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Call Center Articles

Dealing With Staff Shortages

Tips to Achieve a Full Schedule for Your Call Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

For years many call centers have faced an ongoing challenge to fully staff their operation. But over the last year and a half this quest has become even more difficult, with an increased number of people opting to stay home and not work. But this doesn’t mean the task of finding all the staff you need is insurmountable. You can conquer staff shortages.

Here are some tips to better fill your call center agent schedule. 

Avoid Short-Term Gimmicks to Counter Staff Shortages

Tales abound of large signing bonuses, referral fees, and unsustainably high hourly rates. These may get warm bodies in your door, but will they complete training? And if they finish training, will they stick around?

And when existing staff hears of the lengths you’ve gone through to fully staff your operation, they may resent these new hires for the incentives they received, perks that you didn’t offer them. They may resent you too. This disappointing attitude can negatively affect their work and their longevity.

Instead of pursuing short-term tactics, which will produce long-term grief, consider pursuing the following options that are more sustainable.

Embrace Work at Home to Add Employment Flexibility

You have home-based agents or are considering it as an option. But have you fully embraced it? Though it may be wise to start out small and proceed with care when it comes to managing a remote workforce, you must make a full commitment for this to work on a large-scale. This may be the easiest solution to counter staff shortages.

Target Underutilized Labor Markets to Find Qualified Agents

Most call centers prefer to hire in their local labor market. They do this even though they have a work-at-home model. This makes sense from a logistical standpoint. It eases training, technical support, and management. It also allows them to gather in person for meetings and to sometimes work out of your office.

Yet there are probably nearby labor markets that aren’t as close and are underserved. Though not as common as they once were, they’re still geographic areas that have more qualified workers than viable jobs. Dig into these markets and you will likely mine some great employees.

Another type of underutilized labor market isn’t bounded by geography but by circumstance. Some eager and qualified workers are homebound for assorted reasons. This might be a lack of transportation, limited mobility, or social anxieties. But these people can still do an excellent job at phone work from the comfort and safety of their homes. And they’re waiting for a chance to prove themselves to you.

Consider Going Out of State to Embrace Areas with Lower Living Costs

Though you add another layer of payroll complexity when hiring staff in a different state, it may be worth the extra effort. Look for regions with a lower cost of living. Workers in these areas may have a correspondingly lower compensation expectation. If it costs them less to live, they won’t need to earn as much from their job to have a satisfactory lifestyle. 

Review Your Compensation Package 

A common first response to dealing with a labor shortage is to pay more. Yet I list this last because it’s the last thing you should consider. Yes, your hourly rate or benefits may be holding you back from getting the employees you need and retaining the ones you want to keep. Don’t, however, sweeten your compensation package without pursuing the above options first.

Yes, some call centers underpay their agents and suffer as a result. If your hourly rate is less than that of most other comparable positions, you need to pay more. You may need to add benefits to what you currently offer too.

As you do this, however, don’t make the mistake that most every employer makes when they increase their hourly rate or enhance benefits. If you pay more, expect more. 

I repeat: if you pay more, expect more. Don’t pay more to hire the same caliber people that you always have. Increase your expectations and tighten your screening processes. There are qualified people out there, but you won’t encounter any if you’re not expecting to find them.

Staff Shortage Conclusion

Though staffing challenges are part of the call center industry, you can take steps to better deal with finding and keeping the employees you need to run an effective operation. Avoid short-term hiring gimmicks, embrace home-based staff, seek under-tapped labor markets, consider out-of-state hiring, and update your compensation package.

When you do these things with focus and intentionality, you’ll be more successful in hiring and keeping great telephone agents.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.

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Call Center Articles

Call Center Innovation Provides Fresh Opportunities

Develop a mindset of ongoing change to produce meaningful results

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Most call center owners and managers want to see innovation in their call center. They yearn for leading-edge solutions that will promote quality and drive client loyalty. These are lofty goals. And they are also equally hard to realize.

In truth, connecting call center innovation with actionable outcomes presents a challenging situation. So, instead of seeking big, revolutionary business overhauls, look for simpler ways to integrate innovation in the day-to-day operation of your call center.

Each time an innovation opportunity presents itself, don’t first seek ways you could tap it to revamp your operation. Instead look for ways call center innovation can provide incremental change to what you already have. Here are three considerations.

1. Enhance Existing Services

With each new opportunity that presents itself, consider how it can enhance what you’re already doing. This is simply looking for new ways to do what you’re currently doing better.

For example, when voicemail first came on the scene, the industry assumed automated message taking would replace people doing the same thing and would do it for less. Yet these fears were unfounded.

Yes, this did happen to a small extent, and some visionaries built new businesses around this ground-breaking technology, but most operations adapted the technology to enhance what they were already doing. The result included voicemail message retrieval, customized greetings, and personalized auto answer to list a few common innovations.

Each one expanded what the call center could do. So, look for these types of opportunities with each new solution that presents itself.

2. Offer New Services

Another consideration when call center innovation presents itself is to consider what new services you could offer because of it. This is what many outsource call centers did when voicemail came along. 

They continued offering their agent voice services as they always had. And they now had a new service using voicemail technology: automated message taking and delivery.

Voicemail didn’t replace what they were doing but added to it in the form of a new service.

3. Expand into New Markets

Sometimes an innovation can allow you to expand into new markets. For example, as answering service software became more sophisticated, it allowed its users to move into telephone order taking, appointment setting, and database integration.

Conclusion

Call center innovation need not happen in huge, revolutionary jumps. We can better apply innovation as manageable tweaks on a consistent basis over time. This is the best and easiest way to find new opportunities for your call center.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.

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Call Center Articles

Create Sticky Customer Service in Your Call Center

Real World Customer Service Stories to Inform Your Practices

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

For over twenty years I’ve written a “From the Publisher” column in each issue of Connections Magazine. For many years that meant six columns a year, although it initially was four and at one time it ballooned up to ten, but we’re now rightsized at six. Altogether I count 174 columns, plus many other articles that I’ve published in Connections Magazine over the years. That’s a lot of writing and even more words, enough to fill several books. And that’s just what I’ve done—and more.

I’ve taken my best customer service posts, updated them, and added content. Then I wrote more examples and compiled them into a book. The result is Sticky Customer Service. It’s now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

The vision of Sticky Customer Service is to share real-world examples to illuminate customer service done well and customer service that falls short. The goal is to help enterprises—including yours—to stop churning customers and start growing your business. Through its pages you’ll discover helpful customer service tips to encourage you to do better and celebrate what you do best.

For the call center industry, we normally think of customer service as happening over the telephone. But it also occurs in person and online. It’s critical that we excel in each of these three areas to form a comprehensive customer-focused perspective that pursues excellence through all channels. And even if your intent is to focus on the section covering telephone customer service, the other sections will still inform your outlook and give you helpful insights.

Customer service isn’t a once-and-done effort. It takes ongoing focus to truly meet customer expectations. Sticky Customer Service delivers over two dozen practical, action-oriented insights to help you turn customer service from an ingrained weakness into a strategic strength. It’s a great tool for organizational planning, staff discussions, and customer service training. It will help you create sticky customer service for your organization.

Sticky Customer Service is the first book of my new Sticky series. Upcoming books include Sticky Sales and Marketing and then Sticky Leadership, capped off with Sticky Living. 

Get Sticky Customer Service and take the first step to turn customer retention into a core business strength.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.

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Call Center Articles

The Benefits of Home-Based Call Center Agents

Discover Why Every Call Center Should Move Toward Having a Remote Staff

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Many businesses struggle to find entry-level employees. This includes the call center industry. Though the technology to allow for remote work has existed for a long time—and continues to get better—some call centers are reluctant to embrace the option of home-based call center agents.

This may be due to several factors. A key one is the challenge of managing a distributed workforce. Another is being able to ensure quality. A third is a tendency to want to continue doing what we’ve always done and are comfortable doing.

Yet business dynamics continue to change. And the rate of change has accelerated in the past year. If your call center continues to pursue a paradigm of having all employees work from a centralized location, now is the time to challenge that perception and reconfigure your operation to address today’s needs and prepare for tomorrow’s opportunities.

Here are some of the key benefits of hiring home-based call center agents.

Tap Homebound Workers

Some otherwise-qualified employees want to work but for varying reasons are homebound. This may be due to their preference or their circumstances, but the fact remains that they are eager candidates. It’s just that they can’t go to work, so you need to bring the work to them. Fortunately, this is easy to do, as well as being a perfect fit, for call center work.

Though some situations don’t fit, such as people tasked with childcare or eldercare, other contexts are a nonissue. This includes people who lack transportation, live too far away from your office, have mobility issues, or struggle with social anxieties. These people can potentially work remotely and function as ideal home-based call center agents.

Expanded Labor Pool

If your local labor market lacks qualified or willing candidates, has unrealistic compensation expectations, or suffers from a low unemployment rate, explore an untapped or under reached labor market to find home-based call center agents to staff your operation and round out your roster.

Flexible Scheduling

Many call centers could benefit by scheduling people for split shifts, working an hour or two at various times throughout the day to meet traffic peaks. In addition is the dream of having on-demand workers who could login to process calls to deal with an unexpected deluge of traffic, be it for a few minutes or several hours.

Both these dreams are a realistic option with home-based call center agents. Many are willing to accept odd schedules or be available for on-demand work. They measure their commute in steps, not miles or minutes. And, unless your operation uses videoconferencing, their appearance doesn’t matter. They don’t need to follow an office-based dress code. Since there working from home, they can login within seconds and take calls for short shifts or on-demand, as well as regular shifts.

Of course, not every home-based employee will embrace this paradigm, but some will, and they may even prefer it.

Save on Facility Costs

With home-based call center agents, you have less people working in your office. This means you can scale back on your facility. Taken to its logical conclusion, you will have no staff working in your office. As a result, you’ll be able to close your office or sell your building. This will cut your costs and bolster your profits.

Provide Safe Employment

Though this concern is not as high as it once was, we should prepare for the possibility that it could one day reemerge, perhaps as an even more dangerous threat.

These are all benefits that have been around for as long as home-based call center agents have been a possibility. Yet there is one more benefit—a key consideration in this uncertain time—that you should not overlook and will be wise to embrace. This is, quite simply, working from home removes employees from the physical contact of others, eliminating the possibility of getting a virus from their coworkers.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.

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Call Center Articles

A Vast Repository of Call Center Industry Articles

Three Decades of Valuable Industry Content Available at No Charge

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections Magazine

Every article that appeared in Connections Magazine for the past twenty years is available online, as well as most of the articles that occurred in the eight years prior to that, starting with Volume 1, Number 1 in July 1993. That’s twenty-eight years of valuable industry articles.

On ConnectionsMagazibne.com, I’ve grouped each one of these articles by topic, allowing you to quickly find all our content relating to a specific subject. You can also use the search option to find content by keyword, author, or company.

ConnectionsMagazine.com currently has over 1,600 call center industry articles and over 600 news items. That’s a lot of content waiting for you to explore and use. Though we incurred much expense to curate, edit, and post this information, we happily provide it to you at no charge. Our sponsors and other advertisers, which you can see on the left sidebar, make this treasure trove of information available to you whenever you need it. Please join me in thanking them for their continued and invaluable support.

More Peter Lyle DeHaan Articles

This column marks my 188th column for Connections Magazine, give or take a couple. As shocking as it sounds, that means I’ve written over 11 percent of the articles on this website. 

Besides 188 articles here, I’ve so far written 95 for TAS Trader, 140 for AnswerStat, and 56 for Medical Call Center News. That’s 479 industry-related articles.

People sometimes ask if I’ve published an article about a certain topic. Most of the time, I can’t remember. Over my career, I’ve written millions of words, so please don’t be too critical if my words began to blur. And when I have a vague inkling that I’ve covered a subject, I’m not sure which publication it might have been in.

To address this, I’ve combined all my call center industry articles in one place: here. (I also include over 100 articles about business and 600 about writing and publishing, for over 1,400 of my articles all in one place.) On that website, I grouped my articles by category. It also has a handy search feature.

Peter Lyle DeHaan Books

With all this content, you might wonder if they will ever appear in book form. The answer is yes. They will. I’ll start with some general business books—with an underlying call center perspective—covering customer service, leadership, and sales and marketing.

Look for the first of these books, Sticky Customer Service: Stop Churning Customers and Start Growing Your Business, later this year. More books in the Sticky series will soon follow. 

I’ll also compile content from my various publications to produce some call center industry books as well. These are also in progress. All I need is the time to complete them.

I will announce these books’ availability here as soon as they’re available.

Thank you for reading these call center industry articles and thank you for your encouragement. It keeps me writing.