Contact Centre Worker

Videos

Agent of the Future
The Mobile Customer
Social Media Data Analysis and Knowledge Sharing

Start to trust! – Choosing the right home call centre worker

Alternative Workplace Strategy for contact centres

The contact centre industry faces ongoing challenges in delivering high quality customer support, finding qualified agents and increasing flexibility of its services. Contact centre managers continue to wonder why there is no solution. Fortunately, the trend of Alternative Workplace Strategies offer opportunities for a chain reversal. The only thing to be needed is contact centre managers which have the guts to give agents the confidence they deserve!

The Alternative Workplace Strategy is indisputable the trending topic of 2010. Flexibility, working independent of location and at times the employee wants, are characteristics that apply to the labor market of 2010. The contact centre sector lends itself like no other for this ‘new' way of working. After all, everything is measured by Intelligent Customer Interaction Management (CIM) platforms, where the status and performance of agents is monitored every second. It makes no difference whether the agent is working in the office environment, is working from home or perhaps at his holiday address. However, contact centre managers are still reluctant to integrate this new model into the daily practice of work and continue to operate with traditional approaches that no longer do match with the demand of flexibility by agents and customers.

Technology is not an obstacle

For location independent working is nothing more is needed than an internet connection. Of course for remote access to the customer contact environment some technical efforts are required. Any application must be accessible to the agent, including the telephony platform. As the internet is available everywhere, just like the electrical outlet is, handling customer contact from anywhere in the world becomes possible. The required contact centre platform is now available as Software as a Service (SaaS) solution. Actually nowadays a “contact centre as a commodity” can be realized, which of course can be used from home.

Full virtual chain

If the performance of customer contact and work are completely virtual, another challenge is to digitize the complete recruitment chain. In the ultimate home model, agents do not physically come to the office. In order to gain maximum advantage of the benefits of home from work, the recruitment and selection process should be location independent too. This means that all processes such as having an interview, assessment, training, planning and coaching should be virtualized too. This implicates that agents have no physical contact with their employer: in fact it is highly undesirable that they physically appear ‘at work'.

The step from a fully controlled contact centre floor towards a process that is complete virtual seems huge, but offers many advantages. Some specific attention is required, although most monitoring mechanisms can be recognized in the traditional operation of the customer contact industry.

Commitment

Important is to make arrangements upfront when the agent starts working. The operating hours of customer service departments, as well as the call flow process throughout the day are fixed values that one still has to estimate in advance. It is necessary that there are clear agreements on working time and that compliance is monitored. Linking sanctions on violations of these agreements is a must. Flexible working in this sense, is limited to pre-agreed arrangements. There is a commitment between agent and employer, the employer can count on the hours of the agent and the agent is guaranteed to work.

Flexibility can be found in the determination of availability in advance. Agents with children, who have to pick up their kids at child care, can make arrangements with the employer by means of self-planning systems: at specific moments of the day the agent can't schedule himself. It is important to set up a pool of qualified agents to achieve a minimum level of flexibility, both in terms of employability skills and all the necessary requirements. Only then this working model will be feasible for the employer.

Competencies

In addition, home workers should meet specific additional competence requirements. They must be self organizing and should have a high sense of responsibility. The agent is self fulfilling to a much larger extent and will have to look by himself for the right answers. Still it is important to explain where he can find the right answers. A consequence is that knowledge should be made available by means of an online knowledge base and that the agent should be able to communicate directly with his team.

This autonomous approach stimulates that knowledge will be retained better. Finally, the knowledge and the quality of the contact will improve. Also the physical absence of a supervisor will have a positive impact on the autonomy of an agent. The virtual supervisor will be confronted less often with questions compared to the situation in which the team coach physically is present in the contact centre. Asking a question to a team coach who is walking around, is apparently much easier than starting a chat session with a virtual coach.

Furthermore, the agents should be good team players, which are capable to motivate their colleagues online. They are part of a (virtual) team, which is dedicated to a campaign where -within the available communication module -knowledge is shared with team members. They have a mission in common: to optimize customer contact handling. To communicate effectively with each other and to motivate each other is very important. This is encouraged by common goals, which offer criteria for earning bonuses and rewards. Agents should be able to give each other feedback and should be rewarded based on their commitment to the team goals. The agent is able to monitor the KPI's at his desktop, so he and his team can improve performance. This simulates an agent to cooperate and to help weaker team members.

Virtual team coach

Within the virtual platform the status of each agent is monitored. Working on a campaign, visiting the bath room, details on handling time: everything is recorded in detail. Obviously it's important for team coaches to manage the agents. For leaders, other skills are required. They should start with leading by trust and should have the ability to create and to commit to remote teams. The effective use of social media and communities is an important competency. The community in which all agents communicate with each other and recognize each other for the activities they carried out, is important as a basis. For the home based agent, affinity and experience with web based applications and social media is important too.

Employee in the driver seat

It's all about management trusting the agents, combined with agents who have a clear sense of responsibility. People who are capable of working independently, self developing and who are curious, have a good starting point for becoming a home worker and to develop themselves as a professional home worker. When agents communicate about their availability and their skills are expanding, then the chain is reversed: no longer agents are asked for working in a project, but agents themselves select the projects they would like to work for. It is up to employers rather than to the agents to promote themselves: the most attractive projects with the highest rewards or most flexibility will be carried out by the best contact centre professionals. Dear contact centre manager: your contact centre agent is in the driver seat! You can and should count on that!

Radboud Heinink

Radboud Heinink (1969) has more than ten years operational experience in managing customer-focused business processes. Heinink worked in various technical and operational roles at companies like Speedlinq, Telfort and HP. In the summer of 2010 Heinink joined VANAD Work from Home as Customer Contact Manager. At VANAD Heinink is dedicated to roll out the innovative concept of the homebased customer interaction centre. More information can be found at www.vanadwfh.nl.

» Back to top

The contact centre is the heart of a modern organisation, reaching out to current and future customers across multiple channels of communication. As simpler, routine communications are performed through self-service, the calls contact centre agents take are more complex and difficult to resolve.

80% of companies believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8% of their customers agree. Bain & Company

In an ever more competitive world, the importance of delivering an exceptional customer experience is greater than ever. How your customers feel about you is crucially important – a key part of your overall contact centre business offering.

    75% of consumers say they would do business with a company based on a great Contact Centre experience. Genesys, Global Consumer Survey, 2007

    Making the Connection

    In your role, you have to quickly build a rapport with each new customer, and ask them questions to establish key facts and then resolve their issue. As more customers remove themselves from marketing communications, it’s increasingly part of a contact centre agent’s job to persuade customers to take action, buy services and perform tasks. To achieve this, they have to be able to hear the caller clearly and also rise above any chatter in the contact centre.

    Simply Smarter Communications

    With more of your calls being of a complex nature, you therefore need robust tools that can you can rely on to withstand constant daily use and are comfortable to use for long periods of time. These tools have to be able to reduce background noise, protect against sudden loud sounds and also provide crystal clear audio quality for you and your customers.

    Call Escalation

    With the rise in complex calls and legislation, contact centre agents regularly have to escalate calls to colleagues both inside and outside the contact centre. The ability to see who is present and available to take calls makes it much easier for them to connect with others quickly. Being able to make a three way conversation between an agent, an expert and a customer, helps improve their knowledge and helps you deliver first call resolution.

    86% of companies are planning Unified Communications in the Contact Centre

    Far from its traditional ‘factory farm’ image, the modern contact centre is now a model of advanced Human Resource practice. People are its means and also its product. Delivering human empathy along with effective service calls for new ways of working and different styles of leadership.

      The importance of design /2: workplace design and employee satisfaction

      How important is your working environment for your well being as an employee? New technologies like mobile devices and cloud computing are emerging. Our work/life balance and working styles are gradually changing and therefore influencing our preferences. Because of these changes it becomes more and more important to assess employee engagement related to workspace.

      The Leesman Index measures employee satisfaction and engagement with the workspaces provided for them. It provides insight in how well the environment supports different aspects of their work and captures their satisfaction with the physical features of the space. We spoke with Tim Oldman, founder of Leesman, about the meaning of design.

      Tim Oldman: “Excellent prior work by many established HR specialists shows us that an ‘engaged' workforce is without question a more ‘productive' workforce. Generally speaking, a more productive workforce is a more profitable workforce. So at Leesman, we are trying to establish what connections exist between the workplace and employees' sense of engagement. If we can observe a connection between the environment design and engagement then we can move closer to proving a connection between environment and productivity.”

      Online survey

      The Leesman-survey is distributed by the project sponsor via an email link that connects individual respondents directly to their own online e-questionnaire. Respondents insert their email address and a unique “project code” to start the survey. They are then taken through three stages of the survey starting with their personal business profile, followed by the Workplace Effectiveness section (rating their workplace against a number of outcomes we would expect a good workplace to achieve) and then a Workplace Attributes section (rating their satisfaction with the physical aspects of their workplace). It usually takes about ten minutes for an employee to complete the survey. Responses are anonymised and aggregated before being collated into an output report for the project sponsor or commissioning agent. Oldman: “We collect data in a number of areas, but simplified would say that we are posing questions designed to examine the ‘activity profile' of an individual and how well their workplace supports those activities.”

      Changing expectations?

      Are there differences between individuals when asked about preferences in working environment designs? Perhaps younger people do have different preferences, compared to older people. “Since we only launched our methodology in July 2010, it is far too early for us to start reporting or trends or findings,” Oldman states, “but I can say that what respondents rank as important, does seem to consistently cluster differently in the upper and lower age demographics.” Oldman explains that it is still too early to see what kind of general trends the aggregated data show. It is also difficult to say whether there are specific factors in work typologies (e.g. project based working, or contact center work that are determining the work environment design. “But other research we have conducted for the British Institute of Facilities Management would suggest that we are seeing a greater displacement of workforce, suggesting that the corporate office will become a bee hive that the worker bees simply flit in and out of as collaboration requires.”

      Focus on auditing

      Oldman says that until now research shows that in smaller contact center facilities aspects like acoustics, technology and relaxation space rank fairly highly as areas requiring much greater attention for those staff. “Our role is clearly defined in this respect -we only provide the results of the survey and do not consult with a client on what those results might suggest. We believe that this is the role reserved for the workplace strategist or workplace designer. We are auditors only. Perhaps a good medical analogy is to consider us the radiographer -we take the x-ray or scan prior to a specialist consultant addressing the problem that we may have exposed.” New technology is influencing our preferences and working styles. Early results of the surveys carried out show a great dissatisfaction with the volume or types of spaces provided for people to go to away from their desk, Oldman says. “As the tethers that tied us to a desk are being cut by increasingly mobile technologies, people want to be able to seek out space that best fit the activity that they are undertaking at that point. The challenge for the employer and the workplace designer is to decide what these spaces are.”

      About Tim Oldman

      Tim Oldman started his commercial interior design career in 1991 in transport design, cutting his teeth on the multi-million pound capital projects at Victoria Coach Station in London and the Buchanan Bus Station in Glasgow. In 1998, he carried out a workplace design project as part of the BT Workstyle 2000 consultant framework. In 2006 he joined Vitra to forward their workplace strategy objectives, commissioning several milestone research projects. Early in 2009, Tim established a consulting firm to further focus on the dynamic alignment organization's work patterns and practices within workplace environments. This led to the exploration and the development of new models, tools and theories and ultimately to the founding of Leesman. More information on http://www.leesman.co.uk/

      Education for contact center professionals

      The evolution of the contact center industry has resulted in a wide range of training courses and educational tracks for contact center professionals. It varies from short tailor made training sessions to longer standard courses with a broad range of subjects. Governmental approved courses are mainly focussed on operational jobs. In several countries however educational tracks for higher management positions have been developed too. In this article an overview.

      Training and educational institutions in The Netherlands as well as in other countries offer both short training courses and long term courses, both as a off the shelf and tailored. One could choose from a wide range of front-, mid- and backoffice functions. Subjects that are covered vary from knowledge, skills, behavior on all operational and management related activities that occur within the contact center environment. Some tracks are specifically designed for detailed knowledge on implementing applications like CRM, WFM or quality monitoring.

      Often training is offered by means of tailor made education. In this case, the training institution will develop a training program based on the specific needs of the organization and the professionals that should be educated. Such a program can therefore focus on the needs of agents and supervisors or on supervisors and mid level management. These programs can be expanded with training and coaching on the job and sometimes train the trainer sessions are included.

      An important advantage of tailor made training programs is the level of adaptation towards the organization and the dedicated group within. Tailor made training gives the opportunity to reduce time and costs related to travel and stay, by providing the training sessions in house. More important is the direct relationship between the content of the training program and specific daily practice -which can be realized by using cases, examples, et cetera. This increases the transfer of knowledge and skills. The initial costs related to program set up might be slightly higher, but in terms of ROI evidence shows that tailor made programs are more effective and efficient which results in long term cost savings.

      In the past few years the professional level of different contact center positions has been under fire. In The Netherlands, ECABO, the national agency of profession related education, has developed a system regarding vertical job positions within the contact center industry, including educational levels:

Plantronics Contact Centre

Contact Centred Blog