Tag Archives: Workforce Management Articles

Work from Home Success

By Phil Kenter

One of our family friends told us that she disliked working in New York City as an investment broker/manager and was considering another career despite her financial success. She decided to try working from home and found it worked fine. She since has become more successful than before without the stress of commuting to the city every day. 

Now 100 percent of our staff work remotely. This has resolved all our staffing problems. Click To Tweet

In another case, the daughter of one of our clients was an equipment trainer, which required her to travel extensively throughout the country to hospitals and healthcare facilities. She convinced her employer that she could accomplish the training remotely from her home with the use of video conferencing. 

That prompted an idea for us to consider. We changed our Help Wanted ad to read “Work from Home After Training. Details: www.rccjobs.com.” The site describes the job and includes a twelve-minute video of an operator processing a call. 

We began to receive inquiries and requests for interviews. Applicants must train in our office for four to six weeks, four hours a day, five days a week. We usually know within the first week or two if they have what it takes. 

Once fully trained, we assist them in setting up their home office. We provide a headset, electronic access equipment, and detailed instructions. They provide their own computer, per our specs, that we set up and program for them to use exclusively for us. They’re also responsible for the telephone circuit and the internet connection. In under six months, we have hired four operators, all of whom enjoy working remotely. 

Because of that success, our remaining staff requested remote status too. Now 100 percent of our staff work remotely. This has resolved all our staffing problems. The midnight operators enjoy working from home in their pajamas rather than driving to the office in the middle of the night. 

If we need an operator to cover for someone else, one or more of them are readily available and enjoy doing it. The same applies for weekends and holidays. If we have a major snowstorm—when no one can come in—now they all are available to log in. In the winter when we become inundated with heat calls for oil deliveries, we always have operators available. The same occurs in the summer months during a heatwave when we’re inundated with air conditioning outage calls. 

When one of our lead operators moved to Florida with her family and informed us of minimal employment opportunities near where she lived, we sent her equipment. Now she continues to work for us forty hours a-week from her home in Florida.

Phil Kenter is with Relay Communications Center in Long Island, New York.

Why You’re Not Getting the Most from Your Training Dollars

By Kate Zabriskie

Each year, organizations waste thousands of dollars on training that doesn’t deliver what the people who bought it thought it would. Consequently, remorseful purchasers determine that either training has no value to their employees, training facilitators don’t know what they’re doing, program designers are out of touch with reality, or all three.

If only the root causes of training failures were as simple! Even with willing learners, great content, and strong facilitation, you can still encounter problems that will keep you from realizing strong returns on your training investment. If your training isn’t delivering what you think it should, you may be suffering from one of three major problems that plague all organizations.

1. Training Isn’t Part of a Larger Learning Ecosystem

Just because people participate in a workshop doesn’t mean they’ll change their work behavior. In fact, even if they demonstrate an ability and willingness to apply what they’re learning in class, all may be lost once they exit the classroom.

For example, if turnover is an issue, a learning organization wants to know why and may ask several questions. Click To Tweet

Why does this happen? Good workshops usually fail to deliver because they’re treated as a training solution instead of a component of one. In other words, a workshop isn’t the answer. Rather, it should be part of a larger apparatus or ecosystem.

Solution: Start small. Creating a strong learning ecosystem is an ongoing and often complex endeavor. It takes time to build a holistic structure that supports continuous development. Ask yourself: 

  • Prior to training, do managers explain to people why they will be attending a course and what the expected application will be?
  • Will someone with authority (other than the facilitator) launch the session by explaining how the workshop ties into the bigger picture?
  • Are there check-in opportunities after training to ensure participants are implementing new behaviors?

If you answer no to any of these questions, do what you need to do to shift those answers to yes.

Next, think about the incentives you can put in place to encourage behavior change, the barriers you need to remove to encourage success, and the corrective action you’ll take if what’s happening in the classroom isn’t replicated on the job.

Once you start thinking holistically and view courses and workshops as a component of learning versus learning in its entirety, you will have taken the first step in getting the most out of your training dollars.

2. Continuous Learning Isn’t Part of the Culture or a Priority

You have great content, and you have a skilled facilitator, but half the people scheduled to attend don’t make it a priority.

When training occupies a position of “nice to have” versus “need to have,” getting the most from it becomes problematic. This most often happens when people are in survival mode instead of on a growth trajectory. In other words, they scramble to get through their work instead of thinking mindfully about the work they’re completing and how they’re completing it.

In practical terms, if people are always putting out fires and don’t regularly ask “What have we learned?” and “How can we improve?”, why should they care about learning new skills?

Solution: Start by asking the right questions. Shifting from a reactive culture to one that is deliberate about its activities takes months or even years. However, it’s not difficult to make big strides over time when you begin by asking the right questions throughout the organization.

Start the improvement conversation at multiple levels and at various times. Frequently ask after training: 

“What have we learned?”

“What do we need to do better next time?”

“What do we wish we’d known earlier?” 

In the rare instances when something goes perfectly, remember that there are still questions to ask: “How can we replicate what we just did?”; “Why did that work well?”; and “Is there any reason this approach won’t work again in the future?”

When questioning becomes the norm, the solutions offered via training should have stronger importance and value. For example, if turnover is an issue, a learning organization wants to know why and may ask several questions: 

“Are we hiring the wrong people?”

“Are we expecting too much?”

“Is there something better for the same money somewhere else?”

“Do our managers not manage well?”

“Do we need to provide people with better tools?”

Then, when learning and improvement are a priority, you’ll hear such things as, “Today is a training day for me. I’ll be unavailable until 4:00. If you have an emergency, please see my supervisor, Melissa. The workshop I’m attending is of top importance and part of my effort to reduce turnover.”

Who can argue with that? The logic sounds right and ties into big-picture improvement goals.

To get larger returns from training, use questioning to drive improvement. The answers will help people connect the dots and understand why training is a priority and not just something they do because their schedule tells them to show up in a classroom.

3. Few Annual Development Plans Exist

The world doesn’t stagnate, and your employees shouldn’t either. If they’re doing their work the same way they were five years ago, and nobody is encouraging or demanding change, why should they care about training or think you care about them?

Solution: Regardless of level, every employee should have a development plan and some learning and growth goals that connect to the big picture and enhance their skills.

“I want to improve XYZ skill to drive ABC result, and 123 is how I plan to grow” is a quick and easy format to follow when setting development goals. Three to five goals is a suitable number for most people.

Better still, if you can tie those goals to performance reviews, you’ll be amazed at the interest people develop in improvement, training, and implementing new skills. As with the other two solutions, start small. For example, if your company doesn’t have any development plans, choose one department to pilot them.

Act Now

Whether you suffer from one, two, or all three of these problems, act now. When thoughtful goals and development plans exist throughout an organization, people are conditioned to ask the right questions. With a drive toward improvement and a strong learning ecosystem that supports learning, it’s almost impossible not to realize a stronger return on your training dollars.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

Seven Reasons to Not Share Ownership with Key Employees

By Patrick Ungashick

Many business owners consider at some point sharing ownership of their company with one or more key employees. Sharing ownership can create powerful advantages. Retaining employees for the long-term and incentivizing them to increase business value are usually the top motives. Sharing ownership elevates valued employees into a true partnership with the owners in the ongoing effort to sustain company growth.

However, sharing ownership is not without downsides, some of which are immediately apparent. Obviously, sharing ownership dilutes the owner’s equity position. Consequently, sharing ownership can end up being the most expensive way to incentivize, reward, and retain top employees. Other potential problems create unwelcome surprises. Sharing ownership backfires more often than it succeeds. If it fails, it may jeopardize the business owner’s ability to successfully exit from the business one day.

Here are seven reasons to avoid sharing ownership with key employees, whether you are contemplating selling or gifting to them a piece of your company:

1. Key Employees Sometimes Leave

No matter how loyal and trusted they are, it happens. Making matters worse, when key employees leave, they rarely switch industries. If they leave your company, they may join or become competition. Now you may have somebody competing with you who owns a piece of your business. To prevent this, you will need to have employees sign an agreement obligating them to sell their stock (or units, if an LLC) back to you should they leave. This helps avoid a competitor owning some of your company. But you won’t like writing a check to a former employee to buy back your stock. That’s not fun.

2. Sharing Ownership Complicates Legal Governance 

Once an employee has ownership, it’s easy for the line to blur between ownership and employment. Click To Tweet

Sharing owners requires creating (or updating) legal documents such as a buy-sell agreement, which outlines decision-making and ownership-transfer rules among co-owners. One important issue to address is who has the authority to sell the entire company one day. You cannot allow minority owners to hold up a potential sale in the future. This buy-sell agreement therefore also needs to give the majority owner clear authority to sell the entire company, further complicating your exit planning.

3. Sharing Ownership Complicates Income Tax Planning

Certain laws regarding retirement plans—an important tax planning tool—require treating owner-employees differently for antidiscrimination testing. Also, if you have an S-corporation (a popular legal form) and you wish to make a profit distribution, it must be in proportion to ownership. Sharing profits proportionately with all owner-employees might not be what you had in mind. 

4. Sharing Ownership Changes the Employer-Employee Relationship

Ownership bestows rights. Employees who receive ownership typically gain the right to review the company’s financial information and records. You may not be crazy about employees seeing that level of financial detail. Once an employee has ownership, it’s easy for the line to blur between ownership and employment. It can become harder to manage an employee who is also an owner. Firing that person, if ever necessary, can become more difficult and expensive.

5. Sharing Ownership with One or More Employees Creates a Precedent

You intend your company to grow, and that growth will lead to additional valuable employees coming into the picture, either promoted from within or hired from outside the company. Those future key employees may want ownership, too, given that their peers already have it. You will have two options: either offer ownership to them, further diluting your ownership, or deny ownership to them, which risks alienating them, even to the point that they leave the organization.

6. Ownership May Complicate Matters with Your Employees

Owners typically enjoy some personal expenses paid by the company, such as vehicle, cell phone, meals, and so forth. Employees who receive ownership often expect to participate in such perks too. You must either include them, which increases costs, or temper their expectations, which risks alienating them. 

With ownership also come responsibilities, such as personally guaranteeing company debt. Top employees may be hesitant or unprepared to share in this debt and risk, further taking away some of the excitement and appeal of receiving ownership.

7. Sharing Ownership Increases the Company’s Exposure to Outside Risks

Occasionally, employees might do things that put themselves and their ownership in the company at risk, such as get divorced, get sued, or find themselves in financial difficulty. Sharing ownership increases the possibility of having your company dragged into one of these situations.


Because of these disadvantages, business owners should attempt to retain and reward key employees without sharing actual ownership. Alternative strategies exist, such as golden handcuff plans that include phantom stock, stock appreciation rights (SARs), and executive compensation plans. Many of these programs can simulate business ownership, achieving the original goals without creating the inevitable risks and downsides. 

There are a few situations where to share ownership with key employees may make sense. The most common would be sharing some actual ownership now as one step within a comprehensive plan to eventually sell or transfer the entire business to the employees. Otherwise, in most cases, it’s advisable to pursue a different course of action.

Patrick Ungashick is the CEO of NAVIX Consultants, a celebrated speaker on executive and business owner exit planning, and the author of A Tale of Two Owners: Achieving Exit Success Between Business Co-Owners. With his wealth of knowledge on exit planning, Patrick has provided exit advice and solutions to business owners and leaders for thirty years. 

What You Should Know Before Making Your Next Call Center Headset Purchase

By Bonnie Landis

The call center agent’s best friend is their headset, but choosing the right headset for your call center or office staff can be daunting. There are several things to consider when shopping for headsets. Here are five things to think about before you make your next purchase. If you work with a reputable vendor with a knowledgeable sales staff, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re getting the right headset equipment for your specific needs. Click To Tweet

1. Know Your Vendor

A good relationship with a reliable headset company can mean the difference between getting the right equipment at a reasonable price and paying too much for equipment that doesn’t meet your needs. Your headset advisor should have in-depth product and industry knowledge. They will ask the right questions to uncover your needs and make the right product recommendation.

2. Performance and Durability Matters

Your staff uses their headsets every day; expect damage and depreciation to occur. Replacing headsets prematurely can be costly in terms of agent downtime and financial outlay. Make sure you are purchasing equipment that is call-center designed, as this will result in a lower cost of ownership.

3. Noise Cancelation

Call centers are noisy! Be sure you purchase headsets with good noise-canceling microphones that filter out background noise. Your agents will be heard clearly, and this results in a better call outcome.

4. Compatibility

Every headset needs to be compatible with the phone or device it’s used with. Each device has its own compatibility requirements—and the headset cord is the vital link between the headset and the device. Purchasing a headset with an incorrect cord means that it will not have adequate audio sound or perhaps none at all. Always rely on a trusted headset adviser to guide you through this critical process.

5. After-the-Sale Service

After the sale, you should feel like a valued customer and be satisfied that the equipment you purchased is the right equipment for your requirements. The sales process should have exceeded your expectations, and you won’t hesitate to purchase again from the vendor and even recommend them to your colleagues.

To summarize, if you work with a reputable vendor with a knowledgeable sales staff, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re getting the right headset equipment for your specific needs.

Bonnie Landis is a senior headset advisor with Comfort Telecommunications. For more than thirty-five years, Comfort Telecommunications has provided headset equipment to the call center industry. Their line of best-in-class Smith Corona headset products are recognized for its durability, cross-brand compatibility, and affordability.

Top Workplace Best Practices for Contact Centers

By Donna Fluss

The workforce is a mash-up of diverse, multicultural, and multigenerational personnel. Organizations that want to attract and retain top talent and become employers of choice must use workforce best practices. This will engage employees and let them know that their contributions are important to the mission of the company, so they feel good about going to work.

Here are some of the best practices that help attract and retain employees. It’s not about catering to millennials, the largest demographic in the workforce today; instead it’s about creating a work environment that plays to everyone’s strengths.

These best practices are ideal for contact centers and also apply to many other areas.The objective of these best practices is to develop a positive, creative, and fulfilling work environment. Click To Tweet

Train Employees: Make sure everyone knows how to do their job and has the information, systems, and support needed to excel and deliver an outstanding customer experience.

Give Employees Visibility into Their Performance: Ensure that all employees know their goals and how well they are meeting them. Do this on a continuous basis throughout the year.

Know Your Employees: Take a personal but professional interest in your staff so they understand that you care about them and are committed to helping them succeed.

Appreciate Staff Contributions: Communicate to each employee that their work for the company is important and appreciated.

Create a Collaborative and Supportive Working Environment: Be sure everyone knows how to get help when they need it.

Make an Engaging Work Environment: Make it fun and enjoyable for people to come to work.

Welcome Constructive Feedback: Give employees a voice. Encourage their input, suggestions, and recommendations.

Treat All Employees Fairly: Be consistent, and don’t play favorites.

Advocate Work/Life Balance: Recognize employees for the work they do during normal business hours. Don’t expect staff to dedicate themselves to your company at the cost of their family or other commitments.

Allow for Schedule Flexibility: Let staff have input into their work schedules, and give them the ability to change their plans without penalty.

Reward and Recognize Employees: Show the company’s appreciation for a job well done.

Provide Opportunities: Champion career and personal development. Demonstrate to employees a potential path for advancement within the company so there is no need for them to go elsewhere to get ahead.

Create an Inclusive Work Environment: Welcome a diverse staff who has the skills required to do their jobs.

Be a Responsible Company: Advocate social and ethical responsibility. Have your company encourage participation in activities that make the world a better place.

The objective of these best practices is to develop a positive, creative, and fulfilling work environment. Treat employees well, and they’ll tend to reciprocate and do a better job. Satisfied employees are also more likely to remain with a company because there is little reason for them to go elsewhere.

This is critical for contact centers, which typically invests two to sixteen weeks to train entry-level staff. The common thread among these best practices is that small acts of kindness go a long way to building a strong and dedicated workforce. This is well worth the investment.

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.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

By Sherry Gouel

Hiring the right person for a job is one of the most difficult tasks business owners face. There are so many factors to consider: experience, reliability, work ethic, honesty, professionalism, and the list goes on. Adding the wrong person to your team can be detrimental to the daily work environment, but it’s not really possible to predict if a candidate will work out.

There is another important question to keep in mind during an interview. Besides work skills, does this candidate have people skills? It’s one thing to complete a task well, but can this person work with others?

As with any new job, there is always a training period. A worker can eventually learn the necessary skills to accomplish their work, but if they don’t get along with their coworkers, it will affect the mood around the office. Call center agents must be team players, and tension between workers has a negative effect on the office atmosphere. Having staff that gets along and works well together reflect well on the business and how clients are treated. Having staff that gets along and works well together reflect well on the business and how clients are treated. Click To Tweet

Inclusiveness is an important factor in the workplace. An employee can be great at their job, be punctual, professional, and reliable, but if they cannot integrate with coworkers and be part of the team, it’s unlikely their employment will last. We’ve all met someone that for inexplicable reasons we cannot connect with. We might say, “They just rubbed me the wrong way” or “Their attitude just irritates me.” First impressions happen quickly and are difficult to change. We don’t set out to feel negatively about anyone, but it’s difficult to change our minds about our initial dislike. We tend to avoid this person and make no effort to give them a chance to prove themselves differently.

This lack of connection is difficult to change. It’s best to be proactive by looking for initial signs of friction during the interview rather than finding out a month after hiring them. Getting staff members involved in the interviewing process may help reduce future problems by testing the dynamics between existing staff and new additions. This doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be problems, but it may detect tension that could cause problems.

While no one knows if the candidate will be the right fit, there are a few things that can help. First have a list of questions to ask. Then, keep in mind that while part of the interview process is determining how comfortable and confident you feel talking to this candidate, you aren’t the only one that should be doing the interviewing.

Have existing staff join in to see how they relate to the candidate. It is often during small talk that we get to know and connect with another person. Following the interview, ask your staff how they felt about the interviewee; listen to their feedback and read between the lines. If you’ve narrowed down your choice to a few people, have your staff weigh in on this decision. It will hold them partially accountable in making sure this person gets the proper training and helping them to succeed.

Imagine a different scenario if your staff is not included in the hiring process and the new employee either lacks the people skills or doesn’t connect with coworkers. Will there be any effort to help the new worker feel part of the team? On the contrary—they may do things to exclude or alienate the new employee, hoping to make them quit. Losing employees and having to hire new ones comes with a cost.

If including staff members in the interview process is difficult, then extend the interview time by showing the candidate around the office. Stop at a few stations and allow some of your staff to show the candidate what the job consists of. All it takes is a few minutes of interaction to allow your staff the chance to meet the potential candidate and have a say in the hiring.

No one can predict whether a newly hired worker will be the right candidate, but these steps can better the chances. While a recruit may appear perfect on paper, remember that compatibility with the existing staff is just as important.

Sherry Gouel handles sales and marketing support for Szeto Technologies.

Managing Your Workforce Management Strategy

By Christian Szpilfogel

Over the last fifteen to twenty years, workforce management has evolved from a discipline into a technology sector, moving beyond the simple need to make contact centers more efficient in their planning and replace spreadsheets that took a full-time job to manage. Over time, workforce management has become a way to make managers more effective, allowing them to create and deliver the optimal schedules to meet customer service needs.

As the call center has grown into the more complex contact center, so have the requirements of the workforce. In fact, we now see more complex scenarios in which contact center workers must handle various media types, such as voice, text, and email, in order to serve all expected functions. Workforce management has gone from a “nice-to-have” resource for driving efficiency to a “must-have” tool to effectively staff any medium to large contact center handling customer care.

Given the personalized nature of contact center work, the strategy guiding the workforce management of the call center itself should also be personalized to the company. There are three key factors to consider in developing this strategy.

1) Focus on Customer Experience: It’s critical to understand that customer experience still drives contact center strategies today. Therefore, it’s critical to ensure that any workforce management strategy errs on the side of delivering great customer service. Being slightly overstaffed is nothing compared to missing out on customer opportunities and losing customers.

Acquiring new customers is more important today than it has ever been, as is the sensitivity to losing customers to competitors. That’s why it’s crucial to deploy a workforce management strategy that drives customer satisfaction as well as delivers efficiency and reduces costs. This means that any workforce management strategy and supporting technologies must ensure the availability of the right level of staff and the right people: those who have the skills necessary to serve customers the way they want to be served.

2) Anticipate Changes in Communications Preferences: In addition to internalizing customer service in a workforce management strategy, it’s important to anticipate the changing communications behaviors of your customer base. Today a contact center that is mostly comprised of voice conversation may be sufficient, but will that still be true two, three, or five years out?

If you’re looking at making an investment in a workforce management strategy, make sure any technology involved seamlessly interoperates with the voice component essential to today’s customer service as well as all the digital media routing into the contact center. Moreover, staff must be able to go beyond providing the service customers expect and be well versed in the media customers will prefer in the future, regardless of whether that’s voice, text, or video media. It’s critical to understand customer experience still drives contact center strategies today. Click To Tweet

3) Think about Employees: Apart from minding customer service goals and customer communications preferences, it’s also imperative to think of your employees. Customer service employees are the face and the voice of your business to the customer. Who are you hiring and what do they need from you to be satisfied with their work? A satisfied employee will do a better job and will stay with the company longer. While contact center workers aren’t the highest-paid employees, tools and additional benefits can go a long way toward making them happier at work.

Workforce management plays a big part in this, making it easy to give workers some control over their own schedules and allow them to collaborate with their peers in managing time off, thus building comradery and a sense of ownership across the team. In addition, workforce management technologies also present the perfect opportunity to provide new incentives through gamification to make everyday jobs seem more interesting and to inspire the competitive spirit and passion of employees. This creates a more congenial atmosphere and drives overall performance and employee happiness.

Invest in Workforce Management Technology: When considering a workforce management technology investment, it’s crucial to look at the big picture. Workforce management systems do not operate in a vacuum. Rather, they operate in an integrated fashion within the overall contact center infrastructure.

In addition to always keeping the customer experience in mind, plan for changes in customer communications preferences, and think about your employees. Avoid taking a step backward in critical functionalities by making choices that give you the flexibility to adapt pieces of your overall IT infrastructure over time.

Implementing a strong workforce management strategy that can be easily adapted in the future will help drive efficiency. More importantly, it will help you reach and exceed your customer service goals.

Christian Szpilfogel is the VP of Strategy at Mitel.

Transforming WFO into CEM

Unify Omni-Channel Analytics with Big Data Management

By Bob Brittan

Workforce optimization (WFO) is traditionally used to optimize the performance of the workforce within an enterprise in order to establish customer satisfaction. The market is rapidly transforming to first capturing and then analyzing 100 percent of the customer experience (since sampling does not provide sufficient insights) at every touch point and every channel in order to determine the optimization necessary to create a positive customer experience.

The expanded use of multichannel customer contacts such as phone, email, SMS, chat, and social media, with both structured and unstructured data, require a cohesive customer experience strategy. WFO can deliver on the promise of front-office and back-office unification to provide a seamless customer experience. Nonetheless, all of the many customer transactions and interactions generating data from the multichannel contact sources still reside in data silos. Leveraging this “customer journey” data into meaningful customer intelligence is the next big enterprise and contact center transformation: customer experience management (CEM).

The transition of WFO to CEM requires an omni-channel method to capture relevant customer experience data from every channel, including calls, emails, chats, desktop transactions, customer surveys, and social media. However, capturing 100 percent of the information from all channels produces massive amounts of data, known as big data.

Omni-channel analytics can greatly assist managing big data by automatically analyzing the captured data from each channel and producing only actionable knowledge. The resulting actionable knowledge is channel-dependent and does not provide a holistic, actionable knowledge across all channels. There remains the challenge of associating and encapsulating relevant data from multiple channels to produce a unified and cohesive, actionable knowledge. This latest challenge in big data management can be resolved utilizing advanced cross-channel analytics solutions.

The traditional WFO model has been an inside-out approach to create customer satisfaction. This was accomplished by recording, analyzing, and optimizing the interaction of available internal resources (such as agents) toward customers to create customer satisfaction. CEM enables an outside-in approach: Interactions are recorded and analyzed on all customer experiences at all customer touch points toward the company to align and optimize internal resources (such as agents) to create a positive customer experience.

Transforming today’s WFO to CEM can be done through the unification of WFO and big data management, in which omni-channel capture and analytics, combined with cross-channel analytics, can transform customer experience big data from each channel to across all channels in order to discover actionable knowledge, trends, and actions. The resulting filtered data can yield unexpected benefits that can further align business intelligence with operational goals and objectives.

Bob Brittan is the director of marketing at OnviSource, Inc. Bob has more than twenty years of experience in consulting, product marketing, and social media marketing for emerging enterprise technologies and contact centers focusing on front- and back-office workforce optimization, automation, and unification solutions.

[From Connection MagazineMarch/April 2016]

Are Your Best Agents Leaving? Here’s How to Stop Them

By Chuck Ciarlo

What’s worse than contact center agent? Attrition, attrition that claims your best agents.

Turnover is inevitable, though rates vary widely. Many contact centers get by with 20 percent attrition, though 50 percent is an unfortunate possibility.

No matter which agents leave, managers face additional recruiting and training costs to keep the contact center adequately staffed. But if they are honest, they will admit that some resignations are easier to accept than others.

When the agent who spends an hour a day on Facebook leaves or whose average handle rate consistently lags behind, it’s a departure with a quick recovery time. But when one of your top-performing veteran agents moves on, it becomes a much bigger cause for concern.

Sadly, it often seems like the underperformers are going to be with you a long time, while the superstars always have one eye on the nearest exit. If your contact center experiences this type of situation, here are some of the most likely causes and practical solutions to help keep your most valued employees.

You Are Not the Only Game in Town: Wait, you say your contact center is the only one within fifty miles? Congratulations! You’ll take your pick from the top candidates in the local employment pool. Unfortunately most contact centers are located in cities where there is ample competition for outstanding agents, and the best ones will always have other options.

The agent who can turn angry callers into satisfied ones and up-sell a $10 order into a $50 purchase can get a job anywhere. If you want to keep them, make sure they realize you noticed their achievements, and reward them accordingly. If John is doing a great job, let him know. Don’t wait for his next employee review or training session. A gift certificate to a local restaurant or movie theater can do wonders for morale and create a healthy competitive environment as other agents strive to be recognized.

Better still, put some of your best agents on a management track if they have the qualifications and give them more responsibilities, along with commensurate compensation. You will eventually lose them as an agent that way, but at least you’ll gain another valuable member of your team.

Ditch the Assembly Line Attitude: While it’s necessary to expect every agent to possess the same job skills, it’s not right to treat them all the same. The last conversation a manager has with an agent should not be the one that took place at the job interview six months ago. Get to know them as individuals. Agents have personalities and quirks just like the rest of us. Indulging these qualities – as long as they are not disruptive to the workplace – will engender loyalty.

The Breaking Point: Burnout is every agent’s nemesis. How would you like to listen to angry callers every day, yelling and questioning your competency as if you had personally designed and built the smartphone they can’t figure out how to use?

Since customers rarely call to thank everyone for the fine service and excellent value they received, dealing with a disgruntled public will always be part of the agent’s job. As a manager you can’t change that, but you can change the contact center environment to one that is more supportive and builds stronger relationships between managers and agents.

There is no cure-all for burnout, but sometimes it helps to just listen, even if an agent needs to vent for five minutes. Create an atmosphere where agents feel comfortable discussing the frustrations of the job and won’t be labeled as grumblers for doing so. The more valued an agent feels, the more he or she can absorb the negative aspects of contact center work.

Listening, support, and opportunity for advancement can help keep your best agents in place, and in many cases these options don’t add anything to your budget. You can’t escape attrition, but you can limit your losses to the agent who always shows up late and takes the last donut.

Chuck Ciarlo is the founder and CEO of Monet Software.

[From Connection Magazine – November/December 2015]

The Hidden Knowledge in the Unified Communications System

By Stephen Davis

A call center manager holds a critical – and often stressful – role within the organization. Responsibilities include handling call volumes with agents, shifting staffing levels, and coaching new call center employees. Unified communications (UC) systems can make these demanding tasks much easier so managers can focus on what really matters: improving service by coaching their staff. But that wasn’t always the case.

The Old Way: In the age of analog systems, getting a more complete solution that enabled some level of data retrieval required paying for expensive add-on features or services, such as call recordings, call queue, and call reporting. Not only would the add-on features have to be purchased separately, but integrating them with the analog system and managing them was often challenging for everyone involved. The integration process was cumbersome; it usually ended up with the company hiring an additional in-house team member (someone with specific experience) or paying consultant fees to outsource managing and extracting data from the systems.

On top of all this unexpected overhead, it could take days to receive the requested call logs from the company’s IT department. Even then, managers had to hope everything was provided as needed from the cobbled system with no gaps in the data. This delay and potential missing data could cause staffing decisions to be slow to meet business demands.

The New Way: Fast-forward a few years: There’s a big difference in the speed and accuracy of the data collected, not to mention the ease of management and the reduced cost. UC solutions now provide Web-based access with an access control list that puts the power in managers’ hands, allowing them to easily extract information such as queue logs and status, concurrent calls by agent, and call log details to track the number of calls received and placed by hour, day, and week.

Graphical Analysis: Data, even that from a business phone system, tells an important story that helps shape decisions. In fact, the level of detail and ease of access that advanced UC features provide to a company allows managers to make real-time or near real-time decisions, especially where staffing is concerned. Has the company launched a new product and needs to train teams? When is the best time of day to take agents offline without affecting the queue wait times?

Using a graph of calls per hour allows a manager to quickly see this data and know which times are good for pulling agents offline for training. The data also indicates times of extreme traffic, confirming when full staff is required to adequately manage that call volume.

Monitor Now or Record for Later: Call center managers cannot monitor all calls at the same time, but they can review calls later with call recordings. The UC-enabled system should make this easy by allowing the IT manager (or call center manager with the proper access control list) to schedule and record which queues or agents are required, along with what type of calls: inbound, outbound, or both. The system can even off-load the recording to an FTP server for easier access. This can be used for training, but if a manager has issues with customer expectations, he or she can listen to the call recording to find out what was promised.

Because the call center manager is often actively training agents and may not be able to watch the queue metrics in real-time, scheduling options can be utilized. The manager can receive an email hourly or daily with the details of the call queues, including average wait time, average entry position (into the queue), number of abandoned calls, or even maximum wait time. All of this data, delivered straight from the system, gives managers enhanced visibility into business operations and allows them to react to and change the staffing of the queue.

Empowerment: In an age of instant results, having a view into the data from a UC system is critical. The system, along with access to the right data from the system, can empower a company to better service their customers by helping call center managers quickly and proactively make staffing changes for call volumes.

Stephen Davis is a sales operations analyst for Digium (www.digium.com), a business communications company based in Huntsville, Alabama, that delivers enterprise-class unified communications. He has experience administrating and developing in Salesforce.com and Pentaho Business Analytics/Data Integration, and has a background in sales and customer service. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @SDavis1112.

[From Connection Magazine – November/December 2015]