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The Key to Contact Center Success in 2022: Focus on Process

As we enter the new year, 2022 looks like it is going to bring with it some tough times for contact center managers. With high demand for labor across all industries and new work-from-home options, prospective agents have more control than ever. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for contact centers to hire and retain all the agents they need; there are just not enough available agents in the labor pool to go around and existing agents have demonstrated that they are willing to leave at the first sign of frustration.

Simultaneously, customer expectations for a better experience continue to rise. For simple or straightforward interactions, customers expect a wide range of efficient and easy-to-navigate self-service options. And for more unique, nuanced, or complex issues, customers still want to talk to agents but they expect those interactions to be pleasant and efficient as well.

Because of these trends, most contact center managers are discovering that the costs for hiring and retaining a capable staff and the costs for delivering great customer service with the help of those agents are rising at a pace that lots of contact centers are going to struggle to keep up with.

How We’ve Been Solving the Problem

Naturally, some contact center managers will try to forge ahead with the same management practices, feeling that spending more money on the problem and just “trying harder” will keep their contact center functioning effectively. But with fewer agents available and higher customer expectations, resources spent on fixing these problems do not produce effective results and don’t facilitate sustainable improvement. Instead, what you get is:

  • Agents are frustrated. They don’t feel helpful or valuable, they are overworked, they burn out quickly, and they leave for more appealing opportunities, of which there are many.
  • Increased customer expectations go unmet. Customers are frustrated that their issues are poorly resolved and that the agents they deal with are unpleasant or incompetent. They leave and choose to work with your competitors instead.
  • Managers spend all their time putting out fires. They have no opportunity to make improvements because urgent issues constantly demand their time, attention, and resources. Metrics suffer and managers feel increased pressure from management about the contact center’s performance.

Any of these outcomes would be bad enough on their own, but managers who refuse to change their approach will find that all of these things will start to happen (if they’re not happening already) and each of these trends exacerbates the others until increasing costs spiral out of control without achieving any real improvement. In other words, frustrated agents result in unmet customer expectations and managers having to spend time addressing agent issues. Increased customer expectations result in agents getting overworked and getting frustrated because they’re not able to meet those expectations. And harried managers aren’t able to make sustainable, measurable improvements in taking care of their agents or their customers. In the end, no one is happy and no one is doing their job effectively.

2022 is Going to Require a New Approach

To survive in this new world, contact centers will have to change their approach and that approach doesn’t start with ramping up hiring, spending more on technology, or developing new channels to help customers—it starts with clearly defining the process for delivering great customer service.

Only when you’ve clearly defined how to do the job correctly can you create a baseline for good service. Initially, the process might take a bit longer but at the very least you know the job is getting done right. Once the job is done right, you can look to technology solutions that facilitate that process being done quicker, that enhance your agents’ ability to follow the process, or that let your customers get the same great service in different channels. So all of your technology dollars are spent on improving from that baseline standard you established rather than solving one problem only to create another one, e.g. reducing handle times only to see quality scores suffer.

Lots of managers will respond that they already have their processes clearly defined because they have a knowledge base. But knowledge bases are insufficient in two ways. First, they’re never detailed enough to cover every scenario that an agent will encounter. Second and more importantly, accessing the information in your knowledge base is time-consuming and error-prone. Any agent who needs to reference your knowledge base usually has to switch to a different program and then search for the answer they need, read through those instructions once they find them, and interpret the best way to proceed based on what they found. While this is happening, customers are just waiting on the other end so handle times keep going up. Also, any two agents might interpret the steps wrong or in a rush they might miss a step, resulting in inconsistent service and often frustrated agents.

For a well-defined process to be truly effective at improving service or improving the agent experience, the right information has to be given to the agent when they need it and the steps forward have to be clear. Then when every agent knows exactly what to do on every call, the result is:

  • Agents want to work for you. Their jobs are simple and straightforward, they are good at what they do, and their work is stress-free. Recruiters get an advantage in the contracting labor market that isn’t based on just paying higher wages. So, costs associated with hiring and retaining quality agents goes down.
  • Customers get exceptional service. The job is done efficiently, accurately, and uniformly every time a customer contacts the company regardless of the complexity of their issue or the channel they choose to use. So, the cost of delivering great customer service goes down and quality increases so customers are more likely to remain a client.
  • Managers no longer spend all of their time and resources putting out fires. They get constant and sustainable improvement which results in better metrics, reduced stress due to more predictable costs, increased performance, and better outcomes.

How are you going to remember 2022 a year from now? Will it be the year that you worked harder and spent more money without realizing significant results? Or will it be the year that you changed your approach, focused on clearly establishing your process, and reached contact center bliss?

Publish Date: January 18, 2022 12:23 PM


Why You Need to Finally Kill your Knowledge Base

Remember driving before we had GPS navigation? In the past when you were planning a road trip, you would get out an atlas or all the paper maps you might need. Then you’d sit down at the kitchen table to map out your route, figure out where you were going to stop, and estimate how long the trip might take. It was an inefficient and potentially error-prone method but using paper maps for navigation was an essential part of traveling the open road and getting to your destination. Without it, you would be flying blind.

Those days when we all used paper maps for navigation weren’t actually that long ago, but today these formerly-indispensable tools seem like quaint anachronisms because of the advent—and obvious benefit—of turn-by-turn GPS navigation.

In the contact center world, we’re all very familiar with the CX version of a printed road atlas: the knowledge base. It is a standard practice to give our agents on the floor this in-depth resource that is meant to contain instructions to guide agents through how to correctly handle every customer interaction they might encounter. But in giving our agents a knowledge base, aren’t we essentially giving them a huge stack of paper maps? Isn’t a knowledge base, just like a paper map, also an inefficient and potentially error-prone tool? And doesn’t the utility and ease of GPS navigation suggest that there’s a much better way?

The Inefficiency of Search/Read/Interpret

Let’s consider the disadvantages of using a paper map. Your first step in using a map is to figure out where you are on the map and where you want to go. And then it’s up to you to interpret the best way to get there.

You’ll likely have to take extra time along the way to stop and consult the map to determine your next turn or to ensure you’re still on the right path. Similarly, with a knowledge base, agents are forced to waste a lot of time searching to find the answer they need, reading that answer, and then interpreting how to proceed based on what they read—just to determine the correct next step or to validate that they’re doing the job correctly. And while they’re doing this, they’re likely putting callers on hold or just giving them dead air. Their quality score drops as the seconds tick away.

Road Work Ahead

If new roads are built or old roads are under construction, a paper map is unlikely to contain updated information, sending you in the wrong direction and costing you further time in delays or at least preventing you from taking advantage of new, better roads.

In your contact center, when changes to certain processes are made, many agents may forget about those changes or they may be unaware of them entirely. Some agents will try to account for the change by writing a reminder on a sticky note and sticking it to their monitor (which also won’t solve the problem). Either way, agents end up giving customers inaccurate information which may force the customer to call back and which will result in poor customer service.

Less is More

Another advantage of GPS over paper maps is actually the lack of information it gives you. With a paper map, every town, road, or point of interest that isn’t on the most direct route is unnecessary for our trip and only obfuscates the most efficient way to get there. With GPS, you get the information you need when you need it without other extraneous information.

In a call center, the most effective way to guide an agent is to give them only the information they need to solve the current customer’s issue at the time they need it instead of all the information they might need, which just slows them down.

The Ultimate Driving Experience

Today, the benefits of using GPS navigation are so clear that many of us now use it for getting across town or for traveling routes we know well—situations for which we would never have used a map before—simply because driving is a more pleasant experience if you don’t have to worry about directions and you can just focus on getting there safely.

Imagine if you could give your agents a similar experience by eliminating the inefficient and stress-inducing knowledge base and replacing it with tools that eliminate stress and confusion and let them focus on delivering great customer service.

Publish Date: January 18, 2022 12:18 PM


Quality Scores and CSAT: The Oil and Water of Contact Center Management

Most every contact center measures both quality scores and CSAT scores. And while ostensibly both of these metrics are designed to improve the caliber of each customer interaction, it’s no secret that in most contact centers these metrics seem to fluctuate wildly and independently from each other, eventually turning into a kind of metrics whack-a-mole—you fix one only to find that the other now needs attention.

But shouldn’t they be closely tied together? Afterall, shouldn’t higher quality scores result in happier customers? And wouldn’t you assume that an agent who delighted a customer would get a higher quality score for handling the call properly? Well, that’s not normally the case. And here’s why.

Typically a contact center’s quality score reflects the extent to which the agent followed company policies for handling calls. This might involve greeting the customer properly, reading any required compliance language, and adhering to the rules the company has laid out for agents to follow. CSAT scores, on the other hand, reflect how happy a customer is with the service they’ve received. The problem, then, is that an agent can follow all the company policies and still provide a terrible experience and, conversely, an agent might provide a great customer experience but break all the rules while doing so.

Further complicating the utility of both quality scores and CSAT scores is the fact that they’re both a reflection of just a small sample size of calls. Most contact centers don’t audit every call for quality and anyone who has looked at results from CSAT surveys knows the customers who choose to leave feedback tend to be the customers who had the worst experience.

Some contact centers have turned to natural language processing (NLP) to solve the issue of sample size. The rationale in that case is that if you’re able to automatically transcribe every call, you can audit more systematically and better uncover quality issues and perhaps even discern the caller’s mood based on language and tone. But even with recent significant advancements in NLP, it’s difficult to accurately ascertain both call quality and customer satisfaction at scale simply by transcribing what was said.

So how can you use CSAT and quality scores together so that they result in tangible, meaningful, and lasting improvement for the customer experience?

For starters, adopt tools that give agents next-best-action guidance so every call is handled correctly and quality scores improve. This guidance helps agents complete proper call openings and closings, properly authenticate customers, read any compulsory compliance language, and ultimately achieve a high quality score. Then, make sure those tools are used on every call so you can get a more accurate picture of what’s going on in your contact center and so you can uncover quality issues that you otherwise might have missed with sporadic fly-bys and call audits.

When those tools are in place, you are able to establish a baseline for how long a correctly-handled call that meets quality standards should take. This might be longer than you’d like but it is a starting point and it ensures your agents are achieving the requisite quality scores. Afterall, a good call isn’t necessarily the fastest call; it’s the call that resolves the customer’s issue while adhering to company policy.

Then finally, once that baseline is established, then you can focus on the tools, training, and processes that help improve CSAT scores by reducing the time required for your previously-established baseline call. The result is consistently improved CSAT scores without ever cannibalizing quality.

Publish Date: January 13, 2021 9:56 AM


Cure The Cause of a Bad Agent Experience (Not Just the Symptoms)

We all understand that agents are critical in delivering great customer experiences, so it makes sense that developing ways to keep agents happy with their work has been a focus of recent innovation in the customer service industry. Gamification, contests, and prizes, for example, are just a few of the tricks the industry has tried to keep agents engaged. But while these tools might have some impact on agent job satisfaction, they don’t ultimately result in higher customer satisfaction.

That’s because just adding more fun to an agent’s daily life doesn’t change the fact that being an agent is a difficult, stressful, and tedious job. And unless that changes, any gamification or prizes are just covering up the symptoms of a bad agent experience. But what if we focused on improving the agent experience simply by making the job easier? Then we’d be solving the cause of the problem instead of just trying to fix the symptoms.

For example, we’ve all seen painstakingly detailed knowledge bases that are designed to give agents all the information they need to handle any call. If they have access to all the answers they need, accurate and consistent customer service should follow, right? Well, no, because agents still need to search, read, and interpret information in the knowledge base which takes time, adds stress, and results in inconsistent service.

Let’s imagine we’re going on a road trip. If we have a map and a destination, we likely have all the information we need to get where we’re going. But there’s a reason no one uses a road atlas anymore: using a map to navigate involves the same process of search/read/interpret that we give our agents and it is a process that is error-prone, requires lots of effort, and takes the focus away from driving. And what if you take a wrong turn? You have to turn around, go back and find where you made the mistake, and then continue on in what you hope is actually the right direction this time.

But now that we all have turn-by-turn directions on our phones, we don’t make those kinds of mistakes anymore. At each juncture, our GPS just tells us what to do next and it continually updates to adjust the route so that no matter whether we miss our exit or stop for gas, we’ll still be guided to the right destination in the end. It’s the same information that a map provides, but the GPS filters out all the unnecessary information—the mile markers, rest stops, and back roads that you don’t actually need to pay attention to—so you don’t have to process, you just have to steer. The result is a journey that is simply more efficient and less stressful.

In the same way, we can make the agent experience better by filtering out all the excess information and by providing specific guidance on what questions to ask, what to say, and what to do next, no matter where the conversation goes. Then, at every step of a customer interaction, from the initial authentication process to deep into a complicated call, agents feel more supported, more confident, and less stressed. Afterall, agents who can do their job effectively, efficiently, and confidently are happier employees. And naturally, your customers will appreciate the effectiveness, efficiency, and confidence as well.

If you’re ready to improve your agents’ experience, so are we.

Publish Date: January 13, 2021 9:55 AM

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