Contact Center Solutions: Right-Sizing
When it comes to contact centers, typically labor costs are your most significant expense. You have to get the number of agents right or suffer the consequences. You will erode your profit margins or overspend if you have too many agents scheduled. On the flip side, customer satisfaction could suffer if you don’t have enough people to answer the phones. That leads to lost customers and a dinged reputation.
To provide a consistent level of service, many companies go through “right-sizing” to become appropriately staffed. (You may also need to look at which call center model is best for you)
What is Right-Sizing?
Right-sizing is a contact center solution for more cost-effective staffing. Your outsourcing vendor helps you reach any back office and contact center goals by figuring out your optimal number of employees. Right-sized companies can meet service level requirements and hit good customer service during all periods of the day.
Creating a Culture and Setting Expectations
Knowing how many agents you need on the phones is not a simple calculation. While your historical call volume and average call length come into play a, there is more to planning an optimal staffing level.
You have to decide what is most important to your company, your operations, and your brand. This will determine how long you think it is acceptable for a caller to be on hold and how quickly calls are handled. Also, to serve your customers effectively, think about:
what times of day your customers should get a live agent
if you want to use a call routing system
what level of product knowledge do your agents need to have
All of these little things create a culture and that, in turn, sets expectations for your agents. Let’s go over some of the questions you need to ask yourself.
How many live agents and what self-service channels do you need?
Modern contact centers do more than take phone calls. There are many different communication channels available, and some of them do not require a live agent. Chatbots and IVR systems can help your customers with the most common questions and free up your agents for more customer care-oriented work. However, self-service may be an option that goes against the company culture and is purposefully not offered.
Contact centers are a very data-driven business. Look at your historical data. It will show you the customer call patterns and needs. That information will help you to staff your facility properly.
Many call centers, employ a workforce management system. This software will help you predict changes in call volume and staff your contact center appropriately.
Let’s say that your contact center is open 16-17 hours a day. You could run two different full-time shifts, a day shift, and a night shift. but that isn’t going to be optimal unless your call volume is even throughout the day (Spoiler: It is not).
Workforce management is going to show you HOW call volumes vary through the week. You might get significantly more calls on a Monday than a Sunday, or you could find that you get more calls at 6 am than 9 pm or vice versa. With workforce management, you can see how to schedule your staff. By staggering your agents’ shifts, you can make sure that you have people available to answer the phones and interact with your customers. The goal of a good contact center solution is to have a consistent level of service at the right times without over or understaffing.
Self-service is another issue, but this one is tricky. It is generally much cheaper than having an agent available, and customers can get answers quickly, but you don’t want to push people to self-service if they wish to an agent. Creating an excellent customer experience requires focusing on customer needs. Strive to meet the customer in their channel of choice for at the given time of their choosing.
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How can you “fix” the current agent mix?
It can be challenging to “fix” your current agent mix, especially if you have multiple programs, departments, or specialties within your contact center. The absolute best thing to do is to stop trying to micro-organize your contact center staff. Instead, cross-train your agents so that they have several different programs and skill sets that they’re able to handle.
We like to explain it like a Venn diagram. Cross training agents are put in a pool and then are moved to certain areas that need the most help. They may be physically relocated as needed, but today’s systems can deliver a call to the agent’s desktop, wherever it is.
You can do the same thing with bilingual agents. Place them in the pool and transfer calls to them as needed. This way, your agents will have minimal downtime. You will use fewer agents. And your customers will have shorter wait times. It’s a win-win-win.
You can also employ smarter call routing strategies. In general, you want to configure your systems so that the least experienced agents are the first point of contact for your customers or handling the easiest requests. More experienced agents are then get involved with the more complex requests. . This way, the customer has a better chance of a great experience and less of a chance to be transferred or have to escalate a request.
For example, you wouldn’t want a bilingual speaker to be the first point of contact when they can handle lots of different programs as well as languages and a less experienced agent is free. That wouldn’t be an efficient use of anyone’s time.
How can you improve the current agent skill set?
How to improve the skill sets of current agents is one of the questions we get all the time. This contact center solution can be simple, but it takes time and a shift in the way you think about your business. You need to do two things regularly and consistently: training and feedback.
So many (really too many) contact centers only give their agents a couple of weeks training (if that) and put them on the phones. Then they wonder why their productivity isn’t better, and agent knowledge is lacking. The only thing that is LACKING is training. Ideally, you want to give your agents refresher training a few times a year. This gives them a chance to learn more about your company and its product offerings as well as ask questions or get clarifications about products, policies, or procedures.
Simply letting the more experienced agents “fill in the blanks” for the new agents is dangerous. Often, the more experienced agent has learned a few, not so great, shortcuts. They may have forgotten why certain approaches were better than others. By taking everyone through a refresher, you help the concepts stick and achieve better consistency of results.
Feedback is the other side of the agent improvement coin. At GCS, we have a system we call F.E.E.D. – Feedback for Everyone Each Day. The acronym just scratches the surface. Really, it is a multi-pronged approach. Each day, a supervisor listens to a call with every agent. Together, they examine the call quality. First, the agent is encouraged to point out areas that hear that could be improved. Then the supervisor offers additional tips or insight. At the end of the session, the agent understands what needs to change and how to improve. It’s like “continuous improvement” for agents, and it is effective. Not only do GCS agents have the chance to improve continually, but the approach fosters a culture of respect and communication.
What ways can you improve the current culture?
For many contact centers, their culture just sort of happened. It was shaped by the agents they hired and the personalities of their staff. After a while, they figure out that they probably should have used a different approach.
If that sounds like you, don’t panic. Everything can be fixed.
You may not have had experience running a contact center before, but GCS has managed hundreds of facilities over the years. Our clients span every industry. Some were just getting started, others needed significant improvements, and some only needed some creative tweaking. The biggest thing we have found is that before you improve or change the culture in your contact center, you need to spend time thinking about why you exist as a company. Then you can shape culture to support your why. Otherwise, you will lack a clear direction.
One part of many company cultures is to have a genuine concern for helping people. Contact centers can be repetitive, even boring, to the employee (more on management style in another blog. But the situation can not be repetitive or boring to your customers. They have a real problem that needs to be solved and your agents can help them find a solution. During training emphasize this mindset. They must understand it may be their twenty-fifth call on that topic today, but it is the first one for the customer.
You can also improve your agents by creating an environment of opportunity. Give them the chance to move up. Promote from within your contact center when possible. Create the opportunity to move to different programs, or groom skilled workers to become team leaders or supervisors. These steps go a long way toward encouraging your agents to do well – and to stick around. Help them see how being a contact center agent is not just a job; it can be a career path. A lot of center managers started as agents and worked their way up.
Right-sizing your contact center is not an overnight process. You will need to identify the culture you want to have and set those expectations with your agents. Also, think about the number of live agents you need and the other communication channels you’d like to offer. Once you know what you need, leverage your historical data to develop a detailed workforce management plan. You might also need to fix your current agent mix. Cross-training and efficient call routing will go a long way here, but they are only the beginning. Your agents need regular training and frequent feedback to be the best they can be. Consider your culture as well. You might need to improve it and help your agents think differently about the work they do.
Even though your contact center is a business, the key to success in life is through relationships. For your business, that often means your agents connecting with your callers. Making sure you’re taking care of people and doing the right thing. That builds respect, satisfaction, and loyalty.
If you need help right-sizing your contact center, contact GCS today. We can help you develop a plan for greater efficiency and effectiveness. We can manage the center for you or assist with the setup and implementation.
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