Humans aren’t robots.
Trying to increase call center productivity by simply working your agents harder won’t give you the results you need.
But that doesn’t stop executives from trying. There’s been a rash of news articles about customer service teams being treated as disposable and replaceable. Companies like Away and Everlane are under fire for pushing their teams to the brink of exhaustion.
While we’re all looking for ways to reduce waiting time and cut unnecessary costs, asking your team to work non-stop through the holidays and to clock in from their bed for a few more calls isn’t the best idea in the long run.
In the post below, we’ve gathered a number of tips and tools that will help your call center be more productive, while still treating your staff with dignity.
1. Measure Call Center Productivity Metrics
The first step of any goal is to measure where you’re starting from. There are any number of key performance metrics you can use to measure productivity in a call center.
Average time in queue: How long do customers spend waiting to talk to an agent? As your team becomes more productive, this number should decrease.
First contact resolution: What percentage of customer calls are resolved in the first contact? It’s far more effective to fully address the customer’s question the first time they call in, even if it means taking longer on the call.
Average Handle Time: How long does it take an agent to handle one customer call? Average Handling Time (AHT) also includes time spent taking notes, tagging cases and wrapping up anything else after the call.
Average Talk Time/ Occupancy rate: Similar to average handle time, average talk time measures how much time agents are spending on the phone with customers. Occupancy rate takes that number as a percentage of the agent’s total shift. A high occupancy rate (80%) means that agents are spending 80% of their total time talking to customers and 20% of their time doing admin, attending meetings, or otherwise occupied.
Depending on how you measure productivity, your agent’s behavior might change. If you emphasize fast phone calls and keeping the queue hold time to a minimum, agents will strive to wrap up calls quickly. If you focus on fully resolving each customer’s issue, your first contact resolution rate will increase, but customers might have to wait longer and call times will increase.
The important thing is to measure your progress consistently. This will help you identify whether your productivity improvements are having the impact you want.
2. Increase Agent Motivation
Why do your agents do a good job? Why are they motivated to show up and perform at a high level? If your answer is “I’m not sure” then it’s time to consider how you motivate your employees. Agents who want to do a good job at work and know what their goals are will be more productive.
There are a few ways to motivate agents:
Involve employees in decision making. A study by Wolf and Zwick in 2002 found that employees who were invested in the company’s decision-making process were more productive. Consider asking team members for ideas on how to improve efficiency, what they’d like to see more of in the office and their thoughts on how to offer a better customer experience.
Offer more freedom. Agents who have the authority to be flexible in how they address customers’ needs are more effective, more responsive and more personal. They’re also highly motivated to do a great job.
Consider using rewards to incentivize behavior. Using rewards like cash bonuses or gift cards can encourage agents to meet goals and go the extra mile. Decide which behaviors you want to reward, decide what you’ll offer as a reward and then publicize the program widely.
Recognize employees who do a good job. Rewards don’t always need to be monetary. Even just recognizing the hard work and achievements of your employees can go a long way to motivating them. According to Gallop, 69% of employees would work harder if they were better recognized.
Combining multiple motivation strategies can boost agent productivity and help keep your team working hard towards meeting your company goals.
3. Make Customer Information Easily Available
Productivity isn’t just a people problem – it’s also a technology problem. Even if agents are extremely motivated to hustle, they need the right tools to be able to work quickly.
For call centers, being able to find the right information quickly can drastically improve average handle time. It also reduces errors and improves customer satisfaction. Kolin Porter, Vice President, product innovation at Higher Ed Growth says, “So much of contact center efficiency hinges on using the right technology. It’s crucial that contact centers implement a tool that pulls in all of the necessary portals and processes into one simplified platform.”
Customer service agents frequently use up to eight different systems in order to resolve a customer’s inquiry, according to DigitalGenius. Flipping between tabs is time-consuming.
Instead, integrate your systems together so that agents have everything they need right in front of them. A computer telephony interface (CTI) is a common feature of modern call center software systems. They pop-up in the agent’s browser when the phone rings and present all the information needed, from across the various integrations.
Using integrations promotes information accessibility. An agent equipped with information is much more likely to solve the customer’s problem accurately, in the first call.
4. Review Your Call Center Workflows
Your agents are motivated and they have all the information they need. Now it’s time to make sure that your organizational workflows aren’t holding them back.
Save your best stuff
Customer service can be a repetitive job. But fortunately, that makes it easy to build repeatable workflows that help you become more productive. For example, using TextExpander to save common internal notations or for follow up emails can cut down on call wrap-up time.
Set up your team with a library of useful snippets designed to prevent agents from typing the same thing over and over again. Not only does it make your team more productive, it also improves consistency!
Optimize your call traffic routing
“Nothing slows down the efficiency of a call center more than poor call traffic distribution. If customers are being sent to the wrong department, then they tied up customer service personnel from helping the right people. It ties up lines and makes the whole center fall behind.”Tyler Riddell, Vice President of Marketing, eSUB
Get your customers to the right person, fast. Consider auditing your interactive voice response (IVR) menus to improve service levels and make sure calls are consistently being forwarded to the right team. Are the menu options clear to customers? Do they cover all the options? Do the agents answering the calls have all the necessary training to address the customer’s questions.
In busy times, you might also consider adding a call-back solution. This increases productivity by spreading out volume peaks over the day. Agents can take advantage of downtime to wrap up tickets and get more work done.
Finally, look into ways that you can collect more information from customers before they reach a human. Authenticate customers using an automated solution to save time. Research shows that the average time to verify a user is between 45-90 seconds. Reducing this time can have a big impact over a large number of calls.
Escalate when needed
Some questions just can’t be answered by one person in one phone call. Having a clear process for escalations can save time and prevent frustration. Support agents by being available during live calls, and physically available for quick questions.
5. Reduce Call Center Agent Turnover
Keeping a stable team will help you to reduce training costs and time. It will also help you to monitor productivity on a longer-term scale. Providing a supportive work environment prevents agents from quitting.
Encourage agents to take breaks throughout the day. Humans aren’t designed to function non-stop for 8 hours a day. Breaks will refresh your agent’s mind and keep them operating at peak efficiency.
Consider rotating agents through other contact channels and tasks. Agents will have the opportunity to develop more skills and become more engaged in the overall customer experience. These benefits will improve the agent experience and provide a sense of fulfillment. Not only will agents be more motivated to provide great customer service, but they will also be less likely to quit.
6. Train Agents for Efficiency
There are tried and true tricks for mastering more efficient customer service calls. Simply letting the customer guide the conversation, for example, can end up resulting in a record-breaking 10-hour call. Hey, some customers really like to talk.
But, nailing the first 30 seconds of a call can set the entire conversation up for success. Being confident, setting the agent up as an expert and showing empathy right off the bat can prevent customers from venting and derailing the conversation.
Train your customer service agents on common call wrap-up phrases to use, and roleplay common customer service calls frequently. Being able to guide the conversation to a resolution can get the agent off the call successfully and onto the next customer call.
Being efficient is just good business sense. You save your customers’ time and you save your business money. But becoming more productive requires a multi-faceted approach. Call center productivity requires people, software and workflows all working in harmony.
Use the strategies above to increase your productivity while still maintaining a high level of customer service quality and agent experience.