Last week Alex Coxon investigated the biggest problems facing call centres today.
This week it is time to look at some of the solutions.
1. Agent absenteeism
The first step is to track absenteeism, looking for weekly, seasonal and event-based trends – for example, increased absence at weekends, in the summer or during events such as the World Cup. Once you have this information, talk to your employees as a group and, appealing to their better nature, explain the effect that absenteeism has on the business.
It is also important to implement and communicate a robust absence management policy. Be clear that employees will be contacted during their absence and will need to undertake a return-to-work interview to help their manager understand why they were absent and how a repeat situation can be avoided. To ensure real impact, staff should be made aware that repeated, unsubstantiated absence will result in formal action such as a verbal or written warning.
2. Staff attrition
Anyone looking to tackle high staff turnover should think about prevention rather than cure. For insurance call centre operator Domestic & General (D&G), this means being careful when it comes to recruitment – looking for people who see call centres as a career option rather than a stop-gap.
For others like outsourcer Eclipse Marketing, it’s all about empowerment.
“It’s all well and good developing people and giving them skills, but if you’re not going to allow people to use those skills in full, they are likely to get despondent and leave,” explains contact centre director James Le Roth. “The key is to empower advisors – even if it’s through small activities like giving them freedom to authorise minor refunds. Giving people this kind on ownership helps prevent them from feeling like a number… it makes them feel they are valued by the business, which is an incentive to stay.”
3. Agent engagement
As outlined in the ‘attrition’ section above, empowerment can be an effective tool in helping agents feel more valued in the workplace. But another valuable device is technology – specifically using systems such as natural language call steering to direct a customer to the appropriate agent or service and to automate routine tasks, so freeing staff up to focus on more complex queries.
“This results in a more motivated force of knowledge workers, and likely a better record for attendance and quality performance,” explains Scott Wickware, vice president, market development EMEA enterprise and mobile, at technology provider Nuance Communications.
A third mechanism for improving agent engagement is to offer incentives. However, as Claire Dykes, head of outbound sales at Dorset-based call centre Insure4Retirement explains, these do need to be carefully managed and rotated in order to have the desired impact.
“We offer the traditional incentive schemes, but we change these around regularly and are always coming up with new ways to recognise our staff’s hard work and achievements,” she says. “We have been quite creative with long-term incentives that support staff retention – for example, offering large prizes like ‘Win-A-Car’!”
4. Flat structures
“Get your ‘future starts’ engaged in the organisation and their own development much earlier, and be clear to them about the opportunities that will exist and the timescales involved,” advises Keith Gait, founder and principal consultant at Orchid Consulting.
“Be realistic,” he continues. “If you don’t see opportunities arising in the short term, you have to manage the person’s expectations. However, do look at where else you can involve and engage them in the business – for example, giving them responsibility for overseeing a new project where the skills they’ll gain will be useful for a future management position.”
5. Mandatory cost-cutting
According to Paul Weald, strategy director – customer innovations – at solutions provider ProtoCall One, organisations faced with restricted budgets need to review their call centre strategy. “If your resources are being squeezed, you will inevitably need to lose headcount. And if you’re going to do that, you need to reduce [call] demand to counterbalance it,” he says.
The key, he argues, is to create a mechanism that identifies the reasons people ring the call centre. By doing this, you can start fixing some of the problems at source and reducing demand that way.
“Also try to improve or create new ways for people to find out information for themselves, rather than contacting the call centre – for example, by improving the FAQ section on your website,” he adds.
6. Poor first-call-resolution rates
Michelle Black, call centre manager at outsourcer GranbyTalk, reckons a good way to overcome poor FCR rates is to engage in root-cause analysis – that is, to investigate the reasons customers ring a call centre – and to use that information to fix specific problems at source.
Another step, she says, is to build a knowledgebase of questions as and when they arise, populating them with suitable responses.
“Our team know it’s not necessary to know the answer to every question, but it’s how to find out the answer and relay this back to the customer and add that knowledge for future use that counts,” she adds.
7. Inability to improve performance levels
According to Ken Hitchen, consulting director at systems integrator and consulting firm Sabio, traditional metrics such as ‘speed to answer’ and ‘average handling time’ can be the cause of the issue.
“[Such] metrics – the kind of average measurements that can conceal variance – make it much more difficult to improve key measures such as quality and adherence,” he says. “Organisations need to focus instead on more relevant, customer-focused metrics: measures such as net promoter scores, social networking comments, real-time customer feedback and balanced scorecards that all aim to match quantity with a qualitative performance aspect.”
8. Poor integration
The key, says Ben Dale-Gough, site operations manager at insurance contact centre operator Domestic & General (D&G), is to be careful when planning any technology purchase. Check that the new systems integrate with the old, or – better still – choose a vendor that has consolidated its technology.
“A wide range of integrated applications in one system is easier to use, saves time and improves customer service,” he adds.
9. The proliferation of communication technologies
There is little point in trying to embrace a new communication channel if it isn’t actually one that your customers regularly use. More savvy call centres should therefore assess each channel on its individual merits, weighing up any potential return on investment and growth against initial outlay.
Once this initial analysis has been done, it is important to take a step-by-step approach, says Keith Pearce, senior marketing director EMEA at technology firm Genesys-EMG, Alcatel-Lucent. “Realise that you can’t do it all at once. Establish a media policy that identifies and prioritises the most useful channels. [Then] provide the right infrastructure and environment to support top communication priorities and deliver appropriate content that best leverages those channels.”
10. Customer churn
As is the case with agent attrition, it is best to tackle customer churn before it becomes an issue.
To do this, ensure you have a robust customer retention policy in place. If you offer customers an automated menu at the beginning of all interactions, for example, give them a ‘closing an account’ option and ensure all calls of this nature are transferred through to a dedicated retention team comprised of agents who have been trained in complaints and objection handling.
Ideally, the customer retention team will also have the power to authorise ‘sweeteners’ that will prevent the caller from defecting to a competitor. These might include the ability to sanction refunds, better payment plans or complimentary goods or services.
Alex Coxon is a freelance journalist and a former editor of both Call Centre Helper and Call Centre Focus.
Obviously this is a short snapshot of some of the ways to solve some of these problems. Do you have any solutions that you have found worked for you? [Please no vendor advertising]