An Advice Column for Contact Center Managers
One thing the Coronovirus pandemic has made clear—humans need contact centers more than ever before. As increasingly large numbers of businesses and families are faced with what feels like unimaginable disruptions, contact center teams provide information and comfort to millions of Americans. And if your center’s call volumes have been down recently, that will most assuredly change in the weeks ahead. That’s why for this month’s Challenged Solved, we chose the following reader question: What can we do to prepare our contact center team to meet today’s new demands and do so in a way that strengthens (and not weakens) our business?
Have your question answered in an upcoming Challenge Solved advice column! Email your question to: ChallengeSolved@ulysseslearning.com
Q: What can we do to prepare our contact center team to meet today’s new demands and do so in a way that strengthens (and not weakens) our business?
Our featured expert for this month’s question is:
Senior Vice President, Managing Director of North American Operations
A: Thank you for this forward-thinking question. At the heart of my answer is the need to create order out of chaos. If your contact center is like our clients’, you’ve probably done much over these past several months to shift your business model to support a higher percentage of WFH (work from home) staff by improving contact center-as-a-service (CCaaS) features, agent desktop software, CRM integrations, in addition to dozens of operating processes. In my opinion what contact centers have been able to achieve is extraordinary, inspiring and, quite frankly, miraculous. Clearly, many leaders are demonstrating a real and intentional focus on creating order out of chaos.
That’s why as we now look at the next phase of this incredible business shift, it’s time to take a hard look at the impact it’s had on our agents and managers…and do something about it as quickly as possible before the next surge. Here are four recommendations to strengthen and prepare your contact center now.
Show reps how to be concerned AND focused. The other day I was listening in on a rep’s call with a customer who was experiencing a series of life challenges. The rep apologized several times and responded to the customer at one point by saying, “I’m right there with you. My husband is out of work, too, and I don’t make a lot of money at this job. I’m barely paid above minimum wage.” The reps’ response elicited another series of responses between the customer and rep, none of which focused on a solution to the customer’s original reason for the call. Needless to say, variations of this conversation are most likely happening thousands of times a day and maybe even in your contact center.
We cannot ignore the fact that contact centers serve as free counseling centers, especially in times of crisis. Customer emotions are high as they “dump their buckets” of fear, anger, confusion…and in some cases, hopelessness. Your reps take the brunt of this and while some of them thrive in their counselor roles, a balance must be struck to minimize call lengths so more customers can be served. The best way to do this is to empower your reps to activate their emotional intelligence, responding from a place of empathy with an eagle eye on understanding and resolving the problem. I’ve advised clients to provide refresher training (using Ulysses Learning’s Empathy Job Aid) around what to say to express empathy, sympathy, and apology and when to say it. This type of information is a game changer and will help your reps confidently get calls back on track and create more satisfied customers because they feel heard and their needs are met.
Promote schedule adherence AND flex your creativity in the process. One concern voiced by the executives with whom we work is that even though a large number of reps appreciate working at home, many are struggling with schedule adherence. Reps are not logging in at the right time and often are away from their workstations (even if only for a moment) when calls are routed to them. It’s important as managers we recognize that reps are not only working from home, they are also working in a household with other humans who have their own demands and needs, providing numerous distractions to even the most organized and focused of reps. One recommendation which we’ve seen some of our clients mobilize and with positive effect, is to schedule more shifts which are shorter in length rather than a traditional full-day block, since agents do not have to commute. This lets executives optimize rep scheduling without over burdening the employee, who is at home the whole time anyway, and provide them split shifts so they can attend to their other demands. It’s much easier to tell children they’ll have to wait another 2 hours versus 6 hours AND the result is more reps are at their desks to take calls when needed.
Take small but mighty actions to keep people connected. The fact remains, as much as many of your reps enjoy working from home, an equal (or in some cases larger) number enjoy working in your contact center environment. Case in point. Another client with over 350 reps surveyed their team to get a sense of how many wanted to return in the first group back (they were planning to return to the center in waves). They thought it would be a small percentage. It wasn’t. Eighty percent wanted to return, stating they liked the structure of the contact center, as well as the instant connection and access to other people and resources. Armed with that information, the client implemented a handful of simple strategies to simulate what their work-from-home reps were missing, such as a buddy system for periodic check-ins with peers and an open chat line with supervisors.
When opportunity knocks, answer the door! When the pandemic hit Ulysses in March, we used the opportunity to pivot. While we have always been dedicated to providing technology-enabled learning solutions, we realized we could provide clients even more virtually based learning experiences and development support, and we did just that. For example, we leveraged additional e-Learning content making it self-directed and self-paced, which allowed reps to practice from their homes. Last week I had a call with a client who runs a large government-services-support contact center on the east coast. I said to him, “Everybody is telling you your call volumes are down, but nobody is doing the training we provided you while you’ve got time available. Why not?” He said, “I don’t know. Good question.” Within two days he had his team online with us going through refresher training to address topics such as the empathy/sympathy/apology response training discussed in item 1, as well as training to strengthen reps’ ability to execute fully the eight Call Strategy steps. Consider any time you have now as a gift to help prepare your team for the days ahead. And if your current training does not include on-demand refresher training with plenty of virtually based learning content, contact me. Be an opportunist and take advantage of our pivot!
I’ll just add one last point for you to consider. I know your business is more than achieving targeted metrics. How you achieve those metrics matters. As you go forward, please lean into your learning consultants, training and tools, and, if we can be of assistance, please allow Ulysses Learning the privilege of helping you leverage your greatest investment—your people. Ensuring your results through a well-trained and emotionally intelligent contact center team is always our top priority.
More on this month’s featured expert…
Senior Vice President, Managing Director of North American Operations
In her current capacity with Ulysses Learning, Dina is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company and also serves as the chief client relationship executive, working with Fortune 100 clients and other progressive organizations to redefine the way customers are cared for. Under her leadership, Ulysses has become well known for its work in transforming customer service, sales and coaching cultures through the development of emotional intelligence or “EQ” so that Judgment@WorkTM can be confidently, consistently and expertly applied on every call. The company has special expertise in serving the insurance, utilities and financial services industries.
Before joining Ulysses in 1999, Dina was responsible for the ground-level startup of two contact centers which led to her accepting a role as call center lead consultant and division manager for an international bank training organization.
Dina can be reached on LinkedIn or at email@example.com; for more details on Ulysses Learning visit www.ulysseslearning.com.
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Managers looking for answers to their toughest contact center challenges are encouraged to Email their challenges to: ChallengeSolved@ulysseslearning.com
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Challenge Solved! is sponsored by:
UlyssesLearning was founded in 1995 as a joint venture with Northwestern University’s Learning Sciences department and continues to bring clients new, innovative enhancements to its industry-leading training. Contact centers achieve profound business results, ahead of schedule, with Ulysses Learnings’ artful blend of patented simulation-based e-learning, facilitated exercises, coaching, and tools, that redefine the way customers are cared for and transform customer service, sales, and coaching cultures. Ulysses has the only training proven to build emotional intelligence or “EQ” so that Judgment@WorkTM can be confidently, consistently, and expertly applied on every call.
Ulysses Learning is a multi-year recipient of the Gold Stevie© Award for best contact center customer service training.
Begin your contact center transformation now. Phone 800-662-4066 or visit www.ulysseslearning.com to get started.