Using Metrics to Build Trust in Contact Center Agent Performance

When I recently came across a book titled I Love You More than My Dog, by Jeanne Bliss, I was intrigued.  When I saw that the book was about customer service, I knew I had to read it.  I haven’t finished reading yet, and haven’t had time to reflect on the big picture, but one passage has already made me stop and consider how companies today think about customer relationships. 

The first premise of the customer relationship philosophy in this book is Decide to Believe.  While the focus is mostly on deciding to believe in your customers, there is also some discussion about believing in your employees.  Do you believe in, and trust, your employees to provide the best possible service to your customers?

For the intent of this blog, I’m always thinking about agent performance and their impact on the contact center; it is a topic likely always on the mind of contact center managers as well!  Now, consider that same question in the context of your agents’ performance:  Do you believe in, and trust your employees enough to provide the best possible service AND how can easy access to metrics from your contact center platforms help build that trust?

Many contact centers already provide some level of access to past contact center results.  Providing your employees access to metrics in real-time, both on the contact center level as well as individual level, may offer many opportunities to build trust and to further enhance performance.  Consider these possible outcomes if multiple levels of contact center metrics are available to frontline agents:

  • Agents would have access to concrete performance metrics, allowing them to self-manage and make more informed decisions.
  • The real-time metrics would provide an opportunity to quickly see how their performance is aligning to goals and expectations.
  • Since they are “in the trenches,” agents may be able to offer additional insight about unusual or unexpected results; perhaps there was a computer glitch or a new promotion that threw everyone off for the reporting period.
  • Agents may be able to share new ideas about how to look at the metrics to evaluate overall performance.  Are you depending on metrics where agents have figured out how to manipulate the numbers? Are there metrics that you are not using that may be beneficial?

Of course, providing this information to employees demonstrates your commitment to them and your belief in their professional capabilities.  It is certainly worth considering whether sharing real-time contact center metrics with employees may help build trust while, at the same, time enhancing the customer service they can provide. 

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Putting the Customer First: Using Real-Time Contact Center Metrics to Achieve Your Goals

Almost every contact center leader analyzes the rich data coming from their Avaya Aura system in order to improve the effectiveness of their agents, better determine trends, accurately schedule their workforce, lower costs and drive additional revenues. A good deal of the information used is based on historical data from previous intervals (ex. day/month/year) for planning purposes, and in terms of their ability to predict things like agent shrinkage and call volumes.  However, that data doesn’t necessarily translate well when it comes to identifying and addressing the issues that arise during the course of a day in a contact center.

Today, best-in-class contact centers understand that delivering a consistently satisfying experience for their customers is a key differentiator. To help achieve their customer satisfaction goals they are complimenting their historical data with real-time metrics, which allows them to quickly identify and address potential problems before they lead to negative customer experiences.

Integrating real-time metrics into your performance management processes takes planning and a solid understanding of your organization’s goals.  Using the wrong performance metrics can not only conflict with your goals, but actually drive unwanted behavior. To ensure the desired results are achieved Inova Solutions recommends the following process when implementing a real-time performance management solution:

  • First, determine what results you’re trying to achieve: improved customer service levels, or increase sales or conversion rates, or lower cost per call.
  • Next, determine what metrics are available and how they align to those goals.  Common metrics from an ACD or reporting applications, such as Avaya Aura Contact Center or the Avaya Call Management System are good places to start. Inova Solutions can aggregate those metrics across multiple platforms and sites and customize the out-of-the box options to best meet your needs. With an Inova real-time solution you can also pull in and manipulate data from other non-contact center sources, such as sales databases, or operational systems. Whatever platforms you use, give careful consideration to leveraging more customer centric metrics such as CSAT, Calls Waiting or Schedule Adherence versus Average Handle Time (AHT) or Average Speed of Answer (ASA).
  • When determining what metrics are available, you’ll also want to consider who you’ll be sharing them with.  Inova will help you determine what metrics are most impactful for managers, supervisors, individual agents, or groups of agents and how best to present them. Inova supports each audience with presentation choices ranging from customizable mobile dashboards, multimedia digital signage and desktop applications.
  • Finally, once you’ve determined what metrics you’ll be sharing with whom, you’ll want to establish threshold levels and response strategies. Inova Solutions can help you determine when you should react to an out-of-compliance metric, create instructional messaging and determine follow-up strategies.

With the right real-time metrics and tools, your contact center team will be aware of ‘in-moment’ customer service issues and be able to respond to them more appropriately, accurately and quickly – ensuring you meet your customer service goals. Inova Solutions offers a Real-Time Performance Analysis Service to help you identify the right metrics and show you how to transform the data into usable, actionable information to improve the performance of your contact center and staff. Learn More.

Real-time Metrics Enable Consistent Contact Center Performance

Proper forecasting and accurate scheduling are critical to the success of your contact center.  But accurate scheduling, by design, doesn’t leave much room for error and puts most contact centers dangerously close to the edge in terms of being over-staffed or under-staffed.  Given the random nature of the arrival of contacts, being ‘right-staffed’ can be a fleeting concept.  More often than not, you will have too many or too little agents available to address current demand.  Add in the normal daily chaos and it’s easy to see why even the most accurate schedules can become misaligned pretty quickly.

Monitoring agent and overall contact center performance are equally important to success. Daily performance reports provide good historical analysis, and allow you to adjust your going-forward planning, but they do little in terms of addressing issues when they are most important – when a customer is engaged and the customer satisfaction meter is ticking.  In an environment where CSAT score goals are set high and speed of service is measure in seconds, it’s easy to see how success in achieving your objectives can be quickly jeopardized.

Addressing issues in workforce and performance are moment-to-moment requirements that can’t wait until the next day.  They require real-time information, analysis and action.  To ensure that consistent, satisfying experiences are delivered, processes must be in place to:

  • Allow agents, supervisors and managers to learn immediately when there is a problem
  • Understand what corrective actions must be taken & when

Having a lack of visibility into the right set of real-time metrics, however, limits those capabilities.  A new white paper from DMG consulting, Improve Contact Center Performance with Real-Time Metrics, details how monitoring the right metrics in real-time can help you improve your customer service scores and improve the overall performance of your contact center.  The paper includes a look at the top requested real-time metrics by supervisors and managers that, when monitored, result in specific benefits, including:

  • Reduced wait times and abandonment rates
  • More informed and efficient agents
  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • Improved adherence and occupancy rates
  • Reduced operating expenses
  • Avoidance of negative public relations

If you’re looking to improve the performance of your contact center or considering adding real-time metrics to your reporting processes, give the paper a read.

Download the White Paper

Keeping up with customer expectations (Part 2)

In my last post, I encouraged managers to use their comprehension of their contact centers as a starting point for a conversation with training personnel.  I’d like to dive a little more into that theme, with a step-by-step plan for contact center training.  Keep in mind that this is a rather simplistic version of plan that must really be much more detailed in its implementation; it should, however, be enough for a solid start!

 

1.      Identify the performance gaps.  What knowledge or skills do your employees need to have to best perform their jobs?  Does your contact center data indicate weaknesses that can be improved through training?  It is important to ensure that your needs can be addressed through training (and are not related to motivation or environment); be as specific as possible in identifying the training needs and learning objectives.
 
2.      Identify the time you have available.  Using historical data from your contact center, identify all chunks of time that could be used for training.  Keep in mind that periods as short as a minute or two up to several hours (or days) could potentially be used for training purposes.
 
3.      Talk to training personnel at your organization.  They should be the experts about education and training, and they will be able to help you match learning goals with available time periods.  This will likely be a time-consuming step, as you work with the training personnel to clearly identify next best steps.
 
4.      Coordinate with the trainers to determine the best plan for rollout.  This could include a wide variety of plans: an email link to short tutorials, a 1-hour refresher course, or a day-long session covering a new skill.
 
5.      Deliver the training.  Depending on the time required for the session, use your historical or real-time data to identify the best times for delivery. Do you historically have a down-time, with several slower hours?  Use that to deliver longer sessions.  Do agents sometimes have a few minutes between calls?  Use real-time data to encourage agents to watch a minute-long video tutorial.  As I mentioned in my previous post, software is available to identify these time frames and push information automatically.
 
6.      Evaluate your training.  This is where your robust understanding of data can really be useful; compare your contact center data before and after training to determine if your efforts were successful.

 

Of course, even if your attempts are a raging success, you will need to start the whole process again as customer expectations continue to evolve, new products or services or released, or other new skills are required!

Making Sense of Big Data in the Contact Center

Jay Minnucci writes in his white paper Call Center Performance Metrics:  Shaping Tomorrow’s Reporting Strategy, “the entire purpose of metrics [is] defining opportunities to make the greatest positive impact.”  In today’s contact centers, it is no small feat to identify and manage the increasing array of data available, let alone to use that data to define opportunities that will have a positive impact on the key measures of business success!  With the focus squarely on the customer experience, contact center managers are going beyond the typical statistics from ACDs   and constructing, integrating, and analyzing custom metrics specific to their environments and service level goals.  And this is just the start.  Organizations are leveraging other supporting data metrics to provide more intelligence and measurement from platforms such as callback, outbound dialing, and workforce management applications as well as cross-channel touches from chat and other social media streams.  Add other enterprise ‘mash-up’ data from various operational data sources to the mix and it can make your head spin.   One thing for sure, Big Data, with its opportunities and challenges, is happening in the contact center.

The standard contact center metrics remain the backbone for center success.  Certainly understanding the tried-and-true metrics such as calls waiting, agents available, abandoned calls, and expected wait time will always be beneficial in understanding both the real-time and historical picture of what’s happening in your center.  However, organizations are both redefining standard metrics to better match their goals and adding new enterprise data sources to bring more intelligence into the center.  To more easily think about these data sources, Inova likes to categorize them in six primary buckets:

  • Custom Metrics – This category is greatly influenced by the other data categories since areas like outbound calling and social media responses bring their own set of numbers to the equation.  But even with standard data available from ACDs you can create custom metrics using the Data Analyzer function within Inova LightLink software to better measure your specific performance and objectives.  The Data Analyzer tool can easily calculate averages, max and median times, etc., so that specific services levels and metrics can be created.  Abandoned call percentage and custom services levels across all separate and disparate platforms are examples that are possible.  Custom equations such as removing calls that are dropped within a few seconds before determining average handle time are also easy to create.  Having this ability allows managers to look at all of the types of information available and then to select the specific data views that will best support their needs as well as the needs of other line of business owners and organizations.
  • Associated contact center data sources – Many contact center managers now integrate and display real-time data that is either directly associated with their contact center (Ex: outbound calling or callback applications) or directly affected by data coming from the contact center (Ex: workforce management platforms).  Using the latter example, managers can combine schedules and skill queues for quick analysis of workforce alignment; or integrate messages to automatically announce additional shift availability when the WFM system detects a preset threshold for understaffed periods.  In blended inbound and outbound environments managers and agents can get quick status views about proactive outbound or loyalty campaigns.
  • Result-oriented data – Contact centers strive to be viewed not as cost centers, but as profit centers responding quickly and intelligently to customer needs – cross-selling and up-selling products and services, and keeping customers satisfied.  As such, managers want to understand metrics in terms of the real costs to run their centers and how performance affects overall profitability. They want to know more than just how many calls the center took and how quickly, but how this number applies to the top and bottom lines and overall customer satisfaction.  To do this, some companies are displaying real-time snapshots of sales measures vs. objectives as a way to motivate their agents, correlate their efforts to the success of the business, and identify real opportunities for improvement.  They are also measuring more customer experience related metrics such as agent generated holds, task completion rates and abandoned rates for example.
  • Behind-the-calls data – Most contact center managers would like to know what, exactly, is behind their call types and volumes; they want to be prepared for situations like sudden call spikes or an onslaught of similar topic calls.  To do this some have begun to incorporate operational data, sometimes referred to as enterprise ‘mash-up’ data, into real-time reporting views.  Incorporating this operational data on LCD screens and desktop applications provides a first-hand view, allowing managers and agents to prepare for potential changes in their environments.  The status of a current product promotion, technical issues with an online catalog, or an alert at a utilities company center to drops in power or water pressure would all be example indicators for an increase in call volumes related to specific issues, allowing for more proactive management of the center.
  • Cross-channel data – With all of the new ways that companies and customers are interacting, you likely have access to a growing number of data platforms:  emails and chats with customers as well as social networking interactions or statuses.   Harnessing this cross-channel data is critical for managing the customer experience.
  • External / Environmental data – Your Inova real-time reporting solution can integrate data from the outside world as well such as weather, traffic, and news.  For some contact centers, this information can sometimes be a lifesaver:  consider again the utilities company incorporating live severe-weather feeds to make real-time staffing decisions.

In the end it’s up to leaders of each organization to determine what data should be accessible and viewable in real-time.   For so many obvious reasons, real-time data is critical for understanding what is happening right now in the center; it allows leaders to make decisions that can have immediate impact toward achieving stated goals and milestones.   Integrating custom metrics and data from peripheral and core operating sources is key for producing a 360-degree view of how your contact center is delivering value to your business and, more importantly, to your customers.  As Minnucci wrote, “the contact center landscape is changing and the manner in which we keep score — our metrics — will need to change to keep pace with all this activity.”

Look for more detail in the future on the value and the ability of LightLink to present powerful business views and insights from these varied data sources.

“It’s all about the experience”

“It’s all about the experience.”  This was the tagline of Interactions 2012Interactive Intelligence, one of our call center infrastructure partners, hosted a wonderful event at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis last week.  The experience was one of a kind!  For the first time they brought together all of their customers, partners, prospects, consultants, analysts, and media.

 

Inova Solutions was conveniently located at booth #11 where we were able to show off our real-time reporting tools and LightLink software to over 1,500 attendees.  Our LED wall board and LCD display allowed the guests to see the advantages of visual reporting in the call center.  We also showed how our desktop reporting application and web-based dashboards extended the value of ININ reporting tools, including Interaction Marquee.

 

As you all know, taking in three packed days of information can be a bit exhausting and overwhelming.  However, one thing that really stuck out in my mind was the keynote address from Clayton Christensen, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.  Clayton’s talk, The Value of Innovation and Disruption in Business, pointed out that we must always ask ourselves “what’s the job to be done?”

 

This is something you can reconsider in every aspect of business, even the call center.  If you’re thinking about investing in, or you already have digital signage in the contact center, what job does it need to get done?  And how can seeing the right kind of data help you to better do that job. Do you need to alert agents about changes in particular queues?  Would your agents and supervisors benefit from seeing up-to-the-second sales or other operational data?  Do you want various locations to compete with one another for employee incentive programs?  Have you considered streaming Twitter feeds to remind staff that there’s a real person on the other side of the phone?

 

Whatever job you need to get done think about the kind of data that if you could calculate, aggregate and see it in real-time, would help you more easily complete that job.  Chances are our data experts, LightLink software and array of display options can bring your vision to life Seeing and acting on the right kind of data will certainly assist in making sure it’s all about the experience for your customers and employees alike!

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Know Your Customers

I recently came across a blog post titled, “Well, she did write like a 9-year old;” the title caught my eye and I had to read further.  The post chronicles a customer service interaction between the blogger and one of his readers.  The case opened with the customer writing to the blogger:  “steve i dont like you leve me olone.”

Steve, the blogger initially writes back with respect, but the conversation quickly deteriorates, with Steve, self-admittedly feeling ornery, eventually telling the reader, “I would suggest that you attend some sort of class in spelling or grammar, so that your emails come across more professionally. It’s hard to take someone seriously who writes like a 9-year old.”  Ouch.

And then we come to the best part, the reader’s final response: “i am 9 stupid.”

Steve wraps up with a final lesson of, “When you’re performing customer service, just grin and bear it. The customer is always right. Or nine.”

While the customers might not always be right, sometimes customer service agents might just need to grin and bear it.  Even when customers might not be particularly well-spoken, or even if they write like 9-year-olds, they still deserve respect.  While it’s an unusually comic example from the realm of customer service, the point made applies to all customers, ages 9 or 109!

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Choosing the Right LCD for Your Contact Center

After traveling to visit some of our customers last week, I realized most them were deploying LCD screens in their contact centers.  When discussing upgrading or expanding, they wanted a “best practices” guide for choosing the right LCD to fit their needs.  After conducting some research, I hope the following outline helps anyone on the hunt for an LCD in their contact center.

Top Considerations:

Brand/Type

Any brand that meets your size requirements and quality needs of your installation.  LCD technology is strongly recommended over plasma, due to plasma burn-in issues.  Also remember that certain companies have contracts with vendors so you should first find out if there’s a specified LCD vendor you need to use.

Connectivity

Ensure that you know about any VGA, HDMI, or DVI connections that might be needed.

Resolution

We tell customers that 1920 x 1080 is the recommended minimum resolution.  In cases where video will be extended to the LCD signage, confirm that 1920 x 1080 is possible via the VGA-DB-15 port.

Screen Size & Placement

Larger screens can display more content at a larger size.  It’s important to first plan out what you want to display on your screen and how far you want to be able to read it.  Remember: Lighting conditions greatly affect visibility.

Audio

Modern LCD displays typically have built-in sound functions, however these may not be loud enough for your location and consideration should be made if sound will be required for the digital signage.

Consumer vs. Professional Grade

The chart below, provided by EZ-DigiSign, identifies the general differences between commercial and consumer type displays.