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Highly productive agents, minimal employee turnover and well-defined processes are just a few of the factors that tend to separate a successful contact center from an unsuccessful one. However, by leveraging the right technology, your business can maximize revenue and improve agent performance and productivity. In this article, I will share with you four technology-enabled best practices that will help you drive your business to new levels of success!

Best Practice #1: Move to a blended agent environment for maximum efficiency.
The most efficient call centers train their agents to handle both inbound and outbound calls. This allows supervisors to better balance staffing levels based on call volume. For example, your agents can conduct outbound campaigns to generate sales as their primary responsibility, while also receiving incoming customer service calls. This allows the agent to convert routine, inbound customer service calls to revenue-generating interactions (“As you requested, I have updated your mailing address. By the way, have you heard about our new product?”).

From a technology perspective, managing a blended agent environment is easier facilitated if your system 1) allows for the same agent desktop for both inbound/outbound activity; and 2) monitors call volume and automatically switches agents between outbound and inbound campaigns (based on business rules that you define). Automatic call blending increases contact center efficiency and removes the supervisor from the time-consuming task of monitoring call activity and manually moving agents between campaigns.

Best Practice #2: Maximize agent productivity with a unified desktop.
A unified desktop provides a single, integrated interface to all enterprise and external applications that agents typically make use of during a call. The unified desktop manages key supporting systems such as scripted sales and service workflows, an objections/rebuttals knowledgebase, payment processing and a customer interaction history that shows prior interactions, activities and additional profiling and context.

The results are dramatic productivity gains for both the agent and the company:
Dramatically reduce training time. By deploying the same interface to handle every type of interaction, agents don’t have to be trained on different systems. Imagine the savings from streamlining agent activity — rather than making a call, then entering a different system to process a credit card or transaction, and then returning to the voice-based system to handle phone calls — a unified desktop incorporates all these functions. Whichever application the agent needs is always available right on their desktop. This improves efficiency by reducing training ramp-up and average handle time.

Embedding external applications in the agent desktop allows agents to remain within the flow of the call, reducing distractions and eliminating manual processes.

Reinforce your desired culture and sales behavior. A well-designed unified desktop allows you to reinforce the desired sales behavior in the contact center by showing individual and team performance against sales or service key performance indicators (KPIs). Reinforcing the expected behavior via the desktop and measuring results for each individual will help create a culture of accountability. When you combine desktop “real-time statistics” with a solid quality monitoring/coaching and recording solution, you have set the proper expectations for your agents to be measured and developed.

“De-pulp” your contact center. Do this by making all relevant documents, policies, procedures and “paper-based” knowledge available within the agent desktop. Anything that an agent might track manually via “sticky notes”— product information, callback commitments, company policies and procedures — should be available electronically. Training time and onboarding of new agents can be reduced from weeks to just a few hours!

Position your agents to maximize each customer interaction. Another feature offered by more advanced agent desktop platforms is context-sensitive upsell and cross-sell scripts that can be set to automatically prompt the agent when a cross-sell or upsell opportunity arises. For example, the system may prompt an agent if the customer’s current product coincides with the availability of a relevant upgrade, and can be sold as an add-on.

Deploying a unified agent desktop is one of the most critical initiatives you can implement to align your sales workflow with your company’s business goals.

Best Practice #3: Implement “closed-loop coaching” to reinforce a results-driven culture.
Motivating and training agents on a consistent day-to-day basis is one of the biggest challenges most contact center managers face. Implementing a closed-loop performance measurement solution is one of the most effective ways to promote a culture of success. When every agent knows they are measured by the same criteria as their peers, and those measurements are updated and communicated in real time, you are on your way to building a winning culture. By defining performance standards, measuring agent’s adherence to these standards, providing honest objective feedback to the agents, and then continually reinforcing the measurement/coaching process, you create a “closed-loop” coaching system that allows you to maximize agent performance.

Some tools you can use to communicate and reinforce agent performance include:
Agent evaluations and scorecarding. Rating agents based on defined performance standards allows you to laser-target areas for improvement. Several companies provide tools that automate the evaluation and coaching process, allowing supervisors to evaluate agent call and screen recordings compared to established KPIs and provide immediate feedback to the agent. These tools also incorporate external data points (ACD, payroll, schedules, sales results) to help create a comprehensive view of agent performance. Agent scorecards, presented in a constructive coaching session, are a critical tool in the closed-loop coaching process.

Post-call surveys. Many companies survey customers via various media—outbound phone, e-mail, direct mail, Web. Each of these methods has limitations. For example, direct mail is inexpensive but not very useful, as the feedback occurs too long after the interaction that you are trying to measure. E-mail surveys are easy for a customer to ignore, reducing response rates. For the most timely and accurate measurements, automated post-call surveys are ideal for obtaining immediate feedback tied to the specific incident and agent. The customer is invited to participate in the survey sometime during the call and if they agree, at the end of the agent interaction they are prompted by a series of questions and can respond via IVR. Results are available immediately, and can be continually measured to track changes over time.

The data collected can be used as a component of agent performance measurement, but can also reveal root-cause issues and help determine customer satisfaction levels.

Real-time performance statistics. Some call center technology platforms offer a real-time statistics feature that shows the agent their daily performance statistics between every call so they know exactly where they stand for that day.

Best Practice #4: Deploy strategic call recording and analytics to identify the most effective sales strategies.
Gaining a competitive advantage in your contact center involves more than just analyzing basic metrics. Most contact centers record customer/agent conversations for compliance and training purposes. These recorded customer interactions are valuable sources of information about your customers’ needs, competition, how your company is perceived, and how your agents close (or don’t close) sales. However, it’s not practical to play back thousands of hours of recordings, so analyzing these data with any degree of accuracy or efficiency is difficult. Speech analytics, one of the most exciting recent developments in call center technology, helps you extract meaningful knowledge from these recordings.

Speech analytics technology first became available a few years ago and customer adoption of these tools has accelerated rapidly. Speech analytics monitors customer-agent conversations to spot key words or phrases, evaluating factors such as inflection, phonetics, emotion and periods of silence. This allows supervisors to determine which strategies result in the best closing rates, to quantify what objections occur most often (and what works best to overcome those objections). Identifying those “moments of truth” that can make or break a sale is one of the most valuable benefits of implementing analytics technology. Another key benefit of speech analytics is the ability to more efficiently pinpoint specific areas where agents need more training, without supervisors having to sift through volumes of calls to identify problem areas.

An emerging development in this area is analyzing Web, e-mail and chat interactions in addition to voice to produce cluster maps and trend graphs to identify customer trends. As these products are introduced and the technology perfected, managers will be able to obtain an all-inclusive view of customer interactions with your organization.

Effectively implementing each of our suggested best practices provides an organization a winning “recipe” of sales and service process optimization, while developing your contact center workforce. If you have chosen the right technology platform to “engine” these initiatives, you will have the data and feedback mechanisms in place to dramatically improve your results!
For more information about TeleDirect,visit www.tdirect.com.

Fairness: An Underestimated Principle In The Call Center
By Tracey E. Schelmetic, Editorial Director, Customer Interaction Solutions

As a call center manager or supervisor, you may pride yourself on your fairness. You understand that treating agents with an evenhanded and equal approach is important. However, it’s not your perception that matters: it’s your agents’ ideas about what is fair that matters. If your call center agent pool is comprised of mature adults with long careers behind them, thick skins and a high degree of tolerance for criticism, then you are fortunate. However, chances are, you employ a lot of young people who may be new to a workplace environment, particularly one where a workforce is almost literally elbow-to-elbow, as in the call center.

The causes of high turnover in the call center are not always clear-cut to company management. Sure, you understand why an employee quits if he complains that he’s not getting the shifts he wants or is offered more money by another company. But more often than not, it is soft, intangible things that cause friction in the call center. Agents feel their goals are poorly communicated and measured. That another agent was trained better than him or her. That supervisors always choose to monitor on the agent’s “bad” days while ignoring the good conversations. That supervisors are keeping a closer watch on him or her than other agents. That company management is stressing training on issues the employee feels he or she has already mastered, while skimping on areas the agent would truly like help in (but is unwilling to ask).

Today’s call center technologies go a long way toward creating and maintaining fairness in agents’ jobs. Workforce optimization solutions allow for schedule and vacation swapping that is done automatically based on seniority, coverage needs and who asked first rather than supervisors picking and choosing who gets the good schedules and who doesn’t, which tends to bring about accusations of “favoritism.”

Quality surveys of customers can be done randomly, helping catch a more representative range of opinions. It’s well known that in the contact center, if you leave it up to customers to decide when they want to offer feedback, they are generally going to take time to offer it only when they’ve had a negative experience. And if you allow agents to “push” surveys to customers, they are, of course, only going to “push” when a call has gone well.

Speech analytics, too, can help supervisors become aware of where agents really need help, and where they are strong. Supervisors can take steps to correct errors — or areas where training may be thin for certain agents —automatically by pushing the appropriate e-learning modules to call center agents, allowing them to learn at their desks during their downtime with no judgmental manager standing over them. In this way, a supervisor need not either publicly single out an agent for a problem; i.e., “Suzanne, you really need to improve your close rate,” or take the time out to pull the agent aside for private, individualized learning, which carries its own stigma.

Call recording allows you to record and store all of your agents’ calls, if necessary, and access them easily. Not only do many industries today require 100 percent recording of customer interactions, it can be a good idea to avoid agent/customer “he said, she said” scenarios. You can use the recordings to find out where agents are weak, but on the flip side, you can use the recording to let agents know what they are doing well.

Improving the perception (and the reality) of fairness in the call center can go a long way toward reducing agent attrition and nipping the “disgruntled agent snowball effect” in the bud before it blooms into resentment of company management. Because when a group of people is working is working elbow-to-elbow in a call center environment, disharmony is the very last thing that’s needed.

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