because they have instant access to the chatbot’s “conversation” with the customer and the preliminary information the chatbot gathered. That speeds call resolution and impresses customers — both of which are key goals for every call center.
Today, more and more call center technologies are becoming cloud-based. Legacy systems were expensive and slow, and it has always been difficult to integrate multiple channels in that environment. Now, cloud-based systems are designed to support multi- or omni-channel contacts within a single platform. As contact centers find themselves dealing with customers across an ever-growing number of channels, this single platform approach is crucial.
Adopting the latest technologies, like an integrated CRM, customized agent interface, and legacy technology integration software enables contact centers to provide the best possible customer service. And there is another benefit: Technology that makes the agent’s job easier and more effective just plain makes employees happier! In today’s environment, where hiring and retention are tough, taking steps to improve employee experience can be critical.
A Better Experience for Everyone
Nowadays, customers value a good experience almost as much as the product or service they're buying. From social media to chatbots and other innovative technologies, companies that hope to outshine the competition are putting the call center of the future into practice today.
Publish Date: July 31, 2018 5:00 AM
Outsourcing customer service can feel more daunting than outsourcing other business functions. After all, we are talking about your customers, here. Should you let go of their care and handling? Will the benefits outweigh the costs? You need to protect and grow your bottom line as well as your reputation, but outsourcing customer service can actually help you do both.
Here are three of the biggest financial benefits of putting your customer service in the hands of outsource experts.
Direct and Indirect Savings
Think about all the hidden (and not-so-hidden) costs of managing your own customer service call center. There are direct operations and overhead costs, including valuable facility space, equipment and systems, software, personnel to operate and manage the systems, and the list goes on. Indirect (or not so indirect) costs include costs associated with management, training, and other HR issues. And then there is the very high cost of dealing with a call center that does not run well and may provide poor service to your customers.
By selecting and outsourcing to the right partner, you can get out of the personnel business and out of the call center management business. You can eliminate or repurpose the physical space that now houses your call center, telephony software, phone switch, etc., and put it to better use. You can also eliminate the phones, desks, and employees required to operate your call center, provide training, monitor QA, and handle related administrative tasks. The focus goes back onto your core business.
Better Results Without the Headaches and Frustration
An inability to recruit quality personnel for your call center will likely lead to high attrition, and before they attrit, they will care little about your brand, and no doubt that will be conveyed to your customers. Your reputation will suffer. In addition, a revolving door of agents is a tremendous HR expense, and the result is a poor quality product. Your customer service cannot be good because people turn over faster than they can learn your brand.
Call center professionals have the inside track on hiring the best people, and often they have ways to incubate personnel in house before assigning them to your team. Professional training and incubation will make a big difference. Often professional call centers invest more effort in developing the kind of pleasant, positive work environment that inspires retention and results in more knowledgeable and experienced agents. The bottom line on that is a better experience for your customers.
Behind The Technology Curve
Ensuring calls get handled in a proper and timely fashion also takes a boat load of technology. Phone systems, ACD’s, Workforce Management Software, voice analytics, and more. This is just the beginning of the list of technology necessities to have a professional operation that manages call flow properly. You can’t risk endless hold times, or missing calls all together. So if you want your customer support function in house, prepare to become an expert on call center technology and invest heavily in repeated upgrades and the newest bells and whistles.
Your outsourcing partner will bring all those key technologies to the table. And a good partner will keep up on the latest and greatest, cutting-edge technologies, and know when to advise you that it’s time to integrate new options with your multi-channel access modes. And your customers, and in turn, your business, will be the beneficiaries.
Outsourcing customer service relieves you of massive operational, technological, and administrative burdens. You can recoup time and money and effectively increase customer satisfaction. That makes outsourcing a smart, strategic decision that can deliver positive bottom-line results.
Publish Date: July 26, 2018 5:00 AM
If you think your call center has little to do with increasing your business' bottom line, think again. When your customers interact with your call center agents, it can either reinforce your reputation as a caring, customer-oriented company or damage your brand's reputation, perhaps permanently!
Of course, the quality of a call comes down to many factors, including the performance of the CSR. So, one way to increase the likelihood of regularly providing a positive experience for your customers is to invest in quality call center technology that will properly support your CSRs when they are helping customers. So, how exactly can call center technology help your business succeed?
More Efficient Customer Service
Some customers pick up the phone and call your agents directly, however, many communicate with you via email, text, or chat. Modern call center technology can blend all your channels into a universal queue and efficiently route them to available CSRs.
With this technology, you can use a single team of representatives to field all call types or you can create separate queues for different channels. This decision may well depend on the volume of each channel and where you have critical mass to dedicate a team. Today’s contact center phone systems allow you to manage all inquiries in a timely manner, because calls can be prioritized by channel type. For example, voice calls can be answered in real-time, whereas emails can be handled within an hour or two. Live chat is real time, but each CSR handles several chats simultaneously.
The multi-channel system feeds the appropriate next contact to the CSR based on desired metrics for each channel. This allows customers to receive a fast response and helps CSRs use their time most efficiently.
Better Quality Assurance
Quality assurance is vital to any call center. One way to measure quality assurance is by manually monitoring an agent's call — listening for accuracy, efficiency, friendliness, and helpfulness. Another, far more efficient way to measure quality assurance is through voice analytics.
Voice analytics can run every recorded call through an automated system that creates a complete transcript of the call and automatically grades the call based on predetermined factors. It gives you the ability to check thousands of calls, maybe even 100% of your calls, each day. This allows you to provide feedback in a timely fashion and helps your agents improve more quickly, ensuring an ever improving experience for your customers.
Making the Old Work Like New
Customers expect a seamless experience no matter what channel they use, and they expect CSRs to have answers. That means CSRs need quick access to customer history and product or service information.
Older, legacy CRM systems can be slower and many companies have separate systems for each channel. Often, the interface is inefficient, requiring agents to jump from system to system to perform convoluted and/or repeat data entry to find and enter necessary information. Process automation software can be incorporated above these legacy platforms.
With no help from the IT Department, process automation software can be installed on the CSR desktop. It can then be set up to learn how the legacy systems work, what inputs are required, and then it will ask the CSR for the input and then perform all the functions automatically, greatly speeding up and simplifying the process. Less errors from the CSR, quicker responses for the customer, and quicker turnover of your call queue means big wins all around!
Happier Customers Drive Revenue
There are many ways to measure customer satisfaction, and they don’t need to be expensive. Knowing how your team is performing and where they can improve enables you to continuously upgrade service quality. We recommend using both customer satisfaction surveys (post-call IVR or post-call email) and voice analytics that allow you to monitor calls in real time.
Finding and retaining good employees is a huge challenge for call centers. The work can be stressful, and outdated technology can make things more frustrating. Arming your CSRs with better, more high-tech tools that simplify and streamline their work creates a positive work environment that supports retention.
Ultimately, a good buying experience is almost as valuable to customers as the quality of service and/or product. So, think of call center technology as an investment in the success of your business. It integrates your operation and puts information right at the fingertips of your CSRs, allowing them to be more productive and to deliver a faster, more satisfying experience to customers.
Not only will your customers appreciate the efficiency, but your CSRs will be happier and more productive as well.
Publish Date: July 24, 2018 5:00 AM
Call centers use scripts for several reasons. Scripting allows you to control messaging and ensure agents are providing a consistent service experience to every customer. Scripts help move calls along efficiently. And they can reinforce your brand as a helpful listener. But different styles of scripts work best in different situations.
Here is a comparison of two common styles of scripts and why they may or may not be best for your purpose.
Types of Call Center Scripts
There are two types of call center scripts commonly used — verbatim and call flow or paraphrasing. Each type has its place in the customer service industry, so it is up to you to decide which style works best for your brand.
Sometimes you want a call center script that agents can read verbatim. This works well when calls are generally short and transaction-based, or, for example, when a disclaimer needs to be read.
Advantages of a verbatim script:
- No need for agents to deviate from the script.
- The call center can control messaging and branding.
- It is easy to direct callers through a call flow.
- Mitigates agent errors
- Easier to check for quality assurance
- You receive expected outcomes.
- It is easier to coach agents to be exact.
Disadvantages of a verbatim script:
- Messaging can sound robotic and disingenuine.
- Agents can become flustered when a call does not go as expected.
- Agents can become bored and unchallenged.
- Agents may become angry when coached repeatedly if one or two words are off script.
Call Flow or Paraphrasing
Call flow, or paraphrasing, scripts act more as a guide to an agent's call. They can also be referred to as Freeform scripts. This type of script provides key phrases and expressions, and an outline of what typically happens on a call. They are often longer, more complex, and require the agent to use institutional knowledge. Paraphrasing scripts are commonly used when it is uncertain what the caller may need during the transaction.
Advantages of a paraphrasing script:
- Agents have the freedom to make logical decisions around a guide they must follow on a call.
- Callers typically remember the conversation because it is longer and about the agent and caller, not a step-by-step transactional call.
- Agents can feel challenged and appreciated for their knowledge.
- It is more engaging and genuine.
Disadvantages of a paraphrasing script:
- More difficult to train agents
- Training typically lasts longers.
- More challenging to grade for quality assurance
As you can see, verbatim and paraphrasing scripts are beneficial for different reasons. The type of script you use for your company depends on the scope and purpose of your call center. No matter what script you choose, your customers should feel well taken care of by your agents.
Publish Date: July 19, 2018 5:00 AM
If you work for any length of time in a call center, it is inevitable that you will encounter difficult customers. Some are annoyed, others are unhappy, and there can even be those that are irate due to an issue with a product or service. Or, they became cranky because they had to wait too long on hold. Perhaps they just weren’t having a good day. Regardless of the reason, it is up to those of us in the customer care industry to give each person a positive experience.
Customer Service Comes First
De-escalation is the first step toward resolving the customer’s problem. Unfortunately, there is no cookie cutter way to do this. We need to adjust our tactics depending on each situation. With that in mind, here are some common types of difficult customers and tips on how to approach them.
- Blabbering Babs
Babs is the nicest person you have served all day, but good grief, can she talk! The more she wanders off on tangents, the longer other customers have to wait on hold. To keep things moving, try to manage the conversation. This may involve asking questions that require shorter answers. You cannot be too conversational either, because given an inch, Babs will take a mile. Politely steer her through the conversation. She will never be your shortest call of the day, but you can still get through it without blowing away your daily metrics.
- Expressive Elaine
Folks with “expressive” personalities tend to be dramatic. Elaine did not intentionally insult you or your company, she simply spoke without thinking. Let her negative comments roll off and focus on her actual problem and how you can fix it. The minute you show empathy and concern, Elaine will be appreciative and eating out of your hand.
- Impatient Ivan
Ivan is not actually unhappy, he is a “driver” personality – one of those people who wants to skip the chit chat and get on with it. You can almost feel him tapping his foot as he talks. The best way to please Ivan is to follow his lead – be businesslike and resolve his issue as quickly as possible. No extra chit-chat for Ivan!
- Mistaken Martin
Martin has his facts wrong, but he is adamant anyway. Frustrating as this is, arguing will only make him mad and reflect poorly on the company. Instead, explain what you can do to help him and how this solution will benefit him. If you can offer options, even better.
- Nit-picky Nancy
Nancy’s problem seems so insignificant, you cannot imagine why she called. But Nancy lives for detail, so her tiny problem looms large in her mind. Just go with the flow here. Become her partner in finding an agreeable solution.
- Screaming Sam
Sam is that guy who is beyond irate, and he finally has a live person on the line: You. As much as you may want to fight back, remain calm and remember that Sam wants someone to listen to him. Empathize, and be positive. Say you are “sorry that happened,” then reassure him that you are the person who can make things right. Enlist his help in finding a solution by asking him what would make him happy. When you take care of Sam, you will feel like you earned your pay. Kudos to you for taking the toughest call of the day and turning it into a happy and dedicated customer!
- Special Steve
Steve is sure that, as a mere “first tier” employee, you do not have what it takes to resolve his issue. It is so complicated, or he is so important, that only a supervisor will do. Be polite, but be assertive. Explain that you do have the knowledge – and the authority – to fix his problem, then do that.
Creating Positive Experiences
When you know how to approach different types of difficult customers, you will feel more confident in dealing with them. You will be able to de-escalate appropriately, then work with them to not only resolve their problem but make them feel positive about their experience. With these techniques, everyone can end their call feeling respected and satisfied.
Publish Date: July 17, 2018 5:00 AM
Customer on hold. It is not merely frustrating for your customer, long hold times can turn even the most polite person into a difficult customer, or cause them to simply hang up. Long wait times can transform a potential customer into a brand demoter, and hangups can mean a lost sale for your business!
But things do not have to be that way. At times, placing customers on hold may be a necessity, however if handled properly, the time on hold can be an opportunity for you to engage with customers in positive ways. With the right call waiting strategy, you can transform a boring or irritating wait into an unexpectedly pleasant experience.
A Better On-Hold Experience
Here are some ways you can turn the call waiting experience into a positive brand interaction:
- Tell them what to expect. Waiting on hold is especially annoying when the customer has no idea how long the wait will be. Consider investing in technology that can inform them where they are in line or give them an estimated wait time.
- Offer a Call back. If queues tend to be long, offer the option of a call back without losing their place. Many of your customers have been presented this option by other companies and you will be pleasantly surprised at the large percentage of customers that will take you up on that option.
- Offer self-help. Many consumers today prefer to assist themselves whenever possible. Prompts that guide them to your business hours and location, answers to frequently asked questions, or to an appointment scheduler allow callers to get what they want quickly and conveniently. Self-help moves your queue forward faster, which benefits both customers and customer service reps. And you can always direct them to your website for more complex self-help services.
- Enlighten them. Have a new product or service, or an upcoming in-store special event? Tell callers about it. Offer tips on how to use or care for your products. Suggest accessories or complementary products or services the customer may not have considered.
- Promote your current specials. Are you offering a special discount this month? Do you offer a free service? Tell callers about that, too. Offer an exclusive incentive just for callers to thank them for waiting on hold. Invite customers to sign up for your blog feed or newsletter to receive ongoing tips and discounts, or to become a member of your rewards club.
- Keep thanking them. Interesting, useful messaging will help keep customers engaged until their turn arrives. But remember to show customers you value their time by periodically including a thank-you for their patience as they continue to hold.
- On Hold Music. You may eventually need to provide on-hold music, but if you have engaged and informed the customer of everything that is timely and reasonable, music is better than silence.
Customer Experience is King
The last thing you want is for customers to hang up before they get the answers they need or their order placed! Those kinds of negative customer service interactions can have a detrimental effect on their overall relationship with your company. By providing a positive on-hold experience, you can keep your customers on the line and ensure they are better-informed than before the call. Your customers will have a better customer service experience, will be more satisfied, and you might even increase sales in the process.
Publish Date: July 12, 2018 5:00 AM
So, your business is on the rise. As your sales increase, your company will need to expand to accommodate that growth, particularly in the realm of your customer care department. When thinking about customer service, it can be easy to only picture the customer-facing side of call center staffing. However, before agents can ever face customers (electronically or in-person) numerous behind-the-scenes Human Resources and personnel management tasks must take place — the work necessary to recruit, onboard, train, and manage those agents.
You may want to ask yourself if it is in your company's best interest to expand your in-house HR team and functions, or is it time to consider outsourcing call center staffing responsibilities. Here are some considerations to take into account when making the decision.
If you have the processes, the procedures, the SOP’s, etc., then perhaps it is feasible for you to add to your management team.
But, technology is also a factor. If you are expanding your personnel operation to support more call center agents, it could push you past the point where you can no longer use Excel as a makeshift tool for scheduling and workforce management or rig your old phone system to try and get more complex routing processes, etc.
At some point, to expand your operation, you are looking at investments in workforce management, cloud-based phone platforms, QA systems, structured training, official QA processes, and more HR personnel. Now it starts to get expensive to acquire the technology, and more expensive to employ the personnel operate all of it.
What About Outsourcing?
If you have tried expanding before, or if you are looking into the costs of expansion, you may ask yourself if it would be more cost-effective to hire someone else to handle this work instead. You are not alone! HR is one of the most common outsourcing targets for growing companies, because the right outsourcer could make your life MUCH easier.
A good outsourcer has made it their business to handle the recruiting and hiring of the right personnel for contact center customer service functions. They have developed the proper interview techniques to ensure they will filter out bad employees to provide a solid team of core personnel. Here are some additional considerations:
- Specific professional expertise. Your in-house HR department is responsible for recruiting, hiring, benefits management, and a host of other personnel details across your entire company. Call centers require different skills and expertise. An outsourcing partner that specializes only in call center staffing has the established relationships and other resources to succeed in this extremely competitive arena.
- Reduced turnover. With higher quality hiring, you can look forward to less turnover. Agent churn is a major problem for many call centers. It is not only expensive, but it can destroy continuity and productivity, damaging customer service and your company’s reputation.
- Greater agility. You need to be able to ramp up quickly for peak seasons or special sales events, while also being able to recoil during slower periods. An outsourced HR provider has a pool of qualified, available candidates that you may not be able to create on your own.
- Administrative relief. HR regulations are complex and ever-changing, even more so when it comes to call center staffing and operations. Compliance is critical, yet it takes time to stay abreast of every detail. Simply handling the paperwork associated with hiring, payroll, reporting, and otherwise managing employees is very time-consuming. Outsourcing lifts these burdens and gives you greater peace of mind, knowing nothing is being overlooked.
- Internal focus on customer service. With someone else handling HR and personnel responsibilities, you can concentrate internal time and energy on improving the experience your call center offers customers.
Quite often, companies reach a point where the number of people they are recruiting, on-boarding, training, and managing has grown beyond their capability to manage, or it becomes too big of a distraction from the focus on their core business functions.
You Could Outsource a Piece of Your Call Center
As you continue to grow, you may decide that it makes more sense to offload a portion, or all of your call center operations, not just the staffing component. With the right partner, outsourcing can save your company precious time, recapture funds now spent on facilities and labor, reduce exposure to future technology acquisitions, and enable you to focus more directly on core business initiatives – all without sacrificing productivity or customer service quality. (You might even see a boost in both performance and results!)
For now, evaluating whether it is best to expand internally or outsource HR will allow you to accommodate your rising call center staffing needs in the most efficient and effective manner.
Publish Date: June 26, 2018 5:00 AM
Many companies find that outsourcing their inbound call center operations offers more benefits than handling the work in-house. When researching where to outsource, there are basically three options to consider: offshore, nearshore, or domestic. So, which type is best for your business?
What to Consider When Choosing a Call Center
What is “best” for your organization will depend on your company’s unique set of needs and goals. You may want to consider:
- Labor costs
- Quality of labor
- Time and Travel expense / Budgetary and time constraints to visit as frequently as you would like
- Data security (ability to protect both company and customer information)
- Training that ensures adequate knowledge of company products and policies
- Monitoring and other necessary steps to ensure appropriate quality control as well as regulatory compliance
- Language barriers, accents
- Need for bilingual or multiple languages
A nearshore call center is located outside the United States, but typically is in our hemisphere. Regions such as Mexico, Central America, nearby islands, and even South America are often considered nearshore.
Advantages of nearshore:
- Definitely closer and less complicated travel than offshore
- Less expensive labor than domestic
- Often agents are bilingual and help with the demand for Spanish speaking personnel
- Some nearshore countries have a large number of expatriates from the U.S. so their English skills are near or at 100%
- Residents of these countries often have lived in or visited the U.S. so our culture is well-understood and easier for these agents to replicate
An offshore call center is one that is located in a more distant region of the world. India, Philippines, Asian countries, and Eastern Europe are all examples of offshore areas that have call centers. The biggest draw of offshore call centers is their ability to hire agents at a far lower cost. Other offshore advantages include:
- Often located in large cities with plentiful labor supply
- The government entities are motivated to bring these jobs to their country
- The culture is designed to make people successful, e.g. people working overnight shifts to match U.S. hours
- Some offshore locations have populations that can support multiple languages
Offshore call centers are geared to large operations. Sometimes a single high rise in the Philippines can have three different call center companies on different floors.
An onshore, or domestic, call center is located in the United States. Advantages include:
- No concerns about language or cultural barriers
- Agents and customers can relate to one another, setting the stage for positive, brand-building experiences
- Easier travel to conduct training, focus groups, etc.
- Potentially can speed ramp-up time, simplify changes, and assure security and compliance standards are met
So, Which is Best For You?
The size of your required call center can often be a major factor. If you have a smaller operations, (less than 100 seats) typically offshore is not for you. It is too far away, there are too many risks, and offshore operations are, generally speaking, built for large, multi-hundreds or multi-thousands of seats.
Nearshore facilities will often gear themselves to smaller operations, maybe as small as even 10 seats. However, the fewer the seats, the smaller the savings, and it may not add up to enough savings to offset the potential lack of control you may have in a nearshore facility.
For many companies, customer experience is the overriding factor. Your call center can directly affect your brand and your customer loyalty. So the farther away you go, the more certain you need to be that the partner you select is going to produce a quality team of personnel that are invested in your success.
No one ever leaves the U.S. for a nearshore or offshore partner because they want better customer service. Cost savings is the driving factor, and from there, you simply need to investigate thoroughly that the rest of their solution will meet your standards, or that the sacrifice you might make in certain other factors is acceptable.
Publish Date: June 21, 2018 5:00 AM
According to the U.S. Contact Centre Decision Makers Guide, call centers saw an average of 60% agent turnover rate by mid-2017. Unfortunately, this rate (or much higher) is common in the industry, and continues to be among the top issues faced by call center managers. However, there are steps you can take to retain hard-working, loyal employees.
Here are three tips to help minimize turnover in your call center.
Careful Hiring Practices
Most turnover occurs within the first 30 to 90 days of employment. So, the more thorough your hiring process, the more likely you are to reduce turnover. Remember, not everyone is cut out to be a successful customer service rep. The work can be stressful, especially on days when agents have to deal with multiple demanding, unhappy customers.
You want people who are consistently upbeat and empathetic. Create a profile of your ideal agent — their skills and personality traits. Then, search for candidates who match that profile. Testing and pre-employment assessment tools can help. For example, behavioral testing will help you (and the candidate) learn if they have the right temperament to be a CSR. Skills testing confirms they can type at required speed and handle other tasks.
In the interview, ask questions. Discuss the product or service they will be representing. Some people will come right out and tell you that they wouldn’t feel sorry for someone having an issue with that product. Now that’s a red flag!
Conduct background checks, too. This verifies the candidate’s personal information, and it helps ensure workplace safety.
A second interview helps, and in general, give yourself enough time to be thorough. If you are hiring in a hurry, people may leave in a hurry!
Once you have selected the best candidates, training is critical. New hires often quit because of inadequate training. They get nervous, flustered, and frustrated. So, tempting as it is to get agents online and “earning their keep” as quickly as possible, remember that turnover is very expensive. Cutting that corner is a sure ticket to spending the time, money, and resources to recruit a replacement.
As part of training, include tests and exams. Find out where the teams’ weak points are. Retrain right away before they hit the floor, feel inadequate, and quit. Investing more in up-front and ongoing training almost always provides a greater long-term return.
Once the classroom training is complete, leave time for nesting on the floor. Easing new agents into their job by using experienced reps and/or supervisors as mentors is a great way to make those first calls less stressful. It also shows care and builds trust between the new agents and the management and supervisory teams. This goes a long way toward agents giving you the benefit of the doubt when there is an issue instead of simply walking off the job.
Remember, the number one reason employees leave is because of their supervisor. Take the opportunity during training and nesting to build bonds and trust that will make a difference, and ensure that your supervisory team is up to the job.
Retention is no accident. With today’s extremely low national unemployment rate (3.8%), good candidates are at a premium. Your agents could go looking for — or be lured away to — greener pastures. However, they are much less likely to leave if they feel happy and appreciated in their position with your call center. So, how do you incentivize your agents?
- Offer competitive pay and benefits Be as flexible as possible in scheduling
- Give agents the authority to get creative, if necessary, to make callers happy
- Find ways to add fun to break times, or provide free snacks to keep everyone well-fueled
- Thank them for a job well done
By hiring the right people, training them thoroughly, and creating an environment that makes them feel valued, you will have a happier, more productive workforce that will greatly reduce agent turnover and greatly increase customer satisfaction with your call center.
Publish Date: June 19, 2018 5:00 AM