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While I usually cover contact center best practices and innovation in this blog, today, in keeping with Halloween, I’ve decided to highlight what scares the pants off of most customer care professionals (and what scares the pants back on those who work from home).

Forget about witches, ghosts and goblins – here are some things that are really scary if you manage a contact center:

Rampant agent turnover. It’s positively frightening to think that the average contact center has an annual turnover rate of nearly 40%, and that, according to the human capital management firm CallMe! (that really is their name), the average turnover cost per agent is upwards of $4,000. This means that in a typical 100-seat contact center, agent turnover costs roughly $160,000 – every year. Evidently many organizations are so paralyzed by fear of such exorbitant figures, they are physically unable to create the kind of positive culture that would cause said figures to plummet.

Disengaged agents interacting with your customers. Even scarier than agents leaving are agents who stick around – but who couldn’t care less about your company or its customers. Just because agents show up and sit at their workstations everyday doesn’t mean they are truly present, and THAT can cost you even more than actual turnover. When agents aren’t engaged, empowered and focused on the job, the unnecessary callbacks, long caller rants and customer defection could end up forcing your center to implement a 100% work-at-home initiative – because your company soon won’t be able to make rent.   

Managing Millennials. Millennials tend to be highly creative and tech-savvy multi-taskers who enjoy working in a collaborative manner. Nothing actually scary about that – unless you are a contact center manager or supervisor who only knows how to lead and develop people whose learning styles and communication preferences are just like yours. If that’s the case, your attempts to engage the typical Millennial will be a horror show featuring a lot of carnage – or at least a lot of burnout and attrition.

Social customer service. Just when you thought you had a handle on all the channels and that it was safe to go back into the contact center, social customer service entered the scene – bringing with it a new kind of terror. Now your center has to respond not only to customers who contact you directly (via phone, email and chat), but also to those who express their issue and mention your company name via Twitter or Facebook. And if you don’t respond to the latter customers – or if you respond in an unsatisfactory manner, everybody and their mother gets to see as the PR nightmare plays out. 

Big data. The vast amount of customer information today’s contact center is able to capture is amazing – and scary as all get-out if the center doesn’t have a way of structuring, analyzing and strategically acting on the data. If you thought finding time to monitor each agent a few times a month was hard, try finding time to make sense of the millions of pieces of customer intelligence flying around the contact center stratosphere. Fortunately, there have been real advances in interaction analytics and data-mining to help centers slay the big bad data monster, but many customer care organizations have yet to invest in or tap the full power of said technologies, and thus must continuously face the fear of being swallowed up whole.    

The power of the home agent model. This one may seem a bit out of place, but the power of the home agent model is scary. What else do you know of that, once implemented, has the power to vastly improve such critical things as: agent engagement and retention; agent performance and attendance; contact center staffing/scheduling flexibility; facility expenses; disaster recovery; and the environment? It’s natural to be in awe of such power, even a little frightened. But what’s REALLY scary is the fact that not every customer care organization has embraced the home agent model despite all the huge proven benefits. I guess they are deathly afraid of success – or of happy agents.


What scares YOU about customer care and working in a contact center? Share what makes you shudder and shiver in the ‘Comments’ box below.

Oh yeah, and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!



 
When it comes to social customer care (providing service and support via social media channels), there are two key practices that contact centers must embrace: 1) monitoring; and 2) monitoring.

No, I haven’t been drinking, and no, there isn’t an echo embedded in my blog. The truth is, I didn’t actually repeat myself in the statement above.

Now, before you recommend that I seek inpatient mental health/substance abuse treatment, allow me to explain.


Monitoring in social customer care takes two distinctly different though equally important forms. The first entails the contact center monitoring the social landscape to see what’s being said to and about the brand (and then deciding who to engage with). The second entails the contact center’s Quality Assurance team/specialist monitoring agents' 'social' interactions to make sure the agents are engaging with the right people and providing the right responses.

The first type of monitoring is essentially a radar screen; the second type of monitoring is essentially a safety net. The first type picks up on which customers (or anti-customers) require attention and assistance; the second type makes sure the attention and assistance provided doesn’t suck.

Having a powerful social media monitoring tool that enables agents to quickly spot and respond to customers via Twitter and Facebook is great, but it doesn’t mean much if those agents, when responding…
  • misspell every other word
  • misuse or ignore most punctuation
  • provide incomplete – or completely incorrect – information
  • show about as much tact and empathy as a Kardashian.
  • fail to invite the customer to continue his/her verbal evisceration of the company and the agent offline and out of public view.
 
All of those scary bullet items above can be avoided – or at least minimized – when there’s a formal QA process in place for social media customer contacts. Now, if you’re thinking your QA and supervisory staff are too busy to carefully monitor and evaluate agents’ Twitter/Facebook interactions with customers (and provide follow-up coaching), then what the Zuckerberg are you thinking even offering such channels as contact options? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again, and again): If your contact center isn’t ready to monitor a particular contact channel, then it isn’t ready to HANDLE that channel.

Customers don’t applaud organizations for merely being progressive. If Toyota came out with a new automobile that ran on garbage but that had a 20% chance of exploding when you put the key in the ignition, customers’ response wouldn’t be, “Deadly, yes, but I might make it across the country on just banana peels!”

Social customer care is still new enough where organizations offering it are considered progressive. If your contact center is one such organization, are your customers applauding the strong and consistent social service and support your agents are providing, or is your center overlooking the quality component and losing too many customers to explosions?  

For more insights (and some irreverence) on Social Customer Care, be sure to check out my blog post, “Beginner’s Guide to Social Customer Care”. Also, my book, Full Contact, contains a chapter in which best (or at least pretty good) practices in Social Customer Care are covered.

 
In an effort to gain recognition and respect, too many struggling contact centers try to bite off more than they can chew – implementing performance goals that they have as much chance of meeting as I do of being crowned Miss America. 

I often encourage managers of poorly performing contact centers to stop reaching for the stars and to instead just concentrate on not sucking. You have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you can run a world-class operation.

With that in mind, below are some key performance objectives that managers of sub-par centers might want to consider implementing to help earn some quick wins, build some confidence among staff, and quit drinking so much in the morning.

Contact Resolution. Don't worry about first-contact resolution (FCR) right now. True, resolving customer issues on the first contact has a big impact on customer satisfaction, agent engagement and operational costs, but chances are your center just isn't yet ready to achieve a lofty FCR objective. Instead focus on a more feasible and less intimidating metric – fifth-contact resolution (5CR).

Studies have shown that it is easier to fully resolve customer issues on the fifth try than it is to do so on the first, second, third or fourth try. Research has also revealed that centers that are able to resolve customer issues within five contacts report higher customer satisfaction, agent retention and cost savings than do centers that don't resolve customer issues until the sixth, seventh or eighth contact.

Service Level.
Don't set your center and agents up for failure by shooting for an ambitious service level objective of answering 80 percent of calls within 20 seconds, or some similar challenging goal. It's much wiser to start out with the following, more palatable service level objective: 80% of calls answered… period. The number of seconds that it takes to do so should not be a major concern at this point – that will come later, assuming customers don’t burn your center to the ground in the meantime.  

Adherence to Schedule. Most contact centers focus too much on whether or not agents are in their seat at the right times. Your center will be much more likely to meet/exceed its adherence objective if you don't emphasize the "in your seat" and the "at the right times" parts so much. Instead, go a little easier on your staff by explaining the importance of them at least trying to stay within city limits during their shift. Agents will greatly appreciate the fact that you recognize how challenging and restrictive their job can be, and, as a result, will strive to meet the new objective you have set forth. Or not. 

Contact Quality. When it comes to assuring quality in struggling contact centers, the emphasis should be less on agents achieving high monitoring scores and more on whether or not the person rating the call throws up. When no vomiting occurs, be sure to praise the agent publicly, and consider grooming him or her for a supervisory role. If, however, vomiting does occur during a call evaluation – and it will – provide the agent with positive and nurturing pointers on how he or she could have made the interaction with the customer less nauseating to the person evaluating it.      

If you follow all the suggestions and recommendations provided here in this blog post, I guarantee that your contact center will move from being absolutely abysmal to being just a little pitiful in no time. Best of luck!


For performance measurement and management tactics that are even MORE practical than those highlighted here, be sure to check out my book,
Full Contact: Contact Center Practices & Strategies that Make an Impact.



 
Few metrics have made contact center managers drool like first-call resolution has. And with good reason: FCR has been shown to have a significant impact on customer satisfaction, operational costs and employee morale. So we’re looking at a metric trifecta – a measurement that is both qualitative and quantitative, and that is also engaging for agents.

Unfortunately, FCR is also one of the most misconstrued and mis-measured metrics in the contact center. Many managers get so caught up in the potential benefits that FCR can bring, they simply add it to the center’s scorecard and start tracking it haphazardly – without really grasping some key concepts or taking the customer’s perspective into full consideration.

To avoid the typical FCR pitfalls that doom many a contact center and customer relationship, it’s critical to understand the following:

Accurately measuring FCR takes work. This metric is not easily captured and calculated. You can’t just rely on callback tracking technology, as some customers may not call back even if their issue wasn’t resolved. For instance, they might instead contact the center via another channel (e.g., email, chat) or perhaps even defect to the competition out of frustration. Nor can you just have your quality monitoring folks decide if a call has been resolved (though that doesn’t stop many centers from doing this to gauge FCR); it has to be measured from the customer’s perspective. And while asking customers about issue resolution via post-contact surveys is highly recommended, that method alone isn’t sufficient for accurately tracking FCR either, as sometimes a caller might think their issue was resolved during a call, but then the agent or somebody else doesn’t follow through with what needs to be done to complete the resolution, resulting in a later callback.

The best way to track FCR is to use a combination of the aforementioned methods, and to then just hope you are catching the metric at enough angles to get close to what your actual FCR rate is. That’s a lot of work to still be unsure, but the good news (sort of) is… 
 

...Customers don’t actually care if you know how to measure FCR – they simply want you to ACHIEVE it. It’s important the managers don’t get so obsessed with measurement of FCR that they forget to focus on what processes and practices actually drive FCR improvement. Who cares if you are doing a bang up job of tracking FCR if all the reports show that your rate never goes up. Top contact centers worry less about numbers and more about positive customer experiences, and thus embrace such FCR improvement tactics as:

      -Providing agents with the training and resources to quickly and effectively resolve contacts.
      -Ensuring that there are no conflicting performance objectives hindering customer-centricity and

         FCR achievement (like rigid AHT goals).
      -Mastering skills-based routing so that callers get sent to the right agent with the skill-set to handle 

       their issue.
      -Building agent incentives around FCR goal achievement.
      -Empowering agents to make improvements to FCR-related processes.
     

A high FCR rate isn’t always something to cheer about. Even if your center effectively measures FCR, and your reports consistently show a rate in the 90%-95% range, don’t assume you are an FCR rock star. While rates that high can be legit, more often than not they are inflated by simple “slam dunk” inquiries that the call center could have avoided entirely by providing (and effectively promoting) strong self-service options (e.g., speech-enabled IVR; dynamic web self-service tools.) A potent self-service strategy not only can save the company mucho dinero, many customers prefer self-service when it comes to basic transactions and inquiries.

A high FCR rate doesn’t always account for the amount of effort expended or pain endured by the customer. Sometimes an issue may get resolved on the first call, but not before the customer considered suicide while stuck in a IVR hell only to get transferred to an agent who, while equipped with the answer required, was not equipped with much courtesy or professionalism. That’s why no FCR initiative is complete without solid Quality monitoring and C-Sat measurement practices in place. They are key to ensuring calls are resolved AND relationships are cultivated.



 
Earlier this week I delivered a keynote presentation at a fun and informative user group event sponsored by Calabrio (www.calabrio.com). Prior to the event, Calabrio posed a handful of cogent questions and asked me to provide some insightful responses.

I provided these instead.

How have you seen contact centers change in the past 5 years?

For one, the contact center now receives much more respect from the rest of the company and the business world in general. What used to be viewed as a mere back-office operation is now highly valued for the critical customer data and insight it gathers daily (and shares with key departments) to greatly enhance customer loyalty and revenue. No longer do contact center managers and staff get beaten up and have their lunch money stolen by big mean bullies in Marketing, Sales or other departments. If you work in a contact center and still do endure such bullying, let me know and I’ll take care of it. I’m tough like that.

Another big and very positive change in our industry is the increased use of home agents. After years and years of contact centers just tinkering around and testing the home agent waters, many are finally fully embracing this powerful staffing model, which studies have shown to improve agent recruiting, retention and performance, as well as decrease facility costs and enhance staffing flexibility. Add in the obvious “green” benefits the home agent model affords, and it’s easy to see why more and more companies are kicking their agents out of the contact center. 

And of course, no conversation about big changes would be complete without mentioning the emergence of social media and its impact – both real and imagined – on customer care. Just when contact centers were starting to get a handle on the phones, email, chat and web self-service, social media comes barreling in and forces managers to return to therapy.  


What are a couple of the biggest challenges facing contact centers now?

One of the biggest challenges contact centers face now is one that they have always faced: Keeping agents in place and inspired. While with ICMI from 1994-2010, I was involved in several research studies and reader surveys in which we asked managers to list their biggest concerns and challenges. Agent turnover and burnout always topped the list. Fostering agent engagement and retention is especially critical in today’s crazy competitive business climate, where top-notch service and support is often the differentiating factor – the thing that determines what company a customer decides to mate with for life.

I’ve already alluded to what I see as the other major challenge in today’s contact center: Managing the multichannel madness. Have you ever tried accurately forecasting and scheduling for phone, email, chat and social media contacts – and ensuring that customers receive consistent, efficient and effective service regardless of which of those channels they choose? Scary. It’s why I merely analyze and write about contact centers rather than actually RUN one.


You’re a humorist in a unique industry. Can we use a little more comic relief in the world of customer service?

Absolutely. Just look at what we’ve got: An industry full of managers being pressed by execs to constantly do more with less; agents being measured on a multitude of performance metrics while sitting in a cubicle that’s the same square footage as their body; and the entire center having to handle a seemingly endless stream of calls and other contact types from highly demanding customers who are often abusive even though they know that you know where they live. If that’s not an industry begging for comic relief, I don’t know what is.

Managing a contact center is no laughing matter. But if you want to survive in this business, laughing matters. Humor defuses. Humor relieves. Humor inspires. And if we can’t laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at – besides the guys over in IT.