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.
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.
While I usually cover contact center best practices and innovation in this blog, today, in keeping with Halloween, I’ve decided to highlight what scares the pants off of most customer care professionals (and what scares the pants back on those who work from home).
Forget about witches, ghosts and goblins – here are some things that are really scary if you manage a contact center:
Rampant agent turnover. It’s positively frightening to think that the average contact center has an annual turnover rate of nearly 40%, and that, according to the human capital management firm CallMe! (that really is their name), the average turnover cost per agent is upwards of $4,000. This means that in a typical 100-seat contact center, agent turnover costs roughly $160,000 – every year. Evidently many organizations are so paralyzed by fear of such exorbitant figures, they are physically unable to create the kind of positive culture that would cause said figures to plummet.
Disengaged agents interacting with your customers. Even scarier than agents leaving are agents who stick around – but who couldn’t care less about your company or its customers. Just because agents show up and sit at their workstations everyday doesn’t mean they are truly present, and THAT can cost you even more than actual turnover. When agents aren’t engaged, empowered and focused on the job, the unnecessary callbacks, long caller rants and customer defection could end up forcing your center to implement a 100% work-at-home initiative – because your company soon won’t be able to make rent.
Managing Millennials. Millennials tend to be highly creative and tech-savvy multi-taskers who enjoy working in a collaborative manner. Nothing actually scary about that – unless you are a contact center manager or supervisor who only knows how to lead and develop people whose learning styles and communication preferences are just like yours. If that’s the case, your attempts to engage the typical Millennial will be a horror show featuring a lot of carnage – or at least a lot of burnout and attrition.
Social customer service. Just when you thought you had a handle on all the channels and that it was safe to go back into the contact center, social customer service entered the scene – bringing with it a new kind of terror. Now your center has to respond not only to customers who contact you directly (via phone, email and chat), but also to those who express their issue and mention your company name via Twitter or Facebook. And if you don’t respond to the latter customers – or if you respond in an unsatisfactory manner, everybody and their mother gets to see as the PR nightmare plays out.
Big data. The vast amount of customer information today’s contact center is able to capture is amazing – and scary as all get-out if the center doesn’t have a way of structuring, analyzing and strategically acting on the data. If you thought finding time to monitor each agent a few times a month was hard, try finding time to make sense of the millions of pieces of customer intelligence flying around the contact center stratosphere. Fortunately, there have been real advances in interaction analytics and data-mining to help centers slay the big bad data monster, but many customer care organizations have yet to invest in or tap the full power of said technologies, and thus must continuously face the fear of being swallowed up whole.
The power of the home agent model. This one may seem a bit out of place, but the power of the home agent model is scary. What else do you know of that, once implemented, has the power to vastly improve such critical things as: agent engagement and retention; agent performance and attendance; contact center staffing/scheduling flexibility; facility expenses; disaster recovery; and the environment? It’s natural to be in awe of such power, even a little frightened. But what’s REALLY scary is the fact that not every customer care organization has embraced the home agent model despite all the huge proven benefits. I guess they are deathly afraid of success – or of happy agents.
What scares YOU about customer care and working in a contact center? Share what makes you shudder and shiver in the ‘Comments’ box below.
Oh yeah, and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
The best managers realize a contact center cannot succeed without skilled, motivated and mostly sober agents manning the phones (and other contact channels). These managers work hard to develop and sustain hiring programs that ensure the front line is forever staffed with service stars who stick around for longer than the first pay period.
But I’m not here to talk about hiring success. When it comes to agent recruiting, assessment and selection, success is much less common than failure... and it's more fun to talk about the latter.
With that in mind, following are 15 signs your contact center’s hiring practices need work:
15) A common question among new-hires is whether their work schedule will interfere with their dog fighting competitions.
14) Your contact center recently underwent renovations to expand the exit interview room.
13) Candidates typically celebrate a job offer by firing off a few rounds of ammunition out back.
12) While playing hide-and-seek in your contact center, your eight year-old kid secretly answered several customer calls – and outperformed all your agents.
11) You’ve implemented a work-at-home agent program because most of your job candidates are under house arrest.
10) Your average agent tenure is measured in minutes.
9) Your two most critical selection criteria when assessing agent candidates are “has a pulse” and “wears clothes.”
8) Your most effective recruiting method is begging.
7) Your best agent is your IVR system.
6) The final stage of your agent selection process involves a coin toss.
5) The top candidate from your last recruitment effort applied from federal prison.
4) You promoted the aforementioned candidate to supervisor his first week on the job.
3) Your most valuable applicant assessment tool is a drug-sniffing dog.
2) You hired the aforementioned dog as a team lead.
And the number one sign your contact center’s hiring practices need work is…
1) While reading each item on this list, you thought to yourself, “It’s funny because it’s true.”
For those of you looking for (slightly) more serious and insightful resources on agent recruiting and hiring, check out the following links to previous blog posts:
Active Agent Recruiting: Take Hiring by the Horns
Separate the Reps from the Replicas: Improving Your Pre-Hire Assessment Process
The First Key to Agent Retention? Your Hiring Program There’s also an entire chapter dedicated to the topic of recruiting & hiring in my Full Contact book.
Customer Service Week is once again upon us (starting Monday, Oct. 7), and contact centers everywhere – at least those that actually care about customer service and their agents – are getting ready to celebrate.
The key to an effective CSW celebration is to party just hard enough to show agents how appreciated and valued their work is, but not so hard that it interferes with the very service you are celebrating. Rewarding staff with tequila shots can greatly diminish service levels and cause agents to pass out during customer interactions before first-contact resolution is achieved.
Following are 20 fresh ideas that are almost but not quite guaranteed to make your Customer Service Week celebration a success:
1. Officially change the name of the contact center to “The Customer Love Hut”.
2. Give each agent a special comb that fixes ‘headset hair’.
3. Get rid of all the shackles, cattle prods and any other devices used to enforce agent adherence.
4. Replace “Dress-Down Friday” with “Undress Monday”.
5. Pay some actors to play your company’s executive team and have them visit the contact center to thank staff for their great work.
6. Install a Xanax dispenser in the breakroom. And in the restrooms. And at agents’ workstations.
7. Offer agents free treatment for Xanax addiction.
8. Walk up to each workstation and personally tell every agent how extremely important they are to the organization. If you have too many agents to do that, just tell your top performer.
9. Let agents work in their underwear or pajamas for the week to make up for senior management rejecting your proposal to implement a home agent initiative.
10. Remove the ‘Calls in Queue’ display board from all the bathroom stalls.
11. Give each agent one “Get Out of Call Free” card for use during an interaction with a highly annoying/abusive customer.
12. Permit agents to take one free swing at their supervisor during a coaching session.
13. Give out an “I’m Dedicated to Service” badge to any agent who has stuck with the job for more than 48 hours.
14. Install thick padding on all workstation desks, walls and computer monitors to protect agents against head injuries.
15. Wait till the week after CSW to tell everybody the center is being outsourced.
16. Give each agent a fresh new supply of the paper clips they use to cut themselves on paydays.
17. Instead of hanging pictures of your top-performers on the wall, hang your actual top performers on the wall to give them a well-deserved break from the phones.
18. Give each agent three baseballs to throw at a senior manager perched in a dunk-tank. Better yet, forget the dunk-tank.
19. Present each agent with a commission check for all the revenue they’ve saved the company by not telling customers how they really feel.
20. Officially change agents’ title to “Customer Engagement Officer”. Tell your company’s actual CEO to deal with it.
I’d love to hear YOUR fresh ideas for celebrating Customer Service Week. Feel free to share them in the 'Comments' area below.
Special ‘Customer Service Week’ Offer from Off Center
In the name of all that is customer servicey, from now through Customer Service Week I’m offering a whopping 50% off the regular price of my Full Contact book on contact center best practices, as well as all of my ‘Contact Center Tunes’ song parodies. To receive your discount, be sure to type in the following code in the ‘Discount Code’ box provided when you are making your purchase: csw13
This offer will end at midnight ET on Sunday, October 13, so act soon! (Now would be good.)
It’s time once again for me to share my knowledge and insight with contact center professionals desperate enough to reach out to somebody like me for advice.
Please keep in mind that, while my responses to the pressing questions featured below may not be entirely valid or logical, you can rest assured they come from the heart and feature almost no spelling or grammatical errors.
Q: We are getting ready to implement a home agent program, but we are concerned that the home agents we select might end up suffering from feelings of isolation and loneliness on the job. What can we do to avoid that?
A: One of the best ways to keep home agents from feeling isolated and lonely is to choose agents who have no friends to speak of in the contact center. Such employees are already completely accustomed to being ignored and shunned by peers, and thus aren’t likely to complain about feelings of alienation once working remotely. They’ll just happily focus on handling customer contacts from the comfort of their parents' basement.
If you aren’t fortunate enough to have such loners on your staff, there’s another approach you can take: Start bullying and insulting the agents you would like to have work from home, and pay your other agents a little incentive to do the same. This will ensure that the agents you send home will never want to interact with peers or set foot in the contact center again. If, on the other hand, you find that the agents in question enjoy the constant abuse, put them on your billing team.
Q: What is the contact center industry standard for Average Handle Time (AHT)?
A: The industry standard for AHT is to slap anyone who asks what the industry standard for AHT is. If, by chance, you are opposed to such violence, instruct the person who asks the ‘industry standard’ question to kindly wake up and smell the coffee, and to then drink the coffee while searching for a new job. Any contact center professional who seeks a universal time limit that applies to all call types across all industries needs to find a new career.
Occasionally you will encounter a manager or executive who, even after being slapped and/or ridiculed, still demands an answer to the AHT question, in which case simply supply them with a response that matches the absurdity and inanity of their query. Following is an example of such an exchange:
Clueless person: “Please don’t slap me again – what is the industry standard for AHT?”
You: “A fish.”
Q: We have just gotten approval for a complete overhaul of our contact center technology. Any advice on how to choose a solutions provider?
A: Congratulations! Researching and selecting the right solution and provider is always fun and exciting, particularly if you have no other hobbies. I’ve published a couple of articles in the past on how to write an effective Request for Proposal (RFP) and how to choose the right solutions provider, but I don’t like how my hair looks in my old bio photo, so I’m not going to share those links with you. I will, however, give you some essential tips:
- Don’t be intimidated by solution providers who you see exhibiting at conferences; remember, they are just as afraid of you as you are of their matching shirts and khaki pants. Approach these people with confidence and purpose, but be sure to ask their owner if it’s okay to pet them before reaching out to do so.
- Get in contact with managers of centers that already use the solution you’re considering and ask them if they are fully satisfied with it and the provider in question. If they say ‘yes’, ask them for a blood sample to prove that they aren’t a close relative of the solutions provider. If they refuse, disregard their earlier positive feedback, as they are no doubt perpetrators of nepotism. If, however, they comply with your request for a blood test, disregard their positive feedback anyway – people who lack the sense to refuse such an inappropriate request probably aren’t qualified to give a valid assessment of a product or a provider.
- Last but not least, once you’ve narrowed down your choices to two or three solutions, go with the provider that refrains from using terms like “next-generation”, “revolutionary” or “paradigm shift” in their marketing materials.
If you have a question you would like Greg to answer, you really need to start using better judgment.
The next time your contact center is in need of a consultant, look no further than your phone floor.The best centers I have worked with in my 20 years in the industry don’t view their agents as merely ‘the folks on the phones’ but rather as highly insightful internal consultants – individuals who know better than anyone what processes, practices and improvements are needed to provide optimal customer experiences and increase operational efficiency.
Such contact centers get better and better – and retain agents and customers longer and longer – by empowering staff to serve as…
Recruiting & Hiring consultants. Nobody knows what it takes to succeed on the contact center firing line better than the people who man it everyday. Smart centers solicit agent input to enhance recruiting and the applicant selection process. This may entail having them help develop ‘ideal agent’ profiles, provide suggestions for behavioral-based interview questions, interact with and evaluate candidates, and/or create job preview descriptions or videos (that give applicants a clear view into what the agent position is really like). It may also involve having agents sneak into neighboring contact centers to kidnap top talent.
Training & Development consultants. Agents know what skills and knowledge they need to create the kind of customer experience one usually only reads about in corporate mission statements or sees in dreams. Creating a training & development task force and including on it a few experienced agents – as well as a couple of not so experienced ones – is a great way to continuously close knowledge gaps and shorten learning curves. Agents will gladly tell you what’s wrong with and missing from new-hire training, ongoing training, one-on-one coaching and the center’s career path (assuming one even exists). Only by actively involving frontline staff in the training & development process can a contact center become a truly dynamic learning organization.
Quality Monitoring consultants. One of the best ways to keep agents from being afraid of or resistant to your quality monitoring program is to actively involve them in it. Agents will hate monitoring and you a lot less if you…
- ask them to help develop/improve the center’s monitoring form and rating system
- let them self-evaluate their performance prior to having a supervisor provide feedback/coaching
- allow them to take part in a peer monitoring & coaching initiative
- collaborate with them when creating development plans during coaching sessions
- give them a chance to “coach the coach” by asking them to evaluate how effective their supervisor is at rating calls and providing feedback.
Technology consultants. While you probably don’t want to have your agents designing the actual systems and software your center uses, you definitely do want to have your agents sharing their ideas and suggestions regarding what tools they need to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the service provided to customers. Agents’ two cents on desktop applications, knowledge bases, scripts and workflows can be invaluable for decreasing handle times and increasing first-contact resolution rates. In addition, agents often know what’s wrong with the center’s IVR system and web/mobile self-service applications (because customers constantly tell them), thus they can provide input that leads to a reduction in the number of unnecessary calls, emails, chats and death threats agents must contend with.
Rewards & Recognition consultants. Empowering agents to enhance the rewards and recognition they receive may be akin to letting your partner pick out her/his engagement ring, but hey, it’s all about making people happy and keeping them from running into the arms of another. I know of a lot of contact centers that ask agents for input on incentives and contests, individual and team awards, and how they’d like to be recognized. Many centers have even implemented peer recognition programs where agents themselves get to decide who is most deserving of special accolades and attention. Managers and supervisors still need to show plenty of their own initiative with regard to rewards and recognition, but collaborating with agents in this area goes a long way toward elevating engagement and performance.
Do you treat YOUR agents like consultants? Feel free to share some of your experiences and suggestions in the Comments section below.
(A slightly different version of this piece originally appeared as a guest post on the ‘Productivity Plus’ blog put out by the very good people at Intradiem.)
When it comes to social customer care (providing service and support via social media channels), there are two key practices that contact centers must embrace: 1) monitoring; and 2) monitoring.
No, I haven’t been drinking, and no, there isn’t an echo embedded in my blog. The truth is, I didn’t actually repeat myself in the statement above.
Now, before you recommend that I seek inpatient mental health/substance abuse treatment, allow me to explain. Monitoring in social customer care takes two distinctly different though equally important forms. The first entails the contact center monitoring the social landscape to see what’s being said to and about the brand (and then deciding who to engage with). The second entails the contact center’s Quality Assurance team/specialist monitoring agents' 'social' interactions to make sure the agents are engaging with the right people and providing the right responses.
The first type of monitoring is essentially a radar screen; the second type of monitoring is essentially a safety net. The first type picks up on which customers (or anti-customers) require attention and assistance; the second type makes sure the attention and assistance provided doesn’t suck.
Having a powerful social media monitoring tool that enables agents to quickly spot and respond to customers via Twitter and Facebook is great, but it doesn’t mean much if those agents, when responding…
- misspell every other word
- misuse or ignore most punctuation
- provide incomplete – or completely incorrect – information
- show about as much tact and empathy as a Kardashian.
- fail to invite the customer to continue his/her verbal evisceration of the company and the agent offline and out of public view.
All of those scary bullet items above can be avoided – or at least minimized – when there’s a formal QA process in place for social media customer contacts. Now, if you’re thinking your QA and supervisory staff are too busy to carefully monitor and evaluate agents’ Twitter/Facebook interactions with customers (and provide follow-up coaching), then what the Zuckerberg are you thinking even offering such channels as contact options? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again, and again): If your contact center isn’t ready to monitor a particular contact channel, then it isn’t ready to HANDLE that channel.
Customers don’t applaud organizations for merely being progressive. If Toyota came out with a new automobile that ran on garbage but that had a 20% chance of exploding when you put the key in the ignition, customers’ response wouldn’t be, “Deadly, yes, but I might make it across the country on just banana peels!”
Social customer care is still new enough where organizations offering it are considered progressive. If your contact center is one such organization, are your customers applauding the strong and consistent social service and support your agents are providing, or is your center overlooking the quality component and losing too many customers to explosions?
For more insights (and some irreverence) on Social Customer Care, be sure to check out my blog post, “Beginner’s Guide to Social Customer Care”. Also, my book, Full Contact, contains a chapter in which best (or at least pretty good) practices in Social Customer Care are covered.
A couple of years ago I wrote a post containing rather satirical and sardonic definitions of key contact center and customer care terms. Since then, there has been seemingly nonstop requests for more – mostly by my subconscious mind, which repeatedly wakes me from my sleep and demands I slap down additional items for the somewhat subversive glossary.
Well, I’ve never been one to argue with my brain (except for when it tells me to be serious or to quit drinking), thus I spent the better part of my last nap creating the following additions for my devious dictionary:
agent retention: Bloating that occurs when contact center reps try to hold off going to the restroom until their next scheduled break.
big data: Customer information that is suspected of taking performance enhancing drugs.
The cloud: What people have their head stuck in if they think state-of-the-art hosted technology solutions will solve rampant agent disengagement and burnout.
Customer Effort: A newfangled metric that estimates how many years the contact center takes off a caller’s life during an interaction.
customer experience: A vitamin that many executives are highly deficient in, resulting in the chronic loss of business.
empowerment: What a contact center agent is filled with upon the realization that he could probably take his micro-managing supervisor in a fistfight.
home agent model: A very attractive person who handles customer contacts virtually.
peer mentoring: A training and coaching approach employed by managers and supervisors who realize their agents are more competent than they are.
mobile customer service: The act of a customer moving away from your company and toward one that has adapted its contact options to the rise of smart phones.
Net Promoter Score: The single best indicator of customer satisfaction for the most single-minded companies.
social customer care: An emerging form of online service and support that entails accepting customers’ ‘friend requests’ and kissing their butt publicly.
If for some odd reason you want to read more of these devilish definitions, be sure to check out the original “Contact Center Glossary”. Oh, and feel free to add some of your own terms and definitions in the 'Comments' section below.
Timely and positive coaching is one of the most important tools in the contact center. Notice I said “timely” AND “positive” – this is no either/or scenario. Giving agents immediate feedback following an interaction with a customer is great, but not if that feedback makes them cry or want to punch you. By the same token, positive praise and constructive comments are wonderful, but not if the praise and comments refer to an agent-customer interaction that took place during the previous President’s administration.
A good coach plays a big part in determining whether an agent becomes a service nuisance and an early turnover statistic, or a long-lasting high-performer.
So, what comprises good coaching? Here are five practices that coaches in the best contact centers use to give their agents serious game:
Letting agents self-evaluate. When it’s the agent starting the “what needs to improve” conversation, things tend to flow much more smoothly and agents remain much more open to input and feedback compared to when the coach launches a unilateral attack. The best coaches give agents the opportunity to review their monitored contacts and allow them to express how much their performance stunk before the coach goes and does it for them.
Agents are typically quite critical of their own performance, often pointing out mistakes they made that QA staff and supervisors might have otherwise overlooked. Of course, the intent of self-eval sessions is not to sit and watch as agents eviscerate themselves – as much fun as that can be – but rather to ensure that they understand their true strengths and where they might improve. Self-evaluations should cease if agents begin to slap themselves during the process, unless it is an agent whom you yourself had been thinking about slapping anyway.
Praising before pouncing. When it comes time to provide feedback, the best coaches start off acknowledging and recognizing what the agent did well, as opposed to opening with something of a more critical nature that may put the agent on the defensive. Even if the agent stunk up the call, it’s still important to start off with something positive: “Mary, you did an excellent job of being in your seat, continuing to breathe, and not pressing ‘release’ when the call arrived. Now I’d just like to talk a little bit about how you swore at the customer before breaking into tears…”
If an agent fails to identify a performance issue during their self-evaluation, good coaches don’t shove it down their throat. Rather, they point out the issue or behavior in question and ask the agent what they could have done differently, and then engage in an interactive discussion featuring constructive feedback and sometimes lollipops.
Tapping the power of ‘ideal contact’ archives. One of the biggest complaints you hear from agents about coaching is, “They tell us what we did wrong, but they don’t help us to get better.” A great way to show agents how to get better is via recordings (or email/chat transcripts) of past agent-customer interactions that demonstrate a desired skill or behavior you want the agent in question to emulate. For example, if you have an agent struggling with excessive handle times, have them listen to a recording featuring an agent demonstrating excellent call control. Or maybe you have an agent who unwittingly comes off as rude to customers. If so, sit them down to listen to a call handled by an agent who isn’t a total sociopath.
Telling an agent they have to decrease their handle time and/or not be so mean doesn’t work nearly as well as showing them what call control and courtesy sounds like and asking them to comment on what they’ve just heard. Plus, most agents like learning from "one of their own” – more than being told what to do by a cranky supervisor who likely has it in for them.
Taking the “customer as coach” approach. Sometimes the best coaching in the contact center comes from folks who don’t even work there. As experienced and proficient as your supervisors and team leads might be at providing feedback on how agents can improve performance, it’s your customers’ direct comments that often have the biggest impact on agent development. This is certainly not to suggest that agents don’t require and value feedback from their superiors as well as from experienced peers, but there’s something about hearing things straight from the customer’s mouth that causes agents to not fall asleep during coaching sessions.
Having a supervisor tell an agent he needs to work on his empathy doesn’t hit him the same way as having him read “The agent I spoke to was colder than a naked Eskimo” on a survey completed by a customer he recently interacted with. Where agents may occasionally feel a supervisor’s or QA specialist’s take on their performance is subjective, there’s no arguing with the “Voice of the Customer”. So, whether you share customer comments taken from post-contact surveys, emails/letters sent from customers, or customer’s direct conversations with supervisors/managers (following an escalated call), those words can do a lot to engage agents and drive them to stop stinking so much.
Collaborating with agents to develop action plans. At the end of each coaching session during which a key area for improvement is identified, the best coaches typically work together with the agent to come up with a clear and concise action plan aimed at getting the agent up to speed. Such collaboration, just like with letting agents self-evaluate, is engaging and empowering to agents and makes them more likely to work hard to improve. The supervisor/coach still has the final say, but the agent is actively involved in the creation of the action plan.
A typical action plan may call for the agent to receive additional one-on-one coaching/training offline, complete one or more e-learning modules, work with a peer mentor, start taking powerful psychoactive medications, and/or undergo a lobotomy.