Call centers face pressure from both company and customer to maximize their outputs and provide top level performance.
On the one hand, there is the ever-increasing expectation of the customer and on the other, the competitive market keeps every company on their toes and pushes them to provide the most comprehensive quality of customer service they can possibly provide.
Caught in the cross-hairs of this explosive market, managing a call center can be a pretty arduous task.
As a manager, one has to not only face up to the rising expectations of outsiders from the company, but also meet the expectations of the employees who work for the company to ensure a sustained positive work environment.
Even with the help of call center software, it can be a difficult sometimes to set up metrics of evaluation that reflect performance directly, yet set targets that are achievable by the employees and keep them motivated to work even harder.
A manager at a call center has to deal with pressure situations almost every single day. These situations could be internal mishaps like employees feeling dissatisfied, higher turnover rates, pressure from the parent company about performance issues, etc.
They could also be related to interactions with customers, dealing with growing expectations, having to control damage after a PR stunt gone wrong, and the likes.
All of this is experienced while working with a strict budget, having to cut costs wherever possible yet ensuring that performance levels do not drop.
“If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we will turn out all right”, says Jeff Bezos, CEO of digital giant Amazon.
The most important part of a manager’s job is to ensure that his employees are not blindsided by distractions in the form of external changes, and stick to the work plan that they have been given. Once that can be ensured, competition can be dealt with by the upper rungs of management itself.
Keeping in mind the stressful work conditions that call centers operate in, here is a list of the 7 biggest challenges faced by call center managers today.
1. Agent recruitment. Hiring can be a very subjective area for a call center. In all other industry positions, there is a very clear demarcation of the skills necessary to excel in that job.
However, for a call center agent, the right skills depend on the client being served and their priorities. Because this is variable, it becomes difficult to determine which candidate would be the greatest prospect for that call center a year down the road, or at any point in the future while he is handling clients.
Finding quality agents can be hard through just a round or two or interviews, but the importance of hiring quality candidates is felt in its direct influence on the state of the company’s business.
2. Agent retention. Attrition rates are arguable the biggest worry to plague the call center industry. Call centers see a very high turnover – an average of about 29% in developed nations which rises to an overwhelming 55% to 60% in developing countries.
The associated costs with an agent leaving are huge, and when half your agents are expected to leave every year, the entire amount spent on their training and grooming goes to waste for the company.
Managers also waste their time and effort training these agents who leave the company after a year. The only viable antidote to high attrition is motivating your employees to stay loyal to your company, but even that is very difficult given the working conditions of call centers.
3. Increasing customer expectations. Online service provisions and the presence of social media have all contributed to a huge increase in the expectations of a customer from a company.
Customers today expect the best of service provided in a personalized manner all the time, which may not be practically possible for the company to provide.
Unrealistic expectations cause a crack in the relationship between consumer and company, and this impacts the sales negatively because customers are then willing to experiment with other competitors in the market.
4. Backlash over social media. Social media can be a very nervous point for call center managers. In reality, it is simply impossible to please everyone, which means there will always be a fraction of customers who are not satisfied with the level of customer service that is being provided.
The problem today is that these customers vent their frustrations on Twitter and Facebook, from where the negative words about the company can spread like wildfire, impacting the brand’s image and affecting the trust it has established in the market. This would lead to a reduction in sales for the company.
5. Budgetary constraints. Having to deliver quality performances within a very strict budget is probably the biggest challenge that managers face while running the call centers.
Monetary allocations towards customer service development are peanuts compared to the amounts spent on research, prototype building, testing and deployment, etc.
Even the amount that does come in for customer service is majorly spent in outbound telemarketing campaigns, leaving very little room for managers to improvise in other scenarios.
6. Optimizing the performance of the call center. Accurate projections of requirement are crucial to the success of a call center.
Understaffing and overstaffing are both potentially dangerous ploys for the company. This makes it important for the managers to formulate a model which can predict requirements of staff, skills and call volumes over a future period of time.
Such models are developmental all over the world, but there can be inaccuracies in these reports, which pose a big challenge for managers of these, call centers.
7. Making correct use of technology. Even the best call center software requires trained professionals who know how to use it, for the best results to be obtained.
Technology is moving so fast that call center managers struggle to stay on par with the latest tech and as a result lose out on opportunities that they could have harnessed to their benefit.
There is also a conundrum where no business wants to fall behind their competitors because of the latest technology, yet businesses do not want to splash their cash for every new technology that is introduced in the market, simply because such introduction is so frequent.
Maintaining a balance between getting the most efficient results out of the existing tech, and knowing when to invest in the latest tools that can open new pathways, is one of the most significant challenges of a modern call center manager.
8. Determining metrics for evaluation. Employees need to set targets so that their performance can be reviewed. In a call center, however, mere numbers do not make up the entire story.
There are direct interactions with clients where the quality of conversation is far more important than how long an agent has been on the phone with them, for example, the determination of such quality-centric metrics is a challenge for managers because these are unique to a call center and have a direct bearing on the quality of final output.
The Case Study
It is no secret that managers are the essential motivational pillars of a call center that keep the entire system working smoothly and efficiently.
However, as we can see, the manager’s job is not so smooth after all. It is riddled by tough decisions, tense work atmosphere and the need to devise ways of improving productivity while adhering to a shoestring budget.
Among all of this, managers need to ensure that their worries do not transcend to their employees, so that those workers can keep delivering their best without being bogged down by situations they cannot control.
To highlight this point, let us take an example of Watch Digital Solutions, which is an agency that deals in telemarketing and provides call center solutions to a multinational company.
In this case study, we will take a look at their problem scenario including the situation they found themselves in, what sort of challenges the company faced and how these challenges were solved by the managers.
We will also see whether the implementation of these changes had caused any direct positive change in the company’s business outputs or not.
The Problem Scenario
The company that hired Watch Digital for its telemarketing services has been reporting concerns over the dwindling levels of customer satisfaction.
In addition, the company faces a very high attrition rate and a lot of its investments on training programs are proving to be unnecessary if the average lifespan of an employee hovers around 2 years.
The company cannot afford to lose market share at this moment more than ever, because they are just getting ready to deploy one of their flagship products which they would then subsequently push aggressively through telemarketing schemes.
Some of the most significant challenges that the managers of the company faced are listed below.
1. Agent retention was a huge problem. Turnover had increased from 26.7% last year, to just under 30% this year. A higher number of employees leaving meant they had to be substituted immediately, and extensive hiring and training procedures had to be implemented every year. This was costing a lot of money and with the attrition rate climbing; it was showing no significant benefits.
2. Managers found it very difficult to provide quality customer service within the budget they had been presented. There was not enough allocation for training programs, or investment in employee interaction and engagement. As a result, the customer service being done within the budget was falling short of the requisite standards.
3. Managers of the call center were struggling to keep up the pace with all the new technology that was being developed. There was very little allocation in the budget that could help them in hiring experts to run complex call center software solutions, or invest in the new and better versions of technology that was being used by a competitor.
The Company enlisted the following solutions to tackle the problems they were facing.
1. Motivational techniques were employed to try and hold on to as many agents as possible. A formal structure of agent exit interviews were founded, so that the company was able to gain insight into the specific causes of individuals leaving, and rectifying those errors to prevent further employees from deciding to quit for the same reason.
2. Managers provided clarity of how much of the budget was being used for which purposes, and sent their suggestions to the parent company for their approval. They outlined the need to spend more to help employees gain specific skills in the customer service domain.
3. The managers decided to opt for software which was reliable and easy-to-use so that they could gain the maximum insight from data analysis and projections that technology has to offer. They also sent in recommendations about what sort of technology was required to bolster the process, so that money could be spent smartly instead of losing out on either the tech or the profits.
The implementation of these changes showed positive results within the first quarter itself. Attrition rates were down slightly, but the more encouraging result was a positive feedback in the employee satisfaction ratings.
Technological prowess was being used effectively, and the sales as a result went up by just over 5% of the previous year, within the first year of implementation with projections to increase even more rapidly.
Managerial work is almost never easy. Be it in any industry, the men who hold authority are also the men who shoulder responsibility.
A call center is no exception in this case. If anything, work at a call center is even more stressful for as manager than most other white collar jobs. In this article, we have talked about some of the biggest challenges managers faced and have seen in the case study how some of these challenges can be worked around. Understanding these issues is the first step to resolving them.