Use Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Web self-service. These solutions can automate all routine inquiries that do not require the cognitive capabilities of live call center agents. If your organization supports self-service solutions, use them to automate the handling of frequent and routine inquiries, such as balance questions, order status, store hours/locations, directions, etc. When a large percentage of routine transactions are handled by the self-service system, the composition of calls reaching agents changes – they begin to receive more challenging and more interesting calls. This should have a positive impact on call center agent retention, because when agents are more stimulated, they are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs. Please keep in mind that when Web self-service is implemented, agents must be trained to handle technical inquiries about the website along with their traditional customer service responsibilities. This is another factor that changes the composition of calls going to agents when self-service applications are used.
Implement an email channel. Email gives customers an alternative way of communicating with your organization. Adding this or any other new channel improves the customer experience by offering additional options for interacting with your company. Agents benefit by acquiring and using an additional skill set that can break up the monotony of their day. While some agents may not be comfortable handling email inquiries, others will welcome the change of pace.
Use eLearning to expand agent skills and keep them stimulated. Develop a library of online eLearning courses that agents can access to improve their knowledge, expand their skill set or fulfill their development/career plan requirements.
Conduct up-training sessions. Offer weekly or bi-weekly up-training courses to introduce new content or coach the staff. Agents appreciate the opportunity to get off the phones, share and discuss customer feedback and ask questions. Most call centers find that their agents value the skills learned in up-training sessions and appreciate management support.
Involve agents in peer training sessions. Get agents involved in helping each other. Pair up an agent who is having difficulty with someone who consistently does an outstanding job. This gives outstanding performers a new task, and the "mentor" agent will feel appreciated and motivated to do a great job while serving as a role model and helping to improve the quality of your department.
Involve outstanding agents in developing new training programs. Reward outstanding performers by inviting them to help create and deliver new training sessions. This is a highly visible way to recognize and reward excellence. Agents will appreciate this opportunity to enhance their skill set. This approach also yields the added benefit of creating subject matter experts who remain in the shop and are available to assist other agents on an ongoing basis, once the training is completed.
Cross-train agents to handle non-call center functions. Cross-train your agents to perform non-call center activities (generally referred to as "back-office" work) during periods when the call volume is low . This practice expands agents' skills, provides a change of pace, and increases productivity.
Develop creative "down-time activities" to stimulate your staff. Set up schedules that include non-call activities during periods of low call volume.
Hold team meetings. If call volume is low, use the time to build camaraderie by holding team meetings.
Solicit ideas from agents. Agents are amazingly resourceful at coming up with creative, innovative and cost-saving ideas. Take advantage of off-peak hours to conduct brainstorming sessions where agents offer suggestions for effective use of low-volume time, ideas for improvements or recommendations for call center initiatives to improve call center agent performance and morale.
This was first published in October 2008