Contact Center Best Practices: What are your tips for improving performance in your contact center?

Please list, in detail, 3 best practices that you would like to share with the Focus community on improving performance in your call center. High quality contributions will be included in an upcoming report on contact center management, and will receive significant promotion on the Focus network.

Answer

Brad Nichols (Chief Operating Officer, Clientometry)
Hi Michael,

If by 'performance' you mean customer experience or satisfaction, then I think the three top tips I would provide are:

1) Actively recruit for behavioral competencies - create and use a structured competency driven interview program to ensure you're hiring folks with the right behavioral characteristics at the outset - not just technical skills!
2) Implement an interaction driven satisfaction measurement program - and use it to bonus staff - scientifically track customer satisfaction with individual contact center interactions (and all associated best practices!) agent by agent and drive staff bonuses directly from individual performances.
3) Empower the staff to make decisions (including spending money within reason!) that can improve the experience of the customer - Trust agent judgment and give your agents the freedom to make the right decision to help the customer...they will reward that trust!

Hope those are helpful!

Brad
3 Additional Answers
David Filwood (Principal Consultant, TeleSoft Systems)
When reaching out to a Contact Center – customers want a 24x7 clear connection to a quickly answered call. Callers want access to a well thought-out IVR in order to source their own answers – or be able to reach a Live Operator by simply pressing ‘0’.

If they have to hold in a queue for the next available operator – customers want to be advised of their estimated wait time – and they want the option of leaving their telephone number for a call back instead of having to hold on the line.

And once they’re connected with a Customer Service Representative (CSR) – callers want to speak with a CSR from their region - who is typically better able to serve and communicate with them. Customers want their questions/issues resolved by a CSR who acts professionally – is easily understood - who is not a ‘script reader’ - and who is empowered to make this a “one call & done” experience.

Not everyone is cut out to work in a Call Center environment. Typically there are 3 grades of CSRs found in a Call Center: (Above Average), (Average), and (Below Average).

(Above Average) CSRs seem to have “The Right Stuff” that pushes them to succeed & a natural compatibility with the duties of the position. They work hard - exceed expectations - do more than asked - achieve high-quality consistent results - can always be counted upon - need little direction & work extremely well with everyone.

(Average) CSRs perform their duties adequately enough “to get by” - but no better. They are the partially competent. Generally they’re strong from a Skills standpoint but missing a key ingredient or two from a Job Fit standpoint.

(Below Average) CSRs are the people who just don’t fit somehow. Sometimes they’re good people in the wrong jobs. They need extra coaching & supervision just to achieve average results. Often they cause unnecessary conflict. (Below Average) CSRs have the Highest Levels of Absenteeism, Lowest Levels of Productivity & Sales, Poorest Performance & Customer Satisfaction Ratings, and generally have a Negative Impact on Team Morale. They represent the real problems in a Call Center workforce. While (Average) & (Below Average) CSRs may seem fully qualified at the Interview Stage – they’re a Poor Job Fit – the cost of hiring them is enormous – with little value add to an organization - and a decrease in Service Levels and Brand Reputation.

A tightly-scripted Call Center environment is usually found where the focus is on Cost Containment. Average Speed of Answer (ASA), Average Handle Time (AHT) & After Call Work Time (ACW) are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) - and CSRs are typically required to rigorously follow a script. An unscripted Call Center environment is usually found where the KPIs are Customer Satisfaction & First Call Resolution (FCR).

Scripted & unscripted call handling are discrete and different pursuits - requiring separate Personality/Job-Fit Traits. Someone with the Intellect, Problem-Solving Skills & ‘Verbal Artistry’ to serve a caller in an unscripted fashion is rarely a good fit for a tightly-scripted Call Center environment. Equally – it is rare for someone who performs well in a tightly-scripted Call Center to successfully make the transition to unscripted caller interactions. Few people possess the ability to work successfully long-term in both a scripted & unscripted Call Center.

Top performing Contact Centers drive their Revenue & Performance through superior hiring tactics. We help employers gain better insight & more accurate predictions as to which applicants from a pool of Candidates would perform up to, or beyond their established standards. You can find out about a Free Trial of SPAS Call Center Agent Pre-Employment Screening Software at http://www.telesoftsystems.ca/64201.html
Michelle Babb (Practice Director, WFO and Analytics, Ponvia)
While I agree that the right hiring practices and measures are significant, the number one thing that every contact center management should focus on is coaching and training your supervisors on how to coach.

1) Do your supervisors spend at least one hour per month in a one on one sessions coaching every performer in your center?

2) Do your supervisors know HOW to coach and understand how to interpret your metrics to identify agent behavioral trends that should rewarded or corrected?

3) Are your KPIs the right metrics for your center? Do your metrics only measure items within the control of the agent and focus on things like customer satisfaction, sales, resolution, etc or do they only focus on the traditional metrics of AHT, Adherence, etc? Your metrics need to balanced and use the right metrics or you might be rewarding the wrong behavior. While I have been a big advocate of AHT as a measure, AHT is only one part of the equation and really focus more on cost - not on resolution of the real reason the customer is calling. Don't set up your metrics to motivate your agents to engage in behavior that encourages a poor customer experience.

In a nutshell, technology is an important tool but does not substitute for focusing on the most important (and expensive) asset that every contact center has - your people. People are not numbers, and while numbers are key in measuring and identifying trends, your agents need to be empowered, supported, and coached by your supervisors...and most importantly, treated like the adult professionals they are.
Carlos Merideth (National Manager, Insurance Company)
For short actionable tasks that can be done tomorrow:

1. Eliminate duplicate work, I guarantee it is there. I have found the most successful reps find ways to limit every single movement they do.

2. Multi tasking, this is a piggyback to number 1. The best reps continuously look for ways to combine tasks. They never stop. One function we perform is to call a customer, if they do not answer, leave a message, document our file, diary a follow up call, and send a contact letter. The best reps can do all of the above in 1 minute at the same time. The ones that struggle try to do one at a time. And the elite, try to see what else they can squeeze into that same time.

3. ANSWER THE PHONE EVERTIME! This is the biggest opportunity there is. Every call that goes to voicemail has to be retrieved, documented somewhere, returned, usually a vm left, then the cycle repeats. I don't care if every available line is lit up, answer the phone and take advantage of the customer being available at that time. The efficiency gains are enormous.

For larger scale/long term planningView:

1. People - finding the right person to work in the contact center world is the first step. I suggest establishing a model based on existing successful reps and the least successful. Several testing methods are available to evaluate skills and behaviors to measure incoming candidates. Set clear, focused metrics along with very transparent performance standards. Next is development of existing employees at all levels. Behavior based, personal development plans should be put in place with each individuals career path and goals in mind. Constant monitoring of quality, followed by effective coaching is critical.

2. Operational Excellence - optimizing individual efficieny is the key to improved productivity. Direct supervisors should be engaging employees by direct observation of work. Is the employee writing things down, then typing in the computer, duplicating work? Are they answering every call or wasting time listening and recording messages, then calling people back and leaving an additional message, a vicious cycle that kills productivity.

3. Innovation - could be new technology or just some new way of doing old work. Can a process be automated? Maybe automated follow up calls can be used vs a more expensive employee calling. Can other forms of communication be utilized? Email and text may be a faster way to communicate simple messages than a phone call. Constantly asking, 'why do we do this or that' can be a healthy way to find opportunities that were there all the time. Maybe simple technology additions can help. If you type something is repetitive, maybe the use of smart keys or copy and paste templates will save time in keyboarding.
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