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Call Center Articles

Is Your Call Center Ready for Anything?



How to Survive When Receiving Twice the Calls or Having Half the Staff—or Both

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Running a call center is hard, at least doing it right. Even under normal conditions, managers struggle to balance traffic and staffing levels while maintaining high quality and minimizing complaints.

But what happens when conditions aren’t normal? If you’re slammed with calls for an extended period, how will you fare? What happens if several agents can’t make it into work? What if the remote access portion of your system goes down, leaving your local staff to deal with everything?

One solution is to ignore the risk and hope nothing abnormal happens. But eventually, something abnormal will occur. It might be a weather event, a natural disaster, or a manmade crisis. Use your imagination—it’s easy to see that any number of things that could cause call traffic to spike or your staffing levels to drop. In fact, these both could happen at the same time. How well could your call center manage trying to handle twice the number of calls with half the staff?

Here are some ideas:

Multilocation

call center

If the source of the problem that moves you from normal to not normal is local, having a multilocation call center is one easy solution—provided that the other call centers are far enough away to not have the same scenario affect them. Of course, this strains the other call centers in the network, but more locations and more agents to share the load reduces the negative impact.

Remote Workforce

Many call centers use some work-at-home agents, whereas others prefer all staff to work from one centralized location to allow for better management. Regardless, allowing staff to work from a remote location during a crisis is a key way to minimize the impact. This could provide options for staff unable to make it into the office, as well as make it easier for staff not scheduled to login and help.

Strategic Partners

Having multiple locations and allowing staff to work remotely are key solutions to deal with abnormal call center scenarios. However, these tactics only go so far. To supplement these two approaches, form strategic partnerships with other call centers that can help during an emergency. But select a call center partner geographically distant from you. If you’re on the coast, work with one who is inland. If you’re in the north part of the country, find one in the south. If you’re east, go west.

Vendor Solutions

Check with your vendor to see what disaster mitigation solutions they offer. They may be able to help you better handle a not-normal call center situation. They could also recommend strategic partners for you to work with.

Outsourcing

If you’re a corporate call center, you may want to arrange with an outsourcing call center to help during a crisis. And if you’re an outsourcing call center, you know how this functions, so work with another outsourcing call center to help you.

Automate

Regardless of your paradigm to provide people to help people, sometimes automating portions of your call response will serve callers better than by not answering their phone calls at all or making them wait in queue a long time for the next available agent.

Plan Now

The key to make any of this work is planning. When things are going along normally for you and your call center, it’s the ideal time to come up with solutions for when normal goes away. Don’t wait for a crisis to hit and then scramble for answers.

Preparation today will help achieve success for tomorrow, even under less-than-ideal situations. When disaster strikes, you’ll be glad you have a plan to deal with it.

Categories
Call Center Articles

Don’t Make Extra Work for Your Agents

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I enjoy the simplicity of companies that email me my invoices and statements. This saves paper and time. What frustrates me is the companies that merely notify me when an invoice or statement is available. I then need to log into their secure website and download the needed file. I realize this is often because the document contains information that shouldn’t be sent via email, yet this knowledge does little to assuage my frustration. This method, although warranted, is not simple and can be time-consuming.

This week I received one such notice. When I went to retrieve my statement, the document wasn’t available. The past twenty-four statements were, but not the one their email said was awaiting me, not the one I needed. Since I access this information through their software and bypass their website, I wondered if that was the problem. So I found the link in my bookmarks (I don’t generally click on links in emails) and attempted to log in. I was unsuccessful. The password I used last time (which was likely more than a year ago) didn’t work. I needed to go through the “I forgot my password” routine. After waiting several minutes to receive the temporary password via email, I successfully logged in, but to my dismay, the sought-after document wasn’t there, either.

At the bottom of the page was a link to email them with questions. Having invested half an hour at this point and being no closer to viewing my statement, I was frustrated. I concisely shared the situation and clicked “send.”

To my surprise, I received a response; it came within minutes. The agent wrote that someone sent the email notice prematurely, before my statement was posted. “The problem has been corrected and your statement is now available for download.”

Excited by the progress, I returned to my program to access my statement, but the document was still not available. Then I tried their website – again. It wasn’t there, either. This time I spotted a toll-free number for customer support.

I dialed the number. The recording said to expect an eighteen-minute wait. I selected the option to receive a call back when it was my turn. Eleven minutes later, the phone rang. Elated, I expected to talk to a rep, but instead I heard a recording, followed by music on hold. I guess I was going to have to wait the full eighteen minutes after all. When the agent eventually answered, I explained the situation, making little effort to hide my frustration.

After doing some checking and consulting with someone else, the agent confirmed the initial email went out in error, the rep who handled my follow-up email gave me incorrect information, and my statement still wasn’t online.

“When will it be available?”

“I don’t know, but legally we have six more days before it has to be posted. Just keep checking.”

Fuming, I checked periodically, and on the fourth try, my statement was available, having now invested about an hour in total to accomplish the task.

Along the way, they sent me a brief customer service survey. My snarky comment was, “Don’t email me to download my statement before it’s actually available.” I’m still waiting for a response.

So, this company sent an email in error, which resulted in me contacting their customer support center and causing them one needless activity. To compound the situation, the rep who handled my email actually mishandled it by providing me with more wrong information. This caused the company a second needless activity. And assuming someone actually looks at my customer service survey, this will cause a third needless activity.

To make matters worse, I doubt I was the only client to get the errant email message. How many others also received it? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Perhaps more? If only 1 percent complained to the contact center, how many more needless activities took place?

I’m sure the contact center agents had a difficult, stressful day. But it all could have been avoided if their company hadn’t sent a mass email message prematurely. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies – and the contact center often pays for it.

[From Connection Magazine Mar/Apr 2014]

Categories
Call Center Articles

When Games Supersede Work

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Last September in my column, “Let’s Play,” I discussed gamification and questioned if it was mostly hype or offered merit. I wondered then – and still do – if gamification has any application in the contact center. Those who talk about gamification mostly do so from a theoretical perspective, lacking tangible real-world examples. In my article, I shared my experience with gamification from a customer perspective: It motivated a change in my behavior but left me frustrated, so I gave up.

Now I’ll share my gamification experience from an employee perspective. My story goes back a few decades, long before the word came into being.

My first full-time job was repairing copy machines. I didn’t necessarily like the work, but I liked having work. I viewed my employment as temporary, something to pay the bills until I could move into my preferred career. Not only did I grab the first job offered, I also failed to verify the compensation, assuming that what my school’s placement department told me was correct. It was not – the company paid about half of what I expected.

Nevertheless, I poured myself into my new job, striving to do my best at fixing copy machines. I soon became quite good at it. Imagine my dismay, then, when I saw the first ranking of technicians: I was near the bottom. Something was wrong.

I asked the dispatcher, who calculated the results for our boss, what criteria she tracked. She told me, and I listened carefully. To my surprise, the metrics had little to do with repairing machines quickly or cost-effectively. Most measurements addressed other factors – such as how much time was spent driving, the number of hours worked, or how many leads I passed to the sales department. I was doing everything wrong.

Taking this information and working backwards, I established a new way of doing my job – not focused on serving customers or saving money but on maximizing my rating. My incentive pay was tied to the results, and I desperately needed to earn a sizable bonus to offset my lower-than-expected base salary.

With my newfound focus, the next ranking came out with me near the top for the month; my year-to-date number had now moved to the upper half of the list. My paycheck, however, was my real reward.

For the third month, I was number one; year-to-date, I was in the top quarter. Six months later both my monthly and annual results were number one; my bonus almost equaled my base pay. By playing their game, I’d nearly doubled my compensation.

Though I was still a good copy machine repairman (yes, we were all guys), I no longer put the customer first; I put me first. I didn’t prioritize customers based on the urgency of their need, I scheduled them in the order designed to minimize my drive time, since part of the bonus was for spending 10 percent or less of my time behind the wheel. I’d also start and end the day with a stop close to home because driving to my first call and driving home didn’t count in the calculation. I also drove faster, but that’s another story.

Also, I no longer tried to save the company money but focused on increasing my rating instead. For example, if protocol called for cleaning a filter or retrofitting a part, I’d replace it. Though this cost the company more, it all but eliminated me being called back to redo a job – and be penalized in the process. If one of two parts would fix the problem but only time would tell which one, instead of replacing the cheaper part first and then waiting, I’d replace both and be done with it.

No one ever realized what I was doing. My rating was stellar, so my superiors were pleased and the customers never knew the difference.

After nine months, I quit. A better job beckoned. It still wasn’t my dream job, but it was much closer. The base pay for my new job exceeded the salary and bonuses of my old job. And with my new employer, there were no games to play. All I had to do was focus on the work.

[From Connection Magazine April 2013]

Categories
Call Center Articles

Work at Home

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

For the past twelve years I’ve worked from an office in my house. The benefits of working at home are many: no commute time or expense, no dress code, no need to pack a lunch or go out to eat (another money saver), and no coworkers dropping by to chat when you need to focus. Working at home enables me to accomplish much in a shorter time. I love it – mostly.

Working at home also presents some challenges: distractions abound, no one’s present to hold you accountable, food is readily available when a craving hits, and if you want to take a nap – you can. I’ve even heard of some skipping their shower and working in their pajamas (for the record, I never have). Another issue is that it’s impossible to leave work and go home, since you’re already home.

Successfully working at home requires self-control. You need discipline to work when you’re supposed to (and to not work when you’re not supposed to), to approach each day with the same degree of professionalism you would in an office environment, and to consistently say “no” to distractions. Of course, for me, I pay a price if my focus waivers: The work must still be done, and I’m the one who must do it. I think this is called “mandatory overtime.”

When our children were younger, I set a firm rule: Between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Daddy’s working, so don’t go into his office. At times, they would stand mute just outside my door, looking pathetic. So I amended my decree: Between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., don’t let Daddy see you. That didn’t work either. “I know you’re out there; I can hear you breathing.” Eventually we arrived at a workable arrangement, but they did watch the clock. Often they’d scamper downstairs and bound into my office at exactly 5:00 p.m. Their mother, however, claimed immunity to my expectations; we never did resolve that.

After awhile I made one adjustment: I began taking an afternoon break to coincide with our kids’ homecoming from school. They’d share their day with me, often with excitement, sometimes in despair. Eight hours of highlights spewed forth in a matter of seconds. Then they’d finish and head off to do their own thing – and I’d return to work. By the time their mother came home, the school day’s headlines were long forgotten. They’d say hello but say little more. She’d ask how their day was or what had happened, and they’d just shrug.

For the first decade I worked in the basement; my office had no windows. Many a time, I’d break for lunch or dinner, surprised at how the weather had changed. Now my office resides in a vacated bedroom, complete with a view. This vista sometimes provides a distraction. Once I watched four bunnies frolicking in my backyard – and then took time to write a blog post celebrating their exuberance. Another time, while on the phone, my caller asked if she heard birds in the background. My window was open – who would have guessed? I had tuned out their happy songs, but my headset’s microphone could not.

While some can work at home, others should not. Considerations abound: the worker’s motivation and degree of self-discipline, the home office environment, the presence of family, and the technological infrastructure.

Today, I’m not in my home office. We lost power a few hours ago, and I sought an alternate location to work. (Though this happens infrequently, it’s the second time in two days.) Thanks to my laptop and a place with power, this column will be completed on time, though other jobs will languish. It looks like I’ll be working late tonight or into the weekend. These things happen when you work at home – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2013]

Categories
Call Center Articles

That’s No Way to Run a Business

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

A while back, the Connections Magazine sales line was slammed with a phone call— for another company. The calls were from irate individuals trying to call a removal line of the fax service bureau that had sent them faxes. It seems that they had received an unwanted fax solicitation on behalf of a travel company. They angrily called the fax removal number listed in the fine print to stop the unwelcome intrusions. Unfortunately, between too small print and the low quality of faxes, the number looked a lot like ours.

With voicemail now screening the calls, I set towards averting a future reoccurrence of this fiasco. I called the number in the ad. My call was abruptly answered by someone who cared little about professionalism or customer service. There was a cacophony of talking in the background. I had reached a call center boiler room!

Once the agent realized I was not interested in her spiel about vacation cruises, she became even less interested. When I asked to speak to a supervisor, I was disconnected. I called again. After more futility, I demanded to speak with a manager. I was placed on hold for several minutes—and eventually heard the dial tone. Calling the actual fax removal number, left me trapped in an automated loop with no escape.

At the risk of stating the obvious, permit me to make some recommendations.

For the fax service bureau:

  • Make sure the removal number is easily readable.
  • Provide a way out (press zero for operator or at least let them leave a message).
  • Offer an alternative means of contact, such as email or snail mail.
  • Don’t illegally fax ads.
  • Don’t provide services to unscrupulous clients.

For the call center:

  • Train your staff to be polite and professional. Retrain or terminate those who don’t capitulate.
  • Don’t hang up on callers.
  • Allow calls to be escalated when requested.
  • Have a website; make it easy for people to contact you.
  • Don’t use “bait and switch” tactics.
  • Remember that if you don’t police your agents and compensate only for sales, expect nothing else from them.

Most of the people reading this are not the ones who need to hear it, but perhaps this post will find itself in the hands of a call center manager who needs to reform their company’s wayward practices.