Featured Image for the blog: Three Ways Modern Contact Centers Improve Their Operations

Some contact centers are taking a progressive approach to customer satisfaction – they’re starting with their agents’ happiness.

However, the changing demographics of the hiring pool has created quite the challenge for the contact center. Millennials don’t mesh well with the strict schedule adherence, monotonous work, and challenging KPIs – so they quit. Turn-over rates in the contact center industry are atrocious, and it’s costing companies – a lot.

To combat this, more contact centers are loosening the reigns on some of their out-dated policies, re-evaluating their operations, and looking for ways to make their contact center run more efficiently. These tactics are working for successful companies like Zappos and Disney – maybe they can work for you, too.

Here are 3 ways modern contact centers improve operations, and create happier agents.

Allowing Flexible Schedules

Flexible schedules have a bad rap as being synonymous with unpredictable schedules, and nothing throws off WFM in a contact center like unpredictability.

However, flexible schedules aren’t “work-when-you-feel-like-it” arrangements. They are consistent and accommodating schedules that provide a work/life balance for agents, and stable coverage for managers. They are highly desirable, and studies show that employees with flexible schedules are more engaged, motivated, and satisfied.

Here are some examples of “flex” schedules that work well in contact centers:

Compressed work week – Employees condense a 40 hour work week into 4 days. For example, they may work from 8am-6pm (10 hours) Monday-Thursday.

Flextime – Employees and managers compromise to create the ideal schedule that meet both the needs of the employee and the company. An example of a flextime schedule would be:


Monday 12pm-5pm
Tuesday 8am-6pm
Wednesday 8am-6pm
Thursday 8am-6pm
Friday 7:30am-12:30pm

The employee still works 40 hours on a predictable schedule, but can also to make time for other commitments like school or a second job.

Telecommuting – Big name companies like Amazon, 1-800-Flowers, and Apple have embraced the work-from-home agent. Thanks to cloud-based contact center software, agents are able to log in and work anytime, anywhere.

Many companies hesitate to offer work-from-home positions because of reliability and agent effectiveness concerns, but it’s proving to have a positive effect on both. Companies who are looking for a little reassurance that work-from-home agents are a good idea may find solace in the following data:

Rethinking KPIs

It may be time to give Average Handle Time (AHT) the boot.

From an operational standpoint, monitoring AHT makes sense. The shorter the calls, the more calls agents can take, and the less staff required to handle the predicted call volume. This ultimately results in lower operating expenses.

However, from a customer and employee satisfaction standpoint, pressuring your agents to keep calls short has (costly) repercussions.

Sure, you’re reducing operating costs, but you’re incurring cost as a result of high agent turnover rates, and increased call backs from customers.

If you’re still not convinced that AHT is an outdated and ineffective KPI, this incredible study by Blue Sky may change your mind.

Here’s the short of it.

Blue Sky walked into a contact center with a radical suggestion for leadership – NO. MORE. AHT.

At the conclusion of the experiment, they found that AHT was incredibly detrimental to CSAT, agent performance, and profits.

Here are some intriguing highlights from their study:

Before eliminating AHT:

The divisional leader had a higher than average in-company AHT time but she also had the strongest CSAT scores in the company; her team averaged 4.85 against a companywide CSAT score of 4.49. In an internal four-week pilot of stringent AHT targets, her team suffered an 18% decrease in CSAT (down to 4.11) as call handlers rushed customers to close calls.

One agent even said, “I consciously remove important things from the conversation so I can hit my AHT target as the day goes on.

After eliminating AHT:

The business impact of better conversations was profound. Just two weeks in, customer retention increased by 13% (from 52.7% to 59.6%).

Shaking Up The Hiring Process

The high operational and training cost of agent turnover can be minimized by overhauling your hiring process. It’s absolutely essential that you hire new agents that are a good fit culturally, and possess the qualities they need to be successful in a high pressure, fast moving environment.

Here are a few easy changes you can make to find agents that will be a great fit for your company.

Get to know your best agents.
Survey your best agents and ask them about their previous work experience, what they like about their job, and what they enjoy most about working for your company.

Use this info to create the “ideal agent” persona.
Find commonalities in the data provided by your best agents. Do they all have past work experience as a server in a restaurant? This could be an indication that the ability to stay organized in the midst of chaos is an important skill to look for in applicants. Do they all enjoy the social events at work? Maybe reserved personalities aren’t a good cultural fit.

Tailor your job description and interview questions to your ideal agent personas.
Use all the data you collected to craft a candid, honest job description and interview questions.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Don’t conceal the less desirable parts of the job – This will only fill your inbox with candidates who won’t work out in the long run. Instead, present them as challenges that can be conquered by the right person.

For example:

We’re looking for a team player who finds motivation and satisfaction in helping their team tackle a busy queue, and one who doesn’t mind working a few minutes over to get the job done.

This statement will either a) exhilarate someone who enjoys fast-paced work and encourage them to apply or b) scare away someone who would rather work in a predictable, steady-paced environment.

Be creative with your interview questions – Ask questions that will uncover hidden skillsets and allow you to get a good feel for the applicant’s personality.

For example:

If you could have any job in the whole world, what would you choose and why?

The response to this question will give you a lot of insight into the individual’s personality. If they choose a “helping” profession, like missionary work or working with animals, they may be more inclined to exhibit compassion and sympathy for your customers.

If they respond with a career that is more spontaneous and active, that may be a sign that working in a call center would be too mundane for their personality. Or, it could mean they would embrace the challenge. Be sure to ask probing questions and encourage them to elaborate.

Do a “cultural fit” assessment – Invite a few of your best agents to have a casual meet and greet with the candidate without a supervisor present. This encourages open, honest dialogue between peers, and the candidate may feel more comfortable asking questions about the job. It’s also a great opportunity to make sure the applicant meshes well with the rest of the team.

Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes.

If you want to keep a competitive edge in a world where customer service is king, you have to adapt to the changing society around you.

You can’t ignore agent satisfaction.
You can’t rush your agents and customers through a phone call.
You can’t keep hiring the same (wrong) people.

It’s time for a big change. If you’re going to improve operations (and profits), you have to leave the old way of doing things behind.

You need to modernize your policies and procedures to promote agent satisfaction and reduce attrition.

Still not convinced?

Just ask Zappos and Disney how it’s working for them.