Featured Image for the blog: Finding the Balance with Call Center Efficiency: 5 Tips for Improving Efficiency and Empowering your Agents

Picture this: You order a dining room chair from your favorite online retailer. It’s delivered, you unbox it, and, as you’re assembling it, realize it’s missing a leg. 


You dig through the discarded debris of packaging, find the number for customer service and give them a call. “This shouldn’t take long,” you think. Ha. You press 4 to speak to customer service and then…you wait.  That infamous hold music plays on repeat, taunting you into an alternate and strange reality. You get trapped, with your phone on speaker, unable to do much else but wait. 

Or maybe you’ve sent a question via email into the void of who knows how many other questions and requests. Will it ever get a response that isn’t an automated, “Thank you for your email” message? Historically, consumers have grown accustomed to this kind of service — slow, time-wasting, unresponsive. 

But, with the development of new technology, consumers today have different expectations. 

Are you ready to meet them?

Download Now: See what Frost & Sullivan marked as the most important trends impacting contact centers. 

Let’s consider the cost good and bad service can have on your company. American Express found that consumers will pay 17% more to purchase from a company with a reputation for great service. And, the cost of losing loyal customers is not worth it. Customers switching companies due to poor service cost U.S. companies a total of $1.6 trillion

Customer retention through delivering an excellent customer experience is more important than ever. So, what do customers expect? 

Technology opened the door for fast, responsive service. Inefficiency and long hold times just won’t be tolerated by today’s consumers. To keep up, let’s take a look at a few call center efficiency tips to help you improve your call center performance to keep customers happy.

Tip #1: Know your Agents and Encourage Autonomy

To understand what’s holding back your efficiency, you have to know your team. Where would you be without your agents in the first place? It’s vital that you know where your team’s strengths and weaknesses lie, so you know how to coach to better performance. Use the DISC Assessment or the StrengthsFinder Test to identify how your agents thrive and collaborate.

Your agents will be more motivated when they feel known and like their strengths are being used. And, you’ll learn your team composition when you plot out all the individual strengths that live on your team. You can use a strengths matrix to see where your team thrives, and where there’s room for improvement as you seek out new hires. 

Call center efficiency tips include knowing team strengths, and playing to them.

Next, track agent performance. Digital tools provide a greater level of sophistication to analyze your agents. With upgraded reporting, you can see how agents perform compared to industry standards and your past track record.  

With metrics and KPIs, you set the bar for performance across your contact center. Use metrics to know where your agents need more coaching or training. You’ll see in the data where inefficiencies lie. When you pair KPIs with your agent’s personality and strengths tests, you can place agents on tasks that they’re gifted in. And, with skills-based routing, your IVR can move specific calls to just the right agent so your customers are cared for quickly. Just think of how that would help reduce call transfers and increase First Contact Resolution. 

Know your team’s skills so you can act on them. Push agents in the areas they are inclined to grow, and encourage greater autonomy. Empower them to use their strengths to care for customers without needing to hold your hand. This empowerment will inspire and motivate your agents to perform more efficiently.

Tip #2: Take Advantage of Idle Time

Wasted idle time equates to an approximate loss of $11,252 per agent per year in unnecessary operational expenses.

And apart from the cost to your operations, this paid downtime is detrimental to contact center quality and productivity. Of course, some idle time is necessary to prevent agent burnout. When we talk about idle time, we’re not talking about bathroom breaks, minutes of rest and mindfulness, or your agent’s lunch hour. All those things are necessary to build a positive environment in your contact center (and help agents maintain sanity). No list of call center efficiency tips should tell you otherwise. But, as a manager, you can fix high idle times to improve efficiency in your contact center.

First, give agents opportunities to take advantage of their idle time instead of getting sucked into a Reddit time warp.

Use these times to build customer engagement. Have your agents write notes of thanks to your most loyal customers. Or, send a quick 2-minute coaching lesson to their queue after you’ve reviewed an interaction and provided context. Maybe even send a mindfulness lesson over to help them refocus for their next interaction. Encourage agents to have huddles when they have downtime. In these team huddles, prompt them to come up with creative ways to show customers some love.  

Or, use this time to gather feedback — from your agents and your customers. Maybe when you have a slow period, that’s when you can have 1:1 check-ins with your agents to see how they’re doing and feeling. Gather their feedback on each interaction to help fix broken processes. And, take this opportunity to learn from your customers. 

We outlined a few coaching tactics to pocket for future moments of downtime. Learn 5 tactics to improve contact center performance (and efficiency), over here. 

To improve call center efficiency, go straight to customers to see what works and what doesn’t. Agents could use idle time to send out customer surveys with questions regarding recent interactions. Then, have agents review feedback and satisfaction scores during idle time to pinpoint areas of improvement.

Gather data to track your service level and see when your call center is most busy. And, add task management software to track how much time is being devoted to certain tasks, so your agents can use their time well.

Don’t let all downtime be wasted time. Use idle time to boost your call center efficiency and get the job done.

Tip #3: Coaching for a Better Team 

When you’re thinking about how your agents should use their idle time, consider how you should be involved. Use the moments that aren’t spent focused on your customers to build agent professional development. 

Seize the idle time to train and coach agents. Coach and train intentionally to give agents with the knowledge and skills they need to deliver increasingly excellent customer support. 

Research conducted by the University of Wollongong in Australia found that manager coaching led to improvements in productivity, engagement and customer service. One manager reported that, in one year, coaching led to an increase in productivity from 35% to 100%. And, one company improved customer service by 450% in five months of introducing manager coaching.

Coaching takes many forms. Try role-playing certain high-stress situations and customer interactions with your employees. Offer real-time feedback while your agents are working. Whether through your software platform or by taking time to sit down with each agent and listen to interactions. Watch them as they talk to customers and show them where they should have used shortcuts or pre-crafted email templates to cut back on inefficiencies. 

Make space and time to listen to your agents as they make decisions or try to trouble solve. And, ask questions to guide them in their problem-solving. This allows them to come to their own conclusions, but with your guidance. The most important part of coaching is merely being available for your agents. 

Don’t feel like you can’t train or coach agents because of the time commitment. Identify where time is wasted and take advantage! Coaching isn’t a break from work, but it offers them a chance to learn and add variety to their daily tasks.

Improve your coaching and call center training with a playbook built for you, call center manager. Head to your free guide on how to manage and coach a team of agents (Call center efficiency tips included). 

Tip #4: Omnichannel Everything

Ted Smith, head of market insights at Zendesk, mentioned that “Customers don’t think about a company’s size when they’re interacting with support. They expect to be able to reach out on the channel of their choice, and to get their issues resolved efficiently.”

Omnichannel support for your customers doesn’t only build better customer experience. It increases agent productivity and inevitably helps to improve your call center efficiency. Real omnichannel requires making the customer the focus, no matter the channel.

It means that you understand and respond to conversations in real-time. No matter where they contact you, the customer journey has to progress—no repeating, no steps backward.

When you don’t have to take steps backward, your First Contact Resolution increases and your Average Handle Time lessens. Zendesk found that omnichannel use helps resolve tickets up to 40% faster. It also allows agents to handle 63% more phone and chat tickets and gives agents space to interact with 3.3x as many customers. Not to mention, omnichannel support opens the door for agents to learn new skills and use more channels and styles of communication.

When seamless communication is integrated, each customer interaction is more efficient. 

Wanna achieve omnichannel nirvana in your contact center? Unthink it! Watch the on-demand webinar with Lori Bocklund. 

Tip #5: Automate What You Can

According to Gartner, 25 percent of customer service and support operations will integrate bot technology across their engagement channels by the end of this year. That means in 2020, improving automation is one of the can’t- miss call center efficiency tips.

Bots are ideal for guiding customers to serve themselves. They answer frequently asked questions, so your agents get more time to work on the complex issues. And no customer gets neglected or left waiting in the process. 

Automation helps your team prepare for each interaction by predicting how customers will respond to an email or on a call. And, it uses data to respond to customer needs for improved accuracy along the way. 

Bots give agents a break from the simple, monotonous questions. But, they can’t replace your agents. Automation is available for you to cut out the tedious and tricky elements of call center work, leaving space for better agent performance, efficiency, and development.

Your Team is not a Machine

As you act on these call center efficiency tips to improve performance, don’t forget that your call center is not a machine. Your goals shouldn’t solely be to churn through the most tickets as fast as possible.

Find a balance with coaching where your agents get to work autonomously yet still learn from your experience. Know when your agents need a break to breathe. Use agents and automation in tandem to find a balance for improving the customer experience and efficiency in your call center.

Your employees’ ability to empathize and problem solve cannot be replicated. Nothing replaces the humanity of your agents. 

Learn what other improvements are crucial to keeping pace with the top contact center trends. Get the excerpt from the Frost & Sullivan Buyers Guide with the most important forces impacting the market.