Requirements are foundational to software selection.
- Does the solution support multiple channels?
- What do the reports look like?
- Is it easy to integrate?
- Can the ACD handle our routing rules?
These are just a few of the many questions that need to be asked when choosing the right call center software for your operation. Implementing new software is such a significant undertaking that it's important that you choose a platform that can meet your needs now and for many years into the future.
As important as requirements are, they can be very micro in nature. You definitely need to know how the IVR configuration works since you're going to have to live with that for the next several years. And you need to know what data is available for your performance dashboards. But it's also important to put call center software selection in a more macro context. Specifically, how can the solutions under consideration help address some of the challenges that call centers face?
Current call center challenges
The world of customer service is always evolving, meaning priorities change. But it's not a fast evolution. It's kind of like turning a battleship - slow and steady, but inevitable. Which means call center operations have time to adjust and that whatever technical tools they implement won't soon be obsolete. Nonetheless, these changing priorities represent challenges that can't be ignored. Additionally, some challenges are inherent to the industry, and sometimes disruptive events, like pandemics, happen. All these challenges put pressure on the call center - pressure that technology can help alleviate.
Here are some of the top challenges currently faced by call centers.
Competing on customer experience
Businesses are increasingly competing on customer experience, which is the sum total of all the impressions that a consumer collects during brand interactions. Everything from TV ads to store fronts to customer service contacts play a role in shaping customer experience. Consumers still consider quality and price when making purchase decisions, but those two factors have essentially become "table stakes." Customer experience has become the differentiator.
Companies that provide exceptional customer experience can expect higher customer satisfaction and loyalty. Additionally, they can experience more revenue from their happy customers. The 2019 NICE Customer Experience (CX) Transformation Benchmark revealed that 87% of consumers are willing to buy more products from companies that provide exceptional experiences. Additionally, 81% are more likely to recommend these businesses to friends and family. Moreover, Millennials and Generation Z value customer experience even more than their older counterparts.
Call centers are at the forefront of delivering superb customer experience. Not only are they interacting with potentially upset customers looking for a positive resolution, but they're often your consumers’ only source of human contact with a brand. The pressure is on!
Pressure to go digital
Speaking of pressure, customers are demanding more digital access to businesses. This could mean chat or email support, a social media presence, or access to a company app. The same benchmark study cited above found that 90% of consumers are more willing to do business with an organization that provides more ways to communicate. In our choice-rich economy, it's not surprising that consumers also want options for how they interact with companies. Providing options allows customers to choose which communication method is most convenient or best suits their particular circumstances.
As a result of this demand, many organizations have already transformed their phone-only call centers into contact centers that can provide customer service through a variety of channels. Email and chat are the most common agent-assisted digital channels, but others, like social media and text messaging (SMS), are gaining in popularity. This, of course, has significant implications for the call center software organizations use.
Agent turnover and demographics
Call centers have historically struggled with high agent turnover. ContactBabel reports that the average attrition rate in 2017 was 30%, which is mostly consistent with the previous six years. According to the same study, the top five reasons agents quit are:
- Bad job fit
- Excessive stress
- Lack of promotion or development opportunities
- Low pay
- Repetitive work
Regardless of the reasons, the high agent attrition rate causes operational problems and is expensive to support.
In addition to addressing high agent attrition, call centers are also facing changing agent demographics, as Millennials and Generation Z become the majority of their workforce. These younger workers want more flexible work arrangements, change jobs more frequently than their older peers, and are highly savvy about technology. Old, legacy call center software just won't do for these digital natives.
Pandemic repercussions and going forward decisions
The COVID-19 pandemic has been life-altering for so many businesses. It’s been a harsh, real-life test of call center contingency planning, and many of those plans were found to be lacking. Organizations with the right call center software were able to quickly transition their agents to a work-from-home model, minimizing service disruption for their customers.
Based on current statistics we're not out of the woods yet with COVID-19, which means call centers need to continue refining their approach to delivering high quality customer service while keeping their employees safe. Meanwhile, call centers will likely face shrinking budgets as businesses nationwide struggle to regain pre-pandemic revenue levels. Oh, and those agents who are now working remotely? A lot of them like it and will want to continue the at-home arrangement.
Doing more with less
Call center budgets are typically tight. It goes with the territory. Agent wages, technology expenditures, and facility costs can quickly add up. Call centers are often (mistakenly/unjustly) viewed as cost centers, meaning expenses are scrutinized closely and it can be difficult to secure approval for capital expenditures. In recessions, like our current one, funding becomes scarcer and call centers may be asked to reduce already constrained budgets.
Despite this, call centers are being asked to do more than ever, forcing them to find creative ways to address the preceding four challenges as well as run their day-to-day operations cost-effectively. Going digital and elevating the customer experience often require investments in technology and training. While those two initiatives lead to long-term ROI, convincing leadership to loosen the corporate purse strings in the short-term can be difficult in tough financial times. Companies who are dedicated to CX will find a way to make it happen. Their survival may depend on it.
Clearly, call center leaders have a lot on their hands in addition to regular, day-to-day responsibilities. They have more macro issues to address regarding customer and agent trends as well as once in a lifetime (hopefully!) pandemics. Upgrading to the best call center software can help address these challenges and more.
20 useful features that can help call centers address their most pressing challenges.
Automatic call distributor (ACD)
The ACD is a foundational call center software component. It's the brain that assesses and organizes incoming contacts and directs them to the right destination - either an agent or a queue - based on user-defined rules. The goal of ACD routing is to match customers with the agent, either in the call center or at home, who can best meet their needs, ideally resulting in an optimized customer experience. The right ACDs can support a remote agent model. Here are some features that distinguish world-class ACDs.
- Omnichannel routing. Omnichannel customer service is characterized by multiple support channels that customers can move across seamlessly within the same interaction. The best ACDs use a universal queue, putting contacts from all channels in one "basket" and then holistically routing them. Additionally, when a customer switches channels - for example, the customer was chatting and decides to switch to a phone call - an ACD that uses omnichannel routing can seamlessly elevate from chat to phone with the same agent. This creates a better customer experience and supports the need to go digital.
- Advanced skills-based routing. This feature addresses both customer and agent satisfaction. Skills-based routing looks at the nature of an incoming contact and then looks at agent skills to find the agent that can best help the customer. This increases the likelihood that the customer's issue will be resolved quickly and accurately and also sets the agent up for success by sending them issues they can resolve. Top of the line ACDs use artificial intelligence (AI) to further refine routing with features like predictive behavioral routing, which takes a customers' behavioral profile and preferences into account when matching them to an agent.
- IVR. Most ACDs have interactive voice portal capabilities, traditionally known as IVRs, that allow customers to interact with menus or prompts via an automated system at the beginning of a phone call. This helps with the customer-agent matching process. Callers can use their phone's keypad or their voice to interact with the prompts. Being able to use their voice reduces friction and increases the likelihood that customers won't abandon during the upfront portion of the contact.
- Integrate with ease. ACDs need to integrate with telephony systems so they can do their fundamental job of routing calls. Additionally, ACDs become even more effective when integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) software. This allows customer and agent pleasing features like automatic screen pops that expedite the beginning of the interaction. Call center software that comes with out-of-the-box APIs make integrations a snap.
- Intuitive design tools. ACDs are really only as good as call centers configure them to be. Legacy ACDs are notorious for being hard to configure, often requiring vendor support for more complex changes. Look for intuitive design studios that allow end users to easily modify rules and call flows by using drag-and-drop features – whether they are from the IT team and have development experience, to the contact center supervisor who finds themselves as the “accidental admin.”
Interactive voice response (IVR)
IVR systems, also commonly referred to as voice portals, greet the caller at the beginning of the phone call, let callers interact with menus, and can collect customer information and pass it to the agent. IVRs also enable customer self-service, which is good for customers and the budget. Additionally, the information IVRs collect makes the ACD routing even smarter. Here are some features that can help call centers address some of their current challenges.
- Natural speech recognition. Customers know IVR systems by the voice commands they issue - "Press one to make a reservation." But IVRs with natural speech recognition eliminate the need to push anything or say a specific word or phrase. Instead, customers can simply say, "I want to make a reservation," or any other phrase without needing to be prompted with options, and the system will understand them. This can produce a better customer experience because it's a more natural way for people to express what they need.
- Call backs. Waiting a long time in queue to speak to an agent can crush the customer experience. Even if the agent quickly and professionally resolves the issue, odds are good that the customer won't forgive or forget the long wait leading up to the interaction. That's why the best IVR systems include a feature that informs the customer of the approximate wait time, and then allows customers waiting in queue to have an agent automatically call them back instead of continuing to wait.
- Outbound capabilities. IVRs aren't just for inbound contacts. They can also automate outbound calls and push out digital messages like texts and emails. This allows businesses to proactively notify customers about things like upcoming appointments or inclement weather cancelations. Additionally, an outbound IVR can be configured to present menu options so customers can self-serve or connect to an agent when they answer the call. Proactive communications are good for the customer experience and outbound IVRs make it a very cost-effective way to share information.
- User-friendly design studio. Similar to ACDs, IVRs should be simple to configure. IVRs require regular optimization in order to realize their full benefits. It shouldn't require programming skills to change IVR settings, so call centers should look for ones with intuitive design studios, that are common across the platform (ie, the same design tool for the ACD and IVR).
Workforce management (WFM) solutions are another core component of call center software suites. WFM software automates the complex tasks of forecasting, agent scheduling, and intraday adjustments, with the goal of having the right agents in the right place at the right time. WFM practices need to be as accurate as possible because staffing levels impact service levels, customer and agent satisfaction, and labor costs. Here are some useful features.
- Omnichannel forecasting. If you're planning to go digital, have you thought about how you're going to forecast contact volume from those new channels? The best WFM software not only supports multichannel forecasting, but it takes it a step further by applying omnichannel concepts to ensure the right-skilled agents are staffed across all supported channels.
- Artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence can make smart forecasting even smarter. Forecasting uses historical volume data to predict future volume by applying one of several algorithms. If the workforce analyst isn't sure which algorithm to use, WFM software with AI can use "Best Pick" technology to choose the best algorithm for the job.
- What-if scenarios. Workforce management is all about planning. Not only does forecasting have to consider historical volume, but analysts need to account for known future events that might impact volume, such as promotions and media events. WFM software that lets analysts run what-if scenarios helps make forecasts as accurate as possible, ensuring agents won’t be crushed by unforeseen volume spikes and customers won’t have to wait long for assistance.
- Intraday reforecasts. Sometimes even the best plans go awry and need to be adjusted mid-stream. When volume comes in substantially over or under plan, customer experience or the budget will suffer if course corrections aren't made. Best-in-class WFM software has the ability to perform intraday reforecasts and make schedule changes to quickly get staffing levels back on track.
Reporting and analytics
Call centers are dynamic operations that need constant monitoring. They also produce huge amounts of data that needs to be transformed into actionable information. The best contact center software includes reporting and analytics tools that help leaders manage operations, identify trends, understand drivers of results, address some of those macro challenges, and more. Here are some features to look for.
- True omnichannel view. If a call center adds digital channels to the mix, they may be in danger of not having a holistic view of their operations if they don't have the right reporting and analytics tools. In other words, they might have to cobble together information from several disparate systems. True omnichannel reporting and analytics tools solve this problem by providing a consolidated source and view of call center performance.
- Configurable dashboards. A dashboard is a visual representation of data that makes it easier to spot trends and problem areas. Different roles in a call center will be focused on monitoring different KPIs. Reporting tools that provide customizable dashboards allow end-users to create dashboards that meet their own, unique needs.
- Easily shares and consumes data. Call center data is valuable to other organizational efforts outside of the call center. For example, when the data is shared with customer experience management (CEM) systems, it gives businesses a more complete view of the customer journey. This can't happen if the reporting data is locked up and inaccessible. Data should be easily shared. Similarly, call center reporting tools should easily consume data from other systems, for more reporting flexibility.
- Wide selection of out-of-the-box reports. Call centers have fairly standard metrics they all monitor. Out-of-the-box reports reflect these common standards so that users don't have to reinvent the wheel. This provides some simplicity to complex call center software implementations. Of course, if users have a unique reporting requirement not met by the standard reports, they should also be able to build it themselves.
Quality management analytics
Every good call center has a consistent quality assurance process to assess agent performance, pinpoint problem areas, and drive continuous improvement. Quality management software automates the process, making it easier to develop and engage agents and improve the customer experience. Below are some features to look for in a quality management analytics solution.
- Applying analytics to monitor quality. The typical QM process goes something like this:
- Quality Analysts pull a sample (maybe 2-3%) of each agent’s call recordings
- They evaluate them according to the standards on a scorecard
- The agents are coached on the results
- The scores are recorded and sliced and diced
- Lather, rinse, and repeat
Most contact centers can’t pull representative and meaningful samples for evaluation because finding the “right” interaction can be cumbersome, and a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. And insufficient sampling doesn’t usually provide a comprehensive or fair view of agent performance. Infusing analytics into the quality management process helps solve these problems by reviewing 100% of calls. This provides a more complete picture of quality and pinpoints calls that need further review.
- Simplified coaching process. Quality evaluations are only useful when agents are coached effectively. Emailing quality scores to agents and sending them on their way simply won't do. Not only is coaching important for CX improvement, but it's also a key component of agent development, engagement, and retention. The best quality management software provides workflows that streamline the coaching process, increasing the likelihood that it will happen. Plus they provide ways to measure the effectiveness of coaching by tracking coaching sessions and subsequent quality scores for a visual indicator coaching cause and effect.
- Screen recording. Call recording is a critical part of every quality management program, but it only provides one dimension of a multi-dimensional interaction. Best-in-class call center software includes the ability to record agent screens so that reviewers can both hear and see the whole experience. This can provide further insight into what the agent experienced and the thought process he used while assisting the customer. Greater understanding can open the door to more meaningful process and CX improvements.
While technology alone can't completely solve current call center challenges, the right call center software can play a significant role in addressing them. To recap, the pressure to go digital can be alleviated by choosing software with omnichannel capabilities. Customer experience can be boosted by features like skills-based routing, CRM integrations, natural speech recognition, call backs, outbound IVRs, quality management analytics, and omnichannel forecasting. Many of these features also positively impact agent experience and fulfill today’s agents' expectations of working with modern software. Good ACDs allow agents to work from home, and omnichannel forecasting coupled with good reporting can help leaders manage pandemic-pressured budgets.
Want to learn more about offering digital services? Watch our recorded webinar, The Cost-Benefit of a Digital-First Contact Center. And for more information about the call center software decision making process, watch Up Your CX Game: Buyers Guide for Moving to a Cloud Contact Center.