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Opinion Editorials

Getting less drab and more blab out of call centers

(EDITORIAL) A few tips on how to maximize call center efficiency for both your business and your employees.

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Call center communication

Whether your call team is 3 people or 300 people, when it comes to directly engaging customers and prospects, your call center is one of the top channels you have available. Unfortunately, many organizations don’t give their call centers much attention and end up relying on lazy hiring and management processes.

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The result is a noticeable lack of output.

Practical ways to enhance efficiency in the call center

Every organization has its own definition for call center efficiency.

But at the end of the day, your call center should quickly and effectively address customer issues and complaints with poise and grace.

If you aren’t doing all of these things, then something is missing. Here are a few simple tips that can be used to improve efficiency within this department.

Specialize your team

The problem a lot of companies have is they don’t give any specialized attention to who handles customer calls. This lack of division creates confusion and bogs down processes that are otherwise fairly simple.

“Think about your sales team like a factory that makes sales wins,” suggests TRACK, a leading cloud-based call center platform.

TRACK also said, “Rather than having your Account Executives hunting for business, fielding inbound inquiries from hand-raisers, and closing business, wouldn’t it make more sense to let them do what they do best – win deals? The same is true for cold callers. By separating that function and allowing your inside sales reps to specialize in the nuances of that function, it’s better for the whole team.”

Give agents more autonomy

Call center agents often feel that they’re held back from doing their jobs. This feeling is generally rooted in an overabundance of rules and complicated processes. In order for agents to do anything, they have to put a customer on hold, contact a supervisor, and get approval.

If you require your agents to get approval on everything they do, then you’re slowing things down.

One helpful piece of advice is to give your agents more autonomy. As long as you have the right hiring and training processes in place, this should only have a positive impact.

Provide better training

Speaking of training – how are you doing on this front? According to research from Frost and Sullivan, 60 percent of all repeat calls occur as a result of inadequate training and/or processes. When you analyze frustrated callers through this lens, it becomes pretty clear that better training equals better efficiency.

While there’s a time and a place for classroom learning, the majority of your training should center on real-world experiences.

The more you can immerse your agents in actual scenarios that they’ll encounter on the job, the better off things will be.

Use callback functionality

The most frustrating aspect of a customer’s lifecycle is being left on hold for long periods of time.

While you may not always be able to serve a customer immediately, you can reduce the frustration of waiting on hold by implementing callback functionality.

This mitigates the amount of time your customers have to wait and decongests the phone lines.

Allow for frequent breaks

Working in a call center comes with a lot of stress. Agents often deal with customers who are angry, confused, or agitated. Interacting with these sort of people for hours on end can lead to high levels of frustration, which impacts performance and damages your brand’s ability to deliver exceptional customer service.

Instead of just giving your agents two 15-minute breaks and one hour-long lunch break during the day, break things up and give them frequent short breaks.

This gives them something to look forward to throughout the day and relieves the constant pressure of having to be “on.”

Use the right motivational techniques

How are you motivating your call center employees?

A pat on the back is great, but you’re missing out on an opportunity to extract maximum value out of your agents if you aren’t actively implementing some sort of motivation.

Something like a free lunch or extra break for efficiently handling an important call can go a long way.

Get the most out of your call center

It’s quite challenging to run an efficient call center. The average turnover rate, depending on who you ask, is somewhere between 30 and 45 percent.

By comparison, the average employee turnover rate across other industries is just a bit more than 15 percent.Click To Tweet

With such a lack of continuity, it’s difficult to maximize efficiency over an extended period of time. But it’s certainly not impossible!

Get your call centers centered

When you’re able to properly hire, train, and motivate your call center agents to execute the processes you’ve established, you’ll find that you’re more capable of maximizing your resources.

Make this the year that you commit to developing a sound strategy for this all-important extension of your business.

#CallCenterHelpLine

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. When he's not consulting, glued to a headset, he's working on one of his many business projects. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Opinion Editorials

3 things to do if you *really* want to be an ally to women in tech

(EDITORIAL) Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce.

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More and more women are leaving their positions with tech companies, citing lack of opportunity for advancement, wage gaps and even hostile working conditions as some of the reasons why.

What’s better for the tech industry and its employees than cultivating inclusive and diverse departments? Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce. To name a few:

1. Be open to listening to different perspectives.

It can be awkward to hear so many reports of workplace politics stacking against women, especially if you’re not a woman!

Instead of getting uncomfortable or defensive – ask open ended questions and be interested in a perspective that isn’t yours and may be unfamiliar.

Don’t seek to rationalize or explain the experiences you’re hearing about, as that can come off as condescending. It’s common for women to be interrupted or spoken over in team gatherings. If you notice this happening, bring the conversation back to where the interruption began. Offering your ear and counting yourself as responsible for making space will improve the overall quality of communication in your company.

Listening to and validating what women have to say about the quality of their employment with a company is an important step in the right direction.

Expressing something as simple as “I was interested in what you had to say – could you elaborate on your thought?” can help.

2. Develop an Employee Resource Group (ERG) program.

An ERG is a volunteer-based, employee-led group that acts as a resource for a particular group of employees. An ERG can help to foster inclusiveness through discussion, team-building activities and events. It’s common for a department to have only one or two women on the roster.

This can mean that the day to day feels disconnected from concerns commonly shared by women. disjointed it might feel to be on a high performing team, without access to relatable conversations.

3. Be responsible for your company’s culture.

Chances are, your company already has some amazing cultural values in place. That said, how often are you checking your own performance and your co-workers performances against those high standards? Strong company culture and values sound great, but whether or not they’re adhered to can make or break the mood of a work environment.

Many women say they’ve experienced extremely damaging and toxic cultural environments, which lead to hostility, frustration, and even harassment. Take action when you see the new woman uncomfortable with being hit on at team drinks.

Call out those who make unfriendly and uncouth comments about how women perform, look, or behave.

Setting a personal threshold for these kinds of microaggressions can help you lead by example, and will help build a trustworthy allyship.

(This article was first published here in November, 2016.)

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Opinion Editorials

Serial procrastinator? Your issue isn’t time management

(EDITORIAL) Need a hack for your time management? Try focusing on your energy management.

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Your author has a confession to make; as a “type B” personality who has always struggled with procrastination, I am endlessly fascinated by the topic of productivity and “hacking your time.”

I’ve tried most of the tricks you’ve read about, with varying degrees of success.

Recently, publishers like BBC have begun to approach productivity from a different perspective; rather than packing days full of to-do items as a way to maximize time, the key is to maximize your mental energy through a different brand of time management.

So, why doesn’t time management work?

For starters, not all work time is quality time by nature. According to a study published at ScienceDirect, your average worker is interrupted 87 times a day on the job. For an 8-hour day, that’s almost 11 times per hour. No wonder it’s so hard to stay focused!

Second, time management implies a need to fill time in order to maximize it.

It’s the difference between “being busy” and “being productive.”

It also doesn’t impress your boss; a Boston University study concluded that “managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to.” By contrast, managing your energy lets you maximize your time based on how it fits with your mental state.

Now, how do you manage your energy?

First, understand and protect the time that should actually go into deep, focused work. Studies continually show that just a few hours of focused worked yield the greatest results; try to put in longer hours behind that, and you’ll see diminishing returns. There’s a couple ways you can accomplish this.

You can block off time in your day dedicated to focused work, and guard the time as if it were a meeting. You could also physically retreat to a private space in order to work on a task.

Building in flexibility is another key to managing your energy. The BBC article references a 1980s study that divided students into two groups; one group planned out monthly goals, while the other group planned out daily goals and activities. The study found the monthly planners accomplished more of their goals, because the students focusing on detailed daily plans often found them foiled by the unexpected.

Moral of the story?

Don’t lock in your schedule too tightly; leave space for the unexpected.

Finally, you should consider making time for rest, a fact reiterated often by the BBC article. You’ve probably heard the advice before that taking 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes worked is important, and studies continue to show that it is. However, rest also includes taking the time to turn your brain off of work mode entirely.

The BBC article quotes associated professor of psychiatry Srini Pillay as saying that, “[people] need to use both the focus ad unfocus circuits in the brain,” in order to be fully productive. High achievers like Serena Williams, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates build this into their mentality and their practice.

Embracing rest and unfocused thinking may be key to “embracing the slumps,” as the BBC article puts it.

In conclusion, by leaving some flexibility in your schedule and listening to your body and mind, you can better tailor your day to your mental state and match your brainpower to the appropriate task. As someone who is tempted to keep a busy to-do list myself, I am excited to reevaluate and improve my own approach. Maybe you should revisit your own systems as well.

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Opinion Editorials

How the Bullet Journal method has been hijacked and twisted

(EDITORIAL) I’m a big fan of the Bullet Journal method, but sticker-loving tweens have hijacked the movement. Worry not, I’m still using black and white bullet points with work tasks (not “pet cat,” or “smile more”).

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It’s taken me some time to come around to the Bullet Journal method, because it took me some time to fully understand it (I have a tendency to overthink simplicity). Now that I understand the use, I find it very beneficial for my life and my appreciation for pen-to-paper.

In short, it’s a quick and simple system for organization tasks and staying focused with everything you have going on. All you need to employ this method is a journal with graph or dotted paper, and a pen. Easy.

However, there seems to be this odd truth that: we find ways to simplify complicated things, and we find ways to complicate simple things. The latter is exactly what’s happened with the Bullet Journal method, thanks to creative people who show the rest of us up.

To understand what I’m talking about, open up Instagram (or Pinterest, or even Google) and just search “bullet journal.” You’ll soon find post after post of frilly, sticker-filled, calligraphy-laden journal pages.

The simple method of writing down bullets of tasks has been hijacked to become a competitive art form.

Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at this stuff because I dig the creativity. But, do I have time to do that myself? No! For honesty’s sake, I’ve tried just for fun and it takes too much damn time.

With this is mind, this new-found method of Bullet Journaling as an art is something that: a) defeats the purpose of accomplishing tasks quickly as you’re setting yourself back with the nifty art, and b) entrepreneurs, freelancers, executives, or anyone busy would not have time for.

Most of these people posting artistic Bullet Journal pages on Instagram are younger and have more time on their hands (and if you want to spend your time doing that, do you, man).

But, it goes against the simplistic method of Bullet Journaling. The intent of the method.

And, beneath the washi tape, stickers, and different colored pens, usually lies a list of: put away laundry, feed cat, post on Insta. So, this is being done more for the sake of art than for employing the method.

Again, I’m all for art and for people following their passions and creativities, but it stands to reason that this should be something separate from the concept of Bullet Journaling, as it has become a caricature of the original method.

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