Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Top Reasons Work-At-Home Agent Programs Fail

While so many companies are exploring the call center work-at-home model and finding it very successful, why are others failing?  What makes the difference?

As a consulting company we commonly hear from our clients, “yeah, we tried that and it didn’t work for us”.  And usually their conclusion is that their situation is too complex or difficult to be done outside the office.  But when we start to dig into what they did, we typically find that their failure was due to one of the following oversights.

1.  Talent Mismatch.  This is the number one failure point for most companies.    The company tried to take on-premise agents and have them work from home.  Through the school of hard knocks, we have learned that successful work-at-home agents do not the same profile as those that work on-site.  So your recruiting efforts have to be geared toward finding a slightly different person to work at home.

2.  Lack of Tools/Support.  Companies often don’t think through the processes of how they will keep their remote agents tied into the call center group. 
  • These agents can’t turn around and ask their leader a question when they come across something unusual.  So how is this handled can determine the success of your home agents.  We recommend that they call or chat with an internal help desk group set up specifically for this purpose.  That way they can ask questions real-time just like those on-premise.
  • Also, agents need to be actively engaged with their leaders and peers and feel a sense of belonging and inclusion just like those on-site.  They need the ability to email or chat with others across the day. 
  • They also need to be able to “see” what’s going on across the center – such things as who is being recognized for outstanding performance, who’s on the birthday list, and how they can participate in a fund raiser, etc. Many centers use an internal website for this purpose.  It gives the same exposure as walking down the center hallways.  Don’t underestimate the necessity and value of these tools!

3.  Proper Equipment.  Many companies opt to have their agents use their own equipment at home (computers and headsets).  While this can save costs in the short-run, it can cause a lot of headache and challenges in the long run.  There has to be a way to ensure that the agent’s equipment meets a minimum capability and functionality levels (i.e. they carry certain virus/malware software), or else the company may be better off providing this equipment and software for their agents.

4.  Leadership Training.  Being that the agents are slightly different from those working on-premise, and the situation is very different (managing someone remotely), the leaders (supervisors, trainers, quality coaches, and WFM) all need to be trained on how to successfully work with their remote agents.

A survey completed by ContactBabel the first quarter of 2012, showed that 42% of companies are now using the work-at-home model very successfully.  And those using the model are realizing predicted savings and additional agent flexibility.  If you’ve tried work-at-home agents and failed, maybe you need to try again.  If you haven’t done this yet, maybe it’s time to start enjoying the benefits this model provides.  Share your experiences with us!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Top 8 Myths of New Call Center Leaders

Is your center a place where the “Blind Are Leading the Blind”?

A common practice for call centers is to spend all their training dollars on their agent new hire training, while very little money is spend on call center leaders.  In an industry that is all about people, this can be a big mistake.  While it is true that agents require extensive training in order to properly and efficiently represent the company, these agents need good leaders to ensure they have the support and help they need to continuously do their jobs well.

Most call center leaders (80% or higher) come from the agent population.  They have proven themselves to be very proficient and effective individual performers, however, this job know-how and ability does not automatically translate into effective leadership, coaching, communication, reporting, and business acumen skills.  As a matter of fact, most people moving into their first leadership roles have large misunderstandings about what being a leader means.

8.  “Now I’m a leader, I don’t have to take customer calls anymore.”  Well – you may not be the one initially saying hello, but you will take all the escalated calls…and the less tenured your agents are, the more escalated calls you’ll take.

7.  “I don’t have to worry about my stats anymore.”  Sort-of – you don’t have to worry about your individual stats, but you are now responsible for a full team of performers, and their stats now become your stats.

6.  “I don’t have to worry about attendance and schedule adherence anymore.”  Actually – as with your stats, your team’s attendance and adherence become your problem to fix AND your team will notice and follow your example.  If you are late, they will be late!

5.  “Now I have the job, everyone has to do what I say.”  Just having the job doesn’t mean that people will respect your or follow you.  This is something that each leader has to earn across time and through positive interactions with their team.

4. “Now that I’m a leader, I can lighten up on the rules for my team.”  Unless you are a one team center, this isn’t the case.  Each center has rules in place that everyone needs to adhere to and follow, and as the leader, it is your job to reinforce the rules.  And if you do make unjust exceptions, you’ll be seen as playing favorites – which does not help with building respect.

3. “I can be open and share my feelings.”  Sometimes.  Remember, when things change or if you have to press your agents to do something new or different, or push their performance, there will be grumbling amongst the ranks.  They will look to you their leader to see how you are responding.  If you appear negative they will too and their poor performance will persist.  If you are positive and enthusiastic, they will at least give it a valid try, and if you stay positive and reinforce their behavior, you will see positive results.  And as a leader, leading your team through changes and tough things is your job.  Leaders only succeed if their people succeed!

2.  “I’ll now be working “normal” hours (8am to 5pm / M-F).”    Leaders keep working until their job is done – this means most leaders work much more than 40 hours a week.  And to ensure that they can coach or meet with all their people, they often have to stay late or come in on weekends to do so.   

1.  “My number one job is to take care of my agents.”   While it is true that this is half of a call center leader’s job, it has to be balanced out with taking care of the business unit they work within.  No one (including the leader) would have a job if the agents were focused and consistently doing the job they’ve been hired to do.  So it is critical that the leader is thinking about their company and balancing that out against the needs of their agents at all times.

If your leaders need training to help them better understand your business, the call center division, and how to be an effective leader, we can help!