Most of the time I am sometimes reliable
January 25, 2016 5:06 AM   Subscribe

I work in a call centre and sometimes have to schedule call backs. I'd say that 90% of the time I manage to call customers back when I say I will, but the other 10% of the time I call too late or early or forget completely until I have left the office. How can I work out a system that will make me more reliable? Details inside

Things that have helped:
- I defer tasks until the date that I have to work on them wherever possible, so that I can focus on what I need to do that day and not be distracted by other things

- I don't schedule calls for exact times, because my breaks and tasking time change daily and calls run for various lengths of time

Things that have failed:
- Reminders in Outlook. I always have the call taking software, my email, two different kinds of messaging software, and at least one web browser open, so I rarely even get to read Outlook reminders when they pop up. Unfortunately I can't pare that down at all.

- Lists and post-it notes. These can both be useful if I happen to look at them at the right time, but that doesn't always happen. In a typical day I have worked on so many different tasks and taken so many different calls that it's really hard to not be a bit scatterbrained.

Today I went from working on a task and writing on a piece of paper to update the customer to completely forgetting to call. It's a public holiday tomorrow and there's no way for me to do anything about it until Wednesday, so I'm super annoyed with myself for 1. letting a customer down 2. putting myself in a situation where I am now worrying about this. and 3. being stressed out about doing this again, since I haven't been able to work out a fool-proof system. Do I just have to tell customers that I'm a regular old human being and, therefore, imperfect? Ha.
posted by kinddieserzeit to Work & Money (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Reminders with alarms on your phone?
posted by DarlingBri at 5:10 AM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you regularly look at email there are a number of email reminder services (with nominal subscription fees) like nudgeme and followupthen that will send you an email at certain times of your choosing.
posted by Karaage at 5:18 AM on January 25, 2016

If you're telling customers that you will call them back at a particular time, you have to put that time on your calendar and schedule it like a meeting. I get that you are very busy, but if you tell a client a specific time to expect a call from you, meeting that expectation has to take priority over virtually anything else you might have to do in the day.

If you're telling customers that you will call them back sometime on a particular day, set a time in your day that is the "call back time" every day. In other words, for example, every day at 4 PM you stop whatever else you're doing and make any callbacks you need to.
posted by telegraph at 5:29 AM on January 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I get that you are very busy, but if you tell a client a specific time to expect a call from you, meeting that expectation has to take priority over virtually anything else you might have to do in the day.

Yes, I know it's important, which is why I am asking for tips for how to make this happen every time. The issue with setting one time every day is my schedule changes each day - 4 pm might be tasking time one day, break time another day, middle of a call the next day. And not every customer will be able to take a call at 4 pm. Which is why I have to give general timeframes for call backs, which is why I need some kind of reminder system. I made two of the three call backs that I had scheduled today and need a reliable system that will help me avoid missing that third one in future because I am distracted by a customer with an ongoing issue that I want to solve

Outlook notifications are not working because they end up sitting behind everything else and I don't see them until later. When I am on a call with a customer and have to check billing info and technical details and send a message to my manager and answer a message from somebody else, notifications like that are far too subtle.

I spend something like 93% of my day on the phone with customers in calls of various lengths, it's not as simple as "stopping what I am doing" to do a call back at a single time every day.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 5:43 AM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If I'm reading right, the issue is that kinddieserzeit is making appointments in the calendar but is not seeing/registering the pop-ups. I could have written this question. I set Outlook reminders and it pops up and I snooze it because I'm in the middle of something but when I'm done with that thing there's no pop up right there right then and it's not in my mind. When 10 icons on your screen are flashing, a flashing icon on your screen doesn't capture your attention.

The random Outlook invites don't work for you, but what about a regular alarm? Not an alert, but something you need to turn off. Say it's an 8-hour workday: make 16 post-it notes with times written at the top (8am, 8:30am, etc.) and The Things You Need to Do at those times. Make this from a running list of call back times you keep (or will start keeping! Set half-hour alarms on your phone set to vibrate, and place it by the line-up of notes. Place the 8:30 note on the alarm. 8:30am comes and you grab that post-it and replace it with the 9am. Then, either Stop, Drop, and Do The 8:30 Thing or if you need to complete a task place the note over something keeping you from getting off track (for me it would be my headset button on my phone, or the Outlook icon on one of my monitors). If the 9am alarm pings and you haven't done the 8:30am thing, honestly, LEAVE IT and go on to 9am. Don't spend your day catching up. If you don't have any call-backs scheduled for 9am, still make a post-it that says BLANK so you don't lose the rhythm. For bonus points, write a thing you missed on the blank post-its as they come up.

Convoluted perhaps, but if every half-hour I have to turn my chair to my left and grab a note and do a thing I'm going to start being more aware of time. If you can't bring your phone into the call center then a watch alarm that beeps might have to do, and you can put the next post-it on the face of the watch. Haha, I should actually try this.
posted by good lorneing at 5:43 AM on January 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh right, and since you have windows of time, either schedule the time for you that you will call them, or do a series: one in lower-case, the next note in all caps, the third in all caps red. Best to have each task come up just once though.
posted by good lorneing at 5:48 AM on January 25, 2016

It sounds like part of your workflow needs to be "check for scheduled calls occurring within the next x minutes" before you start a task that will take at least x minutes to complete. Since you take so many phone calls, maybe making a habit of checking your calendar every time you hang up the phone? Or, if you are giving customers a window of time and you have tasks that can take longer than that window, give them a wider window of time. I know I get frustrated with hearing "sometime between 12 and 5" from someone, but I also get why that is sometimes necessary.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:02 AM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have to do something similar to this (make callbacks in general timeframes), and I make a grid every time I work with time slots on the left and any scheduled calls noted on the right in the correct slot. I can add new callbacks in and see if I've overloaded a time slot pretty easily. You could also fill in times when you have scheduled meetings or breaks so you can see what slots you actually have available. The hard part for you, it sounds like, will be monitoring what time it is. Perhaps you could get a digital clock with a huge display so you aren't distracted by other things on your computer screen when you check for the time? Or set a phone alarm for times when you can see you have an important callback?
posted by MadamM at 6:15 AM on January 25, 2016

Response by poster: Based on good lorneing's and MadamM's answers, I'm going to try laminating a daily schedule divided up into 30 minute blocks where I can put post-it notes for things that I need to do. Then I'll have to schedule some kind of alarm to remind myself to glance at the schedule. If I am stuck on another call, I will be able to move something back one block (but ideally no more than one). Now I just have to work out some kind of alarm which won't disturb my team too much. Probably a digital watch because then it won't end up just ringing at my desk when I get up to check something with a supervisor, and my manager won't get upset about mobile phones at desks.

Unfortunately a lot of things about how we are supposed to work makes it really hard to stick to a tight schedule, which is why I am struggling with this learning this aspect of the job.

Thanks for all the tips. I will try out a few things over the next few weeks to see what works best.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:28 AM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could try a fitbit for the alarm functionality, or another similar fitness band or watch with a vibrating alarm?
posted by MadamM at 7:06 AM on January 25, 2016

How long are your calls? Do you get a certain amount of time after each call before you have to put yourself back into the call queue?

I'm a little skeptical of the "look at your schedule" alarm, because I can see it failing in the same way your current system does: most of the time, the alarm goes off when you're in the middle of a call, so mostly you just glance at your schedule instead of stopping and paying full attention to it, and then you start missing stuff again.

What you really need is to get in the regular habit of stopping for a moment, taking a deep breath, and paying full, undivided attention to your to-do list or schedule or whatever your system is. If you do get a certain amount of between-calls downtime — and it's not punishingly short — I'd make the schedule check part of your post-call routine. Jot down any notes from your last call. Enter any data you need to enter into the system. Then shut your eyes for a few seconds, take a deep breath, open your eyes again, check the time, and look at your schedule. Remind yourself what the next few things you need to do are. Visualize doing them. Do any of them need to happen now? If not, okay, now you're ready for your next call.

I am serious about the eyes closed and the deep breath. I know it sounds hokey, but I have been there, and thinking of this as a mindfulness issue was a thing that really helped. Okay, "mindfulness" also sounds hokey. The point is, task-switching is legitimately a hard thing, and if you build a calming and reassuring ritual around it you make it much more likely that you will actually do the task-switch between "on a call" and "checking my schedule" rather than just staying in "on a call" mode and faking the schedule check.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:32 AM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you ever used google Keep? You may like it. It's like totally pimped out post it notes for the internet.

I keep a google Keep tab open on my computer so I can jot notes and set reminders for myself easily as things come up. Keep (along with all my google) synchs to my phone. It's a lot harder to ignore my phone beeping at me than some popup on my computer that I've been conditioned to ignore.

Bonus: Keep is pretty and incredibly useful for way more than just setting beeping reminders.
posted by phunniemee at 7:40 AM on January 25, 2016

I agree with @nebulawindphone. This is not a failure of your system, but a failure of your attention. I don't implement Getting Things Done, because a lot of it is cumbersome and irrelevant for me. But I learned a lot about managing my attention and mental workload from David Allen's work. In the end, what works for me is to keep a ToDo list -- it doesn't have categories or context or anything else GTD suggests -- it's just a running list.

Every morning I identify the priority items on the list. I recheck the list and priorities when I eat lunch. And at the end of the day I make sure everything that I've done is checked off, and all new things have been added. That means that 3 times a day, I am paying attention to the list. I allow the list to fill one right hand page in my notebook. When I run out of space at the bottom of the right hand page, I start writing on the left hand page. But that means that at the end of that day, in addition to updating the list, I must rewrite it on the next set of free pages in the notebook (I don't allow myself to write on the left hand page for 2 days in a row). This forces me to do something like the GTD "weekly review," but the time period between reviews varies based on my workload (higher workload means i fill up that right hand page faster).

Anyway, my point isn't that my system is the best system ever -- many people would bristle at rewriting the ToDo list, for example and probably this kind of list isn't relevant to call center work. My point is that you need to find a way to manage your attention. All systems will fail until you pay attention to them.
posted by OrangeDisk at 8:39 AM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Does your calling software have this functionality hidden somewhere? If so (and it should!) then it may provide more in-your-face notifications.
posted by metasarah at 8:40 AM on January 25, 2016

I'm in a similar situation to you, with Outlook reminders just being yet another window of yet another program trying to get my attention while hid behind other windows. For me the best way is to have a separate device - my work phone - where every evening I set alarms for all the calls I need to make, or meetings I need to attend, on the following day.

That way you only need to remember one thing - at the very end of the day, or at the very start of the day, set up all the alarms for that day.
posted by DancingYear at 12:51 PM on January 25, 2016

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