National Association of Call Centers

Charles Dickens Revisited: Finding the Heart of the Industry

I just submitted my November column to Contact Center Pipeline magazine. The topic of the column was putting veterans to work in the contact center industry. This is the third time I’ve written about this particular matter, the first time being in the March 2011 issue and the next in the July 2012 issue of the magazine. I’ve also taken the fight to the field, so to speak, in my attempts to get the contact center industry to rally around this problem and find a solution.

 

The result has been deafening silence. Companies with huge profits and expansive resources have shown no interest that I can detect in getting involved with giving back. The singular focus is usually on a relentless pursuit of ever greater profits.

 

Since this narrative is beginning to sound a lot like a classic Charles Dickens novel it is time to introduce the ray of hope – a light of good in the otherwise dreary story of greed. A few weeks ago I was introduced to a small contact center cloud company in the San Francisco Bay Area called BrightPattern. They are taking on the problem of unemployed veterans and are taking on challenges that companies a hundred times their size don’t have the (guts? nerve? fill in the word of your choice here) to take on.   I was introduced to BrightPattern by my longtime friend John Reynolds, a Vietnam veteran and founder of the not-for-profit Veterans2Work (www.veterans2work.com). What BrightPattern lacks in company size, they make up for in the size of their heart.

 

Yesterday I saw another hint of industry heart in a news release from Interactive Intelligence soliciting grant applications for the Interactive Intelligence Foundation, a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to use available resources and funding to improve the lives of at risk youth around the world with a primary emphasis in their hometown of Indianapolis. The Interactive Intelligence Foundation was born when executives at the company saw a need in the community and took the unusual step of doing something about it. The Foundation idea was proposed to Interactive Intelligence’s CEO, Dr. Don Brown, in 2010 and an industry charity was born.

 

Today the Interactive Intelligence Foundation supports a diverse group of charities with missions that range from the care of abused and neglected children to a group that is fighting hunger in central Indiana. The Foundation raises money through a variety of activities, including an annual gala that raised funds exceeding $53,000 for the Foundation this year. Interactive Intelligence employees volunteer their time to run the foundation and Interactive Intelligence picks up the tab for the Foundation’s overhead and administration. Aside from the direct costs of the gala, every penny raised for the Foundation goes to the charities it supports.

 

Last time I checked Interactive Intelligence seems to be doing pretty well. I imagine stockholders probably don’t complain about the money the company spends on the Foundation instead of putting into dividends, and giving back to the community doesn’t seem to have had a detrimental effect on Interactive Intelligence’s industry standing or performance.

 

Differentiating factors are everything in today’s competitive contact center industry. While most companies look toward product differentiation, the companies mentioned in this blog differentiate themselves in a way that will live on long past the heyday of whatever technology solutions they offer. These companies distinguish themselves in a way that isn’t measured in quarterly profits and year-over-year financial performance. These are companies with heart and in the long run, that’s what will really matter.

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No Health Care for Obamacare Contact Center Agents

During a recent phone conversation with Kevin Hegebarth, who is the VP of marketing at HireIQ, Inc., he brought to my attention a contact center story that would be hard to believe if it wasn’t so well documented and there wasn’t a government agency behind it. The story involves the recent establishment of a contact center in Contra Costa County, California. It is one of three contact centers to be established in the state of California for the purpose of fielding Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, calls beginning October 1st.

 

In July the county advertised the availability of 152 new, full-time Obamacare contact center agent jobs. They received 7,457 applications. 1,947 of the applicants passed the civil service exam and moved on to the next phase. 600 applicants went through the interview process before the final 152 agents were hired. Some of the successful applicants were people emerging from a long period of unemployment, some were people coming from small home-based businesses that they started to try to weather the recession and many were people who left other full-time positions in the hope of finding greater stability in a county government contact center job.

 

Once hired, many employees were surprised to discover that the full-time jobs they applied for and were hired to fill were actually part-time jobs. On top of that they were informed that as part-time employees they would not be eligible to receive health benefits in their new Obamacare support jobs. These new part-timers were given the opportunity to contribute to their health care benefits as a part-time employee at a cost of $600 per month. The cost for an individual to enroll in Obamacare through a health insurance exchange is $243 per month. After doing the math all but 42 part-timers left.

 

Anna Bakalis, a spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union Local 1021 said the situation at the new call center follows a government employment trend of “part-timeization,” where formerly full-time jobs are now part-time so agencies don’t have to offer health benefits. Does anyone else see the irony here?

 

As it stands now the contact center is trying to come up with a 50-50 split of full-time and part-time positions. In the meantime they are dealing with the fallout that has come from hiring people with no health care benefits whose job it will be to help people get health care benefits.

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Aspect’s Mobility for the Contact Center Workforce

On June 27, 2013 Aspect Software announced the availability of Aspect Workforce Mobile. This new software solution provides contact center agents mobile access to Aspect’s workforce management solution. This makes it possible for agents to view and request changes to their own schedule using their smartphone or tablet computer. Agents can also view their own performance metrics and productivity statistics on their mobile device from any location. For those agents who are motivated to get ahead and/or are working toward a career in customer care, this capability will prove to be an invaluable asset.

 

For supervisors, Aspect Workforce Mobile offers the ability to look at workforce schedules and make or approve changes as necessary from their mobile device. Supervisors with a mobile device can also view intraday statistics, forecasts, performance metrics and nearly every statistic provided by Aspect’s workforce management software.

 

What I found so extraordinary about this announcement is how stunningly practical this Aspect solution is. With the proliferation of mobile devices in the U.S. today, which currently stands at approximately 1.1 mobile communications devices for every man, woman and child in the U.S. and all of its territories, it only makes sense to extend the usage of these communications tools to those in the customer service profession. The next generation of workers has been raised with a mobile phone in hand and it is typically this generation’s resource of choice for nearly all information. Contact center executives should welcome the ability to access work information on a personal mobile device with open arms.

 

I was particularly interested in the proactive broadcast capabilities of Aspect Workforce Mobile. Any piece of information that can impact the workforce schedule in any way can be quickly automated and broadcast to a mobile device. For example, if a contact center finds itself with overtime hours available this opportunity can be promptly broadcast to its agent population. Agents can log on to the workforce management system with their mobile device and quickly check their schedule against the available overtime hours. Again using a mobile device from any location, agents can apply for the overtime hours as appropriate.

 

Credit for Aspect Workforce Mobile belongs to an Aspect customer and Aspect’s Innovation Group, which developed the solution at the request of this specific customer. The customer has been using Aspect Workforce Mobile with its nearly 3,000 agents and estimates it will save about $500,000 per year. I’d call that an acceptable return on investment (ROI).

 

As previously mentioned, this is a practical solution that I expect to find immediate and widespread acceptance in the worldwide contact center industry. Beyond that, I’m happy to see that there are still contact center solutions providers that are creating solutions that directly address and impact the actual, existing productivity challenges faced by contact centers today.   With so many vendors that seem to have their head in the cloud, so to speak, it is reassuring to see that Aspect still has its feet firmly planted on the ground.

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