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Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022
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Game Change

After nearly 10 years selling software that automated telemarketing calls, brothers Bobby and Nima Hakimi decided to change their game. The pair overhauled their Woodland Hills company starting a year ago. They rewrote their software product to work for customer service agents taking inbound calls, changed the company name to Convoso from SafeSoft Solutions to reflect a new focus on conversations and shifted away from servicing just telemarketers who made outbound calls. Finally, they added an important element to their new training and performance tracking software: gamification. As the Hakimi brothers describe it, gamification incorporates game-like elements –contests, challenges, points, badges and a bit of gambling for recognition and rewards – into the work routine. For example, one employee could challenge her workmates one week to see who could take the most calls or resolve the most issues or have the highest customer feedback ratings. The winner could get a day off, cash or a gift card – depending on what the company offers. The concept has lived in the sales arena for years, and enables salespeople to regularly compete on metrics such as the number of deals they close and dollar figures earned to win items, money or trips. Even digital applications, such as fitness trackers, use gamification so users can compete against other users and boost their performance. Convoso Chief Technology Officer Bobby Hakimi, 34, said the idea to gamify the software came about after he and his brother Nima Hakimi, 31, chief executive, visited several of their customers’ contact centers and learned about their top issues. “The biggest challenge we noticed is that there’s a very high turnover rate,” Nima Hakimi said. “It’s a tough job. People don’t want to talk to you. So the people taking the calls, they quit or get fired. “We found, sometimes, expectations or goals were not set properly for agents and training wasn’t always consistent. Sometimes the agents had only one day of training and then the centers would throw them on the phone.” Game mentality Data shows contact centers suffer from very high turnover rates, according to a Deloitte Consulting 2013 survey. The study found the greater the number of agents, the higher the percentage of turnover. Of centers with fewer than 100 agents, about 3 percent have 50 percent turnover, but among those with 500 agents or more, 31 percent of them reported a 50 percent turnover. Rini Das, chief executive of Columbus, Ohio-based Pakra Games, a software company that uses gamification in its learning modules to train employees and assess their skills at contact centers and other businesses, said historically contact centers have had a 30 percent to 40 percent turnover rate because the work is so transactional. Each time an employee is replaced, it costs the company $7,000 to $10,000, she said, which is “enormously high.” “In the contact center world, getting people up to speed and reaching their goals is a huge challenge, and there’s a high turnover rate,” Das said. “Companies are always looking for ways to shorten their (training) cycles.” Her company has received positive feedback from customers. She said 92 percent of them say gamified learning has worked best for their agents because of its hands-on elements. At the November Work at Home Conference in Laguna Beach for remote working, put on by Customer Contact Strategies, a Dallas, Texas company that helps contact centers and other businesses establish remote working programs, gamification and virtual learning are two key topics. Customer Contact Strategies owner Michele Rowan said that recognition and reward have been priorities for the contact center industry for about 20 years. “Gamification is like recognition and reward on steroids,” Rowan said. “It enables and automates everything that well-run contact center organizations want today in terms of rewards, and adds the extra features of peer recognition and digitalized games that make contact center work more fun than it ever has been before.” It’s been gaining traction over the past two years, she added, as newer technology makes it more feasible. Gamification also cuts back on the time and effort it takes for contact center administrators to recognize top performers, and helps them run contests and promotions, Rowan added. In an article she wrote on the National Association of Call Centers’ website, Rowan called gamification “a game changer.” Turnaround The timing of Convoso’s turnaround stemmed from increasing competition. “Everybody in this industry, more or less, already has the same tools and everybody looks at what each other has and they try to compete,” Bobby Hakimi said. “There’s only so much you can compete with when it comes to using technology, so we tried to think of what other ways we can help corporations improve, and one of their major expenditures are employees.” Gamification grabbed the attention of the contact center industry over the past year, said Convoso Marketing Director Juliah Ma, who was hired in May to lead the company through the rebranding. That process included the name change, which the company announced in June to the industry. “Standard tools only get you so far for agents,” Ma said. “Gamify it, and you add that extra necessary component to all other applications that make them valuable, and your contact center will continue to experience growth.” The first part of the Convoso software program is a virtual training course, which includes gamification. “As they do that, they get recognized for passing tests,” Nima Hakimi said. “They get a badge. Administrators can give them certain titles, like being X Contact Center Certified. It makes them feel good.” The productivity tracking component includes performance metrics, a basic element of the contact center industry. In the program, administrators set the goals they want agents to achieve, and how often they want to achieve them – daily, weekly, monthly, etc. The software tracks these metrics in real time, so both an agent and the administrator know at all times where the agent stands in terms of performance. That includes a virtual leaderboard, a long-time tool borrowed from the sales industry that ranks all agents’ performance and sets the stage for competition. With many key indicators embedded in the software, administrators don’t have to keep track of how agents are doing manually, Bobby Hakimi said, and they can rank and reward agents for many more metrics. “Before, administrators would use very basic things – how many sales, and how many calls have you made? That only promotes the agents to do better at sales and call numbers,” he said. “But what about how fast have you finished a call, or how many tests have you taken, how much education have you done? We give points for that.” The two components also enable and encourage employees to self-manage their performance and continued training, Nima Hakimi said. Sales impact Convoso began debuting its gamification software, Omni Contact Center, this year at call center expos and trade shows around the country. At Call Center Week in Las Vegas in June, the industry’s top show, the company’s booth was a big hit, the Hakimi brothers said. Before introducing gamification, Convoso’s typical customer was a contact center with between five and 20 agents. Since July, it has gained several new centers with 20 to 250 agents. Industries include health care companies, insurers, solar installers, home improvement businesses and organizations that do fundraising and market research. “A lot of the bigger deals we’ve gotten – they told us they want this because of gamification,” Bobby Hakimi said. Those larger customers are much more lucrative for Convoso. It licenses Omni Contact Center for $100 per agent per month to start. The company also charges 1.9 cents a minute for phone calls. Contact centers sign a year-long contract but don’t have to pay upfront and so can write it off as an operating expense, which is cheaper for small businesses, Nima Hakimi said. Customers are already seeing the impact from the gamification features, and report a roughly 19 percent reduction in the average time agents are taking to handle calls, Nima Hakimi said. “These results show an ability to handle more calls in a given day,” he said. With the new interest, Convoso is now in hiring mode. The brothers say they plan to add 10 to 15 people to their 33 overall employees, most of which are local. About eight are at a Philippines location. Annual sales are at less than $10 million, and the venture is entirely self-funded. Convoso is not seeking outside investors – at least not yet. “Depending on how much traction we get, we’ll see if we have the need for it,” Nima Hakimi said.

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