Tag Archives: Call Center Management Articles

A New Opportunity for the Call Center Industry

Working from Home Is the Ideal Solution to Keep Employees Safe and Healthy

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

We never know what the future will hold, but we do know that what lies ahead will most assuredly be quite different from what last year held. As you grapple with staffing issues for your call center among the new reality of social distancing and face masks, an option emerges as the ideal solution: remote staffing—specifically working from home.

This is not a new idea; it’s been bouncing around for a couple of decades. Some call centers have been open for some time to hiring agents who work from their homes. A few other operations have embraced it fully as their business model. Yet until recently, employing homebound call center agents has not gained widespread traction.

This is now changing, and at an accelerated pace. Remote employees who work from the safety of their homes will arise as the backbone of our new economy. And call centers stand ready to lead the charge.

Safe Work

From a health perspective, the best place to work, the safest place to be, is in our own homes isolated from other people. If we never come into physical contact with someone carrying the virus, we’ll never catch it. The advice to “stay home and stay safe” may remain with us forever, not disappearing as a once-chanted mantra. Though it may wane for a while, it is just as likely to return, never to go away again.

Though it will be a while—years, I suspect—before we know the truth of what we can do and shouldn’t do, the best advice now is to minimize risk and work from home. Remote call center jobs are ideally suited to accomplish this prudent approach.

Stable Work

In the past months, many employees have suffered through various workplace mandates, complex rules, and ever-altering expectations. They underwent layoffs. They saw their hours cut. And they endured uncertainty, criticism, and a new level of customer frustration, which they had to shoulder unfairly. This has all occurred through no fault of their own.

Everyone I know has had their work somehow affected, be it from annoying—and sometimes nonsensical—requirements to months-long layoffs. My work, however, has continued without interruption and without alteration—because I work from home. Though events outside my control have affected those I interact with, my ability to complete needed tasks has continued without hesitation. Though once viewed as an anomaly, my practice of working from home now produces admiration. At last the uncommitted see the value of working out of a home office.

A New Way to Attract Employees

As you seek to attract and hire call center workers, the ability to work from home now carries a benefit that you can tout as a reason for them to consider working for you and not another company where they may find their health and job security at risk.

Home-based call center work is now a smart job move. It is a safe way to work and a stable way to earn a living. Many other jobs, especially those that require in-person interaction with others, can’t provide these sought-after assurances. But now you can offer these benefits to a working populace who seeks to earn a living in a safe and secure environment. Call center work perfectly fits these requirements.

As our economy moves forward, we’ll undoubtedly see increased demand for call centers to do more work in a social-distanced, mask-wearing reality. And the ability to keep phone agents safe and working from their homes will allow the industry to hire and keep the workforce it needs to meet with this demand.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.  Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

A Concise Guide for Outsourcing Success, Part Five

By Kathy Sisk

To conclude our series of articles on outsourcing success, here are two optional topics we need to address.

Consider an Independent Project Manager

If you are not comfortable selecting the ideal agency for your company and managing the relationship, or if you simply don’t have the time, you may wish to consider outsourcing this to an expert. Try one of the many independent project management companies in the business of helping you not only to select the agency, but also negotiate the terms and rates on your behalf. 

In addition, these companies can write call scripts, monitor agents remotely, and manage your account from beginning to end. Should you decide to outsource through an independent project management firm, be sure to use the steps provided earlier in this series to help you narrow down the selection process and find the ideal project manager for you.

Benefits of Strategically Small Outsourcing Ventures

Many believe that outsourcing is an all-or-nothing venture. But it doesn’t have to involve shutting down an existing operation or handing off the entire operation to a third party, thus leaving your employees jobless. 

Many companies have found that outsourcing even just a small percentage of calls based on specific times or call types can be an effective way for their organization to: 

  • handle heavy call volumes during peak hours-of-the-day, days-of-the-week, or weeks-of-the-year 
  • expand hours of operation
  • provide crucial coverage during service interruptions at the call center (disaster response and crisis recovery)
  • cut call-handling and seasonal-hiring costs 
  • free up agents to focus on more complex or profitable transactions
  • conduct outbound call handling such as cold calling or reviving lost customers

No matter what you decide, the call center industry is still thriving and growing. Call center excellence is essential today more than ever to ensure your operation. Or if you choose to outsource, you can access the right tools, hire exceptional talent, and provide ongoing soft skills training, monitoring, and coaching. 

Your customers are your most important asset. Therefore, handle your interactions with them with excellence. 

For more information about setting up, reengineering, outsourcing, and project managing your call center operations, Kathy Sisk Enterprises can help you. They have over forty years’ experience with satisfied clients and centers across the globe.

Conversational Analytics The Secret to Exceptional

By Simon Black 

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, once advised, “Forget about your competitors, just focus on your customers.” As statistics highlight, dissatisfied customers not only cost you time and money, but if you lose a customer, it’s going to cost even more to replace them. In fact, it can cost five times as much to get a new customer versus keeping existing ones. In a world of oversharing, your customers are likely to complain about your business, products, or service across their social channels within minutes. That’s why your customers’ first interaction with your business needs to be purposeful from the outset.

First Contact

Quite often that first conversation occurs with your contact center, the heart of your company’s customer service function. It’s usually the first point of contact, so it’s important to ensure that your first call resolution (FCR) processes are fine-tuned and effective. Making sure communication between your agents and customers is as simple and as mutually understandable as possible is critical. 

From a customer point of view, their interaction with your business often means minimum effort on their part and maximum reward for them. Gartner recently highlighted that 94 percent of customers with low-effort interactions intend to repurchase, compared with 4 percent of those experiencing high effort.

These numbers aren’t really a surprise. We all know from our personal encounters that it only takes one good or bad incident to make or break a relationship. As Amazon CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, puts it, “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the internet, they can each tell six thousand.” The good news, though, according to PWC, is that when it comes to making a purchase, 42 percent of all consumers would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience, which is why first call resolution is so important.

FCR, sometimes referred to as “one-touch resolution,” isn’t about the average number of support tickets your agent resolves on the first interaction with a customer. It may be a popular benchmark to measure metrics such as response rates and resolution time so that you can run your call center team efficiently, but there’s more to FCR if you really value the customer experience (CX) and their journey. 

Enter Artificial Intelligence 

As statistics highlight, dissatisfied customers not only cost you time and money, but if you lose a customer, it’s going to cost even more to replace them. Fortunately, the technology is now in place to support and improve these FCR interactions. By incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into your contact center, you can better support your agents and provide them with the right tools for resolution and a more seamless customer journey.

 A recent survey by PointSource highlighted that 49 percent of customers are willing to shop more often when AI is present, and 34 percent of customers will spend more money. The research also found that 38 percent will share their experiences with friends and family. This means that AI causes people to shop more, spend more, and share more. So, with today’s technology, there is every reason and every opportunity to get the customer experience right.

According to IDC, 13.9 billion dollars was invested into CX-focused AI and 42.7 billion dollars in CX-focused big data and analytics during 2019, with both expected to grow to 90 billion dollars in 2022. That’s a convincing argument. 

Now might be the time to look at how AI can support and enhance the experiences of your customers. This can become the game changer needed in your contact center customer relations.  You only need to look at consumer adoption of conversation digital assistants like Alexa to realize the widespread acceptance of natural language query or conversational analytics (CA).

Conversational Analytics 

Natural language processing (NLP) enables people to ask questions about data and receive an explanation thanks to the amazing analytics built into the platform. Conversational analytics takes this further by allowing people to ask questions verbally. 

We recognize that the use of NLP and CA can enhance our experiences as a consumer, so how can it help our businesses? In 2018, Tech Pro Research reported that 70 percent of survey respondents said their companies either have a digital transformation strategy in place or were working on one. Fast-forward two years, and digital transformation projects have been fast-tracked, thanks to the accelerant we now know as COVID-19. 

Almost overnight, organizations have had to transform their operations, mobilize their workforces, and meet customer expectations within new parameters. Digital transformation has put data at the center of every business. What you need to do now is use it to your advantage.

NLP and CA are so transformative that Gartner listed them in their own Top 10 Technology Trends in Data and Analytics report. The analyst house predicts that by 2021, NLP and CA will boost analytics and business intelligence adoption from 35 percent of employees to over 50 percent, including new classes of users, particularly front-office workers. And it’s your customer-facing employees—as well as your customers themselves—who stand to most benefit from CA.

Customer Service Outcomes

Think about omni-channel for a moment. It shouldn’t matter whether your customers reach you by telephone, email, or social media. They should have the same frictionless experience. CA enables your contact center agents to answer customer queries in a knowledgeable way—quickly supplying answers, resolving problems, or escalating issues so the customer gets a personalized, easy experience. 

In fact, there are a lot of benefits for both your customers and your agents with CA.

Customers will enjoy: 

  • Customer service whenever and wherever they need it 
  • The ability to ask all kinds of questions and not be transferred across multiple departments 
  • Real-time solutions to problems resolved with insight and real-time voice-to-voice translation, which means that customers can have their query resolved in their own language, not that of your business 

Call center agents will enjoy: 

  • The ability to provide outstanding customer service, rather than focusing on the process to make communication with customers more personalized to better meet their needs
  • The intuitive way CA works, which agents require less training or can move on to different campaigns without spending hours reading reams of training manuals 
  • The capability to handle calls and resolve them faster than before, which means your cost per call is kept in control 

With Conversational Analytics (CA), the capability to focus on the conversation, rather than the process, means that both agents and customers have a better experience. As a result, your staff retention will improve dramatically, as well as your customer retention.

Simon Black is the CEO of Awaken. He’s an established senior executive with over twenty years of experience in the software industry with a record of driving rapid sales growth and scaling businesses. Simon is passionate about delivering value and excellent service to customers and developing a strong team culture for success.

Developing a Contact Center Work-At-Home Program

By Donna Fluss

While many contact centers, particularly large ones, had disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) plans in place before the pandemic hit, even if they were rarely tested and updated, surprisingly few included the option of having employees work from home for an extended period of time. And even BC plans that had work-at-home (WAH) guidelines for agents were unlikely to have documented best practices for supervisors or managers who unexpectedly needed to work remotely too.

A good DR/BC plan should address everything that a contact center worker needs to do as part of their job (whether they are in a different office or their home), the systems to support these activities, and the security requirements to protect customers, employees, and the company. 

However, the first step in the process is to enable contact center workers to work from their homes. For this reason, all contact centers, even those with just a few employees, need an effective WAH program supported by the necessary technology and solutions. Below is a high-level list companies should take into consideration when building or enhancing their contact center WAH initiative. Most of these apply to all contact centers, but some, like the use of voice biometrics, may not be cost-effective for smaller environments.

Work-at-Home Considerations for Contact Centers

Legal: Have a WAH employee contract that lays out all requirements. It should include job responsibilities, working hours, system requirements (such as who buys and pays for personal computers, headsets, and internet access and bandwidth), working space, security, and so forth.

Interaction: Set up a daily communication session between supervisors and each at-home agent. Part of each supervisor’s job should be to keep at-home agents informed of all work-related meetings and to make sure their agents are well. Use internal chat for most agent inquiries. 

Real-time messaging and broadcasting capabilities are also essential for communicating issues that require immediate attention.

Agent Management: Train supervisors and managers to oversee a virtual workforce. Out of sight cannot mean out of mind. Ensure that supervisors and managers are comfortable using the necessary technologies when agents are remote.

Cloud-Based Technology: Acquire and utilize cloud-based contact center systems and applications that enable companies to easily route customer interactions to agents and provide insight into their performance, whether they are on-site or off-site, including:

  • Omni-channel call center as a service (CCaaS) solution
  • One hundred percent real-time and historical recording of calls and screens
  • Desktop analytics to monitor application usage
  • Real-time speech analytics to trigger supervisor alerts when emotionally charged verbal interactions are in progress
  • Historical speech analytics to identify performance trends and business opportunities
  • Text analytics to generate notifications when negative sentiment is expressed in text-based channels
  • Workforce management (WFM) with mobility to allow agents to schedule their work hours and vacations, make swaps, and participate in overtime and voluntary time-off opportunities
  • Voice biometrics for employee identification and verification and to ensure that each agent is performing his or her job
  • Video technology to enable employees to interact with one another and to monitor agents

Security: Update and enhance the security requirements for WAH employees. Keep in mind that WAH employees need access to their mobile phones to participate in WFM-related activities.

Online Training: Create online training programs for both premise-based and remote agents. Use virtual and e-learning management software to facilitate the training process. 

Quality Management: Train all agents to participate in the department’s quality management (QM) program. This should be a standard training module.

Agent Motivation: Design rewards, incentives, and team-building activities to accommodate both in-house and remote staff.

Knowledge Management System: Use a cloud-based KM solution to collect and curate the product, process, procedural, and system knowledge required by all agents. 


WAH programs should address the needs of agents, supervisors, and managers. All contact centers should encourage a certain percentage of their employees to work from home on a regular basis. This will help them be successful when it becomes necessary in a business continuity situation. And given the changes in the business world due to the pandemic, allowing employees to work from home, if desired, is going to be an expectation of employers, including contact centers.

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades, she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the services industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.

How Automated Analytics Can Elevate Agent Performance and Experience

By Brad Snedeker

As a business process outsourcer (BPO) or outsourcing contact center, your agents serve as the face of your clients’ businesses. Low performance and high agent turnover can have a negative impact on the overall business. This can manifest in reduced end-customer loyalty and satisfaction. 

Even in the best of times, high-quality agent training and assessment presents challenges. In 2020, with a sudden shift to agents working from home due to the pandemic, the emphasis on proper training, monitoring, and assessment has become even more critical. This applies not only to new agents joining your organization, but also to existing agents who may be taking on new roles, new clients, or new channels.

Automating Data Science for Improved Interactions

One traditional way of teaching agents how to interact with customers has been to shadow a top-performing agent. But job shadowing has its limitations. It’s difficult to learn how to respond to different customer needs, the trainer agent might act differently when the trainee watching, and the trainee has limited time to learn and ask questions. Even so, shadowing can be helpful for agents to get a high-level feel for the tone and language they should emulate. But training shouldn’t end there.

Today, contact centers can leverage software automation to record and analyze agent interactions over the phone, email, chat, and social media. Centers can also use this information in near real-time to enable virtual or on-site management insights and training inspiration. This approach to training offers a richer experience and helps build agent confidence. It also makes training more efficient since you’re not asking other agents or managers to listen to and respond to every scenario or question.

Interaction monitoring, recording, and analytics together can reveal the why, not just the what, of agent performance, allowing managers to uncover trends and improve interactions for better long-term outcomes. It offers an opportunity to improve training for specific agents and enhance the customer experience for future interactions.

Uncovering Best and Not-So-Best Practices

Using massive quantities of data and automated analytics to uncover specific areas where agent behavior is impacting a customer interaction can shed light on experiences both positive and negative. This shows agents specific areas where they can improve, as well as find examples of behavior or language that other agents can emulate. A well-provisioned quality management system can even allow a contact center to share best practices with the click of a button, creating a library of successful examples.

For instance, one contact center manager discovered that an increasing number of retail customer calls escalated from first-contact agents to a supervisor. This diverted the supervisor’s attention away from other aspects of the business and hindered unrelated KPIs.

Voice-of-the-customer (and employee) analytics allowed the team to isolate relevant interactions based on this pattern of escalation and apply speech analysis. The analysis revealed the exact point in the conversations where the agents needed supervisor assistance. This level of insight gave the retailer the why for agents who struggled to manage challenging and emotional calls.

Using analytics, the managers identified the agents who grappled with this type of interaction. This allowed them to implement targeted training and assistance, creating a new best practice for all agents. 

Not only was this beneficial for the retail brand’s reputation with customers, it also helped agents improve their skill sets and learn how to de-escalate situations by modifying how agents interacted with customers. Reducing the stress of interactions had the additional benefit of creating happier, more successful agents who were less likely to turn over. 

When Change Dictates New Training

Through automated analytics, contact centers can also uncover training opportunities due to changes in their own processes.

For example, using speech analytics as part of its normal quality control efforts, one contact center identified a correlation between the use of phrases like “I don’t know” and calls placed on hold. Further, managers found a pattern in which calls placed on hold spiked when leaders deployed a new knowledge base. The company had inadvertently introduced its own problem. The analysis helped leaders quickly institute training in the areas where agents had knowledge gaps when new tasks were added, avoiding any long-term impact.

Unexpected situations can also trigger a need for extra training, but without analytics offering insight on changes and the new landscape of operations, leaders often don’t know where to start. 

According to a Calabrio study, 89 percent of contact centers had at least half their agents shift to a work-from-home model due to the pandemic. This compares to only 36 percent of contact centers with half their agents working remotely pre-pandemic.

Contact centers using analytics can stay close to their teams and quickly identify impacts on interactions and behaviors for new remote agents, as well as track how agents are functioning during this time of crisis. For example, KPIs might have indicated longer-than-usual call-resolution times. However, live interaction monitoring and analytics showed that agents were dealing with more customers who were scared, sad, or confused. 

This caused agents to modify their behaviors and spend additional time reassuring callers and working through fewer calls. New training, then, placed the emphasis on easy displays of empathy and ways to navigate complex interactions rather than on speed and low handle times.

Creating a Culture of CX Excellence

In addition to identifying weaknesses, centers can tap analytics to create a continuous culture of improvement. One area where this is especially important is with the customer experience (CX). Customer expectations will become more demanding in the future. In fact, 69 percent of contact center managers expect customers to have an increased need for emotional empathy in customer service interactions post-pandemic. Analytics can be a tool to support agents as customer needs evolve.

For example, sentiment analysis can help contact centers analyze customer and agent tone, as well as track how satisfied customers are based on their voice or text interactions. Radial, a BPO serving leading retail brands, used sentiment analysis to identify strategies to improve its end customers’ experience.

Using speech and text analytics, Radial identified instances of powerless-to-help language and phrases like “not allowed,” “unfortunately,” and “I wish we could” in customer interactions. Leaders correlated those to negative-sentiment scores. The results allowed Radial to create training and strategies to empower agents with the right tools, resources, and language to improve interactions and reduce negative-sentiment scores.

Simply by understanding the correlation between specific language and sentiment, Radial increased its net first-contact resolution by 3 percent, increased net customer satisfaction (CSAT) by 2.1 percent, and improved net agent demeanor by .56 percent. 

Not Just for the Customer

In the past, analytics-based insights had the stigma of being micro-managerial or critical toward agents. However, modern analytics use is meant to be pro-agent, offering support when needed and credit when deserved. By leveraging workforce engagement management tools together—including recording, quality management, workforce management, analytics, and reporting—contact centers now have the technologies they need to understand the details behind the good and the not-so-good customer-agent interactions. With this knowledge now easily accessible, applying training to make each interaction a positive one has the potential to improve every aspect of contact center work.

With more than fifteen years in the industry, Brad Snedeker has extensive knowledge of the contact center space. As Calabrio’s director of innovation, he ensures that customers have access to the best training available. He works directly with users to develop new and innovative techniques to implement workforce optimization best practices.

How to Manage a Remote Contact Center Team

By Chris Robinson

As any contact center leader knows, managing a team of agents is not for the fainthearted. This is even more challenging with agents working remotely. Deploying excellent technology will help to dramatically improve your customer experience (CX), but to create an entirely frictionless experience, you also need great people.

Finding the Right Contact Center Manager for Your Team

Business leaders know that finding a contact center manager with a can-do attitude is critical to the customer service journey. Being able to cope with a high-pressure environment, whether on the contact center floor or having to spur on the troops remotely, has never been more important. 

Regularly talking to agents and maintaining two-way communication—whether face-to-face, over the phone, via email, or a messaging channel—is key to motivating individuals. Taking the time to listen and engage with people improves productivity. Indeed, a study by York University psychologist Faye Doell found that those who “listen to understand” have better, happier relationships with others. 

A supportive manager will know that giving co-workers and employees the space to communicate fully and openly means that they’re more likely to become part of the team, make suggestions, and collaborate on projects.

Being a good listener means that your contact center manager will create the right chemistry across the team, whether that’s managing twenty agents or over one thousand. An ability for resourcing campaigns properly will also help to further alleviate team stress, while a sound knowledge of the call center technology supporting the work is important. If you’re going to invest in technology, you want to ensure that every member of the team can use it to its full potential.

Leading by example, demonstrating their own abilities, and creating a stress-free environment means that any capable contact center manager will inspire those around him or her. When you support your team, you inspire loyalty, which in turn should help to reduce agent churn—something that’s a challenge in the contact center world. 

According to Cornell University, the average cost to replace an agent is between five and seven thousand dollars, with entry level employees being the greatest number to leave (27 percent). Furthermore, contact center workers are absent for 8.2 days a year. That’s higher than any other industry. 

You have the power to not become a statistic and to enhance the agent experience within your contact center, whether locally or remotely.

What Does Great Contact Center Management Entail? 

Making the right hires, providing the necessary training, and supporting agents with great technology will dramatically enhance CX. To accomplish this, consider these management strategies:

  • Hire Smart: Employ the right people and make sure that the onboarding process is as smooth and as informative as possible. This will go a long way in maintaining a happy and productive environment.
  • Use Information: Embrace the data that you collate to help determine what works best for your customers and staff, as well as identify any underperforming areas.
  • Offer Incentives: Rewards and initiatives tap into our basic human needs. This can encourage superior performance and help keep agents motivated.
  • Promote Rest: Breaks have always been important in a call center environment but are even more important now with people working remotely or in strained circumstances. Ensuring that employees get time away from screens and calls will help keep all engagements in perspective.

Ultimately, being able to drive efficiencies through stronger management practices and behaviors will pay dividends. 

Top Tips for Managing Remotely

  • Speak to Your Team Every Day: Communicate with them either as a group or individually. Make the conversations informal and not all about work.
  • Be Available: There’s a fine balance to being available and always being “on.” Manage your time and let people know when it’s an appropriate time to catch up if they need to talk, whether that’s about personal or work-related challenges. Encourage them to do the same with their colleagues.
  • Empower to Harness Trust: Don’t micromanage your team. Outline responsibilities and make sure the entire team is aware of who is supposed to do what. Agree with them about what work they need to do and set realistic deadlines. Then trust people to get on with the task at hand and don’t chase them ahead of the deadline.
  • The Right Tools for the Job: Make sure your remote team has the right setup when working remotely. You may need to ask IT to carry out health checks on their devices and make sure they can use all their software easily. Arrange refresher training for any areas where the tools cause frustration.
  • Calendar Cleanse: Review meetings (i.e., video calls). Discuss whether they’re required, who needs to attend, and who can have their time freed up to address more important things.
  • Introduce Some Process: The phrase “Zoom fatigue” is becoming a real issue for remote workers, so do everything you can to streamline video calls, keeping the time spent short and productive. Have an agenda for every meeting, take minutes, and if you have to share a presentation, share it with people prior to the meeting (not ten minutes before) so they have time to review and can prepare any relevant feedback or questions. This will shorten your meeting time, and you will start to be more productive and less swamped by too much information and not enough time.
  • Make It Fun: There will be times where some members of your team feel upbeat while others struggle, and vice versa. Introduce a few fun ways where you can meet as a team but ask people what they would like to do. Remember, enforced fun is no fun.

Making the right management hires, providing the right training, and supporting your agents with great technology will dramatically enhance your CX. In a time where customers expect more, supporting your agents with the right infrastructure will not only deliver significant savings, but will also increase profitability. 

Chris Robinson is the director and executive chairman of Awaken Intelligence. He has been at the forefront of omni-channel communications for the last two decades. During this time, he has been instrumental in developing solutions that blend the best in contact center processes, unified communications, and cloud computing technologies into a powerful outsourced business offering used by many clients across a variety of sectors. 

Use Secure Texting to Send Emails from Your Call Center

By Mark Dwyer

Are you incorporating technology into your communication plan? Today’s consumers, patients, and physicians have expectations about the way you communicate with them. However, be careful. In all electronic communication, be sure to meet HIPAA and HITECH standards. Regardless of the communication method you use, you must encrypt any Personal Health Information (PHI).

It is more important than ever to interact using current technology. Texts and emails play an increasingly important part in sending patients both secure and nonsecure communications. These include reminders for appointments and medication refills, health information, care advice, confirmation of referrals, registrations, and other notifications. Not only does this increase consumer, patient, and physician satisfaction, but these electronic methods also increase the efficiency of the call center. 


Some of the advantages include:

  • Electronic communication—whether text or email—arrives quickly, usually within one to two minutes.
  • The message contains clear, direct written communication and instructions.
  • Patients and consumers can refer to the information, which they can review whenever needed. 
  • Repetitive phone calls or relying on memory or recall of the instructions are reduced.
  • The consumer or patient’s need to write down the instructions or information given is eliminated.


More and more physicians and medical staff are requesting that call centers text them with answering service requests and patient callbacks and updates. These are becoming key areas for the call center to use secure texting or messaging to communicate with patients or medical staff.

Another growing use is to send secure emails or texts to the patient regarding the care advice given during a triage call. When doing so, remember that these transmissions must be HIPAA-compliant. Therefore, require the physician or patient to enter their last name and a password or challenge word before receiving the message. 

An application often used in triage call centers is sending health information to a patient when they are not calling about a symptom-based issue but instead have a general health question—for example, about chickenpox. In this scenario, the triage nurse can send the information via secure text or email to the caller.

Call center staff can also text the physician when the provider needs to call the call center or to inform the physician that they need to call a patient. These outbound messages also work with answering services and on-call scheduling. 

Hospitals are also using texting and email for nonclinical reasons. As an example, if there is a valid email address on the consumer record, many will email class registration and physician referral confirmation letters to their consumers. If the email address is not valid or if there is a misspelling in the email address, the software can send the confirmation letters to a generic email address that a manager reviews daily. In these cases, the manager prints the attached pdf version of the confirmation letter and then sends it via postal mail.

Finally, creative call centers equipped to handle calls from the hearing-impaired are now using secure text messaging. In this application, the triage nurse can send care advice associated with the guidelines used to the patient. One call center reported that a hearing-impaired patient cried upon receiving the care advice in a readable format.


Communication continues to change, and we must embrace it. We are a text and email society. And texts and emails are not going away. So embrace this valuable resource. 

Mark Dwyer is a veteran of the healthcare call center industry and serves as COO of LVM Systems.

Do You Have Right System to Sustain A Remote Call Center System

By Scott Mainwaring

As customer service representatives (CSRs) at contact centers begin to find their stride working remotely, it’s imperative that managers spend this time evaluating the sustainability of their new system by creating an open dialog about working conditions, obstacles, and performance trends. While each call center and organization is going to be at their own unique point on the change curve, leaders should use these conversations as a means to identify gaps and define what success may look like in this new scenario.

Here are some key questions to help managers navigate conversations with remote call center agents.

Can the CSR Do Their Job from Home? 

First, for some agents, working remotely might not be possible. Whether those agents voluntarily opt out because they can’t endure the solitary nature of remote work, they’re taking on increased family responsibilities that conflict with work, or they share a space that isn’t conducive to the privacy requirements of the job, managers should be prepared for attrition. For employees who began in the office environment and then shifted to work at home, managers should expect that only about 25 percent of their team will truly succeed.

As a manager, when you connect with your team members, ask probing questions to understand how each CSR is faring and the unique challenges they’re facing. This gives you the opportunity to collaborate on solutions, deepening your relationship. It will also provide you with a better sense for which team members have the capacity and interest to work remotely.

If these conversations give you the sense that you may face high attrition, assess creative staffing solutions that fit this new, ever-changing environment. This could be an opportunity to test variations on your staffing model (such as adjusting shift times, split shifts, or the makeup of the shift) or your team makeup (moving part- or full-time workers who need a change to a different employee category). The idea is to play with what you’ve got to better meet the needs of your team.

Do Agents Have the Necessary Tools to Work from Home? 

When your team works from one location, they enjoy streamlined processes for communicating company news, sharing training resources, and providing access to the technology that enables them to perform their job seamlessly. 

Remote work, however, requires managers to be much more deliberate on these fronts. Managers should assess whether their team has the necessary tools in place to remotely assess and guarantee that a comparable experience can exist outside the call center. 

As CSRs move beyond the initial obstacles of getting set up, establish regular touch points to ensure continuity. In uncertain times, the important frontline role CSRs play becomes greater. Managers should use this time with the CSR to reinforce that importance and its impact to the company’s reputation, customer satisfaction, and customer lifetime value. You’ll notice that when CSRs feel valued, they bring more value to your customers.

Have You Set Clear Expectations?

A recent CX Insight report found that having a defined adjustment period goes a long way to ease the transition. Is there a grace period for assessing the CSR and their level of performance? If so, how long?

To execute a customer-first approach, managers must first care for their agents. Given ever-evolving conditions, managers must make a commitment to communication—and what might at times feel like overcommunication.

This includes setting clear guardrails related to the transition and overall CSR performance. As the expression goes, “Happy agents yield happy customers.” A significant part of this happiness stems from leaders who makes sure the agents understand what success looks like (often through repetition) and guides them through reaching goals. Whether expressed via email, phone, or video call, establishing mutual agreement with individual direct reports is imperative to maintaining a close leader-agent partnership.

What Do the Metrics Reveal? 

Once you have expectation alignment and completed the adjustment period, it’s time to consider CSR productivity measurements. This is not about stringently holding team members to pre-work-at-home numbers. At first, watching the metrics is more about observing trends, which are hopefully trending upward.

Pay close attention to five key metrics on an agent’s scorecard:

1. Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) is the metric we all pay attention to. And while there are plenty of new external factors impacting customers—personal stressors, longer wait times due to high demand—there are an equal number of opportunities for CSRs to surprise and delight customers by showing empathy and patience. Make sure to equip agents with resources to manage difficult calls.

While we typically see higher CSATs for remote agents as compared to their brick-and-mortar counterparts, managers should not use those metrics as a baseline. Instead, focus on identifying outliers. If you see steady scores across the team with one or two individuals experiencing significant drops, spend some time with those team members, investigating what may be the cause. 

2. First Call Resolution could decline. Look at individual performance in context to the broader team. If there is an overall drop in average FCR across the entire team, then there are broader issues at play.

3. Quality Assurance Measures address the basics. Assess agent performance on key items such as caller verification and information accuracy. Misses on core functions may be indicative of further shortcomings or lost opportunities with customers.

4. Agent Utilization focuses on time logged-in and time on the phone with customers as key productivity indicators. Expect CSRs to be on target.

5. Average Handle Time can be tricky. Don’t consider it in isolation, because of the number of variables, but watch if it’s trending upward. AHT connects to CSAT. For high AHT, discuss tactics to bring it down.

Tracking these metrics will show how well an individual agent is thriving in a remote role. They also serve as a leading indicator of the overall remote contact center performance. 

5. Are Agents Getting the Attention and Information They Require? 

According to an ICMI article, overcommunicating during uncertain times is key to agent success. While one CSR might prefer weekly video meetings over daily conference calls, another could require greater one-on-one interaction and real-time responses from their manager. As a leader, how are you addressing your agents’ well-being and individual needs?

Managers will need to flex a different set of skills—like connecting with an employee over a video conference—but when you nail the people piece of the puzzle, you will increase retention and improve the bottom line.

While everyone’s situation is unique, it is a leader’s job to know what their team needs and how to help them. Whether it’s fostering a stronger social connection or taking extra time to explain recent corporate communications, make sure you are aware of individual engagement levels and needs during this volatile time.

If you are a good listener and demonstrate empathy, you should better understand the needs of your team and individual performers. Yes, the onus is on you, but it’s also an opportunity to double down as a leader. Become a better, more visible manager—one that’s more accessible and open than when you shared a roof. 


From adjusting staffing models to providing individualized strategies for agents in need, taking the time to understand the variables and connect with the individual will help your team navigate the months ahead as they work from home.

Scott Mainwaring is with Spinnaker Consulting Group.

How Banks Can Manage High Call Volumes

By Robert McKay

As financial institutions close their lobbies and discontinue in-person service to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, contact centers are seeing dramatic increases in call volumes. While growing numbers of customers use digital banking solutions for basic operations, during these unsettling times many turn to the phone channel to complete transactions, obtain assistance with sensitive financial dealings, and confirm the status of accounts and loan processes.

According to data compiled by Neustar, between January 21, when the first US COVID-19 death occurred, and mid-March, some of the nation’s largest financial institutions experienced a 36 percent increase in overall inbound call volume. Retail banking divisions offering direct consumer-facing financial products, such as mortgages and vehicle loans, saw an even greater spike in traffic, with call volumes up 43.4 percent. As a result, some customers experienced long wait times, leading to frustration for both callers and agents.

To compound the challenge, social distancing measures led many banks to transition their call center agents to remote work, creating an additional layer of compliance and productivity concerns. So what steps are banks taking to enable their contact centers to deal with the elevated level of calls, while providing customers with a secure and positive experience during this chaotic time? 

Enhancing the IVR System

The first step in ramping up a call center’s capacity to accommodate high call volumes is generally to optimize the interactive voice response (IVR) system to increase the number of calls it can process. Banks take a closer look at their IVR call-flow design to ensure the user experience is intuitive and can provide answers to a wider array of inquiries. This includes questions customers may have due to the logistical impact of branch closures and to the economic impact of the pandemic.

Banks must reexamine authentication methods if a large share of inbound calls cannot receive full verification without agent intervention. Voice biometrics and device-based authentication, for example, can quickly and accurately confirm callers. This creates a frictionless experience that allows most customers to conduct their business entirely through IVR. And when the need for agent involvement arises, IVR authentication ensures the agent has the account information ready. This largely eliminates time-consuming identity interrogation. 

Containing more calls within the IVR system reduces the pressure on call centers, while facilitating faster service for all customers.

Investing in Call Center Agent Well-Being and Productivity

Most financial institutions’ business continuity plans call for redeploying operations to areas unaffected by a disaster. But faced with a global pandemic, many organizations have had to mobilize in unexpected ways. This includes transitioning call center agents to working from home. To maintain smooth operations in their inbound communication networks, banks have made extensive investments in equipment and software solutions. This provides agents with access to the programs and processes that ensure compliance with government regulations and anti-fraud measures.

Many banks have also found that they must hire more call center staff, as working from home decreases the productivity of agents who must care for ill or elderly family members or young children home from school. This requires additional employees to compensate for this decrease in productivity, which is due not to lack of diligence or enthusiasm but to the unique nature of this pandemic. Both financial institutions and their employees must have realistic expectations of productivity levels under these circumstances.

It’s also important to remember that call center employees are the people on the front lines, calming frantic customers and helping them execute important transactions. In addition, banks must recognize that their employees may experience increased professional as well as personal stress during this time.

Analysts and call center managers regularly report that call center agents’ job satisfaction is related to their ability to effectively do their job. Banks can support their employees’ effectiveness by routing lower-priority calls to the IVR system so agents can spend their time on high-value interactions. Financial institutions should also equip agents with all the tools they need to work from home. This includes a high-speed internet connection. 

And for agents who make outbound calls, this means ensuring that customer relationship management databases have up-to-date phone numbers. Customers could miss essential information if banks don’t take this crucial step for outbound dialing. 

Mitigating Fraud

Mitigating fraud is another important aspect of smooth call center operation. In times of crisis, criminals inevitably attempt to take advantage of the chaos. Fraudsters are targeting consumers directly (the Federal Trade Commission has issued an official warning about scams related to COVID-19) as well as attacking call centers. Call centers have historically been the weak link when it comes to account takeovers because human agents can be socially engineered by creative fraudsters and call centers are staffed by customer service professionals who naturally have a strong desire to help callers solve their problems quickly. 

With larger call volumes and more agents feeling harried and anxious, the risk of fraud increases. Fortunately, the same solutions that help reduce call overloads and excessive customer wait times—well-designed IVR systems and accurate caller authentication—can help combat fraud as well. Biometrics and device-based authentication technologies can reduce the time agents spend verifying callers, provide a more secure environment, and decrease the number of legitimate calls inadvertently directed into the call center’s fraud queue. Now more than ever, it is important to deploy fraud specialists at call centers in the most efficient manner possible—investigating actual fraud attempts versus legitimate customer calls incorrectly flagged.


As financial institutions assess the reasons for increased call volumes and long wait times, they need to ask themselves several questions. Are most customers talking to agents because they have complex needs to resolve, or could a better-designed IVR system handle their questions? Have banks made adequate investments in staffing and agent productivity, considering the challenges of working from home? And are agents spending time asking security questions when technological solutions could provide faster and more accurate authentication?

Ultimately, the pandemic-related branch closures may help hasten the transition to digital banking for some customers. This entire episode will amplify the need to press forward with omni-channel strategies. For the foreseeable future, however, the phone channel is here to stay, and overloaded call centers may be the catalyst financial institutions need to implement more effective, efficient, and streamlined approaches that strike the right balance between robust authentication and low friction in the customer experience, while maximizing IVR use.

Robert McKay is the senior vice president of customer identity and risk solutions, Neustar.

How to Super Charge Your Customer Experience Remotely

By Jeff Singman

According to a recent research report by SalesForce, 84 percent of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. The same study found that nearly 80 percent of customers expect consistent experiences across channels with the same capabilities and contextualized engagement based on earlier interactions. Furthermore, 73 percent expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. They want a personalized experience.

The report also found that 62 percent of respondents now expect companies to adapt based on their actions and behaviors, yet only 47 percent say companies are living up to these expectations. According to these results, companies were already struggling to meet customers’ expectations prior to the coronavirus pandemic. If this is truly the case, how will they fare post-pandemic?

COVID-19 has had an impact on so many areas of our lives: economic, health, education, and business. Many organizations have succeeded in enabling their employees to work from home. But what about the staff responsible for customer success and support? Moving their contact center operations to a remote model can be a costly and logistically difficult challenge, especially for small and medium-size businesses. 

A recent study conducted by analyst firm Nemertes Research found that across key verticals such as healthcare (70 percent) and retail (68 percent), employers are planning to allow their contact center employees to continue to work from home following the coronavirus pandemic. So, what does this mean long term for contact centers and their ability to serve their customers remotely? It means there must be an innovative approach to how contact centers succeed in this “new normal.”

Traditional on-premise enterprise contact center platforms may not have the capabilities to provide adequate support for remote employees. Additionally, many of these platforms can’t process omni-channel interactions, or they make it cost-prohibitive to do so. If you already have a conventional on-premise platform in place, upgrading to the latest multichannel features requires additional capital outlays, special training, and expertise, making the platform even more difficult and expensive to manage and scale.

Newer cloud-based contact center solutions can help companies of all sizes avoid equipment cost and complexity, modernize customer engagement, and support remote workers. But many systems target large-scale contact centers, with advanced capabilities such as multichannel communications and chatbots, with a price tag beyond the reach of many businesses. Worse still, many cloud contact center solutions require six-figure professional services engagements just to begin.

But there are solutions on the market that are easy to set up, can integrate with existing contact center platforms, and are affordable. These solutions can enable a company’s contact center employees to offer world-class customer service and support regardless of where they work.

Platform Goals

When searching for a modern contact center solution, that solution should empower companies to:

  • Eliminate the cost and complexity of traditional on-premise enterprise contact center platforms. Ideally it would be cloud-based, so there’s no need to buy or install any on-site equipment or special-purpose software.
  • Eradicate the expensive professional services required to get the contact center up and running. The solution should be easy to deploy and manage, and require no complicated setup, plug-ins, or configuration.
  • Deliver an affordable, comprehensive collection of cloud-based communications and collaboration services. You want a solution that delivers immersive customer experiences, including video, screen sharing, social media, and web integration, as well as traditional phone calls. Cloud platforms provide the latest features in real-time with no costly upgrades or downtime. 
  • Remove the need to buy costly agent hardware or specialized software that you must install on every agent’s computer or laptop. Agents should be able to easily log on from anywhere, engage with customers, and access all features and services.
  • Elastically scale and add capacity on demand as business requirements dictate. For example, departments or work groups should be able to temporarily add agents to support promotional campaigns or seasonal traffic spikes.
  • Protect and extend existing investments. Look for solutions that give you the option to deploy it as a stand-alone solution or one you can integrate with legacy call center platforms.

No solution is perfect, but those that have these features and functionalities will help ensure that companies not only have satisfied customers, but also happy employees. The Nemertes study also found that there was a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. For companies that keep agent turnover at less than 15 percent, there is a 26 percent improvement in customer ratings, which is huge. 

Additionally, allowing employees to work from home offers significant benefits to both the company and their staff. For the company, the most significant benefit includes real estate cost savings. According to national averages, the cost of office space per agent is about $8,300 per year, and a fifty-agent contact center saves more than $200,000 per year in real estate by allowing employees to work from home part-time. 

In the Nemertes survey, the reasons companies cited for allowing employees to continue to work from home included: 

  • Fifty-seven percent of companies said it will improve agents’ quality of life, which could in turn lead to lower turnover rates (and lower turnover rates means happier customers).
  • Forty-six percent said it will prepare agents for future disasters. The pandemic made many companies realize they are not ready for a major disaster (such as another pandemic, terrorist attack, or weather event).
  • Thirty-six percent said it is better for the environment to allow people to work from home.
  • Thirty-four percent said the technology works better than they thought.

The bottom line is that we must rethink the way we work. Having the right solutions will be critical in ensuring the success of the contact center industry moving forward. The good thing is that there are cost-effective solutions available today that will allow the modern contact center to super-charge the customer experience, regardless of where their agents work.

 Jeff Singman has been a vice president with Kandy/Ribbon Communications since January 2016. A serial entrepreneur, his experience includes IT, security, telecom, and software solutions, with depth in industries including media, entertainment, financial, and healthcare verticals.