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8 Strategies for Effective Contact Center Management

A contact center agent deals with stress on a daily basis, and it can get pretty taxing. But a contact center manager is no exception. The stakes have always been high and the pressure is on for the upper management.

Imagine having to balance operational costs, customer experience, agent retention, and revenue growth–Contact center managers need to be on top of all of these things 100 percent of the time.

Here are eight strategies to help in your journey to contact center management success.

Set goals and create a game plan

Just winging it in the contact center arena almost always leads to failure. Contact centers deal with huge contracts and losing one might either put the organization in a bind or lead to the entire organization’s dissolution.

Create a list of challenges you’ve faced in the past quarter of the year and another list of the contact center’s accomplishments. This aids in determining where most issues occur. You can then prioritize them according to urgency. An example, agent attrition. As reported by Forrester, some call centers have an attrition rate of 50-100 percent year. Considering the cost of starting and running a contact center, a high turnover rate is a serious threat to a contact center’s capacity to continuously operate.

Once you’ve figured out your what’s, it’s time to brainstorm your why’s and how’s. This enables you to build a solid roadmap toward eliminating the causes and improving processes that have contributed to the problem.

To pull this off, a contact center manager needs to be analytical while having the ability to come up with out-of-the-box solutions. Also, the different stages of planning and implementation require teamwork. Being open to employee feedback and having the ability to delegate tasks to all the right people helps with the goal-setting process.

Hire the most suitable employees

A company’s backbone is its people. The recruitment and hiring process is a crucial part of an organization’s ability to consistently perform within or beyond what’s required.

Based on TLNT.com’s study, replacing entry-level employee costs between 30-50 percent of their annual salary.

A contact center agent has an average yearly income of $25,000 to $30,000. Once an agent leaves because of a poor job fit, the company will need to hire a replacement. It’ll cost the company roughly $10,500 for the ex-employees separation pay, as well as recruitment, onboarding, and training fees for the new candidate.

To begin getting applications from the right candidates, ensure that the job description is transparent and thorough. Never leave out gray areas including the salary and benefits. It’s also essential to include a brief overview of your organization’s goals and purpose.

As per Business News Daily, it’s important to focus on what you offer to would-be employees. This attracts candidates that best fit your work culture and address your needs.

The interview process also plays a huge role in making sure you have future employees best-suited for the job. The trick is to not only concentrate on the candidate’s technical abilities, experience, and skill set; it’s essential to determine his emotional intelligence, personality, willingness, and coachability. A mix of situational and behavioral questions help weed out unfit applicants from candidates that are perfect for the role.

Supply a solid onboarding program

Never underestimate the power of an all-inclusive onboarding program. Sure you’ve discussed details about the company and the work environment during the recruitment and interview process, but it’s never a bad thing to reinforce the particulars.

The main goal of onboarding employees is to reduce the gap between “beginners” and the tenured agents. Urbanboard reveals that companies with a standardized onboarding process yield 54 percent higher new agent productivity and a 50 percent increase in their new-hire retention rate.

During the onboarding process, provide how-to-guides that discuss tool familiarity, and topics about your products and service at the focal point. This is also the perfect opportunity to fortify your new hires’ problem-solving skills to ensure a smooth transition to production.

To increase the potency of your organization’s onboarding program, make use of advanced learning tools such as interactive games, contests, role-playing, and call simulations. Different individuals learn in different ways, combine different learning styles as early as the onboarding process.

Immerse new hires and allow them to witness live customer interactions—calls, tickets, emails—via remote access or shadowing. This way, the learning experience becomes immersive while tenured agents don’t get distracted. Include examples of recorded calls along with chat and email transcripts to develop and enhance a new hire’s understanding of what quality customer experience looks like.

The onboarding program generally lasts 90 days from when an employee gets hired. According to Bersin By Deloitte, 22 percent of employee attrition occurs in the first 45 days of being employed.

To eliminate the feeling of inadequacy, equip “newbies” with the knowledge and skills before hitting the floor. More confident agents make better customer service decisions and less likely to churn. New employees who are part of a well-established onboarding program are 69 percent more likely to stay in a company for more than three years.

An effective contact center administration should never rush the onboarding process as this could also affect agent turnover or churn rates.

Create an employee-friendly and customer-centric environment

Some businesses tend to focus on providing an excellent customer experience while forgetting about the “stars” of the show—the employees.

An employee-centric workplace sees to it that employees are happy, comfortable, and valued. The epitome of this practice is Zappos, a US-based online clothing and shoe store, earns more than 1 Billion US dollars in revenue annually because of they value their employees. Their people get free healthcare, free coffee and vending machines, fun and colorful places to lounge and take a nap. In turn, employees give back how well the company is treating them by providing positive customer experiences.

Why is this so important? A 2016 Job Satisfaction survey from the Conference Board showed that 50.4% of Americans expressed being unhappy at work. Low levels of happiness in the workplace lead to high agent attrition rates, poor performance, and decreased productivity.

Keeping your employees happy is a sign of your commitment to helping them achieve work-life balance. James McDonald from iOfficeCorp couldn’t have said it better, “When you invest in your employees, they’ll invest in you and feel more loyal to the company.”

Investing in your employees not only refers to sufficient compensation and benefits, valuable training programs, and a comfortable workspace; it also encompasses choosing the right tools that they would want to use. Provide tools that cover customer-related processes but ensure a smooth and convenient user experience (UX). There’s a close link between user adoption rate, user experience, and agent productivity.

Employee-centricity also makes your agents feel empowered. Confident agents lead to better customer interactions. A report from Globoforce indicated that 41 percent of organizations who use rewards and peer recognition witnessed a substantial increase in customer satisfaction.

It’s imperative that you acknowledge simple milestones achieved by one of your agents and celebrate the huge ones as a team. Not only does this motivate them, it also fosters loyalty and commitment to the organization.

Provide relevant training aligned with the organization’s goals

As with any other industry, contact center management treat current trends as a major factor when setting goals and expectations. However, different contact centers have different needs. Working with experiential data and concrete scenarios help agents gain knowledge and techniques applicable to real-life situations, and strengthens each employees understanding of the company’s goals.

For example, a training based on industry standards is a must. However, not all of the guidelines and processes apply to every organization’s situation. Tweak it and apply it to the pool of scenarios you’ve gathered through years of operation. This way, your employees develop a sense of initiative instead of doing everything by the book.

Gail Goodman of Consultel and Phone Teacher stresses the importance of having properly trained agents working the phones. The same applies to contact centers with omnichannel platforms.

Training presents a prime opportunity to expand the knowledge of all employees, but many employers find the development opportunities expensive. Employees also miss out on work time while attending training sessions, which may delay the completion of projects. Despite the potential drawbacks, training and development provide both the company and the individual employees results that aid in improving customer experience and revenue growth. Although training programs could take time and cost a fortune, it’s still considered as a worthwhile investment.

The success of an organization’s training efforts doesn’t solely rely on the materials and methods used. It has a lot to do with the trainer’s approach.

Product knowledge and mastery of the processes is one thing but a trainer who exudes a fun and positive attitude considerably have more chances of producing successful trainees when compared to another with an unappealing and dismissive personality. A Workforce 2020 survey revealed 65 percent of today’s employees identify training along with growth opportunities as their top motivators.

Take advantage of targeted coaching vs. micromanagement

As opposed to training and onboarding, coaching leans toward individual growth. But, this shouldn’t be confused with micromanagement. When you’re worried about stats and KPIs it’s easy to hover around underperformers so you’re immediately available whenever one of them needs help. However, have you ever stopped to think that they might view you as a vulture waiting to pounce on them like a dead carcass? It’s intimidating and it pressures them even more. Good thing there are numerous ways to put micromanagement to a halt and shift over to targeted coaching.

Each agent possesses a combination of skills and weaknesses that a manager may or may not find in another agent. It’s important to know what makes one agent ticks incorporate this in your coaching sessions.

Manager coaching can substantially improve customer service by 450 percent within the first five months. Identify areas of struggle (call quality, product knowledge, tool familiarity, empathy, will issue, etc.) and device a customized game plan to discuss these weak points, the reason behind them, and the things you and the agent can do to surpass the challenges. Another trick is to listen attentively for verbal and non-verbal cues. A manager should remain approachable and observant, and be sensitive to what the agent is trying to tell him, even indirectly. Keep feedback honest yet positive and set milestones to allow an agent to gradually work on multiple goals.

However, a shared challenge for most managers is finding free time to do coaching. To get around this, make it a habit to casually check with tenured agents and only free up time for coaching if and when the agent is underperforming. Long-time employees appreciate managers that don’t get on their backs every so often. This gives them autonomy and the opportunity to further enhance their problem-solving skills through actual practice. As for newbies, it’s best to keep stats and KPIs updated to see which ones fall below the cut or might do better with the proper guidance. Targeted coaching, in the long run, produces independent agents who have the ability to hold their own.

Prioritize effective agent scheduling

Contact center agents are people. They get tired and get burnt out. They get anxious and stressed. And one surefire way to make your employees feel all of these things is asking them to work overtime.

ABC News reported that employees working 10-hour shifts have a great risk of developing a heart problem. A related study from the Aragon Institute of Health Sciences revealed that individuals who put in more than 40 hours a week are six times more likely to suffer from burnout when compared to those who work less than 35 hours per week.

You can’t have a burnt out agent come working for you each day. Either they continue working while becoming less productive or they quit entirely. To prevent burnout and increase agent productivity, have a well put-together schedule in place.

To make sure your scheduling method is effective and beneficial for the team, take note of each agent’s availability. Figure out shifts that have gaps and fill them out with new hires; don’t fill them out with current agents going on overtime as this can contribute to a decrease in productivity. Paying for an exhausted agent to go overtime isn’t practical; you pay for his time but not his productivity. An employee can go on overtime but do far less than he normally does during regular shifts. Putting forecasting reports to good use also helps contact center managers gain better insight into staffing requirements, inbound traffic, and KPIs.

Overtimes are inescapable; however, the key to keeping agents productive when rendering extra time is to agree with flexible terms. Instead of a taxing 8-hour shift during a weekend, you can have 2 agents to 4-hour shifts. This way, an agent doesn’t feel like work is keeping him away from the good things in life.

Working undesirable shifts is unpreventable in a contact center setting because the lines get pretty busy during holidays. Make sure to offer incentives for these employees. It may be in the form of cash bonuses, movie tickets, or rewarding them with time off from work during off-peak seasons.

Pair up your star agents with the underperformers in one shift. You can’t group Straight A employees in one team and leave the newbies to handle a single shift. By the time they’re done, your service level has already suffered quite a blow.

If you want to take flexibility up a notch, explore remote staffing or allowing your employees to work from home. According to Sure Pay Roll, two-thirds of managers who offer telecommuting flexibility report that employees who work from home are overall more productive. And companies allowing part-time telecommuting flexibility, as a group, save an average of $44 billion annually.

Arm yourself with robust contact center technology

With the proliferation of data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) tools created for the call center industry, it’s not enough to hire the best people and conduct standardized onboarding and training programs. Successful contact center management requires the right technology.

The goal is to make it easier for your employees to navigate tools and provide ease of access to relevant customer information. A reliable phone system and an exceptional CRM aren’t enough to stay competitive—a company needs something in between.

To help employees become efficient and productive, a company should make things easier for them. A Computer telephony integration, or CTI, is just the kind of technology needed in today’s competitive world. Simply put, a CTI allows phone systems and computers to seamlessly communicate. This means employees have the ability to answer a call or dial a customer’s phone number via their desktop, as opposed to reaching for a physical phone. It also allows the integration of other communication devices with your preferred systems of record.

Leverage your CRM with a CTI and your employees then have access to a 360-degree view of the customer across different channels within one simple interface. Doing so shortens handle times while it improves user experience and customer experience. Both of these play an important role in contact center success. When agents have a hard time using the tools, it greatly affects the quality of the customer experience they provide.

Unified contact center technology also allows agents to handle concerns and access data from different channels real-time. The omnichannel approach has scaled throughout these years, and to only way for a contact center to adapt to this change is to adopt technology that supports it.

Other features of CTI include automatic call recording and logging, call rerouting, voice recording integration (IVR), automatic dialing, and many more. If it makes your agent’s life easier, it’s guaranteed to make contact center management–and the jobs of agents –a lot easier, too.

All of these tips when followed can make a huge impact on your business processes. They help lower agent turnover and increase agent productivity, support revenue growth, as well as create a work environment where each employee feels valued. It will initially feel like you’re doing everything for the agent, but the results help you arrive at the realization that when you value your workforce, your profits and productivity skyrocket.

Originally published on Tenfold.