Adaptability is not just about being able to respond to change; it is also important to anticipate change. Testing
your processes can show you where there is the most room for improvement. When considering major changes to how you operate, testing theories is crucial. A prolonged study might show seemingly sound strategies to be unworkable.
There are also marginal gains that you can get from minor changes. A/B testing routes customers through one of two options and compares outcomes. For example, you might run two versions of your IVR to see which reduces call abandonment rates. Even a tiny improvement is worth the effort of testing.
2. Request agent feedback
If there are any glaring problems with how your business operates, it is the front-line agents who will see it first. A good measure of your business’s adaptability is how frequently you can implement the intelligent suggestions of your staff.
Promote an open and receptive culture where thoughts and opinions are encouraged. You may also want to start an employee forum on the staff intranet where these suggestions can be formally submitted for review.
This is not limited to protocols and best practice. Getting feedback is also a good way of finding out how your staff want to work and how they would alter the culture of your office.
3. Gather information from customers
There is nobody better placed to help you improve than your customers. Through surveys, speech analytics and direct response you can establish which areas are cause for concern.
Don’t just accumulate this information, though. The responses you get should have a real impact on training going forward, as well as influencing your practice.
Positive feedback can be repurposed as a motivational tool for staff, a useful secondary benefit.
4. Offer flexible contracts
The bottleneck in your minute-to-minute responsiveness is staffing levels. The more flexibility you can build into employee contracts, the more responsive you can be. There are several approaches to this including flexitime, annualised hours and time accounts.
It is important to be considerate to staff, but there is no reason that flexible contracts can’t be positioned as a benefit. Many agents will jump at the chance to build more flexibility into their working life.
With outbound contact, the growing diversity of contact options makes traditional working hours less and less relevant. Homeworking agents are an intimidating prospect for many, but it may be worth trying them out.
5. Integrate your multichannel offerings
Multichannel contact centres are about more than just variety. Increasingly, the aim is to allow customers to switch easily back and forth between channels. This holistic approach satisfies the customer and brings major benefits to the contact centre too.
As more multichannel interactions generate data, a picture is emerging of intelligent, catered resolutions. A customer may choose to submit information via email and only call for a more detailed understanding of their bill.
The more interactions you have, the more you will understand the purpose of each channel. Agent skill levels are likely to increase as a result, making contact centres an increasingly desirable career proposition.
The time to train for multichannel skills is now. Training should focus not only on how channels are used, by why they are chosen by the customer.
6. Plan staffing with scheduling and WFM
Scheduling is the backbone of your contact centre and staffing levels should not be left to chance. Ideally, your scheduling will be complemented by excellent WFM, enabling you to plan beyond just ‘bodies in seats’. Staff skill and experience, as well as management presence, are also important considerations.
Check in regularly with your real-time managers to see how closely their predictions describe actual events. If they are frequently missing targets or overstaffing in panic, they might need support or a refresher course in Erlang calculations. There are also other factors that might be missing from their scheduling data, like agents working in multichannel roles.
Without a crystal ball, there will always be a few unforeseen disparities. These should not trouble you too much, but make sure you understand them and plan around them in future.
7. Encourage team leaders to put forward new ideas
There is tendency among team leaders and floor managers to “do things the way they’ve always been done”, as nobody wants to rock the boat and make themselves unpopular. Unfortunately, this “safe” mindset is an enemy to progress.
You can help to change this by regularly involving your senior staff in brainstorming exercises for new ideas. To get the ball rolling, you could even try hosting a “Dragon’s Den”-style meeting – asking all of your team leaders to pitch a solution to a recurring problem.
Not every idea that gets floated will be a winner, and you can expect to invest resources in plans which do not go anywhere, but there is no reason to fear this.
Opening the floor to change will not only make management roles more interesting, it will also help to ensure your organisation is running at the top of its game.
8. Recruit on a “variety” basis
When was the last time you revisited your recruitment policy? You might find that it hasn’t moved with the industry or is stuck on a single fixed set of ideas.
It’s not unheard of for contact centres to hire candidates who lack experience but have a background in acting. Perhaps your key parameter under normal circumstances is a candidate who ‘pops’ with charisma. If you focus on interviewees who offer the most original responses, you can diversify your staff personality types.
A good staff is like a healthy immune system, and a degree of diversity is very beneficial. The odd sniffle increases your immunity to illness down the line.
9. Crisis tools and disaster recovery
You might not use tools like IVR or virtual queueing too often. It can still be worth investing in them, however, as mechanisms for dealing with the unexpected. You can use them like a parachute: hope you won’t need them but it’s good to know you have them.
Disaster recovery is also an important consideration. Staff should be well briefed on handling a major disruption to service. These include severe weather, IT crashes, or even cyber attacks. Your disaster recovery strategy should consider how you will proceed as well as how to restart your systems. Does your plan cover you for continued operating as well as recovery?
10. Lines of communication
Communication goes two ways in a contact centre. Some information will originate from customers and be received by front-line staff. Technical errors on your website are a good example of this, and agents need to know how to pass the information along. Having clear protocols about who to contact keeps the business running smoothly.
You also need to have a straightforward way to deliver news to the agents. If urgent changes are going to drive contact volumes, how do you let them know? Would you send out managers to let everyone know in person? Or send out an office email which they might not read?
If you have wall screens, they can be used as a sort of ‘early warning’ system. Another approach is to have an email ‘traffic light’ system. You can simply communicate the urgency of information by placing a green, amber or red banner on an email.
Following these simple steps will help your contact centre survive any scale of change in the future.
What strategies have you tried to increase your contact centre’s operations?
With thanks to Jack Barton, a regular contributor to Call Centre Helper