Tag Archives: Managing Call Center Agents

The Agent Attrition Problem Can be Fixed


By Donna Fluss

Most of us are tired of hearing companies complain about agent attrition. While it’s a serious issue that has been exacerbated by the Great Resignation, attrition can be corrected if a company wants to fix it. I can say this definitively because I have worked in hundreds of contact centers over my many years as a consultant and have seen “the good, the bad and the ugly” (to borrow the title of a Clint Eastwood film). When a contact center has a high agent attrition rate, the reasons are obvious.

During the last few years, contact center leaders changed the narrative by talking about agent engagement instead of agent attrition. It’s true that engaged employees are more likely to stay, but it did little to improve the agent experience and to fix the underlying issues that drive high rates of attrition.

Saying you care about employees and their future is very different from demonstrating your concern with appropriate actions. In the past, contact centers were able to replace agents when needed, but with the change in employee expectations, this is no longer the case.

Companies must migrate low-value work to artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled conversational self-service solutions, as this will be better for employees, the brand, the bottom line, and customers. However, this will not resolve the primary agent complaints, which are:

  • Insufficient opportunity for promotion in the department or company.
  • Minimal schedule flexibility, penalties for small infractions (such as immaterial tardiness), and lack of accommodation for unexpected life events.
  • Inadequate compensation.
  • Reduced company engagement, such as being excluded from company events due to the call center needing constant attention.

As the issues are clear, so is the path to address them. For this to happen, enterprises must change their approach to contact centers and their employees. The fundamental change that will incite a chain reaction of positive developments is to upgrade the agent role from one of the lowest in the company to a mid-level customer experience (CX) function. This will influence agents’ salaries and demonstrate the relative importance of this customer-facing role.

The reason why this has not happened is because companies have wanted to keep expenses as low as possible for a function with a large number of employees.. Agent salaries are benchmarked against other companies with a desire to keep their agent salaries low for comparable functions. However, most companies realize this approach encourages agents to seek alternative employment with higher salaries and more flexibility.

The cost of continually hiring and onboarding new agents has reached such a critical level that it’s finally worth fixing the problem. Further, if the agent role is upgraded to customer brand advocate (or something similar), it will position them to be better prepared for new opportunities.

This is another area where change must be enacted if companies want their agents to stay. Many contact centers require agents to stay in their jobs for 1 to 2 years before transferring to other positions. This policy tells agents that their only way of moving up is to leave the company, which is a waste, as these front-line workers have broad knowledge of the company and its policies from helping customers.

In short, it’s time for real change and recognition for agents.

Final Thoughts

Executives should be realistic about their contact centers. Being an agent is a challenging job. These employees should be recognized and rewarded, not knocked down and held back. Agents are much more likely to stay on a job, even one as challenging as helping consumers, if they see it as a steppingstone toward their future rather than an impediment to their ultimate success.

Reversing agent attrition won’t happen by talking about agent engagement, but it can be solved by altering the policies that created the problem.

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.

It’s Time for a More Agile Contact Center


By Einat Weiss

Contact centers have traditionally been known for their rigid schedules, with agents often assigned nine-hour shifts that specify, down to the minute, when they can take a break or clock out for lunch. Planned by workforce managers trying to get staffing levels exactly right, these schedules don’t leave much room for the surprises or scheduling conflicts that inevitably pop up.

This is all beginning to change. In an increasingly competitive employment market amid the great resignation, employees are demanding more of their employers, including a voice in the hours they’re scheduled to work. With employee engagement and retention, a high priority for contact centers, flexible scheduling has become more important than ever.

Why Flexible Scheduling Matters

High turnover is a constant challenge for contact centers. While other industries have recently seen skyrocketing attrition rates, turnover in the contact center has remained steady at 42 percent annually, but that means that in a 1,000-seat contact center, 420 agents quit every year. It takes an average of 13 weeks to onboard a new hire, with $12,500 spent on each new employee. A contact center will spend a half million dollars to replace 400 employees.

In this environment, schedule flexibility becomes an important differentiator. In fact, across industries, employees who are given sufficient flexibility are four times less likely to become a retention risk, according to a report by Quantum Workplace. And retention, of course, is linked to higher-performing agents and higher customer satisfaction rates. But while most contact center workforce managers are aware of the need to enable scheduling flexibility when employee schedules are created, today’s employee expects more.

The Three Times You Need Scheduling Flexibility

Workforce managers often think about scheduling flexibility when schedules are created, but there are three times when flexibility should be considered to keep employees happy and in control of their work-life balance: before, during, and after the schedule is created.

  • Before: Look for workforce management tools that let you enable flexibility before the schedule is created by offering agents the ability to set their availability and specify preferences, based on company needs. Modern workforce management solutions on the market today allow you to set schedule constraints to balance agents’ desire for flexibility with the demands of the business.
  • During: Consider a workforce management (WFM) solution that offers intelligent automation. These solutions provide agents a variety of personalized self-scheduling capabilities that fit this requirement with opportunities to trade and swap shifts with other agents, track schedules, and request extra hours or time off, as well as establish how and when they would like to be contacted regarding their schedule. This approach to self-scheduling gives the agent more control over their time, resulting in happier employees, increased staffing agility, and better customer experiences.
  • After: Modern WFM solutions can also match interested agents who are qualified to schedule change opportunities (extra shifts, for example) that match their specific skill set. This targeted, automated process continues until shifts are properly filled and staffing levels are at the appropriate level for the contact center. When an overworked agent becomes stressed, there’s a higher chance that they’ll leave the contact center. When customer service demands begin to surge, intelligent automation starts monitoring staffing levels and takes action to adjust agent schedules. This resolves the staffing issue and helps reduce the agents’ stress levels.

    You can also consider a workforce solution that allows contact center agents to view their schedules anywhere and alter them instantly 24/7. Features such as schedule trades, time off requests, pre-approved extra hours, and adaptive breaks and lunches put agents in control of their work-life balance.

Extend the Benefits of Scheduling Flexibility Across the Business

The benefits of flexible scheduling go beyond retention to also include operational and financial improvements as well as right-size staffing. Flexible scheduling helps create engaged agents who stay with the contact center longer, control their work schedules, and provide positive customer experiences in an agile contact center.

When paired with intelligent automation, flexible scheduling practices also enable the contact center to predict business demand and staff appropriately—down to the 15-minute interval—to ensure the customers’ needs are met, and salary budgets are not miscalculated.

Agents aren’t forced to rely on their manager to maintain schedules, performance expectations can be met within set costs, and forecasting is more balanced. The contact center avoids understaffing, leaving customers with longer hold times, as well as overstaffing, leading to spending more than needed on salaries.

Managing the contact center workers who are vital to delivering great customer service hinges on getting schedules exactly right: you need the right number of people in the right places at the right time, even as conditions change. But if your contact center is like most, your schedules simply aren’t flexible enough for today’s contact center agents.

By offering flexibility at the three stages of the scheduling process—before, during, and after schedules are created—and leveraging intelligent automation to ensure that your business needs are met, you can keep agents happy and engaged amid evolving customer expectations for speed and service.

Einat Weiss is the CMO of Nice.

The Next Act for Contact Center Transformation

By Donna Fluss

The contact center world is in the early days of a true metamorphosis, one that is going to impact all aspects of these service departments: people, process, and technology. Driven by elevated customer and employee expectations, technical innovation, artificial intelligence (AI), increasing globalization and scale, operational opportunities, and the cloud, contact center executives are rethinking their strategies and reimagining the future of these essential customer-facing departments. 

DMG expects contact centers to undergo wholesale changes that position them to deliver a proactive and personalized service experience to an increasingly demanding customer base. Contact centers need to undergo the following transformations to position themselves to enhance the brand they represent:

From Cost Center to Profit Center

Sales and collections departments are profit centers, as their primary function is revenue generation. Customer service departments, even if they do not perform up-sell and cross-sell, should also be viewed as profit centers, as an essential aspect of their job is to build strong and “sticky” customer relationships. 

From Phone Center to Omni-Channel Contact Center

While a surprisingly substantial number of contact centers continue to support only voice interactions (which means they are still call centers), the pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital channels (minimally, email and chat). Unfortunately, too many contact centers added new channels without integrating them with each other or the existing voice-based activities. 

This means each channel is independent, so an agent that helps a customer in one channel cannot see what happened in another, obscuring the visibility into the customer journey and overall brand relationship. This approach makes it difficult for customers who want to use their preferred channel and pivot easily from one channel to another, if necessary (such as if they need to escalate to a live agent). It also makes it difficult, time consuming and costly for agents who must ask customers to repeat their entire story. 

Contact centers should be fully integrated omni-channel (voice and digital) servicing environments, where agents have a single desktop and customer relationship management (CRM) system to handle all inquiries and can pivot between channels as often as needed.

From the Title of Agent to Influencer or Customer Relationship Advocate

Agents perform an essential and often challenging function for their brand – they are the primary representatives of their company to the market. It’s a challenging job as customers are not always kind, and agents may not have access to all the information they need due to system or operational limitations. 

Companies need to approach every contact as a gift when a customer or prospect reaches out to them. The customer-facing resources in contact centers need intelligent automation and tools to deliver an outstanding and personalized experience to every individual in every interaction, and they deserve a title that better reflects their importance and contribution to the brand. 

From Blame Point to Chief Customer Officer: Contact centers clean up mistakes and problems originating upstream and downstream in companies. Because they must resolve a wide variety of issues, contact center employees know more about a company than the staff in almost any other department. 

An outstanding contact center leader will spend a sizable portion of their day working with other departments to address issues identified by customers or contact center analytics. As a result, these leaders know a great deal about what customers think about the company and what it will take to enhance their perception of the brand. 

For these reasons, a contact center leader is an ideal position to become a chief customer officer in their company.

From Basic Systems to AI-Enabled Applications

Many contact centers are still using outdated servicing and CRM systems and applications as their primary information sources. Instead, contact center influencers need AI-enabled solutions that give them a view into each customer’s issue or predict the customer’s intention in contacting their brand. 

These solutions should proactively deliver all relevant data and next-best-action recommendations to resolve the current situation and influence the customer in a positive manner to enhance the relationship.

Final Thoughts

Contact centers have operated in similar ways for most of the forty-five plus years they have been in existence. It’s well past time for change and transformation. Companies must make enhancements and investments, as a starting point, or find themselves with unhappy (and fewer) customers and challenged to find good candidates to staff their contact centers. 

While the required changes are significant and costly, they will position companies to fulfill their promise of delivering an outstanding customer experience, something most companies struggle to achieve today. 

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. 

Dealing with Staff Shortages

Tips to Achieve a Full Schedule for Your Call Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

For years many call centers have faced an ongoing challenge to fully staff their operation. But over the last year and a half this quest has become even more difficult, with an increased number of people opting to stay home and not work. But this doesn’t mean the task of finding all the staff you need is insurmountable. You can conquer staff shortages.

Here are some tips to better fill your call center agent schedule. 

Avoid Short-Term Gimmicks to Counter Staff Shortages

Tales abound of large signing bonuses, referral fees, and unsustainably high hourly rates. These may get warm bodies in your door, but will they complete training? And if they finish training, will they stick around?

And when existing staff hears of the lengths you’ve gone through to fully staff your operation, they may resent these new hires for the incentives they received, perks that you didn’t offer them. They may resent you too. This disappointing attitude can negatively affect their work and their longevity.

Instead of pursuing short-term tactics, which will produce long-term grief, consider pursuing the following options that are more sustainable.

Embrace Work at Home to Add Employment Flexibility

You have home-based agents or are considering it as an option. But have you fully embraced it? Though it may be wise to start out small and proceed with care when it comes to managing a remote workforce, you must make a full commitment for this to work on a large-scale. This may be the easiest solution to counter staff shortages.

Target Underutilized Labor Markets to Find Qualified Agents

Most call centers prefer to hire in their local labor market. They do this even though they have a work-at-home model. This makes sense from a logistical standpoint. It eases training, technical support, and management. It also allows them to gather in person for meetings and to sometimes work out of your office.

Yet there are probably nearby labor markets that aren’t as close and are underserved. Though not as common as they once were, they’re still geographic areas that have more qualified workers than viable jobs. Dig into these markets and you will likely mine some great employees.

Another type of underutilized labor market isn’t bounded by geography but by circumstance. Some eager and qualified workers are homebound for assorted reasons. This might be a lack of transportation, limited mobility, or social anxieties. But these people can still do an excellent job at phone work from the comfort and safety of their homes. And they’re waiting for a chance to prove themselves to you.

Consider Going Out of State to Embrace Areas with Lower Living Costs

Though you add another layer of payroll complexity when hiring staff in a different state, it may be worth the extra effort. Look for regions with a lower cost of living. Workers in these areas may have a correspondingly lower compensation expectation. If it costs them less to live, they won’t need to earn as much from their job to have a satisfactory lifestyle. 

Review Your Compensation Package 

A common first response to dealing with a labor shortage is to pay more. Yet I list this last because it’s the last thing you should consider. Yes, your hourly rate or benefits may be holding you back from getting the employees you need and retaining the ones you want to keep. Don’t, however, sweeten your compensation package without pursuing the above options first.

Yes, some call centers underpay their agents and suffer as a result. If your hourly rate is less than that of most other comparable positions, you need to pay more. You may need to add benefits to what you currently offer too.

As you do this, however, don’t make the mistake that most every employer makes when they increase their hourly rate or enhance benefits. If you pay more, expect more. 

I repeat: if you pay more, expect more. Don’t pay more to hire the same caliber people that you always have. Increase your expectations and tighten your screening processes. There are qualified people out there, but you won’t encounter any if you’re not expecting to find them.

Staff Shortage Conclusion

Though staffing challenges are part of the call center industry, you can take steps to better deal with finding and keeping the employees you need to run an effective operation. Avoid short-term hiring gimmicks, embrace home-based staff, seek under-tapped labor markets, consider out-of-state hiring, and update your compensation package.

When you do these things with focus and intentionality, you’ll be more successful in hiring and keeping great telephone agents.

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.

How to Keep Remote Agents Engaged

By Jennifer Lee 

In 2020 BP (Before Pandemic), contact center agents typically spent their days navigating between upset customers and harried supervisors. Stress was often high, but the supporting structures of office and colleagues in proximity usually made it manageable. Then the pandemic sent agents home to work, cutting off those vital support structures.

The good news is that intelligent automation technology was already proving effective at helping customer service centers increase engagement, reduce costs, and boost productivity. The better news is that it also provides the connection, camaraderie, and shared culture that agents need to stay engaged while working remotely.

Connection: Teamwork Starts Here

There’s certainly some truth to the notion that “people quit their bosses, not their jobs.” But those bosses are not always to blame. Often, they’re just overwhelmed, and simply unable to avoid passing some of their burden on to agents.

Manual execution of repetitive tasks is a big part of the problem, eating up time that could otherwise go for training and coaching, which not only improve agents’ skills but also nourish the vital connection between agents and supervisors. But when call volume spikes, training and coaching are quickly put aside. This can leave agents feeling like their professional development is not a company priority, which may in turn cause them to disengage from their work. The complexity of scheduling training and coaching in the context of unpredictable shifts in service-level demands got a lot more difficult with the addition of a remote workforce into the mix.

Intelligent automation attacks this problem from two angles: First, automating time-consuming, repetitive tasks yields back time that agents can dedicate to customer service, or to training. Second, an AI-based solution able to process millions of data points can detect idle agents or a dip in calling demand in real time, and immediately deliver offers to complete training or coaching opportunities. This helps maintain the vital connection between agents and supervisors even when they don’t share an office. 

Camaraderie: We Are Family

A shared sense that “we’re all in this together” has always been a useful antidote to the unrelenting pressures of call center work, especially for extroverted agents who thrive on personal contact. In the office, physical proximity made it possible for agents to compare notes and share stories with each other, or for supervisors to detect troubled agents and call team huddles to correct personal or process problems that arose. But that’s impossible when the whole team is working remotely. 

An AI-based, intelligent automation solution—integrated with ACD and WFM systems and able to monitor activity in real time—can quickly identify struggling or idle agents and send offers of assistance, training, or other ways to reestablish occupancy. Armed with real-time visibility into call flow and agent activity, supervisors are free to focus more on the human side of being team leaders. When supervisors and agents engage each other as human beings, it strengthens their shared commitment to working together to deliver the high-level service that customers demand.

Culture: Appreciation Creates a Virtuous Circle

Customers demand a lot, and agents get an earful whenever a customer feels poorly served. That’s not fair—the problem is seldom within the agent’s control. To counteract agents’ exposure to the wrath of unhappy customers, companies need to cultivate a culture of appreciation in their customer service departments. Sending messages of recognition for a job well done, birthday wishes, or offers to leave early when call volume falls off reminds agents that they’re valued as people as well as agents. This contributes to their sense of belonging, which in turn deepens their commitment, which in turn results in better customer service. And around and around.

Intelligent automation encourages this virtuous circle. An AI-based solution, monitoring activity in real time, provides a dashboard of relevant stats—agent performance, relative seniority, and call volume—that helps supervisors guide distribution of the personal, morale-boosting messages mentioned above. 

Conclusion

Agents are often the face (voice, really) of a business, interacting directly with customers who are rarely calling to give a compliment. Anybody can have a difficult day or moment, but when an agent does, it may cost a business a customer for life. And thanks to social media, that negative impression can be amplified further and faster than ever before.

A contact center agent’s job was already stressful, and the shift to remote work has removed the connection, camaraderie, and office culture that helped make that stress bearable. But intelligent automation technology reestablishes these vital links and enables customer service departments to thrive in the post-pandemic business world.

Jennifer Lee is the chief strategy officer at Intradiem.

Paying Attention to Agent Well-Being Will Improve Your Brand


By Donna Fluss

The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on contact centers, most of it positive. As described in DMG’s new report, Contact Centers in a Post-Pandemic World: A Strategic and Tactical Guide to the Future, COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation by two to six years. This is driving major upgrades and enhancements in existing operating systems, expansion of digital channel support, a self-service replacement cycle, as well as investments in new artificial intelligence (AI) and automation-enabled applications. All these activities were long overdue for contact centers and, if executed properly, should enhance the customer and agent experience and improve productivity.

An Agent Perspective 

The pandemic is also driving enterprise and contact center executives to consider the ramifications on agents of having to deal with consumers. While, in general, customers are pleasant or at least civil, the negative conversations (both voice and digital) take a toll on agents. Studies show that in normal times, fewer than 5 percent of interactions are difficult, but in troubling times, like during a pandemic, the percentage is much higher. 

The degree of difficulty in handling live interactions with customers varies based on many factors, but the challenge is incredibly significant when an agent cannot do anything to fix a situation. This occurs when an agent must uphold a company policy that they agree is outdated or unfair. Another scenario occurs when a customer, mistreated by someone else in the company, takes out their frustration on the agent. Or when a customer experiences something traumatic that they dump on an agent, just to mention a few common scenarios. I have joked for years that contact centers double as free counseling centers. Unfortunately, it’s not funny for the agents who must deal with these tough situations. 

Sure, training can help agents handle tough situations, but agents are human, and it’s going to impact them. Many an agent will talk about how one bad customer ruined their day. And since agents cannot take a break after a difficult experience (because they typically must wait until their scheduled break time), it often carries over into their subsequent inquiries, which is not pleasant for the agent or their customers. 

It’s tough to be a contact center agent. While striving to deal effectively with consumers, management often pushes them to reduce their average handle time, which doesn’t allow them to show the empathy that most of them would, if they had the time. And when not encouraged to shorten interactions, an alternate expectation is to sell additional products and services, even when they know customers are not interested. 

Agents must know the details of dozens of products and services and navigate anywhere from a few to over fifty operating systems while managing interactions within tight time frames. It often requires them to stay at their desks except for three times during the day: their scheduled lunch and two breaks. And they earn the lowest rate of any employee in many companies. The question is what companies should do to address this situation. 

Positive Changes

The good news is that enterprise leadership is finally acknowledging the challenges of being a contact center agent, and we can thank the COVID-19 crisis for these insights. During the pandemic, contact center agents were the first responders and, for a time, may have been the only responders in some organizations. Agents all over the world demonstrated their agility and mettle in dealing with extremely stressful situations while keeping their own emotions and concerns under control. 

It’s great that executives are finally recognizing the amazing contributions contact center agents make to their companies, but this recognition needs to translate into action if companies want to retain these highly valuable employees. Companies should re-evaluate and increase the salary structure for their agents to pay them fairly for the work they do. 

Contact centers should give their supervisors the time they need to be available to assist, coach, and encourage their agents, instead of pulling them for projects and reporting. Invite agents to select training and coaching sessions in addition to the courses assigned to them by quality monitoring systems.

Contact centers should transform their agent evaluations and scorecards to measure what matters most, which should not be average handle time and the number of transactions per day. Last, elevate the overall agent role, as these employees have one of the broadest bases of knowledge in a company, which if given the opportunity, could effectively work in other parts of the organization. 

Conclusion

Contact centers should be employers of choice, and it’s time for enterprise executives to make this happen, for the benefit of their employees, customers, and the bottom line. 

Donna Fluss (donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com) is the president of DMG Consulting, a provider of contact center and back-office market research and consulting services. 

2020 Contact Center Retrospective

By Donna Fluss

What an amazing year 2020 was. We’ve never seen anything like it and hope we won’t again. Despite all the challenges, a lot of good things happened, including in the world of contact center. Here are six positive mega trends that emerged during the dark hours of the pandemic. All these developments are here to stay and will continue to play a key role in contact centers for the near future:

1. Work-from Home

When the pandemic hit country after country, many companies were ordered by their governments to close their offices. Contact centers were some of the most successful in getting their employees home and back to work. Contact centers all over the world, those with anywhere from ten to thousands of agents, demonstrated their flexibility and agility, along with the amazing commitment of their employees by being there for their customers.

2. Shift from Traditional Retail to Ecommerce

The world has gone virtual. Anything that can be done virtually, including things most people thought highly unlikely, like doctor’s appointments, has moved to the web or video. The need to socially distance has driven people and organizations to be highly creative as they figured out how to make the best out of demanding situations. 

Retail organizations have taken a major hit. Many retailers, particularly those that could not respond quickly enough to the increasingly virtual world, have gone bankrupt. Store traffic is down and unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels for years. The transition to the web is not unexpected, but the demise of many of the traditional retailers was accelerated by the pandemic. 

3. Digital Transformation

After years of talking about digital transformations, companies are being forced to do what they should have done years ago. They are building out digital channels to address the needs of their customers. Though consumers are expressing an increasing preference for interacting in these channels, voice calls are not going away. However, they are increasingly viewed as the channel of last resort. Digital transformations are proving highly beneficial for customers, companies, and their employees. 

4. Artificial Intelligence-based Self-Service Capabilities

Self-service has become the channel of choice for customers in many countries, as surprising as it seems. Customers increasingly prefer to interact with effective self-service solutions that allow them to take care of their business without the assistance of live agents. 

Artificial intelligence (AI)-based conversational systems are automating and speeding up the handling of all kinds of interactions. The key to success, however, remains being able to connect with a live agent, when necessary. 

5. Automation Solutions

Intelligent virtual agents (IVAs), virtual agents (VAs), robotic process automation (RPA), and workflow have emerged as essential enablers for enterprises. These solutions automate activities and tasks that do not require the cognitive capabilities or decision-making intelligence of live employees. These concepts have been around for years, but what is new is the ease with which they can be applied to all types of business challenges. 

These solutions allow companies and government agencies to reduce dependence on outsourcers by eliminating the human element in low-value tasks previously handled by mostly low-wage workers. The benefits for enterprises are clear, as is the opportunity that these solutions are creating for much higher-level employment opportunities. 

6. Analytics-Enabled Quality Management

After over fifty years of performing quality management (QM) the same way, which was highly people-intensive, even when supported by an application, AI-enabled speech analytics is now able to automate and greatly improve the process. Analytics-Enabled Quality Management (AQM) solutions are game changers for companies. They can now “listen” to 100 percent of their voice and digital interactions to gain an understanding of why people contact them and see which of their automated and live agents are doing a good job in handling the interactions and where changes are needed. 

AQM also reduces dependence on manual QM processes, which have not been effective for the last five-plus years because companies could not afford to properly staff this function as contact volumes increased. AQM was important before the pandemic forced employees’ home to work, and it has become mission-critical for contact center employees and other functions since then. 

Bottom Line

The pandemic has changed the world as we know it, but many of these changes are good and will have positive and lasting benefits for society, companies, customers, and employees. AI and automation are the common themes in these six megatrends. 

The pandemic accelerated their rollout but not their viability. The companies that are going to come out of the pandemic well-positioned to succeed in whatever the new normal looks like are those that are taking the actions needed to move thoughtfully into the digital future.

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 AI-Powered Technologies Can Help Reduce Contact Center Agent Burnout

By Seb Reeve

The global pandemic has put more pressure than ever on every one of us. Healthcare workers face untold challenges in treating patients, and not just those who become sick with COVID-19. Grocery store, delivery, and restaurant workers, now rightfully seen as the essential workers they are, must overcome their own fears and risks as they continue to work through a crisis. Contact center and office workers now work from home, trying to balance the demands of their careers with the demands of their families, many of whom are now schooling from home too. 

And as more consumers shift their typically in-person interactions into more virtual and online spaces, the changes have likewise put more pressure on contact center agents to respond to a rising number of calls in an uncertain environment. Working in these high-stress environments—in combination with longer working hours—means many agents are at risk for burnout.

Burnout Basics

Burnout, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a “special type of work-related stress,” marked by physical and emotional exhaustion, a sense of reduced accomplishment, reduced productivity and effectiveness on the job, and even dramatic consequences for overall health and wellbeing. 

From a business perspective, agent burnout often leads to turnover, which is extraordinarily expensive, often about 20 percent of the employee’s salary. In an industry with turnover ranging from 30-45 percent, preventing burnout is not simply good for people, it’s good for business.

Preventing burnout is incumbent on all of us. It can start with small, people-first strategies, such as encouraging teams to disconnect and recharge, as improving communication and feedback, and managing workloads to ensure they’re within appropriate boundaries. 

Investing in technology platforms can go a long way toward supporting agents and helping to prevent burnout. Providing the tools and technologies that help everyone do their job better will not only optimize employee workloads, but it can also alleviate the stressors that contribute to burnout. It’s also worth considering which technology platforms no longer serve agents or the organizational vision, and instead add unnecessarily to agent workflows on a day-to-day basis.

Technologies That Alleviate Burnout Stressors

Today’s contact centers can choose from a range of technologies that help agents do their jobs better and more efficiently. For example, artificial-intelligence-powered solutions such as virtual assistants can shorten call handling times by engaging a broader audience and answering repetitive questions. With a digital, automated interface, the virtual assistant can engage callers in natural conversation—either via voice or text—to respond to requests and answer questions with personalized responses in a self-service environment. When a live agent is needed, the virtual assistant uses skills-based routing to deliver the caller to the best agent to handle their issue.

Enabling the virtual assistant not only delivers prompt, live assistance to customers, it frees agents to handle the more complex, high-value calls that matter most and are most meaningful.

Similarly, automated customer service messaging platforms can help engage customers, providing immediate answers to their inquiries, again while alleviating the burden on live contact center agents. Proactive notifications built into these platforms can deflect the number of inbound calls to a call center, which has the added benefit of supporting customer service efforts. 

Preventing Burnout

AI-powered technologies also provide the analytics and reporting to improve live engagements and deliver frustration-free customer experiences. Analyzing 100 percent of call center customer interactions provides visibility into trends, outliers, and opportunities to build, train, and coach a high-performing contact center team—one that’s free from many of the stressors that can contribute to burnout. 

Beyond supporting agents with AI-powered technologies and tools that can reduce burnout, these solutions can contribute to a healthier bottom line—from improved customer service and digital experiences to reduced employee turnover. 

Seb Reeve is the Market Development VP at Nuance Communications.

Why Do I Have to Praise Someone for Doing Their Job?

By Liz Uram

Do you ever feel like there is way too much appreciation going on in your workplace? If you said no, you’re not alone. Your team would probably say the same thing. 

A Gallup survey revealed that 65 percent of employees haven’t received recognition in the last year. This directly correlates to the studies that consistently report that two-thirds of American workers are disengaged.

Employees who don’t receive recognition are 51 percent more likely to look for another job, are less motivated to produce more and better work, and less likely to respect you as a leader. 

It’s easy to see that one of the most important communication skills in a leader’s skill kit is the ability to give positive feedback. This is also one of the most underdeveloped skills for many leaders. The reason is that some leaders just don’t know where to start. 

Here are five questions leaders have about giving praise:

1. Why should I praise someone for doing their job? 

Two words—positive reinforcement. Do you want them to keep doing their job? Keep this phrase in mind: what gets rewarded gets repeated. If you want them to keep doing their job, let them know that their work is appreciated. 

One study concluded that 81 percent of employees would produce better work more often if they received personal recognition for their efforts. This seems like a good return on investment for a few sincere words of appreciation.

2. I don’t need praise, why do they?

Who knows? Everyone has different internal drives that influence what motivates them. Recognition is one of the top motivators along with challenging work, growth opportunities, job security, being part of a team, and compensation.

If you happen to be motivated by growth opportunities, you may not understand why someone needs a pat on the back. You might even think they are being needy. Beware. 

That kind of thinking is a barrier to your own growth and could hold you back from achieving your goals. The best leaders understand that everyone is different, and they meet people where they’re at without judgment. 

3. How do I give praise without sounding phony?

The secret to meaningful recognition is to make it sincere, specific, and timely.

Making praise sincere is easy. If you are specific and timely and genuine with your praise, you will automatically come across as sincere.

Next, be specific. Instead of a generic “Great job,” say “Thanks for taking the initiative to help John get that order out. I really appreciate your teamwork.” The person is more likely to repeat the behavior when they know what the praise is for.

Third, make your praise timely. Say it as close to the event as possible. If you wait, praise loses its impact. 

Follow this simple rule for keeping your praise timely: when you see it, say it.

4. Should I praise in public or in private?

You should give your praise where the employee is most comfortable. However, many leaders are hesitant to give recognition in public. They worry that it will create jealousy or resentment. Forget those fears.

One benefit of praising in public is that it shows the lower performers what’s possible. It can be the shot in the arm they need to step up. Looking for opportunities to give shout-outs for positive behaviors, both big and small, in public creates a culture of appreciation.

You might even notice team members praising each other, which will result in increased morale and trust. One study showed that 90 percent of direct reports agree that team spirit is increased when the leader provides appreciation and support. 

5. How often should I offer praise?

This is a good question. Praising too often can be as bad as not praising often enough. We know that once-a-year commendation is too infrequent, but many leaders don’t know how often they should acknowledge excellent work. Running around giving high-fives, thumbs ups, and generic “thanks” is exhausting for you and uninspiring to your team.

A good rule of thumb is to provide positive praise to each person on your team once a week. I know what you’re thinking—some people aren’t doing anything worth praising on a weekly basis. Look harder.

Did your chronically tardy employee show up to the meeting on time? Let them know you appreciate their effort.

What about the people who come in day after day and do their job? Nothing more, nothing less. They get the job done, and you need them. Let them know you appreciate being able to count on them.

Summary

The benefits of appreciation are clear: increased retention, motivated team members who work harder, and respect for you as a leader. Start catching people in the act of doing things right. Who knows, you may get the appreciation you deserve as well.

Liz Uram is a nationally-recognized speaker, trainer, consultant, and author. She equips leaders with the tools they need to communicate like a boss so they can make a bigger impact, get better results, and motivate others to do their best. With twenty years of experience, she’s developed systems that work. Uram has written four books that are packed full of strategies leaders can implement to get real results, real fast.

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.