Managing call centers today involves much more than scheduling agents to staff the phone lines. Working as a call center agent is a stressful endeavor, and it’s up to you as a manager to cultivate a positive working atmosphere, foster a sense of ownership, motivate your team to succeed, and most importantly, to stay informed on contact center best practices.
Of course, technology advances now make it easier to measure and optimize just about every facet of call center operations, but what technology tools of the trade should you adopt? The reality is that today’s call centers can generate revenue for the company, rather than existing solely as a necessary cost center as many did in years past. From enhancing the customer experience to up-selling and cross-selling, call center agents can serve several functions as an extension of customer support or customer service operations. Having the right technology, such as speech analytics tools, can help agents improve the customer experience.
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Given these trends and influences, managing a call center requires skillful juggling, prioritization skills, and a bit of technical savvy to take full advantage of the tools at your disposal while promoting a healthy company culture. That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you navigate your role as a call center manager and effectively balance the many facets of your role. From hiring for the right fit to effective training, motivating and engaging your team, workforce management, or even performance management, and more, we’ve rounded up 101 tips and sage advice from some of the most influential leaders in call center management, leadership, customer service, and more.
Click on a link below to jump to tips in a specific section:
- Hiring and Training Call Center Agents
- Motivating and Engaging Call Center Agents
- Call Center Scheduling and Workforce Management
- Customer Service in the Call Center
- Leveraging Technology to Improve Call Center Operations
- Call Center Metrics for Success
- Personality tests and assessments are valuable in gauging a candidate’s ability to diffuse tense customer interactions. “Personality tests and competency-based assessments can ensure that your candidate has the skills and experience to be a strong fit for the position. Personality tests that focus on the candidate’s answers to real-world customer service scenarios can give you more information about whether the candidate has the personality traits to diffuse tense situations. As part of this two-fold assessment scenario, a competency-based tool should be used to see if the candidate is skilled enough to learn the technological systems and procedures at your company efficiently.” – Scott Resnick, The 4 Best Interview Practices to Hire Call Center Representatives, Today’s Telecom Blog; Twitter: @TTIHouston
- Focus on employee engagement. “Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace(registration required) report states that companies in the top quartile of employee engagement experience 10 percent higher customer ratingsthan companies in the bottom quartile. Engaged employees develop stronger relationships with customers, leading to a better customer experience, which, in turn, results in more sales and higher profits. Moreover, engaged workers are less likely to leave their employers, reducing turnover and onboarding costs and helping to ensure that institutional memory isn’t lost. On the flip side, by adversely influencing co-workers, missing work and outright stealing, the most bitter (or “actively disengaged”) employees are responsible for estimated productivity losses of between $483 billion and $605 billion dollars annually, according to Gallup.” – Katherine Evans, The Customer Journey Begins – and Sometimes Ends – With Your Employees, CMS Wire; Twitter: @KLulkiewicz
- Employee turnover has always been a pain point for call centers, and it’s a costly one. “So how do you improve retention among customer-facing workers? If you Google ‘retail employee attrition’ or ‘contact center attrition’ you’ll get a laundry list of suggested ideas. Improve the culture. Hire smarter. Improve training. Set goals and track metrics. Measure the quality, not just the cost, of customer service. Give employees the chance to work outside their disciplines. Create career paths. Foster feedback sessions. Conduct exit interviews.
“This is all good advice, and certainly worth pursuing. But there is one reliably dependable retention booster that an increasing number of firms are latching onto, and it doesn’t seem to make these advice lists:
“Give job applicants and newly hired employees a more realistic idea of just how difficult, tedious, and trying their jobs will actually be, once they sign on.
“If you want to keep your rank-and-file customer-contact people longer, if you want to improve employee engagement and ramp up the quality of the customer experience as well, then one of the best courses of action you can take is simply to paint a more realistic picture of how tough the customer-contact job is likely to be, from the very beginning.” – Don Peppers, A Surprising Way to Reduce Worker Attrition, LinkedIn; Twitter: @DonPeppers
- Use call monitoring checklists. “Most managers enjoy delivering monitoring checklists to agents. Obviously, it encourages managers to spend one-on-one time with the agents, and that extremely valuable form of communication cannot be overrated. There are many times when managers don’t want to spend valuable time sitting down with an agent to talk about their telephone skills.
“However, it so happens that each time managers perform a monitoring checklist and sit down with a particular employee, valuable time became much less important to the manager, and much more of a value to that agent.
“The majority of your telephone agents truly relish monitoring checklists, even if they will not admit so. They want feedback on what they do well, and they need feedback on what they can be doing better to find more success. Certainly, there are a few telephone agents who will wish they never had the manager pull up a chair and deliver a monitoring checklist, but that is natural in any field of business, and those agents have valid reasons for feeling that way. But by and large, agents cry out for monitoring checklists. They are the ‘touch-and-feel’ of the relationship between manager and agent.” – Dan Coen, The Magic Of Call Monitoring Checklists, Call Center Today; Twitter: @CallCenterToday
- Take a backwards approach to designing your onboarding experience. “Organizations often build their onboarding initiatives to only focus on content and don’t spend enough time focusing on how to successfully transfer that knowledge. We have five generations in the workforce, a rise in workplace flexibility, and people glued to their cell phones—all reasons to think harder about how we meet our employees ‘where they’re at’ so we can develop programs that successfully resonate with the interests, tech habits and workplace behaviors of today’s employee.” – Chris Williams, Creating a World-Class Onboarding Program Aligned with Your Culture, Culture University; Twitter: @TimKuppler
- Focus on your strengths to deliver gold-medal customer service. “An athlete has intense focus and concentration. The best companies know what they’re good at and know how to deliver it to their customer. They don’t lose that focusand derail with distractions. The best people in those companies focus on their customers and give them the undivided attention they deserve, making them feel important and respected.“When Olympic athletes turn in a Gold Medal performance, they get the recognition for their hard work and countless years of practice, the love and respect by their peers and fans and the satisfaction of knowing they are at the top of their sport.“When we deliver Gold Medal level customer service we reap the benefits of repeat business, raving customer endorsements and customer loyalty. And, like the athletes, we are fulfilled and reap the rewards in knowing that we are playing at the top of our game.” – Shep Hyken, Customer Service Olympics: Reach for the Gold to Reap the Rewards, Hyken.com; Twitter: @Hyken
- Adequate upfront training is crucial, as well as ongoing feedback throughout every agent’s tenure with the company. “Training is very crucial. Your call center agents are your front liners; therefore, how they handle each call would determine how successful your BPO operations would be. The key to having a good training program should be centered on how specific tasks are done, to be discussed inside training rooms, followed by letting these agents have an on-the-job first hand experience so that both learning and application would happen simultaneously.
“To make call center agents aware of how well or not they are performing, feedback is necessary. It is therefore, very essential in your employees’ development. Moreover, feedback tells agents that their efforts to do well in their tasks are both noticed and appreciated. Remember though to give constructive feedback at all times to refrain from lowering an agent’s morale.” – Hazel Icamen-Rabor, Management Tips for Call Center Agents to be Productive, CompuShooter; Twitter: @CompuShooter
- Training should be continuous and spontaneous, offering relevant advice and education in real-world scenarios. “As a manager, it is your job to listen and respond to your employees. Coaching/training can happen at any time, at any place, and it doesn’t have to be long-winded. Sometimes it is most effective to offer a short piece of advice to your employee that is immediately relevant to a specific situation. The message communicated during these less formal interactions are often heard more clearly as they aren’t lost in a longer training session. Training needs to relate to the job at hand. Try to incorporate relevant training into the working day, and into the tasks and activities agents have to complete in a real-time setting.” – Jodi Beuder, Five Training Tips to Make your Call Center Outstanding, Business 2 Community; Twitter: @CX_Jodi
- Have a strategy for handling sudden spikes in volume due to breaking news. “In this age of 24/7 news channels and social media, we’ve all come accustomed to breaking news stories about celebrities and politicians. Yet there are times when businesses themselves become ‘trending’ news stories and special reports. Whether it’s negative news of a natural disaster, a C-level scandal, a product recall, or a workplace tragedy, or a positive event like a product innovation, an upbeat earnings report, or an IPO, your contact center must be prepared for when there are dramatic increases in interactions across all communication channels.
“Nearly every business has the potential of having some type of breaking news. This is why it’s essential to be prepared for an unexpected spike in interactions. Certainly, the alternative of having customers on hold for hours during a critical time is not a wise strategy.” – Kathleen Hettinger, Guest Blog: Is Your Contact Center Prepared for Breaking News?, Shep Hyken’s Customer Service Blog; Twitter: @Hyken
- Train your agents to listen to the whole problem. “Don’t interrupt a complaining customer. It can be really, really hard to do this, but make sure that your team is trained to listen to the whole problem. No matter how long it takes. Even if call center employees will eventually hand off the call to another member of your staff, listening to the whole story is important, so the customer feels taken care of.” – Gail Goodman, as quoted by Sara Angeles in Customer Service 101: Phone Etiquette for Small Businesses, Business News Daily; Twitter: @ThePhoneTeacher
- Carefully evaluate the skills needed by your agents to tailor training to specific needs. “Effective training consists of looking carefully at what skills are needed to your staff. In a customer service call center, training often focuses on product knowledge, complaint management, or patching the buyer through to the right department. In some sales-based call core, training will target ensuring employees develop the knowledge and tools to advise customers for the best-fit goods and services. Engaging your employees’ ordinary manner that they can get answers and also support with problems they encounter though servicing customers makes for more positive outcomes for both the employee and customer.” – 5 Call Center Training Tips, Call Center Pros; Twitter: @CallCenter_Pros
- Make sure your training programs are rooted in reality. “Imagine how newbies feel when they complete training and finally settle into their team only to have a seasoned tell them, ‘Forget what you learned in training — here’s how we really do it.’” – Barbara Burke, Top Six Reasons New Agents Fail & What You Can Do About It, BarbaraBurke.com; Twitter: @HaveaSODA
- Like agents, call center managers require specialized training to meet the unique demands of the job. “Managing call centers requires specific skills and techniques. Beyond the basic knowledge and understanding of the day-to-day operations, call center managers need to know how to communicate key metrics and act as coaches who can inspire the whole team to perform at their best. Additionally, call center managers need to possess awareness of human resource and legal issues so they can ensure compliance in all areas.
“It is no secret that call centers can be very stressful environments. Handling calls from aggravated customers all day takes its toll, so managers must also know how to support their staff and provide teaching moments throughout the day.
- Hiring remote agents broadens the pool of qualified candidates by eliminating geographic restrictions. “Because your agents can be located just about anywhere in the world, the pool of potential hires just skyrockets when your contact center allows for remote workers. While it may be important to look for those in a closer region if they need to be onsite for training or team meetings, your agents will not be forced to deal with a lengthy commute each day. This alone will boost morale and productivity, and with the option to select from any agent just about anywhere, the opportunity to grab the most professional and well suited agents sky rockets. Many agents that work remotely will also be familiar with the industry and general practices, and may require even less training.” – Matt Grech, The Complete Guide To Managing Remote Call Center Agents, GetVOIP; Twitter: @getvoipreviews
- Don’t compromise on hiring quality when you need to ramp up for seasonal or other volume increases. “One of the biggest mistakes you can make when ramping up a team is to do it quickly and compromise on your hiring standards. This temptation becomes all the greater with a short timeline where you’re trying to get enough agents to fill a training class. According to Mercedes Guiliacci, one of the most important qualities to screen for when hiring seasonal agents is reliability. Along with this is the importance of team and culture fit and checking references. With a very specific time frame to meet for the client, there’s little opportunity for error. She also noted the importance of staying close to your recruiting team throughout the process.” – Jeremy Watkin, 6 Tips for Seasonally Ramping Up Your Customer Service Team, FCR; Twitter: @1callres
- Set productivity goals that empower agents to work efficiently without sacrificing customer service and satisfaction. “Productivity goals should complement other call center goals in the areas of quality and customer service and satisfaction. Otherwise, you may find that the emphasis on productivity is costing you customers. Too often, call center agents who are motivated solely on productivity find ways to be highly productive at the expense of quality and customer satisfaction. They may do hang-ups or transfers, for example, to improve their call handling rates.” – Donna Fluss, Motivate call center agents: Eight tips for success, SearchCRM; Twitter: @dfluss
- Become one with your team. “Don’t forget the front line. Reed said managers fall into the trap of spending time only with peers. Having one-on-one talks with agents can foster trust and open communication. Shadowing them during customer interactions reveals how well they are doing and lets the agent know that the manager is engaged with their performance. Ask agents about their career goals and visions for their future to show an interest in who they are as people.” – Sarah Stealey Reed, as summarized by Tim Ehrens, Ten leadership tips for contact center managers, SearchCRM; Twitter: @SearchCRM
- Set targets and offer incentives. “Working as a call center agent can be a repetitive and stressful job, so you’ll need to create an environment that encourages your employees to perform to the best of their abilities. Setting targets and offering incentives to your staff is a good way of creating a positive call center environment. If you’re going to be the best call center manger you can be, you’ll need to maintain drive and energy. You’ll be unlikely to get the response you want from your workers if you lack these qualities.” – Michael Roennevig, How to Be the Best Call Center Manager, Chron.com; Twitter: @HoustonChron
- Create a coaching culture. “The old saying: ‘CSRs don’t leave their job – they leave their direct Supervisor’ is true. How long a CSR stays with you – and whether they give their all at work – is directly influenced by their Supervisor.
“Supervisors who view their role as overseer – disciplinarian – enforcer – and pushing people to their maximum – or who ‘play favorites’ for reasons other than merit – quickly create an environment of apathy & frustration in their staff – and have significantly higher levels of Burnout/Emotional Exhaustion, Quit Rates & Turnover than Supervisors who lead by example – coaching – providing performance feedback – and fostering a greater sense of workplace belonging for employees.
“You can’t deliver a Coaching Culture if your Supervisors are so busy with administrative tasks – call monitoring – call escalations – and managing other day to day KPIs – that time for coaching & mentoring CSRs gets ‘lost in the shuffle’ with other competing priorities.
“Span of Control is an important part of a Coaching Culture. Span of Control refers to the ratio of Supervisors to CSRs. For example – a Call Center with 200 CSRs and 10 Supervisors has a Span of Control of 20:1.
“In a Contact Center with a Coaching Culture the ratio of Supervisors to CSRs is low. There are more Supervisors available to help CSRs. Each Supervisor has more time available for coaching & mentoring – and less time needs to be spent on administrative tasks & call escalations.” – David Filwood, Minimizing Call Center Burnout/Emotional Exhaustion – 3 Management Tips, LinkedIn; Twitter: @ContactCenterHR
- Develop introspection skills and insights. “Conquer the challenges associated with managerial demands by developing introspection skills and insights. Consider the following suggestions:
- Be aware of which roles you naturally prefer. Don’t ignore those that make you uncomfortable. Stretch beyond your usual limits, depending on what the situation calls for.
- Be sure to disseminate information to others so you can delegate more and help your people grow more self-sufficient.
- Avoid the traps of superficial decision making because of time pressures. Make use of other experts and analysts.
- Schedule time for the tasks you believe are most important. Don’t let daily pressures crowd out time for reflection, innovation or other critical values. Make sure you are as focused on fire prevention as you are on firefighting.” – Morag Barrett, Balancing Act: The Mixology of Managerial Success, American Management Association; Twitter: @AMAnet
- Set smart goals that boost effectiveness. “There is a tendency in the contact centre industry to focus on the efficiency of an operation, rather than looking at the effectiveness of individual interactions.“While this approach does look good in the short term, as your agents power through your call queue meeting their strict Average Handling Time (AHT) targets, poor-quality conversations often lead to call-backs from dissatisfied customers.” – Top 10 Contact Centre Goals, Call Centre Helper; Twitter: @callcentrehelp
- Micro-managing front-line service reps hinders confidence. “Do not micro-manage the front-line service reps, the role of a supervisor should switch from being that of a controller to that of a mentor. The service reps should be encouraged to make decisions without having to check with their supervisors all the time.
“When the service reps have been trained, then they must be trusted to do the right thing at the right time, without compromising the interests of the organization.” – Kelechi Okeke, Steps To Empowering Your Front-line Service Team, CXService360; Twitter: @service360blog
- Be mindful of your tone and language. Frame feedback in a positive context. “Your language and tone matter.
“Positive thinking has been credited with everything from stress reduction to better health. In a work environment, staying positive is just as powerful. So how do you apply the ‘power of the positive’ to your call center coaching? To start, examine your language. Take these two examples:
“‘Unless you make those callbacks to the customers right away, there’s no way we’ll be able to give them the information about the promotion.’
“‘We can still make this happen. If you can make those callbacks to the customers within the next few hours, we’ll be able to get them the promotional information before it’s too late.’
“If you were a call center agent, which phrase would you be more apt to respond to: the sentence with the negative slant, or the sentence with the positive? Which would you find more motivating? Think about your language and all of the conversations you have daily with your agents and fellow managers. How often are you communicating using positive language versus negative? Try this: Next time, before you ask an agent to do something, or give feedback, re-phrase your words so they’re positive and see what type of reaction you receive.” – Peggy Carlaw, Call Center Coaching: 5 Tips to Ensure Your Success, Impact Learning Systems; Twitter: @MillerHeiman
- Be a social leader to foster optimism and promote culture change. “When people feel valued and feel they are part of the solution and truly making a difference, rather than always firefighting one problem after another, they become more engaged. People work together more closely. Their personal purpose becomes more aligned with the core purpose of the organization. They become a team focused on achieving a common goal.
“And it all starts with a social leader, or as we call them, a ‘Blue Unicorn’—a rare beast in today’s business world. Notice that we’re not just looking for any old unicorn—we’re looking for a specific color of unicorn. Our goal is to help these majestic, unique beasts proliferate and create a seismic shift in the way value is created for customers, the organization, and its employees.
“Though rare, blue unicorns (or social leaders) are making a difference. In many organizations, they are providing their teams with actionable inspiration. And in the process, they are setting aside the willingness to settle for superficial ‘rah-rah’ moments, and instead creating mindset-shifting ‘ah-ha’ moments.
“And all it takes is one leader, one person to say, ‘Hi! How are you today? How can I help?’—and mean it.
“A simple act of human kindness. A moment of empathy. The deliberate act of listening first, leading second. That’s the role a social leader plays in changing the climate of an organization first—right now—and, eventually, the culture.
“That is how a social leader creates the optimistic workplace—from the bottom up, middle out, or perhaps top down.” – Mark Babbitt and Shawn Murphy, The Role Social Leaders Play in the Optimistic Workplace, ConstructiveCulture.com; Twitter: @HSInternational
- Encourage agents to work at 80% of their maximum speed for greater consistency. “Speed is important, but consistency is more important. Imagine a person who is going at 100% half of the time and 20% the other half. Instead of trying to be one or the other, encourage employees to work at 80% of their speed. This will improve speed immensely and also lower the stress levels of the employees. If they aren’t expected to be at the top of their game all the time, their work will improve.” – Stefanie Amini, 10 Great Customer Service Tips For Your Call Center, I Want It Now; Twitter: @IWantItNowBlog
- Implement a buddy program. “As with any role or responsibility in life, everyone has a set of skills that they are natural with. Buddy programmes in the call or contact centre environment can help to pair up individuals who can learn from each other – encouraging both team building and professional development in the process.” – 5 Tips for Call Centre Agent Performance Improvement, Business Blogs Hub; Twitter: @BusinessTalk
- Make consistent effort to maintain a positive atmosphere. “Call centers suffer from high turnover rates every year surrounded by industries. Low earnings and few benefits are causal causes, but the paramount factor that enterprises call center turnover is optimism.
“Your agents spend most of their day attending to and solving complaints from customers, which can create a sense of negativity. An easy way to fight the negativity is through commendation of work well done. Sharing auspicious reviews from callers or better than expected performance data improves your agents’ sense of worth, and motivates them to recreate that positive feeling again.” – Dynamic Practices, Bring Your Call Center Management At Its Best, Dialer 360; Twitter: @dialer360
- Start small, because the little things matter. “We need to make it clear from the outset that we are concerned that people get job satisfaction. Major schemes can wait. Early on:
- Take the motivational temperature – investigate how people feel now (this is what we have to work on).
- Consider the motivational implications of everything we do – when implementing a new system, making a change, setting up a new regular meeting or whatever, consider what people will think about it? Will they see it as positive?
- Use the small things – regularly – for example, if asked if we have said ‘well done!’ often enough lately, we must always be able to answer yes – honestly.
- Never be censorious – we must not judge other people’s motivation by our own feelings. Maybe they worry about things that strike us as silly or unnecessary. So be it. The job is to deal with it, not to rule it out as insignificant.
“Creating the habit of making motivation a key part of our management style will undoubtedly stand us in good stead.” – Jonathan Farrington, Managing Is All About Motivating, JonathanFarrington.com
- Let go of the script to give your reps more freedom when possible. “Customer service scripts have gone out of fashion in favor of guidelines for reps. If you want to foster real connections between your employees and your customers, then you need to drop the script in favor of real conversations.
“If you want your employees to feel empowered, you can’t give them super specific directions. Instead, you need to trust them. Give them guidelines for how you want them to talk to clients, and have them read resources. You can also go through trainings with them to see how they interact with customers, and help them improve. It’s good for your employees to learn by doing, rather than rely on a script.” – Rob Wormley, A Quick Guide on How To Provide Amazing Customer Service, Business 2 Community; Twitter: @RobWormley
- Scripted, over-systematized work will contribute to higher turnover. “You cannot expect exceptional performance from employees who are not having their key needs met. Many companies try to replace autonomy with a very clear script – you say these things because we have determined these things get an acceptable result to us at a known cost.
“That is a system that ‘works’ as long as you have new people to pour into the top of the funnel, as the older ones are scraped out of the grinder at the bottom. The best employees (and the ones who have options) will leave quickly for more satisfying work. The outcomes of such a system are predictable; we’ve all experienced systematised service from those companies. Acceptable at best, rarely better and often much worse.” – Matthew Patterson, Why customer service sucks, and what to do about it, Tracky Dacks; Twitter: @mrpatto
- Motivation requires active, hands-on management. “It seems that most managers feel (or hope!) that there is a quick fix to the motivation issue … a pixie dust dispenser which simply turns people into motivated workers. The truth is that the work environment which you create is your pixie dust … it’s the need to continually recreate this motivational environment which seems to drive most managers up the wall.
“(For those of you who are unfamiliar with Professor Frederick Herzberg’s article One More Time: How Do you Motivate Employees, it is suggested that you read and study this article from Havard Business Review.)
“We need a working definition which will tell us what motivation is and what it isn’t … Motivation is not charging and recharging somebody else’s batteries. It is helping the person locate and operate their own power generator.
“So please make a list of the incentive schemes and other ‘bribes’ you use to motivate your people … and please look at who is doing the recharging of the batteries. The question to ask yourself is … ‘If I stopped this incentive today, would they still keep going?’
“In a practical sense, it could be said that to motivate is ‘to make a person feel valuable when they are; and to help them become valuable when they aren’t.’
“So motivation definitely demands a very active hands-on type management. The opposite is the Galley Slave type management style; where managers issue decrees, memos and rulings in order to keep the staff at arm’s length – this kills productivity as well as motivation.
“You should scrutinise any initiative aimed at motivating people by looking at … 1. who is charging the batteries and 2. if the motivating initiative is ended, will the activity continue?” – Motivation – Do’s and Don’ts, The Call Centre Manager’s Forum
- Empower your agents to empathize. “Encouraging your contact center agents to deliver empathetic customer service is going to take more than a simple tactic like call scripting. It must go deeper. Why? Because the only script you’re ever going to hear that sounds authentically empathetic is on Broadway. Unless you’re hiring trained actors, the typical agent won’t be able to make a connection with a customer through a canned script.
“Instead, you must empower your agents to empathize. When you create a customer experience strategy, it needs to embody the understanding that scripting or strict call flow processes rarely leave room for true empathy. A formal workflow process is necessary for risk mitigation and for reaching a solution quickly and efficiently. But in our opinion, great customer experiences happen when agents are empowered to make the best possible decision for each individual customer. Often, those decisions are born from empathy, which often occurs outside of the typical workflow.
“How do you empower agents to make those empathetic decisions? By adopting empathy as a core value in your contact center. Make it a part of your recruitment, training, and onboarding processes; measure and manage it throughout your quality monitoring programs; seek it out and reward agents for it when they demonstrate exceptionally strong decision-making skills that result in customer satisfaction success stories.” – Susan Preiss, Can You Train Contact Center Agents in Empathy?, Blue Ocean; Twitter: @BlueOceanTweets
- Mindfulness can play a major role in reducing stress and increasing focus and productivity in call centers. “Practicing mindfulness has been a popular concept in western society for many years now. Introducing mindfulness in the workplace has become fairly common, especially for corporate leadership teams. These tools are not just for the leadership any more. Successful mindfulness and meditation programs have been integrated at every level in major companies like General Mills, Ford, Aetna, Google and Procter & Gamble, just to name a few. Customer service and contact center staff need the tools to reduce stress, increase focus and productivity, as much, if not more than the average office worker. It is a tough job emotionally. Unfortunately, many of the workplace mindfulness programs available require a commitment to downtime for participation that is just not practical in a contact center situation. The good news is that introducing mindfulness on a smaller scale, in a less intrusive way to the work shift still has a positive impact! Case studies have shown improvement on just about every KPI with the contact centers that simply gave instruction on mindful breathing and encouraged agents to practice it throughout their day. Better metrics, happier customers and more engaged agents are results we all want to know more about. Without doubt, there is a place for some level of mindfulness in your contact center.” – Nate Brown, Why Mindfulness Belongs in Your Call Center, Customer Centric Support; Twitter: @CustomerIsFirst
- Get everyone aligned on the same customer service vision. “Have you ever had a tire out of alignment on your car?
“It’s a struggle to keep your car pointed in the right direction. You constantly have to adjust the steering wheel so the vehicle doesn’t veer off course.
“Companies are like that too. Everything becomes a struggle when individuals, teams, or entire departments are all pointed in different directions.
“You can use this mini-alignment assessment to check your team. I call it the conversation-starter because it’s a high level look at how critical functions intersect.
“You can also opt for a more comprehensive version that will give you a road map for improving customer service for years to come.” – Jeff Toister, Five Game-Changing Actions to Elevate Service in 2017, Toister Performance Solutions, Inc.; Twitter: @toister
- Effective scheduling reduces burnout and icmproves customer service, ensuring that your call center is staffed appropriately during the busiest hours. “Call centers tend to have a few key hours in which the center is inundated with calls. During this time, ensure that the schedule will effectively cover the queue as much as possible. Moreover, ensure that your company has enough trained workers for time off, sick time, and to cover the queue while you reinforce training.” – 5 Steps for Managing Call Centers Effectively, Resource Personnel Consultants; Twitter: @RPCCompany
- Don’t neglect ergonomics. “Working in a contact center can put a strain on the body and soul, but focusing on the design of the workspace can provide a healthier and happier workspace. Creating a vibrant environment with inviting break rooms, secure storage for personal items, proper lighting, and aesthetically pleasing furnishings can make it a much more pleasant place to work.” — Maggie Klenke, Ergonomic Design for Today’s Call Center Workforce, Society of Workforce Planning Professional; Twitter: @swpp_org
- Expect the unexpected. “What goes on in the call center is often a result of circumstances beyond your control. The types of calls, the call volume, and the conditions may line up to create the perfect storm, causing chaos in your contact center environment. You can’t be Superman and solve every problem, but you can do whatever is in your power to help as best you can. When you accept that every profession has limits, your job won’t be as tough on you.” – Nick DAlleva, High pressure answering services: 21 tips for relieving stress., Specialty Answering Service; Twitter: @SpecialtyAnswer
- Consider adopting a sales-and-service approach to turn a customer support center into a revenue-producing business function rather than a cost center. “Are you struggling to turn your call center into a sales focused area? One of my clients recently had the same challenge.
“This electronic supply company’s call center was originally focused on customer service only. Since call centers require a large staff, work stations, and expensive call routing equipment, the call center was viewed as a ‘cost center’ by senior management. In other words, they were a drain on the company’s budget.
“So, call center management decided to transition to a more sales focused role. They asked Agents to suggest additional products to customers. They trained their Agents to ‘up-sell’ new services during inbound calls.
“And it worked! By generating add-on sales, the call center became an area that made money, instead of being an expense.” – Mike Aoki, 10 Tips to Create a Sales Focused Call Center, Contact Centre Training; Twitter: @mikeaoki
- A quality assurance team is an invaluable asset for improving compliance, identifying needs for ongoing training, and boosting customer satisfaction. “Just like a company needs efficient managers to ensure performance management, a contact center also needs a quality assurance team which can look into the functioning of the employees in an effective manner.
“Many call centers use the team managers to tab the performance of the workers. While this might work for few, often the leaders develop a bias towards their own team particularly if the team goals are at a risk.
“A separate team would look into the calls without any prejudice and biased scoring with-in teams can be avoided. They can help in finding the correct picture of the callers and their productivity.” – Top 12 Tips To Improve Metrics In An Outbound Call Center, Tentacle; Twitter: @CloudTentacle
- Handle conflicts head-on. “While you can’t always prevent conflicts, it has been my experience that the secret to conflict resolution is in fact conflict prevention where possible. By actually seeking out areas of potential conflict and proactively intervening in a just and decisive fashion you will likely prevent certain conflicts from ever arising. If a conflict does flair up, you will likely minimize its severity by dealing with it quickly. Time spent identifying and understanding natural tensions will help to avoid unnecessary conflict.” – Mike Myatt, 5 Keys of Dealing with Workplace Conflict, Forbes; Twitter: @mikemyatt
- Hone your coaching in on the outliers rather than the norms, based on your data. “Agent coaching remains the most important responsibility of contact center supervisors. Blanket approaches are no longer effective in today’s world of growing complexity and heightened demands for customer satisfaction and revenue generation. Approaching the coaching process as highly targeted activity shifts the focus to addressing the highly specific requirements of individual agents. The targeted approach means examining the outliers in the quality monitoring process rather than norms, then using affordable and modern tools like speech analytics to hone in the precise determinants of customer delight and performance efficiency.” – Dick Bucci, Are Your Coaching Methods on Target?, Call Center Times; Twitter: @callcentertimes
- Agent optimization is the go-to approach for optimizing the revenue potential of call centers of all sizes. “Today there is a common thread of innovation that connects contact centers engaged in outbound sales, inbound sales, cross-selling/upselling, as well as collections.
“It’s not technology, because centers vary widely in terms of their access to sophisticated call routing, dashboards, analytics, and other software systems.
“It’s agent optimization – – optimization based on new approaches that boost sales results, whether you have the latest in dashboards, analytics and gamification, or if you have none of these. This emerging methodology improves conversion performance for the most advanced sales operations, as well as for less advanced sales operations and even customer care centers wanting to increase their cross-sell and up-sell capabilities. Center size is not a barrier: while this methodology holds clear advantages for large-scale operations, it has also been proven to work in a center of under ten agents.” – Mark Coudray and Bruce Belfiore, Optimize the Revenue Potential of Your Contact Center, Benchmark Portal; Twitter: @BenchmarkPortal
- Don’t let negative language become a habit. “Call center agents need excellent product knowledge to effectively assist customers. But product knowledge alone is not enough.“Unfortunately, people are more likely to take the time to provide negative feedback, than positive feedback. This means that call center agents often deal with frustrated, angry, and even rude customers. Teaching agents how to create an emotional connection with these customers will help them to resolve the toughest issues, while also improving customer satisfaction.“In-depth communication training that focuses on communicating empathy, problem-solving, and maintaining a sense of engagement with callers can be just as important as product training. Courses on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and conflict management can further enhance agents’ level of service, and resilience to negative customer feedback.” – Nikos Andriotis, Call Center Training Tips: The Do’s and Don’ts of Training Call Center Staff, Talent LMS; Twitter: @TalentLMS
- Whether you outsource to a third-party contact center or maintain agents in-house, ensure that agents are dedicated to your company and/or to particular service lines. “Whether your agents work directly for your company or you contract them through a third party, having agents solely dedicated to your company ensures a wholly consistent hotline experience backed by a bedrock of trained, knowledgeable agents who understand the company, the nature of the calls coming in, and the best and most efficient ways to document calls.” – Rachel Gerace, 10 Keys to a High-Performing Call Center, The Compliance Report; Twitter: @Convercent
- Recognize that a career as a call center agent is a stressful one, and the reasons why. “Call center employees are under constant pressure to improve their waiting time, response time, service level and productivity. Working with outdated, inefficient equipment doesn’t make it any easier. With rapid advances in telecommunications technology, equipment gets older faster.“Sound quality diminishes with time and not being able to understand a client can cause many problems and hinder the effectiveness of call center employees. This, in turn, can affect the employees’ evaluations, and subsequently their morale.“The best solution to decrease stress and increase productivity is by regularly replacing outdated equipment with phones and headsets that can handle the call center’s agenda.” – Why Are Call Center Jobs Stressful?, Jabra; Twitter: @We_are_Jabra
- Quantify the cost, service, and occupancy implications of missing staff. “When there is a lack of adherence to the call center schedule, understaffing results. Understaffing affects the customer, other agents and management. When agents are not where they should be customers must wait longer to have their questions answered, and other agents have less ‘breathing room’ in the call flow because they are needed to pick up extra calls. Because customers are waiting longer in the phone queue, call center management will be faced with increases in telephone costs per hour.” – Susan J. Campbell, Strategies for Driving Effective Call Center Management, TMCNet; Twitter: @tmcnet
- Create a strategic plan prior to meeting with your team. “Too many new team managers begin by soliciting ideas from their new team members. Although this is a good idea, it is a mistake to take this approach as the first step. Associates may see you as weak, as having no ideas of your own. It is very easy to give the impression that things are going to be a ‘cake-walk’ for the employees. When it doesn’t turn out that way associates feel cheated. Right or wrong, they may begin to cause problems.
“Begin by planning. Make notes on what you know about the situation, everything from your boss’s wishes and objectives to the strengths and skill deficiencies of each associate. Seek ideas from other successful managers if they know more about your new team members than you do. Look at your information and determine the best ways to generate both immediate and long-term results from each associate. Ask yourself, what kind of floor-coaching does each one need? What types of training will quickly improve or eliminate skill deficiencies? How far are the associates’ results from where they need to be? Based on all of this information, what kind of objectives will you need to set from the beginning?
“Make a general strategy, which you will present to the team. Ask the team members how they plan to execute their contributions and expectations. Finally, rather than soliciting their opinions about your plans, ask them for additional ideas on how to make the plan even more successful. You will still be getting their input, but you’re not asking for permission to be their manager and make important decisions. This strong and organized approach will earn their respect.” – Strategies For Managing Difficult Agents, Call Center Training Solutions; Twitter: @callcentertrain
- Lead by example. “Call Center Supervisors who view their role as overseer – disciplinarian – enforcer – and pushing people to their maximum – or who ‘play favorites’ for reasons other than merit – quickly create an environment of apathy & frustration in their staff – and have significantly higher Quit Rates than Supervisors who lead by example – coaching – providing performance feedback – and fostering a greater sense of workplace belonging for employees.“The vast majority of Supervisors are ‘promoted through the ranks’ – and begin their Call Center career as frontline Agents themselves. This makes sense. (Above Average) Agents know your organization well – have a proven track record for meeting or exceeding your performance standards – and are likely to act as positive role models for other employees.” – David Filwood, Call Center Supervisors: What are their Top Qualities & Attributes?, LinkedIn
- Have a system for establishing priorities. “What is the most urgent task you must accomplish right now? When I dive into my pile of 300 tickets, I handle anything involving money first. This is most important to my customers, and therefore, these tickets become the most important to me. By trying to go through every email of various topics one by one, while this may seem fair, doesn’t always end up with the best resolution.” – Jenny Dempsey, Don’t Be A Customer Service Hero, Customer Service Life; Twitter: @commbetterblog
- Create a clear and impactful Customer Service Vision Statement. “Our most powerful motivation lever as leaders is to create meaningful work directly tied into the company’s purpose. Sadly, according to CX luminary Scott McKain, two thirds of an organization’s employees has no idea what makes their organization unique. Part of the reason is that company vision statements are often distant and irrelevant to what actually transpires in the life of an employee. A Customer Service Vision Statement is your opportunity to bridge this gap and channel purpose into everything from quality management, to coaching conversations, to rewards and recognition.” – Nate Brown, How to Develop a Customer Service Vision, ICMI; Twitter: @CallCenterICMI
- Agents need to empathize with customers. “It is necessary for agents to empathize with customers on the purpose of their call and any potential unfriendly attitudes.
“Normally, customers contact call centers to either resolve an issue or to complete a task, such as troubleshooting technical issues or paying credit card bills, neither of which are enjoyable experiences. That’s the reason behind unpleasant call experiences. By having this understanding, agents can better aid customers by directly focusing on issue resolutions rather than attitude correction.” – Emotions and Empathy Training for Your Contact Center Agents, KOVA Corp.; Twitter: @KOVACorp
- Encourage customer feedback on service and support interactions. “Contact centres are often hesitant to ask for feedback after a customer–advisor interaction as it will increase Average Handling Time (AHT). So many contact centres send a follow-up message or email asking for feedback.“While this may be a good idea in terms of customer satisfaction, as the contact centre is not asking for more of their time, response rates are likely to be much lower because customers will find it easier to ignore a message than to reject an advisor over the phone.“To strike the balance, AO ask for feedback via text message, but lower customer effort by only asking for a one-word response. The text message asks customers to describe the advisor who handled their request in just one word.Responses are then categorised as negative, neutral or positive.” – Call Centre Helper, 9 Ways to Encourage Customers to Give Feedback; Twitter: @callcentrehelp
- Continuous process improvement is crucial for providing consistent, exceptional customer service. “It’s been proven time and time again that when process improvement efforts are ad-hoc and disconnected from the overall incident resolution processes become unsustainable.
“As a result, new services and new more effective ways to resolve incidents are driving CSPs to create more sophisticated support processes. Capturing the details used to troubleshoot and resolve incidents is essential to improving the process – this goes for the actions taken and the results. However, this often does not happen because it is too time consuming or laborious.
“CSPs need to adopt a culture of continuous improvement and leverage systems that can help them to capture this information in real-time to continuously improve the process. When these processes and systems are baked into the daily resolution process, processes can be analyzed and improvements can be continuous leading to improved incident resolution and customer satisfaction.” – Larry Lien, 5 best practices to improve CSP call center support, Tech Radar; Twitter: @techradar
- Knowledge is imperative for customer success, so arming your agents with the knowledge to address customer concerns and connecting callers with the right agents to resolve their issues are key priorities. “According to the 2014 American Express Customer Service Barometer, 99 percent of consumers surveyed said that getting a satisfactory answer or being connected to someone knowledgeable (98 percent) are the important prerequisites to great customer experiences. Once these prerequisites are met, those surveyed said that personalization (89 percent) and appreciation (80 percent) are keys to excellent customer service experiences.
“All of the above require knowledge on the customer service agent’s (internal customer’s) part, whether its product or service related or contextual knowledge which gives the agent the information they need to both personalize the customer experience and thank the customer (for X years of loyalty, the recent feedback, the purchase of a new product, etc.).” – Tricia Morris, To Engage Customers, Empower Employees With Knowledge, Business 2 Community; Twitter: @TriciaEMorris
- Apologies fall short of real resolution; customer support agents must identify and resolve the root cause of customer concerns. “It isn’t enough for your customer service team to apologize; their main goal should be to solve for the immediate problem, but to also find and flag the root cause. In doing so, they can solve a systemic issue and help other customers avoid it altogether. Reducing problems is key — in fact, research conducted by John Goodman found that customers were much more sensitive to price changes, and thus more likely to churn, when they experienced a few problems with the product (or the support they received).” – Gregory Ciotti, 20 Customer Retention Strategies that Work, Help Scout; Twitter: @helpscout
- Customers should never get the impression that an agent wants to move on to the next call as quickly as possible, whether they resolve the customer’s concern or not. “A simple ‘How are you doing today?’ gives businesses the opportunity to get a feel of what your customer wants.
“Are they interested in your product or just shopping around? By listening and asking the right questions, you’ll first understand their needs and their business – and it won’t feel like a support interaction but a genuine, personal connection.
“Questions to ask yourself:
“What is the support experience like? Does the support department understand what customers want when they contact support? Are your employees giving off the impression that they want to move on to the next customer without ensuring the existing customer is fully satisfied?” – Vitaliy Verbenko, Where Do Human Emotions Fit in the Customer Experience?, CustomerThink; Twitter: @helpracing
- Never assume customers are loyal; always continue to work to earn it. “Most brands have to work much harder to build up that Chipotle-type loyalty. In fact, research shows the percentage of customers willing to immediately abandon a business reached nearly 70% when it came to poor service over the phone, conclusively showing that customers are willing to shut you out if you don’t provide the quality of service they expect. The worst part is that you may not even know the impact this poor quality of service is having on your business. Which customers are leaving? What causes them to go? While most businesses assume customers leave because of the product or service, the reality is that nearly 70% of customers who left a company said it wasn’t due to bad products, but poor customer experience.” – Donna Walker, 4 Guiding Principles for Building Customer Loyalty, Technology Industry Services Association; Twitter: @TSIACommunity
- Arming agents with knowledge of each caller’s history enables them to offer a personalized, seamless experience. “Your call center reps should be able to quickly access all of the data you have available on the customer on the other end of the phone. Things such as order history, current order status and recent interactions with the company. Showing knowledge of the customer’s past behavior and history with your business will persuade them that your rep is in a position to really help.” – Rieva Lesonsky, Is Your Call Center Frustrating Customers?, Small Business Trends; Twitter: @Rieva
- Customer perception is everything. “In today’s environment, your call-center reps not only have to do a great job, they need the customer to say they did a great job, as well. For example, try calling AT&T to ask a question about your phone bill. It does a terrific job with customer service. You can tell right away by talking to the reps that your issue is their highest priority. My local cable company, on the other hand, is the exact opposite.” – Terry Jukes, 8 Tips to Improve Call-Center Productivity, TotalRetail; Twitter: @MyTotalRetail
- Find the “why” behind every call. “This is sheer preparedness. Figuring out beforehand what could be in the minds of the customers. What can bother them, what can make them seek help from the call center. If these questions have already been thought over in advance then, there will not be much phase difference between the occurrence of a question and it being answered, promptly. So prepare a glossary of problems that may occur related to the nature of business. Also, make ‘Quick How to’ guides that help to get the things done speedily.
“A prompt and efficient call center is a sheer work of preparedness.” – Vipul Srivastav, 7 Ways to Reduce Average Handling Time in Your Call Center, LiveChat; Twitter: @LiveChat
- Treat every customer with respect, and avoid preconceived notions of “bad customers.” “Handling every customer with respect should be a core value. When reps start out assuming a customer is a ‘bad’ customer (or deadbeat, or pain the rear, or chronic complainer…) the call has no where to go but down.” – Barbara Burke, 10 Tips for Reducing Escalated Calls, Social Media Today; Twitter: @HaveaSODA
- Investments in customer experience have been found to offer 3x returns. “A recent study sponsored by Avanade and Sitecore provides some fairly compelling evidence that investing in better customer experiences can drive significant financial benefits. This study was based on interviews with 880 business leaders who have responsibility or influence over their company’s customer experience efforts. More than 650 of the interviewees said their company ‘prioritizes’ its customer experience strategy, and many of the study’s findings are based on the responses from this group.
“The most attention-grabbing finding in this study is that respondents said their company realized $3 in benefits for every $1 it spent on improving customer experiences. Four out of ten respondents reported increased revenues, 38% said they achieved better financial performance than their competitors, and 37% said they improved sales cycles. Where these benefits were seen, the improvements were substantial. Respondents reported an average improvement of between 18% and 21% in each of these dimensions.
“Respondents also reported that improving customer experiences produced increased levels of customer satisfaction (58%), increased customer loyalty (45%), and increased levels of customer acquisition and retention (41%). Once again, these benefits were significant where they were seen. Respondents said they saw an average improvement of between 19% and 22% in each of these areas.” – G. David Dodd, Research Confirms that Customer Experience Drives Financial Performance, B2B Marketing Directions; Twitter: @gdaviddodd
- For customer service inquiries, focus on the customer rather than the complaint. “Customer-focus will help the employee empathize or ‘walk in the shoes’ of the customer. It will help them listen more sympathetically to a complaining customer — which is often all the customer wants. Plus it will help them remain calm and polite while a customer vents his frustrations.” – Bill Hogg, 7 Tips To Deal With Unhappy Customers and Improve Customer Experience, BillHogg.ca; Twitter: @BillHogg
- Find out what the customer or caller considers an acceptable resolution. “Find out what the customer wants. Do they want a refund, credit, discount, or replacement? The customer is complaining because he/she has a problem and wants it solved as quickly as possible. Find out what their problem is so you can work towards it and not towards a solution they do not want.” – Jonathan Farrington, 6 Rules in Dealing with Unhappy Customers, SalesHQ
- When addressing customer satisfaction, distinguish systemic problems from unhappy outliers. “For better customer satisfaction, learn how to tell the difference between rare exceptions and systemic problems. While unhappy outliers shouldn’t be completely ignored, they shouldn’t be catered to, either. Remember that the bottom box doesn’t reflect how all — or even most — of your customers feel. Radically changing a system to appease your unhappiest customers will likely cost you some currently happy ones.
“To make sure bottom-box outliers don’t misinform your customer engagement methods, keep the following in mind:
- Maintain perspective. It can be easy to give in to the knee-jerk reaction of “fixing” a problem when it’s trumpeted by an especially negative review. Instead, use concrete figures like sales data and customer retention to identify any real systemic problems that need to be addressed.
- Use the 10 percent threshold. How do you know when those bottom-box customers are the unhappy exceptions? They should make up less than 10 percent of your total customer base. If you’re seeing serious complaints from more than 10 percent of your customers, there are weaknesses in your system that should be changed.
- Make feedback easy to give. If customer feedback and satisfaction surveys are difficult to find and take effort to fill out, then only the most dissatisfied customers will make the effort to sound off. However, you can learn much more from neutral or only slightly dissatisfied customers (the group to which the service recovery paradox most often applies). Make soliciting these opinions a priority.” – Prioritizing Unhappy Customers May Be Costing You, Sykes; Twitter: @SYKES_Global
- Train your agents to take adequate notes on customer concerns. “You can tell if someone is angry within the first few seconds on the phone. Before you even try to diffuse the situation or talk him down, just listen to the whole story (without interrupting–not once!) while jotting down any significant points while the caller is talking. The notes will help you address his problem directly. Often times people first want to just be heard and communicate their frustration. Sometimes, after a caller expresses his unhappiness, he may apologize at his outburst and then allow you to move forward with solving the problem. However, if the caller sounds threatening or uses violent or vulgar language, refer to your company’s policy about how to proceed. If the guidelines indicate you should end the call, do so immediately.” – Alison Doyle, How Would You Handle an Angry Call from a Customer?, The Balance; Twitter: @AlisonDoyle
- Agents should resist the urge to raise their voice at an angry caller. “It is a natural reaction to want to defend yourself when someone raises their voice at you. What’s important to remember in situations such as these is that the caller’s anger is not personal; as the first voice on the other end of the phone for them, you are simply an unfortunate target. As you begin to respond, remember to keep your voice soft and steady, establishing your authority in a calm and collected manner. Trying to out-shout an angry customer just derails them from your message and keeps them focused on the verbal battle that is ensuing. Creating soft-spoken conversation will force the caller to pause and speak softer as well in order to hear you.” – Tips for Handling an Angry Customer over the Phone, A Personal Answering Service; Twitter: @apasinc
- Letting go of scripted communications not only empowers agents, but it also results in more successful call outcomes, particularly for outbound, unsolicited calls. “We’ve all been there. Maybe you worked in sales, or maybe you were fundraising, trying to get someone to pick up the phone and actually listen to you. Let’s face it, no matter which end of the line you’re on, unsolicited calls can be tough. But what if there’s a secret to keeping people on the phone? Some mutually beneficial formula that leads to cold call success?
“In a study I ran using Qualtrics, I discovered that most practitioners have it all wrong. Nearly 4 out of every 5 call center managers—78% to be exact—said that getting reps to ‘follow a script’ was a primary focus, but only 38% of scripted calls were actually successful. Of all the characteristics tested, only one predicted success when it came to making unsolicited calls. What was it? Not sounding scripted.” – Jessica Broome, Scripting Cold Calls Is A Bad Idea: Why Most Call Center Managers Have It Wrong, Forbes; Twitter: @datafreaks
- Never treat a customer (or caller) like a number. “Customers are not a number in a database or income on a balance sheet, and should not be treated that way. To quote from Doug Smith ‘if you respect the customer as a human being and truly honour their right to be treated fairly and honestly everything else is much easier.’
“You have to show them that right now, in the here and now, they are the single most important person to you. It is you who revolve around the customer’s world, not them revolving around yours.” – Jase Clarke, I am not a number…, JaseClarke.com; Twitter: @_jase_clarke_
- Keeping existing customers happy boosts revenue. “When it comes to sales, the probability of selling to an existing happy customer is up to 14x higher than the probability of selling to a new customer.
“Many people think that the only way to grow their business is to find new customers. But often, the best source for growth is sitting right in front of you: existing customers. You just have to make them happy, and then find ways to deliver more value to them.
“Read our guide to upselling to existing customers to increase revenue.” – Len Markidan, 22 Customer Support Statistics That You Absolutely Need to Know, GrooveHQ; Twitter: @Groove
- Maintain a relationship with customers who churn. “Please don’t be surprised when I say it is important to maintain a relation with your churned customers. Not to forget, they were using your product and working with you. It clearly implies that they know who you are, what you develop, and how you can help them. It could be just the matter of changes in their workflow or processes where your current product is not required.
“Food for thought: in the future, there may be possibilities to offer a new proposal to your churned customers.
- A chance to let them know how they can achieve their requirements using hidden functionalities or workarounds
- A chance to bring their feedback on the table and take action with the help of the product team.
“Overall, churn is a chance to raise the bar for everyone!
“Even if this approach doesn’t work well today, you are still building a relationship with them – who knows what could be in store for the future!
“There is also the possibility to come up with a fresh angle of the product for your current customer who is leaving you now. If you know t and their requirements, you can easily pick up the phone and talk to them about new opportunities.” – Sukhpreet Anand, How to keep the relationship alive with cancelled customers, Support Driven; Twitter: @SupportDriven
- Cognitive assistants are a promising technology for improving customer service and call center efficiency. “The world of cognitive assistants for businesses is a brave new one, and few organizations have detailed experience with it. There are sure to be some surprises and disappointments. But we are confident that the technology holds considerable promise for improving human interactions with businesses. Before long, we may even see that humans actually prefer to talk with machines because of their vast knowledge, ability to take detailed contextual factors into account, and inability to become upset or befuddled. And to never again be told, “All of our customer service agents are busy—please wait until the next one is available to take your call” would be a small boon to humankind.” – Tom Davenport and Rajeev Ronanki, The rise of cognitive agents, Deloitte; Twitter: @Deloitte
- A robust infrastructure aids in profitability by reducing the time it takes for agents to find relevant information to assist callers. “If agents are having to hunt through multiple disconnected databases to find answers, or toggle back and forth between too many screens on their desktop, they’re never going to be able to provide a good customer experience. Sure, new solutions can eat into capital (or operating expenses, in the case of cloud-based solutions). But lost customers WILL eat into profits.” – Tracey E. Schelmetic, Fixing the Biggest Roadblocks to Customer Support Excellence, TMCNet; Twitter: @tmcnet
- Intelligent applications such as chat bots and virtual personal assistants are paving the way for better control over customer service costs. “Gartner have highlighted that intelligent applications (chatbots, virtual personal assistants etc.) will be one of the top technology trends for 2017. This is really no surprise, if you consider the momentum these applications have gained in 2016 – the market is saturated with options.
“Analysts have also stated that by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human. At the moment it is fair to say that the majority of interactions you may encounter with a chatbot are in some way powered by a human response. The machine learning simply isn’t clever enough just yet to have conversations on its own and of course there will always be the need for emotional empathy, which it is fairly safe to assume machines may be never be able to master 100%. The chatbot works seamlessly with the multichannel and digital world customers now want.
“The desire to speak with a customer service representative at any time would mean having to have a team of operatives available 24 hours a day – at cost. Chatbots mean that organisations have a readily-available agent to speak with a customer whenever they want – satisfying the on demand service culture.” – Chinia Green, 2017: The year of enhanced intelligence in customer service?, MyCustomer; Twitter: @MyCustomer
- Today’s call centers require omnichannel capabilities. “Too often, customers experience frustration when interacting with brands and retailers because of disjointed communications. For example, a shopper who contacts a customer service representative via Twitter to report a missing package may have to repeat her personal information and problem when, later on, she transfers her resolution process to email.“Omnichannel contact centers solve for this unnecessary disconnect. The technology can handle communications virtually anywhere customers choose to interact with organizations, and what’s more, omnichannel contact centers ensures all touchpoints build on each other, not restart.” – Sean Kendall, Why Omnichannel Contact Centers Are Must-Have in 2019, CustomerThink; Twitter: @customerthink
- CRMs and call centers have traditionally co-existed, but they’re now on a collision course. “Fast forward to today, and we have a CRM industry that has benefitted from a series of company and technology consolidations and groundbreaking new entrants. The value propositions offered by companies, large and small, span from marketing and sales force automation, to ERP, to CSS, big data analytics, machine learning, AI and others. The spectrum of options available touch enterprise organizations from top to toes. The one function that is notably absent from the list, with relatively few exceptions, remains the contact center.
“There are instances where the two industries have intersected… The two industries also share a deep use of analytics, comprehensive management reporting systems and extensive techniques for resource matching. By and large, though—while applications might co-reside on the plane of desktop—the technologies used in the contact center have remained segregated from CRM. This is changing.
“In a recent conversation, Shai Berger, co-founder and CEO of Fonolo, made the point that “the mystique” of real-time communications is fading. Businesses that once protected the voice call as sacrosanct are becoming more willing to let the borders fall.” – Guy William Clinch, CRM and contact center are on a collision course, NetworkWorld; Twitter: @gclinch
- AI will provide deeper insights at every touch point. “The vast amount of customer data and analytics being gathered means organizations have the opportunity to understand each individual customer at a deeper level. For many businesses, every customer touchpoint is captured digitally. With smart data analytics and AI tools businesses can achieve a new standard of customer service, personalizing communication and support based on the customer’s engagement to date. By creating a more personally relevant experience for each customer, businesses can begin resolving potential service issues or needs before they occur. After all, the better you know your customer, the better you are able to anticipate their needs. With a comprehensive view of all touchpoints, contact centers will be able to identify opportunities to proactively address and/or eliminate reduce customer service issues.” – Anna Frazzetto, Bots and AI continue their march toward call center obliteration, CIO; Twitter: @CIOonline
- Interaction analytics offers visibility into the customer journey and highlight areas for improvement, fueling targeted coaching and training to boost performance. “Interaction analytics can highlight the frequency of bottlenecks, unnecessary transfers and repeat calls.
“This is done by understanding which customer types, employee workgroups, IVR exit nodes, websites, company policies, work procedures, etc. are creating unnecessary call-flows. With this information, the call centre manager can focus on appropriate improvement opportunities.
“Measuring the right behaviours in the quality process makes it possible to identify the soft skills required to deliver excellent customer outcomes.
“For example, you may find that agents with good active listening skills, or the ability to show empathy, have a positive correlation to customer satisfaction.” – An Introduction to… Contact Centre Analytics, Call Centre Helper; Twitter: @callcentrehelp
- Machine learning improves speed and accuracy in identifying customer needs. “According to Forrester, 80% of U.S. adults report that the quality they most value in a customer service exchange is when the company values their time. Every time a company routes the customer to the wrong choice on the IVR or acts robotic toward the customer, the customer hates the company a little bit more. But with machine learning, customers can now speak in their own words to the company, and the company will be able to understand more quickly what the customer needs, and solve their problem faster. Fast is the name of the game!” – Blake Morgan, 10 Ways Machine Learning Impacts Customer Experience, Forbes; Twitter: @BlakeMichelleM
- Effective workforce management and scheduling can minimize costs by reducing over-staffing. “For executives, labor costs are more real-time and a bigger worry in their minds than even sales or customer satisfaction ratings. If it weren’t than you would never need to battle for staffing resources.
“So being able to manage your over-staffing is critical for you serve the needs of your bosses. And managing under-staffing is critical for you to be able to manage the needs of your customers (which your bosses will pay attention to eventually). So you must do both.
- Inter-level Requirements: knowing what your forecast staffing requirements are for a period of time within the day versus for the entire day. These could be intervals of 15-minutes, 30-minutes, or 60-minute blocks of time. As volume shift throughout your day you’ll have to manage the peaks and valleys and properly staff and actively manage the workload.
- Real-time Adherence: creating schedules in contact centers has little value if the schedules are not followed. In Workforce Management, schedule adherence is where planning meet execution. You need real-time proactive monitoring of agent adherence that compares the agents’ scheduled activities with their actual activities. And when things do not match you are notified to take action.
- Self-scheduling: the use of at-home and part-time agents continues to grow. And there has always been a need for the workforce to be flexible in their work availability. Self-scheduling for at-home and part-time agents enables employees to feel more in control of their work lives. Their work-life balance win can be your operational efficiency win. You can increase staff engagement, reduce administrative costs and reduce supervisory time spent on scheduling.
“In the contact center industry, like all personnel-intensive industries, Workforce Management has become more complex. And as organizations continue to add customer interaction channels to the mix the complexity only increase. You must manage staffing needs (and adherence to schedules) for every channel you offer.” – Bob Webb, Bob Webb Talks Workforce Management, Call Center Coach; Twitter: @pipkinswfm
- Predictive intelligence tools empower agents to handle complex customer issues. “Chatbots may be the posterchild of intelligent technology at the moment, but there are other smart tools that could also prove significant for the service world in 2017.
“AI and predictive intelligence tools in the contact centre, for instance, enable agents to better understand the customer and their needs on more complex inquiries, and deliver a more personalised experience. Research findings in Salesforce’s Second Annual State of Service report reveal that 77% of top-performing service teams leverage AI.
“Dr. Nicola Millard, head of customer insight and futurology at BT, says: ‘Chatbots are still relatively unsophisticated, but are looking to take their place as ‘IVR for digital’ as they navigate people through the ‘known knowns’ and seamlessly route customers to the appropriate human agent according to their skill set, if queries are more complex or emotive.
“’Although chatbots have garnered most of the hype this year, I think the employment of slightly less visible smart technologies are going to become more mainstream next year – from automation of back-end processes employing robotic process automation to using ‘people like me like…’ analytics on the website or app (as Amazon, Google and Netflix have been doing for years).’” – Neil Davey, 2017: The service trends and technologies you need to know, MyCustomer; Twitter: @MyCustomer
- Universalize support channels to give agents a holistic view of customer interaction history. “According to Aberdeen Group, 57% of businesses measure support center success across email, chat, web, and voice and 62% use integrated voice response (IVR). While more than 50% of Facebook users and 80% of Twitter users expect a response to a customer service inquiry in a day or less. Agents should have a holistic view of any multichannel communication with a customer. This quickly helps them determine the correct response channel and at what stage a customer is in. The burden of sifting through separate forms of communication is lifted.” – Nicolina Savelli, 10 Survival Tips for Call Center Agents in 2016, Contact Center Pipeline; Twitter: @CCPipeline
- Streamlining agent workflows and processes aids productivity and boosts quality. “A linear and simple workflow process that is tailored to optimize an agent’s productivity goes a long way in reducing AHT. Managers should strive to identify inefficiencies and cut down any factors that amplify call handling time and reduce the quality of customer satisfaction. For example, all repetitive manual tasks should be automated so that agents can concentrate on something more productive.” – Anupa Rongala, 11 Tips to Optimize Average Handle Time in Call Center, Invensis; Twitter: @Invensis
- Traditional quality assurance programs, based on a random sampling of calls, are far less effective than real-time call monitoring. “Traditional quality assurance (QA) programs, while able to provide some insight into agent performance, are based on a random selection of calls, which makes it virtually impossible for managers to get a true sense of why customers are calling or how each individual agent is performing. With real-time call monitoring, on the other hand, managers can monitor and analyze 100% of calls, making it easy to identify problems within agent teams, maintain quality standards and compliance, and improve both call center performance and the overall customer experience.” – Scott Kendrick, 4 Tips to Consider for Your Quality Call Monitoring, Call Miner; Twitter: @CallMiner
- Investments in technology not only improve customer service delivery, but the right investments can also boost employee retention. “One way to increase employee motivation is by ensuring they have the best technology and tools available to perform their jobs. No one feels inspired when working on an 8 year old, 1 GHz processor, 256MB RAM Computer. Though that old dinosaur may do the necessary functions you need it to, a new iPad tablet computer will certainly improve an employee’s desire and motivation to work.” – 7 Creative Employee Retention Ideas, MoreBusiness.com
- Choose a workforce management solution with the technology features proven to optimize call center performance. “Call centers spend 60-70% of their overhead operating costs in disbursing salary to their staff, so it makes sense to utilize these valuable resources in an efficient manner. Companies look to achieve this goal with the help of WFM software. This is the reason the WFM technology is a must have in any contact center setting. The WFM technology is also undergoing constant changes to keep in touch with the needs of the call centers. There are advanced options such as agent scheduling and holiday bidding for agents. Both these options offer the employees freedom to choose work hours and holidays that would meet the lifestyle needs. The WFM technology not only provides more freedom to the employees over their work, but it also reduces a lot of overhead costs that would go into administration. As Workforce Management software is such an important element for the call centers, so its choice should be done after much consideration.” – Call Center Technology Tips – Workforce Management Software, Call Centers India; Twitter: @callcentersin
- If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know when you’ve arrived. Establishing and measuring KPIs enables call center operations to create and navigate a strategic roadmap. “As with any measurement and assessment tool, implementing a set of KPIs is an investmentin time and money. When hiring an outside company, there’s the expense of research time, travel, and database management. There will be a sizeable data set to sort through and implement, adding to an already busy managerial load. On the other hand—going back to our sailing analogy—what’s the cost of arriving in 12 days rather than 10? Of hitting rough weather that could have been avoided, or running out of fuel?
“Best-in-class customer service teams know where they want to go and have a clear plan for getting there. They’ve established performance objectives that keep them ahead of competitors. They understand their strengths and weaknesses and have an actionable plan for improvement. KPIs and other benchmark tools are highly effective to help motivate and focus the team.” – Judy Phibin, KPIs for Effective Customer Service, Miller Heiman Group; Twitter: @MillerHeiman
- Average Handling Time (AHT) is not indicative of quality service. “Customer service has changed dramatically since the advent of robust self-serve options for customers. The effect of options like company websites, discussion boards, YouTube videos, and so on is that they siphon off the low-complexity issues. Customer problems that end up making it through to live reps are the complex ones, the ones customers can’t solve on their own. While AHT might have been a fine way to gauge performance on simple issues like address changes, balance inquiries, or delivery tracking, when throughput was the name of the game, it’s a terrible way to assess performance on complex issues that by definition take more time to handle. What matters now is ‘Did the rep solve the customer’s problem?’ not ‘How fast did the rep get the customer off the phone?’” – Pete Slease, Rick DeLisi, and Matthew Dixon, Call Length Is the Worst Way to Measure Customer Service, Harvard Business Review; Twitter: @HarvardBiz
- The Customer Effort Score is a customer-supplied metric indicating how much effort they had to put forth to do business with your company. “The Customer Effort Score is a customer satisfaction metric which simply asks your customers how much effort they had to put in to do business with you.
- The Customer Effort Score offers a simple 5-7 point scale.
- It offers a better predictor of loyalty than the NetPromoter Score.
- It helps to identify areas for improvement as it can track the touch points in a service chain.
- The Customer Effort Score ignores the influence that your price, product and competitors may be having on your customers.” – Carolyn Blunt, NetPromoter vs. Customer Effort: Which is best?, Call Centre Helper; Twitter: @callcentrehelp
- Celebrate Schedule Adherence. “How many leaders, or agents, consider adherence something to celebrate? Usually it’s a necessary evil, or even something forced on you—like strained beets or asparagus—and enforced by the evil WFM sorcerers. But in reality, adherence is worthy of a celebration. It leads to comfort, and breathing room. If you have a well-designed service level, or better yet, look at realistic occupancy, you drive a balanced day for your agents. We all know those days, when it’s actually quiet, and customers aren’t frustrated because of extended wait times. This is having our cake. It means the agents caught a breath between calls. Many of us teach the ‘Power of One,’ and share how it ‘helps ensure service level,’ but how many of us focus on occupancy—or what’s in it for the agent? You have to let the agents know that great adherence means time to catch breath between calls. It means customers focus on solving their issues, and not wait time.” – Todd Hixson, Schedule Adherence: Have Your Cake and Eat it, Too, ICMI; Twitter: @CallCenterICMI
- Actively solicit feedback on not only your company’s products and services, but on the quality of customer support. Then use this data to improve performance. “Not everyone will be pleased with your products and customer service.
“Nevertheless, don’t consider customer complaints as a scarlet letter for your company. Listening to your buyers’ grievances is an opportunity to improve your brand’s services.
“Be proactive about receiving your customers’ opinions by soliciting feedback on your website and in email campaigns. Give consumers the option to rate your service on a scale of 1-10 after a support call.
“Work with your team to interview a select group of disgruntled customers. When doing so, make it a point to just listen to their concerns and not rebut with a quick answer. And be prepared to ask questions that get to the root of the problem.
“’Probing questions are essential to get at the deeper meaning behind what the person says. This is how you get insights that surveys can’t provide. The trick is to gently ‘probe’ for more information on a topic without coming across as aggressive or pushy,’ says Dustin Walker, Chief Creative at Good Funnel.
“Also, train your staff to engage with upset customers. Give them scenarios to practice, and observe their responses.” – Shayla Price, How to Boost Conversions With the Right Customer Insights, Kissmetrics; Twitter: @shaylaprice
- Make sure the behaviors and KPIs you’re measuring prove that adoption of target behaviors drives the customer experience (or other overarching goals). “A dirty secret? Nearly all call centers are built upon faulty front line behaviors; including measuring and coaching to behaviors that simply do not matter to Customer Experience, Sales or KPIs.
“There must be a strong correlation between behaviors and KPIs that proves adoption of the right behaviors drives customer experience, Sales, or other performance measures. If you have the right behaviors, Agents who are the top performers at their most important KPI – customer satisfaction – are also performing the behaviors more consistently. Your top performing Agents should be the same Agents that flawlessly exhibit the defined behaviors.
“If done right, front line behaviors should be predictive of performance, customer obsession and the customer experience, not a line item on the Agent scorecard that delivers zero indication of actual performance.” – Matt Knott, 5 Tips to Create Customer-Obsessed Call Center Agents, Salesforce; Twitter: @salesforce
- Be realistic about your metrics. “Setting unachievable goals is detrimental to agent motivation. Instead, set goals that challenge agents—without overwhelming them—for maximum success. KPIs should have goals that are realistic and achievable—for both agents and the entire customer support team—in order to positively impact the business.” – Rachel Saltsgaver, 6 Call Center Performance Indicators to Track in 2018, Lessonly; Twitter: @lessonly
- Analyze the most common reasons for calls and take proactive steps to help customers avoid or resolve these issues without having to call. “Analyze your call center communications to find out which are the most frequent calls being escalated to the next level. After understanding the issues that prompt these calls, take steps to minimize the escalations. It may be anything from more training, larger number of self service options on the website, change in business operations- do whatever needs to be done so that customers don’t have to call too often.” – Katie, 7 tips for boosting your call center’s FCR (First Contact Resolution) rate, Live Help Now; Twitter: @LiveHelpNow
- Occupancy rate is an important metric, but anything over 85% is unsustainable. “Occupancy Rate measures how “busy” your agents are at work, and can often foretell “agent burn-out.” While you may want to see that your agents are hard at work the entire time they’re manning your lines, that’s largely impractical. The general consensus is that anything above 85% occupancy is unsustainable, because your agents need some time to breathe, gather their thoughts, and take a break from phone calls to ensure that they stay happy (and sane).” – Common Call Center Metrics Mistakes: Part 1, TeleRep; Twitter: @TeleRepServices
- Avoid service level pitfalls. Don’t choose a target service level arbitrarily. “If your call center picks a service level arbitrarily and then tries to meet it, resources will get allocated the wrong way, resulting in more harm than good.
“But even if you’ve picked a service level through careful analysis there’s another pitfall. The nature of the service level formula means that it can hide dangerous variability. For example, if your agents successfully met 80/20 all day, you know that 80% of the calls were answered in under 20 seconds. But you know nothing about how bad the other 20% were. Were their wait times 30 seconds or 10 minutes? This variability is critical.
“Another pitfall can arise from having multiple skill groups in your call center. Averaging across the groups to get a single service level can obscure problems in specific groups. Measuring each group separately is smarter, but that leaves you with too many numbers to interpret. This is actually an argument against dividing your workforce in to skill groups.” – Shai, The 80/20 Service Level Stands the Test of Time, Fonolo; Twitter: @Fonolo
- First-call resolution is an important metric for call centers, but it’s crucial to establish how your organization defines a resolution. “Recent research suggests that no single KPI has a bigger impact on customer satisfaction than does first-call resolution (FCR). Customer contact research and consulting firm Service Quality Measurement (SQM) Group finds that for every 1% improvement in FCR, you get a 1% improvement in customer satisfaction. In a study of more than 150 contact centers, SQM found that centers that achieved “world class” customer satisfaction ratings had a FCR average of 86%, while centers that were not among the elite in customer satisfaction had a FCR average of only 67%.
“Increased customer satisfaction isn’t the only big benefit realized by contact centers that achieve high FCR. These centers typically also enjoy:
- Lower operating costs. A low FCR rate breeds a high number of repeat callers – reducing the cost burden of callbacks, especially in high-volume contact centers.
- Reduced revenue at risk. SQM research shows that if the customer’s issue is resolved on the first call, only 3% of those customers are at risk of defecting to your competitors — compared to a whopping 38% of customers at risk of doing so if their issue isn’t resolved on the first contact.
- Higher employee satisfaction. The strain on agents who must contend with frequent callbacks from often-frustrated customers is significant and invariably leads to low morale, poor customer service and high agent turnover. However, when agents are given the tools and training they need to achieve high FCR, they feel empowered and confident on calls. Invariably, customers take notice and FCR performance improves.
“While FCR has been identified as a critical KPI for contact centers, there is some question about what exactly constitutes a ‘resolved call.’ Some centers consider a call resolved if the agent didn’t need to transfer it. Others deem a call resolved if there is no follow-up work to complete after it.
“Aiming for calls that require neither transfers nor follow-up work is a sound approach to high quality service, but it is incomplete from an FCR measurement standpoint, say experts, because it fails to take into account something essential — the customer’s perspective. It’s important to let the customer tell you if their issue has been resolved, whether through real-time or near-real-time customer feedback channels, such as post-call IVR surveys, online surveys, live surveys or immediate email-based surveys.” – Seven Metrics to Watch for Call Center Success, ICMI; Twitter: @CallCenterICMI
- Use a method to categorize calls appropriately. “There will always be some kind of ‘miscellaneous’ bucket in the database for calls that don’t fall into one of the predetermined categories. Make sure the Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) make good notes on all calls, but especially the miscellaneous ones; you’ll use these notes to determine if new categories need to be created. Remember that calls in different categories will take differing amounts of time to handle.” – How to Optimize Call Center Performance, wikiHow; Twitter: @wikiHow
- The Net Promoter Score offers valuable insights, particularly if you use it to dig deeper and focus on Detractors and Promoters. “Once you decide to implement NPS, you should focus more of your attention on Detractors and Promoters. Why? Because if you address Detractors’ concerns and do more of what Promoters love, then you will drive people up the Likert Scale, as it were. If you can push 3s to 6s (assuming they stick around), and 6s become 8s during their patronage, then you’re learning.
“But remember. The goal is to learn, adapt, and improve. Loyalty doesn’t come easily, but if you win it, don’t take it for granted. Make sure you’re constantly learning from your customers and your business will stay relevant.” – Paul Campillo, NPS: Achieving Brand Loyalty by Closing the Feedback Loop, Kayako; Twitter: @kayako
- As technology evolves, multi-channel KPIs are the new necessity. “Part of the struggle for contact centers is how best to use agent metrics to ensure efficiency, productivity and quality in contact centers as more and more customers use new channels to meet their customer service needs.
“Not that long ago, a call center — as it was known — fielded only telephone calls from customers who had concerns about a product or service. With only one channel to measure, a call center agent’s performance was measured by time per call, how many calls handled a day, a customer satisfaction score and other hard data.
“Now, as the name implies, a contact center uses many technologies to connect with customers. As a result, contact centers not only analyze phone interactions but also email, chat and social media exchanges on Twitter and Facebook to gauge an agent’s performance.” – Aaron Lester, New contact center metrics recommended to fit new customer channels, SearchCRM; Twitter: @AaronLester
What’s your biggest call center management challenge, and how do you overcome it?