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. 

 

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.

10 Tips for Reducing Contact Center Attrition

Once you’ve hired, onboarded and trained a new Communicator, you’ve invested a lot of time, energy and money into their employment with your organization. Losing an associate is a near tragedy, certainly a disruption to the workflow, a decrease in productivity and an expense.

Unfortunately for the industry, average contact center turnover ranges between 30 and 45 percent—with some centers having almost no turnover, and others centers having turnover in the triple digits, according to QATC.

Many factors contribute to churn—from a sense of isolation to job stressors to lack of motivation. Research studies indicate that the rate of turnover varies by area of the country, employment factors in a specific region or city, and by industry. Turnover is much higher in routine, order-taking positions or in outbound telemarketing where burnout is high. It’s lower in more specialized, higher-level jobs and also lower in union environments.

Replacing a frontline employee costs about $10,000 to $15,000, QATC reports. Understanding the various costs involved, contact center supervisors make it a priority to retain employees.

Here are 10 strategies that will help you reduce attrition in your contact center:

  • Hire the right people: This is a demanding job. Make sure you hire people who can handle it. Look for strong people skills, and someone who can remain calm and polite even in high-stress situations.
  • Recognize top performers: Set high expectations—with attached rewards, and clear guidelines on how to merit them.
  • Invest in professional development: Don’t let employees stagnate or become bored. Give them the option to cross-train for several jobs and/or switch tasks from time to time.
  • Provide continual feedback: Make sure employees feel valued. Personalize praise to the worker—and do it consistently.
  • Establish an employee work balance program: Be flexible and give your employees options for creating their own schedules.
  • Integrate employee activities: Create a pleasant work environment by building comradery among employees. Encourage them to work together toward goals.
  • Align employee mission, vision and values: This starts at the top with company leaders. Identify your values and enforce them with your actions. Make sure employees understand the mission and vision for the organization, and keep everybody pointed in the right direction. Hold people accountable for breaches of policy and standards.
  • Encourage employees to voice their feelings and opinions: Get to know your employees. Learn what motivates them and about their lives (without prying). This will make the workplace feel like a supportive community, and help you craft personalized incentive programs.
  • Create a positive company culture: Many of the above strategies will contribute to a positive company culture, which is important for employee enjoyment of and engagement with their work.
  • Provide tools and training: Enable employees to maximize their potential and achieve goals by giving them the technology and training they need for success.

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.

Best Practices for Engaging With Your Employees to Boost Business Outcomes

I find that meeting with workers on a regular basis builds rapport and opens lines of communication, so I host quarterly InfoCision employee forums. I invite workers to participate voluntarily, and they’ve become an eager and receptive audience. After all, we share information pertinent to the business that supports our livelihoods. I gain valuable insights from them and have seen that my efforts inspire their enthusiastic ongoing contributions toward company goals.

I’m not alone in determining that employee engagement works wonders for businesses—including boosting morale and retention. Case in point, Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, has been quoted as saying, “No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”

Many companies now abide by the premise that successful leadership requires conversing with employees—vs. commanding and controlling them from high up on the corporate ladder. A primary benefit of this approach is how it enables large or growing organizations to function like much smaller ones. That is, they regain performance advantages such as tight strategic alignment, operational flexibility and high employee engagement.

Even if the distance between you and your employees makes personal appearances impossible, making a virtual connection should still be a priority to ensure that you foster a conversational culture. Staying close mentally and emotionally will lead all parties to trust each other, and engender more honest exchanges of ideas.

People matter—perhaps more than ever—in today’s companies. Their contributions are directly linked to company success. The effort they are willing to contribute toward that success has a lot to do with their level of engagement. Organizations that show they care, including making things happen based on employee input and encouraging good feelings about the work being done, often have more-productive workers. Employees who feel appreciated will make their customers feel appreciated as well.

Here are some ways that opening a dialogue between leaders and workers benefits organizations:

  • Develops trust—leads to substantive and rewarding exchanges of views
  • Signals respect—opens the door to issues that might not otherwise be raised or resolved
  • Improves leadership performance—provides personal input (if solicited anonymously) for growth
  • Closes gaps—promotes open and fluid dialog between leaders and employees, leading to social thinking and spontaneous give and take for more efficient communication
  • Enhances inclusion—primes engaged employees to become brand content producers and ambassadors
  • Confers order and meaning—directs conversations to converge on a particular company intent or aim

I like to start my forums with a fun icebreaker to make everyone feel at ease and encourage open communication. And I make sure that conversations aren’t restricted to work so that I can get to know my Communicators beyond what they do for the business. I welcome their honest insights and concerns and answer any questions they have for me. I’ve gotten to know many Communicators by name and have been privileged to share in their personal stories.

Typically, I meet with groups based on their length of service—under six months, six to 12 months, and over one year—because they present with such different interests and needs. To gather initial thoughts, I survey participants on their topics of interest; these surveys are also brought back to headquarters for our executives to review.

Within InfoCision, we also use companywide surveys to expand upon the insights we gain from the small group forums. Surveys are a highly valuable tool for helping to identify and resolve issues. Look for an upcoming blog from me on objectives and best practices for conducting internal surveys.

I’ve found getting to know my workers, both from forums and surveys, and attending to their concerns has added to my personal growth and business acumen. As a leader for your organization, consider engaging more personally with your employees; it’s a sure way to bring your business to the next level.

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.

Tips for Offering Feedback in the Contact Center

As a contact center leader, you spend a great deal of time observing Communicators during customer interactions. In this way, you have become quite familiar with the individual strengths and weaknesses of your team members. Your job is to convey these observations to your Communicators on a regular basis and help them perform their best.

Understand, though, that what you say to your Communicators, and the way you say it, will go a long way in shaping the culture of your contact center. Regardless of your intent, constructive criticism can actually be very destructive if poorly communicated. It can undermine the working relationship of those involved, making it less likely that they will be able to collaborate well in the future. Harsh, or inept, criticism has also been found to increase the likelihood of future conflicts, as well as directly impair the ability of people to do the work for which they have been criticized.

So, rather than attempting to give Communicators constructive criticism, try approaching them with positive feedback and coaching support. By doing so, there will be no hurt pride or animosity in your contact center. Act as a mentor and emphasize the Communicator’s strengths. Granted, sometimes you have to deliver criticism—in which case, break your feedback down into three segments, the Praise-Improve-Praise technique.

Begin by highlighting your employees’ skills, and express your appreciation for their work. Then, transition into the improvement stage. Be clear, but considerate, on the areas that they can improve upon. Reiterate both the praise and the improvement, and conclude with a final praise—this is crucial to ensure that the Communicator feels appreciated and welcomed.

Communicators who feel appreciated are more likely to lengthen their tenure with your company, reducing turnover, which is expensive and bad for team morale. Plus, when Communicators do move on, they will be more likely to post positive employee reviews on employment websites, helping you to attract qualified workers in the future.

Use these guiding principles when delivering your Praise-Improve-Praise conversation to employees:

Offer feedback privately: Generally speaking, direct feedback is best given in private, even when it is positive in nature, to avoid embarrassing the Communicator in front of others.

Avoid accusations: Even if you are certain that a Communicator is in the wrong about something, don’t hurl accusations at him or her. Ease into the topic at hand, and give the person a chance to explain his or her reasoning for taking a particular course of action. Ask questions, and try to figure out the root cause of an issue.

Be genuine: Reinforce the fact that you are trying to help the Communicator improve. Tell a story about a time when you made a similar mistake. Then, explain what you learned from it. The Communicator will appreciate your honesty and willingness to share your story.

Explain your goals: After you coach your Communicator about the issue, explain how the conversation fits into his or her long-term future with the company. At the end of the conversation, lay out some small steps the employee can take to move closer to his or her ultimate goal.

Have the right mindset: Before you pull an employee aside to provide coaching or support, make sure you have the right attitude. The conversation will be smoother and more productive if you are feeling positive and non-confrontational.

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.

Walk a Mile in Your Agents’ Shoes

Here’s a management technique that’s been heard around the world: Unobtrusively, a manager wanders around the workplace, keeping his or her eyes and ears open for an employee who’s doing something right. After observing one such activity, the manager reinforces that behavior with a one-minute praising, which essentially consists of telling people specifically what they did right, how it made the manager feel when he or she witnessed the behavior, and how that behavior benefits the company.

That’s an idea from the best-selling business fable by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, “The One Minute Manager,” a book that’s sold more than 50 million copies worldwide.

This idea was expanded upon in the popular television show, Undercover Boss. The premise of the show is that executives take on their employees’ jobs for a time, and while the activity sometimes leads to reprimands—but more often praise—the underlying theory is the same: Observing your employees in their natural setting gives you a truer sense of how your employees perform on a daily basis, and provides managers with a simple way of encouraging people to do better more often.

As the leader of a contact center, it’s easy to get lost in our own point of view. We often see our employees from our own vantage point, from the perspective of someone who’s just reviewed call analytics, or overheard a harsher-than-necessary tone, or implemented new technology and training processes. We forget that our Communicators are seeing things from the other side: as someone who’s having a rough day, struggling to incorporate a complicated tool into a challenging customer interaction, or multi-tasking to get more done.

Crossing Over as a Management Tool

It’s important to take time occasionally to see things from the other side. When was the last time you handled customer calls for an entire workday? Spending a day in your Communicators’ shoes will give you valuable firsthand experience of what they deal with every day on the job. You might find that they’re lacking a useful tool that would help them do their job better. Or, you might see opportunities for additional training, working conditions that could be improved, or processes that should be modified.

For example, one executive on Undercover Boss experienced firsthand the negative impact of his cost-cutting measures when he had to spend a long, hot day in the warehouse without water. “Company picnics are nice,” an employee told him, “but take care of us on the job instead.”

One caveat here: Your focus should be on fixing problems, not people.

Another benefit of spending time on the other side is that your employees will be more likely to buy into your mission if they see that you “get it.” You understand the opportunities and challenges they are facing, and you understand their reality. Effective leaders inspire trust, which is more easily done if you feel a genuine connection to those you are leading. You’ll also see an elevated sense of collaboration, where Communicators are open to an exchange of ideas when it comes to the workplace.

If it’s simply not feasible to take to the phones for a day, consider inviting employees to share feedback about their jobs and provide solutions. You may get complaints, but you’ll also get some valuable thoughts about how to fix things—and what to fix. If you do choose to ask for feedback, make sure employees feel safe in sharing their thoughts or the entire exercise will be fruitless.

You may be surprised at what you discover from a trip to the other side. Among the many revelations you’re likely to have, one will surely be a renewed sense of appreciation for 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.

Is Talent Development on Your To-do List?

A recurring item on every contact center manager’s list of concerns is retaining customer care agents. In contrast, an item that’s often missing from that very same list is talent development. The key to addressing the former is to take action on the latter; yet, for a variety of reasons, very few managers do so.

Most people want to do their best and get ahead, but they receive surprisingly little direction beyond the basics they need to do well in their present positions. To move the needle forward, managers should be thinking beyond the present, and look to identify and develop talent within their ranks. Talented people who want to grow are an enormous asset for any business. Not only will they be top performers, they’ll also inspire others to do their best—both of which are hallmarks of a future leader, and the cornerstone of a successful business.

To identify talent, look for the following attributes when vetting a Communicator. He or she:

  • has a high level of respect among peers;
  • has an excellent track record when it comes to traditional measures of job competency;
  • is open to feedback and constructive criticism;
  • is cognizant of the company’s overall mission and goals, rather than a narrow focus on the individual job;
  • handles change well; and
  • has relationship-building skills.

Once you’ve identified these attributes in an employee, let him or her know. Informing employees that you’ve recognized their potential to lead signals that your organization recognizes and develops talent, which is a powerful incentive to stay. You’re also building a reputation outside the company, one that will attract other talented Communicators.

To develop talent:

  • Provide growth experiences outside the employee’s usual job function, with support in place. This gives Communicators a chance to demonstrate their capability in other situations, and the cross-training will increase their knowledge of the organization.
  • Provide access to a professional network. By introducing your most talented Communicators to other professionals in the field and connecting them with outside learning opportunities, you’re giving them other sources for advice and information that will increase their understanding of the business.
  • Set goals for moving up. In all situations, advancement requires reaching goals. Discuss the objectives that need to be met and set realistic goals.

Strong organizations are built around strong people; now is the time to start building.

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.

Customer Care: The Next Big Marketing Channel

As a business owner, you already know that customer care is critical to integrated marketing. After all, Communicators must tactfully reply to social media customer care quandaries. What’s more, great customer care boosts the reputations of companies, thereby, heightening the credibility and visibility of marketing campaigns.

But recently, customer care has been recognized as a full-fledged marketing channel. Thanks to the emergence of the various different customer care channels—such as email, live chat, social media, etc.—the customer care department is now a hub for marketing opportunity.

Below are various ways in which customer care is becoming the next big marketing channel:

  • Upsell/Cross sell: Let’s say a consumer inquires on social media or live chat about a particular product or feature. The Communicator servicing the ticket has the power to either upsell or cross sell the customer on additional products and/or features that would fit his or her particular needs.
  • Word of mouth: When a customer has an outstanding customer experience with a Communicator, he or she is likely to spread the word to his or her friends, family and peers. Essentially, this individual is spreading brand awareness about the company without ever coming across any marketing messages.
  • Brand management: Your brand’s reputation is paramount to its success and revenue. The customer care department is often the first point of contact for many customers. Therefore, Communicators play a major role in your brand management and reputation.

The lines between marketing and customer care will continue to blur as more digital channels are introduced. Above are just some of the examples of ways in which customer care can assert itself as a viable marketing channel to drive sales and improve a company’s bottom line.

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.

Trends to Watch in 2016: Insight From Industry Experts

As a customer care leader, it’s a key part of your role to keep abreast of industry trends. After all, you want your team to remain competitive. With that said, let’s explore some of the top trends should you be watching throughout 2016.

Recently, Parature released an eBook entitled, “10 Customer Service Trends to Watch in 2016,” which features the thoughts of industry experts from a variety of established companies. Below, I’ve gathered the top trends I think will dominate the industry in 2016:

Agent development reigns supreme: Today’s customers are more demanding than ever before. To ensure that Communicators can keep up with consumer demands, training and professional development will be extremely important, says Sumair Dutta, chief customer officer of Service Council. As such, you may want to consider revamping your training manuals or sending agents to industry seminars.

Focus on the customer: Don’t lose sight of the customer, warns Nancy Freidman, customer care keynote speaker and trainer. Oftentimes, companies focus so much on technology doing most of the work that they end up losing their personal touch. “Technology is important, of course, but it doesn’t trump the experience with the customer,” said Friedman.

Make your contact center a profit center: “Embrace the idea that customer service is not a cost center, but a profit center,” says Al Hopper, customers service advocate and co-founder. Remember, it’s cheaper to retain a customer than to gain a new one. Providing great customer care will allow your company to retain more customers and, therefore, turn a bigger profit.

Don’t rule out self-service: Not every customer is the same. Some prefer to use a self-service option rather than speaking to a Communicator. What’s more, not every request requires the assistance of a live agent. The trend toward self-service solutions is gaining in popularity, predicts Shep Hyken, chief amazement officer, Hyken.

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.