It can be very stressful, to say the least, to work in a call center as an agent. It can be much more so if you're the manager. As manager, you're the one who has to deal with matters your agents can't handle for whatever reason, be it a particularly unpleasant caller or an issue with the call center agents themselves. It's your job to not only make sure everyone is doing their jobs to their best ability, but to see that your call center is a pleasant work environment all around.
Your job as a call center manager doesn't start with making sure the callers and customers are happy, but with making your staff actually wants to come to work on a daily basis. When your agents enjoy their work, the customers will be able to sense that and most will respond accordingly, making each call that much more pleasant for everyone.
Agent Recruitment and Retention
The importance of your call center team cannot be stressed enough, which is why it's number one on the list of challenges you might face as a call center manager. Without them, there is no call center. Hiring the right people is only the first step. The rest of the job is keeping them there.
Previous generations were satisfied with a job if it offered an opportunity to move up the ladder and some security. Today's worker tends to change jobs several times in his or her lifetime. That makes it absolutely necessary for you to make the work of a call center agent as engaging as possible.
One way to help is to encourage a family atmosphere among the employees. If strong friendships develop between your agents, that's a good thing. The day goes by a lot more quickly when you're among people you really like.
Friendship, unfortunately, does not completely mitigate the high stress factor that is often present in a call center environment. The work is not easy, and this is often the reason people hired to work in a call center do not stay for very long. On the one hand, the job can be very monotonous when everything is going well, but on the other hand, the nature of the job can take its toll when there are unpleasant callers or when there are strict goals to be met.
Management has to point out when the work doesn't quite meet expectations, but it's important to remember anything that goes well needs to be acknowledged, praised, and sometimes even rewarded. When one of your agents has a particularly good call or does something praiseworthy, by all means, praise it. Do your best to find something good in all of your agents. There's a reason you hired them, after all. Make them feel like you're happy with the choice you made and most of them will do their best to justify that choice.
In far too many companies, the call center is kind of the last in line when it comes creating the budget. Executives can see it as more of a money sink than a vital part of the company. Despite that, call center managers are expected to keep a certain level of performance despite having fewer and fewer resources with which to accomplish this.
This has always been a call center problem, because a call center is a staff-intensive organization. Especially in times of poor economic growth, the need to cut costs can be very hurtful to a call center. The manager's job is to do the best possible with the available resources, but that's often more easily said than done. Many younger workers like a job with flexibility. You can give them a little by implementing flexible shifts. Instead of having everyone come in at the same time and take lunch at the same time, arrange for different people to come in at different times. Your agents will be required to keep track of what their hours are, as they shift from week to week, but they will have the added flexibility of being able to take or decline hours at need, in many cases, if you're willing to work with your staff when you craft a schedule.
Not only will this help you prevent being over- or understaffed at key points during the day, but it can help you save money, due to more efficient service. Just make sure your agents understand how important it is they be on time, because a difference of 5 or 10 minutes can make a big difference on how the team as a whole performs. You may consider giving those who do well at keeping to their schedules some sort of incentive or bonus for their sense of responsibility.
Rapidly Changing Technology
Technology, especially call center software, can change from year to year, or maybe even from month to month. Without a unified plan of attack, some call centers become a patchwork of barely working phone lines pieced together with a bit of duct tape and a prayer.
Whatever software was the hottest thing everyone had to have not too long ago becomes obsolete seemingly overnight. The same is true for any hardware. Agents in a single call center could be dealing with several systems at a time -- one for entering data, one for dialing, one for calling up customer records, none of them integrated to work well with the others.
Ben Dale-Gough from Domestic & General stated: "With a variety of different vendors and products, contact centre agents can be working with more than ten different software systems." That's a lot of material for one person to handle.
Some call center managers have chosen to look to changing things up by using a remote call center system or an all-in-one call center solution, though those solutions are often up to any executives involved.
Information and goods move around the world faster than ever before and customers expect immediate service. The call center standard is generally to achieve FCR, or first call resolution, where all the customers concerns are resolved in the first call. That's not always easy, however, because some of the questions customers have can be very complicated, and if a customer has to call back for the same problem, their opinion of the company can drop precipitously. Customers also don’t like having to go from agent to agent to get their questions answered.
Customer attrition through the call center is a major problem for most companies that run call centers. It's very important to do everything possible to educate your staff. They should know the product or products at least as well as the customers who use them, if not a great deal better. This can be more difficult when the product involved is extremely technical, but that shouldn't be a bar to informing your call center agents. If it's necessary for each new hire to have some training time to learn the product, then you'll have to find a way to provide that.
People generally only call in when something is wrong. Do everything you can to ensure all your agents have the means to make things right as often as possible.
Bad News Travels Quickly
No matter how good you or your agents are, there are still going to be calls that just go wrong. It may be no one's fault, but it's likely your call center will get the blame, anyway. Thanks to online review sites, or instant commentary social media like Twitter, one bad experience can be recounted to thousands of people in a matter of minutes.
There often comes a point where a call center seems to reach its maximum level of ability, reaching a plateau. Sometimes, performance will even begin to decline at this point, which has an impact on morale in the call center, which causes a further decline in performance, creating a vicious circle.
Because people tend to communicate through social media today, that vicious circle can happen much more quickly than it used to happen. In these cases, it's often best to fight fire with fire. Many call centers have already begun to use online chat applications in addition to the traditional phone call. It's often a good idea to go a step further and maintain an account on places like Facebook or Twitter to answer questions and alleviate concerns.
Having a media-savvy agent or two can work wonders to overcome any bad experience between broadcast across the social networks. It's difficult to do in the moment, but one of the best ways to approach this is with the old adage that all news is good news, because it means people are talking about you. Don't be afraid to apologize, always have a ready (and polite) response when something goes wrong, and chances are good that some at least will see your side of the story.
Of course, we know call center managers face far more than five challenges and it's impossible to foresee and account for all of them. To keep things simple, relationships are a good thing to focus upon -- how the manager relates the agents, and how the agents relate to each other and to the customers. A good work environment can make a big difference in any profession and call centers are no exception.
Emily has been writing about business topics for many years, and currently writes on behalf of the call center recording specialists at Kova Corp. In her spare time, she cheers for Carolina Crown, formulates her own sodas, and crushes tower defense games. Follow her on Twitter at @Emily2Zen