The lasting impacts of COVID-19 are unknown but the accelerated shift to the remote call center workforce management is likely to endure

Is it us, or is the “new normal” starting to feel kind of, well, normal? We’re all adapting since COVID-19 struck, maybe better than we initially expected. But what does the future hold once this pandemic passes?

Questions remain regarding how many of the habits and work models adopted during the crisis will endure when the coronavirus subsides. Will remote agents continue to represent a significant proportion of the call center workforce? Or will SMB contact centers and clients rush to bring employees back to the traditional production floor?

Although there is a lot of truth to that old saying, “the only constant is change,” the work-from-home agent is likely to become a permanent feature of the industry landscape. Here’s why.

The contact center workforce was already going remote

The call center industry was beyond the experimental phase of work-from-home before COVID-19 hit. Numerous companies had adopted it as their sole workforce model, among them many SMBs that found in remote agents a flexible, low-overhead workforce option.

Helping this transition along were cloud technologies. Digital transformation brought remote-ready ACD systems, which diminished the technical hurdle to a distributed workforce.

Add in a once-booming economy in which talent was scarce and many contact centers were eager to expand their available recruiting pool beyond the immediate radius of their call center facility.

Suffice it to say, remote call center workforce management was gaining steam.

The pandemic forced companies to try remote call center agents

If half of the industry was integrating work-from-home agents before COVID-19, as some estimates indicate, then about half was not. But the pandemic was a force that overcame inertia and overshadowed other concerns about call centers’ remote workers.

As a result, many companies hesitant to give work-from-home programs a try had no choice but to do so. It stands to reason that at least some of them have been impressed by the advantages and will stick to a remote or hybrid model.

Resilience concerns will remain after COVID-19

COVID-19 has sparked another strategic change as well. Resilience—the ability to pivot in response to unforeseeable crisis—has become a top priority among leaders in nearly every industry, including contact centers.

Work-from-home agents are a resilient resource, especially when supported with appropriately redundant technologies. If a hurricane or other natural disaster affects agent availability in a certain geographic area, for example, their counterparts in other regions can fill in. Or if a future public health emergency arises, a remote workforce can help insulate call center operations from outbreaks.

Contact centers will inevitably take these factors into account as part of their business continuity plans.

The advantages of integrating remote workers are compelling

As impactful as COVID-19 has been, there are countless other reasons call centers are likely to turn to remote agents in the future. Among them:

Talent Pool

Remote workers enable call centers to integrate talent from wherever it can be found (within the bounds of employment law). Work-from-home can even boost inclusivity, making it easier for disabled individuals, for instance, to contribute their skills.

Flexibility & Scalability

A nice benefit of today’s contact center workforce management solutions, scheduling capabilities are more flexible than ever. Work-from-home arrangements can leverage these advantages.

For example, call center managers can implement shorter shifts for remote workers, who don’t necessarily expect eight hours in exchange for their commute. Not only does this empower call center leaders to schedule more precisely based on call volumes—such as planning for a few extra agents during the lunchtime peak—it can appeal to parents, graduate students and others as a way to fit some paid work into the gaps in their schedules.

Employee satisfaction

Many people enjoy the convenience of working from home. After all, who can argue with comfortable shoes (or slippers)? Numerous contact centers report increased productivity and morale after sending agents home, which helps reduce churn and the associated recruitment, training and service level costs.

Cost-savings

We’ve just named several ways a remote workforce can save money, but there are more. Work-from-home agents don’t require on-site space, so physical facilities can be smaller. Depending on whether the call center issues workstations or reimburses for internet connectivity, other overhead expenditures may be shifted off the company as well.

Workforce, management and customer experience challenges remain

Notwithstanding the many reasons remote call center agents will be an enduring feature of the contact center landscape, there are real challenges in making it a success:

The ultimate determinant for work-from-home will be customer experience. Where contact centers find ways to address the challenges of managing and motivating remote call center workers, they will likely continue to integrate work-from-home talent in a stand-alone or hybrid fashion. The creativity that will go into their new workforce management and engagement strategies will make call centers pretty exciting places for some time to come.

Want more information to help you adapt to this new world? Check out this webinar!

What is call center shrinkage?

One of the most important concepts in schedule adherence is shrinkage. Shrinkage can be defined as the time for which people are paid during which they are not available to handle calls.

There are many reasons that can cause shrinkage - and it has to be taken into account when scheduling the required number of agents to meet call volumes. But the truth is that most companies badly under-estimate the sheer volume of shrinkage that besets their call centers. This comes about due to a host of potentially hidden areas of shrinkage. Many managers keep their eye on several of these, but few are able to stay on top of all of them: lateness, talking to associates, personal calls and emergencies, leaving early and taking longer breaks. The bottom line on shrinkage is the amount of minutes per day that agents are being paid to be on the phone when they are not actually working or available to receive calls or work on customer related issues.

How to track and manage shrinkage?

So, how should you track and manage shrinkage in your call center? Shrinkage can be a major factor in failing to meet service level targets. Call centers that take shrinkage parameters into account in their forecasting and scheduling typically achieve higher service levels at lower operating costs. They often do that by including all call related activities into the forecast and schedule planning process. 

Why is calculating shrinkage important?

You can calculate shrinkage using the following call center shrinkage formula. First, determine your base staff requirements for typical call volume at each point in a given day or a given shift.

Within those calculations, estimate the typical percentage of workers who will be unable to handle calls during the interval. This amount may vary, but the usual range is somewhere between 10% and 40%. With this number, you should now divide your base staff requirement by that result to arrive at the number of workers you should schedule.

For example, with a 20% shrinkage rate and 160 call center agents on the day shift, you would divide 160 by (1 minus 0.2), for a total of 200. Now you know that if you schedule 200 people, but 20 percent can’t answer phones for various reasons, the remainder available will be 160, and the phones will be adequately covered.

This brings us to our next important question - how can you reduce call center shrinkage?

How to reduce shrinkage?

There are two main items to keep in mind to assist with reducing shrinkage in your call center:

  1. Increase forecast and schedule accuracy by including all activities into your schedule. The more activities you include in your schedule, the more accurate of a forecast you will be able to create. This can include such items as average call time, after work related tasks, emails, chats, meetings, training, breaks, lunch, and vacation.
  2. Monitor schedule adherence and work with your agents to improve over time. One remedy to help with this is to create monthly or weekly reports you can share with your team so they are aware of any reoccuring adherences to correct for the next time period. Maybe they didn't allot for a long enough break and that put them out of adherence, or maybe a meeting ran over that put them out of adherence. With a modern, workforce management solution you can also monitor adherence in real-time to quickly address problems to arise in order to get your agents back on track with your carefully planned schedule.

For more information about what call center shrinkage is, and how to manage it, please also read the following blog posts:

In addition, you can download our whitepaper about strategies for improving schedule adherence – it should provide some valuable insights into the relationship between shrinkage and agent adherence.

Want to Learn More About Call Center Shrinkage?

 

Your agents are on the front line of your customer service efforts. When policyholders call with questions or concerns, the agent they reach becomes the voice of your entire company. No pressure there. 

Obviously it is incumbent on your insurance call center agents to do their jobs well. But that process starts with managers hiring the best candidates for these crucial positions. 

What skills should you be looking for when hiring an agent? Here are some of the most important:

Professionalism

Courtesy always sets the right tone for a customer engagement. And when that customer is stressed or frightened or angry, as is often the case with insurance issues, it’s up to the agent to maintain a professional tone and stay calm and focused throughout the conversation.

Attendance

This doesn’t mean just showing up for work every day, but showing up on time. Customer service suffers when agents show up five minutes late and leave five minutes early. Agents should be willing to adhere to a strict shift schedule.

Communication

Intelligent verbal communication is one of the most basic requirements of this job, but as insurance call centers evolve into contact centers, it is advantageous to hire agents that can also communicate effectively in writing, so they can handle webchat or even social media.

Self-Sufficiency

While you want to recruit agents that can be positive team players, it’s also important for agents to feel confident enough to work independently – especially if you hire those that telecommute. When agents can solve customer claim issues without putting customers on hold and having to track down a supervisor, it improves average handle time and makes the customer happy as well.

Verint Monet Workforce Management solution can play a key role in helping agents to achieve optimal performance, by giving them the information they need to succeed. 

How WFM and QM combine to engage an offsite call center workforce and deliver superior CX

High-speed internet, cloud-based applications and other technologies have opened a new vista for the call center—the remote agents. Most contact centers have had to quickly transition to working from home as a direct effect of COVID-19. Contact centers will hopefully see the cost savings of shrinking their in-house call center facility. Others will find remote agents better able to meet increasing customer demand for off-hours service.

Switching to an entirely remote workforce can solve many staffing challenges. No longer is the company limited to the talent pool surrounding the contact center. And the organization may attract a different caliber of agent via flexible, commute-free work options.

Unfortunately, working from home can also have a negative impact on morale and providing an exceptional customer experience. Management and motivational techniques are also required to overcome these new challenges. So let’s get started, read on for our tips on WFM for work from home!

The Rules Still Apply

First up, set aside any notion that remotely managing call center operations is inherently different. Nope. If anything, a nationwide talent pool ups the ante on pre-employment screening, because there’s simply no excuse to settle.

Call center leaders must develop accurate hiring profiles and craft effective assessment tools. And they should take into account that remote work generally requires more independent time management skill and tech savvy than on-site employment.

Remote call center agents also require as much orientation and training as their traditional call center counterparts. Companies must adapt the usual classroom learning, role playing, skills testing and nesting period to a remote environment. It’s especially important to clarify roles and expectations, maintain a resource center for self-guided learning and share insights on working from home successfully.

Give ‘Em What They Want (Flexibility)

What appeals to a work@home/WFH agent? Flexibility and work/life balance tend to take top billing.

This makes contact center scheduling of tantamount importance, and high-performance, but easy-to-use WFM (that’s workforce management), software can help. When scheduling in spreadsheets, shifts may have to be 8 hours and schedules deemed final days in advance. But when you have workforce management software, agents could sign up for 2-hour work blocks (or whatever time frame is sufficient to find their groove) and swap shifts with a day or less of notice—and neither staffing levels or average handle times (AHT) would be affected.

What’s more, WFM software can give agents what they don’t realize they need—structure. Contact center managers can schedule breaks, monitor adherence and adjust to shifting call volumes and other factors on the fly, all the while directing agents’ attention where it’s needed and inserting adequate time to refresh.

Manage to the Metrics

Remote workforce managers don’t have the ability to “feel” when their team is firing on all cylinders, but real-time analytics and live and recorded call monitoring can more than fill the gap.

QM systems in particular empower supervisors to review all forms of customer contacts—calls, emails, texts and DMs—to steer daily performance, identify opportunities for improvement and feed a continual, personalized skills development cycle for each agent. This will usually include formal QM training sessions, upskilling coursework and micro-coaching.

Early on, however, managers should be especially sensitive to how QM and performance feedback is delivered. Trusting relationships can be difficult to foster at a distance. If an agent feels threatened or disconnected, constructive critique can come across as harsh criticism. Establishing rapport is essential, which brings us to...

Communication & Community

The real struggle in managing remote call center agents generally comes in belonging. How do you make remote team members feel like a part of the larger organization?

It takes effort to foster a sense of community with remote agents. Successful contact centers will often use techniques like:

Always consider how remote employees can participate in events or collaboration offered to on-site team members, whether that’s accepting photos for the Halloween costume contest or setting up a “buddy system” for an in-house and a remote agent to work together toward a performance goal.

These tactics can be difficult to add “after the fact” if a company lacks a mission and identifiable culture. For more information about these elements, download our whitepaper on employee engagement here.

Next Steps

Whether you have been thrust into remote workforce management because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, are looking to use remote agents to supplement on-premises capabilities for a holiday ramp-up or other purpose, or expect to transition some or all of your production environment out-of-house, we have workforce engagement systems and information to help.

You might begin with our whitepaper “The Complete Contact Center Guide to Employee Engagement for SMBs.” It provides tips on how you can best motivate, retain, and engage employees who are passionate about the customer experience (CX).

 

So you’re thinking of moving to the cloud for your customer engagement solutions.

According to Digital Journal, over 90% of all enterprises project to use cloud platforms to innovate and improve agility by 2021. In other words, you know that your peers and competitors are moving to cloud to improve the customer experience (CX) and lower costs.

If you’re ready to begin innovation in the cloud, what should you consider first? We created an eBook, “4 Questions to Answer for a Successful Cloud Move,” which addresses the following four questions we consistently see:

  1. What data do I migrate to the cloud?
  2. How will my processes change in the cloud?
  3. Who will manage my cloud move?
  4. How will my testing change in the cloud?

In this blog, we’ll cover data migration and process change questions. Download the eBook for more questions you need to answer in order to successfully move your business to the cloud.

  1. What data do I migrate to the cloud?

The first question on everyone’s mind is “What data do I move to the cloud?” This isn’t the time to lift and shift your old problems to a shiny new house in the clouds. This is a time to rethink what’s important.

Pro Tip: Moving your business to the cloud provides a great opportunity to evaluate what data is essential today and is a must-have in the cloud tomorrow.

As you plan for your data migration, it’s important to assess your environment and decide which factors will guide the migration. These factors include application integration and critical application data.

Additionally, you’ll need to consider your reliance on data, such as which telecom source(s) you integrate with for your Workforce Management (WFM), Performance Management (PM), Recording, and Payroll integrations. Whether you have data compliance requirements, data requiring regular syncing, or non-critical data you can migrate first—your cloud provider can help determine where to begin your data migration process.

You may be wondering what to do with data that is on-prem. For example, you’ll want to decide which technologies to keep inhouse and outsource—it’s not all or nothing. Not all parts of your contact center solutions need to be outsourced.

This is particularly important if you’re using a cloud solution for the first time. With contact center cloud migration in steady growth, about half the North American market is in the cloud with a steady upward trend over the past five years. Cloud solutions offer flexibility and can be used to fill technology gaps, as well as replace entire systems and solutions. This means you can join the cloud movement in a way that fits your business and data requirements.

At Verint, we offer a selective move of data. We ask what data is important to you for migration and offer consulting services to help you determine what data needs migrating to achieve your business goals.

  1. How will my processes change in the cloud?

Just as you wouldn’t port old, bad data into your beautiful new cloud solution, you wouldn’t map broken, inefficient processes to your new world.

When moving to the cloud, you need someone in place who can map the current and future states of your processes. The future state of your processes is how the process flow for an application will work once in the cloud.

For example, let’s say you have a quality program in place. When you make any major change, such as a move to the cloud or an update, it is the ideal time to evaluate how an application is being used. How are you using your quality program for scoring and coaching, and what will those features look like once in the cloud?

Pro Tip: Your move to the cloud provides the perfect opportunity to reevaluate coaching best practices and recalibrate your coaching between managers.

Or consider moving your workforce management tools to the cloud. Will you change the way you are scheduling or forecasting? Will you change the way that you’re currently accomplishing current and future state scheduling and forecasting?

Understanding what the requirements are and what you are trying to accomplish from a business perspective will help ensure that the features you map to the future are the correct ones for your organization.

At Verint, we evaluate your current state processes and tie them in to how you would like them to change. We offer a process and model optimization workshop that will help you to envision your processes in their future state.

With thoughtful planning, any business can create a solid contact center migration plan that fits their short-term and long-term business goals. For the past 10+ years, Verint has helped leading brands and SMBs successfully move to the cloud to achieve flexibility, efficiency, and strategic value.

As a leader in cloud solutions, Verint offers full-featured, unified customer engagement solutions to fit your organization's needs and budget, whether you're a large, multinational enterprise or a small- or mid-sized business. For more questions to answer for a successful cloud move, download the eBook today!

 

How probing questions can shape workforce engagement and where technology fits in

“Know thyself” is a Greek aphorism, which turns up throughout literary history from Plato to Emerson to self-help blogs. It’s also great advice for call center leaders seeking to enhance employee engagement.

Early on, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often have a leg up in this regard, enjoying a tight-knit community of hand-selected, committed individuals. But as contact centers grow, it can be difficult to bring new people into the fold and, over time, a once cohesive, highly engaged group can fall prey to the “blahs.”

That’s why it’s important to keep probing the contact center’s identity—what makes it special and why should employees care? Who are we today and who do we want to become?

We’ve talked before about the importance of a shared mission, the authentic purpose behind the call center, but knowing thyself is also critical.

A Hacker’s Nightmare

It’s rather common for contact center leaders to hoist the “employee engagement project” on a manager or group of supervisors. And those tasked with delivering better survey results will usually turn to the internet in search of tips and tricks.

This research can get the ideas flowing but rapidly adopting #5 from some call center management post may not achieve much. After all, how do you know whether to use gamification tools or overhaul the hiring process if you haven’t first identified your barriers to workforce buy-in?

Unfortunately for all of us who love quick fixes (and why not, when they work?!), employee engagement is exceedingly resistant to “hacks.” And technology itself isn’t innovation.

It would be wonderful if purchasing a curated selection of products translated into greater workforce engagement, because then we could just budget for it! But it’s rarely so easy. Sometimes, a volunteer activity might do more to bring employees together than a slick new messaging system on their workstations.

High-tech and high-touch together are typically what it takes to get the innovative employee engagement.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Remember working with a ruler and scissors in elementary school and being given the pearl of wisdom to “measure twice, cut once”? Not bad advice for the contact center.

Measuring employee engagement is the necessary starting place, and it should happen long before considering how to “cut and paste” other call centers’ techniques into your operations. A comprehensive examination of workforce engagement can help target initiatives and provide benchmarks against which to judge progress.

Here’s where technology can be an immediate asset. Some technology solutions can enable an entire workforce to share perceptions and feedback via their preferred communications channels. And it’s so easy to implement, contact center leaders can check in more than once per year!

Moreover, reporting features built into high-quality workforce management software can drive insights into the variables affecting employee performance. Contact center leaders might, for instance, identify a top-performing team whose manager stumbled onto an innovative employee engagement approach that should be shared company-wide.

When working to know thyself better, it’s vital to ensure decision-makers are really listening, too. Asking for input and ignoring it can destroy any existing engagement. So be open to the opinions offered, even if it means abandoning some entrenched ideas or promoting difficult change.

Tailored to You

Employee engagement demands a customized approach, measured to fit and cut to suit. For instance, some call center environments lack camaraderie. The fun activities typically recommended for workforce engagement can pay immediate dividends there, adding rewarding personal interactions into the average workweek.

Other teams are collegial but not particularly driven and unfortunately, creative event planning won’t solve that problem. Instead, contact center leaders will have to figure out how best to promote a sense of forward movement with career pathing, competitions and other approaches.

Applying the right solutions begins with asking the right questions. Do employees need a stronger voice? Then exciting digital tools to gauge attitude and energy level at varying intervals could make a difference. Would they like more skills-building? Then a training solution that empowers them to learn—and get paid—while providing continual feedback could be transformative.

Innovative employee engagement initiatives are created for an organization based on extensive self-examination. Designing a strategy is a complicated undertaking, but we’ve broken down the most important elements in our whitepaper, The Complete Contact Center Guide to Employee Engagement for SMBs.

Download it now for a walk-through of workforce engagement concepts, from beginning the data collection process to developing a feedback loop to evolve over time. Along the way, you’ll get to know your organization a little better so you can implement the right combination of tactics to drive engagement to new heights.

 

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