Off Center
 
Those of you familiar with my writing know I’ve long been a proponent of the home agent model. So you may be confused by the title of this post and are likely thinking one of two things: 1) Greg is extremely wishy-washy; or 2) Greg is about to unleash a satirical blog post where he only appears to be against the use of home agents, to help readers see how effective the work-at-home model actually is.

Wishy-washy or smart aleck – which one could it be? I’m sure the suspense is killing you.

So, without further ado, here are the five reasons why you and your contact center should NOT embrace the home agent model:      

1) The increased agent retention means you won’t get to meet as many new and interesting people. If you are the kind of manager or supervisor who loves to meet and interview new people every month and who gets bored when surrounded by the same talented employees for years on end, stay away from the home agent model. In my (somewhat) recent study on home agent staffing, nearly every participant said their use of home agents has had a ‘very positive’ or ‘positive’ impact on agent retention. Fewer people quitting means fewer new folks for you to meet, and fewer people for you to get to know a little better several days or weeks later during their exit interview.

2) The sound of joy in agents’ voices will be disorienting. When you have grown accustomed to hearing agents sounding exhausted and apathetic during interactions with customers, hearing those same agents suddenly perking up and caring about customers is very jarring to the system. Such increases in happiness and engagement have been known to distract those who conduct quality monitoring to the point where they cannot focus and end up forgetting to fill out the monitoring form. This is just the kind of problem you can expect if you are silly and brazen enough to embrace the home agent model and give agents the kind of work-life balance they crave. Keep in mind, too, that sudden rises in agents’ spirits and performance can also be very disorienting for customers, who, upon hearing an authentically warm greeting and inspired efforts to assist them, may very well hang up assuming they have dialed the wrong number.

3) Hiring decisions will be too hard due to the overabundance of talented applicants. You may not have a lot of job openings after implementing a home agent program (since current agents won’t be quitting), but expect to be inundated by high-quality candidates whenever there is an opening. Once word gets out that your contact center uses home agents, applicants will come out of the woodwork in hopes of snagging a job where they’ll have a chance to work in their underpants. The real pain is that many of these applicants will be talented individuals whom you would be crazy not to offer a job. But good luck making the best selection when there’s only one agent position open and 50 candidates with solid college degrees, good references, and no police record to speak of. Who needs that kind of stress?

4) You’ll no longer have a good excuse for low service levels during storms. Senior management never likes it when you fall short of your service level objectives, but at least they are somewhat forgiving whenever a snowstorm or flood is to blame for it. If you implement a home agent initiative, you can forget about such leniency during severe weather situations. “There are 200 calls in queue because half our staff couldn’t make it in” doesn’t hold water when you have a team of home-based agents in place. Once you go virtual, it’s your workforce management and training skills that will be to blame – not the weather – if service dips when a blizzard hits. Better to keep all your staff on site to ensure that your managerial shortcomings aren’t fully exposed.

5) Your center may be suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. Many contact centers with home agents in place win awards for customer service excellence, but those same centers are often accused of pumping staff full of PEDs in order to achieve such accolades. You can’t really blame folks for being skeptical. I mean, when you see a center suddenly increase agent engagement and retention, productivity, customer satisfaction, staffing flexibility and operational costs, it’s only natural to suspect that center of cheating somehow. And while you – if your center implements a home agent program – may know that the aforementioned improvements came naturally from going virtual, are you sure you’re ready to face such serious and hurtful accusations? And are your agents willing to undergo random blood testing throughout the year?   


One other reason not to embrace the home agent model is the searing envy experienced by agents in your center who are NOT selected to work from home. There’s even a famous song (at least in MY mind) about this: http://www.offcenterinsight.com/cc-tunes.html (scroll down to the third song on the page, titled “On the Phone at Home”, to hear a sample).


 
Three questions seem to be on every call center professional’s mind these days:

1)    How should my call center handle social media?
2)    How should my call center prepare for mobile customer service?
3)    What would happen if Billy Joel wrote a call center song?

I feel that the first two questions are easy, thus I’ve chosen to tackle the third. I imagine this will help you immensely in your career.

What would happen if Billy Joel wrote a call center song? Probably something like what you see below. (Sorry, I would have made a recording of me singing the song, but I have laryngitis from shouting at Billy Joel’s lawyers. Besides, it will be more fun for you to sing it yourself with your agents during slow periods, or when you've all just given up.)

“The Call Center Is on Fire”
(to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”)

ACDs, IVRs
High attrition, battle scars
Spikes in volume, crowded queues
Budgets that are low

Calculating all the calls
Agents running down the halls
Service Level’s all disheveled
Systems that are slow

Senior managers aflame
Saying we take all the blame
Screaming that our stats are bad
Now our call forecaster’s sad

Driving callers to the web
Doing so to get ahead
Please adhere. Need a beer
Handle times are rising!

The call center is on fire
The calls ain’t stopping
Many calls are dropping
The call center is on fire
All the phones keep ringing
Not sure why I’m singing

FCR is down a bit
Unsure how to measure it
Social care has got us scared
Abandonment has grown

Seven agents called in sick
Seven more called in to quit
Callers now are getting mean
And I don’t like their tone

Monitoring all around
Agents lying on the ground
Everyday I have to swim
Through these freaking acronyms

SL, C-Sat, CPH
AHT, I need a break
ASA – blown away
What else do I have to say?

The call center is on fire
The calls ain’t stopping
Many calls are dropping
The call center is on fire
All the phones keep ringing
Not sure why I’m singing

Skills-based routing, traffic peaks
Half the staff releasing shrieks
Shrinkage, blinking readerboards
50 calls in queue

Chat requests and emails swell
Agents don’t know how to spell
All our text is just a mess
I don’t know what to do

Coaching, motivating reps
Work-at-home or under desks
Customers now own our soul
Your call is important – hold

Twitter volume’s on the rise
Facebook too, I want to cry
Time to train? Hide the pain
Obviously I’m insane!

The call center is on fire
The calls ain’t stopping
Many calls are dropping
The call center is on fire
All the phones keep ringing
Not sure why I’m singing


For more customer care related song parodies, check out my “Contact Center Tunes” page, where you can listen to song samples and, if you feel so inclined, download full songs.  (Let me know what you think about “The Call Center Is on Fire” lyrics above – maybe I’ll record the song soon!)

 
I pride myself on continually providing fresh content, but there are certain Off Center posts that, based on feedback from my seven fans, bear repeating.

And with that, I present my most popular holiday-related contact center poems and carols of all time…


T’was the Night After Training

T’was the night after training, and all I could think
Was how the call center might drive me to drink
We’d all practiced role-plays to help us prepare
But role-plays are easy – real customers scare.

So there I was snuggled all warm in my bed
While visions of acronyms danced in my head
I couldn’t remember what half of them meant
FCR? C-Sat? My brain had been bent.

Then all of a sudden my mind became clear
And all fear of handling calls disappeared
Want to know why I was no longer a wreck?
The Xanax I’d taken had taken effect

The drugs soon wore off, then all I could think
Was “What if the service I give truly stinks?”
What if my quality scores are the worst?
When push comes to shove on a call I might curse

The panic subsided and soon I was snoozing
That’s when the call center dreams started oozing
The calls I dreamt of grew increasingly hectic
One dream had my manager screaming out metrics:

“Abandonment! FCR! AHT! C-Sat!
Cost-per-call! Talk time! Response time and E-Sat!
C’mon you peons – don’t let service fall!
Just answer those, answer those, answer those calls!”

I awoke from that dream quite afraid of my headset
And was very displeased about making my bed wet
Only three hours before my first shift!
So I guzzled two Red Bulls to give me a lift

Soon I was buzzing and following through
Ready to steady all calls in the queue
Ready to dazzle with email and chat
Ready to laugh at those bullies called “stats”

The taurine and caffeine and sugar combined
To make me believe I could handle this grind
But Red Bull eventually loses its magic
And that’s when my first day logged in became tragic

The calls flooded in, my confidence ceased
Thank God for that thing on my phone called “Release”
I was coming unglued after only an hour
The callers were rude and I needed a shower

So I trudged to the restroom without any clearance
My manager shouted, “You’re out of adherence!”
When asked if that’s bad, he just nodded and hissed
So I flipped him the bird and said “Monitor THIS!”



“Take the Calls”

(to the tune of “Deck the Halls”)

Take the calls, the queue’s exploding
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Satisfaction’s fast eroding
Fa la la la la, la la la la
FCR is non-existent
Fa la la, la la la, la la la
Reps are sobbing in the distance
Fa la la la la, la la la la

Call arrival is so random
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Callers sigh and some abandon
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Callers’ rage is all recorded
Fa la la, la la la, la la la
Always say “Your call’s important"
Fa la la la la, la la la la




"Working in the Contact Center, Man"

(to the tune of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”)

Hear the phones? It’s ballistic
Readerboards flash statistics
The systems are slow
We’re pissed and it shows
Working in the contact center, man

Calls attack, chats defeat you
Holy crap, now there’s tweets too
Channels expand
I can’t feel my hands
Working in the contact center, man

In the center you can build a forecast
And do your best to keep things gliding smooth
But customers are always on the warpath
And you get left there crying in your cube

The job’s a beast – it’s getting scary
But at least it’s sedentary
We sit on our butts
We quit or go nuts
Working in the contact center, man



Happy Holidays to All! (And to all, a good laugh.)

 
Thanks to some special medication my doctor prescribed, I haven’t felt the peculiar urge to share any of my signature contact center song parodies with the public in a while.

Unfortunately for you, I’ve skipped my last few doses.

Below are the lyrics to a song I wrote – from the perspective of a contact center agent jealous of a co-worker who gets to work from home. You can hear a sample of the actual song – and even download the whole thing for a nominal fee if you feel so inclined – by going here: 


http://www.offcenterinsight.com/cc-tunes.html (be sure to scroll down to the third song sample.)

Enjoy! (Or, at the very least, try not to get nauseous.)


"On the Phone at Home"
(to the tune of “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan)

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Came in to work at 9 right on time, didn’t you?
Now you’re all alone, working in a robe
Chilling on the phone right from home – isn’t you?

We used to… talk a heap
Made fun of all the customers who… talked to me  
But now you don’t even sock your feet
Working out of your house there in your boxer briefs
Please tell me, I need to know now – what’s the deal?

How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To work all alone
Your facial hair all grown
On the phone at home

Yes, among us reps, you were the best
I guess you that you deserve to work undressed – lucky stiff
You always got awards with all your scores
The rest of us were bored, wanted just to roar “enough of it!”

But just because we… secretly
All wanted to beat you up so…   frequently
Doesn’t mean we wanted you to leave the scene
You never come into the center even just to see the team
So, what’s it like going to work without the use of wheels?

How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To work all alone
The whole house to roam
Your facial hair all grown
On the phone at home

You brag and brag, but we ain’t so sad
The center ain’t so bad, the other day we had… a pizza hour
Pepperoni grease and extra cheese
That’s all I really need to keep me pleased and… steeped with power

I know that you must miss our… breakroom chats
And the overtime snacks that are always…  laced with fat
Then again at home you get to take a nap
Whenever on a break from all this agent crap
Ok, I must admit, a home-based shift sounds quite ideal

So tell me, how does it feel?
How does it feel?
To work all alone
The whole house to roam
Your facial hair all grown
On the phone at home

Tell me, ain’t you scared with the fridge right there?
Your television’s staring at your chair – tempting you
How do you adhere with your bed so near
The devil on your shoulder in your ear saying… “Bend the rules”
   
There’s a pool out back – you know you want to… take a dip
Even if it means your stats will… take a hit
Gonna do my best to try to make you slip
Because I want your job and I plan on taking it
Man, I want to work at home – and I’m prepared to kneel

How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To work all alone
The whole house to roam
Your facial hair all grown
On the phone at home


Don’t forget to check out a sample of the song at: http://www.offcenterinsight.com/cc-tunes.html


 
_ “Take the Calls”
(to the tune of “Deck the Halls”)

Take the calls, the queue’s exploding
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Satisfaction’s fast eroding
Fa la la la la, la la la la
FCR is non-existent
Fa la la, la la la, la la la
Reps are sobbing in the distance
Fa la la la la, la la la la

Call arrival is so random
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Callers sigh and some abandon
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Callers’ rage is all recorded
Fa la la, la la la, la la la
Always say “Your call’s important"
Fa la la la la, la la la la


“Violent Rep”
(to the tune of “Silent Night”)

Violent rep, crazy rep
So much stress, you haven’t slept
Punched your manager right in the nose
Told seven callers just where they can go
Please stop pressing “release”
Please stop pressing “release”

Violent rep, crazy rep
Opened the window, then you leapt
On the way down was a thunderous laugh
Thanks to you now we are so understaffed
Just when the season has peaked
Just when the season has peaked


"Working in the Contact Center, Man"
(to the tune of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”)

Hear the phones? It’s ballistic
Reader boards flash statistics
The systems are slow
We’re pissed and it shows
Working in the contact center, man

Calls attack, chats defeat you
Holy crap, now there’s tweets too
Channels expand
I can’t feel my hands
Working in the contact center, man

In the center you can build a forecast
And do your best to keep things gliding smooth
But customers are always on the warpath
And you get left there crying in your cube

The job’s a beast – it’s getting scary
But at least it’s sedentary
We sit on our butts
We quit or go nuts
Working in the contact center, man

 
Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good laugh.