Manage Your Staff, Manage Expectations

June 30, 2015

With contact centers everywhere looking for every edge they can get, it’s no surprise that workforce management software is undergoing closer scrutiny. And according to a recent blog post, the software is coming into its own, and with good reason.

“The application of a Workforce Management (WFM) program within a call center can be defined as achieving and maintaining operational efficiency,” wrote Gerald Sinclair, WFO Practice Manager with Uptivity, an inContact company. “This is done by ensuring that the right agents with the right skill sets are staffed at the right time. Doing so can result in lower operational costs, reduced churn and a better customer experience.”

As such, Sinclair puts forth some keen insights that others can learn from. “WFM has four key components,” he notes. “Forecasting customer interaction volume; utilizing the forecasted data to create optimized agent schedules; assigning agents to schedules; and analytic-driven performance management on an ongoing basis.” He then breaks down and analyzes each component:

Forecasting: “Forecasting is part history, part science and part insight,” Sinclair says. “The principal component allows for the contact center to predict future workload based upon historical data sets. The more historical data received allows for a more relevant picture of trends, analysis and patterns.”

Scheduling: A WFM solution or scheduler utilizing a spreadsheet will determine what shifts, hours, etc. will need coverage based off the forecasting. “When thinking about scheduling, average handle time should be considered, as well,” Sinclair observes. “Average handle time (AHT) is calculated differently within many contact centers, especially across various channels. Traditionally, AHT is comprised of average talk time and after-call work. Considering this aspect, you can then discover how many resources will be needed to handle the volume at the service-level and ASA goal.”

Assigning Agents: Shift bidding is a process that can simplify this task by taking into consideration agent performance, call handling ability, tenure and availability, to give agents a specific schedule, but “there are many WFM solutions that will also automate this process,” Sinclair says in his blog. “Shift bidding can sometimes cause agent uneasiness, so complement it with shift trading, time-off flexibility and work-from-home opportunities,” he recommends.

Analytic Driven Performance Management: “This step involves reporting of the daily metrics such as ASA, phone-to-staff/utilization, staff-to-work, adherence and many others that contact centers measure. This data can assist with allowing more time off the phone for nonscheduled events such as recurrent training, coaching, and team huddles,” he notes. Further, it can be utilized to identify if the demand is higher than the allotted schedule and determine when to solicit for overtime. This data is collected and reported and added to future forecasting or insight toward forecasting.

WFM is “not an easy practice and can be one of the most complex components out of all of the Workforce Optimization (WFO) solutions,” Sinclair concludes. But utilizing it, and learning to use it properly, can pay big dividends over time.

InContact Adds to Customers’ Arsenal

June 25, 2015

Sometimes, you can get enough of a good thing; and you’ll want more.

That’s what a new client of inContact, a leading provider of cloud contact center software and contact center agent optimization tools, discovered recently after making the switch over to inContact.

According to the company, the global BPO customer – which, according to inContact company protocols remained unidentified — went live in late 2014.

“After experiencing the flexibility and scalability of the cloud firsthand, the customer is now expanding operations in the cloud by adding inContact’s cloud WFM [workforce management] software for one division that includes 450 agents,” the company said in a statement. The customer currently has more than 2000 agents total on the inContact cloud platform.

In the past the company used premise-based WFM tools. They said they chose inContact because of “the seamless integration with the core platform and accelerated speed to implement inContact WFM powered by Verint (News Alert).” It’s a move that makes sense on a number of levels.

Integrating WFM with their existing cloud contact center core from inContact will provide the data-enabled tools needed to balance agent work schedules with the ebb and flow of customer service traffic. Workforce Management provides sophisticated analysis and automated scheduling to simplify the complexities of forecasting and to create optimal staffing scenarios.

“Large enterprises are moving in stages to the cloud,” noted Paul Jarman, CEO at inContact. “We are pleased with this customer’s confidence and decision to expand more in the cloud. InContact’s comprehensive contact solution includes a fully integrated WFM solution, so that contact centers can automate scheduling.” 

InContact added that it continuously innovates in the cloud, and is the only provider to offer core contact center infrastructure and workforce optimization plus an enterprise-class telecommunications network to provide complete customer journey management.

Call Center Week Unveiled New Partnership

June 23, 2015

InContact was at Call Center Week recently, talking about its new partnership with artificial intelligence-based IVR company SmartAction, and how the social channel is starting to make more inroads into the contact center space.

TMCnet spoke at the Las Vegas event with Jennifer Waite, product marketing manager at inContact, which sells a complete cloud-based workforce optimization suite for contact centers of all sizes. Waite said that eight out of the 10 requests for information she saw from enterprises last month required a social component – and that involved not just listening capabilities, but also the request for the ability to do social response. She added the companies have for some time grappled with the question of whether the social channel belongs to the contact center organization or to the marketing department. But, she added, companies now are beginning to understand that they don’t have to hand social over to one or another; rather, both departments can be involved. Indeed, some companies are already effectively addressing social customer care, she said, holding up the airline Delta as one example.

HelpSocial is inContact’s partner for social. HelpSocial is a good choice for this, she said, given that it started out servicing the contact center industry, so it understands the space. HelpSocial’s solution is API-driven, so it’s easy for companies like inContact to do integrations with it.

For those not familiar with inContact, the company sells a WFO solution powered by Verint (News Alert) that targets enterprise-level operations while its Uptivity WFO solution is designed for small to midsize contact centers. Individual WFO products within these suites include Audio and Screen Recording, Quality Management, Performance Management Scorecards, Desktop Analytics, and Workforce Management, in addition to inView Customer Dashboards, Customer Survey functions and integrated eLearning and training tools. The company, which owns the competitive telephone company formerly known as UCN (News Alert), can also bring connectivity along for the ride for its customers.

As for inContact’s new partner SmartAction, that company is a recent winner of Speech Technology Excellence awards, a program of CUSTOMER magazine and TMC (NewsAlert), the parent company of TMCnet.

SmartAction offers a solution called Intelligent Voice Automation, which leverages an AI brain that can reason and learn from experience. It features a large vocabulary and array of built-in skills and knowledge, can be easily trained with customer-specific information, dynamically adapts to conversation flow in real time, evaluates multiple hypotheses from the speech recognition engine and selects the most likely interpretation based on context, has short-term memory of prior conversation flow, has long-term memory that recognizes callers and remembers facts from previous calls, and more.

Pay a Little More, Get a Lot More

June 18, 2015

It’s pretty much a given that call centers are A) stressful places to work; B) have a high rate of staff turnover; and C) don’t pay all that well. But one industry insider has made a strong case that if you fix that third point, the other two might take care of themselves.

Randy Rubingh is Director of Customer Service for online ticket giant StubHub. As such, he’s got some inside knowledge on the workings of what makes a call center effective. He recently shared his thoughts about workers and their wages on the blog page of inContact, the cloud call center leader.

“We [the industry] view the call center as an entry-level position and pay accordingly. Because of the large percentage of company employees in the call center, call center labor costs are a high proportion of the overall company budget and the customer service organization is pressured to keep CSRs’ salaries low,” he said. “As a result, it is difficult to find good employees who can deliver high quality service and who are committed to the organization for the long term.”

Rubingh related how at a recent industry seminar, he asked attendees how many felt call centers reps were the most important brand ambassadors in their company. All hands went up he said, but his follow-up question asking how many were paid accordingly didn’t elicit such a strong response.

“It’s true that if you hire hundreds of agents, paying even one dollar an hour more will add up very quickly. This is, of course, why call centers traditionally, especially for lower skilled positions, offer low rates of pay — usually about 20 percent above minimum wage,” Rubingh observed. “This low rate of pay does save money in the short run. However, when you began to consider the different levels of agents and add in the total cost per rep, per transaction, you will likely find investing in higher qualified reps will save you money in the long run.”

Rubingh spells out his logic more completely on the blog, but the bottom line is this: While it might seem at first blush that paying more costs more, Rubingh shows how paying better motivates workers, which leads to higher customer satisfaction, better customer retention and lower overall costs.

His reasoning gives voice to the old adage, “It takes money to make money.”

Pay a Little More, Get a Lot More

June 18, 2015

It’s pretty much a given that call centers are A) stressful places to work; B) have a high rate of staff turnover; and C) don’t pay all that well. But one industry insider has made a strong case that if you fix that third point, the other two might take care of themselves.

Randy Rubingh is Director of Customer Service for online ticket giant StubHub. As such, he’s got some inside knowledge on the workings of what makes a call center effective. He recently shared his thoughts about workers and their wages on the blog page of inContact, the cloud call center leader.

“We [the industry] view the call center as an entry-level position and pay accordingly. Because of the large percentage of company employees in the call center, call center labor costs are a high proportion of the overall company budget and the customer service organization is pressured to keep CSRs’ salaries low,” he said. “As a result, it is difficult to find good employees who can deliver high quality service and who are committed to the organization for the long term.”

Rubingh related how at a recent industry seminar, he asked attendees how many felt call centers reps were the most important brand ambassadors in their company. All hands went up he said, but his follow-up question asking how many were paid accordingly didn’t elicit such a strong response.

“It’s true that if you hire hundreds of agents, paying even one dollar an hour more will add up very quickly. This is, of course, why call centers traditionally, especially for lower skilled positions, offer low rates of pay — usually about 20 percent above minimum wage,” Rubingh observed. “This low rate of pay does save money in the short run. However, when you began to consider the different levels of agents and add in the total cost per rep, per transaction, you will likely find investing in higher qualified reps will save you money in the long run.”

Rubingh spells out his logic more completely on the blog, but the bottom line is this: While it might seem at first blush that paying more costs more, Rubingh shows how paying better motivates workers, which leads to higher customer satisfaction, better customer retention and lower overall costs.

His reasoning gives voice to the old adage, “It takes money to make money.”

Outsourcing Your Call Center? Prep Your People Properly

June 16, 2015

There’s no doubt that working in a call center is a stressful occupation, but a new study shows that a lot of that pain might be self-inflicted.

According to research from Mattersight Corp. – a company that utilizes a suite of innovative, personality-based software applications to analyze and predict customer behavior based on the language exchanged during service and sales interactions – customers tend to be already frustrated by the time they call a contact center. As such, it takes a certain personality to “talk them down”, to help resolve their conflicts without antagonizing them further. But the problem does not lie entirely within the call center.

“What they found is that today’s consumer is hyper-connected and more informed than ever, and many attempt to solve their problem without the help of a call center representative,” Mattersight said of its research. “By the time a call is placed, the problem is urgent and the frustration has been mounting, creating an immediate atmosphere of tension and negativity.”

It was discovered that of the more than 70 million people in the U.S. who dial into customer service call centers every year, nearly two-thirds are frustrated before they even start talking with a customer service representative, according to the survey data. “Alarmingly, 75 percent of consumers surveyed reported still feeling frustrated at the end of a customer service call, even if their problem was successfully resolved,” Mattersight said. Such ongoing negativity presents an obvious challenge to customer service executives.

“Call centers are stuck in a cycle of customer frustration,” noted Kelly Conway, president and CEO of Mattersight. “Rather than diffusing the situation and providing each consumer with personalized service, most businesses still measure success on getting callers off the phone as quickly as possible — doing little to improve the customer experience.”

Not surprisingly, the survey showed that the key to creating a positive customer experience is connecting callers and agents who are most likely to enjoy a natural rapport.

Further, the study found:

  • More than half of the respondents said that they want call center agents to acknowledge that their problem is important.
  • Consumers prefer to speak to call center agents who are dedicated and conscientious, or logical and specific.
  • More Millennials would prefer to speak with warm and caring call center agents, than would consumers 35 and older.

“Ninety-five percent of consumers surveyed said that good experiences are what keep them coming back to call center experts when they’re in need,” Conway concluded. “The consumer needs and desires came through loud and clear in this survey.”

‘Keep the Customer Satisfied’ Starts With Staffing

June 11, 2015

Every contact center has them: high achievers who are perfectly aligned with their work and show it in their performance. These people understand customers, empathize with them, know where to find answers and always keep their cool, even with testy customers. In many cases, they solve problems that managers don’t even know exist yet. The reason is that they’re on the telephone with customers day in and day out, and oftentimes, they understand customers better than company executives, managers and even data analytics systems.

According to customer service consultant Jeannie Walters, founder of 360Connext writing for Business2Community, it’s important that contact centers offer acknowledgement to these above-and-beyond workers even if that’s not what they’re after.

“Often, they are not seeking glory or recognition, they are simply doing their jobs in the only way they know how,” Walters wrote. “By actively seeking out your superstars, the rest of the experience can improve thanks to their intuitive skills.”

These individuals are a great source for best practices, case studies to use in training other agents, and mentorship to newer workers. In some cases, they can even transcend technologies such as performance analytics and quality assurance solutions. Walters provides an example in her article:

“One call center rep had taken it upon herself to record the questions from customers requiring the same instructions again and again. Many of these questions weren’t available as choices in their system, so she recorded things in her notebook, created the best instructions she could, and brought it to the call center manager. When the manager refused to add them to the system because the ‘numbers didn’t reflect this,’ she provided her instructions to her other call center workers and as a result, transnational satisfaction rates increased. In this case, the call center manager was simply reflecting the data-driven culture of the company. The superstar saw a truly customer-centric solution and made it happen in a low-tech way. This is a superstar who could help the rest of her team learn how to really listen for the root causes in customer service.”

For this reason, it’s important to involve agents – particularly your most seasoned veterans and top performers – in the planning and execution stages of improvements to the contact center. Are you reworking the IVR menu? Poll your agents to determine if there are any instructions or menu choices that customers may not be understanding, or if menu choices should be added or eliminated. Are you improving your knowledge bases for information agents can search to solve customer problems? Your top agents should be one of your primary resources. Is the outside sales team looking for input in new strategies? Your contact center agents understand customers better than anyone in the organization, and their knowledge should be thoroughly tapped.

Top agents can be invaluable for many other processes, such as training and mentoring newer agents (or those struggling with pain points), collaborating with less experienced agents and providing managers with input on day-to-day issues. Just be sure that you’re recognizing and rewarding their good work. After all…you want to keep them. 

Call Center Leader Notches Another Win

June 10, 2015

Cloud contact center software leader inContact has added another feather to its cap with word of a contract award by a major metropolitan city that has selected inContact for its call center needs. According to both parties, inContact’s flexible and scalable cloud platform will help the local government meet the demands of population growth that is expected to exceed 30 percent over the next decade. In keeping with inContact company protocols, the city was not named.

“With the demand for government transparency growing, and a sincere desire by public entities to meet this demand, government contact centers are looking for flexible solutions that can be quickly scaled up or down to meet their evolving needs,” said inContact CEO Paul Jarman, in announcing the contract award.

As part of the city’s transition away from its aging premise system and onto something that can keep up with the anticipated growth, inContact will provide a customizable and agile cloud system.

The company’s Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) options are the core building blocks of the inContact cloud platform, along with skills-based multichannel routing to ensure that citizens’ needs are addressed by the ideal agent in the most efficient manner. “Government agencies are moving to the cloud to transition from expensive cap-ex investments to a more flexible, pay-as-you-go op-ex billing model with built-in flexibility to quickly activate on-call and at-home agents as needed,” inContact said in a statement.

As a cloud contact center software leader, inContact helps organizations around the globe create customer and contact center employee experiences that are more personalized, empowering and engaging. As such, inContact continuously innovates in the cloud providing workforce optimization plus an enterprise-class telecommunications network for the most complete customer journey management.

Can They Hear You Clearly?

June 04, 2015

One thing most people give very little thought to is the recorded voice on the other end when they call a company and get into the ‘phone-tree.’ They really just want to hear a clear-sounding voice that gives easy-to-follow directions. It would seem to be a no-brainer.

But for companies that make those recordings and need them for business, it’s something that should be given a lot more thought than it currently is. Think about your own company for a moment: Whose voice is on your outgoing message? Is it a secretary that left a long time ago? A senior partner who has since passed on? The IT guy who manages the equipment? Believe it or not, it matters – a lot.

It’s an issue that Gavin Gustafson took a close look at recently. Gustafson, Communications Manager at cloud call center leader inContact, just posted a blog addressing this very issue, and he made some excellent points.

“Every time you pick up the phone and ‘answer the door’ your brand is on the line,” he noted. “A great customer experience over the voice channel typically depends on two co-dependent factors—the technology side and the human touch. The voice should accurately represent your brand and encourages your caller to complete a goal, whether it’s an automated resolution or a successful menu navigation that leads to a buying decision with one of your (live) team members.”

As such, Gustafson says it might be worth investing in a professional voice actor for your call center messages, and listed reason why or why not you might make certain choices. To wit:

The Non-Professional: This can be anyone from the company, but if they’re working for free, you get what you pay for. Tread carefully here.

The PM Drive-Time Jock: This might be someone with a professional radio background, but it could be an extreme in the other direction. “This style is characterized by cheesy over-enunciation that sounds unnatural. This choice is often the result of a stakeholder misinterpretation of what they think the caller wants to hear,” Gustafson says. “In reality, this type of voice is patronizing and annoying to your audience.”

The Voice Actor: This choice “speaks smoothly and clearly in a pace and style that makes sense to customers,” Gustafson noted. “A voice actor can take direction, can alter their sound to fit the brand, and can deliver with consistency.”

The choices are obvious, but thought must be given to other considerations. For example, will a voice actor be available down the road if changes or updates must be made? It’s worth weighing carefully.

Gustafson has more insights on the matter, and you can see all his thought HERE on his blog. The bottom line is, “Choose carefully.”

inContact Lays Groundwork for Annual Conference

June 03, 2015

Cloud call center leader inContact has announced that nominations are now open for the company’s annual “MoJo Awards” for those in the industry that have gone above and beyond the call. The winners will be named at the annual inContact User Conference (ICUC) this September in Salt Lake City.

“The inContact philosophy celebrates excellence in our customers’ organizations, and ICUC provides the perfect opportunity to shine the spotlight on those who exemplify an outstanding commitment to superior contact center practices,” the company said in a release. “This is why we created o‘Mojo’ by definition is a power that allows someone to be very effective or successful. It’s in this spirit that we honor excellence demonstrated by our customers.”

The company notes that this year’s ICUC will continue exploring the most important topics, trends and challenges of the contact center industry. But the focus will remain the same: Giving users the tools and insights needed to provide a legendary journey to every contact center customer.

As such, for those who think they know of a worthy candidate, the company listed seven categories for awards:

Technovation: Awarded to a company that has positively impacted its business through creative use of the inContact platform.

Customer First: Awarded to the company that capitalizes on inContact’s ability to give them the freedom to focus on their customer instead of their technology.

Voice of the Customer: Awarded to the company that demonstrates a keen ability to capture customer feedback and implement programs that utilize data to enhance customer experience.

Rookie of the Year: Awarded to a fast starting company that has achieved positive, measurable results with inContact solutions in a short time frame.

Outstanding Corporate Citizen: Awarded to a company for its philanthropic impact on the community through direct or indirect support of charitable projects.

World Class Advocate: Awarded to a person who proudly flies the inContact banner, “bleeds orange” and directly supports the success of inContact.

Contact Center Supervisor of the Year: Awarded to a contact center supervisor who supervises agents regularly and provides support to customer-facing individuals.

Nominations can be made online, and are being accepted from now until August 13.