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I need Advice from Call Center Management and or Supervisors

Author penocea1
#1 | Posted: 30 Jul 2007 16:58 
At my new job, we are required to take an average of 80 calls a day with a 5 minute average call time. This means when someone calls with a difficult problem...our average call time goes up and our call count goes down. We receive an error report when this happens. So we rush them off the phone more confused than ever. I really feel uncomfortable doing this. Recently, management has gone to a new training agenda. It is called "First call resolution". In other words, give the caller the most accurate detailed information so they do not have to call back a second time. Great, I am thinking. But, we still have to turn 80 calls a day at 5 minutes per call average. I have been trying to figure how this might work.

Can anyone in management or who has worked in a high call volume call center explain to me how this is going to work, because frankly, I am not getting it. How do you answer complex issues, explain laws, policies and procedures accuately and thoroughly in 5 minutes? It takes an average of 2 minutes to confirm the callers identity due to privacy laws and another 2 to 3 minutes to understand and comprehend the issue. How much time do I have left? Recently, I did ask my supervisor how this is going to work and his response was, "Maybe this is not the job for you?" Maybe it isn't, but your opinion about this is appreciated.

Author ayaree
#2 | Posted: 30 Jul 2007 18:56 
Penny, this is hard for me to answer. Before I get really longwinded, I'd better point out that my recent experience does not cover high volumes. About 25% of my reps have a higher volume at maybe 50 or 60 calls per day (that used to be 100 or more, before I came abord and contributed to some changes that brought the calls down). What I concentrate on is not high volume on a single area, but contact and administrative operations for multiple clients (instead of dozens of calls per day for one person, maybe dozens of clients per year). So I have to put myself in your shoes and try to use some good thinking about the situation.

I wonder if it is acceptable to abbreviate what is stated on laws, procedures, so that you save time in order to tackle issues. I'm not talking about skipping information, I am asking whether this is a script you must follow or whether you can use your own words? Chances are there is not a lot of room to translate verbiage into other words where you work. Do you know through reports that were shared to the team that it takes 2 minutes go through the preamble stuff (privacy, etc)? Or is this your best hunch? Do you know what your average is? What your shortest time and longest times are, and what times of the day?

There is hope for you to come to a point where you understand how to make the majority of your calls closer to 5 minutes. What I gather from you is that you are enthusiastic about this position. Keep in mind, I am not perfect and my computer screen is not a crystal ball, but I sense that you derive pleasure from talking and going through all the fine details there are to a job. This tells me that your instinct is to be on the side of making extra doors available to callers as opposed to racing through a conversation with doorways to other topics kept shut. There's a balance to find. You ought to be able to find it (in no certain order) through coworkers (maybe on lunch you would hear ideas); through other roles in the department (is there a "coach" who monitors calls, maybe someone other than the supervisor?); through your supervisor; and through your own experience. You will recognize how to handle the calls more smoothly and how to react to problems more readily as time goes on. Part of understanding the balance would be realizing that you want to make a conversation meaningful for one particular customer, but that you also have to conduct a successful conversation with several other customers (not one but many people have to count). Finding a way to achieve both of those things (meaningful conversations--but one person at a time) is more of an art than a science, I guess, and saying that you need to handle 80 calls at 5 in on average is the language of science. Try to dabble in both art and science and see what you can do.

Now to talk about my computer screen that is not a crystal ball again. I can't tell what took place in that conversation with your supervisor; all I can do is take a look at the words you put down. One of my first thoughts was to disagree with saying "Maybe this job is not for you?" as a response. That has a ring to it that shows the supervisor didn't have time for the question--or wanting to close off the questions raised. I think it's important to understand that supervisors are not perfect and will not use the best reactions all of the time. I think this was one of his bad days, but let's use some optimistic thinking now that I've said that.

On the other hand, was there anything that would have led him to react this way, was he reading "defeatism" in your words or your body language? A good reason for thinking about that is that he might not understand the positive energy you have to bring to the work. He could have heard a similar question from others dozens of times (even before the new training initiative intended to provide one-stop info), and assumed you were not interested in "trying" to achieve the goal. I'm not sure how observant your supervisor is, but I think the sharpest supervisors know which signs are the ones to watch for. Sometimes questions surrounding "change" and "new procedures" and "how is this possible?" raise flags for supervisors, correctly or incorrectly. This is because they become accustomed to recognizing the slightest sign of resistance and have to prepare for the potential to bring in new staff.

I may not have been smart enough at that moment to say this, and I may not even have been empowered to do this at your company, but my my reaction would have challenged you at what you actually know about the lengths of time A, B or C take on a call; and to ask you where you think you would find the hardest time wading through the heavy waters fast enough...and find a way for you to speed that up or think up some other kind of plan. And I would watch for the willingness to think through the mud until you found fresher water. That would have allowed for some two-way street. It's a fact that you have to make concessions as a CSR handling calls, and you shouldn't expect that you necessarily know that a goal is doomed--or allow anyone to interpret that thinking in you.

If you think there is any possibility that you are not being interpreted as an interested employee, I think you should make a deliberate effort to use language that shows your "interest in meeting requirements"; "how you can create efficiency during your calls"; "how you can cover policy details yet respond to needs." I think you are probably doing that already (if you're spending time discussing topics here), but there could be room to more specific about it at the right times.

Outside of all that...there is also the possibility the company has not thought of everything. Maybe they will discover that the required metrics are not suitable. Maybe you will be right, and maybe more than one person shares your concerns. But we're just not there yet. The way I would go is to see what I could do. I'd remind myself I can handle more than one thing at once and be openminded about how to get there.

Will watch to see how this goes.

Author harindra
#3 | Posted: 30 Jul 2007 22:08 

I actually don't know what sort of business you are in but hope this information will help you.
First of all if this is not a telemarketing company then I wonder why they need to take 80 calls per day and want the cut off time to be 5mnts.
If this is a customer care line then i guess we should give the opportunity for the callers to talk as much as they like.
Anyways I have suggested few point down here..
1. Why don't you get the customers emails address and then email the solutions if you think that the call is not going to end within 5mnts.
2. If there is website why don't you display answers to questions which ask many times.
3. Have several lines if you can categories the questions which takes long time so you can setup a different target for the people who handle that sort of queries.

Sorry about what your supervisor said it's not an answer. They will have to revise the procedures if you think this is a target that cannot be achieved.

Good Luck!

Author penocea1
#4 | Posted: 1 Aug 2007 17:32 
Thank you for you response. I hope I don't get long winded but probably will.

I would like to reply to Ayaree first. You made some great points. I am really new at the job, and the information I have to provide I usually have to look up. I work for the Department of Motor Vehicles..this is a state agency which is always changing laws and legislation but, I know in time the information will come much more easily where I don't have to look every detail up like I do now which takes time. But, no matter how good I get..I am still dealing with individuals that for the most part have to be educated. I had 16 weeks of training where they get 5 minutes. I may have exaggerated on the times. Let's give 1 minute for personal information (I timed it today) and 2 minutes for them to explain their problem without interruption (that's generous). 3 minutes left. Uhhggg!!! However, my call count is improving 60 today and my call average is 6 minutes. I just don't want my customer service skills and the information I provide to suffer. This is my main concern.

I had a private meeting with my Supervisor Friday, the one that made the comment.. I explained to him that the comment he made really hurt my feelings. He actually apologized. After reading what you had to say, I realized I may have caught him at a bad time and I was highly emotional which could have made him defensive and he probably had heard the same thing from 20 different people. I did not think of that. Good point. I put myself in his shoes and we had a great talk about some of things going on in our call center. He sent an email out today to his Supervisors and to all on his team that we needed to look deeper into the 80/5 ratio and other concerns on the floor. He really went out on a limb for us. I can't tell you how your response helped. Thank you again.

To address Harindra, thank you as well for your response. The department I work for is the Department of Motor Vehicles. We provide information to the public on laws, policies and regulations. I will give you a number. We take on average 6,000 calls a day. That is not counting calls that may be dropped for busy signals. Bottom line. Not enough people to handle the calls, but we deal with budgets not profits. We can call them back, but it takes away from the 80 call percentage. Not an option unfortunately. As for our website, it is more confusing than it helps which is an issue I have brought up many times. 20% of my calls are from callers who can't understand what the website states. I have been there, I have had 16 weeks of training and sometimes it leaves me confused.
Number 3: Excellent advice. I really love that. We have some people who are great at Compliance issues. These are suspended, revoked license queries. I stumble through this, but give me a vehicle problem and I am there. This is something I would like to pass on to management. It might work, if they are willing to listen to little ole me.

I am so glad I found this place. I will take a breather now.

Author ayaree
#5 | Posted: 2 Aug 2007 16:56 
Penny, I am REALLY happy to see that response from you. You had a few wins in that conversation you had with the supervisor: you got past the negativity of the prior conversation and now unnecessary doubts and feelings are not taking up space in your head or heart; you gained more of a rapport with this particular boss through discussing your personal interest in meeting needs; and you initiated a further look at the goals/metrics (that one is probably quite exciting for you, not simply because it may ease up on stress, but because you were part of an effort toward maintaining operations and process improvement--not everyone gets to experience anything near that).

For me, this is a valuable experience because, as I already said, it's rewarding to see something I talked about translate into positive results. But another angle to the value is that I get to learn something from this too: I can see an example of where my thinking (if even a sliver) can be put to good use. I don't know how much of it was a fluke, mind you, but it sounds like you took what I said and used it how you needed it. Congratulations on some good interactive skill brought to this situation.

Another bonus is that you said you are glad to have found this place. I reckon there are a couple of individuals within the organization running this site who must be smiling when viewing this thread. I'm happy about that from a personal standpoint as well, as I had not always found myself engaging in the postings in a fruitful manner. I need to channel my energies in increasingly better ways, and this is one of the places where I decided to explore the topic over time. So I send some thanks back to you as well :) Carry on with your place of work and do some great things, and keep in touch with this group.

:) :)

Author nancymut
#6 | Posted: 12 Aug 2007 14:26 
Hi All,

I have read all your posts and this is my comment.
One of the things that is disturbing to me is the fact that call centres are losing it when it comes to customer satisfaction.

Why do I say this? From my experience of working in one and also from a customers perspective, Call Centres are dwelling so much on quantity and forgetting the quality bit of the calls. This ofcourse will vary from call centre to call centre and what the nature of the business is.

Considering Penny's comments, 5mins are not enough to give the customer the right information and then on top of that, the caller is rushed through because the talk time is limited for the agents.
This has a repurcussion in that the caller may be forced to call back to get more information which only ascends the problem meaning that you will have a good number of your customers making repeat calls, what happens then? higher call volumes, lower service levels and not to mention that you you now have a high number of dissatisfied customers on your hands.
What is the use of hitting your target of 80 calls a day when all or most of the calls were not satisfactory to the customer or caller??

My suggestion in general is that for starters, Management has to come up with revised policies and procedures that best suit your customers but most importantly find a balance between quality and quantity for the call handlers.

I also liked Harindra's comments/suggestions on finding alteratives to the problem like sending the callers answers by email and posting most of the frequent answers on a website etc.
Explore other channels of having your customers contact you, ie, most companies are turning call centres into contact centres with a variety of contact points and not only via the phone.

Good luck.

Author penocea1
#7 | Posted: 12 Aug 2007 16:07 
Thank you Nancy for your comments. I really wish I could make management understand about the 80/5. Friday, I had three calls, each calling back which were passed directly to me or a supervisor because I was rushing through the calls. We can track how many calls we take and our average call time throughout the day. If we are on a call for more than 8 minutes..I get a call from a manager wanting to know if there is a problem. When this happens, I have to put the caller on hold while I explain to managment what the problem is and sometimes, management does not even know how to handle this. If the call requires more than what I am authorized to handle..I have to call a technician which are not always available..sometimes I have to hold for more than 3 minutes for a response from authority.

There are a few calls that only take a minute or two to answer, I love those. It helps the average call time. However, for the most part the customers are calling in because they have a diffucult question or problem. Their problem becomes my problem so how am I suppose to give them First Call Resolution, great customer service and make sure the caller understands the solution within a few minutes. Why set a goal that is doomed to fail? I just want to know what they want. First call resolution or Fast call resolution. You can't have both.

I really can't complain. They did stop giving us errors for having to go to the bathroom during unscheduled breaks. The expectant mother's were pretty happy about that one. Morale is extremely low and almost all of us our looking else where for employment. But, for customer service, it pays extremely well and with companies cutting back on benefits, working for the state does have it's advantages. Sometimes I wonder if it is worth it.

Author patilint
#8 | Posted: 13 Aug 2007 06:56 
I can empathize with your situation although I must say I have never experienced it quite that rigid. My career has spanned quite a while and I have been in customer service since the 60's.

I worked for the phone company in the 60's and that had the most rigid rules that I have worked under..since it was a public utility- we had to show regret for the customers situation no matter what....even if they hadn't paid in months and they said the dog chewed up the bill....:). We had to be perfect in our quoting of pricing and how we handled the call. We got 'breakdowns' which were issued by the group listeneing to all our conversations and replaying them back to check for errors. And , since I was pregnant at the time- I do relate to the bathroom problem. All in all, it was good training but it was hard.

My present company is great when it comes to that, but we have no where near the amount of calls any more- most of our work is faxed or emailed. It makes it nice...although I do like talking to the customers. We are treated like adults and whatever time it takes us to resolve the problem is what it takes. The only thing they like to make sure of is that orders are entered the same day if received before 3 PM, and that we call everyone back the same day if they have left a voice mail. The pay is great and so are the benefits...so there are companies out there that are great....

It is ashame that management can't see the frustration and low morale...they stand to loose their most important asset- the people....you will have to weigh the advantages against the negatives....and pay is certainly one of them...but your self satisfaction and morale is also extremely important. I wish you luck and hope you find satisfaction.

Author mcastuera
#9 | Posted: 24 Aug 2007 09:28 
I used to manage a technical call center and had the same problem, my the customer was the one demanding my ATT (average time to talk) to get lowered and my FPR goal was 85%. Six sigma will help you to present your customer or boss (whoever is asking you to solve this) the real capability of your process, what in six sigma is called "voice of the process" with REAL NUMBERS, by having this evidence you will be able to see if your customer's or boss's expectations are real. If you're familiar with six sigma it is great tool and if you're not, you'll see it's not as complicated as it seams.
Hope this helps,

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 I need Advice from Call Center Management and or Supervisors

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