10 Ways to Find Your Call Center’s Competitive Edge in 2018
Businesses are always looking for the competitive edge.
Finding and working that edge involves staying current and top-of-mind with clients and potential customers. It’s also about pushing the businesses to the forefront of innovation and agility, in both product and service development. It really is all about innovation.
Processes often are repetitive for good reasons. But they still can use fresh innovation. Meanwhile, inefficient processes wreak havoc that goes beyond the process itself. When a process isn’t working the way it should, we experience increased attrition of talent and customers. The dollar loss can be significant.
As a leader in call center management, GCS knows that fixing processes that aren’t working is sometimes like putting duct tape on the Hoover Dam. It might hold temporarily – but it needs a stronger, more sustainable solution. Innovation doesn’t have to mean blowing up the dam. Instead, look for those easy changes that make the biggest difference.
Implementing these 10 innovations this year will not only help your call center improve the service and experience you provide, but also improve your processes to drive down costs and create a serious competitive advantage. If you are already doing them, look for ways to improve their existing process to buck up the operation.
1) Develop a Blended Call Center Agent Strategy
Traditionally, a blended agent is known to be capable of handling both inbound and outbound calls for a product or service. At GCS, we developed a strategy to give blended agents more fluidity. Here, they consist of teams of representatives who are cross-trained to handle various duties. This way, agents can be assigned to calls, alternate channels, or tasks based on skill set and need.
For example, a blended agent at GCS knows how to answer questions about two completely different product lines. Traditionally, an agent may be able to answer questions about one line or the other. This proves problematic for staff on a day in which 75% of calls are about the first product line while only 25% are about the second one. Or if call traffic is slow, properly skilled agents can be shifted to web chat or email.
By training agents in multiple areas and helping them to hone multiple skills, GCS enables our team to shift with the demand. It’s an innovative solution that not only empowers employees, but also proves beneficial to the call center as well.
Cross-training is a powerful strategy. It increases productivity and also reduces the likelihood of boredom and burnout among your employees. By ensuring that your agents are educated in multiple departments within your call center, you’re also lowering turnover. You may be able to lower agent count, as well. How could you benefit by a redesign of your work flow?
2) Focus on Tools That Optimize Customer Performance
Think about it – your agent is HALF of the customer interaction. So, look for ways to increase their ability to make decisions for the customer. Think about strategies to reduce the complexity of the tools they use to serve the customer. How can you give them easier access to information, so they can better serve the customer? Conduct “Voice of the Employee” surveys to understand ways to improve the agent situation. Develop a clear understanding of the small things it takes to do their job day.
Here’s why – in the past, information technology (IT) focused on integration of all systems into one. With the rise of cloud technology as well as new applications and new channels, there is a divergence. Leading IT groups have become bimodal, with a core team focused on stability, security and infrastructure, and a second team focused on applications.
These apps team creates and brings tools to the desktop that sit between the various data points and the agent. These tools give the needed information to the agents through links to the other business-data sites. What does that mean? There’s an increase in the agility of the agent, but at a risk of added complexity. The more you focus support on understanding the agent’s needs – what’s working, what’s not working – the better they’ll be able to manage the customer’s experience.
3) Coach & Educate Agents Daily
All call centers should offer agent coaching based upon calls they have had with customers. Often this is done with the help of a Quality Assurance team.
One approach to coaching is self-coaching. With self-coaching, recorded calls are delivered to the agents themselves for scoring, coaching and even updating. Coaching sessions are conducted at the representative’s workstation, not the manager’s, and they can be as much as 300% more efficient.
This method, while innovative, is also highly efficient as an agent training technique. When agents are given the opportunity to evaluate what they did right and wrong, before a manager expresses his or her own evaluation, they are often harder on themselves. In fact, at GCS, we provide daily feedback to all of our agents using audio recordings and self-coaching. It creates a faster and more positive atmosphere for our associates.
The rise of speech analytics (SA) has opened another avenue for agent coaching and improvement. These (SA) systems can score more calls at a consistent level. As agents become familiar with these scores, they first notice what they do well. But soon they notice the lower scores, the areas for improvement. This recognition provides areas of focus for their development. Many agents want high marks in ALL areas and will renew their efforts to improve. It is no longer enough to bring your agents in to meet with their managers or a quality coach on a monthly or quarterly basis for a 30-minute evaluation. In order to breed excellent customer service agents, you have to become more hands-on and timely with their education. It emphasizes the daily importance of what they do and makes them feel more valued.
4) Implement Behavioral Testing & Skill Assessments
When you’re looking for your call center’s competitive edge, you should start by investing in the hiring process. Employees are the lifeblood of your call center. It pays to hire smartly – even if you’re looking to fill entry-level positions.
A pre-employment analysis of things like overall attitude, customer service insight, and typing and navigational skills can help you find the most qualified candidates faster. There are many new tools available to help you determine the fit of a candidate with high accuracy.
Once you’ve decided to hire a new agent, additional assessments should be performed identifying his or her skill set. By placing agents in the areas where they are most likely to thrive, you’re ensuring their success. It’s also more likely they remain happy and engaged in their positions.
Many contact center agents consider the job to be fluid. They leave for a different call center over something as simple as a change of scenery or a $0.25 increase in their hourly pay. Younger employees are often looking for new experiences and a mentor, not just a boss. Show your hires interest in both WHAT they can do and WHO they are to keep them engaged and you one step ahead of your competitor.
It’s important to provide your employees, especially the longer-term ones, with consistent career tracks, including promotions and even management opportunities. It will help limit turnover if your agents know that you view them as more useful and they see a future.
Adjust your hiring to mirror the expectations of the workforce. Many younger employees are looking for a mentoring or development program. Others may see your agent job as a stairstep to other opportunities. They may only be willing to stay for 18 to 24 months. Adjust your hiring profile and techniques appropriately.
5) Practice a Call Center Workforce Management Strategy
As a call center, you should be familiar with the power of KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators. KPIs are measurements used to evaluate factors critical to your business. A great example of a KPI: average speed of answer (ASA) – it’s easy to measure, and using that information uncovers valuable insight into tactical and strategic changes needed to keep performance on track and costs in line.
Identifying your KPIs is important to forming a Workforce Management (WFM) optimization strategy. A WFM optimization strategy can help with staffing decisions that can save money while increasing performance.
Here’s a great example of a WFM optimization strategy: If you know from your call-volume KPI that your call center has consistent peaks and valleys throughout the day, a mixture of both full-time and part-time agents may be the most effective way to handle the volume variances. In some centers, it is less profitable to have all employees working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, by hiring agents who can be (and want to be) more flexible versus traditional hours, you’re able to better serve customers while reducing costs.
6) Debunk the Micromanagement Myth – and Negativity
Let’s be honest – nobody likes a micromanager. Thankfully, when it comes to call center management, micromanagement takes on a positive meaning. Think of it this way – it’s not about micromanaging your agents. It’s about micromanaging the overall process within your call center. We call that “Majoring in the Minors.”
While the word “macro” roughly translates to the study of an overall picture, the word “micro” suggests managing the small parts of something. For the call center, this includes the many conversations and the supporting day-to-day tasks.
Micromanaging within a call center is a good thing. It means we have the agents deliver individualized customer contact over and over again, while communicating a consistent message with each one. It’s the only way to deliver excellent results for EACH customer.
7) Make Speech Analytics Work for You
Speech analytics is the process of understanding and analyzing recorded calls to gather information critical to improving current and future customer interactions as well as communications. The idea is that this type of information will inform, enlighten, and serve as a way to coach and improve performance.
These systems are helpful in many ways:
- Daily feedback
- Security and fraud detection
- Assessment of new hires
- Escalation and de-escalation scoring
- Next call avoidance
8) Provide Information with IVR
Interactive Voice Response, or IVR, is that lovely voice that tells us to press 1 for hours, press 2 for sales, or press 3 to speak with a representative. It’s unfortunate that a lot of call centers don’t find the correct balance in the use of an IVR. Agents don’t have to answer every single call that comes through, nor do we want to create voicemail jail. Use the IVR to quickly identify the needs of customers calling in and route them to a person or provide further instructions.
IVRs can benefit your call center in other ways, too. They can collect information about individuals calling in, prioritize calls, handle transactions, and even call customers back. Effective use of IVRs increases first-contact resolution, adds to the customer service experience and reduces operational costs.
As an affordable tool, IVR is an innovative and efficient form of artificial intelligence that can help you save money, and it will also reduce costs within your call center. The trick is to use it to complement the customer interaction. Poor programming and messaging can kill the customer experience. Take care in the setup of the options and the selection of the language in the scripts.
9) Prepare for Disasters Powerfully
If preparing for weather or an influenza event doesn’t exactly strike you as an innovative solution, we’re inclined to disagree. Try as you might, your call center isn’t equipped to handle everything.
As a call center, your very survival depends on your location. If you have only one call center and it is shut down due to a hurricane, tornado or natural disaster, or if the physical structure AND infrastructure have suffered irreparable damage, how will you answer customers who need your help?
For this reason, a disaster-preparedness solution can really benefit your call center. If practical, invest in multi-center solutions located in places with opposite weather patterns such as Arizona and West Virginia. Other solutions include the use of at-home agents. Not only will agent hours be more flexible, but you will set your call center up for success when your agents can’t get to the center.
Finally, in some areas there are on-call centers you can contract with for a minimal cost. It provides an alternate location for your agents to go to if your normal center is not available.
10) Become a Diverse, Multi-Language Contact Center
A call center has the power to bring together many kinds of people. Everything from their backgrounds to their countries of origin to their languages may be different than what you’d expect. In the United States, being bilingual is often listed as a required skill for potential call center hires.
However, to be innovative at a call center, it’s crucial to move beyond your competition. That’s why investing in growth as a multi-language center is not only productive, but also creative. Focus on hiring agents with bilingual skills – with one of them being English. That allows them to handle all calls and also makes managing the agent pool easier. Focus on building up your talent pool, no matter their language skill set, and eventually you will be able to expand your customer options – which may lead to new business.
For infrequently needed languages, consider an on-demand translation line or software. This allows you to cover all customers at a low cost.
. . .
When it comes down to it, these innovations for 2018 are really about streamlining business processes. As obvious as some of them might be, they are often tasks or opportunities that many call centers don’t invest in.
By simplifying the elements critical to our business, including our technology, talent and how we interact daily with customers, we make everyone’s job much simpler. As a result, your agents will be happier. In this tight labor market, that may be the competitive edge you need to thrive in 2018.
If you’re looking to make your call center more innovative, make a smart investment in one of these strategies. Need some help? Call us. We know them well, as we’ve used them ourselves – read all about how we took one contact center from worst to first in less than 90 days.