Off Center
 
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When you spend 90% of your workday alone inside a cubicle tethered to a workstation handling an endless stream of calls, emails, chats and tweets from demanding customers, it’s tempting to start looking for the exit.

Isolation, immobility and stress are inherent aspects of the agent position. They come with the contact center territory. It’s not uncommon to hear agents cite one or more of these issues as their reason for quitting, or use them as an excuse for why they pulled all of their hair out and/or lit their workstation on fire.

That said, the contact center and the agent position certainly aren’t all gloom and doom. I’ve seen more than my share of centers where agents love what they do, wear authentic smiles on their face, and rarely if ever carry out acts of arson. And a big part of this is the fact that these centers – in addition to having good hiring and training as well as fair and feasible performance objectives in place – do a lot to instill a sense of camaraderie and team among staff.

Following are five tactics I’ve seen managers use to foster agent cohesion and fend off the burnout and attrition that runs rampant in our industry:         

1) Create clusters of comrades. No, I’m not talking about starting an underground communist cell in your contact center; I’m talking about sitting new agents next to or near others from their training class. Solid bonds form among staff during new-hire orientation and training, and keeping these agents physically close lets them start off their job on the phone floor with a high level of comfort and kinship. Naturally, you can’t sit every single agent from the same new-hire training class next to one another, but certainly you can manage to keep clusters of new colleagues close. Two or three over here on this team, two or three over there with that team – with at least one or two experienced agents right nearby to help out the rookies when they get overwhelmed (or to help pull them apart when they cling to one another during a scary spike in call volume).

2) Implement team and center-wide incentives. Many contact centers focus too much on individual achievement when it comes to their rewards & recognition initiatives. When awards are given only to top individual performers, feelings of frustration and even resentment often develop among those who worked hard and did well but didn’t win. Creating some team-based incentives for things like Contact Quality, FCR, Revenue, Attendance, etc., gets agents from the same team working together and rooting for one another rather than just gunning for an individual plaque or trophy. Include a few center-wide incentives as well – ones that get every agent in the contact center working together toward a common goal. For example, tell agents that if the center raises its C-Sat rate by the end of the month, everybody gets a lunch voucher. Or tell them that if they exceed the center’s Adherence to Schedule objective, the center will do away with its plans to install an electric fence around the phone floor.
  
3) Empower agents to reward and recognize peers. Yeah, I know I just got finished touting the importance of team-based incentives, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with individual rewards & recognition – especially when it's given to agents by agents. Peer recognition is a great way to engage and empower staff and build camaraderie. Agents notice their coworkers doing great things all the time – things that supervisors and managers don’t always see or hear. Not every award-worthy act is captured via quality monitoring or performance reports or hidden cameras. Give agents the authority to formally recognize peers whom they witness going above and beyond with customers or fellow agents. Let them present said peers with spot awards like gold stars, trophies, badges or Xanax pills. Your agents will love the feeling of empowerment, the extra attention, and one another. 

4) Form agent-led task forces and project committees. Agents like collaborating with colleagues almost as much as they like getting stuff from them. The best contact centers I’ve seen continuously strengthen agent bonds and the center’s processes by letting agents serve on key task forces and committees. These agents get to use their combined experience and insight to help the center improve hiring and training, reduce unnecessary calls, enhance desktop tools, and extinguish workstation fires. The time spent offline together and the collective sense of accomplishment (but mostly the time spend offline together) does wonders for increasing agent morale and camaraderie.          

5) Organize fun activities and social events. As much as they love working under florescent lighting while surrounded by flashing readerboards and corporate motivational posters, agents still like to get out of the contact center once in a while. Whether it’s an impromptu barbecue just outside your facility or a carefully planned night out, give your agents opportunities to interact socially – sans headset and away from their workstations. I know of many centers that arrange happy hours every Thursday or Friday for agents fortunate enough to have their shift end before the price of booze goes up. While you may not be able to organize a social activity or event that includes ALL agents, you can offer a variety of options at different times and on different days to make sure that everyone gets a chance to be gregarious. Some centers let agents themselves take charge of the social planning, thus adding an element of empowerment to the merrymaking and bond-building.

What kinds of things do YOU do in YOUR contact center to help foster agent camaraderie and keep staff from spontaneously combusting? Share you ideas and experiences in the "Comments" section below.

(This post originally appeared on the “Productivity Plus” blog put out by the very good people at Intradiem.)


 
 
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I'm not one to criticize or judge, except perhaps when I'm around other people. However, I feel I must voice (or, more accurately, write) my opinions regarding some common problems that plague the contact center industry.

Following are what I have found to be among the most common stupid things contact centers do, along with some suggestions to help avoid such idiocy.


Borrowing another contact center’s Service Level or Response Time objective. In choosing a Service Level and/or Response Time objective for their center, many managers simply use the same objective that is in place at centers deemed "best in class." What these managers fail to realize is that their particular customers may very well be bigger pains in the butt than those of best-in-class centers, making them more likely to complain and become irritable if their call isn't answered immediately.

Take for example a manager who, after reading an article about an award-winning pharmaceutical company's contact center with an 80/30 Service Level objective in place, implemented the same goal at his center. What he failed to realize was that 94 percent of the pharmaceutical center's customers were using a leading anti-depressant, and thus thoroughly enjoyed humming along to the centers' on-hold music for as long as possible. Our guy, on the other hand, managed a helpdesk for novice voodoo practitioners, where it wasn't at all uncommon for callers who were forced to wait even just 10 seconds for a connection to start sticking needles in little dolls wearing headsets.

The key point to take away from this ridiculous example is that I am very prone to run-on sentences. Another important point is that, whenever deciding on performance objectives, it's essential to choose the best objectives for YOUR contact center, and to ignore those of respectable ones.

 
Failing to incorporate customer feedback into coaching. One problem with relying solely on your own QA staff or supervisors to provide monitoring feedback to agents is that your agents don't like your QA Staff or your supervisors. Many of your agents would rather have their gums scraped or read a technology vendor’s whitepaper than take your supervisors' advice. That's why the best contact centers have started incorporating direct customer feedback (taken from post-contact surveys) into monitoring scores and coaching efforts. True, most agents don't like your customers either, but are more willing to accept their input because customers never have coffee breath and rarely if ever order your agents to go home and change out of their cut-off Rage Against the Machine tee-shirt on Casual Fridays.

Research has revealed several key benefits of implementing a direct customer feedback initiative. One study, for example, found that contact centers with such initiatives in place have up to 25% higher customer satisfaction rates, up to 15% higher agent retention rates, and up to 1% fewer incidents of QA staff and supervisors being gang-tackled by staff.


Waiting for bleeding-edge technology to become boring. I'm not saying that all contact centers should take big risks on unproven customer contact tools. I'm merely suggesting that those that don't are totally chicken. Now you may argue that investing in unproven solutions is not an intelligent, well thought-out business move. That's fine, but if you are interested only in things intelligent and well thought-out, then you have no business reading my blog.

Show me an award-winning contact center, and I'll show you a manager who has dared to make some dangerous moves with regard to customer contact solutions. Granted, occasionally such deployments fail at these leading centers, but persistent and progressive managers do not let such events stop them. Instead these managers continue to think about the next advanced technology to revolutionize their center and, once their request to leave the mental health facility is granted, eagerly begin meeting with vendors seeking beta-testers.


Treating agents like employees. If you treat agents like employees, they are going to act like employees, and few organizations can recover from such damage.

A recent study by a leading consulting firm revealed that employees are one of the biggest threats to a corporation's health and prosperity, second only to the CEO. Absenteeism, poor work performance and stapler-theft were among the many harmful acts found to be carried out more by employees than any other living entity.

On the other hand, the report found that such undesirable behavior is almost never associated with grandmothers, infants or lemurs. That's why, as I've been saying for years, contact center managers would be wise to stop spending so much time micromanaging and monitoring agents, and start spending more time providing them with rose-scented perfume, colorful rattles and pictures of Madagascar.


For those who find it insulting that I’ve used the term “Stupidity” in the title of this blog post, don’t be dumb. I was just trying to shake things up a bit and bring about some positive change.

For those of you who actually stuck around and kept reading, feel free to share what YOU feel is a common stupid thing in our industry. And please don’t say “Greg Levin”. I may be a highly judgmental and critical jerk, but I do have feelings. Moron.



 
 
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Every 30 seconds, a contact center agent somewhere breaks a hand after punching a computer monitor.

Only YOU can prevent shattered knuckles.

How? By providing agents with a desktop that actually allows them to do their job and take care of customers. Unfortunately, such a desktop isn’t what’s gracing the workstations in most contact centers. According to recent industry research:
  • More than one in three companies cite disconnected and complex agent desktops as a key obstacle.
  • Agents are forced to navigate an average of five screens to handle a typical customer interaction.
  • Agents estimate they waste more than 25% of their time (during customer interactions) searching for relevant data across different systems.

Spend a day toggling between various applications, asking customers to repeat information, and keying in redundant data on multiple screens, and see if YOU, too, aren’t overcome by the urge to put your fist through your computer monitor. If such disparate and uncoordinated systems are causing this much frustration on the frontline, imagine how your customers feel. Actually, you probably don’t have to imagine – I’m sure every day they’re letting you and your agents know how they feel… through their sighs and obscenities, and their ‘1 out of 5’ ratings on post-contact surveys.
   
Make the Move to a Unified Desktop
Leading contact centers protect agents’ hand bones and elevate the customer experience by investing in a unified desktop (a.k.a., ‘intelligent desktop’, ‘dynamic desktop’, ‘a desktop agents don’t want to assault’). Such desktops take all the existing systems and applications agents need to access and place them all behind a single intuitive interface. Every resource the agent might need – regardless of contact channel – is organized and presented together on the desktop. This includes all the customer account activity and history as the contact arrives, including any information a customer may have provided to the center’s IVR prior to being routed to the agent. A typical unified desktop also features: user-friendly knowledge bases; dynamic rules-based screen pops; text templates to help agents seem less illiterate when handling email, chat and social media contacts; and other helpful tools and applications.

So, those are some of the key features of a unified agent desktop. Now let’s take a look at something even more enticing – the benefits that those features make possible. Talk to just about any contact center that has moved to a unified agent desktop, and they'll tell you how it has enabled them to do the following:

Reduce Average Handle Time (organically!). Naturally when agents aren’t fumbling around different applications and keying in stuff they had to ask customers to repeat, calls (and chats) go a lot faster… without anybody feeling rushed or spontaneously combusting. A large contact center outsourcer, Group O, reportedly reduced overall AHT by 36 seconds after going the unified desktop route. I’ve heard of other companies shedding as much as a minute or more off of handle times thanks to a more dynamic agent desktop.     

Increase First-Contact Resolution. Having a complete view of the customer’s activity and immediate access to relevant applications/knowledge bases means agents don’t look like morons during interactions and can better resolve customers' specific issues. Telecom company Blue Casa reportedly increased FCR by a whopping 25% after implementing a unified desktop.

Increase sales. It’s much easier for agents to sell to a customer (and not feel dirty doing it) when they can see the customer’s purchase history and preferences, and when dynamic screen pops alert agents to ideal sales opportunities. Just ask Servicemaster, a large home services company that reportedly DOUBLED sales conversion rates due to the enhanced customer info and context-specific cross-selling suggestions provided by their unified agent desktop.

Increase C-Sat. Highly personalized service and quick issue resolution make customers fall in love with agents and your company. Your agents might even receive some marriage proposals. My own wife has walked in on me professing my love to an agent who rocked my world during an interaction. By the way, Group O (that same company that realized big AHT reductions with a unified desktop – see above) also reported an 8% jump in their Customer Satisfaction rate – proof that organically lowering AHT directly and positively enhances the customer experience.      

Increase agent engagement & retention. As an agent, having customers profess their love and propose marriage several times a day makes you feel valuable and special. So does having everything you need to thrive at your job right at your fingertips.    

Reduce training time. I know of a large cable company that reportedly shortened new-hire training by three-weeks after moving to a unified agent desktop – saving the company $5 million annually. Of course. that huge profit gain didn’t stop the company from raising its rates, but if you ignore that part, it’s a lovely success story.

Save the Knuckles
Recent research shows that less than a third of contact centers are currently equipped with a unified desktop; however, many other centers report that they are in the process of implementing one. For those of you that don’t fall into either of these camps, I recommend you at least consider investing in a padded desktop – to limit the number of ruined agent knuckles in your center. 



 
 
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Wanted: Agents with the inherent skill and agility to respond to social customers in 30 minutes or less, and dazzle them in 140 characters or less.

Up until relatively recently, social customer service reps were considered purely mythical beings – like Santa Claus, or home agents who bathe regularly. However, with customer demand for support and service via social media rapidly growing, social customer service agents (let’s call them SCSRs to save us all some time) have become a reality.

A necessity even – at least in organizations that aim to stay ahead of the competition and keep the number of viral tweets about their poor or non-existent social customer service down to around zero.

What this means is that contact centers that haven’t already done so need to start recruiting and hiring viable SCSRs, or at least to start thinking about doing so. Of course, they can’t do such things effectively until they learn the “anatomy” of an SCSR. What does an individual who deftly monitors and smoothly handles customer inquiries and tirades via Twitter, Facebook and other social sites “look” like? What skills and traits do they require to not only survive but also thrive in the social role?


Key Attributes of an Ideal SCSR   

Following are five things to look for in agents worthy of maintaining your contact center’s “social” life:   

Social savvy. You want reps who not only have active accounts across a broad range of social media, but who also communicate relevant information in a tactful manner via such media. Take a look at each SCSR candidate’s personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. If you see that they have a habit of posting inane or offensive updates, or if they appear to have had multiple infractions of “TWI” – Tweeting While Intoxicated – they’re probably better suited for your IT team than for your Social Customer Service team.

Built-in ‘analytics’. An important aspect of social customer service is being able to determine which customers (and potential customers) to engage with – and how. While some of this should be covered in SCSR training, you want reps who have the intuition and logic needed to make smart social decisions on their own. A good SCSR must be able to quickly analyze and assess customers’ social inquiries, comments and rants, and then provide customers with the answers, explanations and verbal sedatives they need.   

Excellent (and efficient) writing skills. Social savvy and keen analytical skills won’t mean much if your SCSRs write like somebody who failed fifth grade English composition. Don’t assume an agent knows how to write just because their job application and resume featured only minor spelling and grammatical gaffs. A good SCSR not only writes clearly and succinctly, but also conversationally. It’s called social media, not corporate media or academic media. Customers like and expect social responses that are casual yet professional, not rigid and robotic.

A customer service soul.  Even someone with exceptional writing skills will fail in an SCSR role if they don’t truly care about and eagerly want to assist the customers with whom they interact. It’s more important to be courteous and empathetic than captivating and clever in the social customer service sphere. Captivating and clever is nice in small doses, but it won’t get you far with customers who are on the brink of bringing your brand to its knees with a flaming Twitter campaign about how your service makes them want to a learn a deadly martial art.    

Multichannel agility. I know, I know, you thought we were talking only about agents who deal with social customer interactions. But the truth is, a good SCSR doesn’t deal in tweets and posts alone. Often, interactions that start off on Twitter or Facebook need to be quickly moved to chat or voice – particularly when the issue/inquiry in question is a complex one that requires the customer to provide detailed and private information, or when the customer is fuming and using language more fit for drunken sailors than for public consumption. Furthermore, it’s likely that the volume of social media contacts your center must handle won’t be large enough to keep SCSRs busy their entire shift, thus, it’s good to have ones who are able to hop on the phones or don their chat hat and rock the customer experience regardless of channel.    

Did I miss anything big? Please share your SCSR “anatomy” lessons in the comments section below.



 
 
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A ‘Voice of the Employee’ (VoE) program is a great way to capture agent feedback and insight and use it to continuously improve the contact center, the customer experience, and agent engagement. Most VoE initiatives, however, fall short because they don’t go deep enough. They entail merely surveying agents a couple of times a year and asking static questions – questions that do little to unlock and harness agents’ collective wisdom and intuition or to uncover how close they are to staging a violent coup.

To capture the kind of agent knowledge and sentiment that drives real change, your VoE program needs to capture agents’ real voice. To do that, you need to think outside the traditional VoE box, push the envelope, and break a few federal privacy laws.

Following are three bold and innovative VoE tactics embraced by contact center leaders who are so committed to continuous improvement and the customer experience, they are willing to risk prison time.

VoE on the Edge     

Bug the bathrooms and breakrooms.  Agents may provide you with some valuable comments and suggestions via surveys and focus groups, but they generally save what they really know, think and feel for when they’re offline and out of earshot. When chatting with peers in the restroom and breakroom, agents often share their candid views on customers’ intelligence levels and exchange ideas on where management can stick its policies and metrics. By secretly placing a recording device in the aforementioned rooms, the contact center is able to capture a continuous stream of insight (and obscenities) that might enable the organization to rise to the highest levels of mediocrity.

If you’re struggling with the ethical aspect of bugging the bathrooms and breakrooms, you can ease your conscience by thinking of this approach as merely expanding your monitoring program into new and uncharted territories.


Ply agents with liquor. You should be doing this anyway to reward agents for a job well done (or for at least not quitting) and to help relieve job-related stress. The best contact centers don’t stop there, though. After buying staff a round of shots during happy hour (or, in really stressful centers, before their shift), smart managers and supervisors listen up and take notes. After the second round of drinks, most of the smaller agents and those not accustomed to drinking will start sharing the kind of information and opinions they’re too afraid or uncomfortable to share when sober. After the fourth or fifth round of drinks, those agents will have passed out, but your larger and heavier drinking agents will continue where the lightweights left off.

Keep in mind that if you decide to add alcohol to your VoE initiative, you’ll need to find just the right balance. Too little, and agents won’t loosen up enough to share anything revealing or meaningful. Too much, and they’ll develop liver disease, which can negatively impact attendance and significantly hinder agents’ ability to upsell.


Spy on agents while they’re sleeping. This practice is a little controversial. And creepy. But hey, if you’re not willing to be a little controversial and creepy in an effort to improve your contact center and the customer experience, then perhaps you’re in the wrong line of business.

Spying on agents while they’re sleeping – either by hiding under their bed or, for those of you with less time on your hands, placing a recording device in their bedroom – is the best way to capture the subconscious thoughts that agents mumble when snoozing. It’s how the best contact centers discover what’s in the deepest, darkest recesses of their employees’ minds – the kinds of thoughts and feelings that the company could never uncover merely through bugging bathrooms and getting agents drunk. By spying on sleeping agents, the center will learn stuff that may enable it to improve ways to strap agents into their workstation chairs, enhance the colors and themes of the motivational posters the center has on its walls, and decrease the number of customer homicides agents attempt each year.     

 
Don’t let my obvious expertise in this area intimidate you. Feel free to leave your own ideas on how to capture the REAL ‘Voice of the Employee’ in the ‘Comments’ area below.



 
 
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With 57 percent of customers calling contact centers for support after attempting to find answers online first (according to the Customer Contact Council), it makes sense (and cents) for your organization to look for ways to optimize web self-service.

Now, you’re probably getting tired of my take on everything, so I’ve brought in a knowledgeable guest – someone even smarter than I think I am. Following is my exchange with Ashley Verrill, a call center analyst and self-service expert with Software Advice, who was happy to discuss some of the winning online self-support practices of top customer care organizations.

What is the most important web self-service feature, and how does not offering this feature impact the customer experience?

I would say having a really effective search bar is crucial. Often, customers will land directly on an article because they typed their question into Google and your self-service content was among the results returned. However, if the article they navigate to doesn’t directly answer their question, you’ll want to provide them a simple “out” for quickly finding the right content – otherwise you risk them switching to a more labor-intensive channel, such as phone or email. Also, the longer it takes for customers to find the answer, the more likely they are to become frustrated. There’s nothing worse than landing on a self-service support homepage only to find a long list of FAQs or discussion threads. It doesn’t leave the impression that finding the right solution will be easy or fast.


I’ve heard (and read) you mention that it’s essential to offer an “escape” – an easy way for the customer to chat with a live agent if he or she can’t find an answer. But what about proactively “chatting up” users once they arrive to your site? Which of these is a more critical feature to offer?

It really depends. Proactively chatting with every website visitor can be really labor intensive – particularly for websites that experience thousands of visits on any given day. I would recommend a proactive chat feature only if it could be used to directly drive more revenue, like if you’re able to offer more consultative advice to new opportunities that could lead to a sale, or if existing customers have the potential to become return customers. Some very large organizations have the ability to dynamically offer proactive chat based on characteristics about the site visitor. For example, I’ve seen proactive chat solutions that can be programmed only to appear if the site visitor is recognized as being in their marketing “sweet spot” – based on data from their IP address, social, potentially mobile and other sources.

Another alternative might be having your contact center agents proactively serve up chat only to visitors who navigate to your support pages. This wouldn’t help you generate more revenue in a direct way, but at least it’s a way to more exclusively target those people looking for support…and it might improve the customer experience by not having them sit on hold or wait for an emailed reply.


What are the best ways to showcase an online community moderator, and how should he or she go about identifying customer service opportunities? Does having a community moderator impact the customer’s perception, or does it simply ensure that questions get answered?

I think having a community moderator is imperative. One of the biggest obstacles companies face in driving engagement in an online community is the perception that customers won’t actually get an answer, or at least they won’t get one quickly. So, if they dive into a discussion thread that matches their question only to find no one has responded, they probably won’t ever try the channel again.

For this reason, moderators should be present to proactively provide an answer if it doesn’t come from the community. As far as how long a moderator should wait before intervening, I’ve heard average response time ranges between 1-3 hours. Many tools provide features that can automatically notify a moderating agent if a community question goes unanswered. I’ve also seen a lot of communities that will add some kind of visual indicator to call out moderators so it’s really obvious. This usually comes in the form of a branded icon or color-coded indicator.


With 67 percent of customers preferring to find answers online (according to Nuance), what are some quick tips for improving web self-service with minimal effort?

I’d say first you need to make sure that your community is stocked with answers to your most common customer questions. So, take a survey within your contact center and identify the top 20 most popular questions. Write solid content that answers those questions, then add them to your community. Then, ask agents to record instances where customers said they tried to find an answer online. This will identify gaps in your content or improvements that could be made to the presentation of your content.


For additional info on web self-service, you can check out my post from a couple of years ago:
“Web Self-Service that Won’t Self-Destruct”. Keep in mind I drink more than Ashley does.




 
 
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Most conversations about contact center evolution revolve around technology. We often hear about how some advanced new system, application or channel is going to “reinvent” the way contact centers operate and the way customer care is carried out.

While such advances can be exciting and, occasionally, even influential, in my opinion contact center evolution should be measured in terms of talent, not technology.

For me, the real sign that the contact center has truly evolved will be when employees from other areas within the organization routinely start applying for agent positions.

Yeah, I said it.

Let’s face it, customer care can’t be taken to the “next level” until companies stop viewing the contact center and the agent job as purely entry level. In other words, the contact center should strive to be a step up – not just a stepladder – in the organization.

If the customer experience is as critical as corporations and business analysts say it is, then the contact center is, indeed, a highly valuable component of any company. No other department or area within an enterprise has as much direct contact with customers, can glean as much useful customer data, or has as much of an impact on customer sentiment as the contact center. So why aren’t we doing more to enhance the image of the contact center and the agent position, and why aren’t we paying agents what they are truly worth?

Once companies stop viewing the contact center as a back-office operation and start viewing – and promoting – it is a dynamic hub of invaluable customer influence and revenue generation/protection, it will cease to be merely a pit stop for employees and start to become an attractive destination for them… especially if they know they can earn a damn sight more than $9.00-$10.00 per hour to start.

This isn’t just a pipe dream. I see a future where ambitious, creative, caring and analytical employees from Marketing, Sales, IT and other key departments scramble to get their resume and cover letter ready whenever an opening on the frontline of the company’s contact center is announced. And I see a future where existing agents happily stay put whenever those aforementioned departments announce job openings of their own.

This is the Age of the Customer. Organizations that don’t do everything they can to attract and retain the level of talent needed to consistently delight and engage the customer will soon find themselves lagging far behind their competitors.

So, you can continue to rush through the hiring process to fill contact center seats with whomever has a pulse and deal with the customer defection and agent turnover that results, or you can strive to create the type of culture and environment that attracts proficient knowledge workers who are committed to delivering the level of service and support the customer deserves – and demands.      

This piece originally appeared as a guest post by Greg on the FurstPerson blog. (The original title was “Attracting Agent Talent from Within the Organization”.)   


 
 
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I grew up in a Jewish family, but have always welcomed and even embraced several Christmas traditions – particularly those that involve getting stuff. Even as a kid celebrating Hanukkah, part of my personal eight-day festival featured a stocking hung from the menorah with care. (Hanging a large fuzzy sock from a lit candelabra does require care.)

To this day, I still insist that my family fill my stocking with little goodies for each day of Hanukkah. As a result, I haven't been invited to my parents' home for the holidays since 1990.

It's not just me – everybody loves stocking stuffers. So why not carry the tradition over to your contact center? Just imagine the positive impact it could have on agent morale and retention; agents might even remain on the job through January. That said, agents shouldn’t be the only ones getting goodies. Consider implementing a center-wide stocking strategy, where everyone – agents, supervisors and managers – all get a stocking filled with stuff to help them do their job better.

Here are some stocking stuffing suggestions for the various roles in your contact center:
 
For Agents

Ibuprofen. These lovely anti-inflammatory pills will help each agent minimize the common aches and pains associated with sitting and typing for long periods, shaking one's head vehemently in disbelief, and jumping from atop one's workstation with neck in noose. The little plastic bottles the pills come in can double as mini-maracas, which agents can shake during slow periods to celebrate the brief reprieve from customers.

Headset Barbie. I believe that this version of the popular anorexic doll is set to hit the market any day now. In recent beta tests with agents, the talking doll got rave reviews, particularly for her ability to overcome rejection and to think outside the box. Your agents will have a blast playing with Headset Barbie between calls – picking up valuable tips on how to continue smiling through adversity and how to maintain a golden tan despite working nine-hour shifts in a room with no windows. Headset Barbie comes with several replaceable parts, including wrists, lower back and larynx.


For Supervisors

Coaching Ken. Headset Barbie's suave supervisor – complete with monitoring form, distressed facial expression, and a Kung Fu grip to assist in agent retention – is currently being piloted in a contact center in Malibu. He promises to be a hit with real supervisors, as well as with frustrated agents who are into voodoo. Additional accessories include a miniature helium dispenser for blowing up tiny morale-boosting balloons, an ugly Hawaiian print shirt for casual Fridays, and more tiny morale-boosting balloons.

Safety flares. The same little devices that alert fellow motorists of a roadside accident when visibility is poor are great tools for supervisors, who can use them in several ways. First, whenever call volumes spike, supervisors can light up a flare to alert agents who are on break or outside playing with their Headset Barbies to get their butts back to their workstations. Flares can also be used to publicly recognize staff for outstanding performance/commitment. For instance, supervisors can light one up next to an agent who just achieved a perfect quality monitoring score, or next to an agent who just surpassed the three-week period of consecutive employment. 


For Managers

Contact center camouflage. What manager wouldn't be thrilled to find in their stocking special materials that enable them to remain unseen? After all, to last as a true leader in the challenging contact center environment, one needs the courage and ability to hide at critical moments. Properly applied body paints and other camouflage material enable managers to remain unseen not only by brash executives seeking explanations for the center's exorbitant operating costs and lackluster performance stats, but also by pesky agents who feel they have a right to know why their standard cubicle has been replaced by a much smaller one constructed of styrofoam. The best contact center camouflage materials include clothes made entirely out of gray industrial carpet, hats with plastic ferns growing out of them, and blue or black paint, which blends in nicely with the morale of frontline staff and supervisors.
 
A pocket-sized Acronym-English/English-Acronym dictionary. Very few managers are fluent in Acronym, which can truly hinder their ability to know what the hell vendors, consultants and authors of white papers are talking about. Acronym is already the official language of contact center elitists, and several studies suggest that any manager serious about succeeding and/or looking cool in this industry will need to become highly proficient in this new language. An Acronym-English/English-Acronym dictionary, which can be found in the abbreviated language section of most major bookstores, makes for a perfect gift. Go for the pocket-sized version, as the standard version will never fit inside a manager's office let alone his or her stocking.


Feel free to share some of your ideas for contact center stocking stuffers in the comments section below. Oh, and one more thing...

                      HAPPY HOLIDAYS!



 
 
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Your organization won’t be able to consistently deliver on its customer experience mission until you rid your contact center of all its agents. Agents are human beings, and human beings are by nature imperfect. How can you expect customers to rate their experience with your company a 5 (out of 5) if they are forced to interact with humans, who are inherently 2s and 3s?

The contact center front line is simply no place for a real person. So, if you haven’t already done so, you need to fire all your agents made of flesh and bone and replace them as soon as possible with advanced IVR applications and speech- and text-enabled virtual bots. The future of your company and your Net Promoter Score depend on it.

For those of you who need a little more convincing before fully automating the contact center and the customer experience, I urge you to consider the following major drawbacks of human agents:

Human agents have hearts. Hearts are easily broken – either by a bad break-up, a favorite sitcom being cancelled, or a request to work from home being denied. Studies show that agents with broken hearts are 73% more likely to sob during customer interactions. And while many customers are sadistic and like it when agents cry, most find it off-putting and awkward.  
 
Human agents have dreams. Dreams can too easily be dashed – either by a career path being too short (or non-existent), or by a supervisor telling an agent the truth about his or her IQ and potential. Studies have shown that agents with dashed dreams are 82% more likely to inhale lethal doses of helium from motivational balloons in the contact center. Studies have also shown that, after inhaling a lethal dose of helium, an agent’s ability to achieve first-call resolution drops from 68% to 3%.

Human agents have friends. Friends can be a tremendous detriment to agent productivity and focus. Agents’ friends – with no consideration for your contact center or customers – frequently invite agents to parties, dinners, weddings, etc., thus compelling agents to request specific schedules and days off that don’t always gel with the contact center’s needs. An automated IVR attendant or virtual bot, on the other hand, rarely gets invited to any social functions – except for when a caller is fooled by its advanced speech features and asks it out for a drink.

Human agents have bodies. Human agents have always been cursed with having muscles, tendons and bones that bruise easily during long stints of sitting in cramped cubicles and when slammed against monitors. Carpal Tunnel syndrome, back spasms, eye strain and concussions not only cost the company bundles of money in medical expenses, these problems greatly impair agents’ ability to pretend they enjoy their job. IVR attendants and virtual bots, in contrast, have no bodies and thus can handle thousands of customer contacts daily without any complaints about not being able to feel their fingers, toes or soul.

Human agents have tempers. There are only three absolute truths in contact centers: 1) customer contacts are constant; 2) customers complain a lot; and 3) constant customer complaints make agents want to hurt themselves and others. By fully automating your contact center, you greatly reduce the risk of the center being burnt to the ground and/or of you being beaten to a pulp whenever you leave your office during peak periods.


Down with People

Ridding your contact center of human agents means no more turnover and no more complaints about low pay, unfair metrics and bad schedules. It also means big savings on office space and parking, and on the amount of food that needs to be ordered for company picnics and holiday parties.

Sure, your customers will likely be outraged initially over not being able to reach a live agent, but if you take this article and use it as a script in your IVR and as an FAQ answer on your website, customers will soon understand that they are much better off interacting solely with machines. 


NOTE: Greg accidentally overdosed on his satire pills this week, which explains the nature of this post. The doctors say that Greg should be back to his normal, healthy level of irony and parody by the time his next post rolls around.


 
 
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As Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, Bruce Temkin has helped thousands of organizations become more customer-centric. Bruce describes himself as a 'customer experience transformist.' If you see him work, hear him speak or read his writing, you'll agree that the aforementioned description is very fitting.

Anyone in a managerial or supervisory role in a contact center can benefit greatly from Bruce’s keen insight. Following are several of his notable customer experience tips – simple ideas (backed by real-life examples) that he assures will yield powerful results:  

Help customers achieve their goals. Don’t push your products and agendas on customers. Instead, find out what they want and create experiences that fit your company into their journey. As Wayne Peacock, Executive Vice President of Member Experience at USAA, said:

“We want to create experiences around what members are trying to accomplish, not just our products. If a member is buying a car, then we would historically see that as a change in auto insurance. We are changing that to an auto event – to help the member find the right car, buy it at a discount, get a loan, insurance, etc. and do that in any channel and across channels. There’s enormous value for members and for USAA if we can facilitate that entire experience.”

Make employee engagement a key metric. Since 2007, Bombardier Aerospace’s annual employee engagement and enablement survey has given all employees a voice within the organization. In 2012, 93% of employees completed the survey. Managers are evaluated based on the engagement levels of their employees. To create an environment that ensures performance, every leader has an annual target for employee engagement.

Motivate employees with intrinsic rewards. Companies often try and force employees into doing things by slapping on metrics and measurements. While these types of extrinsic rewards can change some behaviors, they can often cause conflicts and lead to unexpected consequences. When Staples put in place a goal for $200 of add-ons per computer sold, some store employees stopped selling computers to customers who didn’t want to purchase add-ons.  Compare this outcome to inspirational coaching at Sprint, which leads to an environment where employees consistently excel and measure their performance against their best effort and compete with themselves to be their best. It turns out that people tend to be more motivated by intrinsic rewards. To build commitment from employees, stop relying so heavily on extrinsic rewards and focus on providing them with the four key intrinsic rewards: sense of meaningfulness, choice, competence, and progress. These types of rewards build an emotional, instead of a transactional, commitment from employees.

Tap into customer insights from unstructured data. As more companies thirst for customer feedback, the number of surveys has escalated. But there is a limit to customers’ willingness to complete surveys. As completion rates get more difficult to maintain, companies will become more efficient with the questions they ask, target questions at specific customers in specific situations, and stop relying as much on multiple-choice questions. Tidbit: When we asked large companies with Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs about the changing importance of eight listening posts, multiple choice survey questions were at the bottom of the list. Companies must learn to integrate their customer feedback with other customer data and tap into rich sources of customer insights in unstructured data such as open-ended comments, call center conversations, emails from customers, and social media. This new, deeper foundation of customer intelligence will require strengthening capabilities in text and predictive analytics.

Use ambassadors to build links across the organization. Fidelity’s Voice of the Customer Ambassadors program is the cornerstone of Fidelity’s efforts to engage customer-facing associates across the organization around their customer experience vision. Ambassadors are associates from across Fidelity’s functions who apply to become part of a network of customer experience evangelists who (1) identify opportunities for improvement by amplifying the voice of the customer/associate; (2) inform new product and service development; and (3) inspire their peers with local dialogue and other activities. Ambassadors are supported by extensive executive sponsorship across multiple levels of management and are asked to dedicate 10% of their time influencing Fidelity’s shared customer experience vision.

Actively solicit insights from employees. Adobe’s Intranet includes an online suggestion tool called “Tell Adobe.” Through this simple mechanism, employees can submit suggestions for improving the company, covering everything from current products and services to the processes used to engage and help customers. All submissions are reviewed by a member of the People Resources team, who then brings in internal subject matter experts or functional teams to evaluate the submitter’s suggestions, work with him or her to understand the idea better, and then decide if and how to proceed or pursue further. The process closes the loop with the employee so that he or she has visibility to the outcomes resulting from the initial submission. 

Maintain a list of top 10 customer issues. Oracle drives consistent customer experience activities across all regions and lines of business through a structured framework and standardized approach to monitoring the customer experience: Listen, Respond, Collaborate for Customer Success. The portfolio of feedback tools includes transactional and product surveys, relationship surveys, customer advisory boards, user experience labs, and independent user groups. Feedback from across these sources is integrated and analyzed to identify the 10 customer feedback themes that have the greatest impact on customer experience and business results, and programs are established to improve each.

Empower employees to create memorable moments. Hampton has trained its team members on a set of Moment Makers rather than checklists and scripts to handle a variety of situations. Moment Makers are designed so that team members can choose approaches based on their personality, comfort level, and individual style to match the cues from guests. These approaches include being anticipatory, using empathy, using humor, providing unexpected delight, and giving a compliment. Moment Makers are taught from a team member’s first days on the job when he or she learns the brand story and continue to be reinforced on an ongoing basis through learning maps and e-learning modules. 

This post was excerpted (with permission, of course) from Bruce Temkin’s brilliant “50 CX Tips: Simple Ideas, Powerful Results” article, which can be read in its entirety here.

You can learn more about Bruce Temkin and his organization here.