Whether Competing In The World Cup or Contact Center, Use Your Head

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Making time for proper customer service training and managing agent schedules is integral to the success of a contact center in reaching its goals. Being both a seasoned workforce management player and an early adopter of advanced staffing technology obviously puts Expedia way ahead of the game.

With the 2006 FIFA World Cup fresh in our minds, now is the perfect time to reflect upon what contact center agents can learn from soccer players (better known in many countries as footballers): They too can use their heads to properly train and reach their goals.

To get your head in the game to make winning plays on the field— or on the phone— takes a lot of training. And while training takes up a lot of valuable time, it inevitably pays off with players and agents hitting big goals.

When prospective vacationers are trying to reserve flights and hotel rooms for destinations around the world, travel agents are too busy answering calls to take the time to learn how they could deliver better service. Meanwhile, team supervisors are too overwhelmed with staffing issues to do any supplementary coaching.

However, Expedia Inc., the largest online travel agency in the world, found a way to focus on this important task—training agents to deliver excellent customer service. Instead of processing vacation, overtime and schedule-change requests manually, Expedia automated the process using a sophisticated workforce management solution with several advanced capabilities, including automated scheduling features to manage agents across multi-site contact centers.

Considering that Expedia has to regularly address scheduling issues for more than 1,000 in-house agents spread across six contact centers, the significant hours saved via automation free supervisors to successfully avoid a time-wasting penalty. Supervisors can even organize their team meetings using the automated system, which schedules them according to forecasted workload and staffing, so that service levels don't take a hit.

By predefining the software's parameters, managers maintain control of the contact center, while giving agents more control over their work lives. The system empowers the agents to submit schedule-change requests and check on the request status via a web browser at any time that works best for them. Expedia saved even more time—and money—by linking the scheduling system to the payroll system, so that supervisors don't have to manually reconcile schedules between two different systems.

Expedia's Phoebe Araujo, a finalist for the 2006 Workforce Management Professional of the Year Award from the Society of Workforce Planning Professionals (SWPP), says that one of the keys to implementing changes successfully is to first reach out to everyone—managers, supervisors, agents and executives—to find out what their needs are and then empower them to take full advantage of what can meet those needs.

Says Araujo, “Everyone wins when agents are more independent: Management has more time to deal with strategic issues, and the agents' higher level of job satisfaction leads to improved performance, increasing customer satisfaction."

Making time for proper customer service training and managing agent schedules is integral to the success of a contact center in reaching its goals. Being both a seasoned workforce management player and an early adopter of advanced staffing technology obviously puts Expedia way ahead of the game.

Author: Brett Williams

Brett Williams is senior manager of product management at Aspect Software. For more information, visit http://www.aspect.com.

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