• January 1, 2016
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Freeman's Contact Center Continues Its Winning Ways

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What kind of training do you provide to more experienced agents, and how often is this offered?

I have put in the budget each year some soft skills training through e-learning. Each year we go through places like the Call Center School or Telephone Doctors. We also have coordinators in the call centers who do refresh training on our technology and our processes, usually during our regular staff meetings.

Almost all contact centers today let customers know that their calls might be recorded for quality assurance purposes. What kind of quality assurance program does Freeman have in place? What percentage of calls is scored, and how is this information used to improve operations?

We do have a designated quality assurance supervisor who every week pulls and monitors one call, one email, and one chat for each rep. She meets with them one-on-one in a coaching session. It’s a face-to-face coaching session on each one of those. Each rep gets continuous training on how to improve and what needs to happen to take our operations to that one-step-higher level of efficiency. The QA supervisor also sends out monthly reports on where the team scored high and low and she puts out follow-up training based on that. Whatever we hit for the lowest point of the month, she sends out a retrain on that skill.

What is the role and responsibility of management in maintaining contact center excellence, and how do they deliver on this promise?

Direct supervisors are involved in making sure that our employees have the tools and the training to perform their jobs efficiently and effectively. They also are involved in communicating and giving a clear understanding of what is expected. They also evaluate our voice-of-the-customer feedback to improve processes. Management needs to allocate budgets for the hardware, software, and training that keeps the department moving forward and improving. It also needs to conduct meetings that allow for open, two-way conversations, listening to employees, rewarding them for a job well done. It's important that they’re involved in all of that to keep the contact center performing efficiently.

How involved are senior executives in Freeman's contact center operations, and how important is this to [the center's] overall success?

The overall success of customer support is mainly through the involvement of everyone, from our CEO on down. It's very important to have corporate executive champions.

Having the CEO involved is huge. The CEO has made a request for the past five years to have our vice presidents of human resources, marketing, IT, etc., come visit customer support. They visit at least once a year and sit with our reps, listen to calls with our reps. IT comes in and meets with our reps twice a year to get their feedback on our online ordering system, our Web site, etc.

What call center technologies do you have in place, and which vendors provided the technologies?

In July 2015 we implemented LiveOps' Engage cloud contact center system. The reason we went with this cloud solution is that it automatically distributes all channels—calls, email, and chats. The system also has a virtual hold which allows the caller to leave a callback number and save their place in the queue, and the system calls them back when the next agent is available.

We also implemented in July a workforce management system. It's Verint's Impact 360 system, and it helps us to forecast for all three channels. We also use Verint's QA and call recording. We record 100 percent of our calls. Our phone hardware is from Mitel.

For our knowledgebase, we use Microsoft SharePoint.

The J.D. Power certification also looked at the phone systems themselves and the clarity of the information provided, the ease of use, and how easy it is to understand the phone prompts and instructions. How have you managed to maintain these levels as well?

There is no IVR. We want all calls routed directly to live agents. You hear the "This call may be monitored" prompt, but then the call goes right into the queue to a live agent. It's a very simple process.

Our LiveOps Engage system does ID the caller and links to our customer CRM records. A person might be calling, but I can see that he chatted with someone earlier that day or that he emailed yesterday. It builds a history of that client.

What future developments are you eyeing, and where do you see your next biggest investment in customer service?

As far as technology investments, I'd be looking for a more robust system for evaluating customer feedback, being able to really understand what customers are telling us [so we can make] improvements. One of the things we're hearing from customers is that they like many options to contact us, so I would like to bring in texting capability from mobile phones. I have that on my radar. I also have on the radar the issue of attrition, developing different levels within the contact center that [agents] can work toward.

What advice would you offer to other contact center managers struggling to maintain quality service levels?

Your employees are your greatest assets. Invest in them. Invest in hiring the right people. Then it's up to you as a manager to accurately forecast your staffing needs to meet expected volumes. Don't burn your people out. Make sure you're giving them every opportunity to perform their jobs efficiently and effectively.

Senior News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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