10 Call Center Innovation Ideas to Boost Your Competitive Edge
Businesses are always looking for the competitive edge.
This requires businesses to stay top-of-mind with clients and potential customers. It’s also about businesses, and their partners, using the latest innovations in both product and service development. Success really is all about being agile.
Processes often are repetitive for good reasons. But inefficient processes can wreak havoc on a call center. When a process isn’t working the way it should, we experience increased attrition of talent and customers. The dollar loss can be significant.As a leader in call center management, GCS knows that fixing inefficient processes can feel like putting duct tape on the Hoover Dam. It might hold temporarily, but it needs a stronger, more sustainable solution in the long-term.
How can you find your competitive advantage in your call center partner?
Looking for easy changes that make a big difference is a great way to start. By usings outsource partners that use these 10 call center innovations, you can create a serious competitive advantage. Improve the service and experience or your customers while streamlining the processes keeping costs up.
1) Utilize a Blended Call Center Agent Strategy
Traditionally, an agent was trained to answer questions for one client, product line or service. Or they were trained to only use one channel, like voice or chat. This proves problematic for staff on a day when call traffic is slow or channel traffic is sporadic.
A properly skilled agent can be shifted from voice to web chat or email. A blended agent is capable of handling both inbound and outbound calls for more than one product or service. At GCS, we developed a strategy to give blended agents more fluidity.
Our blended agents are teams of representatives who are cross-trained to handle various duties. This way, agents can be assigned to multiple call types, alternate channels, or tasks based on skillset and need.
Cross-training increases productivity and also:
- Reduces the likelihood of employee burnout.
- Educates your agents on multiple departments within your call center.
- Lowers agent count.
- Lowers turnover.
For example, a blended agent at GCS knows how to answer questions about two completely different product lines. By training agents in multiple areas and helping them to hone multiple skills, GCS enables our team to shift with the demand. It’s an innovative call center solution that not only empowers employees, but also proves more helpful to the customer. It is also beneficial to the overall efficiency, and cost, of the call center.
2) Focus on Tools That Optimize Agent Performance
In the past, information technology (IT) focused on the integration of all systems into one. The old legacy concept. With the rise of cloud technology as well as new applications and new channels, there is a divergence. Leading IT groups have become bimodal, with a core team focused on stability, security and infrastructure, and a second team focused on applications.
The apps team creates and brings tools to the desktop to sit between the various data points and the agent. These tools give the needed information to the agents through links to the other business data sites.
What does that mean?
There’s an increase in the agility of the agent, but at a risk of added complexity. The more you focus support on understanding the agent’s needs – what’s working, what’s not working—the better they’ll be able to manage the customer’s experience.
Think about it: your agent is half of a customer’s interaction with your business.
Look for ways to increase an agent’s ability to make decisions for the customer. Consider strategies like:
- Reducing the complexity of call agent tools.
- Giving call agents easier access to information so they can serve the customer.
- Conducting “Voice of the Employee” surveys to understand how you can improve your agent’s experience.
When you develop a clear understanding of what it takes for a call agent to do their job, you can better serve your customers while building a stronger operation.
3) Coach and Educate Agents Daily
It’s no longer enough to bring your agents in to meet with their managers or a quality coach for a 30-minute evaluation once every few weeks. In order to breed excellent customer service agents, you have to become more hands-on and timely with their education. This emphasizes the importance of what they do on a daily basis and makes them feel more valued.
All call centers should offer agent coaching based on real customer calls. Often this is done with the help of the Quality Assurance team, but self-coaching and speech analytics (SA) are other innovative approaches. All of them allow us to coach more frequently, closer to the actual call and do it more efficiently.
With self-coaching, recorded calls are delivered to the agents themselves for scoring, coaching, and even updating. Coaching sessions are conducted at the representative’s workstation, not the manager’s, and they can be as much as 300% more efficient.
This method is both innovative and highly efficient as an agent training technique.
When agents are given the opportunity to evaluate what they did right and wrong, before a manager expresses his or her own evaluation, they are often harder on themselves. In fact, at GCS, we provide daily feedback to all of our agents using audio recordings and self-coaching. It creates a faster and more positive atmosphere for our associates.
Speech Analytics (SA)
The rise of speech analytics (SA) has opened another avenue for agent coaching and improvement. SA systems score more calls at a consistent level. As agents become familiar with these scores, they start to notice what they do well.
But soon they notice the lower scores or the areas for improvement. This recognition provides areas of focus for an agent’s development. Many agents want high marks in all areas and will renew their efforts to improve.
4) Implement Behavioral Testing and Skill Assessments
When you need a competitive edge to your call center, look at your hiring process. Employees are the lifeblood of your call center. It pays to hire smarter–even if you’re filling entry-level positions.
A pre-employment analysis of attributes like:
- Overall attitude
- Customer service insight
- Navigational skills
… can help you find the most qualified candidates faster. There are many new tools available to help you determine the fit of a candidate with high accuracy.
Once you’ve decided to hire a new agent, additional assessments should be performed identifying his or her skill set. By placing agents in the areas where they are most likely to thrive, you’re ensuring their success. It’s also more likely that they will remain happy and engaged in their jobs.
Many contact center agents consider the job to be fluid. They will leave for a different call center over something as simple as a change of scenery or a $0.25 increase in their hourly pay. Invest in your call center agents by:
- Offering mentorships: Younger employees are often looking for new experiences and a mentor, not just a boss. Show your hires interest in both what they can do and who they are to keep them engaged. This will also keep you one step ahead of your competitors.
- Creating paths to promotion: It’s important to provide your employees, especially the longer-term ones, with consistent career tracks, including promotions and even management opportunities. It will help limit turnover if your agents know that you view them as more useful and they see a future.
- Mirroring expectations in the hiring process: Many younger employees are looking for a mentoring or development program. Others may see your agent job as a stair-step to other opportunities. They may only be willing to stay for 18 to 24 months. Adjust your hiring profile and techniques appropriately.
5) Practice a Call Center Workforce Management Strategy
As a call center, you should be familiar with the power of KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators. KPIs are measurements used to evaluate factors critical to your business.
Here’s a great example of a KPI: average speed of answer (ASA). It’s easy to measure and you can use this information to uncover valuable insight into tactical and strategic changes needed to keep performance on track and costs in line.
Identifying your KPIs is important to forming a Workforce Management (WFM) optimization strategy. A WFM optimization strategy can help with staffing decisions that can save money while increasing performance.
For example, if you know from your call-volume KPI that your call center has consistent peaks and valleys throughout the day, a mixture of both full-time and part-time agents may be the most effective way to handle the volume variances. In some centers, it’s less profitable to have all employees working from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, by hiring agents who can be (and want to be) more flexible, you’re able to better serve customers while reducing costs.
You’ll never find these efficiencies without KPIs or a solid workforce management strategy, so this data is a must for gaining a competitive edge.
6) Debunk the Micromanagement Myth
Let’s be honest: nobody likes a micromanager. Thankfully, when it comes to call center management, micromanagement takes on a positive meaning.
Think of it this way – it’s not about micromanaging your agents. It’s about micromanaging the overall process within your call center. We call that “Majoring in the Minors.”
While the word “macro” roughly translates to the study of an overall picture, the word “micro” suggests managing the small parts of something. For the call center, this includes managing many conversations and supporting day-to-day tasks.
Micromanaging within a call center is a good thing. It means we have the agents deliver individualized customer contact over and over again, while communicating a consistent message with each one. It’s the only way to deliver excellent results for every customer.
7) Make Speech Analytics Work for You
Speech analytics is the process of understanding and analyzing recorded calls to gather information critical to improving current and future customer interactions as well as communications.
These systems are helpful in many ways, including:
- Daily feedback
- Security and fraud detection
- Assessment of new hires
- Escalation and de-escalation scoring
- Next call avoidance
The idea is that this type of information will inform, enlighten, and serve as a way to coach and improve performance. In addition to serving as a tool for agent coaching, be sure to use speech analytics to deliver a better customer experience as an enterprise.
8) Provide Information with IVR
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is that lovely voice that tells us to press 1 for information, press 2 for sales, or press 3 to speak with a representative.
It’s unfortunate that a lot of call centers don’t find the correct balance in the use of an IVR. IVR helps your call center because:
- It reduces unnecessary calls. This means agents don’t have to answer every single call that comes through.
- You won’t land yourself in voicemail jail.
- You can quickly identify the needs of customers calling in and route them to a person who is trained on the topic or provide further instructions.
IVRs can benefit your call center in other ways, too. They can collect information about individuals calling in, prioritize calls, handle transactions, and even call customers back. Effective use of IVRs increases first-contact resolution, adds to the customer service experience, and reduces operational costs.
IVR is an innovative, affordable, and efficient form of artificial intelligence that can help you reduce costs within your call center. The trick is to use it to complement the customer interaction. Poor programming and messaging can kill the customer experience. Take care in the setup of the options and the selection of the language in the scripts.
9) Prepare for Disasters
If preparing for weather or an influenza event doesn’t exactly strike you as an innovative solution, we’re inclined to disagree. Try as you might, your call center isn’t equipped to handle everything.
This is a disaster-preparedness solution can really benefit your call center, provided you follow best practices:
- Invest in multi-center solutions: Choose locations with opposite weather patterns, such as Arizona and West Virginia.
- Use at-home agents: Not only will agent hours be more flexible, but you will set your call center up for success when your agents can’t get to the center.
- Contract with on-call solutions: In some areas there are on-call centers you can contract with for a minimal cost. This provides an alternate location for your agents to go to if your normal center is not available.
As a call center, your very survival depends on your location. If you have only one call center and it shuts down due to a hurricane, tornado, or natural disaster—or if the physical structure and infrastructure have suffered irreparable damage—how will you answer customers who need your help? Disaster preparedness will make you available when it matters most.
10) Become a Diverse, Multi-Language Contact Center
A call center has the power to bring together many kinds of people. Everything from their backgrounds to their countries of origin to their languages may be different than what you’d expect. In the United States, being bilingual is often listed as a required skill for potential call center hires.
However, to be innovative at a call center, it’s crucial to move beyond your competition. That’s why investing in growth as a multi-language center is not only productive, but also creative.
Focus on hiring agents who speak English plus another language. This allows them to handle all calls and also makes managing the agent pool easier. Focus on building up your talent pool, no matter their language skill set, and eventually you will be able to expand your customer options, which may lead to new business.
For infrequently-needed languages, consider an on-demand translation line or software. This allows you to cover all customers at a low cost.
When it comes down to it, these call center innovations are really about streamlining business processes. As obvious as some of these efficiencies might be, they are often opportunities that many call centers don’t invest in.
By simplifying the elements critical to our business, including our technology, talent, and how we interact with customers, we make everyone’s job much simpler. As a result, your agents will be happier. In this tight labor market, that may be the competitive edge you need to thrive.
If you’re looking to make your call center more innovative, make a smart investment in one of these strategies.
Need some help? GCS uses these innovative tools in our own business. See how we took one contact center from worst to first in less than 90 days.
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