Category Archives: Agent Efficiency

How to Enable Customer Service Agents in the Omnichannel Era

Change is the only constant in the contact center. It’s a landscape in constant flux. Interactions once conducted on traditional channels like voice, email and standard IVR are moving to more manageable, lower-cost alternatives like chatbots, VPA (Alexa) and WhatsApp.

But with rapid technological advancement, the pace of change is accelerating.

It’s predicted by Gartner that organizations will have to address no fewer than 12 emerging and immature channels by 2022 compared to typically three or four today.

Managing multiple channels is already a top contact center challenge — so how can organizations enable their agents to move easily from one channel to another when there are eight or twelve instead of two or three? 

Perhaps the more important, broader question this: 

Has your organization prepared your agents for the new normal of customer service work, when bots and AI have siphoned off the easiest interactions and left agents handling only the most complex?

More channels means agents will need more help, and if your methodology is poorly thought out, the benefits of newly implemented technology will always be offset by the cost of unintended consequences. 

To help your organization better enable customer service agents, I wanted to share two recent webinars I led with Contact Center Network Group (CCNG). Both will help you future-proof your processes and arm your agents with the right tools to provide great customer engagements even as the nature of customer service work changes. 

Enabling Your Agents in the Age of the Customer

In this webinar you will learn how to:

  • Match the customer to the right agent
  • Centralize data and reduce the overwhelming number of screens
  • Automate mundane, repeatable tasks

                        Listen to the webinar

 

Helping Your Agents Manage the Expansion of Customer Channels

In this webinar you will learn how to:

  • Help agents deal with multiple channels
  • Ensure seamless transition from failed bot to agent 
  • Overcome silos                     

                        Listen to the webinar

 

About Aria Solutions

Aria Solutions is a customer engagement center solutions company that helps some of the world’s biggest organizations achieve unified customer engagement centers free of silos.

Over the past 22 years we have empowered 550,000 agents and completed over 1,200 successful projects, collaborating with our customers to help them achieve their business goals and find better ways to serve their customers.

Visit our about page to learn more about Aria Solutions or contact us today if you’d like guidance on how your organization can overcome your contact center challenges.

Thanks for reading!

10 Ways to Fix Your Agent Turnover Rate

Unless you have an awesome employee experience program in place, your contact center probably experiences high agent turnover – a real issue affecting most contact centers.  

[easy-tweet tweet=”In fact, increases in agent turnover have been shown to reduce workforce productivity by 40% and your organization’s financial performance by 26%” usehashtags=”no” template=”light”]

Not only are your productivity levels and financials being damaged, but your recruiting and training costs will only continue to rise.  

Why is agent turnover often high?

There are many reasons why agent turnover is probably higher than you like. Believe it or not, most of these reasons are in the control of customer service and operations management. 

From talking to some of our customers and learning about various contact center environments, we see these as top reasons why so many customer service reps don’t want to stick around and quit: 

  • Monotonous, repetitive tasks  
  • Frustrations with the agent technology and tools
  • Stress dealing with customers
  • Mismatch of tasks and skills
  • Lack of career advancement and training
  • Strict work environment 

That’s not the whole picture, but enough for employees to be less engaged, enthusiastic, and committed to their job.  

Interestingly, I came across a report called “The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis” which states that employee engagement levels in the US haven’t improved in the past 17 years. And in fact, only 32% of employees are engaged in their job.  

This is about employee engagement across all types of jobs. But it gets so much worse when we discuss the engagement levels of contact center employees. 

If your business objectives are to improve customer experiences through better customer engagements and to reduce operation costs, directors and managers of customer service and contact center operations should invest in ways to improve employee experiences: 

1. Set job expectations & motivate your agents right from the get-go

During the hiring process, make sure that the job descriptions are comprehensive enough that there are no surprises when your agents arrive for their first day of work.  

A day-in-the-life outline of everything that may happen is a helpful way to show agents that their job is so much more than simply responding to customers via phone, email, chat, etc. Now, this might sound fluffy, but explaining to new agents the importance of their job is crucial.

Your agents not only represent your brand, but they are hubs of valuable information about customers that can benefit many business areas, including marketing, customer insights, and sales. The more your employees feel that they can help a customer and the business overall, the more important they will feel within their roles. 

Takeaways:

  • Comprehensive job descriptions
  • Day-in-the-life outline
  • Customer service employee roles are beneficial to many business units

2. Match the right customer to the right agent

When agents feel like they can be valuable to customers and can handle customer calls, their satisfaction skyrockets.  

If your agents are being connected to customers who have questions or issues out of their realm, they can feel stressed and helpless.  

Don’t forget that as you update your routing, whether you focus on efficiency or improving customer experiences, you will improve the agent’s experience too.  

When customers feel they’ve been sent to the right agent the first time, through intelligent routing, and that person can help them without being handed off to someone else, they will have a more positive experience and are more likely to be pleasant for the agent to deal with. 

Generally, customers are willing to wait a little longer to reach the right person, but only a little. Today the expectation is that the person I reach should be able to handle my request. Transferring customer calls can be seen as a strike against a company, although it still happens often. 

The general challenge with routing is collecting enough information about the customer and any context/personalization. For example, the customer may have indicated in an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) or online chat that they want to talk about their bill. That’s a broad category, which could include resending a bill, questions about an item on their bill, paying their bill, negotiating a payment plan for their bill, or more. The agent needs to be skilled in all those actions to be successful.  

So, the key point is not about the routing rules themselves, but to have broad categories that match a list of actions that agents are trained for. If there are gaps (e.g. agent can’t setup a payment plan), then reaching the “right agent” starts to break down. 

Takeaways:

  • Make sure your customer is routed to an agent who has the right data to solve the problem
  • Create broad categories and train the agent to solve all queries in that category 

3. Centralize data & reduce the overwhelming number of screens  

Having agents waste time searching for customer information over a variety of systems and screens is extremely unproductive.  

A maze of legacy systems makes the process of handling customer requests quite painful. To respond to customer inquiries the average agent spends 15% of their time searching for the information across these disparate systems 

  • CRM systems
  • Billing systems
  • Payment systems
  • Fulfillment systems
  • Knowledge-Base
  • Dispatch systems

All the frustration from trying to navigate all these systems efficiently leads to agent turnover. This converts to dozens if not hundreds of clicks to handle one customer interaction (Focus On Employees’ Daily Journeys To Improve Employee Experience, Forrester Research, Inc., April 20, 2018).

[easy-tweet tweet=”The Australian Post’s CX team observed employees change a customer’s address and only then discovered that the process took a shocking 160 clicks to complete.” usehashtags=”no” template=”light”]

This is obviously inefficient. Optimizing and fully integrating agent desktop and softphone technology in your contact center is critical.  

Giving agents easy-to-use, unified technology helps them be more effective and efficient, which then improves their morale and employee experience. Implementing a unified agent desktop solution brings together all your information and data from every-day multiple systems into one view or screen. This can give agents a complete picture of the customer and makes navigation between different applications unnecessary. 

Takeaways:

  • Consolidate systems to make it easier for agents to find data
  • Invest in easy-to-use agent technology

4. Automate mundane, repeatable tasks

High levels of monotony lead to high levels of attrition. It’s as simple as that. That’s why the most powerful driver of loyalty to the organization is empowerment. Therefore, it makes sense that some companies are starting to use automation to free workers to take on more fulfilling work.  

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machines can handle more and more of the routine business processes, increasing efficiency and speeding up resolution times.  

By reducing routine calls, data entry, report preparation, transaction details, system navigation, logs, and documentation, agents can focus on tasks that deliver personalized experiences for customers (AI is Ready for Employees, Not Just Customers, Forrester Research Inc., March 27, 2018). 

How many of you say a top priority in your contact center is to digitalize it? Well, the same report states that 55% of technology decision-makers are in the same boat as you. But there seems to be a gap in who wants this change and how many are doing it. The truth is only 32% are doing something about it. 

Personally, I’d make this a top priority if you want to free up your agents’ time and make customer experiences better.  

Takeaways: 

  • AI can do repetitive tasks faster and with more accuracy than agents
  • Automate tasks and processes to give agents the freedom to work on meaningful issues

5. Empower agents to collaborate to get the job done

I think it’s impossible to expect each individual agent to have all the answers to resolve customer issues.  

There’s nothing wrong with your agents collaborating with one another to provide the most helpful information to your customer. This can be enabled with technologies such as Skype for Business, Slack, Hipchat from Atlassian, or any number of communication tools. 

Invest in platforms that focus on simplifying and integrating the work environment, by bringing together processes, tasks, work management, and social collaboration seamlessly. 

Takeaways: 

  • Empower agents with collaboration tools to solve problems
  • Help create a sense of camaraderie and fulfillment

6. Provide more work-life balance and flexibility

Let’s be honest here – how many of you give your employees the flexibility to plan and create their own shifts for a better work-life balance?  

Just like you, your agents have families, obligations, and lives outside of their headset.  

Giving them the freedom to pick and choose their schedules, having small breaks throughout the day, or the ability to work from home will be a game-changer for their productivity and their stress levels. Sometimes, we can forget how stressful this job can be while we’re sitting in the back office.  

By giving this freedom to employees, you’re showing that you trust them, which helps drive long-term agent productivity and job satisfaction, both of which reduce agent turnover.

Dealing with agent turnover in the contact center

Takeaways: 

  • Trust begets trust; give agents flexibility to live their life 

7. Mentor your agents and provide opportunities for growth

If you saw no long-term vision for yourself at a company, would you leave? Of course, you would. The same goes for your customer service agents.

Helping them on the road to a strong career path will increase their job handling abilities, knowledge and overall satisfaction with their job. This, of course, does not come without any effort on your end. Create all-inclusive training guides or programs and spend time with your agents to understand what their goals, motivations, dreams, and ambitions are within their role.

It goes without saying: agents who feel valued and cared for by their employer are less likely to leave than those who feel like they are invisible.

Don’t just give your agents the tools to do their current job; have open conversations with them about where they see themselves going within the company, offer advice on what it takes to move up, and provide opportunities to advance within their role in the contact center.

Takeaways:

  • Create career pathways so your agents see this as their career, not just a job
  • Buddy new agents with successful agents who can act as mentors

8. Value your employees instead of cracking the whip

Worse is when contact center managers are not only lacking in mentorship and helping agents be successful, but also creating a workplace culture of fear. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen and experienced, it’s not uncommon.

If you really want your team to perform effectively, it’s true that it starts from the top. It’s up to management to establish a safe environment with open communication where employees feel valued.

Employees who feel they are valued will, in turn, make decisions that positively impact the company and the customers. If you are attempting to motivate your agents with discipline, it likely has opposite the intended effect, and agents will withdraw from their role.

Takeaways:

  • Your staff are adults; respect and treat them as such
  • Your job is to provide support, not discipline

9. Recognize and reward your high-performing agents

It seems intuitive that your agents would want to be recognized, but it is far less common in contact centers than you would think.

The Cicero Group recently asked people all over the world about how their current employer could help them improve their performance. The common thread across their answers was clear: “recognize me!” (The Employee Experience Imperative, Forrester Research, Inc., December, 15 2017).

There is nothing new here. As part of any employee experience, recognition is a requirement.

The ways that you recognize your agents do not have to be extravagant. For example, “Hey David! Great job last month. Your new Ferrari is waiting out front!”.  That would be great, but you can recognize your contact center agents in a much more simplistic (and more affordable) way through:

  • Top achiever awards
  • Experiences, like tickets to a sporting event or concert
  • Lunches outside the office with top-performing individuals or teams
  • Simple conversations with employees to say thank you

In general, stay away from numbers-based awards. This sounds strange, but they tend to impact the quality of call resolution because agents rush through calls to hit targets and not effectively resolve inquiries.

Seek feedback from your employees as well about how they would like to be recognized.

Again, listening to your agents is a sure-fire way to increase engagement and job satisfaction, both help reduce agent turnover.

Takeaways:

  • Recognize good work and reward staff accordingly
  • Making agents feel appreciated makes them more likely to stay

10. Ask your agents directly about their work experiences

It’s impossible to guess what agents are struggling with unless you are on the floor with them. Sometimes, the best way to understand how to improve employee experience and help them succeed is simply ask them directly or through an anonymous survey. Your agents are more likely to be honest about their experiences when it is not face-to-face.

Let’s look at this scenario: One of your agents is having a tough time resolving customer calls because their computer equipment is out-of-date, and their software is running slowly and inefficiently. The survey would identify this, and your team can look into systems that are more modern.

Improving the work environment and engaging your workforce is a continuous process, not just a one-time thing. And doing this will increase overall employee satisfaction.

Another example is finding out that sitting for long hours is hard, or the headset the agent is using is not comfortable enough. You can easily fix this by untethering agents from their desks with wireless headsets that are more comfortable. Headsets generally support productivity, so you should always consider comfort when investing in new audio devices, specifically investing in a headset that has been designed for all-day use. For an idea, here is one of the top-scoring headsets for agents.

Takeaways:

  • Talk to your staff, get feedback, and implement the changes you can to improve their work environment and job experiences

To summarize, here are 10 ways to fix your contact center agent turnover rate and improve their work experience:

  1.  Set job expectations & motivate your agents right from the get-go
  2. Match the right customer to the right agent
  3. Centralize data & reduce the overwhelming number of screens
  4. Automate mundane, repeatable tasks
  5. Empower agents to collaborate to get the job done
  6. Provide more work-life balance and flexibility
  7. Mentor your agents and provide opportunities for growth
  8. Value your employees instead of cracking the whip
  9. Recognize and reward your high-performing agents
  10. Ask your agents directly about their work experiences

I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on the practices that you can begin to implement in your own contact centers to reduce agent turnover. I know these may seem like a lot to take in all at once, but start small and work your way up. Your agents (and your customers!) will thank you for it.

 

Building a Fully-Integrated Contact Center with Amazon Connect and Salesforce

When AWS launched the Amazon Connect cloud-based contact center service, our breath was taken away by the power and the flexibility – making us quickly become one of the first APN partners and take part in creating new add-on functionality and services.

Having experience building customer engagement functionality in Salesforce that only supports digital channels, our team realized that Amazon Connect and its voice-based channel was a natural fit. So, this was the obvious first place for Aria to invest in to provide customers with a fully-integrated contact center.

Bridging the silos with pre-built components

No one wants to have their technology run in silos. By integrating both cloud-based solutions, organizations can:

  • Improve customer experiences by properly managing customer interactions across voice and digital channels
  • Improve employee productivity by automating tasks and reducing the number of screens they must use to handle customer interactions
  • Gain full visibility of how well the contact center is meeting customer demand

To make this happen fast with less effort and lower risk, Aria built two options:

1.  Free toolkit to try things out on your own

This is an advanced adapter that’s using Salesforce’s Open CTI, which brings Amazon’s Contact Control Panel right into Salesforce. The toolkit offers out-of-the-box integration between Salesforce and Amazon Connect, which is built on industry best practices. Agents can receive and control the calls and see customer information right within Salesforce – the same place where they handle digital channels.

As part of this integration, the toolkit migrates Amazon Connect call data into Salesforce, for all interaction data to reside in one place. Providing contact center managers with a clear view of their operations across all channels.

Other AWS applications that are often used in the contact center, such as Lex bot data, and transcriptions with Amazon Transcribe, are also made available right within Salesforce.

Not only does it provide some great features out-of-the-box, it’s also meant to be customizable and extensible, by giving you the rights to copy and modify almost all pieces of code to adjust the functionality to your own needs.

2.  More advanced, supported integration through Legato

Another option to consider is Aria’s Legato, which includes all the same functionality as the free toolkit plus a customizable softphone. It is a packaged and fully supported product that includes automatic upgrades and will soon be available on the Salesforce AppExchange.

This option lets organizations skip the internal development stage and go straight to a supported product – should that be the desired path.

Making your customer engagement center even more advanced

Aria has over 20 years of contact center experience and a depth of knowledge on how everything interconnects as a single solution.

If you want to add more functionality to improve customer and employee engagement in an efficient manner, here are some service options:

  • Setup of Amazon Connect
  • Voice and digital bots with Lex
  • Integration of industry-leading CRM and WFM tools
  • Advanced functionality provided by Amazon Connect partners, such as advanced sentiment analysis, dynamic phone numbers, fraud detection, and in-session SMS

To learn more about these options and what’s possible with Amazon Connect contact us to talk to our experts!

3 Tech Trends & Factors That Impact Employee Experience

Who does not love a nice dinner out on a Friday night? It’s a great way to start the weekend and relax after long days at work. But then a server—clearly unmotivated—shows up, does not answer my questions, and gets my order wrong. What was supposed to be a relaxing evening turns out to be a stressful disappointment. Even if the food ends up being good, or even delicious, the moment is ruined. And if it was my first time at this restaurant, I would not come back, ever. 

Sounds familiar? I am sure many of you can relate. 

Well, the experience in a contact center is no different than the one in the restaurant. At a time when all products are similar and switching services happens seamlessly, the customer experience can make it or break it. This means the people on the front line of your company are key to your success, whether you like it or not. Consequently, it is in your best interest to motivate them, so that they represent your business in the best way possible. 

In other words, satisfaction of your employees has a direct impact on your customers’ loyalty, and therefore on your revenue and profits. While leadership, employee engagement, and other HR related measures obviously play a big role, the importance of technology in the workplace is steadily increasing. The primary reason is a steady increase of demands, and technology helps employees work more efficiently to meet their goals. It’s as simple as that. 

What are the key technological factors and influences that improve the employee experience (EX) and as a result make a company more successful? 

1. Automation

Automation is still one of the most important factors. Unfortunately, many companies are not fully leveraging it.  

Painful, repetitive tasks such as copying and pasting data between multiple systems are the result of these shortcomings. It is one of those common productivity roadblocks that is increasingly frustrating in an environment where performance is rigorously measured.  

Building integrations between multiple systems allows automation and is essential to improving the EX.  

For instance, a common scenario is the handling of an order or return between Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and an Order Management system (OMS). If agents have to create an order by copying all customer details and product line items between the two systems, they can become extremely frustrated over time. Adding a button that does all that work with one click, where the agents only have to validate the order before booking it, makes a big difference. 

2. User Experience

“It’s all about saving clicks” is what people say when talking about automation. But automation is not the only means to save “clicks” for the user. An often overseen factor is the user experience (UX).  

With the high level of configurability and customizability of today’s applications, such as a CRM software, it matters what agents see on the screen. This is all about showing the right information in the right place at the right time. Button locations, dialogs, and wizards are just some of the tools that can improve system usability, and consequently employees’ satisfaction. Even the look and feel plays an important role, since the users are spending several hours a day looking at the software.  

UX has been crucial for product development, but it is often neglected when building systems for internal users. For example, screen pops are a common feature utilized in any contact center. If an agent only sees the service record for the customer’s current incident, it is certainly helpful. But, if the system is configured to show key customer information (besides just the name), for example, recent history and other related information (such as the products the customer owns) – all on one screen, the agent can operate much faster and provide better service, leading therefore to reduced handle time. 

3. Artificial Intelligence

Last but not least, the power of artificial intelligence (AI) offers a huge potential to improve EX. This is a real game changer because AI is not meant to improve how users do things, but what they are doing.  

This is significant because every employee can now be a rockstar sales person or a customer service champion. In an environment that thrives on success metrics, such as sales numbers and service level agreements (SLA), this can help each individual meet or even exceed their goals.  

Lead scoring is a great example. If a sales representative handles 50 leads a day out of a pool of several hundred, success depends on converting those leads into real opportunities. Based on historical data, lead scoring algorithms will help choose leads that have a higher chance of converting into a sale. This will not change the number of leads the agent will call, but it will improve the number of sales during a day.  

It will make the agent successful, and there is no better motivator than success. If people feel empowered and effective, they are more willing to face obstacles in their way. 

But keep in mind that AI is still an emerging technology. It needs to gain trust from business users and technology experts alike. Rolling out features to smaller groups first can be helpful in collecting valuable data, thus proving the positive impact of AI. Building a success story is key to getting acceptance. 

Evaluate and Apply Technology Properly

From my experience working with contact centers, I know that a great employee experience is driven by productivity. A productive and rewarding day can boost your employees’ happiness and engagement, leading to an even better performance in the future.  

Technology is a key ingredient in nurturing this successful experience, and it is crucial to make it a standard, not an exception. However, it is important to understand that there is no silver bullet. There should be an evaluation first – to understand the greatest weaknesses and how the technology can help resolve them. 

Technology can only reach its full potential when applied properly. Often, business users describe their needs by providing a solution to the problem. Unfortunately, their solution does not include a full understanding of features and dependencies within the systems they are using. So in short, IT and business users should work closely together to come up with the best implementation. 

With technology evolving so quickly, the journey is the reward. 

If you need help with business challenges, choosing the right solution for your pain points, or evaluating specific technology – Aria is here to help!

We offer expert services on the Salesforce platform and can help you customize your crm to fit your needs. We also have many omni-channel desktop products, including our newest product Legato which includes a robust softphone and integrates Salesforce with Amazon Connect Voice so your agents can see everything on one screen. Contact us today to learn more or visit us at booth 2226 during Enterprise Connect Orlando.

Your Agents are Not Superheroes! Increase Efficiency by Connecting Data Silos

I am sure you’ve come across several resources that talked about digital channels now dominating over traditional ones.

Even though your contact center might still be in the process of deploying or optimizing these channels, customers don’t care. They want their issue addressed now, and they expect you to know everything about their journey, no matter what communication channel they use.

These new demands add a lot of pressure into what is already a hectic agent experience. Now agents need to know all about the customer’s journey, which means all interactions across multiple channels, as soon as the interaction comes in. This is a tough thing to do if systems and data are siloed.

Agent efficiency in the world of multichannel

Most agents are dealing with several disconnected systems, such as CRM, siloed voice and digital systems, and knowledge repositories, in an attempt to access customer interaction data. They need to know the history of what has been done and communicated to this customer throughout multiple channels. Finding, reading, assimilating and using information within a call or chat is very difficult and is rarely done seamlessly.

On top of having to do it efficiently, agents need to make sure they don’t deliver conflicting messages. As the hosts in a Westworld storyline might mistakenly say: “I’m only human”. Keep in mind – even if you really want your agents to be superheroes, they just aren’t.

The longer the agents look for information, the longer it takes to address customer needs, which results in agent and customer frustrations. Asking them to repeat information already provided elsewhere only adds to customer dissatisfaction.

It’s about costs too. On average, 15% of agent time is spent shifting between systems and applications. Extrapolating that over the course of a full year means significant cost to your business. Can you afford to let that continue?

Accessing customer data through one platform

Top contact center performers understand the importance of reducing the agent’s struggle, by empowering agents with easy access to all customer data on one platform.

This is primarily a technology struggle that can be addressed with unified agent technology. When telephony and other channels are integrated into CRM for omnichannel capabilities, agents can pull customer data and complete work without opening another window.

If an agent can quickly see that a customer has already reached out about a certain request via a different channel, this customer doesn’t have to repeat everything all over again, while the agent can go ahead and complete the task.

By seeing customer purchase history, agents get an opportunity to cross-sell or up-sell, or ask for feedback on product satisfaction and try to improve their experience.

From implementing projects for our clients, we saw a strong need to enable agents with such integration. So, we built a softphone capable of integrating multiple systems in a seamless way. It lets contact center professionals leverage the value of CRM, by making it the focus of their agent interactions as well as minimizing the need to leave the system to accomplish tasks.

When businesses discover a need for connecting CRM with a contact center platform, some of them start building a custom solution. A pre-built, flexible API-based integration saves a lot of time and money, compared to custom development.

Ultimately, the key to a great customer experience lies with a team of successful agents. Successful agents depend on merging of technology with people and processes, combined with training, and molded into a complete solution.

 

Measuring Agent Productivity in an Omnichannel World

As customer call centers have evolved into customer care centers, managers have had to adapt with new strategies for going beyond solving customers’ problems to finding ways to delight them at every touch point. The rewards can be great — customer loyalty and brand advocates — but only if customer care is done right.

Making sure that happens involves a complex melding of best practices in technology, process, and agent performance. One element that brings all three of these factors together is an omnichannel approach.

Ensuring a smooth and consistent experience between channels — phone, email, text, and chat — is the key to success in omnichannel customer care delivery. But to ensure that success, you need to know what’s working, especially in terms of agent efficiency.

In the old voice world you measured the length of phone calls, how many calls per hour, and the percentage of issues resolved during the first call, pretty straightforward, but with agents using multiple channels in a given shift, those measurements no longer tell the whole story. Let’s look at the challenges of measuring agent activity and productivity in an omnichannel world and how you can overcome them:

Challenge #1 – Blending

Within the omnichannel world you might have each agent assigned to just one channel, which keeps measuring their performance simple. However, another approach is having any given agent assigned to multiple channels simultaneously. For example, an agent might take calls, but respond to emails or chats when call volume is slow.

While this approach serves to increase overall efficiency for the care center, a single agent may not be as productive as they would be using just one channel at a time, especially when asked to handle too many channels.

The first step to optimal performance is appropriate performance measurement. For example, let’s say you have two pools of agents handling inbound phone calls:

  • Pool #1 handling only calls[su_spacer size=”10″]
  • Pool #2 responding to emails in between calls[su_spacer size=”10″]
  • Expectations for Pool #2 handle times should be adjusted accordingly, given that these agents need time to shift between channels and tools.[su_spacer]

This scenario becomes increasingly complex as you add more channel types and combinations, and you must determine the level of granularity needed to be effective at managing your workforce according to contact load. The best approach is to be as granular as possible on initial setup, and then aggregate metrics as you choose to ignore certain levels of differentiation to simplify ongoing management.

Challenge #2 – Simultaneous Interactions

Simultaneous interaction handling is not recommended. Agents juggling more than one customer at a time are more likely to exhibit lapsed concentration, mistakes in execution, and accidental sharing of private information.

However, there are care centers out there pushing those boundaries, so some agents will be handling multiple channels simultaneously. These agents may be engaged, for example, on a phone call and a chat at the same time.

So, in a five-minute window, if a given agent is talking on the phone to one customer and chatting with another, the appropriate measurement of time spent might be five minutes for each interaction, for a total of ten minutes.

This means that an agent could potentially have more interaction time (say six hours) than their actual shift time (four hours). Managers may need to adjust the processes and tools they use to accurately measure results.

Challenge #3 – Virtual Queuing

When no agents are available, virtual queuing allows customers to schedule a call back when call volume is low or hold their place in the queue and call back when it’s their turn. This method is more convenient for customers, but — to ensure it works most efficiently — care centers must properly attribute the queue time of the interaction even when there is no call physically waiting in the telephony environment.

With falsely short queue times, measurement systems may offer lower numbers than expected as there appear to be more calls handled within acceptable queuing thresholds. It’s also important to note that virtual queuing strategies (and the metrics used to measure their effectiveness) only work if there are down times during which agents can make return calls.

Invest in the Right Technology

The key to accurate measurement in the omnichannel environment is the right technology. Granularity is important because you must be able to group by agent skill set or interaction type combinations. Those base metrics can later be combined to achieve the desired level of reporting.

Therefore, it’s prudent to seek out tools, such as Aria’s Visualizer, that capture and display data at the distinct interaction level. The key is to get reports of all events (including interactions, routing, and meta data) within an environment, so you can later analyze that data in ways that are meaningful to your care center and your company.

You also need to be able to accurately capture presence data, and precisely attribute handle times to each channel method. The right tool for these tasks is one that seamlessly connects your customer relationship management (CRM) system, such as Salesforce, with your workforce management (WFM) system. This type of application can provide accurate metrics like the average queue wait time, or average interaction handle time (including all channels), which help with forecasting and staffing.

Finally, having all channels operating within one system can assist in measuring critical metrics. Commonly, an agent will be working within two or more channels, using a separate tool for each one. Because the systems are separate, so is the data gathering, meaning there could be inconsistencies in how performance is measured. Unified agent desktop technology helps in connecting all channels to one system in order to gather consistent, complete, and useful data.

Bottom line: the challenges of working within an omnichannel environment don’t have to outweigh the benefits. The investment you make in omnichannel operations may come back to you many times over, but only if you can optimize agent performance. The best way to do that is to recognize the challenges, and make sure you have the right tools to address them.

Agent Desktop Optimization: How Many More Screens Can Your Agent Handle?

Successful contact centers have always relied on speed. It’s about getting more done, in less time. To better manage customer conversations and respond to their inquiries in a timely manner, contact center agents need access to the right information immediately. The trouble is – most contact centers face data silos and believe that expensive, custom integration for agent desktop optimization is their only alternative.

It all comes down to inefficient infrastructure. Agents are forced to work with disparate IT systems that don’t talk to each other, making access slow and labor-intensive.

Over the years, mergers and acquisitions have shoehorned incompatible technology or multiple data sources together, making the infrastructure even more complex.

Wasted time and unnecessary costs

The average agent spends 15% of their time searching for the information across disparate systems to respond to customer inquiries (the Aberdeen Group research). This results in a lost cost of productivity of $1.57 million each year for a 300-seat contact center.

It’s a daily battle, and it gets them down. They’re not as productive as they want to be. They can’t serve customers as well as they need to, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

The extra ongoing costs of managing and maintaining disparate and legacy systems mean your business is bleeding money where it doesn’t have to.

Improving agent efficiency with unified, omnichannel technology

Modern contact centers need to add channels like voice, email, chat, mobile, social media to serve their customers. And the number of channels and tools used by contact center agents is expected to increase. This, coupled with data silos, means organizations need to rethink priorities and find alternative solutions.

According to 2016 Aberdeen Research “Optimize your customer experience strategy, get data right”, delivering consistent omnichannel conversations depends on companies providing all relevant employees with a unified view of their customer journey. So, it’s important that contact centers integrate this omnichannel approach into their agent desktop technology.

By investing in an optimized agent desktop, agents no longer have to switch between several screens to find the information they need. It’s simply there when they need it. To achieve this, agent technology needs to be integrated with multiple data sources, such as CRM solutions like Salesforce, while also providing access to legacy databases, such as billing systems or custom in-house systems.

There are platforms and solutions available that make integration faster and more powerful than ever before. So, improving agent’s access to information through agent desktop optimization may not be nearly as costly as you think.

The faster an agent can access what they need, the happier they’ll be. The same goes for their customers. Optimizing agent technology to speed up customer service should be a priority. For example, Amazon patented its ‘OneClick’ purchase process to retain what it believes is an enormous business advantage in terms of customer service. Amazon achieves extremely high conversion from its existing customers. Since the customer’s payment and shipping information is already stored on Amazon’s servers, it creates a checkout process that is virtually friction-less.

It’s this “friction-less” transaction concept that is needed in your contact center. Whether answering a customer’s question, selling them a product, or providing a service, enabling your agents to perform friction-less transactions should be the goal. Creating an integrated solution is a big part of this process.

In fact, integrated solutions are already delivering. The majority of companies improving agent productivity and performance can access relevant customer data through a single screen, therefore, improving first contact resolution and customer retention rates. For any business concerned about employee retention, this is the way to ensure it.

Contact us today to learn how Aria can help your contact center maximize agent productivity and ensure customer satisfaction across multiple channels.

Softphones – Finding the Last Piece for Your Salesforce Service Cloud Puzzle

Many companies are using Salesforce Service Cloud with Omni to engage with customers and handle their service requests. With Service Cloud, you can connect with your customers through social media channels, email, and chat.  Setting up those features paints a great picture to your service team.

However, the picture is not complete because voice still remains the most important way for many businesses to communicate with their customers. Consequently, it is crucial to enable your agents to handle phone calls through the Service Cloud Console as well. Only then will the full picture of the customer journey be completed.

But Integrating the Voice Channel Can Be Tricky!

Salesforce offers voice capabilities through third party vendors that are using their Open CTI toolkit. As a customer, that means you are free to choose from a wide variety of vendors and products. Integrating the voice channel into Salesforce also means that there will be a second routing engine active, which is evidently not aware of Salesforce’s Omni routing engine, and vice versa.

This also extends to the handling of agent capacity and can make the management of your workforce more complicated. Agents will have to deal with two separate interfaces to select their presence status and handle the interactions, which introduces more complexity to their daily work and can lead to more mistakes.

Now, What Can Be Done About This?

One option could be to separate the voice channel from the other channels and have a group of agents (or multiple groups) dealing with phone calls exclusively. This will get you out of the Workforce Management and reporting nightmare, where you can use the reporting capabilities of the voice platform for your voice agents and Salesforce’s reporting capabilities for all other media types.

However, an increasing number of agents do not solely deal with phone calls anymore, but either operate in a blended environment handling multiple media types, or they work on back office tasks during times of low call volumes.

All of this requires a deep integration of the voice channel into Salesforce Omni in order to give your agents, and therefore your organization, the most powerful platform to build on the processes and customer service strategies.

While the softphone needs to fulfill your business needs first and foremost, I would recommend adding the following questions to your checklist when evaluating Open CTI vendors:

  • Does the softphone support both Open CTI frameworks, ̶  the classic and the lightning version?
    Although both integrations require the Open CTI framework, there are actually two different libraries available today. The softphone must be able to utilize the correct library for each of the user interfaces.
  • Does the softphone integrate with Omni’s or Live Agent’s user presence?
    Ideally, the agent should really only have one presence control, but if there are two of them, do they at least synchronize their states, so that one routing agent can be influenced by the other?
  • Does it support screen pop configurations beyond the simple contact or case search?
    Depending on your framework, you may have more things you want to look up based on IVR choices, or create and open multiple records. You may also want different screen pops at different times of the call (i.e. ringing, answered, or released). 
  • Does it properly record the phone call in Salesforce, with the correct records (case and contact/account) associated to it? 
  • Does the softphone provide an API for additional integration?
    An API would allow for the most flexible integration. Depending on capabilities, you might be able to create very sophisticated screen pop behaviors, provide softphone controls from Salesforce record pages, and it can be used to couple your voice channel very tightly with Salesforce Omni-Channel. 

Based on your needs, the perfect puzzle piece to complete your customer service picture may seem elusive. Nonetheless, looking at the above mentioned criteria very closely will help you to find a piece that will be a very good fit. As a result, your contact center agents will see a seamless workflow and your customers will have a better service experience – leading to the customer engagement goals that your business set out to achieve.