Job Diversification for Call Center Agents

By Kathy Sisk

An agent’s job diversity is as important as salary and is vital for long-term employee commitment. Additionally, advancing qualified agents gives recognition to those who deserve it and leads to higher levels of job satisfaction.

How can you achieve advancement within an agent’s current position? By increasing responsibilities and diversifying job functions. Here are several tips:

  • When appropriate, allow agents to conduct public relations with a client.
  • Have agents contact previous clients and ask questions to determine how the company performed.
  • Each week offer clear objectives on something new agents can spend designated time
  • Allow agents to contact clients and ask for referrals or upsell and promote other products or services.
  • Rotate agents into the QA department to monitor and evaluate other agents. Then discuss how they would handle the calls differently. This helps determine if they are ready for more challenging tasks, but it’s also an excellent training tool to help them perform better.
  • Provide advanced training opportunities to prepare agents for higher-level positions.Offering agents variety and empowering tasks helps them have greater self-worth. Click To Tweet

These activities achieve three key benefits. First, by offering agents variety and empowering tasks helps them have greater self-worth. Second, the company improves its relationship with clients. And third, agents feel supported when the company offers training for advancement opportunities.

When a company provides rewarding opportunities, it increases the agent’s motivation and reduces burnout. This also improves the attitude of employees toward the company and its customers.

Many opportunities exist for agents to have more challenging roles and help stimulate career opportunities within the company. This is especially important for a company that wants to provide staff with clear direction and achievable goals. In turn, agents become more dedicated, and the company improves its retention rate.

When a company extinguishes their agents’ motivation by displaying a lack of interest, support, or potential advancement, it is essentially spending its dollars to train capable employees to advance themselves just enough to work elsewhere, including for the competition.

Kathy Sisk, founder and president of Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc., is a trainer and consultant, contributing thirty-five years of expertise to the telemarketing, sales, and customer service industries.

Keep Your Call Center from Suffering a Privacy Incident

By Sachin Kothari

Call center managers have plenty to worry about. Just recruiting and keeping staff, watching margins, and managing stakeholders (external or internal) can keep you busy.

In addition, you know privacy and data protection are rapidly becoming major issues for any organization gathering or using customer data. The last thing you need is a privacy incident to mar your organization’s reputation or lead to aggrieved customers.

You might even be pitching breach remediation work as part of your business plan. That pretty much becomes moot if you have an embarrassing breach yourself. Therefore it’s vital to know where a call center’s vulnerabilities are and how to prevent them. The breach experts all say the same thing: Speed matters. Click To Tweet

Social Engineering: Terms like phishing, spear phishing, and whaling all refer to the practice of criminals misrepresenting themselves to employees—even high-level employees (the whales)—and convincing them to give away important information of their own accord. While movies and television might make hackers into scheming geniuses behind souped-up laptops, a simple phone call is almost all they need to get some unsuspecting employee to hand over a username and password or other compromising information.

Luckily the solution is relatively simple: Train, train, train. Employees must understand how important it is to stick to your policies about how information is handled and think critically about what it is they’re being asked to do for a customer. Most phishing techniques are apparent once you know what to look and listen for.

In truth, it’s likely some of the good training you’ve given your employees—designed to help them deliver great customer service—has created good intentions that can have bad results.

Consider the case of an important client calling a frontline call center employee and explaining that he wants to make some adjustments to his account. Suddenly, right in the middle of verifying his identity, this big fish says that he must take an important call and explains that his assistant will finish up.

Of course, this woman doesn’t know her boss’s credentials. That’s silly. He was just there on the phone, right? This shouldn’t be a problem. No one would fault that call center employee’s instinct to be helpful and make sure this assistant gets the important changes accomplished. This is an important client, and the assistant sounds nice and seems harried.

Of course, the call center employee has just found herself victim to a data breach.

Teach your employees about these scenarios and emphasize the importance of verifying identity according to your policy, without exception. Hackers are smart. Give them even the tiniest bit of personal information, and they can exploit it.

Who Can See What?: Even in today’s digital world, people need to write things down when working with customers. It’s a part of the call center job that will likely never go away. Make sure there’s a policy in place for destroying that piece of paper. How handy is your shredder?

Unless the shredder is in steady use, the janitorial staff could be selling client info to the highest bidder. Ideally your cleaning personnel has training and knows to destroy compromising information pronto, but custodial staff are often third-party vendors. Does your contract with them require training in information handling?

You should also make sure that your call center employees don’t have keys to every digital door. Invest in software that redacts information based on role and scenario. That way employees only see the information necessary for the call they’re handling.

Procedures for Escalation: Perhaps the most common issue is a lack of proper plans for what to do should something bad happen. What does your employee do if she gets a call from a customer saying someone has accessed their account? Does that employee know where to go for help?

The breach experts all say the same thing: Speed matters. The faster your security team knows that something is amiss, the faster they can act.

Just a single sign of improper access could mean a typhoon is coming. Maybe your security team recognizes a hot new piece of malware and knows how to quickly contain it. It’s vital that all employees, from frontline staff and shift managers right up to the chief information officer, know what the response plan is. 

Conclusion: Unfortunately, this is just the start. There are books that address this issue in detail. I hope you have auditing capabilities and smart procedures in place for screening potential employees to make sure they are who they say they are. If not, you should start by addressing this.

Regardless, the simple message is this: People make mistakes. They make more mistakes, however, when they don’t have any training to help them avoid making them.

Privacy and data security should be standard at call centers, no matter where you’re operating. Otherwise you might find you’re not operating at all.

Sachin Kothari is CIPP/US and director of online privacy and compliance at AT&T.

Three Steps to Establishing Positive Training ROI

By David Mathews

Training is one of the last remaining areas in business whose value and ROI are taken on little more than faith. We all get it.

Training is important. People need to know how to do their job. Managers need to know how to effectively lead. Companies need to protect themselves legally through annual compliance courses.

Luckily, training resources are everywhere. Whether you have a robust in-house learning and development team, outsource all of it to third parties, or are somewhere in between, there are thousands of companies, consultants, books, and platforms to help you accomplish the never-ending task of knowledge transfer.

But one area where there is shockingly little discussion or resource allocation is in what some call learning effectiveness or training analytics: How effective is your training as it pertains to your bottom line? Measured effectively, employee and manager training can verifiably produce dividends that far exceed the initial training investment. The key word here is verifiably.

Consider the following three steps to discover and then improve your organization’s total return on training.Capture data at a macro and micro level before and after the training. Click To Tweet

1) Ask the Right Questions: Learning effectiveness is more than a survey that learners fill out after a class. And while there are good reasons to know how your employees feel about a given training, ROI isn’t one of them.

Hopefully they liked it, but so what? Did they do anything differently because of it, or did they simply have an enjoyable four hours off the phones?

It’s the same thing with knowledge tests. No one would argue that knowledge is irrelevant. It’s clearly important, but by itself it isn’t predictive of behavior change. We all know eating pizza isn’t good for us. We all know exercise is important to our overall health.

The overarching goal of any training is to increase the profitability of the company via some intermediate objective. These objectives are simply a means to an end. They could be things like increased first call resolution, higher close rates, reduced average talk time, higher morale, lower attrition, and so forth.

If you want to accurately quantify the fiscal success (or lack thereof) of a given training, start with asking whether and by how much the metric of the objectives moved. From there it’s just a matter of translating that into dollars.

2) Acquire Data: Now that you’ve defined the appropriate questions, it’s time to collect data. This can be as simple or as complex as the metrics you are measuring. If you have an analytics team in place, they likely can help you acquire the data you need. In many cases you probably won’t need anything more complex than a spreadsheet. The important thing is to collect the data.

It’s usually a good idea to capture data at a macro and micro level before and after the training. This will help you to effectively isolate other variables that could affect the metric, thus leading to a purer training impact analysis.

3) Analyze the Results and Create a Plan: Take the results at face value, but also dig deeper. Numbers on their own are great for a PowerPoint presentation, but the story they tell is where you will get the biggest impact. Maybe you find that post-training, first call resolution improved by 10 percent—but why? Was it isolated to a particular group or manager? If there were folks that didn’t complete the training, did they show a similar increase? Find the story.

Monetize it. This is where training analytics has a chance to really shine. If you were measuring the impact of a coaching class for managers and you find that final written warnings decreased by 20 percent as a result of more effective coaching skills, then that can be quantified. If you know that 50 percent of all final written warnings end up in employee separation, know the onboarding cost of a new rep, and know how many fewer final written warnings there were, you can easily assign a fiscal return on that training. Put that number against the overall cost of the training program and you’ll have an accurate training ROI.

But why stop there? People learn by association and through repetition. Now you have concrete evidence to justify a phase two of your coaching class. Act on this new plan, keep measuring, and you will keep achieving.

The Bottom Line: A small step for training is to say that training is a bottom-line issue. Any job posting for training director job titles is likely to include some verbiage about business results. This is a good start.

A giant leap for training is to measure things that really matter, tie them to your bottom line, and take that data to make your training program even better. It’s a positive feedback loop.

With verifiable positive training ROI, it’s much easier to budget for more.

David Mathews is president of Training Analytics and Consulting LLC. With over fifteen years in the learning and development field, he has helped pioneer robust training analytics operations at some of the most well-known companies in the world. David is a recognized expert at translating raw data into meaningful and actionable business insights that will increase the impact and ROI of any training organization. Contact David at or 469-626-7980.

Enhancing Call Center Culture That Increases ROI

By Dwayne King

Many call centers measure success by how fast they can close tickets and get off the phone. In contrast, customers seek deeper connections with the brands they love, and often their only direct human interaction with that brand is through the call center. Even if your company doesn’t push for and track metrics on closure rates and resolution time, call center personnel are trained to treat conversations as transactions. Their goal is to resolve the issue at hand and move on to the next customer. These approaches ignore an opportunity to connect with customers, build stronger relationships, and increase loyalty.

In one study, 87 percent of respondents said they were more likely to recommend a brand based on a great experience, 80 percent were more likely to consider a brand if they knew they would have a great experience, and nearly six in ten organizations were prepared to pay more for a brand that offered a great experience. A transactional interaction, focused on closing the ticket quickly, squanders the chance to build a lasting customer relationship and positive brand appeal. It also misses an opportunity to reinforce the culture and values that build customer loyalty.

In this crowded and noisy world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract and maintain attention all while building a loyal customer base. So how do you ensure that your customer service team is looking beyond merely answering the phone and taking orders? How do you help them empathize with each caller and offer the deep human connection customers crave?

We often see linear customer life cycles that start with identifying the customer and end with support. This reinforces the idea of support as a cost-center. However, with the right culture, training, and mind-set, support centers can become brand ambassadors that provide a human connection to illustrate and reinforce culture and values.Ensure your brand promise by defining how you’re going to treat your customers. Click To Tweet

Yet while customers are trying to connect with a company, call centers are often geographically distanced from the main operations of a company. Without intentional effort to include them, they can develop their own culture and values that separate them from the company’s brand promise. Understanding the values and culture of an organization is pivotal to creating and delivering the experience companies want to give their customers and the experience customers want to have. Here are the ways we encourage call centers to promote a strong and successful culture to drive loyalty, sales, and a higher customer-lifetime value.

Solidify Your Brand: Ensure your brand promise by defining how you’re going to treat your customers. Then make sure it is consistent through every channel, especially for your support team. To create this consistency with agents, we recommend training that includes developing their empathy, deep listening, and reframing skills.

Build Empathy: Conduct an empathy-mapping exercise with your team. Begin by having them list the types of customers they encounter, letting them explore different attitudes, complaints and situations. Now have them create empathy maps for each type of customer. What might the customer be thinking, feeling, doing, or wanting? What are their pain points? Lastly, have the team discuss and document how they could best serve each customer, solving pain points and creating delight.

Understand Deep Listening and Reframing: Train your team on interview techniques that identify a root cause versus a symptom of the customer’s issue. Help them focus on the problem they’re trying to solve and not what customers are necessarily asking for. What is not enough; coach them to ask why.

Henry Ford famously said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” Instead of raising thoroughbreds, though, Ford considered why. Americans actually wanted mobility and speed—an affordable and quick way to move from home to work. Ford’s ability to reframe a request enabled a massive shift in class and quality of life, first in the United States and eventually around the world. To be more like Ford, teach your team that, in order to identify the root cause of a problem, they need to reframe the client’s request to deliver the best experience for the customer and the most value for the company.

Implement Training: Create training sessions where an employee role-plays as one of the customers identified during the empathy mapping exercise. Have him or her call in with a request or issue. Then take turns practicing various scenarios to exercise your employees’ deep listening skills.

Questioning strategies include the following:

  • Use open-ended questions: Avoid questions that lead the caller to a specific answer, and be careful not to introduce a biased opinion.
  • Watch your language: Use simple words and short, single purpose questions. Also, be mindful of internal company jargon that may confuse the caller.
  • Utilize your tools: Understanding a conversation or request may require an agent to combine insights gleaned from the empathy-mapping process with the root cause behind a call. Using these two strategies, call center staff can reframe an order or issue into a more expansive opportunity.

Influence your brand narrative by creating a positive, productive experience that leads to a memorable interaction. Not only will it increase customer lifetime value, but it can transform your contact center from an operating cost to a valuable brand advocate.

Dwayne King is the chief strategy officer at Pinpoint, a design strategy agency in Portland, Oregon. He has led creative teams for over fifteen years. Dwayne believes in digging into business and customer needs first, and he transforms himself in every project from a questioning student to a confident strategist.

Ten Tips to Create Inbound Telemarketing Incentives That Work

By Kaela Heft

Managing inbound incentives for telemarketing services can be easy if you know your team, what they like, and what drives them. It’s also the fun part of the job, for both the frontline team as well as the managers. Call center work is a tough job, and shame on us if we don’t take every opportunity we can to make the job more fun.

It’s All About Prizes, Money, and Recognition: Many managers think the best incentives that drive a team to do better are prizes and money. Yet if there is one thing I have learned in eighteen years in the telemarketing services industry, the biggest prize that drives the frontline team is recognition for a job done well. Yes, prizes and money are great, but the satisfaction of hearing your manager give a shout out such as “Great job” or “Thank you” is something much more valuable. Recognition is a guaranteed confidence booster, and it will drive reps to want to do better and keep them motivated and happy. Motivated employees are productive employees, and happy employees create satisfied customers. The biggest prize that drives the frontline team is recognition for a job done well. Click To Tweet

Great Incentives Help a Team Hit Their Goals: Of course, money and prizes are an added bonus that no one will turn down. The key is to find what motivates the team and helps drive performance.

Here are my top ten tips for successful inbound incentives.

  1. Make sure everyone knows the goal. Your key performance indicators (KPIs) won’t be achieved if everyone isn’t aware of them and working to reach them.
  2. Gear incentives around different products reps are not used to pitching. I call this “moving their cheese.” The more they pitch the product, the better they understand it.
  3. Offer incentives that relate to their job—something they can use in their office, such as a headset, office supplies, or a bookshelf.
  4. Plan incentives around each season. For example, in the summer I like to give away outdoor rewards such as a fire pit, a grill, or a water tube.
  5. Give the reps an opportunity to tell you what they would like to see for incentives that month. Get them involved.
  6. Play a game each month, and make it something different from month to month to keep your team excited.
  7. Base incentives around their successes. For example, if they score a 90 percent or above on their quality monitoring, have a prize geared around that.
  8. Set goals—not only for the team, but for each individual.
  9. Engage with agents. Asking telemarketing services frontline reps to share successes with the team is another huge motivator. This lets your frontline know that you recognize their abilities and appreciate their hard work and dedication. This also helps reps who are struggling to get a different perspective on how to improve.
  10. Tap positive competition. A little friendly rivalry never hurt anyone and is good for the team. Create it and reward it.

Whether you are looking for telemarketing services or you are working to improve your own team in outsourced telemarketing, knowing what motivates your staff is crucial. Every team is different, and when you can determine what works and what doesn’t, it’s a win-win situation.

Kaela Heft is a customer service supervisor for Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced inbound and outbound telemarketing organization. Kaela has been in the telemarketing business for over eighteen years. She currently supervises a team of customer service representatives with QCS At Home, a work-from-home telemarketing and call center operation.

Take Care of the People Who Take Care of Your Call Center

Szeto Technologies

By Sherry Gouel

The priority in running a successful call center is keeping clients satisfied. Although the primary focus is customer service, the people who provide client satisfaction also should be acknowledged. The success of your business relies on the efficiency and professionalism of your staff. The agents who answer calls and interact with clients reflect the company. Business owners acknowledge and thank their staff for their efforts, particularly during the holiday season, but many things can be done throughout the year to show appreciation, too. It’s critical to communicate that your agents are important to your business and that their well-being matters.

Some common health concerns agents face are neck and shoulder tension, eyestrain from monitors, and back problems from sitting too much or a lack of movement. Some problems are less obvious but just as problematic – such as job monotony and feeling unappreciated.

Here are a few ideas to help agents who sit in front of a screen for extended periods.

Desks: Recent health news calls sitting the new smoking. Health professionals warn that too much time sitting is detrimental to your health. Research shows that excess sitting can cause health problems, such as increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, and cardiovascular diseases. In “What Are the Risks of Sitting Too Much,” Mayo Clinic’s Dr. James A. Levine explains, “Spending a few hours a week at the gym or otherwise engaged in moderate or vigorous activity doesn’t seem to significantly offset the risk.” Regular movement throughout the day is important.

Encourage agents to get up and move around regularly. Many desks address this by allowing users to alternate between sitting and standing while using a computer. These standing desks are height adjustable, which encourages workers to stand and move during work hours. Adjustable desks start at about $300. A less costly version sits on an existing desk. Its platforms (one for monitor and one for keyboard) can be raised or lowered to accommodate standing and sitting positions.

Chair Massage: Massages are always a welcome relief for tense neck and shoulder pain. Rather than send your staff to a massage therapist, why not bring the therapist to the office? Employers can surprise employees by offering a ten-minute chair massage. This helps alleviate neck and shoulder tension while at work, and it’s a great way to thank staff as you show concern for their well-being.

Change the Routine: Workplace monotony can have a number of negative consequences. Employees who repeat the same tasks every day can become unmotivated and uninterested in their work. Need proof? Listen to an agent’s voice at the beginning of his or her shift and again at the end. The latter will not have the same vitality and enthusiasm as the first.

Employee cross-training can benefit everyone. Employees trained to work on different aspects of the business can vary their work by performing different tasks throughout the week. Cross-training also creates versatile employees who can substitute for an absent or sick coworker.

A Little Flexibility: Having flexible schedules is difficult at call centers, but a little flexibility makes a big difference. Find out if an employee prefers to work early in the morning or later in the day, or if starting fifteen minutes later will provide relief since it will allow them to bring a child to school instead of having to find an alternative solution. If it’s easy to accommodate without affecting service levels, then why not allow it? Those extra fifteen minutes can greatly relieve a stressful situation. These little benefits are highly valued by employees and reduce turnovers.

Free but Invaluable: Another small gesture, cost-free yet invaluable, is engaging with employees and showing an interest in their personal life. Take the time to grab a coffee with a staff member and ask about his or her family or what would make that employee’s job easier. Do you know your agents’ birthdays? No one wants to feel invisible. Taking a few minutes to acknowledge an employee is crucial in making him or her feel like part of the team.

Small acts can mean a great deal. It’s all about feeling appreciated. Take care of the people who take care of your business.Szeto Technologies

Sherry Gouel handles sales and marketing support for Szeto Technologies.


It’s Time to Replace the Annual Performance Appraisal

By Donna Fluss

Providing timely job-related feedback to agents will improve the customer experience along with the performance of your contact center or back-office operating department. Most employees welcome constructive feedback, suggestions, and coaching, particularly when tied to events they remember. Quality assurance (or quality management) programs are designed to provide timely feedback to employees so they know what they are doing right and where they can improve their performance.

Why Agent Reviews Must Go: The annual performance appraisal process is disliked by managers and employees alike. When it comes to contact centers, the annual appraisal is frequently irrelevant, particularly when it’s not tied to the quality assurance (QA) process. Even worse, it’s often demotivating for agents and a huge time drain for managers who go through the process simply because it’s required.

It’s ironic that the most important goal of the review process is to motivate employees, yet after waiting an entire year, most leave the discussion feeling alienated from their managers, undervalued, disengaged, or worse yet, “surprised.” In most cases, the feedback itself is a case of “too little, too late” and too far removed from the events or demonstrated behavior to have a positive impact on improving performance. And when these annual evaluations are used as the primary factor in deciding salary increases, it negatively affects the effectiveness of the quality assurance program, since agents learn quickly that QA results have little effect on their performance appraisals. Clearly, something has to change.

Performance Management Improves the Employee Experience: Historical and real-time contact center performance management should be used to replace the annual appraisal process. Performance management solutions act as consolidators, creating balanced scorecards that provide a quantitative view of agent and department performance.

These solutions collect performance data from QA, customer surveys, the automatic call distributor (ACD), customer relationship management (CRM) system, sales and collections applications, and more to assess how well agents and managers are doing to meet their goals. While they don’t address qualitative issues, they present a single system of record and promote a sense of fairness that helps to create a cycle of success, as compared to annual reviews that often drive employees away.

Real-time performance management has the ability to transform the employee feedback process by giving managers, supervisors, and employees the real-time data they need to become active participants in managing their performance and development on an ongoing basis. Real-time performance management aligns employee key performance indicators (KPIs) and goals with the enterprise’s strategic objectives and provides real-time, data-driven insights on employee performance relative to individual goals, peers, team, and the contact center.

This high degree of transparency delineates how each individual’s performance directly affects enterprise goals. The emphasis on aligning goals and identifying positive corrective action promotes accountability and motivates employees to modify behavior and improve performance, thus resulting in the delivery of a better customer experience and creating a performance-driven culture.

Final Thoughts: Real-time performance management provides feedback to give employees and managers actionable intelligence that empowers them to take corrective measures on a timely basis. Knowing where they stand at all times promotes awareness and drives ongoing modifications in behavior that result in greater employee engagement, improved agent performance, and ultimately higher levels of customer satisfaction. Real-time performance management transforms the performance appraisal from a static hindsight event to a dynamic, forward-looking process that provides ongoing, targeted feedback and recognition to drive incremental improvements.

Donna Fluss is the founder of DMG Consulting, a vendor-independent research and consulting firm that analyzes contact center and back-office technology and best practices. Contact her at with any questions you may have or to learn how to make today’s innovative and powerful technologies and best practices work for your organization.

3 Tips on Retaining Millennials at Your Call Center

By Jason Quinn

Millennials have a reputation for leaving their jobs faster than any other generation. Most stay in roles for about two years before jumping ship. Apply that ratio to a call center, where the very nature of employment is transient, and that number skyrockets.

At our call center (where I am the senior sales trainer), we rely on our agents as the front line of our sales force: They respond to every incoming customer call, and their professionalism and skill in answering questions is essential to our revenue. Retaining these employees is integral, but most of them view their position as a stopgap until they find other employment or a steppingstone to other opportunities in the company.

Providing agents with proper onboarding and coaching is of the utmost importance. Throwing too much information at new hires, failing to create a supportive and fun environment, and neglecting to outline the potential for mobility within the organization only adds to poor retention.

Here are three tips for turning Millennials into engaged, productive employees in any call center:

1) Hit Them with a Culture Blast: Before you turn on a fire hose of information, remember that new employees only retain about 25 percent of the information presented on the first day. Instead of a dry information dump of company facts, teach them about your corporate culture. Make day one about who you are as a company and how you’re working to achieve a common goal.

One of the most powerful ways to reinforce culture on their first day is to share the story of who you are and how you got there. Like most organizations, ours has a memorable rags-to-riches story. If a new hire goes home and explains the genesis story to a friend or relative, he or she has already taken the first step to being engaged. Help them understand where you came from so they can be part of where you are going.

Another way to teach aspects of culture is by immediately pairing new hires with veterans or star performers. By shadowing them, they get a firsthand look at how current employees interact with customers, and expectations are set from the beginning. It also serves to introduce them to their peer group and reinforces that together they are building something bigger.

2) The Power of One: One Goal, One Team: Going home at the end of their first day feeling overwhelmed with technical knowledge can leave new hires feeling anxious about what’s next. “Is every day going to be like this?” “Am I cut out for this?” “Did I retain any information?”

After showing your great culture, the most important thing is to help newbies understand how their role contributes to the success of the company. In my company, our managing director gives a speech to each class of rookies on their first day, telling them, “I could go away, and this business would run smoothly tomorrow, next week, and next month. But if you are not here, the business will not exist.” Your sales center agents are the first contact with your customers, and the importance of this interaction should not be understated.

One of my all-time favorite moments came after the first day of one of my training groups. As everyone filed out of the training room, a new agent came up to me and said, “Wow, you guys really care about your frontline employees.”

This is how you want trainees to feel when they leave after their first day – and each day after that.

3) Make Everyone a Visionary: Providing new hires with a glimpse into how passionate your call center agents are and sharing success stories of agents who have transitioned from the call center to other positions in the company helps reinforce how an engaged, supportive culture can benefit everyone.

Vision is how you connect your entire company together, working toward a common goal. At most call centers, senior managers and leadership never stop by the sales floor to say hello and share their vision for the business. But in our culture most of our department heads pop in at different times to express their appreciation for our frontline workers and explain how they contribute.

These five-minute check-ins model the passion we expect from our employees, and it energizes new hires.

Conclusion: If you want to run a successful sales center with high levels of retention, especially when dealing with Millennials, help new hires understand the company’s history and integrate them into your workplace culture. Break down barriers between upper-level management and frontline employees by showing appreciation, sharing goals, and letting them know that most of the ideas that push the company forward come from them.

Jason Quinn is the senior sales trainer in the call center at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?

[From Connection MagazineMay/June 2016]

Turnover Solutions: Why Do Employees Leave the Nest?

By Dan Campbell

Contact centers have a reputation for notoriously high turnover rates, sometimes upwards of 200 percent depending on the industry. Some of the reason for that can be attributed to leaders focusing on improving the wrong metrics. Findings from the 2014 U.S. Contact Center Decision Maker’s Guide back that up: Contact centers place growing and maintaining staff numbers, employee attrition, and employee morale at the bottom of the list in terms of priority and expenditures while ranking improved customer satisfaction and revenue as top priorities.

But in order to reach their “top priority” goals, attention must be placed on lower priority items. It looks like this: Retaining experienced employees will cut down on expenditures, thus increasing revenues. Retaining trained, knowledgeable team members to interact with clients will improve customer satisfaction.

There is also the high price of employee turnover to consider. Actual turnover costs are multifaceted and include the expense of recruiting, training, and on-boarding new employees, drops in productivity, and negative employee morale. The Quality Assurance and Training Connection, an organization facilitating education and idea sharing for call center professionals, broke down the turnover costs for contact centers in its winter 2015 report. It estimated a price tag of more than $6,000 to replace a person making $12 per hour, which equates to more than $120,000 per year for twenty people. For centers that require a more extensive training program with longer ramp-up periods, the cost of turnover can exceed $12,000 per person.

Faced with the challenges of employee churn, tackling turnover should be a contact center’s top priority when striving for success.

Mastering Metrics: When tackling turnover, it’s important to understand the rate at which employees are leaving. Without an idea of what you’re faced with, it’s impossible to benchmark improvements. A simple calculation to determine turnover rate is to take the number of agents who left during a given time period (for example, sixty agents left in 2014), and divide it by the average number of agents employed during the same time period (say an average of 200 agents on payroll for the year), then multiple the result by 100 to generate a percentage. For this example, our contact center had a turnover rate of 30 percent in 2014.

Another metric to follow is the differentiation between voluntary and involuntary turnover. The reasons a supervisor is forced to terminate an employee are often different from the reasons an employee will cite when deciding to leave a job of his or her own volition. While both sets of issues are important and must be addressed, identifying which has the greater impact on your contact center’s bottom line will help prioritize an appropriate response.

Amassing this quantitative data will allow measurable goals to be set. However, there is a host of qualitative information that is also important to gather. Exit interviews are an excellent resource for understanding why employees are leaving. According to a report by Trostle & Associates titled Managing Hidden Costs of Contact Center Teams in the New Economy, the most valuable or reliable data is captured two to three months after the employee has left. By identifying why employees fly the coop, efforts can be focused on rectifying the root causes, such as poor communication of job expectations during the hiring process or failure to support employees after they’ve been on-boarded.

Tackling Turnover: Once an organization has established its turnover rates and identified some operational areas for improvement, the next step is to formulate a plan of action and execute on it. While increasing retention is a tangible aspiration, there are other factors to consider that are not quite so measurable, such as improving employee morale and engagement.

Recently the conversation at this year’s Contact Center Executive Forum (CCEF) in Atlanta centered on employee retention and engagement through building relationships. “The key to recruiting is retention,” said Mike Marrow, CEO of Qualfon and CCEF panelist. He went on to share that his company is obsessive about retention and starts “showing the love on day one.” Happy employees are more likely to stay, and engaged team members will yield higher productivity, therefore implementing programming to improve these variables is a sound strategy for any contact center.

Qualfon, for example, has started “fun clubs” for employees with similar interests, such as photography or origami, and the company provides some funding for these get-togethers. Companies like Qualfon say a focus on retention saves millions each year, and that’s a bottom line result worth the effort. Offering post-hire support to new recruits is a simple and cost-effective strategy to employ. Here are some ideas:

  • Have a welcome package for each new hire on his or her first day that includes a five-dollar Starbucks card or something tied more closely to the company.
  • Assign an internal coach or mentor who can advise the employee on day-to-day team interactions and provide guidance for working at the company.
  • Conduct periodic check-ins with company leadership to give employees a forum to offer feedback and help set them up to succeed.
  • Plan and budget for ongoing training at all levels of the contact center, and continue to make adjustments to best address the needs of the team.

Additionally, being fully prepared for new arrivals is guaranteed to make each person feel welcome. Having their desk, computer, passwords, phone, and any other equipment or support ready to go will ensure there is less lag or downtime involved while ramping them up to full speed.

Keeping employees engaged is the key to maintaining and improving productivity and reducing turnover. While monetary incentives are tried-and-true methods for encouraging performance, there are other ways of increasing engagement that doesn’t come in the paycheck:

  • Actively encourage and reward new ideas and innovation from all employees.
  • Assess effectiveness of current tools, technology, and procedures, involving employees in the process.
  • Frequently recognize individual employee success and provide different rewards, such as spa or batting cage certificates, gift cards, gaming console, or bonus paid time off.
  • Encourage a collaborative team environment through an employee recognition program that allows agents to recommend their colleagues for awards.
  • Implement a lunch-and-learn program for employees to build on current skills or learn new ones.

Supervisors are the front line to employee retention and should make it a point to know what motivates their charges. Encourage line managers to think of new ways to improve post-hire support and foster employee relationships based on what they know about their team.

There are always opportunities to improve the culture and efficiency of a contact center and retain happy employees. Standout companies are sharing ideas and positive results all the time. Measure the effectiveness of any new initiative and revise as needed to ensure fresh approaches toward meeting company goals. Tackling turnover and improving employee retention will set your contact center up for success thanks to an engaged and motivated workforce.

Dan Campbell is founder and CEO of Hire Dynamics and served as the 2014 Chairman of the American Staffing Association. Putting an average of 4,000 people to work every week, Hire Dynamics is a staffing provider specializing in contact and call centers, manufacturing facilities, logistics and e-commerce operations, and office support.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2015]

Quality Live Agents Are Still Required: Workforce Optimization Can Help

By JaNae Forshee

In today’s hyper-modern and seemingly automated world, self-service is not enough. Customers want and expect personalized service and interaction with live customer service agents. New consumer research from Harris Poll, conducted on behalf of inContact, puts a renewed emphasis on the importance of having quality live agents. Continuous improvement of agents’ performance is a constant for most contact centers. Workforce optimization (WFO) software can help.

WFO solutions may include audio and screen recording, quality management, desktop and speech analytics, workforce management, performance management scorecards, eLearning, performance dashboards, and customer surveys. Comprehensive WFO solutions provide unprecedented visibility into agent performance, operations, and customer intelligence by extracting and analyzing critical information. When integrated with ACD/IVR, WFO helps optimize operational efficiencies and deliver proactive agent training, all while empowering agents to deliver personalized customer service experiences.

Research Highlights: Live Agents Are Key

The new Harris research, conducted just after the 2014 holiday shopping season, polled 2,028 U.S. adults and found:

  • Consumers are still frequently interacting with live agents. For example, when making purchases via phone, 84 percent of buyers had interacted directly with a company representative an average of five times during the last six months. Additionally, when making purchases online, 43 percent of buyers had interacted directly with a company representative an average of two times during the last six months
  • When feeling dissatisfied with an order, the vast majority (81 percent) of U.S. adults prefer assistance from a live representative via phone or online chat rather than using email or online self-service.
  • The majority think it is important to have at least six ways to communicate when making purchases online. Four of these channels (email, live reps, online chat, and mobile apps) are agent-assisted. The percentage of respondents who said the channel was very or somewhat important are: email (93 percent), online self-service for order tracking (87 percent), 1-800 to live reps (81 percent), online chat (67 percent), 1-800 to self-service (53 percent), and apps for mobile devices (50 percent).
  • Nearly nine in ten (86 percent) reported they would be very likely to switch to another company in the future after a bad customer service experience.

Live agents play a vital role in the development of loyal, profitable customer relationships. The agent’s influence, along with the workforce generally being 70 to 75 percent of a contact center’s cost, emphasizes the need for making real-time improvements with WFO.

How WFO Can Improve the Quality of Live Agent Service

Prevent Bad Customer Service Experiences: Let’s start with preventing bad customer service experiences, which lead to brand switching. In addition to receiving data from the ACD/IVR, WFO software that is intelligently integrated with an ACD/IVR system can actively send agent performance data back to the ACD/IVR in order to drive logical actions and outcomes.

For example, to prevent future poor performance from an agent with poor customer survey scores, the agent can be automatically removed from specific queue types. Call routing changes happen immediately. The WFO system also can automatically schedule targeted follow-up coaching. This eliminates delays due to manual intervention.

Create More Great Customer Experiences; Increase First-Call Resolutions: A WFO solution that’s part of a closed-loop system also enables contact centers to immediately take advantage of outstanding agent performance. For example, if a customer gives an agent a high-performance score in a customer survey, the system can automatically increase that agent’s proficiency in a particular category or skill type. As a result, the agent will then receive more of those types of calls. This all happens on the fly, so there’s no delay in call-matching optimization. Better customer experiences are created in real time.

This automated sharing of agent performance data with the ACD/IVR means that future calls are immediately routed to the most qualified agent available. Using WFO software optimizes the efficiency of a call center through schedule optimization and intelligent call routing, which in turn helps increase first-call resolutions.

In addition, WFO desktop analytics can automatically monitor, capture, and analyze agent desktop activity to identify opportunities for improvement in processes, experiences, and performance. The use of WFO speech analytics also can quantify customers’ top concerns so managers are able to prioritize efforts in coaching, development, and quality management.

Develop Engaged and Empowered Agents: The performance dashboard is another important WFO tool for agents, management, and executives to monitor and improve real-time performance. Customizable dashboards that aggregate data from multiple sources – such as CRM and ACD/IVR – provide appropriate visibility for all levels of the organization.

Agents are more engaged and empowered when allowed to monitor their own performance. Seeing where they stand on different KPIs (key performance indicators) helps them focus their efforts. With custom dashboards, agents can quickly check a summary of their personal performance, track trends, and even see how they rank compared to other agents. Plus, being able to see how close they are to earning performance bonuses is a sure motivator.

Conclusion: Intelligently integrated and comprehensive WFO software provides the data needed to automatically match the best and most qualified agents with specific customer call types. It also quickly responds to bad customer experiences by realigning agent resources and scheduling coaching. In addition, WFO tools such as customer surveys, desktop and speech analytics, and customizable dashboards help motivate and empower agents through personalized feedback.

Customers want to interact with live agents, especially at one of the most critical points in the relationship – when they are feeling dissatisfied. Customer service agents are not just order takers; they are problem solvers who need to be empowered with just-in-time training and motivational tools. They need to be backed by intelligent, integrated WFO solutions that enable them to succeed. Today customers expect more than ever, and skilled and qualified agents are needed to meet those expectations.

JaNae Forshee joined the inContact team in Sept 2004 and is currently the senior manager of workforce optimization. JaNae has fifteen years of contact center experience ranging from management, operations, collections, and sales to content development, eLearning, and eight years of training and development. Prior positions held at inContact include call center manager and client relationship manager.

[From Connection Magazine May/June 2015]