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Online Community For a Call Center? 138

Posted by timothy
from the legal-department-would-kill-the-dating-features- dept.
kirkmacdonald writes "I work as an analyst in a small call center. There are about 200 on phone agents, but half of them work from home. About a month ago I submitted a Project Charter to create an online Community for the agents. The basic premise was something approaching the combination of a wiki application and a standard forum (phpbb and the like). We already have an online knowledge base for company policies, training and system documentation. This community environment would be intended to simulate being able to talk shop with the person next to you, along with the lunchroom and water cooler. The Charter was well received but there were questions from upper management about how using this type of environment could affect the call center metrics (average handle time, after call wrap up, etc). Can anyone comment on other companies that have online communities for their staff? How did they mitigate productivity risks?"
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Online Community For a Call Center?

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  • tsk tsk (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:10PM (#25370239)

    Your mistake was to ask upper management for an official project. Instead, just ask your co-workers for their IM contact information and get to know them that way.

    • Re:tsk tsk (Score:4, Funny)

      by ushering05401 (1086795) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:42PM (#25370747) Journal
      "Your mistake was to ask upper management for an official project"

      And if you ever wake up and think - "wow, my boss finally gets the new web paradigm," you will have people like the submitter and commenters who post productive advice to thank.

      Btw, I have never dealt with the subject the poster is asking about, so I have no productive advice to give.
    • Or convince upper management to create a social networking RPG where you level up / score based on your call metrics and reviews.
    • Your mistake was to ask upper management for an official project. Instead, just ask your co-workers for their IM contact information and get to know them that way.

      Having worked in a call center for 3yrs, I can tell you that in my experience black hat projects are bad news. The management is not very creative thinkers or they would not be managing a call center (arguably). It is far safer to convince them ahead of time to do something they do not understand if you make them understand that your magic will make them look good. Otherwise, you are left explaining why you were doing something that to them looks suspicious and scary no matter how good your intentions were.

      • Having worked in a call center for 3yrs, I can tell you that in my experience black hat projects are bad news.

        What is it about that suggestion that would make it "black hat"?

        • by krenshala (178676)

          The fact that it is 'non sanctioned'.

        • by gd2shoe (747932)
          To clarify krenshala's answer, he meant to say "If it was unsanctioned", which is the distinction that Xerolooper was trying to make (sanctioned v. unsanctioned, so to speak).
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheSpoom (715771) *

      In every call center I've ever dealt with, there have been two things I've noticed.

      One is that the floor supervisors (the actual ones, not the second level people who pose as them when callers ask for them) usually care about the agents working under them, and will do what they can to improve their ability to do their jobs.

      The second is that higher management cares about their clients, and want to match whatever metrics their clients are setting for them, often to the exclusion of the needs of the agents.

      Ne

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Ghubi (1102775)
        So a good angle to pitch to upper management might be that it will help with retention.
  • the company could promise people dont use it as a place to vent their frustrations with customers.

    • by pilgrim23 (716938) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:21PM (#25370437)

      I work in Tech Support. A small company, about 800 desktops, and a 4 desk tech support center. About 10 years ago I quit smoking. What this has to do with the subject is interesting:
        Back when I was a gasper I would meet by the designated smoking place with the other poor souls. Smokers at that time represented an excellent cross section of the company from the receiving dock to the corporate office. When I showed up for my quick smoke the conversation would always roll around to the computer headache of the day. Hardware, Network, slow response from the branch office, printers that always hang on a word macro, whatever. And 3 or 4 other people would jump in "Hey we have the same problem!"
      This gave me a quick "pulse" of problems that a call log, staff meetings, or all the other tools of the bureaucratic trade never provided. I miss that input.

      • My girlfriend worked as a graphics artist at a medium sized advertising agency (that got gobbled up by Ogilvy), that did a lot of Web stuff. She smokes, and regularly met people from other departments and exchanged ideas and gossip about "what was coming next." The higher management realized that this had positive benefits. Mangers in the advertising business are not necessarily very "intelligent", but they are very "smart" or "sharp", in the "sly" sense of the words. One manager was giving a briefing

        • by macdaddy (38372)
          It's called a coffee break. Or a cake break. Minimize management's involvement so that people can and will speak freely. There is nothing wrong with corporate sponsoring some social time for employees. The company will profit in the long-term.
        • by hclewk (1248568)

          "You ain't sly are ya? 'Cause I got my boys..."

    • by eln (21727) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:27PM (#25370515) Homepage

      the company could promise people dont use it as a place to vent their frustrations with customers.

      Are you trying to imply that call center drones have anything else to talk to each other about? In my experience, pretty much every conversation in a call center revolves around frustrations with the customers. If you don't spend enough time letting off steam by bitching about the customers, you'll eventually just bottle all that frustration in until you show up to work one day with a shotgun.

      Luckily, I quit the call center business before I got to the shotgun stage. Lousiest 6 months of my life.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Call centers suck, but i believe you missed the point....while the 'drones' may not be the brightest, they do support your company/organization, if they can vent their frustrations, they become happier... you see their frustrations and make changes, they become more productive...win for the drones, win for the fat cats

        • Bah, fuck the drones -- they're cheap to replace. What this kind of forum would really be useful for is as a feedback mechanism to engineering -- in many companies the people developing the product never get to see what problems the customers actually have day-to-day with the product. Get the engineers to read what the call-center folks bitch about and you get an improved product. (Sun Microsystems had this great scheme for a while where they forced their engineers to do phone support -- this way the peopl
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Firehed (942385)

        If set up properly, this kind of forum could actually be used to reduce how pissed you have to get at customers. Depends what's being supported really, but if it's something that goes beyond the level of "reboot your router, wait two minutes, and you should be online again", having a forum where people can post up problems, solutions, and additional feedback can make finding a solution faster and easier, potentially resulting in increased customer satisfaction (lower overall turnaround for solutions, resul

      • by Aladrin (926209)

        I've seen the 'shotgun thing' myself... Well, almost.

        This guy had been working there forever when I started. He loved this dog he had. One day, he comes in and says in monotone (no emotion) "I shot my dog." We stare. He continues, "I put my gun to the back of its head and pulled the trigger. I quit." And he walks out.

        Call center stress is amazing. I felt some of it, but thankfully, never to that degree that it affected me like that. I was only in that job for 6 months, though.

        Even if all the 'commu

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Jedi Alec (258881)

        Are you trying to imply that call center drones have anything else to talk to each other about? In my experience, pretty much every conversation in a call center revolves around frustrations with the customers. If you don't spend enough time letting off steam by bitching about the customers, you'll eventually just bottle all that frustration in until you show up to work one day with a shotgun.

        Luckily, I quit the call center business before I got to the shotgun stage. Lousiest 6 months of my life.

        As someone

  • by Kintanon (65528) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:10PM (#25370247) Homepage Journal

    Are you hiring? Any language requirements? What company? What kind of call center? Come on man, hook a brotha up!

    • Are you hiring? Any language requirements? What company? What kind of call center? Come on man, hook a brotha up!

      You must speak english, live in Indonesia, and be willing to work for remanded clothing.

  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:11PM (#25370255)

    Say it can save time by having logs of how to fix stuff vs having to google the same stuff over and over.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I was going to say that they already have a knowledge base for that, but it seems they don't use it for that purpose. They really should.
      • by techno-vampire (666512) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:35PM (#25370627) Homepage
        Many issues have more than one possible fix. Speaking from years of experience in tech support, knowledge bases of fixes are of limited usefulness and are often misused because all they have are cheat-sheets on fixes. That means that unless the tech knows how to tell which fix to use (and only needs the cheat-sheet as a memory aid) they're going to pick one at random and hope for the best. Then, they'll either guess again or escalate the call and let some more senior tech try to clean up the mess.

        Granted, this can still happen (and often does) when the tech has access to other techs for suggestions, but it doesn't have to. If the company had (let's say) a private chat server and one or more chat rooms for techs only, somebody who couldn't tell which of several fixes to try first could ask questions and get back suggestions as to how to narrow the possibilities down. Management might go for this because it would be easy for them to monitor and keep the techs from using it for time wasting. (Just like you they don't have to monitor every call for it to have an effect; just knowing they might be listening in can keep you on your toes.)

        • by Fred_A (10934)

          That means that unless the tech knows how to tell which fix to use (and only needs the cheat-sheet as a memory aid) they're going to pick one at random and hope for the best. Then, they'll either guess again or escalate the call and let some more senior tech try to clean up the mess.

          Sounds like pretty much every tech support I've ever dealt with. I thought they all worked like that.

    • I did this very thing, although I didn't ask first. #1 rule is it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. anyway, here's my system:

      1) Backend is SOLR [apache.org]. It's a fulltext search engine you can configure and speak to via XML.
      2) The front end is a search page like google I wrote in PHP, but searches over other sections of the website. The sections include a wiki I threw together, documentation, training videos in a youtube like format and the corresponding powerpoints, our KBA system (which is availa
    • I'm involved in open communities where discussions are used to ask about difficulties, suggest tests and solutions, and point out oddities. Sometimes these discussions identify issues in enough detail that code and/or documentation changes are made. Without the discussion, the knowledge base doesn't get those improvements.
    • Say it can save time by having logs of how to fix stuff vs having to google the same stuff over and over.

      But then your logs will get so big that you'll have to buy a google search engine to search through all your logs.

  • by LaminatorX (410794) <sabotage@NoSpAm.praecantator.com> on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:11PM (#25370259) Homepage

    Roll it out to a test group first.

    Make sure they understand that this is a privilege, and that if important metrics are negatively impacted it will go away.

    Measure over a 60 day period. Be sure to incorporate user-feedback as well.

    • by eggoeater (704775) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:34PM (#25370613) Journal
      I'm a call center engineer.
      It will affect metrics. Without any doubt.
      To the call center managers it's all about AHT (average handling time.)
      In larger call centers (4000+ agents), shaving 1 second off of AHT will save you $100K a month.
      A lot of the products my company sells is all about analysis of call data (MIS) and the ability to better route the call to reduce AHT.

      The only way these types of projects/products get sold is to convince the managers that it will help solve the customers problem so they don't need to call back, thus saving money.

      It's INCREDIBLY difficult to get a call center manager to spend money on training agents how to better service their customers.

      But all that aside, I wish you luck.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:39PM (#25370695)

        You work for Accenture, don't you.

        I remember Accenture. They'd come in with their lattes, casual dress, and sunglasses all the way to the conference room, then sit in there and eat Thai while they talked about how many agents my company could lay off and stay within handle time target.

        I hated that vendor, because I sat by the conference room.

        • by eggoeater (704775)
          For the record, NO, I don't work for Accenture. There are many MANY consulting companies out there that do exactly what you describe. My company does some consulting (and our customers are very happy with both our service and rates) but we mostly do software sales now.

          I keep my company life and /. life separate so any rants I make here doesn't reflect on the business, but if you're really interested in learning more about the company I work for, send me an email: eggoeater__nospamplease__@yahhooo.com. (re
          • by Tokerat (150341)
            NuAsis/Intervoice?
      • by MagicM (85041)

        It's INCREDIBLY difficult to get a call center manager to spend money on training agents how to better service their customers.

        Given that, any feature that reduces employee burn-out and turnover could potentially save the call center money.

        • by eggoeater (704775)
          Most call centers have higher than normal attrition.
          Ex. My former employer is a very large bank with a huge number of agents; I worked in the same building that also housed about 1500 agents. (This was one of 15 different call centers for the bank.) The agents were paid very well considering the education/experience requirements for the job, and their working conditions were very good too; flexible hours, a couple of paid breaks during the work day, and a very relaxed dress code for a bank. Despite all
          • by mikael_j (106439)

            You say the working conditions were very good, what I'd like to ask is, were you one of these agents?

            My previous job was doing tech support at a large-ish call center and the following were some of the annoyances that seem to be shared by most call centers:

            • Two 15 minute breaks that had to be taken exactly between starting time and lunch and between lunch and quitting time, no flexibility whatsoever.
            • Despite the above point lunch break would move around during the weeks, so some days you'd come in at 7, work
            • by eggoeater (704775)
              That sucks and is not at all what my former employer was like. And no, I was never an agent but I talked to enough of them to know what it was like. Like I said, the company is a (very large) bank, so no tech support calls, just servicing accounts.
              Most people seemed pretty happy with the job and there was always room for advancement; ie. most teams only had 10 people on them so if you stayed on for a few years, it wasn't hard to get a job as a team-leader.
      • I have a question for you then.

        Why dont many (if not nearly all) have no way to auto escalate calls on people who know what they talk about? Hewlett Crapard was one of the worst about this, as you had to talk to some indian while they pile away through scripts (the power button and touch strip went out for the second time). IF you were lucky, you got to the "call center manager" and perhaps were transfered to the real call center in Canada.

        The only place that had a decent call center was Western Digital whe

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by eggoeater (704775)
          Escalating calls is never a technical challenge (I've done routing scripts hundreds of times that do just that), but simply a business decision.
          Most businesses don't encourage it because it's expensive. As you move up the knowledge chain, the cost of the call increases almost exponentially because the expertise you are bogarting isn't cheap.
          eg. for a tech-support call, it's incredibly difficult to weed out callers who actually know what they are talking about vs the typical moron who doesn't know what to
      • It's INCREDIBLY difficult to get a call center manager to spend money on training agents how to better service their customers.

        You'd have a point if the project under discussion was a training program. It isn't.

        • by eggoeater (704775)
          I get your point, but to management, anything similar to this project would fall under training.
          And just for the record, most agents (depending on the company) get ongoing training. eg. new products, new procedures, new software. blah blah.
          In fact, where I use to work, if a new piece of software was installed on the desktop that the agents had to know how to use, the software couldn't be installed until the agents had taken a class on how to use it.
      • by aug24 (38229)

        There's another important factor: retention.

        Call centres have high turnover, and newer agents have higher AHTs. So there's no reason to presume that this suggestion will increase AHT overall.

        Justin.

        • by eggoeater (704775)
          It depends on the size of the group of agents you are measuring. A small call center (200 agents) will see a spike in AHT when a new pool of agents start. Larger call centers (4K agents) won't see that spike since 20 new agents wont put much of a dent in the average.
          The larger the call center, the more emphasis there is on AHT since any change in AHT can have huge implications on operating costs.
  • Clearspace (Score:3, Insightful)

    by colganc (581174) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:13PM (#25370303)
    You should check out Clearspace (http://www.jivesoftware.com/products/clearspace [jivesoftware.com]). We looked into the product when searching for collaboration software. Ultimately we didn't pick it since it didn't fit our needs quite right, however it sounds perfect for you. Builtin forums, user profiles, wikis, and a host of other things.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Maniacal (12626)
      We use Clearspace and love it. We also use the jabber server (Openfire) from Jive and love that as well. The combination of the two makes a great collaboration platform. Couple of things though:
      • Clearspace isn't free so I'll probably get modded down for suggesting it but I like it so bleh. You can use it with up to 5 users for free. They also will give you a trial license so you can testing it with a group of individuals and see if you like it.
      • Openfire is free. They have a pay version but the free ve
      • We're looking into starting a 6 month trial of Clearspace in the next couple of weeks. I would be really keen to talk to someone who has used it in the wild.

        Could you drop me a line if you are interested?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:14PM (#25370313)

    In the end it is the responsibility of the agent to stay within metrics. I would recommend sticking with the knowledge base you have already, but wikify it. I lobbied for a wiki at the last call center I managed, got it, and our agents' productivity skyrocketed. You don't need to go much further than that.

    If one of your techs finds a way to make X do Y faster, let her put it on the X article. She doesn't need to post it in a social forum full of "lol" and "did you see the new guy's shoes". Wikis are great for call centers, but social environments would definitely tempt agents, since they would be "company-sanctioned".

  • Anyone who would waste time on the offical company forum is already wasteing time.....on sites like slashdot.
    • by eln (21727)

      Anyone who would waste time on the offical company forum is already wasteing time.....on sites like slashdot.

      True, but if you submit an Ask Slashdot that's work related, you can claim your Slashdot subscription as a business expense!

  • I worked in customer service as in-game support for an MMO. We had a massive wiki which aided us greatly in helping with player problems. Step by step instructions for solving common problems etc, explanations of how each quest worked and so on. Granted this was all a text interface, allowing multiple 'calls' to be taken at once, with a liberal use of macros. I can't comment on how effective it would be in a one on one voice based call, but it did provide a quick and easy way to find information on nearly
  • Talk shop with the person next to you? At a call center?

    Operator A: Hey man, how do you pass the time here?
    Operator B: Here, smoke this...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RabidMoose (746680)
      I've actually seen that used as a way to get fired on purpose at my call center.
      IIRC, it was a Monday, their rent was due Friday, and it wasn't a pay week. Under the state's law, fired employees must recieve their last paycheck within 3 days of being fired.
  • alan.c.davis@att.net (Score:5, Informative)

    by alancdavis (677086) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:18PM (#25370399)
    Long ago and far away I worked for DEC in the UNIX support team. We were spread out all over the world and had the normal complement of call history, system documentation and troubleshooting databases.
    When we started using IRC to share real-time information about callers problems our time-to-close went down significantly and closes-per-day went way up.
    The improvement was significant enough to get the attention of other departments and the IRC usage - along with several bots for integrating the call handling and mail response systems into the IRC channels - became wide-spread in the support group.
    This system survived the DEC/Compaq merger and on into the HP buyout.
    If I were to do the same thing again I'd use a jabber server rather than IRC but the principle is the same.
    • Interesting, figure this, if you just need to ask someone who has had the same problem how to fix it, else you read the accompanying doc on how to troubleshoot, it will always be faster to get an answer right now. If you have to read, not every one reads at the same pace, as well, if I were to say this, I am sure I would probably be mostly wrong, but we all listen at the same speed, although
      not necessarily understand what we are hearing....so multiply this by how many problems in a day....
      yes I agree that t

  • I used to do helpdesk with a 1+ mile communte both ways, in unfomfortable cubes with obsolete equipment.
    I'd have been much happier to do my job at home, with my nicer display - infact, I have 2 displays (as per the poll ;) so I could have the DB frontend on one display, and technical forums/the company WIKI on the other.

    The machines we had at the psysical work locatin were P2 300's running NT4, on 14" displays - you could barely google for a fix before the customer had hung up in frustration. (it was a prem

    • by MikeS2k (589190)

      Well, it seems I mis-read (ok ok, I didn't read) the summary.
      Just use a Wiki and a chat program designed so all users at the business can talk at once - something like an IRC channel, with the managers being ops, and "senior employees" being +voices.

      We had a Wiki at our old place and it worked very well - especially for obscure issues that sometimes came up.
      I still quit, well, because helpdesk is and will always be shit.

  • if your employes aren't talking then you've got one hell of a productivity risk just in that.

    Though most call centres I call are dumb and can't answer questions anyway so I doubt your productivity will be much lower than theirs.

    • by mikael_j (106439) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @02:15PM (#25371977)

      You do realize that one reason most techs at call centers come off as dumb is because they're not allowed to solve problems that they know how to solve, or they don't have the tools to solve the problems ("You might break something, now go play with something else like a good little boy") and because they're constantly pushed to handle more calls, right?

      Guess what will get a tech employed by a call center fired, is it A) Not properly helping a user, or B) Repeatedly exceeding the AHT. The answer is, of course, exceeding the AHT repeatedly, they don't care if you get pissed about poor service, they're so desensitized to your anger that all your yelling will accomplish is to trigger an urge within them to fuck you over by doing everything by the book (because it will take you ages to get proper help and no one will give them shit for treating you that way).

      Basically, what you called a productivity risk is exactly what is the problem with call center productivity. It's all about easily quantifiable data, and "calls handled per day" is a lot easier to quantify than "customer satisfaction". Besides, who cares if your employees are bitter and turnover for 1st line techs is over 100% per year? That just means you don't have to give out so many raises (yes, the head HR guy for a previous employer of mine actually said that).

      /Mikael

      • Bah, the problem is, some people don't care. I worked in a call center while a college student. I outsmarted, outsold and was well above every performance metric for sometime in different companies. The problem wasn't motivation on my part. It was compensation. I still wanted the great reference. But had I been a FT employee and not had great prospects to stay and move upwards, I would definately have stayed 10% ahead of some of the others.

        And I did work in Tech Support. I had among the highest resolution r

  • You've got executive issues.

    using this type of environment could affect the call center metrics average handle time, after call wrap up, etc)

    There is no answer you can give that *improves* the metrics they cite. That's a polite way of rejecting your idea. You are entirely missing the point of a Call center. To answer calls. That does not mean offer help, because that takes too much time. The productivity metric is calls per hour, not satisfied customers/knowledgeable Reps per hour.

    If you want to advan

  • If you want your employees to waste time in online communities, you could could just remove the myspace and facebook blocks at the proxy server...
  • Central Chat (Score:2, Interesting)

    by langedb (518453)
    Over here, instead of a web-board or something like that, management setup a chatroom on our IM server. They then encouraged everybody from front-line tech support up though the developers, sysadmins, engineers, and their managers to join. Attendance is encouraged but not mandatory, and it's been emphasized heavily that people are free to speak their minds about any subject including bashing management without reprisal -- just don't get into a flame-war. What resulted was the room became a mechanism to i
  • Its an exageration to look at an online community as a risk to productivity of the call-center.

    One can understand your concern AND one can understand the management's concern (which is to not loose their job or tell you before hand that if anything goes wrong it will be your fault, or thats what they are trying to say right here, eluding their own responsability to provide tools to make people more productive because they are afraid that using them might or might not reduce productivity: i mean, did they l

  • A simple way to ensure metrics are not negatively impacted is to integrate them into the system. Have a built in timer that tracks how much time they spend on it. If someone is spending an undue amount of time, automatically alert their manager to look into it.

    Of course the hope is that this will actually lower call times. So in that instance, I would propose a test run with a sample group and see how it impacts their metrics over a period of time and compare to the control group.

    The key thing to com

  • Easy. If the SLAs start to suffer, just increase the frequency of beatings applied to the cattle.

    If THAT doesn't work, move to phase two, tazers.
  • OK, well if you belive some of the process methodologies out there, the trick is to present to your managers what the 'saving' is by doing your thing.

    You do this by looking at what's _actually_ happening as part of the handling process - how does an out of band call get handled normally? What is the overhead for playing 'hunt the doc' vs. being able to pipe up in an IRC channel 'erm. What's ... and who should deal with it'?

    Productivity is massively increased by wiki-style adaptive documentation, and by

  • We are not a call center, but we are a "distributed" software engineering company, with offices in different cities.

    We use a combination of Campfire (37 Signals) for group chat, and an IM application such as iChat, Adium, Trillian, or Gaim for private one-to-one chatter. (Many IM programs will interoperate these days, but it is usually best if you can get most people on the same software. For example, iChat with the Chax plugin will talk to people with Jabber, AIM, or ICQ IM accounts, but not MSN.)

    Thi
  • Second life? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nizo (81281) * on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:38PM (#25370665) Homepage Journal

    As an added bonus, you get to learn which of your co-workers is a furry.

  • I found that we all had great input into fixing common problems that we ran into, which never made it into the documentation that was supplied by the company. (I worked for a contract company that handled support for a large computer manufacturer) We would go to each other for input. Folks from other call centers did not have access to us or we to them, and it would have made a better pool of knowledge, and made resolution time quicker. I think this is a good idea you have. Good luck with it!
  • by michaelasi (1385445) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @12:44PM (#25370765)
    I managed a small technical support contact centre of 80 full-time and part-time agents. About half of the agents also worked from home, like your situation. When we we trialed the ability of agents to work from home we identified the need to keep the agents connected. We used MSN Messenger for a while but soon recognized that this wouldn't work long term. We implemented and IRC chat server and found this fit our needs. When we were implementing this, I admit that I had the same questions as your management staff had. The results were surprising and very positive from a management point of view: 1. Our average handle time went down 15 seconds 2. Our productivity (calls handled, time on phone) went up 10% 3. We were able to keep key employees even when they moved out of our employement area 4. Improved the first call resolution rate by 5% I also believe this was a factor in our ability to have a low employee turn over of 8% in the contact centre. Later we were able to leverage the technology to improve communication between the contact centre and other groups in the company. Announcements regarding current operations situations could be quickly conveyed to the entire team reducing the trouble shooting time during an system outage and improving communication so efforts were not duplicated. Hope this helps and good luck.
    • I once looked into providing support as additional income from home while I attempted to get my own hosting company off the ground. The only reason I did not go for it, even given the low pay, was the few companies I contacted required a separate telephone line. That was a deal breaker for me.

      My question to you, is given the capabilities to setup VPNs via high speed access, why do such companies still require a separate hardwired telephone line before they will work with you?

      I understand the need for

  • I'd expect that after a short period of time getting the system running, you'd see an improvement in the metrics. Help-desk support productivity is strongly enhanced by rapid access to answers - either in a knowledge base or via an interactive chat. Hopefully your management isn't overly guided by day-to-day metrics and can occasionally think more strategically.

    Not everyone knows all the questions to all the answers, but over any decent-sized operation SOMEBODY will. The idea is to leverage that "institu

  • I worked in a call center for over 3 years. I started on the phones (1.5 years), moved to Quality Assurance (1 year) and then moved to the IT team as a developer (1 year). I hope I can provide some insight.

    The call center that I worked at had something similar to what you are asking for. We had a central portal with integrated messaging, suggestions, forums etc. Each of the representatives logged into this portal when they started their shift. The portal application was designed so that any incoming c
  • by kungfool (949878) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @01:04PM (#25371047)
    Having spent eight years designing call center applications, I can tell you the one metric you'll want to point your bosses at is the potential to increase first level call resolution. You should balance any increase in call handling time with the potential for greatly reduced call escalation. The key to this is involving the second and third level escalation points in your wiki.
  • Back in the day... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by skuzzlebutt (177224) <jdbNO@SPAMjeremydbrooks.com> on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @01:13PM (#25371149) Homepage

    When I worked at the Egghead call center in Washington back in, I think, 1996-ish, we tried this out. It was a rough place to work at the time. The employees were miserable, management was ineffective and, at the executive level, absntee. Sales hated marketing, marketing hated tech, and everyone hated the executive team.

    We used an o-o-old version of Notes (on our 16-20Mhz Macs with 1MB RAM and a RAM doubler, 2MB if you were buddies with the tech team)...our "database integrity" guys, who researched products and played games all day, came up with the idea of posting a "product of the day" blog. It worked great, and there was good discussion; management let it blossom. Then someone in the call center started posting general questions, insight, complaints, etc, and that became more popular than the product blogs. It became a carthartic thing; people would hate on the company and customers on the company-wide Notes databases. Management, of course, shut it down, which drove morale even lower. Soon, someone set up a rogue database, and the whole thing continued, albeit without managment knowing, and REALLY started ripping on the company. Four months later, which the whole company was shut down and sold to Surplus Direct (which was later bought by Amazon), and nobody was all that surprised.

    So, I guess the point is: it can work, but figure out in advance what you want from it, and decide before implementation how far you'll let your users take it, or you run the risk of it blowing up in your face. You'll lose some productivity, but that's going to happen anyway, either at the water cooler or on Slashdot.

  • This community environment would be intended to simulate being able to talk shop with the person next to you, along with the lunchroom and water cooler.

    A bar in Second Life(tm)(c)? Finally a "real" use for second life?

  • The thing is that you can immediately use the forum to find an answer by posting to lots of people at once. If you can toss it up where 30 eyes can look at it, you may get a lot better response than just looking for keywords in the db...

    But I think they're right, it's going to devolve into a bit of a productivity block...

  • Best Buy Blueshirts (Score:2, Informative)

    by kamikyo (1385455)

    Whatever you think of Best Buy, they have a successful internal community in Blueshirtnation.com [slashdot.org]. A google search [google.com] turns up quite a lot of industry praise on those guys. It was even written up the Groundswell book by Forrester.

    If you want your bosses to buy, make sure you give them plenty of examples of other companies being successful at it.

    For me, the biggest business benefit to the call center is knowledge sharing, but you have to be careful because communities need a critical mass in members to be succ

  • ... on what management values.

    In a past career at a large company, we had an extensive Usenet system running within the corporate intranet. It was handy for exchanging best practices among engineers and other employees, finding hidden experts on esoteric topics that then could be consulted within the 'standard' company channels. It was also a great replacement for the 'office water cooler' that extended throughout a company with facilities across the company. Smart managers would lurk on the general newsgr

  • Anyone that is working at home, and is a productivity risk, is wasting time elsewhere anyways.

    If you loose anything in AHT, it should provide enough of a balance to cost ratio to enhance training. If there is a training budget (big if), that is where it should be allocated.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I recommend setting up a Team Room to house all kinds of different information (schedules, colleague home phone numbers, pager information, etc). You can also house important documents in this style of environment that can be updated in real-time (word documents, excel spreadsheets, etc). It's also a great place to draw the line in separation of storing sensitive client information (recommended for the knowledge base), and storing the information required for YOUR company (store this information in the tea

  • "Charter was well received but there were questions from upper management about how using this type of environment could affect the call center metrics (average handle time, after call wrap up, etc)."

    I recently read (well listened to the audio book) The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. Very interesting. It pointed out that for the longest time American factories were using the wrong metrics to measure productivity. The were confused by the fact that their measurements were telling them that their efficiency

  • Back in the day when I was running a call center I would schedule my people for PIE (phone in ear) time for 80% of their day, max. The other 20% was spent training, updating, researching, whatever. But they had 20% of their day when they didn't have to answer the phones.

    From what I hear now that's one of those distant memories. Maybe that's why I didn't have a very high turnover and most of that was promotions within the company.

    If the company can't see the value in a collaborative environment then there

    • by lamapper (1343009)

      ...From what I hear now that's one of those distant memories. Maybe that's why I didn't have a very high turnover and most of that was promotions within the company. ...

      Sounds to me you were a good manager that put their people first.

      Early in my career I managed the labs (we had labs all over campus in different departments, with two of the labs being 24 / 7) for students, faculty and staff in a University environment while I was considering going for a Masters...wish I had now. Might still one day.

      I let my student lab assistants do pretty much whatever they wanted as long as they put it down and helped the users when required. They always did. Most did homework, c

  • having better relationships within the company is one way that people can find fulfillment from their jobs. This could increase retention, decrease sick time, and in turn decrease the amount of new person training required for the company. This will also likely act as a mentoring program for less trained employees so that they will receive additional skills. The end result, happier more productive workers... at VERY LITTLE COST!
  • by mrboyd (1211932) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @02:57PM (#25372677)
    Call center is productivity oriented, probably more so than any other activities, and most call center manager can't see further away than AHT (average handling time) and conversion rate/h. It is akin to chain factory work. You have agent working from home, so I assume that they are using either their own pc for the CTI application or a company provided thin client (citrix maybe?).
    In any case, they are home, and unless you have installed tracking software and forces them to leave their webcam turned on how do you know what they are doing? Reading a book, watching tv, breast feeding the little one, etc. I guess you don't and rely on your production report to award incentive to your agents and that so far it worked. Your company has already relinquished a lot of control to shave on the expense of renting and furnishing a hangar in suburbia so another forum is not going to change much on your production ratio issue.

    Point 1: Some of them are probably already browsing other website and chatting with their friends online giving them an opportunity to do it in an environment controlled by the company can only be a benefit. They'll spend more time focused on their work and the company.

    Point 2: Use other metrics to convince upper mgt, what is your current agent turnover? Can you reduce it by fostering a sense of community into your work-alone-at-home-for-a-soulless-company employees? By how much? What is the cost of training a new one?

    Point 3: Are you an inbound CC (where quality matters) or are you selling predatory housing loans and credit card (where volume matters)? Can a "community" effect produce an across the board effect of raising the quality of your services without cost. I.E do you expect your agent to learn trick of the trade from one another which will increase either their quality of services or their conversion rate?

    Point 4: Most agents don't like their job so expect a lot of ranting on your forum. Don't forget to clarify the posting policy with management and your agents or you'll be in trouble when one of them gets fired for complaining too loudly on the forum and sinks everyone else moral, shoot the turnover sky high and the productivity way low.

    I have never heard of a company monitoring the coffee room with camera and mics to hear the dirty jokes made on management so I really believe you should lobby for some partial anonymity. I let you figure out how to implement the "partial" part. And yes you should check with the lawyers... :)
  • Rather than focus on AHT, focus on the fact that the wiki and the agent cooperation will improve the agent's ability to solve the calls they get. This improves First Call Resolution, which is a better KPI than AHT. Improving FCR from 70% to 85% will drop your overall call volumes by about 10%, with no noticeable increase in AHT.
  • The employees will invariably end up using whatever they want to use to communicate. It's just a matter of whether its sanctioned or not. Might as well sanction it because you can the set the policy on use and tie it to the employees evaluation. As for effect on call times when I've used resources like this before while answering the phone it made it much easier for me to find resources and help the customer at hand. A well setup wiki could easily be used to do any number of linear troubleshooting operatio
  • by anomalous cohort (704239) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @04:40PM (#25374155) Homepage Journal

    I am interpreting the O.P.'s information request as a request for endorsements for a product suitable for building an online community for a call center and not a request for an already active online community for a call center. I am also assuming that the call center is for an ISV. Here are a few recommendations that are my favorites.

    • My favorite open source product for this sort of thing is GForge [gforge.org]. It's got lots of call center friendly features and is also a hit with the coders.
    • The full featured yet non-open source version of GForge is SFEE [collab.net].
    • Please don't mod me down, post nasty replies, or take away my karma points but may I feebly and humbly suggest my own product Code Roller [code-roller.com]? It's not open source yet but it is free (as in beer). Code Roller is not currently a perfect fit for call centers but has lots of great features that are conducive to managing the full life cycle for software development.
  • A company called LiveOps, inc. has done this on a large scale with a project called Workspace (http://workspace.liveops.com), which is a ning implementation.

    It's targeted at work-from-home agents (agents who work in a distributed call center), but the same idea could be applied to your traditional "brick and mortar" call center.
  • What management told you was verry short sighted. Not realy unusual for those who want fast money and then jump out of the company. You should have asked them if the organisation rather leans on the technoloogy achievments of indivuduals. Or if they would rather see that the communication would be improved and so the combined know how. By something as a simple lowcost communication method. Well maybe you go all to second life, learn a bit about eachother, and get to know each better. Especialy higher manag

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