Food for Thought

Call Center Benefits

7 Keys To Success In A Changing Call Center World

We know “customer centricity” is being declared a way of life – a religion if you will – for today’s businesses.
 
What does that mean for call center strategy?
 
Everything from the evolution of customer demands to changes in call center technology to strategies for agent engagement to the omnichannel world was on the table, and the result was a broad-sweeping, in-depth look at how the call center must change in a perpetually changing business world.
 
1) Efficacy and Efficiency: Living In Perfect Harmony
 
In conjunction with the rise of customer centricity, call center thought leaders have studied “efficiency” metrics like average handle time.
 
It is necessary to put this critique into context.
 
While it is true that agents should not feel pressure to end calls too quickly, speed remains very important. Customers still expect service to be as efficient and effortless as possible; their demand for high-quality, personalized interactions is not tantamount to acceptance of slow, meandering ones.
Efficiency is not the enemy of customer centricity. Since customers demand efficient, effortless care, it is actually a sign that a business cares about its customers.
2) Objectives Define Technology, Not Vice Versa
 
Technology is a tool – it is not a driver. It should empower you to achieve your goals; it should not place limits on what you can accomplish.
 
When sourcing technology for your call center, ensure it adheres the needs and expectations of your customers, agents, and stakeholders.
3) Customer Experience Transformation: It’s A Commitment
 
You’re unfortunately not going to transform your customer experience – and instill a culture of customer centricity – by flipping a switch. Customer experience transformation is a long-term commitment.
 
To ensure your customer experience efforts are successful, it is important that all relevant players – and all relevant business units – understand this reality from the onset. All key stakeholders must understand and embrace the long-term nature of the customer experience resolution; they cannot withdraw support the second things get difficult.
 
4) Customer Experience: It’s Valuable
 
While the customer experience transformation process can be costly and difficult, it is worth it. The customer experience absolutely is a competitive differentiator; a good one absolutely is your ticket to a better, more lucrative business.
 
5) Happiness Is Not All About Smiling
 
You know “happy agents = happy customers.” Consequently, you know agent happiness is a key business objective.
 
Do not let that mislead you. Agent engagement strategy is not all about creating the most fun, loving environment possible: it is about creating one that empowers agents to succeed.
 
That means you must establish the right performance benchmarks. It means you must develop the most personalized training. It, sometimes, means you must have difficult conversations with underperforming agents.
 
6) The Voice Of The Customer: Your Performance Scoreboard
 
There are some overarching trends that are standard across most businesses: the demand for an effortless, personalized, predictive, proactive experience among them. Day-to-day performance, however, is a context- and business-specific concept.
 
Measure as much as possible – your workflow hinges on a true understanding of how every facet of your operation is functioning. Manage in accordance with the outcomes that matter most to customers, because those are the ones that dictate your success.
 
7) Culture vs. Comfort
 
When considering delegate strategy, you’ll need to address an essential question: do you care about culture or convenience?
What’s important is to care about the demography, customer types and their needs.
5 important metrics for call center success

5 Important Metrics for Call Center Success

Today, as more and more brands are chosen based on whether the overall customer experience matches their expectations, metrics are essential to help make sure call center protocol is in line with these expectations. However, at the same time, not every metric can be solely customer-centric as there are operational costs and other business needs that must be factored in. With that in mind, here are five critical metrics for call center success today:

1) First-Call Resolution

Perhaps no KPI has a bigger influence on the customer experience than what is known as first-call resolution (FCR). FCR calculates the percentage of incoming customer calls that are completely “resolved” on the first attempt. The challenge is accurately tracking whether a particular customer has actually received a resolution they are satisfied with, and will not need to call back. Nevertheless, FCR is a key metric to measure and understand since a high FCR greatly improves customer satisfaction. In fact, customer contact research shows that for every 1% improvement in FCR, you get a 1% improvement in customer satisfaction. In addition, reducing the costs of callbacks, especially in high-volume contact centers, can do wonders for your bottom line.

2) Call Quality

Call quality is a crucial customer-centric performance metric that can be utilized in all contact centers and helps to measure how successful an agent is in dealing with the customers. It is typically evaluated through the recording and monitoring of agent interactions with customers and utilizes a scoring system based on a list of criteria that a call center feels indicates a quality experience from the customer’s perspective. This may include, for example, FCR, courtesy, and professionalism, providing the right information, capturing the right customer data, etc. Usually the criteria are added up to a total percentage score, however, each criteria can be analyzed separately in order to improve call quality in specific areas of need.

3) Service Level/Response Time

Service level and response time are fundamental metrics for the effective management of the contact center and the customer experience. Service level is the percentage of calls answered within a predetermined number of seconds. It generally indicates how accessible the center is to customers, and thus is the clearest indication of what customers experience as they attempt to reach your contact center. While the faster an agent answers a customer call, the higher the service levels. Businesses also need to take into account that answering calls too quickly can actually be unprofitable because of the staffing costs necessary to meet such high service levels. At the same time, if response time is poor than repeat contacts, escalations and complaints will eventually drive service level down even further so finding the happy medium is the key.

4) Forecasting Accuracy

One common solution for finding the right service level is a metric known as forecasting accuracy. Since staffing operational costs generally account for 70 to 80% of call center budgets, using accurate algorithms is crucial for making sure you are properly estimating anticipated call volume and thereby determining the right number of agents required to meet those service levels. In fact, one of the greatest threats to a call center’s profit margin is labor costs which come from mistaken forecasting. While overestimating demand can lead to overstaffing and wasted resources, underestimating can be just as problematic as it leads to understaffing, which then leads to long wait times in queues. The result of this is frustrated customers and burned-out agents who now have to dedicate a portion of the call to caller complaints about hold times.

5) Customer Satisfaction

While there is no standard method for calculating customer satisfaction, there are certain common practices that allow call centers to not only effectively monitor customer satisfaction, but also to make improvements before customers go elsewhere. The most common strategy is a post-call IVR survey or a follow-up email survey which can be sent out immediately after a call or chat and customers are asked to rate each question on a scale (often 1 to 5) for a quick and easy customer satisfaction calculation.

Jacada Visual IVR is a support based mobile engagement solution that guides inbound callers to a web-based support experience – personalizing the support journey for customers already on their way to the queue. The solution makes it easy for organizations to collect the metrics listed above, among others. Emphasizing these metrics in a balanced manner will ensure that your company keeps customer satisfaction high while enabling your call center to be an efficient and profitable service center.

Source: Jacada

Why “How many jobs will be killed by AI?” is the wrong question

Over the past few years, we’ve developed artificially intelligent machines that can do many things that used to require human minds: understanding speech, diagnosing disease, checking the terms of a contract, designing a mechanical part from scratch, even coming up with new scientific hypotheses that are supported by subsequent research. As this new software is embedded in hardware we’ll get self-driving cars, trucks, and combines; delivery and inspection drones; and robots of many kinds.

These technologies are improving more quickly than even their creators would have predicted at the start of the decade, and the fact that the world’s best players of both the Asian strategy game go and no limit heads up Texas hold-em poker is now AI systems indicates just how deeply they’re encroaching into human territory.

So shouldn’t we be preparing ourselves for massive AI-induced technological unemployment? A widely cited 2015 analysis by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne of Oxford University found that 47% of current jobs in the US were susceptible to computerization. And some jobs look especially ripe for automation. As self-driving technology advances, it seems likely that many of America’s approximately 3.5 million truck drivers could find themselves out of a job.

Despite these scary statistics and scenarios, however, there’s no need to panic. For one thing, previous predictions about losses and gains over time in specific jobs have almost always been way off, and there’s little reason to believe the current crop will be any better. For another, the Oxford study looked only at destruction, and not also created. It didn’t try to estimate how many new jobs and job categories will come along with future technological progress. There will surely be many of these, from robot wranglers to AI interpreters. Finally, while 3.5 million jobs sound like a lot to lose, there are almost that many layoffs every two months in the United States, and another six million or so people voluntarily leaving their jobs. The American economy is both huge and dynamic; large numbers of jobs are lost all the time, and even more, are created.

In fact, a look at recent economic data clearly shows that the demand for good old-fashioned human labor keeps growing, even as AI and other science fiction technologies keep advancing. The size of the total US workforce has increased without fail for eighty months in a row. The total number of hours worked is now at an all-time high, 14.5% percent greater than at the end of the Great Recession. Unemployment now stands at 4.3%, lower than at any other point this century.

 

But these positive trends don’t mean that there’s nothing to be concerned about. There are two large labor force challenges at present, and they’re both dues in part to tech progress. The first is that while the engine of job creation is still running it has shifted into a lower gear. This engine used to do a great job of generating lots of solid middle-class jobs that paid more over time. Now it’s creating lower-middle-class jobs with more stagnant incomes.

There are many reasons for this change, but our MIT colleague David Autor and his collaborators have identified the central one: that the US middle class was built on routine work (both physical, like staffing an assembly line in a factory, and cognitive, like handling payroll for the factory) and this work has been rapidly automated in recent decades. Job growth has continued because there has been a rapid rise in service sector physical jobs like home health aide or short order cook. These are very hard to automate — we are still far more dexterous and agile than robots are — but because they’re low productivity they’re also low-paid.

The second challenge is that despite very low apparent unemployment, there actually is a serious joblessness problem among some groups. How can this be? It’s because people who have stopped looking for work altogether are not included when calculating the headline unemployment rate. And a surprisingly large percentage of prime-age men, especially less-educated ones, are in this category. According to a 2016 report from the White House, by 2014 more than 16% of US men between the ages of 25 and 54 with a high school education or less had dropped out of the workforce completely. Again, there are many reasons for this phenomenon. It appears that one of them is that many men who did or aspire to stereotypically brawny work like assembly line worker or coal miner are not eager to take available service sector jobs in growing areas like health care, eldercare and education. As automation takes over truck driving and other similar jobs this mismatch between desired and available jobs is likely to grow, as will the joblessness and attendant problems that come with it. 

Furthermore, less skilled workers who do find work often end up with stagnant wages. Real wages are essentially unchanged from the bottom 50% of the income distribution, even as income has grown overall, especially for the most educated and highly paid people in the workforce. This is reflected in growing inequality, but also in greater gaps on other metrics like suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse. As Anne Case and Angus Deaton have documented, “deaths from despair” have increased sharply among the white working class over the past 20 years, after falling in previous decades.

The good news is that we are far from helpless in the face of these challenges. In fact, a strong set of policy interventions is available to help with both income stagnation and concentrated joblessness. One of the most obvious things we could and should do is upgrade our decaying infrastructure, which got an overall grade of D+ this year from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Bringing our highways, ports, bridges, airports, and so on up to world-class standards would be a great investment in our economic future, and it would also create exactly the kinds of hard-hat jobs that lots of currently sidelined men want.

So would supporting the accelerated deployment of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. These are rapidly becoming cost competitive (which is all the more remarkable given how much the fracking revolution has reduced oil and gas prices), are great news for the planet, and generate lots of jobs. Here again, the AI-powered robots can’t yet install a turbine or array of panels all on their own. The solar industry already employs more Americans than the coal industry does, and there are about twice as many people working in wind as in coal mines. The current administration’s focus on coal is a clear example of trying to drive by looking in the rearview mirror. We need policies that look forward.

We believe that one such policy is a large expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a wage subsidy currently available to low-income workers. A large amount of research shows that the EITC is effective: it not only provides a financial boost but it also directly encourages people to enter the job market. The latter is not true of a universal basic income, which is usually proposed as a cash grant given to everyone, whether or not they’re working. A UBI is thus both less targeted and more expensive that the EITC, but the real problem is that a UBI doesn’t give people any clear reason to get off the sidelines of the economy. Virtually all the social scientists we’ve spoken to and research we’ve seen agree that meaningful work is vital both for individuals and communities. An expanded EITC, which has had bipartisan support, would do even more to encourage participation in the workforce than the current version does, so it should be welcomed.

One of our most urgent policy priorities should be figuring out why entrepreneurship in America has been on a steady decline in recent years. Despite the headlines, the breakout successes from Silicon Valley are the exception, not the rule: business dynamism in our economy is actually decreasing. Fewer new companies are being launched in most industries and regions, fewer people are employed by young companies, fewer people are moving to take new jobs, and so on. The single best way to create more job opportunities for people is to support the creation of lots of new companies that need to hire in order to grow. Ideas from both the right — such as reducing the ever-growing thicket of regulations that confront a prospective entrepreneur — and the left — like making access to health care more secure and less depending on job status — will help with this.

Tech progress has changed our economy a lot over the past generation and will change it even more quickly in the years to come. But AI, as impressive and powerful as it is, won’t take over all human work anytime soon. Instead of trying to prepare for a jobless future, we should instead be preparing for one that’s a turbocharged version of what we already have: a job creation engine that has shifted into a lower gear, and a large number of people tempted to sit on the sidelines rather than contributing their skills to the economy.

These are serious problems, but not insurmountable ones. The right policies, we believe, can give us the best of both worlds: all the benefits that come from the AI breakthroughs of today and tomorrow and jobs that provide people both dignity and a good paycheck. These jobs and policies are not going to look like the ones of the past, but so what? Throughout our history, we Americans have stood out by embracing the future and rising to big challenges. Let’s not stop now.

Source: Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson

Average Handle Time

Can you reduce AHT without damaging customer satisfaction?

It is obvious that metrics have an important role in the growth of any call center. Perhaps none more so, regardless of the communication media, than the Average Handle Time (AHT), which is importantly a management tool to assess how quickly employees are serving the customers.

This metric measures the average length of time it takes the call center agent to solve the customer’s problem, and factors in the complete duration of the interaction, including total talk time, hold time and all of the follow-ups or admin tasks related to the call. The formula can be derived as:

AHT formula

While AHT goals vary between businesses and departments, truly understanding what Average Handle Time is and how to utilize this metric for specific organizational needs is critical for optimizing its results, including improving the customer service experience and providing long-term profitable growth.

Benefits of Measuring Average Handle Time

Through establishing clear-cut benchmarks for current productivity levels, companies can analyze AHT metrics and identify actionable steps for both immediate improvement and future growth. The most apparent benefit a call center will experience when measuring AHT is an increase in agent productivity. Quite simply, when the call center agents know they are being measured for efficiency, they naturally are more motivated to handle more customers. More customers being handled means less frustrated customers waiting in the queue. On the other hand, those agents with an AHT which is still higher than the established benchmark enables managers to easily identify agents not helping callers as quickly as they should. As a result, knowing the average amount of time it takes for employees to complete tasks helps companies determine staffing needs. If numerous employees are taking longer than anticipated, that might mean that many other customers are left waiting, and consequently, more staff members are needed to help them, or the more AHT is lowered, the less staff may be needed.

Limitations of Relying on Average Handle Time

It’s important to realize, however, that while AHT and the emphasis on speed is an important and necessary call center metric, a lower AHT isn’t always an indication of success. This is because AHT doesn’t distinguish simple cases from more involved, in-depth ones. While agents handling a large volume of basic customer issues may be spending an average of 5 minutes per call, on the other hand, other agents within companies or departments handling more difficult or involved cases would likely assume higher AHTs with the goal of connecting more with customers and offering a more personalized experience. Therefore, it’s important not to solely rely on AHT as the end-all be-all metric, and to make sure that you are also monitoring calls for quality. Another problem is that call center agent trying to keep their AHT score down can be very tempted to rush the customer of the conversation, while the customer just ends up confused and having to call back again. This is the reason that companies that depend solely on AHT are often plagued by repeat calls, and customers having to make repeat calls is one of the biggest drivers of customer disloyalty, so while emphasizing AHT may look great in regards to speed of service, it’s very likely that the Customer Satisfaction metric will suffer. Finally, AHT also doesn’t measure customer retention, growth or any other meaningful key performance indicator.

Tips for Reducing AHT without Damaging Customer Satisfaction:

    1. Agent Training: Refining your training program will enable call center agents to help customers more efficiently and better prepare them to more quickly resolve even the most challenging cases.
    2. Call routing: Call routing technology saves time for both customers and agents by quickly forwarding incoming customer cases to the agent who is most qualified to resolve them.
    3. Knowledge Database: Equipping call center agents with all the information they need at their fingertips is crucial for reducing AHT, so that they don’t have to waste valuable time searching for information in separate databases and software programs.

Self-Service:

    Reduce call time by sending customers to the references that already exist online, including articles, guides, and videos. Over time, this also trains people to look for help online first instead of reaching for the phone.
  1. Big Data Analytics: By leveraging big data analytics, brands can identify customer pain and passion points more effectively, while even anticipating what customers will ask for in advance to quickly resolve each customer interaction.

Today, the metrics a call center emphasizes have an effect on the customer experience that can’t be ignored. While AHT remains a valuable efficiency metric for any call center, only by balancing it with other customer satisfaction metrics will enable your business to keep customer satisfaction and brand loyalty high, while also enabling your call center to be a profitable, high-performing business entity!

In an upcoming blog article, we will investigate other useful metrics that organizations use to assess the performance of a call center.

Source: Jacada

Call Waiting & the Customer Experience

Today, customer service trends are driven by the need to meet consumer expectations. However, the evolution of technological innovation together with the emergence of the Millennial consumer has led to quickly changing expectations.

No matter the channel, just having a presence isn’t enough. Consumers expect quick service and a timely resolution to their problem. In other words, they do not like delays, and most of all, customers hate being put on hold. At the front line for handling many types of customer inquiries is the call center, and it significantly contributes to a company’s success by increasing customer loyalty and enforcing its brand. At the same time, one of the easiest ways to create a poor impression of your company and lose customers is through a negative call center experience. In fact, according to YouGov, 76% of consumers said that just one unpleasant contact center experience was likely to make them take their business elsewhere. Therefore, the first step to improving customer satisfaction and loyalty means reducing time spent on hold and providing alternative solutions to deliver the best possible customer experience.

Please Hold, Someone Will Be with You Shortly

While hold time is consistently at the top of the list of things that can ruin the call center experience for customers, the reality is an average of 57% of all calls today are being put on hold, so it begs the question, how long is too long? A recent survey by live chat provider Velaro indicated that 60% of people would hang up after waiting on hold for only one minute and 34% of those callers will not call back. That’s a huge problem because the average time a customer spends on hold is closer to 90 seconds, and for some industries, it’s a lot longer. According to the same study, one-third of customers believe that customer service departments should be answering immediately, with no hold time whatsoever. Unfortunately, this makes it tough for companies to meet customer expectations as customers are often frustrated before they have had the chance to speak with someone, including the psychological factor where the perceived negative experience makes customers even overestimate how long they have been on hold. At the same time, it immediately puts the call agent in damage control mode instead of solving the customer’s original issue. This same trend is occurring within the B2B sector, and no matter how short the hold period is, customer satisfaction suffers from the very beginning. So, what’s the solution?

Solutions: The Power of Choice

While many businesses may feel that they just don’t have the resources or the knowledge of how to rescue their customers from log wait times, companies that are looking to improve their customer experience management strategies need to start by finding solutions. The common-sense approach would be ensuring an appropriately-sized staff to manage to manage the amount of call volume, while, at the same time, implementing proper call routing software that delivers the call to the correct agent, department, etc., efficiently.

However, while hiring more customer service staff is one way to address the problem, it’s not the most cost-effective one since there are always down times when having additional call agents available who sit idly is unnecessary. Therefore, instead of focusing on preventing inevitable wait times, some companies are deploying more alternative solutions that help customers tolerate the wait. For example, music combined with constant hold time updates that tell the consumer how long they have left to sit on hold. This gives the customer the information they need to make their choice whether to remain on hold or call back again at another time. Also, did you know that customers left on-hold without any background music felt that a 30-second on-hold call lasted 90 seconds, while customers thought a 30-second on-hold call that used music-on-hold lasted only 15 seconds?

One of the most practical, and cost-effective potential solutions is the callback. Instead of staying on hold, a customer leaves their contact information and receives a call from a customer service representative as soon as one becomes available, (assuming they call back). Not surprisingly, this is an option that appeals to many customers as 63% of people would prefer a callback to waiting on hold, and 28% would prefer a callback to spending just one minute on hold. Once again, the callback is an effective solution because it gives the customer the freedom to go about their business while they wait, and avoids altogether the extra frustration caused by the hold experience.

Many organizations are implementing an alternative option to waiting on hold. Visual IVR is a support platform that guides inbound callers to a web-based support experience – personalizing the support journey for customers already on their way to the queue. By pivoting an inbound call to a digital interaction, Jacada Visual IVR allows you to surface all of your digital assets, in a single location, to your voice callers. The pivot to digital self-service often eliminates the need for the customer to connect with a live person, saving time and money for both the caller and the company.

In the end, the foundation of any positive customer experience today is the impression that you value their time. If you are up to the challenge, the results will speak for themselves.

Source: Jacada

Call Centre Frustrations May Cause Consumers to Buy Elsewhere

I recently came across an article in Contact Centre World, entitled “Call Centre Frustrations May Cause Consumers to Shop Elsewhere”. That may seem like a statement of the obvious but it’s one which is all to often overlooked.
The first line was an eye opener – 68% of customers hang up if they have trouble hearing a call centre agent. This includes a bad connection, poor voice quality, faulty speech recognition software, an agent mumbling or having an accent that is difficult to understand.
The report was based on a survey of 3,925 consumers in the United States, U.K, Germany, and France, and makes a good point about the level of investment a call centre requires to really deliver.
Call centres are implemented to serve people and are generally the focal point of contact a customer has with a business. Companies often don’t invest sufficiently in the right technology and people to deliver the service that would satisfy their customers, let alone please them.
Customers contact call centres for assistance, so they key is to not leave them dissatisfied when they make may be their only call. An inbound call centre is an opportunity for a business to really impress its customer base and deliver exceptional customer service, which is what is required to ensure repeat business.