Lisa Binney reveals the best practice advice every contact centre should follow.
1. Get your senior managers out on the floor… Permanently!
In one company I worked for, no manager had an office, they didn’t even have a special bank of desks… They were based out on the calling floor.
They claimed that this way they picked up on the niggles in the office, such as broken microwaves, no kitchen roll (again!), bus times changing and not suiting the start of shifts, etc.
These are small things that can really bug your employees, but will never come to light during formal quarterly briefings.
2. Take your wallboards down
In my first job, my manager was passionate about operating the contact centre without wallboards – and I have always agreed with this.
It’s not an agent’s job to worry about the call queues. It’s their role to care about the current call they are dealing with.
It is the Team Leaders’ and Managers’ job to monitor how many calls are in the queue, what the agents are up to and how they can reduce the queues appropriately.
3. Never allow your Team Leaders to jump on the phones
In the same way that the call queues aren’t your agents’ issue, having your Team Leaders jumping on the phones at the slightest sign of a queue doesn’t help anything other than getting rid of one or two calls.
The team are left with no one monitoring them, no one to assist them and overall call quality will therefore slip.
4. Give up on urban myths about getting prime leads from the dialler
The urban myths that would build up on the call floor regarding how the technology worked never failed to amaze me.
Apparently, running your finger on the Function keys of the keyboard would ensure you got the prime leads from the dialler!
As the person who loaded the data onto the dialler, I can assure you it was just data, there was no prime data kept for those selected few.
5. Accept the truth about the calls you are losing
I can only wish I’d had a bottle of champagne for every time I’ve had to bang my head on the desk regarding the difference between an abandoned call and a short call.
For example, managers who’ve been in their position for years who pooh-pooh your concerns over their abandoned calls by saying that it’s not a problem, as the team have made them aware of a crank who was hanging up when the agents answered.
They can’t see that they’ve already said in their statement that the agent ‘answered’ this call. They see that as ‘the caller hung up’, therefore they’ve ‘abandoned’ the call.
No! No! No! You’re losing calls! Please be concerned!
6. Wean yourself away from ‘priorities’ being a miracle cure
When teams find out about ‘priorities’, this is usually an avalanche of fun.
Normally, they’d raise concerns about a short-term call type, where we really needed to answer as many calls as possible. Therefore we’d offer them a higher priority.
As this works and this call type has a much better answer rate than usual, they’d see this as some miracle cure, and within weeks you could guarantee that they’d be asking for all of their calls to be prioritised.
When I take over new projects at a new centre and see that all their calls are prioritised at High and all their agents have Level 1 priority for every skill, I know that I’ve got to go through the painful procedure of weaning them away from their miracle solution that’s amazingly stopped working.
7. Make sure your IVR is servicing your customers
Who is your IVR servicing? Is it to provide you with appropriate reporting or to provide the customer with the best person to assist them?
My personal peeve as a customer is ringing a call centre where none of the 10 options I’m given relate to my issue and there isn’t an option to hold for anything else. Always have an opt-out, please.
My peeve when I’m on the other side of the fence is if I set up all these various options, only to find they are all going to the same bank of agents.
What a waste of a customer’s time! Please find a better way of identifying the call type – don’t waste customers’ time just so you can get better reports. After all, lots of callers just press 1,1,1 to get through to an agent anyway.
8. Watch out for international differences
We’re told it’s a shrinking world, but there are still plenty of differences out there that you need to take into account when working with international clients.
One of the basic ones I encounter all the time is that US callers need more time to choose options. Our UK PBXs (Private Branch Exchange) typically have a 4-second default time when making a choice on an IVR system – this will lengthen to 10 seconds for US customers.
(Just as a point of interest, customers from Florida apparently take the longest to decide – who knew?)
9. Listen to your agents and make necessary improvements
Always take the time to listen to your agents. They do the job day in, day out, so if they find a frustration or identify something that takes a long time to process, then work with the IT team to see if there’s a better solution. This might involve a minor change to the script which gives a pop-up box, or a major overhaul.
The agents might also find that the script doesn’t flow as well as expected once they start talking with customers. For example, perhaps you ask the customer to have their account number ready but typically never ask for it (as you search by postcode) and this enrages your customers.
You shouldn’t expect to get it right on day one. Constant improvement should be a way of life, not a criticism of how you set it up in the first place.
10. Have regular meetings about the state of the business
Gossip can be a terrible thing for any business. Someone overhears something about losing some part of a contract and, by the time the fourth person has heard about this, the news is that you’re making 30% of staff redundant in the next few weeks.
You can help overcome this by having regular meetings about the state of the business. This is especially important in the outsourcing world, where you’ll need to explain about the risks but also let your agents know about business in the pipeline.
If things really are bad then you will need your best team behind you. By earning their trust and being honest every day, your team should still be with you the next time you hit problems.
With thanks to Lisa Binney, who has worked in the outsourced contact business for over 20 years