Call center managers have it tough. You’re under tremendous pressure working in one of the toughest environments in customer service. The call center is also perhaps the most pivotal when it comes to the customer experience. You deal directly with customers, and their opinion of your company hinges on how well you and your team are able to help them.
It doesn’t help that customer expectations are higher than ever these days. Or that failure to deliver on those expectations can land you and your company’s name splashed across social media. And not in a good way. With so much riding on you, how do you effectively manage your call center? What issues should you watch for?
In this post, we’ll discuss the five leading problems call center managers will want to address, along with some possible solutions.
Some of these challenges, like recruiting and retaining staff, have existed since the inception of the first call center. Others, like metrics and artificial intelligence, have become issues because of advances to our technology. But it’s these two factors, that present the biggest challenges to call centers—and the most effective solutions.
Customer service is a tough field to begin with, and the stress from working in a call center translates into high employee turnover. In the U.S., call center turnover rates vary between 30 to 45 percent, well above the national average of 15.1 percent. And when a call center agent walks out the door, they take with them the costs of training them, as well as what it will cost to recruit, train, engage, and retain their replacements.
What to do about call center attrition rates? More selective hiring practices and offering slightly higher pay might yield a more reliable crop of agents. Additionally, providing them with tools—multiple communications channels, call analytics, call monitoring, and interactive voice response—also helps employees feel valued. Finally, empower your agents so they can help customers without having to run to management for every little decision.
Call centers live and die by the accuracy and actionability of their metrics, both historical and real-time. You need to know how you’ve performed in the past, and you want to see how you’re doing right now, in real time.
But there are so many metrics you can track these days. Which ones are the best indicator of success? Do you look at high-level indicators or drill down into individual KPIs? Which metrics will offer that key insight into how to improve your call center’s performance?
Each call center manager has to decide what metrics to value because the answer won’t be the same for every call center. To avoid adopting a cookie-cutter approach, try avoiding over reliance on traditional call center metrics. These typically include speed to answer and average handling times. While valuable, these focus on agent performance, and the emphasis—at least for the modern call center—should be on the customer experience. This usually involves looking at net promoter scores and social network feedback.
Customer attitudes have changed drastically, particular in the younger generations. They’ve grown up with all the resources of the Internet only a few mouse-clicks or finger-taps away. That’s lead to greater consumer independence. They don’t want to rely on others for help. For them, dealing with people is a hassle.
That’s why, whenever possible, 50 percent of customers prefer to bypass traditional service channels and seek out their own solutions. And this preference has become an expectation, with 70 percent of customers expecting a company to provide self-service features.
Some call center managers may look at this trend and think this doesn’t bode well for call centers in general. But this is in fact a boon to call centers. There’ll always be situations that require expert advice or help from a professional. But as more customers find their own solutions, that translates into more manageable call volumes for call centers.
To take advantage of this trend, look for ways to provide 24/7 access to self-service resources. This means investing in building out these resources, as well as making them available across your service channels. Self-service resources could include a FAQ page and user forum on your website, interactive voice responses (IVR) for callers, instructional videos on YouTube, etc.
The push for artificial intelligence (AI) call center solutions goes hand in hand with customers’ preference for self-service. Advances in AI technology is expected to streamline call center experiences and call routing. Many of these advances can be seen in increasingly sophisticated chatbots. These AI applications allow call centers to handle more simple interactions, as well as tracking and recording customer data with greater accuracy. They’re also able to operate around the clock, providing 24/7 voice or text support.
Not hardly. (At least, not yet.) Chatbots are no replacement for the empathy and complex problem-solving skills of a human agent. AI on a call center scale is also expensive and still requires human monitoring for quality assurance. And in the end, customers still prefer the human touch. Despite the demand for self-service, 34 percent of customers expressed frustration with how long it took to reach a live person.
For now, AI seems tailored more to enhancing the capabilities of human call center agents. Chatbots can handle simple concerns, freeing human agents to spend more time solving complex customer issues.
Communications have changed over the decades, opening up new channels beyond phone calls and letters. Now there’s email, chat, video, social, text, etc. And customers will want to use one channel over another and expect call centers to accommodate them. Most customers (74 percent) still prefer to solve customer service issues over the phone. However, that preference is expected to drop to below 50 percent by 2019.
This leaves call centers in a bind as they try to support all available channels. That can require expensive investments in hardware, software, and channel-specific training for agents. It also adds levels of complexity, such as when a customer switches channels in the middle of an interaction. This can make it difficult to track the customer experience and provide a consistent interaction.
One solution is to use a communications platform that supports and unifies channels. With a single platform, it’s easier to track customers across channels, as well as provide them with a consistent experience.
Of course this is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the challenges call center managers face. Download our ebook The 10 Most Common Call Center Problems and How to Fix Them to identify more call center problems and possible solutions.