As recent research shows, the U.S. call center industry is alive and well. According to the data, the industry saw a total of 22,265 new positions added in Q3 2015, minus 5,678 jobs that were cut due to force reductions and closures.
What this means is there’s an imperative for call centers to drive operational performance excellence in order to remain competitive in the industry. Not doing so risks losing valuable customers and call center talent in an industry that’s already known for high agent attrition rates.
But the question is: How?
The following is a look at 11 call center best practices that can help to retain top talent and provide for an improved experience for customers:
Evaluate Agents During the Interview Process
Agents are at the heart of any call center, considering they’re on the front lines of customer interaction. As such, it’s important to hire talent that will represent the company in a positive manner, motivate other agents, and drive performance that will make a difference in business growth.
Call Centre Helper recommends instituting a “competency-based approach” to interviewing, which involves running an assessment center for new recruits. In essence, this structured interview process allows a group of candidates to work through tasks and assessments; it also gives those in charge of hiring the opportunity to select the best performers in the group and train them together to become new call center agents.
Leverage Call Monitoring & Scoring
Following the agent interview and selection process, managers should be keyed into how best to facilitate ongoing agent support, growth, and training. Quality monitoring solutions such as speech analytics automatically monitor and score 100% of calls, helping managers deliver objective feedback and improve agent performance. Call scoring evaluation forms can also be helpful for enhancing quality assurance within the call center.
Effectively Communicate with Agents
In addition to call monitoring and scoring, managers and supervisors should also make it a point to schedule in time for targeted coaching sessions with agents. The advantages are two-fold: Managers get to share ideas for agent performance improvements and agents get to communicate their thoughts and impressions of their performance.
As noted in an inContact blog post on successful agent coaching, “a best practice approach is to have the agent do most of the speaking during a coaching session. Collaborated communication is beneficial by allowing the agent and supervisor to share their specific observations on strengths and opportunities.”
Incorporate Customer Feedback into Performance Improvements
It’s not just agents who should be the focus of call center improvements, however. Sometimes the best resource for feedback on company experiences and interactions is a company’s customers.
NewVoiceMedia research shows customers aren’t shy about expressing their opinions of customer service: 57% of those surveyed will give a business feedback to let them know they are performing poorly and 37% will take to social media to air their grievances (or praises) on a company’s customer service.
The key takeaway is to use customer feedback (surveys, social media, etc.) to make changes that will help to improve customer satisfaction in the future.
Focus on the Metrics that Matter Most
Keeping track of call metrics and agent KPIs is a good way of maintaining a high level of performance in the call center. However, you should be careful not to measure too much so you don’t end up drowning in metrics and data. You have many metrics at your disposal, be sure you only focus on what matters. The metrics you should prioritize are those which measure service level, call resolution, average handle time, agent schedule adherence, call abandonment, average hold time, and call abandonment.
Avoid Negative Language
In general, call center best practices include the creation of a script which recommends professional language, an upbeat tone, and key phrases to leverage. However, it is also worth training agents to avoid certain phrases and types of language to avoid negative interactions. For example, instead of telling a caller “I’m going to put you on hold”, encourage agents to use phrases like “I’m sorry, I’m actually not the best person to answer your query, but let me transfer you to our resident expert who will be with you in two minutes. Thanks for your patience.”
Train Your Agents Effectively
Effective training is probably the most obvious call center best practice, but it is definitely an area that could be improved on at many organizations. Training your agents to perform at a high level is the foundation of your organization and the entire training process should be treated with appropriate care.
Call center training for new recruits often lasts for about six weeks where new agents spend time on theory as well as practicing calls with their managers. Training however should not be viewed as a one-time thing. Instead, you should incorporate regular coaching sessions into your processes to help underperforming agents. Leverage best practices from your top performing agents to get other team members up to their level. Speech analytics software that tracks 100% of agent calls can help you identify the phraseology used during successful calls. Use this vital intelligence to help underperformers.
Outline and Share a Career Progression Path
Agents who feel their career prospects are limited will be less motivated than those who can see a clear pathway for progression within the organization. Outline how high performing agents can progress their career within your company and ensure agents are made aware of the opportunities that lie in wait for high performers.
Create a Productive Physical Environment
Another call center best practice which more and more companies are focusing on is the creation of a physical that is conducive to productivity. Boost productivity by introducing the most ergonomic furniture and desk options into your office. Some other tactics include standing desks, rest lounges, natural lighting, warm colors, and inspiring art work and posters will also help boost motivation and productivity. The introduction of collaborative workspaces are useful for team meetings and can help to create a bond among your agents.
Empower Your Agents
If agents are continuously told what to do, their motivation levels will suffer. By letting your agents take on the role of decision-makers, you can foster a sense of ownership in the group and they will feel empowered. The way you can do this is by asking for feedback and suggestions about how processes and performance levels can be improved. Feedback must be acted upon or agents will quickly grow tired of making suggestions that get ignored. Agents should also be involved in the creation of call scripts – it is the agents after all who are closest to the customer, they have highly valuable knowledge to offer so it is in your interest to let them share it. Other ways to empower agents include giving them the permission to be flexible in terms of shift times and holidays.
You should try and introduce a culture of continuous improvement in your call center. One way to drive improvements is to hold retro team meetings where you can your team review the past week, month, or quarter and analyze what you did well, what you didn’t do well, and what you can improve on. Focusing on these three areas and opening the floor to agents and managers can help you identify and correct the elements in your team’s workflow which are not working well.
At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to drive call center performance improvements – each call center will need to determine which approaches work best for the organization as a whole. The above tips are just a few of the ways to empower agents to continually improve their interactions with customers and, in turn, provide for better experiences for customers.
What are some of your call center best practices?
To learn more about call center best practices, check out the following resources.
20 Best Practices for Agent Training
Measuring Call Center Performance Global Best Practices
Call Center Management Best Practices
10 Best Practices for Agent Training
10 Best Practices for Contact Centres
Top 5 Call Center Best Practices
Call Center Metrics Guide