Friday, August 25, 2006

Would You Get An Award for the Way You Reward Your Call Center Employees?

By Ray Hansell

We see people get awards on TV all the time. These days the award program most watched by movie goers over the years is probably the Academy Awards held in Hollywood each spring and attended by a host of celebrities and Hollywood stars/starlets.

The reason for their popularity is probably related to the need people have to be acknowledged and recognized for their achievements. To be so acknowledged by their peers in a public forum for very specific achievements represents the penultimate in the performance art field.

However, the opportunity to acknowledge people in many other fields is there for each and every person who holds a position of authority over people. The model for how to behave in such situations is certainly there for us to witness at many of these ceremonies and yet so often in the corporate world, attention is mostly paid to the mundane or logistical side of things and very little to the personal.

Plaques are purchased carefully and certificates of achievement are procured in advance, but how much time is taken to care for the manner that employers use to acknowledge the person and the deeds they did to receive this honor?

After all what provides the most motivation to the employee? Is it the actual award itself and the value of the gift that is received? Or is it the recognition that provides the stimuli needed to sustain their passion?

If you believe it’s the latter then you should pay as much attention to how you actually perform this very important task as you do to the logistics of the task itself.

The following story chronicles some of our experiences in awarding and rewarding employees.

“The Wall of Fame” – Case Study

RMH Teleservices was like a motivational laboratory where we as owners frequently experimented with a number of ingredients to find the right formula to motivate our employees. Some of these worked and some didn’t. Starting with what seemed to work, let me begin by reconstructing the story of our “Wall of Fame”.

All of our clients rewarded us for superior results but they also wanted those results to emulate from consistent sales processes. In order to ensure this consistency they frequently required that approved sales scripts be read verbatim or close to verbatim. This of course posed a great many challenges not the least of these were how to inspire our people when the challenge of the job was so tightly constructed by reading a script.

We arrived after much consideration with creating a training program that would help our people deliver “Great Performances” similar to the way actors and actresses perform a script. In a fashion similar to the acting profession, we created a mechanism for evaluating and acknowledging “Great Performances” and then posted these recipients on a gold star on our Wall of Fame which was located prominently in each of our offices. In addition, we acknowledged the recipient of the award in our monthly newsletter so that employees from other locations could be made aware of the honoree’s accomplishments.

As a reward we presented them with chocolate Oscars and provided free movie tickets at AMC movie theaters so that they could see a version of a great performance on their own time. Overall, the representatives liked the rewards and liked the way their accomplishments were acknowledged for their peers to see. In addition, our clients liked the concept of creating a reward that supported their objectives and elevated the performance of their scripts to an art form.

However – It didn’t always work the way we planned it.

As we grew we gave some freedom to the local managers to select the representatives and before we knew it, one of the names appearing on the gold star was a person with borderline, if not problematic, behavior.

In effect the Wall of Fame was looking more like a Wall of SHAME.

How did this happen? – Well as we questioned our local managers we found that rather than confront the bad behavior of some of the personnel, the manager thought that by rewarding them with a “Rep of the Month Award” this would somehow turn their bad behavior around. Unfortunately, the old maxim – “Don’t Reward Bad Behavior” – or better yet – “What You Reward Gets Repeated” – played out exactly.

What we did was immediately tighten up the criteria by which candidates were selected to virtually eliminate the arbitrary nature of the local managers decision.

We automated the process for gathering the data used to determine the selection and made it available to us in advance of the selection. We were, therefore, able to redirect the reward program by reforming the processes before it got out of hand.

The lesson was that regardless of the good intentions we have as managers we need to pay close attention to the ways we implement a reward systems so that they continue to provide positive rewards for positive behavior. Sometimes even a simple inexpensive award or reward given in the right spirit and in the right way can mean the world to an employee.

What constitutes the right way? Well, here’s a short list of rules I consider important in this regard:

Rule 1: THE GOLDILOCKS FACTOR – make the reward match the deed. Too large of an award will create unreasonable expectations and too small will give the impression that you’re a miser. Keep it just right.

Rule 2: SHINE A LIGHT ON IT – when possible present the reward publicly and give specific reasons for why the recipient deserves to be selected.

Rule 3: TAKE CARE TO BE FAIR – make sure that the reward is implemented and administered in a fair and impartial manner – nothing turns people off more then a rigged contest

Rule 4: KISS – “KEEP IT SIMPLE” – too many rules will only serve to confuse and de-motivate participants.

Rule 5: “PUBLISH OR PERISH” – Publish in hard copy form, fax, email, or poster format and make peers/coworkers aware of the achievement. Click here to see an example of an animation we create and distribute at MaraStar to acknowledge employees.

Keep in mind that rewarding employees is one of the more positive aspects of managing people – you get to do something positive by acknowledging and applauding people who richly deserve to be so treated. SO…DO IT POSTIVELY, ENJOY IT AND TAKE THE TIME TO DO IT WELL!!!!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Coaching Employees - The Chronic Excuser

By: CMOE Development Team

Most of us find coaching employees to be an effective, even enjoyable, approach to leadership and management. Coaching provides a way to help team members grow and develop, while achieving business objectives. But occasionally, we encounter a team member who has an excuse for every situation. How can we help team members like this accept responsibility and focus on solutions, rather than dwell on the reasons why things aren’t accomplished? How can we ensure that we really gain commitment and consensus on plans, assignments, and projects?

Coaching Employees and Advice

First, it’s important to remember that excuses come in two flavors. The first, called Type I excuses, usually surface when raising performance issues with a team member.

“It’s not my fault. It’s those guys in Operations. They don’t deliver my product on time, and the customer gets upset with me.”

“I wasn’t able to get that report in on time because my computer was down for two days. You should talk to I.S.—it’s their problem.”

As we try to help the team member accept personal responsibility, we should never let an excuse go unaddressed. However, with a “chronic excuser,” it can feel like an endless cycle.

Some excuses, called Type 2 excuses, are legitimate. These excuses are an important signal. Left unaddressed, Type 2 excuses can result in team members feeling insecure, unsupported, and frustrated. Team members may have real concerns about the plans you’ve created, or their ability to follow through on them.

Openly addressing Type 2 excuses allows you to review the plans you’ve made, make sure they’re viable, and reinforce your confidence in the team member.

Exercising patience in listening will help you weed out the real obstacles from the smokescreens. You can demonstrate support by removing legitimate obstacles. You can also teach a powerful lesson in accountability by exposing the smokescreens.

Excuses also generally arise when establishing a plan. For team members with low confidence or little experience, it can be frightening to make commitments, and they may feel a need to “hedge their bets.” When a team member raises a concern indicating that circumstances beyond his/her control might prevent them from achieving their goal, this sends a message that they’re not sure they can carry out the plan.

As you make a pattern of confronting – in a supportive, cooperative way – the excuses made by reluctant team members, you’ll convey an important message about your commitment to accomplishing goals, helping your team members improve, and establishing a spirit of accountability in your work.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Average Talk Time for inbound calls

The average talk time is an important measurement in the Call Center and in the day-to-day activity of the Management of the Call Center. This index should be evaluated and analysed daily by the Call Center manager and the managerial team (supervisors and members of the staff). This index is required to determine the proper number of agents in a queue. Having talk times higher than required will increase cost in the Call Center. On the other hand, Customer Satisfaction could lower as well.


Most ACD systems provide this number on a report. The definition of the talk time takes the total talk time (time spent by agents talking with customers on the phone when calls come in) and the total number of calls answered (ACD Calls). These two figures may come for a specific period (an hour, a day, a week, a month) for an agent, a particular service or queue, or for the Call Center in general. This time is expressed in minutes and/or seconds and is shown in ACD systems as Average Talk Time.

Thus, the average talk time for a particular service is calculated as follows::

Total Talk Time
Total Calls Answered


The agente John Smith worked in the Call Center for a week handling calls for The Brigde Bank. During this period, we have the following data:

Answered Calls: ....... 1.500
Total Talk Time: ...... 307.500 seconds

The Average Talk Time of John Smith is:

307.500 secs
-------------- = 205 seconds or 3:25 (three minutes and 25 seconds)
1.500 calls

Likewise, the queue in the ACD system (The Bridge Bank) had 31,500 calls answered by agents that same week. The Total Talk Time was 5.512.500 segundos or 1.531 hours and 15 minutes. Given these numbers, we come up with an average talk time for The Bridge Bank of:

5.512.500 secs
---------------- = 175 seconds or 2:55 (two minutes and 55 seconds)
31.500 calls

Analysing the Average Talk Time

The average talk time provides us with valuable information to analize. If the Average Talk Time is too high, the Call Center will see its capacity to answer more calls from customers decrease given a number of agents we have. On the contrary, if the average talk time is too low, the Call Center will be capable of answering more calls. We have to be careful to conclude that the Average Talk Time is too low or too high in order to come up with an appropriate figure.

Thus, it is imperative to define an Average Talk Time for the operation we are running. There is no such an industry average talk time because each service is unique and given this particularity each service will have its own Average Talk Time.

How to determine an Optimun Average Talk Time

The Call Center manager and his managerial team will have to determine what would be an optimun average talk time for the center and for each service. This is important because this measurement is utilized to determine the number of agents for a specific service or queue. Finally, having the number of people we need, we can come up with the different shifts and then, we can totalize the costs involved in a service to a client.

If there is a new service and the client is moving his operation from somewhere else, we may be lucky and have some historical data to utilize as a reference to calculate how many agents we need and what was the historical average talk time. If that information is not available or the service is new we need to take a number (from testing some mock calls) as a reference to start up. Once the service starts, it is the duty of the managerial team to follow up with the average talk time on a daily basis to come up with the optimum number.

How to come up with an appropriate Average Talk Time

This metric helps us determine how many agents we will require for a service or queue, what service level we can provide to a client, and at the end, how much Money this service will cost. So, it is imperative to optimize the average talk time in order to cut innecessary costs and come up with a balanced service level to our customers.

Our agent must speak with our customers for the time customers require; however, we need to make sure our agents are utilizing the appropriate time to resolve our customers’ inquiries. We need to assure that our customers receive good service and the solution to his inquires in an appropriate time. In the Call Center there will always be agents that will have high average talk times and others will have lower average talk times. At the end, what we get from our ACD system is an average figure from all the agents (we also have an average for each agent).

The Call Center manager and the managerial team should always analyse the information that the ACD system provides with the purpose of knowing the average talk time our agents and the services we are running have.

A typical ACD report provides us with the performance of our agents, this is, it gives us the results the agents assigned to a queue or a service had in a determined period. The report to our left is an ACD report for the week that goes from May 19th to May 25th for the Queue named “El Puente”.

The first column shows the agents assigned to that queue (the name of each agent appears in this column). The second column shows the average talk time each agent had within that period. The third column shows the number of calls answered by each agent.

Typically, this report provides additional information such Login Time, disposition times such as lunch, breaks, special assignments and others. If our agents work for the Call Center 40 hours a week, the login time reported should be very close to 40:00:00 hours for each agent. Likewise, if each agent has 60 minutes assigned for lunch each day and they work 5 days a week the total time reported for lunch should be 5:00:00 hours (5 hours in the week). The analysis we carry out every week will ensure our agents are utilizing their time appropriately in the different tasks assigned in the Call Center. When there is abuse in break or lunch times, at the end, it is the customers that suffer because we are taking available time for other uses.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Consumers Demand Better Customer Service

Taken from

ARA) - If you receive bad customer service from a company on the telephone, through e-mail or a Web site, you are likely to take your business elsewhere next time, a recent study shows.

Research co-sponsored by Kelly Services and Purdue University’s Center for Customer-Driven Quality shows that an overwhelming majority of consumers formulate their perceptions of a company, and their decision to buy from them again, based on their experiences with the company’s customer service contact center.

In the survey, 92 percent of consumers reported that their encounter with customer service personnel influenced their image of the company they had called. Just as advertising impacts a company’s brand image, call centers play an important role in a company’s identity.

“In today’s highly competitive marketplace, matters handled properly through a company’s call center can help ensure customer loyalty,” says Benae Smart, manager of KellyConnect, the Kelly Services unit that provides trained staff to customer service centers. “Having company representatives trained to ensure a positive customer service experience is crucial to maintaining a strong brand image and keeping customers coming back.”

Call centers today are a vital link in connecting businesses to consumers. Americans reach out for assistance to customer service centers more than 10 billion times a year. The typical caller is between 26 and 55 years old and usually educated, with more than half having at least a four-year college degree.

Consumers use the telephone for 85 percent of contacts; 8 percent are made through e-mail and 7 percent through a Web site. The most frequent reasons for contacting a call center are to seek information about a product or assistance with a company’s services.

It’s your call

The Kelly-Purdue study reveals that 63 percent of consumers will stop using a company’s products or services based on a negative call center experience. Among those calling to express dissatisfaction with a product or service, 86 percent were more likely to stop using the company if their experience with the customer representative was negative.

Conversely, a mere 16 percent of consumers report that a call center had exceeded their expectations. Of those satisfied consumers, 95 percent will use the company again. This demonstrates that when customers do receive outstanding service they become more loyal, and are therefore more likely to re-purchase from the company.

“For the average consumer, dealing with a less-than-great call center can be a dreaded experience,” says Dr. Jon Anton, director of Benchmark Research at Purdue University’s Center for Customer-Driven Quality. “The research shows that a call center is often the only point of contact for a customer with a company and is now, more than ever, a strategic differentiator.”

For more information on the Kelly/Purdue research, visit

Courtesy of ARA Content

About the author:

Courtesy of ARA Content

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Call Center Investments in Costa Rica

by/ Albin Chinchilla, Business and Contact Center Consultant

Nowadays, Customer Service is becoming the main differentiator for companies in their specific industry. If you look at banks, they all offer mostly the same products and services. They charge fees about the same and they all have branches and Call Centers where you can call. What makes them different? Well, if you ask a customer, they will respond that the main differentiator is the way that bank understood his needs and the way they resolved them. This is something to think about if you work at a bank.

Now, to provide good service, as a good friend of mine points out in his blog: he mentions that today, the most important asset in the entire organization is not its people, the most important asset is the RIGHT PEOPLE. In this regard, any service organization must pay special attention who is to be hired to face customers and deal with them. it is then that many companies have their own Call Center or Contact Center (more channels of communication like e-mail, chat, web collaboration) to provide their so called "Customer Service".

Well, for any investor abroad (USA mainly), Costa Rica has become a real good option to take into consideration to find that RIGHT PEOPLE, my friend Humberto mentions, to deal with their customers. Many companies have already chosen Costa Rica to be their Operations hub and run their Call Centers and provide their customers superb Customer Assistance. Enterprises like Sykes (, ICT Group (, HP, IBM, Fujitsu, People Support, and a number of others are already enjoying of a highly educated labor force that can give the "extra mile" to your company and to your customers.

Although given the number of companies already in operation in Costa Rica, the number of available bilingual people is getting scarce, there are private schools, public schools, technical institutions, and other entities training the new generations in speaking the English language in a natural way, thus getting away from traditional obsolete ways of learning a second language.

So, the present and the future looks good for your company if you are evaluating destinations around the globe to set up your Contact Center Operation. Not only will you find excellent agents, middle management, and executives to run your operations, but also, you can find other well established companies that can support your services with the hiring process, payroll administration, technical training and soft skills, Call Center Operations, Quality control, Operations set ups, and many other topics that will ease your process of deployment a brand new operation here.

If you believe that you can just take a plane and be there, right at the operation, Costa Rica is just 2 1/2 hours away from Miami with more than 10 daily flights and most importantly, in the same time zone your company is at. Doesn't this sound like unbelievably great? It is true. Ask the companies that are already here.

If you are interested in visiting this country, you can contact CINDE ( or contact companies like IB-Solutions ( can give you a guided tour to what this small country can offer.

Service Level and Abandoned Rate

by/ Albin Chinchilla, Business & Call Center Consultant

Can you reach your service level goals and have an acceptable abandonment rate? Amazingly, the answer is YES. Service levels measure how many of your customers will get a decent wait time before they get an agent on the phone. Abandon rate tells you how many customers hung up before reaching an agent.

Let's say your company and your operation have set a Service Level goal of 85/20. This means, you want to set your service level to answer 85% of your customers in 20 seconds or less. You make all the arrangements to have the right number of people and you reach the precious number of 87/20. Still, you see that the number of abandonments is very high. Why? Look at at average number of seconds that customers are taking to abandon. This is a very important figure since it will tell you a lot. First, it will let you know the level of tolerance your customers have. Second, this number will give you the ingredient to calculate the probable abandoned rate you may have given that average. For example, lets see this scenario. You Call Center gets in an hour the following:

Calls arrived: ...... 125
AHT: ................ 125
Service Level: ..... 85/20

For this scenario, your center will need to have at least 7 agents to reach a service level of 85/20. However, you notice that you are getting an abandonment rate of 13.7%, this is, 17 calls out of 125. Why? You now go and get a report from your ACD system and it tells you that the average abandonment time is 15 seconds. There you are! Your customers are low tolerant to wait in queue. See the following scenarios. If you had the following average abandonment rates:

  • Avg Abandonment time 1: 15 seconds. Your abandonment rate would be 13.7%

  • Avg Abandonment time 2: 25 seconds. Your abandonment rate would be 11.1%

  • Avg Abandonment time 3: 30 seconds. Your abandonment rate would be 9.9%

  • Avg Abandonment time 1: 60 seconds. Your abandonment rate would be 5.3%

    Now you know that reaching your Service Level goal not neccesarily helps you reach other goals such as the abandonment rate. In order to have a decent abandonment rate, either you ask your customers to wait longer in queue before hunging up (that's kind of difficult, isn't it) or you increase your service level goals or even further, finds ways to lower the AHT to 75 seconds.

    Isn't this exciting? If you want to learn more about this, please contact us at or enter to get more insights on this wonderful world of Call Centers.
  • Service Level and Occupancy

    by/ Albin Chinchilla, Business & Call Center Consultant

    Did you ever know that whenever the Service Level in our Call Center goes up, the occupancy of our agents' time goes down? Why is this so? First at all, the Service Level is defined as the percentage of calls our Call Center answers in x number of seconds. Some formulas include the number of calls abandoned within that threshold as well.

    One easy way to explain it is that if we always have a queue, this is, people waiting, our Service Level will probably be low, and our agents will have a high occupancy rate, but why? If we always have queue, that means our agents will always be busy. By being busy all the time, their occupancy will be high. On the other hand, the Service Level will probably be low because there will always be people waiting and there is a great possibility that a low percentage of our callers will get someone on the phone after the time we have set for the Service Level.

    Now, if the queue gets empty for different periods in a day, our agents will have some spare time waiting for calls; that will get their occupancy rate down. Now, by having empty queues, most probable, any customer calling will get an answer almost inmediately. There, the Service Level will most probable be high.

    If you need to learn more about this, please contact us at or enter to get more insights on this wonderful world of Call Centers.

    Albin Chinchilla, Help Desk Certified.