Work at Home – Flexibility in the Contact Center Space

Providing flexibility for a workforce is paramount to the long-term satisfaction of many employees in today’s job market. At InfoCision, we have an entire program that offers our contact center staff the option to work from the convenience of their home in a virtual call center environment.

Our staff involved in this unique program receive their initial training in a web-based environment and learn to make the same calls as our traditional agents, just from the comfort of their own homes. This provides an opportunity for people who may not be able to work outside the home otherwise. It also delivers other benefits, like not wasting time commuting back and forth to work, not having a dress code to follow, and saving money on gas and vehicle maintenance. 

Having a work at home program not only encourages employee satisfaction, but also ensures that we have the flexibility and capacity to meet staffing requirements, enabling us to provide excellent customer service and unparalleled ROI. 

 

Gamification: Enhancing Employee Engagement in the Contact Center Space

Keeping employees engaged is a goal for every contact center. In a world filled with social media, where myriads of people are involved in habitually playing games and using fun apps to send pictures and messages to their friends, why not apply the same logic to their work environment? Gamification leverages employee’s natural desires – for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, success, status, and expression – as play.  Whether incentivizing employees to compete with their colleagues to score points individually or motivating them to work together as a team to achieve an overall goal, gamification in the call center space changes the game.

 At InfoCision, we use gamification across the organization – from our Communicators on the phones to salary staff at Corporate.   Our proven gamification techniques align company, division and client goals with fun incentivizes and friendly competition.    Employees receive real-time feedback when their achievements contribute to the goal.  Those employees are instantly recognized and rewarded with their choice from thousands of different incentives, including merchandise, gift cards and work perks!  When personalized achievement, job satisfaction, and meaningful rewards merge to produce best in-class performance and quality – the result for our clients is truly a WIN-WIN! 

 

Team Empowerment in the Contact Center

Everyone can agree that it’s important to empower your workforce but developing best practices to boost retention and morale in the contact center space is critical. At InfoCision, we have decades of experience, which equates to a plethora of time-tested, valuable ideas.

With the holiday season in full swing, it’s a time like no other to evaluate how your management team offers appreciation and encouragement to everyone on your workforce, especially including your team on the phone. From gamification and e-cards built-in our screens each day, to holiday-themed grand prize giveaways, we motivate our agents to provide excellent customer service in every call. However, empowerment is more than just the stuff money can buy. It’s:

    • Building an environment where people genuinely want to come to work – a place that fosters self-esteem, builds confidence, and feels like family
    • Believing in the values of the organizations and brands we’re asking others to support
    • Having supervisors and managers who practice empathy and active-listening, remembering birthdays and asking about sick grandkids
    • Visiting the call center floor regularly with senior management who are invested in acquiring feedback from agents, in person, themselves
    • Focusing on finding solutions within an atmosphere of remarkable teamwork, not just debriefings venting about common challenges
    • Ensuring your team has the tools they need to offer an unmatched customer experience

     

  • Genuine job satisfaction comes from more than appreciative Christmas cards, offering team lunches, and coordinating cheesy holiday festivities. True empowerment is generated through a culture of operational excellence, in a commitment to the continual and sincere encouragement and inspiration of your workforce – not just during the holidays, but throughout the entire year.

Build Employee Engagement in the Contact Center

As a contact center manager, you may feel you’ve done everything in your power to drive employee performance—from sound hiring practices to training to fostering a conversational culture—yet some of your staff are still not achieving expected outcomes.

You want your Communicators to be actively engaged in driving contact center success, which requires a high level of job commitment. This goes beyond the parameters of job satisfaction, such as salary and work/life balance. Employees must also enjoy their work and believe that they are contributing to the greater good. This feeling of “plentitude and pleasure” is a necessary component of job commitment.

Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a noted expert on positive psychology, is renowned for his influential and widely cited research on the notion of “flow.” He describes flow as a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It’s comparable to “being in the zone,” where even hunger and other temporal concerns are ignored.

Everyone has had the feeling at one time or another. Csikszentmihalyi says people are happiest when they are in this state. This can easily be observed in high-performance athletes who have reached the summit of a mountain or finished a marathon.

A flow state can only be achieved when certain conditions exist, such as challenge-skill balance, clarity of goals, immediate and unambiguous feedback, loss of self-consciousness and an autotelic personality—one in which a person performs acts because they are intrinsically rewarding.

Csikszentmihalyi and his associates have found that intrinsically motivated people are more likely to be goal-directed and enjoy challenges. When people are motivated from within to optimize and enhance their own happiness and well-being as a result of challenging experiences, they have a personality construct that Csikszentmihalyi calls “work orientation.” It is characterized by endurance, cognitive structure, order, play and low impulsivity.

A high level of work orientation is a good predictor of goal fulfillment—more so than any environmental influence, says the psychologist. So how can managers help their employees achieve a state of flow? Csikszentmihalyi tells us that four criteria are required:

  • Clear goals that demand clear answers
  • Answers that require intense concentration and commitment
  • Equilibrium between the challenge and the capacity
  • Immediate recognition after the challenging task has been accomplished

Managers who ensure these criteria are met in the contact center are likely to build employee engagement. Your Communicators certainly have challenges you can leverage. Make sure they know exactly how to meet those challenges, and that they have the training and tools they need to do so. Continue to develop their skills across the organization and recognize their successes in a timely manner. By these means, you’ll create flow in your contact center.

Alleviating Emotional Exhaustion in the Contact Center

Working at a frontline customer-facing job involves a high level of emotional exertion. Burnout, or mental exhaustion, and turnover are, therefore, statistical inevitabilities of contact centers.

Customer care Communicators are expected to display socially appropriate emotions and suppress negative ones. They are asked to create empathy, rapport and trust with customers and to appear happy and eager to serve. At the same time, they must continuously manage customer interactions and resolves issues—work which is generally acknowledged to be tedious and stressful—while being constantly monitored for adherence to procedures and schedules.

Communicators often have to deal with impatient, rude and aggressive customers on top of everything else. In fact, a Psychology Today study of call center workers in the U.S. found that some Communicators averaged up to 10 hostile encounters per day with customers.

Symptoms of burnout can manifest themselves in a demoralized and cynical staff that fails to provide meaningful interaction with customers. This will, of course, negatively impact service levels and customer satisfaction, as well as brand reputation and overall profitability.

What’s more, a University of British Columbia study on the effect of rudeness on call center employees reveals that employees respond to customer rudeness with similar discourteous behavior, creating a downward spiral in civility, substantially reducing service quality.

In this environment, what can contact center managers do to minimize burnout and create higher levels of employee engagement and customer care? Here are a few suggestions:

Hire stable employees: Assessing the overall mental stability of Communicator job applicants is critical for avoiding damaging interactions in the contact center. Weed out inappropriate candidates—those with predilections for anxiety, hypersensitivity, nervousness, moodiness, and low frustration or stress tolerance—using a personality assessment tool designed for your specific contact center. “Live bodies” ill-suited for the job will drag down the effectiveness of your entire operation.

Focus on quality, not costs: Emphasize customer satisfaction and first call resolution as your key performance indicators, not cost per call/interaction and average handle time. Otherwise, the work environment incorporates penalties for Communicators who do not hurry their customers off the phone to meet productivity standards. You create conflict stress for Communicators when you ask them to both act quickly and maximize customer satisfaction. Instead, empower Communicators with a mandate to do everything they can to satisfy the customer on the first call no matter how long it takes.

Lead by example: A Communicator’s tenure in your contact center is directly influenced by his or her supervisor. Supervisors who envision their role as enforcer/disciplinarian or who favor employees for reasons other than merit create apathy and frustration in their staff. On the other hand, supervisors who lead by example, coaching and providing constructive performance feedback, foster a sense of belonging among employees. Supervisors also must be given the time they need to coach, which may mean that contact center leaders need to increase the ratio of supervisors to Communicators.

Sluggish Productivity as Winter Drags On? Try These Tips!

Is enthusiasm in your contact center waning as winter drags on? Has productivity dropped? If you’re not sure, here are some warning signs: irritability or frustration, unexplained work absences, coming in late/leaving early, decline in health and isolation. If you’re seeing any of this, rest assured that you can have a positive influence on the situation.

As the boss, you can reshape your staff’s work experience by communicating, motivating and leading. Let’s look at these three areas in-depth:

Communication: Meet with staff individually and as a group to give them a chance to express any concerns about their workload, goals, job difficulties and the workplace. Let them know you’re their advocate. Put the emphasis on the aspect of the job that excites your employee each time you speak to him or her, to keep a focus on the positive. As I’ve mentioned before, I hold quarterly forums with employees across all of our locations, which serves as the perfect opportunity to chat with Communicators.

Motivation: Hone in on what motivates your staff. Does praise in front of other staff work for some … pointing out challenges in private sessions for others? Conversely, give them some control: flex hours, casual attire and telecommuting, for example. This will let employees know that you care about their happiness and will help them address work-life balance.

Show appreciation. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Just bring in bagels for the team one morning or let everyone bring their laptops outside on a sunny, warm day. If you want to go grander, plan a staff outing or meal together.

Of course, money always talks. Is it time for a raise, or a bonus? Do you simply need to encourage a listless or irritated worker to take his or her vacation days more regularly? Compensation and relaxation can’t cure burnout, but may begin to ease symptoms.

Leadership: Managers who continuously improve their own skills will enable better team harmony and efficiency. Grow your abilities by attending workshops or conducting your own self-learning through books and training materials. You must also get your employees the training they need to succeed. Training is a motivator due to the value it places on the worker’s contributions. Good training topics for contact center staff include time and stress management, improving customer service, and specific computer programs.

In addition, review task assignments. Evaluate whether they are appropriate given the unique abilities of each employee. Be sure workloads are distributed evenly and that no one is bearing the brunt of the work. Offer understimulated staff greater challenges, and rotate tedious work so everyone can try something new from time to time.

Five Roadblocks to Successful Contact Center Training

A successful contact center training program must arm customer care Communicators with the knowledge and tools they need to deliver a stellar customer experience. It doesn’t happen by magic. Manager-trainers/coaches must strategically design the training program so that it optimizes the commitment of funding, time and effort necessary to create and implement it.

To help you maximize the opportunity, avoid the following five roadblocks when developing your training program:

  1. Vague objectives: Specific goals and objectives should be established—documented in writing—at the outset, as they are the very foundation of the training program. Make sure they encompass the knowledge and skills that participants ought to take away at the end, and be sure to present them to participants at the start of the session. These goals will guide a logical sequence of activities for the program, as well as provide the basis for assessment of the training’s effectiveness.
  2. Unsupportive learning environment: Be sure the training space is welcoming and ready. Warmly greet participants as they enter. The room should be of an appropriate size to accommodate the number of trainees—neither too large nor too small (remember how Goldilocks suffered in this regard). Make sure everyone is comfortable: Consider room temperature, accessibility, lighting, travel arrangements and facilities (e.g., restrooms, Wi-Fi and parking). Choose an area free from distractions and where everyone has a good view of trainers and training materials. Check acoustics to be sure that everyone can hear the presenters.
  3. Limited resources: Training materials should be abundant and up to date and, especially, mimic what will actually be used in the work environment. All equipment, hardware and software should be current and fully functional. Ensure that the training materials match expected outcomes. For example, training on a software tool may require hands-on access to the software or at least clear screen shots delineating the software elements. Participants should also be given training materials to take back to the office for reference.
  4. Overreliance on lectures: Change up training methods to keep participants engaged and learning. Encourage discussions around the training materials, and use exercises that allow trainees to practice skills, like role playing, Q&A and quizzes. People learn in different ways, so be sure to employ visual (e.g., black or white boards, videos, PowerPoint presentations and overhead projectors), oral (e.g., storytelling, jokes and lectures) and written materials (e.g., manuals and worksheets). Keep in mind the age and experience levels of participants and match them with methods and tools used for training.
  5. Little assessment or follow-up: Once employees return to the workplace, are they able to apply what you’ve taught them? Training program success is measured by how well it has affected employee performance toward the stated goals. A training program is a work in progress, and evaluation is critical to improving it over time. For assessment, consider pre- and post-knowledge and/or skills testing. Also measure employee reaction to the program, since approval indicates engagement and absorption of the information being conveyed, and disapproval guides improvements. Employee feedback should be collected immediately following the training. Use a standardized form, perhaps one that uses a numbered rating system but also includes open-ended questions and space for comments.

Training is an important part of overall contact center performance. Make sure to optimize it by avoiding these five roadblocks.

Best Practices of Top-Performing Frontline Managers

To maximize a team’s abilities, managers must spend a significant amount of time helping team members understand company objectives and coaching them to improve performance. Successful contact center managers have figured out how to address key factors impacting contact center operations, engendering smooth transactions and enhancing the customer experience.

Frontline managers who continuously seek quality improvements are the linchpins in a brand’s ability to meet customer expectations, retain customers, and then turn those customers into brand loyalists and advocates.

Here are some of their best practices for meeting contact center key performance metrics:

Be positive, helpful and accountable: Whether by nature or through company training, the most-effective frontline managers know how to motivate and coach Communicators to excel. Business leaders need to ensure that their frontline managers have the tools they need to set up their teams for success.  Sure, technology—from data and analysis tools to dashboard reporting—can buoy a manager’s ability to develop a top-performing team, but a people-first mentality is essential. Exuding a positive, can-do attitude and a willingness to help, including taking ownership of every call, will go a long way toward meeting contact center objectives.

Focus on employee engagement, retention and productivity: Acknowledge that most Communicators don’t plan to spend their careers in their current roles. Take the time to showcase how accomplishing their existing duties to the best of their abilities will benefit them down the road. This will motivate purpose-driven engagement in day-to-day tasks. Sensing that they are working toward the greater good, Communicators will experience heightened job fulfillment and put greater effort into their customer interactions. Ultimately, customer service will improve, leading to a heftier bottom line for the business.

Keep employees up to date on information: When customers call in to your contact center, they want their issues resolved quickly and effectively. Your Communicators are the face of your business whether interacting with customers in chat, on a call, through email or any other channel you provide. The value they bring to the customer relationship is dependent upon how well-informed they are about your products and services. Near real-time information can be critical to resolving customer issues and ensuring their satisfaction with your brand.

Mentor staff to handle stress: Communicators who feel attacked or undervalued will leave or simply fail to reach their full potential. Both situations—a high turnover rate/constant rehiring and low-performing workers, respectively—are damaging to any business. Let your Communicators know that not every interaction will go smoothly or every issue be resolved perfectly. Set reasonable expectations so staffers are not demotivated by a few glitches. Your own positive viewpoint, open communication style and lending hand will establish an environment conducive to the retention of both employees and customers.

Frontline managers who willingly provide team mentorship and support, are imbued with a positive spirit and eagerness to help, and who hold themselves personally accountable for the actions of their staff are crucial to contact center performance—and deserve a pat on the back.

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 Cultivate Multitalented Agents

Multiple channels are now commonplace in contact centers, changing the way we do business. The goal of a call center is no longer to handle one transaction on one channel, it’s to make sure that customers have a positive experience on every channel, even if that means transitioning from one mode of communication to another midstream.

This new reality is making the job of a Communicator more complex than ever before. As contact center leaders, it’s our job to support them, giving them every tool they need to make their jobs easier. The ability to juggle multiple channels won’t come naturally to everyone. However, putting more time and resources into agent preparedness will pay off in spades in the long run.

Three things you can focus on to help your Communicators become more “universal” agents—ones who handle multiple channels successfully—are training, technology and product knowledge.

Training: You know your Communicators best. Some are naturally suited to phone work, others are strong writers. Don’t take this as a sign that agents should do different things; separating agents by channel will only serve to splinter your customer service efforts even more. Instead, step up your training efforts to bring everyone up to a more equal ability level. If need be, consider routing calls to specific agents depending on their strengths. Training programs may need to be revamped to address the additional channels in use, and feedback on performance levels should be provided on a timely and frequent basis.

When it comes to hiring new Communicators, create an updated job description that reflects the reality of the position. Look for experience indicators that are relevant to the workplace. For example, Communicators who use social media in their personal lives are more likely to feel comfortable using it on the job. Also, the ability to multitask becomes even more important in a multichannel environment. Switching from one channel to another—even if it’s only two—requires quick thinking and a bit of juggling.

Technology: Much of the technology you probably have in-house already can be used to support the multichannel environment. An IVR system can route specific calls to certain Communicators, depending on their skill levels, as well as minimize the occurrence of low-priority calls with the callback feature. Be sure that plenty of self-service options are available on the website, and incorporate hyperlinks to self-help pages in social media and Web chat services.

Minimize the amount of time your Communicators spend logging into and out of different platforms by providing them with technology tools that make transitions between channels easy. Technology is also available that can provide Communicators with recommendations as to next steps when working with a customer. These recommendations can be revised regularly depending on your analysis of the types of inquiries being fielded and resolutions that worked—no matter the channel.

Knowledge of the product: In-depth knowledge of the brands and products represented will go far in giving Communicators the information they need to handle inquiries more quickly. It will also make it easier for them to navigate between channels during a customer interaction. One way to increase product knowledge is to set up a knowledge-base, a central place where agents can share information about the company and the product, including commonly asked questions and previous issue resolution steps. Rapid access to knowledge will make the channel-switching process more comfortable, and more fruitful.

Creating more universal agents may seem like a daunting prospect, but keep in mind that Communicators who work with multiple channels regularly are more likely to be engaged in their jobs, as opposed to those who don’t. I think you’ll find that a long-term multichannel strategy as it applies to your staff will not only be good for business, but good for your Communicators as well.

Use Employee Surveys to Drive Business Improvements

In a recent blog, I wrote about the employee forums I host with InfoCision workers to encourage open conversations about our business and their roles within the company. During these face-to-face meetings, I conduct surveys to help choose topics for discussion, but results are also shared with corporate executives to drive business improvements. I also extend a companywide Employee Experience survey annually—from Communicators to senior executives—to gain a complete picture of employees concerns and points of view.

The insights derived from analyzing survey results have been instrumental in driving improvements to our employee satisfaction, business processes and customer service.

These surveys support my conviction that a key way to competitively differentiate your business is to attract and retain talent by engaging employees’ hearts and minds. Surveys help me to determine how on point we are with keeping employees happy. They also provide clear direction for any initiatives targeted at improving employee satisfaction—and the organization as a whole.

Surveys can address a variety of business matters, from employee turnover to the onboarding process to management and staff performance. Not only do you gain valuable information, the very act of surveying employees promotes their engagement in the business! Think about it: When you make an effort to discover—and make changes based on—employee sentiments, you are showing that you value their opinions and respect their work, which they naturally appreciate.

The level of employee engagement is critical for success. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, employee engagement has consistently been found to affect key performance outcomes regardless of industry or vertical. In fact, 80 percent of senior leaders agree that good employee engagement is critical to achieving business objectives—and 92 percent of them conduct surveys on the metric.

To collect the knowledge and tools to improve employee retention and productivity, try incorporating some of the following questions into your employee surveys:

  1. Do you feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing your job?
  2. Do you have the tools and resources you need to do your job?
  3. Do senior managers visibly demonstrate a commitment to quality?
  4. Does your job make good use of your skills and abilities?
  5. How satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work?

Open-ended questions can also provide powerful insights on the state of the business. Consider asking:

  • What suggestions do you have for improvements to the business?
  • What would help you be more productive and provide higher-quality service?
  • What other issues not included by this survey need to be addressed in this company?

Surveys are great tools for gaining insights into how well your employees understand your corporate strategy. They will also shine a light on employee engagement and where improvement is necessary to best execute your business goals.

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.