Call centers that handle service and support calls are, unfortunately, often viewed as cost centers. Although these centers usually don’t bring in revenue directly, they do contribute to the company’s goals in many valuable ways, most notably in reinforcing the company’s brand and in increasing customer loyalty.
To raise the visibility of your call center as a valuable contributor to your company’s growth and bottom line profits, follow these six best practices.
Know Where You’re Going
What are you trying to achieve? What are the goals of your company? How can your center support them?
- Meet with your senior executives. How do they want the company to be perceived in the market place? Are they trying to grow market share, reduce attrition, cut internal costs?
- Confer with the finance department. What is the lifetime value of a customer? If it’s small, you can hire less skilled workers, have a longer queue length, watch handle time closely, and afford to lose a few customers; if the value of a customer is large, each one is valuable. What does an average call cost now? You need to know the answers to questions like these in order to weigh the impact of hiring reps at various skill levels and to determine the appropriate service level and average handle time for calls.
- Interview the service manager. What is the cost of a maintenance contract? How many contracts are lost because subscribers are unhappy with the support they receive?
- Meet with the marketing department. What campaigns are coming up? How can the center help support the department’s goals? It doesn’t reflect well on your company if a customer calls in about a promotion or other information they received if the agent knows nothing about it.
Gathering and analyzing the answers to questions like these is the first call center best practice. The results of your analysis will inform who you hire, which quality and service standards you set, and whether or not you’ve succeeded in your mission.
Hire the Right People
One of the most difficult aspects of call center management is finding and keeping the right people for the job. Regardless of how difficult it is to attract and retain quality agents, however, it’s crucial that you take great care in hiring for your center. Even though you may be in a rush to fill seats, attending to Best Practice #2 will save you considerable pain down the road. Not only is it expensive to replace employees who have been mis-hired, but it’s demoralizing for the rest of your team to see high turnover. You can learn more about the effects of turnover and the best practices for improving it here.
You’ll determine the most appropriate people for the job when you analyze the information gathered in Best Practice #1: Know where you’re going. Can you accomplish your goals with recent high school graduates? Do you need not only skilled engineers, but outgoing ones as well? Can you hire for attitude and teach product knowledge and technical skills? Analyze the attributes of your top performers and make a list. Then work with your human resource team to identify ways to screen for those attributes. Don’t accept second best if you want to receive the benefits of this best practice!
Train for Success
Equipping your staff with the knowledge and behaviors to meet your company’s business goals is an investment that pays off many times over. Many call centers have high turnover and don’t want to invest a lot in training. However, if you adhere to Best Practices #1 and #2 so that you know who you’re looking for and you hire only those people who have a good chance of success, training will be a worthwhile investment to make. Keep in mind, research shows that effective learning depends not only on the learning event itself, but even more so on what happens after the learning event is over. This brings us to Best Practice #4.
Coach for Continuous Improvement
Giving feedback to call center agents isn’t a luxury. It isn’t a maybe. It isn’t a one-of-these-days-I’ll-get-around-to-doing-it aspect of your job. Making sure your reps get consistent feedback and recognition for a job well-done is one of the two or three most critical things you’ll do as a call center manager. Several studies have shown the dramatic results of pairing coaching with training. One, for example, as reported in Public Personnel Management found that training alone increased performance by 22.4 percent. But when training was followed up with coaching, the figure soared to 88 percent.
There are other reasons why giving feedback is so important. It shows your staff that you’re on top of things, that you’re keeping yourself informed, and that you’re dedicated to a course of continual improvement. Call center employees who receive ongoing feedback are more engaged in their job, and more engaged employees create more satisfied customers. What’s more, this call center best practice shows your staff that you care about them, about their performance, about the customer, about service levels, and about running a world-class call center. You can learn best practices for supervising call center employees here.
Manage the Mood
In call centers where morale is high, agents approach their work with energy, enthusiasm, and willingness. They want to come to work, or at least are enthusiastic about their work once they get there. Turnover is low. On the other hand, when morale is low in a call center, employees become bored, discouraged, and lethargic, and turnover is high. Attending to this best practice will reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction.
How to create a motivating environment?
- Be sure it’s positive. Smile. Be encouraging. Praise. Don’t tolerate uncivil behavior.
- Provide the best furniture and equipment you can. Paint the walls a bright color or put art on them. Keep common rooms clean and tidy. Be sure noise, lighting, and air quality are conducive to employee comfort.
- Make it fun to succeed. Recognize great performance—that which goes beyond what’s expected. Recognize agents for behavior or actions or ideas they initiate. Create relevant contests, ones that focus specifically on job performance. Avoid overzealous competition. Involve management in recognition programs.
- Help employees manage stress. Be clear in what good performance looks like. Provide as much control over working conditions as possible. Be sure employees have the tools, resources, and information to do their jobs. Provide breaks from repetitive or monotonous tasks. Allow agents to step away for a few moments to calm down after dealing with a challenging call.
Watch Your Numbers
Best Practice #6 is to focus on call center metrics. The goal of your call center is to help your organization meet its business goals. Metrics measure how well you’ve done that. Look at metrics related to quality (call quality, data-entry quality, fix quality, customer satisfaction and loyalty, etc.) as well as metrics related to quantity (average speed of answer, number of escalations or transfers, the time it takes to resolve the customer’s issue, etc.). The goal is to create the highest customer loyalty at the lowest cost.
Follow these six best practices and your center will be well-run, cost-effective, and seen as a valuable contributor to helping your company achieve its goals.