Contact centers share in common with sports like baseball and football that the actions of the players are highly visible and experienced. Like home runs and strikeouts, and touchdowns and incomplete passes: and quickly answered and dropped calls.
Naturally, and logically, both sports and contact centers have the fundamental need for accurate, actionable data to measure and improve the performance of the teams and players. Data that in the hands of skilled and experienced coaches and trainers can result in high scores and ultimately satisfied customers, and also team members, for jobs well done.
Contact centers have the edge though in that every customer interaction with your company gets stored as data, and data starts accumulating when an agent applies for a job at your company. How this data is collected, stored, retrieved, and organized begins to speak volumes on topics such as call peak intervals and frequent call inquiries, to name a few.
With this information, contact center management can adjust agent schedules, offer overtime or voluntary time off (VTO), and beyond. With this data as a guide, they can seamlessly adapt to meet customer demands and deliver exceptional experiences.
To exceed customer expectations, trainers and coaches must pay attention to this data, as it enables the creation of customer-focused training programs and the delivery of personalized coaching to agents, leading to continued improved team performance.
Here are a few areas that I’ve noticed where the information can be used to improve the customer experience (CX).
1. Identifying what training materials need to be created to train agents, e.g., handling a new phone queue, how to process a payment, or educating customers on a new application like for points rewards, such as with a quick reference guide (QRG).
When we start a new phone line, my usual process involves extensive manual review and consultations with subject matter experts. This helps me better understand the tasks agents will perform in the new business area, allowing me to develop tailored training materials accordingly.
Contact centers have the edge...in that every customer interaction with your company gets stored as data, and data starts accumulating when an agent applies for a job at your company.
In this particular following instance, the focus was on creating training for new phone software. We initially believed we had a solid plan in place, complete with QRGs, job aids, and a well-designed, foolproof PowerPoint presentation: it indeed was that good.
However, as Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” And that’s what happened to us.
Instead of having three weeks to train our agents, as anticipated, the new phone software was implemented in less than a week. This sudden timeline change caught us off guard and required us to adapt our training approach accordingly.
After implementing the new system and providing training to all agents, we observed that agents took longer in after-call work (ACW), typically used for completing notes or tasks that couldn’t be finished during the call. Our average ACW time increased from 30 seconds, to over a minute from our real-time call center statistics dashboard.
We discovered that the new phone software required agents to complete a call disposition after each call. This step was redundant as it duplicated the call notes in our CRM system.
While some agents quickly adapted to the intuitive software, others struggled, resulting in prolonged ACW or even logging out and logging back in to receive calls. This led to delays in promptly answering calls; unfortunately, we were failing to meet our SLAs.
I had to act fast. I updated the PowerPoint and we emailed all our agents to add a note in call disposition since we couldn’t remove the feature in the new phone software. We also sent reminders via the group chat and individually to agents, which helped all of them to catch on, and eventually we bounced back.
Data Management Tips
Here are a few high-level tips worth considering for assisting with data management in call and contact centers.
- Standardized collection processes. Implement consistent methods for gathering accurate customer interaction data to ensure clarity and reliability.
- Enhanced storage and security. Employ secure and well-structured databases, encryption, access controls, and compliance measures to protect sensitive information effectively.
- Powerful data analytics tools. Use software like Power BI to extract valuable insights from metrics and customer interactions.
- Proactive monitoring and auditing. Regularly review data quality, conduct audit reviews, and promptly address discrepancies.
- Comprehensive agent training. Provide agents with the necessary knowledge and skills to handle data securely, guaranteeing privacy and compliance, especially for remote agents.
- Continual improvement. Use data insights to optimize processes and agent performance and improve customer satisfaction through training and coaching.
2. Individualized agent performance data helps us tailor coaching discussions to the particular agent’s strengths and weaknesses.
Recently, a new agent faced the challenge of meeting the average hold time for over two months, usually achieved by agents within less than two months. Unfortunately, each day the hold time exceeded the call center’s standard of 30 seconds.
During the idle time between calls, I took the opportunity to request the agent to change her status to “supervisor meeting.” I pointed out that I had noticed her hold time not improving to meet the standard but moving in the opposite direction.
Surprised, the agent responded that she never puts callers on hold and couldn’t understand why her numbers were so high.
Curiously, I asked, “Are you certain you have never placed a caller on hold?” Eventually, she admitted that she occasionally puts callers on hold while updating their other insurance information or when looking up relevant details.
Interested, I inquired about what she did during these calls. To summarize her feedback, the agent wasn’t utilizing the available resources, such as the call center’s chat or our Resource Center and failed to use any of our templates.
This issue was resolved by reminding her about these resources. Additionally, I mentioned to the agent that I recently listened to a call where one of her colleagues effectively guided the caller through updating a caller’s other insurance.
That agent verified the information and generated a call reference number, but never placed the caller on hold and instead walked the caller through her actions.
The agent I was coaching noted this, and when asked if there were other ways to reduce her average hold time, she provided another suggestion, which was keeping an eye on the team’s chat to learn from other’s calls. I regularly monitored her weekly hold time average, and she met the call center’s standard by the second week, which we celebrated her win.
Regulations and Standards Compliance
Data management assists with compliance with industry regulations and standards. One example is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a federal law requiring protection of sensitive patient information disclosure without their permission, and company policies. Here are several suggested procedures.
- Data encryption and access control. Sensitive patient data is encrypted, and access is given based on job roles.
- Audit trails. Keep comprehensive records of data access and interactions to demonstrate adherence to HIPAA’s data security or other company requirements.
- Automated compliance checks. Conduct real-time authorization checks before accessing patient records, ensuring compliance with HIPAA regulations. For example, when agents access a patient’s record, the system verifies whether proper authorizations have been granted.
- Redaction and masking. Automatically conceal sensitive patient information in call records to prevent unauthorized exposure.
- Training and certification tracking. Track agent completion of HIPAA training and certifications to ensure authorized information handling.
- Real-time alerts and notifications. Receive timely alerts for caller greetings, enforcing policies such as the seven-second greeting requirement.
- Data retention policies. Automatically manage data retention to comply with HIPAA and company data storage policies.
3. Tracking agents’ performance by utilizing scorecards that include agents’ numbers and comparing them against the call center’s benchmark allows us to provide feedback to help agents improve performance.
Scorecards are insights about an agent’s performance, helping them understand successes and areas for improvement, while the feedback offers ideas to improve their skills.
We had encountered an issue with our phone software reporting, which prevented the generation of historical reports needed for the scorecards. As a result, there was a delay of approximately a week in sending the scorecard emails to my team.
Five agents contacted me during this time, expressing their concerns about the delay. One agent mentioned that they eagerly anticipated the feedback as it allowed them to assess their performance and identify areas for growth. Another agent shared that receiving my feedback affirmed their efforts.
Scorecards typically include agents’ statistics and the call center’s standards, such as ACW, adherence, and hold time, among others.
However, based on experience, providing the agents with these numbers and explaining the implications explicitly is more effective. For example, you’re only 2% away from meeting adherence for the middle of this month. You should be able to achieve your adherence goal before the end of this month with a little more effort.
Scorecards are insights about an agent's performance, helping them understand successes and areas for improvement...
Additionally, I review reports and identify specific feedback that addresses their challenges, enabling me to provide quick coaching through the scorecard without taking the agent off the phone for a coaching session.
4. Relying on quality assurance (QA) to help understand customer and agent needs and using recorded calls during coaching conversations.
The QA analyst across from me called urgently, indicating that the call was not up to par and required immediate attention. This usually is a sign that something went wrong and would likely result in a challenging conversation with one of my team members.
As the agent answered the call, they followed the usual protocol by greeting the caller and asking how they could assist. Suddenly, the agent informed the caller that they were going on a break and needed to be placed on hold. After a 15-minute hold, the agent returned to the phone call, thanked the caller for their patience, and resumed the conversation.
After inquiring whether the agent had ever placed a caller on hold to take her break, she initially denied doing so. However, I requested to play a recent call, to which she agreed.
During the call, she can be heard placing a caller on hold, stating that it was her break time. Upon hearing this, she became upset, expressing her lack of awareness regarding the proper course of action. She mentioned receiving permission from the caller and other related details.
I clarified that she should not place a caller on hold if her break or lunchtime coincides with an ongoing call, regardless of the caller’s permission. Instead, she should take her break or lunch after concluding the call.
During our conversation, she expressed her concerns and asked if she was in trouble. I reassured her this was a coaching session, especially considering it was her first call center job.
I advised her to reach out to me, the team leads, or the supervisor if she ever has any doubts in the future. However, I also emphasized that a write-up may be necessary if a similar situation occurs again.
After she apologized and assured me that it would never happen again, I reviewed her calls for over a week to identify additional occurrences. Though I trusted her, I believe it’s good to trust but verify.
In my experience with coaching conversations regarding inappropriate customer assistance or something else, I have observed five stages before an agent can accept the coaching. As a result, we sometimes need to guide the agent through these stages. Here are the stages listed below:
5. Comparing pre- and post-training agent metrics that measure training effectiveness.
To effectively measure the impact of agent training, it is vital to consider agent metrics before and after the training. However, it’s essential to remember that immediate improvements or ROI should not be expected once training is implemented.
For instance, let’s consider a scenario where a training class is conducted for ten agents to reduce hold times. To begin, identify the top ten agents in the call center with the highest hold times and track their hold times over approximately four to five months.
After the training, closely monitor the hold times of these agents during their first or second weeks and assess if there has been a decrease or increase in hold times.
To effectively measure the impact of agent training, it is vital to consider agent metrics before and after the training.
In case of a reduction, investigate the specific tools or steps that contributed to the improvement and consider incorporating them into future training sessions with more emphasis. However, if there is an increase in hold time after training, it is necessary to conduct additional coaching sessions to understand the root cause and provide appropriate assistance accordingly.
6. Never stop analyzing data.
Before I conclude this section on areas where call and contact center data may find its usage, we must understand that this data needs to be continuously analyzed to identify new trends. Resulting in us tweaking coaching strategies and training material.
While data provides valuable insights and guidance, we must recognize that we should not rely solely on it. Instead, we should use data as a compass to steer us toward potential solutions. Our responsibility is to delve deeper and uncover the underlying causes of issues or trends.
For instance, I observed a significant decline in an agent’s adherence not long ago. If I had solely relied on the data in the report, it would have appeared as if the agent consistently took too many breaks or logged in late for their shift, to name a few.
However, upon further investigation of the historical data, I discovered that the agent always logged in and out on time, with appropriate break durations. Nothing in the data indicated a reason for the decline in the adherence scores.
To understand the actual cause, I turned to the agent’s schedule on the days with the low adherence scores. It became evident that the agent was assigned a 30-minute lunch break, which they could not take due to their four-hour work shift. The problem was solved by eliminating the lunch break from their schedule, and the agent’s adherence improved.
In the world of call and contact centers, like sports, training and coaching that is driven by data is crucial for improving team performance. Every customer interaction leaves a mark in the form of data, even before agents join our teams.
Data directs agent schedules and service adjustments, considering call volumes and common inquiries, all in harmony with customer demands. Data reflects the past, yet it is a constellation that illuminates our path toward excellence.