Employer Benefits From the Ultimate Job Perk: Working at Home

Employees who yearn for job flexibility see working at home as the ultimate prize—and have been increasingly pushing their companies to provide the perk. Over the past decade, employers have actively started to respond. The share of workers doing some or all of their work at home grew from 19 percent in 2003 to 24 percent in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 2015 numbers are greater still for management and professional positions, 38 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

The ability to work from anywhere has evolved along with technological advances—so much so that 68 percent of recent college graduates say that, among company policies, the ability to work remotely has “the most positive impact” on their interest in an employer, according to a FlexJobs survey.

The trend encompasses a wide swath of industries, from healthcare to technology. Here at InfoCision, we have seen firsthand the benefits of offering employees the Work-at-Home option. Thanks to cloud computing and widely available Internet broadband access, Communicators can now provide home-based services that are indistinguishable from services that originate in the contact center. Such findings have revolutionized the work place and are greatly improving work-life balance among millions of workers (3.2 million in 2014, according to The New York Times).

Reasons to consider adding Work-at-Home to your call center’s career options:

Dollars: By leveraging the Internet, businesses can reduce the costs of office space and multiple overhead charges. Employees who participate in Work-at-Home programs typically love it, which builds their company loyalty, thus lowering your attrition rates and costs.

Time: Commuting is draining on the spirit, the wallet and the clock. The average commuter spends nearly an hour a day just getting to and from the office—time that could be better used to close a deal or finish writing a story, among a multitude of other tasks. Time=money.

Morale: Job satisfaction increases with telecommuting. It should almost go without saying that having the flexibility to work from home (or anywhere)—in case you’re under the weather, a child is sick, the car’s in the shop, etc.—would improve employee morale; nevertheless, new research from the University of Minnesota and the MIT Sloan School of Management has made it official. In a randomized controlled trial, the researchers learned that workers who were given an increased sense of control over their work lives reported higher levels of job satisfaction and reduced levels of burnout and psychological stress.

Productivity: Only 7 percent of respondents to a FlexJob survey say the office is their location of choice if they need to be most productive at work tasks. The rest prefer to work remotely; their top reasons for this choice include fewer interruptions from co-workers and other distractions, like meetings and office politics. What’s more, research shows that at-home workers typically put in longer hours than their colleagues at the office.

Beware some telecommuting challenges

At-home workers have reported a sense of isolation, and they find communicating with colleagues more challenging—at least initially. Virtual connection technologies like Skype and Google Hangout help bridge the communication gap but, for others, nothing replaces chatting around the water cooler.

Keeping tabs on what co-workers are doing is also tricky, as is staying motivated to report on their own activities toward goals. This leads to another issue coming to the forefront: Telecommuters are being promoted at half the rate of their in-office colleagues, according to The New York Times article referenced above. This can be attributed to a lack of live interaction—a case of out of sight, out of mind—wherein managing employees and collaborating with the boss are inherently more difficult.

For some telecommuters, limited home resources are also a problem. After all, not every home setup includes a printer and fax machine, for example. Some people also simply work better in a structured environment; home can offer too many temptations to put work on pause.

Sometimes, the best telecommuting practice may simply be to offer employees options—a couple of days at home per week or month—when a deep focus on a work project is needed, a sore throat wants tending or the weather outside is frightful.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Change Your Contact Center for the Better As the Season Changes

Change is all around us. The leaves are falling. The air is getting crisp. As we turn the corner into fall, feed off of the seasonal energy and update your contact center strategy.

Here are some practical steps you can take to inspire your team and boost attitude—and performance—in your contact center:

Update your call scripts: Customers pick up on the smallest details when speaking with your Communicators. So it’s vital to ensure your Communicators are inspired and excited during phone interactions. To boost enthusiasm, try updating your call scripts. You can even hold a meeting, and ask for direct feedback from your Communicators about specific areas they think should change. Get a sense of which lines are working, and which can be improved. Doing so will make your Communicators feel like they are part of the team. What’s more, it will make them think actively about the language they use when speaking with customers.

Bring in some fresh faces: The busy holiday rush will be here before you know it. And when this happens, your department may need to scale to handle larger call volumes. This year, be proactive and hire early. This will give you plenty of time to onboard and train your new hires, and to make sure they are well- prepared for the busy season. Plus, your new Communicators will bring a wave of energy and enthusiasm into your department.

Improve your KPIs: Take a hard look at your contact center metrics. Are there any trends that need to disappear along with the summer heat? Take active measures to reduce your abandon rates by tweaking your interactive voice response system or implementing a callback feature. You could also work with your Communicators to look for ways of improving first call resolution rates. KPIs may seem intimidating, but by making them a priority you could significantly boost your customer service ratings.

Innovate: When is the last time you integrated a new technology into your contact center? There are many new customer relationship management (CRM) solutions that you can use to streamline customer support, like issue tracking systems (which can capture and follow customer challenges), multichannel solutions (for communicating with customers over multiple platforms), and knowledge bases (which help Communicators share information among themselves). If your CRM solutions are up to date, it’s worth considering other small investments to make your Communicators happier and more productive. For example, you could consider implementing new headsets, phones or even chairs. It’s amazing how performance can improve when workers are comfortable at their seats.

Remember that you don’t need to have a massive departmentwide overhaul to enact meaningful change. Simply coming to work with a positive, can-do attitude will inspire others to feel the same. Let the winds of change blow through your contact center and drive improvements this season!

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

It Takes a Strong IT Team to Run a Call Center

Think about all of the different components that must fall into place for a high-quality phone interaction between a Communicator and a customer.

First, the incoming call must be received by the business network. Then, data must travel through the network over a system of cables, routers and switches to reach the call center. What’s more, interactive voice response systems and call queues need to be operational and bug-free to assist the caller. And once the caller is connected with a Communicator, the Communicator needs to be able to pull data in real time from a server.

As this process exemplifies, technology these days goes far beyond merely using a cordless phone for your customer interactions. Technology is complex, and it becomes increasingly complex with every new channel.

When problems do arise on the network, they can impact the customer experience, thus reflecting negatively on your brand.

For this reason, an around-the-clock call center staffed with a dedicated information technology (IT) support team is essential for meeting key business goals. Don’t settle for programs that offer “high quality” communications or “guaranteed” uptime. Dig deeper, and make sure that the company you select has a robust support service in place. This should be a deal-breaker.

What will a contact center IT support team offer your organization? Perhaps the most important thing will be rapid-response network troubleshooting. Your dedicated IT team will address trouble tickets in real time, quickly solving small problems, like helping Communicators connect to the Internet. The team will also solve much larger issues in the network, like discovering the root cause of low-quality voice calls.

Here at InfoCision, we take a holistic approach toward network troubleshooting. In fact, we have an entire building dedicated to our innovative IT support team. And we supply our IT workers with all of the resources and cutting-edge technologies they need to keep our customers’ call center systems running properly.

We also know that each of our customers has different program needs. A “one size fits all” contact center is not in our repertoire, and shouldn’t be in yours, either! For this reason, technology implementations are program-specific, providing the highest level of proficiency for each client’s calls.

A designated IT support team will also be able to strategically plan for network maintenance, ensuring that it takes place during hours that align with your contact center’s needs. A proactive approach to network maintenance will prevent expensive and time-consuming issues from occurring.

Ultimately, an IT support team will work to discover network and call quality issues before customers discover them. This is what good customer service is all about. Let the addition of dedicated IT support in your contact center help you bring your customer experience up a level and distinguish you from your competitors.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Getting Contact Center Data Into the Right Hands to Improve Processes

Your contact center leaders have collected enough data on your customers to ensure that the contact center can meet their needs and remain a vital force in achieving company goals. But these leaders can’t make the necessary changes on their own; your contact center does not function well as an island. Successful operation requires collaboration with other business units, like sales, marketing and IT. So, how do you get critical data insights from the contact center into the right hands across the organization to drive process improvements?

Well, there’s a process for driving process improvements, and it goes like this:

Rid your business of organizational silos: You can’t do this across the board, of course, as some silos provide necessary structure to your organization; instead, aim to destroy the problems caused by silos.  That is, keep the structure that advances accountability and responsibility, but lose the tunnel vision that inhibits communication and cooperation. Look for areas where decreasing autonomy and increasing collaboration would be beneficial to the business. Put measures in place that prevent decisions from being made in isolation going forward.

Develop a mechanism to define initiatives and submit them for prioritization, approval and funding: Given today’s level of customer expectations and business competition, project choices are critical to the very survival of organizations that must make the best use of limited resources. To eliminate bias and errors, decision makers should use a formal approach—whether quantitative or qualitative—when prioritizing projects. Next, the value of the project vs. its cost must be established; this ratio provides a basis of understanding across the organization about what is important. Make sure that systems are in place so that the value is consistent with the organization’s fundamental objectives and strategy.

Ensure that information management activities are effective and successful: This initiative must encompass all the systems and processes within your organization for the creation and use of corporate information. Recognize the complexities that exist and commit to managing them. There are no silver bullets, so avoid oversimplified solutions. Once the initiative is defined, focus on buy-in and active participation of staff throughout your organization; communicate extensively. Adoption will be elusive unless the project delivers tangible and visible benefits; so, make sure all your ducks are in a row as regards identifying concrete business needs and how you’ll measure the project’s impact. This is a long journey; don’t try to account for every factor during development or the project will come to a standstill. Assume that small tweaks will continue to be necessary throughout implementation.

Companies that act on contact center data and analysis to address top priorities will gain the upper hand at providing stellar customer experiences and omnichannel services—hallmarks of today’s most successful businesses.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Three Ways to Celebrate Summer All Year Long In the Contact Center

Summertime brings to mind the sound of waves gently crashing on the beach, the smell of burgers on the grill and the feeling of excitement from lighting firecrackers on the Fourth of July.

You can capture such positive summer sensations in your contact center all yearlong—delighting and satisfying employees and customers—by employing a few strategic best practices, as follows:

Provide continuous professional development: What keeps employees satisfied and engaged at their jobs is the feeling of constant growth and the opportunity to learn. Providing professional development resources to employees of all levels will enable them to continuously work toward new goals, improve their skills and discover new strengths throughout the course of their careers. Not only will this make your employees happier, it will improve the quality of customer care that they deliver thereby retaining more customers.

Offer team building exercises: The best part of summertime is spending quality time with friends and family soaking up the sun. Transfer this feeling of togetherness to your contact center family by holding more team building events so that team members can strengthen their relationships. This is also a great way for upper managers to interact socially with employees with whom they may not otherwise get the chance to engage. Like professional development courses, team building exercises and events will give team members something positive to look forward to throughout the year.

Utilize intuitive technology: The only thing that could improve your Communicators’ top-notch customer care skills is intuitive technology. It’s true; you can enhance Communicator performance by integrating data analytics tools such as predictive analytics, skills-based routing and marketing segmentation to optimize their abilities. Integrating best-in-class technology into your customer care strategy is the cherry on top of your banana split.

Let your customer care shine this summer—and all year long for that matter—by employing these three effective strategies.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Do Your Agents Speak Your Brand Language?

A brand is a complex thing—a blend of consumer expectations, relationships and product or service quality that forms a fundamental building block for your business. Despite the fact that it’s an intangible asset, however, brands aren’t completely nebulous; those perceived as a success are worth millions—even billions—of dollars on a company’s financial statement.

Most businesses that outsource areas of their operations are more mindful about delivering on brand promises when it comes to in-house processes. Other businesses are hesitant to outsource at all because it could mean losing control of their brand.

But it is possible for a third-party contact center to deliver the same trusted brand experience that your in-house team can. Here are some tips for making sure that every customer interaction that happens outside your walls measures up to your brand promises:

  • Look for a contact center with values similar to your own. If your company emphasizes social responsibility, look for a contact center that does the same; if your focus is reliability, make sure your vendor stresses that as well. The closer your entities are in mindset, the easier it will be for outside staff to understand your point of view.
  • Provide company-specific agent training. Develop in-depth training sessions for external vendors that convey your organization’s specific corporate values and service requirements, or have them participate in your existing new employee training program. Customer service providers need to know your company’s mission, values, customer and culture if you hope to see them succeed as your brand ambassador.
  • Make an emotional connection. Once you’ve chosen a vendor, visit the facility in person to help make agents feel like they work for you personally. Also, strive to generate an emotional connection between agents and your brand. They’ll be inspired to advocate for a brand they believe in, turning what could be just a job into a mission.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Ways to Make Morale a Priority

It’s hard to pin down a definition of high or low morale in the workplace, but you know it when you see it. A team with high morale is confident they can do the job, disciplined about performing it, and motivated to tackle whatever comes their way. On the other hand, low morale looks just the opposite—your agents may be working, but there’s no sense of enthusiasm or positivity.

It’s no secret that morale has a major impact on the workplace, particularly in the customer care arena. In a setting with low morale, Communicators aren’t likely to go the extra mile in their service efforts or present a pleasant demeanor during customer interactions. Customers can sense when the person on the other end of the line is unhappy, a feeling that will permeate the entire exchange. So even if the idea of raising morale seems like a nebulous concept, its benefits are clearly measurable in the strength of your bottom line.

If you’re noticing an increase in turnover, frequent employee absences, or an undercurrent of conflicts or complaints, try some of these morale-boosting strategies:

  • Reconnect with your Communicators. Practice “management by walking around,” so you can connect with employees spontaneously. Unplanned conversations could yield impromptu suggestions, ideas, and the sharing of thoughts in the moment. Make sure you’re listening.
  • Say “thank you” more often. Reward Communicators frequently for a job well done, which could mean anything from saying “great job” or “thanks” to things like giving gift certificates or awarding flextime hours.
  • Make staff development a priority. Hold regular one-on-one meetings to understand individual needs and skills, and provide training and development opportunities as often as possible. Create formal ways for staff members to learn from one another.
  • Show Communicators the results of their hard work. Share positive feedback with all agents, and consider sharing any good news related to the clients you work for. After all, their success wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of your Communicators.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

InfoCision Named a Notable Member of the OHBLN

 

At InfoCision, our core business revolves around connecting with people—that is, helping businesses to forge meaningful connections with their customers. Long ago we realized we can do our job better by making similar connections in our community, a wonderful source of valuable and diverse employees. We—and our clients—have been reaping the benefits ever since.

InfoCision is proud to be among the first 100 companies to join the Ohio Business Leadership Network, an organization that leads by example in the employment of individuals with disabilities. More than 800,000 strong, this group of working-age Ohioans with disabilities represents a talented and relatively untapped workforce in our state.

OHBLN members, including Procter & Gamble, Aramark, Miami University, and Pitney Bowes, to name just a few, know that talented and dedicated people of all backgrounds, including those with communications challenges and medical disabilities, are vital to the success of any business. Qualified candidates with abilities and talents relevant to the job are always welcome, and very often, applicants with disabilities bring an extraordinary work ethic, positive outlook and original way of thinking to the table. Truly, a diverse workforce makes us stronger and better able to serve our customers.

InfoCision has also been named a notable OHBLN business member for its dedication to recruiting, training, and retaining individuals with disabilities. We believe that our employees are the link to developing lasting relationships between our clients and their donors or customers, so we look for talented Communicators first and foremost, and offer them opportunities to grow.

If you haven’t already explored diversity initiatives in your own community, I encourage you to do so. An inclusive culture, we think, is key to building meaningful relationships, and key to business success.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

How to Avoid ‘Analysis Paralysis’ in the Contact Center

In customer care centers, data is everywhere. Almost every contact center has tools in place to capture it, knowing that data holds the key to optimizing operations.

Likewise, most contact center managers are adept at turning this data into information through reporting. Reporting is particularly useful for monitoring purposes; when unexpected data presents itself, it highlights areas that may need attention. Reporting can lead to improvements in business performance, but if all you’re doing is reporting, you’re probably not taking full advantage of your data. It’s that higher-level activity—analysis—that delivers the biggest punch.

When done right, data analysis gives you a window into why things are happening the way they are, and even helps you understand what to do about it. Analysis is complex in nature, though, which is why it presents a challenge. It certainly is more time-consuming than reporting, but deriving true insights from huge amounts of data leads many managers to suffer from what is known as analysis paralysis.

To avoid becoming crippled by data analytics, you need a clear strategy for capturing, managing, and analyzing data. Choose your business focus, ask relevant questions, and utilize a strategy that will make your data more impactful to your business. Two activities that can lead to greater value insights are:

  • Market segmentation—the data you gather can help you understand customers on a more personal level. Besides basic demographic information, gather data on their routines and habits, shopping behavior, attitudes and interests. With your business objective in mind, you can craft specific, relevant messages to certain groups of customers, making the messages more likely to get noticed.
  • Predictive analytics—contact centers turn up plenty of data over the course of an individual’s customer journey, including how many times they made contact, what time of day, and their preferred mode of communication. They also voiced concerns, opinions, and complaints every time. Careful analysis allows you to identify at-risk customers, for example, and be proactive in your attempts to retain them.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

 

 

Is It Possible For Communicators to Be Too Empathetic?

Not everyone is cut out to be a contact center agent. These individuals must have a very specific set of unique skills to successful perform their jobs. After all, it takes a certain type of person to deal with a range of customers each and every day.

Empathy is a critical skill that all successful Communicators must have. Typically, when a customer dials into a customer service center he or she has some type of problem or frustration that they need solved. When a customer raises an issue, it’s important that Communicators show sufficient understanding or sympathy for his or her problem.

But is there such thing as being too empathetic?

A recent Fortune article, titled “Dear Customer Service Centers, Please Stop It With the Scripted Empathy,” brings to light an interesting point about the idea of exuding empathy to consumers in the customer care industry. The author of the article suggests that, perhaps, in certain situations exuding too much compassion can actually be off-putting for the customer on the other end of the line.

The author also touches on the fact that scripted empathy can be damaging to a company. While scripts are meant to help guide Communicators, many companies rely too heavily on them. Rather than coming off as a compassionate human, Communicators end up sounding like a carefully programmed robot that has no emotions.

The fact of the matter is, empathy can’t be scripted and the level of compassion Communicators display should depend on the customer complaint and type of interaction. Communicators should be trained to quickly identify a customer’s personality type—for example, thinker, feeler, director—and choose the appropriate path to solution.

Let’s say, for example, that a customer calls in about a small issue with his bill. The individual calling in is in a rush and isn’t much of a talker. Chances are this person wants the situation to be quickly rectified so he can go on his way. Rather than go into a 90-second speech thanking him for his loyalty and apologizing for the incident, it’s best to make a short (but sincere) apology and assure him that the problem will be solved quickly.

Now in this situation it was okay for the agent to simply cut to the chase, but in other instances Communicators might have to take a more delicate approach. Let’s say, for example, that a customer calls in and immediately goes into a rant about an issue with her service. In this situation, it’s important for the agent to listen intently and sympathize with the customer, reassuring her that you understand the problem and that you will do your best to help solve it.

There’s no magic wand that will give your Communicators the know-how to successfully read a situation and act appropriately. It takes extensive training and practice to instill this type of skill in your employees. Therefore, make sure that you’re giving them the necessary training and time to build their confidence.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.