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How to Improve Call Center Performance without Spending More
Call centers tend to be minimum wage positions. However, their profit margins are also low. These jobs have high turnover, with some organizations seeing 400% turnover - facilities where most employees leave within three months.
How can you improve call center performance and morale without spending a lot of money?
Methods to Improve Call Center Performance
- Reduce turnover by giving realistic previews of the job to applicants. Provide a realistic job description and the odds and opportunities for advancement.
- Provide a flow diagram for how support calls are to be referred if they are not in the call agent's area of expertise.
- Provide detailed scripts for the questions support staff are to ask. If users cannot answer the questions, provide instructions to the call center representative on how to help users answer that question. For example, if the user cannot give their IP address or computer name, include in the script a reference on how to perform an ipconfig/all query to get that information.
- Plan additional coverage during software outages, maintenance windows and after new product releases.
- Permit call center staff to take short breaks after dealing with a very difficult customer. The quality of their service will rarely improve if pressed into immediately taking the next call while upset or angry.
- Ensure that call center employees have the language skills to support their customer base. Even employees who speak the language of their callers need to know the technical terms and industry jargon they may come across.
- Revise expectations for experienced staff that mentor new hires. Don’t judge their performance against those who do not mentor new staff. They are taking on additional work that will affect their metrics. Evaluating those training new hires or taking fewer calls to help mentees based on full time call volume quotas is unrealistic and will result in mentors failing to help new hires or cutting the quality of their service in order to fill both jobs.
- Ask your best customer service representatives how they do it. Then determine if their methods can be copied by the rest of the call center.
- Provide small bonuses to employees with high customer satisfaction ratings. This helps retain your best talent without the additional overhead commitment of pay raises.
- Reduce turnover with bonuses for staying with the company. Automatic pay raises may not be appropriate, since productivity and quality may not improve for all customer service representatives over a six month or one year time frame. However, giving modest bonuses to those who stay that long can reduce costly turnover.
- Use the secret shopper method to measure the quality of customer service. Hire through secret shopper services or crowd-sourcing websites individuals to call in to your call center with a set of specific questions or concerns. When done, the secret shopper can enter their own opinion of the service. This adds variety to the call volume, allowing you to test customer service representatives with customers of different accents and expertise. It also prevents call center employees from recognizing a manager or secretary's voice and acting with extra care on what should be a general test of their customer service skills.
- Assign neutral parties to ask quitting employees why they are quitting. Given the high cost of training new call center employees, unbiased exit interviews with those who will not provide negative references to future employers can provide valuable insight to management dysfunction or employee conflicts that would not be revealed to their direct report chain.
- Avoid penalizing call center employees for escalating complex technical calls to subject matter experts. Early in their tenure, this prevents call center staff from making incorrect calls. If escalation rates are too high for one individual, use it as an indicator for more in depth training. If escalation rates are high for a specific group, research the root cause. They may not have the right information to help users, updated scripts for new products or be the first sign of problems in the field.
- Break down customer service surveys by users into dissatisfaction with the product versus the call center representative. The person answering the phone should not be penalized for long wait times on hold or for customer dissatisfaction with a faulty product.
- Do not modify incentive structures retroactively if it in any way decreases employee payouts. You may save money by lowering the bonuses employees get, but you'll see deteriorating performance and distrust in management.
- Re-train those whose performance is lagging so that they have a chance to improve. This is usually cheaper than firing them and hiring new people who must be trained from nothing.
- Watch the employee turnover metrics. The average turnover for those in a call center is 300% (tenure of 4 months). By reducing turnover and thus improving experience levels of your staff, you should see performance improve.