Contact Center Best Practices: 10 Areas of Focus
“You will never reach your destination if you throw stones at every dog that barks.”
— Sir Winston Churchill
To help you build a great foundation of best practices for your center, we’ve put together 10 fundamental areas of focus.
As history shows, Winston Churchill was right when he warned against the dangers of distraction. And as those of us in this industry know all too well, it’s very easy for center management to degrade into an endless game of whack-a-mole. Without grounding and focus, the best contact center management plans will fail despite the most valiant attempts at execution.
The most successful contact centers are in tune with their organization’s C-suite. Their managers and supervisors have a solid grasp on the overall business objectives and how the call center contributes to them. Their efforts are designed to meet high-level goals as well as departmental and individual ones. They stay on track by using industry best practices as a guide.
That term – best practices – gets thrown around a lot. In our industry there are reams of best practices for every situation. In recent years they’ve changed to accommodate the most relentless new drivers in commerce: technology and customer experience (CX). As our industry continues to advance, it’s easy to see how these guidelines can start out as a promising baseline only to become distractions to be managed.
To help you build a great foundation of best practices for your center, we’ve put together 10 fundamental areas of focus. Our advice is based on our own approach to management – begin with the end in mind. We take a focused, top-down approach to understanding an organization’s culture, workflows, and human resources. Then we build the required systems to support the outcomes of the organization.
Even the most highly skilled agent in your center is at risk for failure without a well-designed training program. Any such program should include:
- Customer service training
- Client program education
- Soft skills development
- Self-directed development
- A balance of daily coaching with classroom learning
- Knowledge assessments
- Timely reporting
- Direct, clear and focused feedback
For live agents, it begins by establishing a continuing education routine covering your organization’s products, services and policies. The development and maintenance of soft skills is equally important. The key is providing budget and resources to build a solid program. There is real bang for your buck when it delivers agent confidence and improves KPI performance. GCS recognized the need for training that balances proven effectiveness with affordability, and created an approach to interpersonal skill building called Say THIS, not that…Most of the Time. Get an inside look at the program with our video.
Quality Assurance (QA)
“When done well, it can strengthen the customer experience, improve performance, and bolster employee engagement. When mismanaged, the impacts can be detrimental to employees and customers.” That’s the ICMI take on QA, and it mirrors ours. The first step is to define what your organization expects from its program. Then determine the metrics that will allow you judge if you are there. Here are seven questions to focus on as you develop your program, again from ICMI:
- What KPIs will you measure?
- What does your scorecard include?
- Who is performing the monitoring?
- How many calls per agent, in what time period, will be evaluated?
- How will the numbers be crunched?
- Who will review the data and recommend changes?
- How will you implement changes?
QA programs should come full circle with thoughtful monitoring. The ICMI suggests that QA monitoring should be a collaborative process between agents and managers with an emphasis on continuous improvement. When it comes to agent feedback, make sure it is data-driven and “solid, consistent and impartial.” Keep the agents involved with monitors and reporting that keep them up to the minute with key metrics.
No matter how remote the possibility may seem, every contact center needs a comprehensive plan that guides them through crises, whether natural or manmade. With multiple sites, back-up sites, at-home and mobile agents, you can make sure your call center stays up and running. Key things to consider when creating your plan include:
- Making sure your employees are prepared, from knowing when weather-related absences are appropriate to how emergency action plans will impact them. Have a method to communicate with all of them at a moment’s notice. Practice the plan.
- Anticipating the need to communicate with your customers. When, how and who. What self-service methods can be boosted during crisis time to keep customers satisfied.
- Considering the impact of an emergency on capacity and planning for staffing fluctuations
- Handling volume management – according to the ICMI, “Leverage your process for volume management: optimized self-service, automated communications, additional staffing, remote employees, overflow centers, vendors or groups.”
Retention starts with smart hiring. Hiring candidates with the strongest skill sets who are temperamentally fit for the live agent role will set you up for longer retention. Terrific training and “a tone of excellence and professional camaraderie” will make it easier for top performers to want to stay in your organization. The same goes for consistent, data-driven feedback, opportunities for growth and increased responsibility, and a clear, realistic pathway to higher levels of the organization.
Customers will continue to drive the process and tone of customer service, demanding frictionless interactions regardless of channel, and you must be ready. Writing for ICMI, Wade Wiant offers these baseline questions that you should ask yourself to see where your center stands:
- Do I provide my customers with multiple interaction channels?
- Do I track and strive for first interaction resolution across channels?
- Do I offer my customer base a consistent experience across interaction channels?
- Do I address the controllable drivers of channel switching within each interaction channel?
- Does my customer experience vision adhere to the voice of my customer?
And don’t forget the practice of Next Call Avoidance.
Simply because a KPI can be measured doesn’t mean it must be, so don’t allow your organization to get bogged down by the urge to measure everything. We see this happen frequently. Supervisors and managers expend time and energy on reporting things having little impact on successful operations. Instead, limit metrics to those most aligned with operational and organizational goals. Consider these seven essential KPIs as a starting point.
- First call resolution
- Service level/response time
- Adherence to schedule
- Forecast accuracy
- Self-service accessibility
- Contact quality
- Customer satisfaction
A contact center’s financial performance is affected by the impact of changing market demands, weather, regulations, and many other unpredictable variables. As a result, a typical P&L statement won’t reveal the complete financial picture of your center. An organization’s CFO sets the reporting standard. Your first step in sharpening your focus is to be in contact with your finance department. Make an effort to understand their perspectives (if not their modeling) as a way to inform your decision-making.
Your operations model is simply the plan you will create to make the center work. It includes everything from establishing the role played by each member of your team to creating a non-toxic working environment. Along with the nine other points in this memo, make sure you establish the requirements of site planning and hardware as part of your operations model.
Your staffing efforts should align with your coverage, SLAs, security needs and cost objectives. The right staff to call volume ratio for your project during all hours of your center’s operation is key. You can accomplish it using the right balance of self-service options and live agent shift assignments. The main options are:
- Dedicated Agents –assigned only to your program; ideal for secure environments and internal centers. Can be in-house or outsourced.
- Shared Agents – are trained to work on more than one program. Typically found in outsourced operations or for company-wide centers.
- Blended Agents – are trained on multiple programs and may work on more than one during a given shift. Ideal when used with a blend of: (1) urgent, but infrequent tasks and (2) non-urgent and ongoing functions. Can mix voice and non-voice tasks.
A Workforce Management System (WFM) that tracks historical call volume data to predict staffing levels required for specific intervals can give you the agility to supplement core staff with other resources when call volumes are predicted to be highest. Using cross-trained agents and skills-based routing technology gives your center the flexibility to respond to unanticipated spikes in call volume and deliver consistent performance on all service levels.
We can’t say this any better than the researchers from Dimension Data. In their 2016 Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report, they noted: “New contact channels are often designed in isolation with little involvement from the contact centre. While new technology may be digital and automated, it isn’t always working as well it might. It still needs people — that all-important ‘human touch’ — to design, program, review, and amend. This is the failure point for solution approvals, process reviews, and performance management. Going forward, contact centers need to provide more input into the design of new digital solutions. Management disciplines perfected on phone now need to be applied to digital.”
At GCS, we have the people, processes and technology that can make your contact center more productive, effective, and efficient, and we’re here to help you reach your most ambitious goals. Our Ten Point Improvement Tool can lift your performance to new heights – and is available with just a click.
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