Those of you familiar with my writing know I’ve long been a proponent of the home agent model. So you may be confused by the title of this post and are likely thinking one of two things: 1) Greg is extremely wishy-washy; or 2) Greg is about to unleash a satirical blog post where he only appears to be against the use of home agents, to help readers see how effective the work-at-home model actually is.
Wishy-washy or smart aleck – which one could it be? I’m sure the suspense is killing you.
So, without further ado, here are the five reasons why you and your contact center should NOT embrace the home agent model:
1) The increased agent retention means you won’t get to meet as many new and interesting people. If you are the kind of manager or supervisor who loves to meet and interview new people every month and who gets bored when surrounded by the same talented employees for years on end, stay away from the home agent model. In my (somewhat) recent study on home agent staffing, nearly every participant said their use of home agents has had a ‘very positive’ or ‘positive’ impact on agent retention. Fewer people quitting means fewer new folks for you to meet, and fewer people for you to get to know a little better several days or weeks later during their exit interview.
2) The sound of joy in agents’ voices will be disorienting. When you have grown accustomed to hearing agents sounding exhausted and apathetic during interactions with customers, hearing those same agents suddenly perking up and caring about customers is very jarring to the system. Such increases in happiness and engagement have been known to distract those who conduct quality monitoring to the point where they cannot focus and end up forgetting to fill out the monitoring form. This is just the kind of problem you can expect if you are silly and brazen enough to embrace the home agent model and give agents the kind of work-life balance they crave. Keep in mind, too, that sudden rises in agents’ spirits and performance can also be very disorienting for customers, who, upon hearing an authentically warm greeting and inspired efforts to assist them, may very well hang up assuming they have dialed the wrong number.
3) Hiring decisions will be too hard due to the overabundance of talented applicants. You may not have a lot of job openings after implementing a home agent program (since current agents won’t be quitting), but expect to be inundated by high-quality candidates whenever there is an opening. Once word gets out that your contact center uses home agents, applicants will come out of the woodwork in hopes of snagging a job where they’ll have a chance to work in their underpants. The real pain is that many of these applicants will be talented individuals whom you would be crazy not to offer a job. But good luck making the best selection when there’s only one agent position open and 50 candidates with solid college degrees, good references, and no police record to speak of. Who needs that kind of stress?
4) You’ll no longer have a good excuse for low service levels during storms. Senior management never likes it when you fall short of your service level objectives, but at least they are somewhat forgiving whenever a snowstorm or flood is to blame for it. If you implement a home agent initiative, you can forget about such leniency during severe weather situations. “There are 200 calls in queue because half our staff couldn’t make it in” doesn’t hold water when you have a team of home-based agents in place. Once you go virtual, it’s your workforce management and training skills that will be to blame – not the weather – if service dips when a blizzard hits. Better to keep all your staff on site to ensure that your managerial shortcomings aren’t fully exposed.
5) Your center may be suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. Many contact centers with home agents in place win awards for customer service excellence, but those same centers are often accused of pumping staff full of PEDs in order to achieve such accolades. You can’t really blame folks for being skeptical. I mean, when you see a center suddenly increase agent engagement and retention, productivity, customer satisfaction, staffing flexibility and operational costs, it’s only natural to suspect that center of cheating somehow. And while you – if your center implements a home agent program – may know that the aforementioned improvements came naturally from going virtual, are you sure you’re ready to face such serious and hurtful accusations? And are your agents willing to undergo random blood testing throughout the year?
One other reason not to embrace the home agent model is the searing envy experienced by agents in your center who are NOT selected to work from home. There’s even a famous song (at least in MY mind) about this: http://www.offcenterinsight.com/cc-tunes.html (scroll down to the third song on the page, titled “On the Phone at Home”, to hear a sample).
In this age of social media, sound bytes and ADHD, people love quick and catchy stats. Unfortunately, in the contact center and customer care space, there seem to be only a handful of snazzy stats in circulation. The same ones just keep getting regurgitated over and over (yes, that’s redundant), especially on Twitter.
This is perplexing considering how dynamic customer care is and how much contact centers have evolved. It’s actually worse than perplexing – it’s depressing. Every time I see someone tweeting the old chestnut , “Satisfied customers tell only 3 people about their experience, while dissatisfied customers tell 8-10 people” (or some variation of this), a part of my soul dies. I even wept a little just now while typing that stat.
Rather than just complain about the lack of statistical variety being promoted by self-proclaimed customer experience experts in the Twittersphere, I aim to remedy the situation. Following are several fresh and captivating stats about customer care and contact centers that I believe you and everybody else will feel compelled to talk and tweet about:
- 86% of customers would be willing to pay more for better customer service. 100% of contact center managers would be willing to pay more for even mediocre customer service.
- 70% of contact centers list Average Handle Time among their key performance metrics at the agent level. Of those centers, 100% need a clue.
- Only 17% of contact centers really mean it when they say “Your call is very important to us”. Of the remaining centers, 38% feel “Your call is somewhat important to us”, 24% feel “It’s surprising how unimportant your call is to us”, and 21% feel “It’s hilarious that you are still holding for a live agent.”
- 73% of contact center managers claim to know how to accurately measure First-Call Resolution. The remaining 27% of managers are telling the truth.
- Engaged customer service agents are 35% more likely to provide a positive customer experience than are customer service agents who are already married.
- The top three criteria contact center managers consider when selecting work-at-home agents are: 1) Past performance; 2) ability to work independently; and 3) body odor.
- Every time a caller must provide his/her name and account number to an agent after having just provided that exact same information via the IVR system, a puppy dies.
- 97% of contact center agents fantasize daily about sending a hungry Bengal tiger to the home of abusive callers. The remaining 3% of agents fantasize daily about sending a hungry Siberian Tiger.
- 81% of contact center agents are empowered to do exactly what their managers and supervisors tell them.
- Each year, over 150 customer care professionals die from overexposure to acronyms.
- 50% of managers feel their contact center is highly unprepared to handle social customer care; the remaining 50% do too.
- The three people that satisfied customers tell about their experience are Sue Johnson, Dave Winthrop, and Bud Carter. All three are tired of hearing about these experiences.
- 42% of contact center managers say they will not hire an agent applicant unless said applicant has a pulse and/or can work at least one weekend shift a month.
- Four out of five agents represent 80% of all agents. In contrast, the remaining agents represent only 20% of all agents.
- The average agent-to-supervisor ratio in contact centers is 20:1. The odds that this is enough to provide agents with the coaching and support they need to succeed is 2000:1.
- 100% of managers destined for greatness and wealth purchase a copy of the Full Contact e-book. 0% of managers understand why the author of said e-book looks so angry and aggressive in the photo on the book cover.
We keep hearing how “it’s all about the customer”. Companies constantly claim to be truly customer-focused or customer-centric or customer-iffic or customer-whatever. But many of these organizations fail to walk the talk. For instance, they focus more on measuring efficiency than they do on cultivating customer relationships. They alienate customers via poorly designed self-service systems rather than woo them with highly personalized care and support. And they rarely, if ever, say “I love you” at the end of a call, or ask to snuggle after making a sale.
It’s time for contact center leaders to check themselves before they wreck themselves (and the customer experience). If it is, indeed, “all about the customer”, then let’s really see it in action.
Here are some suggestions. (WARNING: Satire ahead.)
Take cordiality to the extreme in call scripts. “Hello Mr. Jones, how may I help you today?” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Have your agent try something like, “Mr. Jones, is that really YOU? It’s so wonderful to hear your voice! I miss you. We ALL miss you. In fact, I was just talking about you with my cubicle neighbor this morning…” Such enthusiastic and warm call greetings will catch customers completely off guard and make them think they actually are as important as your IVR repeatedly expressed while they were waiting in queue. Make sure the agent adds, “This just feels right” at some point during the call, and closes with, “No, no – YOU hang up first!”
Set up a Facebook page for your contact center. In today’s world, merely telling somebody they are important to you isn’t enough; you have to back up such sentiments by “friending” them on Facebook. To ensure you are able to connect with each customer in this critical manner, have agents confirm not only each caller’s name and account number during calls, but also their personal Facebook URL. Once you are connected to a customer on Facebook, don’t forget to regularly post comments like “Just thinking of you” or “Call me” on their wall.
NOTE: If a caller says they are not on Facebook, instruct agents to hang up on them immediately – you don’t need any troublemaking non-conformists or weirdoes as customers.
Invest in “defection detection” software. Capturing and analyzing every suspicious utterance and change of voice tone during phone calls isn’t just for the U.S. Government to do. The most customer-crazed contact centers are taking advantage of speech analytics and monitoring applications that detect whenever callers are disgruntled and at risk of defecting to the competition. Such innovative tools can be programmed to listen for when customers say the names of competitors or phrases such as “close my account”, “cancel my membership”, or “I’d sooner watch C-SPAN than do business with you ever again.” Top applications can even detect callers’ emotions and send an alert to a manager or supervisor whenever a customer sounds more confused, angry or homicidal than usual. Once alerted, the manager or supervisor can listen to a digital recording of the entire customer-agent interaction and, if necessary, call the would-be defector back to hypnotize her or him into forgetting how incompetent the center and/or agent is.
Customer-ize your KPIs. Many contact centers covet such performance metrics as Average Handle Time and Number of Calls Handled. The trouble is that these metrics do not truly relate to nor capture the quality of the customer experience. The most progressively customer-centric centers realize this and have revamped their key performance indicators (KPIs) accordingly. These centers now focus on such metrics as Caller “Woohoos!” per Hour (CWPH), Customer Marriage Proposals per Agent (CMPPA), and Average Sweet-Talk Time (ASTT). For a slightly more serious look at customer-focused metrics, be sure to check out the following blog post – written by me before I stopped taking my medication. http://goo.gl/PQy9V
I pride myself on continually providing fresh content, but there are certain Off Center posts that, based on feedback from my seven fans, bear repeating.
And with that, I present my most popular holiday-related contact center poems and carols of all time…
T’was the Night After Training
T’was the night after training, and all I could think
Was how the call center might drive me to drink
We’d all practiced role-plays to help us prepare
But role-plays are easy – real customers scare.
So there I was snuggled all warm in my bed
While visions of acronyms danced in my head
I couldn’t remember what half of them meant
FCR? C-Sat? My brain had been bent.
Then all of a sudden my mind became clear
And all fear of handling calls disappeared
Want to know why I was no longer a wreck?
The Xanax I’d taken had taken effect
The drugs soon wore off, then all I could think
Was “What if the service I give truly stinks?”
What if my quality scores are the worst?
When push comes to shove on a call I might curse
The panic subsided and soon I was snoozing
That’s when the call center dreams started oozing
The calls I dreamt of grew increasingly hectic
One dream had my manager screaming out metrics:
“Abandonment! FCR! AHT! C-Sat!
Cost-per-call! Talk time! Response time and E-Sat!
C’mon you peons – don’t let service fall!
Just answer those, answer those, answer those calls!”
I awoke from that dream quite afraid of my headset
And was very displeased about making my bed wet
Only three hours before my first shift!
So I guzzled two Red Bulls to give me a lift
Soon I was buzzing and following through
Ready to steady all calls in the queue
Ready to dazzle with email and chat
Ready to laugh at those bullies called “stats”
The taurine and caffeine and sugar combined
To make me believe I could handle this grind
But Red Bull eventually loses its magic
And that’s when my first day logged in became tragic
The calls flooded in, my confidence ceased
Thank God for that thing on my phone called “Release”
I was coming unglued after only an hour
The callers were rude and I needed a shower
So I trudged to the restroom without any clearance
My manager shouted, “You’re out of adherence!”
When asked if that’s bad, he just nodded and hissed
So I flipped him the bird and said “Monitor THIS!”
“Take the Calls”
(to the tune of “Deck the Halls”)
Take the calls, the queue’s exploding
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Satisfaction’s fast eroding
Fa la la la la, la la la la
FCR is non-existent
Fa la la, la la la, la la la
Reps are sobbing in the distance
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Call arrival is so random
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Callers sigh and some abandon
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Callers’ rage is all recorded
Fa la la, la la la, la la la
Always say “Your call’s important"
Fa la la la la, la la la la
"Working in the Contact Center, Man"
(to the tune of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”)
Hear the phones? It’s ballistic
Readerboards flash statistics
The systems are slow
We’re pissed and it shows
Working in the contact center, man
Calls attack, chats defeat you
Holy crap, now there’s tweets too
I can’t feel my hands
Working in the contact center, man
In the center you can build a forecast
And do your best to keep things gliding smooth
But customers are always on the warpath
And you get left there crying in your cube
The job’s a beast – it’s getting scary
But at least it’s sedentary
We sit on our butts
We quit or go nuts
Working in the contact center, man
Happy Holidays to All! (And to all, a good laugh.)
Some of the most interesting news in the contact center industry often goes unreported. Below are a few recent stories you probably haven’t heard about – and not because I completely made them up. Customer care is far too important to ever joke about.
Manager Braves Twister to Save Customer Relationships
A contact center manager for the 8th National Bank of Kansas received the Congressional Medal of Honor for her bravery when a destructive tornado ripped through her contact center last week.
While all the center’s agents and supervisors sought shelter under workstations and ACD reports, Ann Belnick – facing winds of 80 mph without regard for her own safety or the skirt she was wearing – proceeded to take customer calls until she emptied the queue. She answered 152 calls in 20 minutes with a quick yet informative message: “Really windy! Can’t talk now! Try again later!”
When asked about her unheralded act of courage, Belnick, who still seemed a bit bewildered when interviewed, simply clicked her heels and said, “There’s no place like home,” and then took a long nap. While she is being viewed as a hero by most, some agents in her contact center feel that her “fearless” actions were just a ploy to dramatically reduce the center’s Average Handle Time results.
Study Shows Color Choice in Contact Centers Can Spell the Difference Between Relaxation and Violent Assault
A study conducted by Brown University has revealed that certain colors can have a calming effect on contact center employees. The study revealed that such colors as pink, yellow and burgundy can reduce stress in the contact center, provided they are not worn together in an outfit.
Other colors were found to cause aggression. For example, agents working in a sky blue contact center were overheard saying such things as, “The mutiny is near!” and “Monitor THIS!” while throwing sharpened pencils at pictures of their supervisors.
According to the study, colors such as green and orange seemed to have no measurable effect on employees, as agents working in centers featuring these colors proceeded with their normal behavior – answering calls, logging customer complaints, and cutting themselves with straightened paper clips.
Dr. Susan Moody of Brown University led the study, but when asked to comment on the findings she simply growled, “I hate your navy blue blazer!” and punched the reporter in the neck.
Agent Inmates at Prison Contact Center Get Unruly
Yesterday in Cheyenne, Wyoming, prison inmates who handle calls for a travel company rioted for six hours, claiming it was cruel and unusual punishment to make incarcerated individuals help people make vacation plans.
One inmate agent complained, “It’s (expletive deleted) torture being stuck behind these (expletive deleted) bars, answering 70 (expletive deleted) phone calls a day from (expletive deleted) people whose biggest concern is whether their hotel in Paris or Rome offers free wi-fi.”
Prison guards were able to subdue the inmates before any serious damage or injuries occurred; however, the warden reported that call abandonment skyrocketed while the inmate agents were storming the front gate.
If you would like to read more news stories like these… what’s wrong with you? Wouldn’t your time be better spent reading my ebook on best practices in contact center management?
(This post was written by guest blogger James Lawther, a very cheeky Englishman who knows a thing or two about customer care. WARNING: Extremely dry [yet hilarious] British wit and sarcasm lie ahead…)
You work in a contact center; customer service is your lifeblood, your reason for being. So how do you make it better? What are the top 10 ways to improve the customer care your center provides?
10) Measure everything. It is a truism, but if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. But what do you measure? Customer Effort, Net Promoter Score or Customer Satisfaction? Should you worry about complaints or abandon rate or service level? The answer is simple, measure them all – create a “balanced scorecard” of at least 10 or 12 customer metrics. That way you will be able to have multiple meetings to discuss customer strategy, lead and lag indicators, regression techniques and big data.
After all, if you have 12 measures you will manage 12 times better.
9) Make agents stand up and smile. It is all about the interaction. That’s what the customer remembers – tone of voice, empathy, understanding. The easiest way to create a great first impression is to get your agents to stand and smile as they answer each call. It loosens the vocal chords and opens the lungs. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Another truism.
8) Make customers wait. It’s a little known fact that if you visit Disney World on a slow day they make you wait. They reduce capacity on the rides to artificially create a queue. Making customers wait makes them think the ride is popular and creates a sense of anticipation. (Remember how exciting the run up to Christmas was when you were four?) You can create exactly the same effect with a little judicious staff scheduling. The sense of excitement when a customer finally reaches an agent will be palpable.
7) Use motivational posters. Of course you need posters. Big posters with inspiring slogans. Pictures of happy customers having a good time on tropical beaches work best of all. Such images send subliminal messages to your agents – how great your service must be that your customers dial in from Hawaii to discuss their latest statement. A few inspirational posters and a good motto will solve 80% of your issues.
6) Add some flash. Face it, your Internet site is a bit tired. It looks middle-aged. It needs more pizazz, more flash. Add a video that shows how great a company you are to do business with. Think Hollywood, not home movie. The longer and larger the file, the more it will impress your customers; they might even get some popcorn and watch it again. Remember, a huge part of good customer service is distraction.
5) Spice up your IVR. What works on the web works on the phone. Invest in some theme music that bursts into life the minute your customers hit your switch. Get a voiceover artist with an unfeasibly cheerful attitude to re-record your menus. Above all, make sure that her tone of voice is “on brand”.
4) Customize your products. It doesn’t matter if you are selling insurance, credit cards, mobile phones or electricity. The number-one way to make customers feel special is to create a product just for them. Mass customization is the future. Mix up your rates, tariffs, deals and contracts so that your customer gets the product that is absolutely right for them. After all nobody wants just electricity, right? Then wow them with your ability to deal with their individually created problems.
3) Specialize. Create pools of specialist resources that can deal with your highly customized products. Your customers will love the warm feeling they get when they realize their call is so important to you that they are queuing for an agent who has been trained specifically to deal with their unique issue. If you excel here, customers and agents will be on first-name terms. How’s that for service?
2) Ring-fence your agents. There is no benefit to be had from specialization if your “special” agents are always taking the wrong call type. Ring fence them and make sure that there is only one number that will get through to them. And please remember you don’t want any Tom, Dick or Harry dialing it, so keep it a secret.
1) Reduce handle time. An oldy but a goldy. You’ve heard it before, but it’s so good it needs to be repeated. Your customers don’t want to spend hours on the phone talking to your agents; they have other things to do with their time. Encourage agents to reduce handle time and get off the phone quickly. At the very least train them to talk fast. You know it makes sense. If you dare to obtain more “thought leadership” on contact centers and customer service from James Lawther, you can do so here.
Few people understand as well as I do the challenges contact center agents face. I was not only once an agent, I was one of the worst agents in the history of customer care. Fortunately for me and everybody else, my career on the frontline was brief.
It’s not that I didn’t care about doing a good job on the phones; rather, I simply felt they rang too often. I would go to great measures to avoid answering calls. When I wasn’t pressing the “release” button to drop callers, I was faking severe gastroenteritis and hiding in the restroom.
I felt that the other agents were far too serious. They were always adhering to scripts and schedules, and worrying too much about whether or not they resolved customers’ issues. I, on the other hand, endeavored to make the few calls I actually answered fun and interesting without stressing out so much about the overall outcome. My supervisor, while sometimes entertained by my antics, was often enraged by my abandonment rate and freewheeling approach to customer service.
I remember one time she called me into her cubicle:
“Greg, we have a problem here,” she said sternly.
“I’ll say we do,” I responded. “I mean, who chose the carpeting and lighting in this joint?”
“Forget that, Greg. Here’s a copy of yesterday’s performance stats. As you can see, the other agents handled an average of 103 calls each. You handled 12.”
“Well, if you’re going to look just at the numbers, then yeah, it looks bad,” I replied. “But some things are more important than the bottom line – like how much I make customers laugh.”
“That’s the other problem we have,” she said. “We didn’t hire you so you could use your talk time to sharpen your stand-up comedy routine.”
“But humor is very useful for building customer rapport and relationships.”
“Yes, but sometimes you offend customers.”
“What? Give me one example,” I demanded.
“Okay. This morning you told that one customer they sounded like James Earl Jones.”
“Yeah? So? How is that offensive? Mr. Jones has one of the most captivating voices in the world. Most people would consider it an honor to be compared to him.”
“Well, that customer called back to speak to me afterward, and let’s just say that SHE was not pleased.”
I continued to butt heads with management for the remainder of my time working in the contact center. I’m not saying that I was always right or that they were always wrong; I’m just saying I would be thrilled to have a voice like James Earl Jones.
I admit, I had a problem with authority. I didn’t even like it when my supervisor told me to "Have a nice evening" at the end of my shift. I’d say to myself, “I just spent the last 10 hours answering calls from irate people – I should have the freedom to have a perfectly miserable evening.”
I became very spiteful. Anything my supervisor said to do, I’d either ignore her or break into tears so she’d ignore me. If she told me to go available for calls, I’d stay unavailable. If she told me to stop pressing the “mute” button during calls so I could swear at customers, I’d continue pressing it and using even more obscene language. If she yelled at me to come into her cubicle for a discussion, I’d… well, that I’d actually do because it got me off the phones.
Then, for reasons I’ll probably never fully understand, I got fired. Or maybe I quit.
As you can see, I had a tough first day on the phones.
I never could have imagined how difficult it was being a contact center agent. I was forced into stressful conversations with strangers, many of whom already decided they didn’t like me or anything I stood for… and those were just my co-workers. I had to spend the entire day sitting in a chair in a cramped space – except for during slow periods, when I’d nap under my workstation. And worst of all, I was expected to handle call after difficult call without making fun of customers or their families.
My hat goes off to contact center agents everywhere. If you are a manager or a supervisor, please let your agents read this post so they can see how all that they do, all that they’re up against, does not go unnoticed and is very much appreciated. Then tell them to get back to work immediately so that they don’t screw up the center’s service level results.
And finally, let them know that if they ever decide to ask a customer out on a date, they should make absolutely sure the call isn’t being monitored.
The big thing these days is to become the sort of company where job applicants would step on their best friend to get a foot in the door. There’s even a formal label for such organizations – "Employer of Choice®" – a label that can only be acquired by completing a grueling certification process established by Employer of Choice, Inc.
Don't worry, I'm not here to make you think that your contact center is inadequate because it isn’t EOC certified. After all, I'm sure that there are plenty of other reasons why you think your contact center is inadequate. I'm here to help you realize that attaining the official EOC stamp of approval isn't nearly as important as stealing the blueprints for success that the EOC's governing body created to enable organizations to continuously attract, acquire and retain the highest caliber employees.
Fortunately for you, I recently got my hands on said blueprints, and have summarized them below. Follow them, and your center will become just as attractive an employer as an official EOC organization. And with the money you'll be saving by forgoing the certification process, you'll be able to help bail me out of prison for copyright infringement.
1) Create the image that your company is well respected and forward-thinking. While your contact center doesn't have total control over how the public perceives your company as a whole—there is one thing you as a manager or supervisor can do to promote your center’s and organization's strength and identity to capture the attention of applicants: Hire an outside advertising agency.
Be sure to contract with an ad agency that specializes in making corporations somehow seem hip and progressive. Specifically, you want to look for agencies with expertise in creating company mascots that ride a skateboard. This will help to attract youthful and exuberant Gen-Nexters and Gen-Yers, as well as emotionally stunted but possibly skilled Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers. Attracting and retaining agents is all about marketing.
2) Create and sustain a positive contact center environment. Talented applicants seek employment in companies with a positive, healthy environment. Therefore, you have a ton of work to do. First, you will need to make sure that all current agents get along with one another, as any hints of dissension or division among the employee ranks will certainly frighten off prospective candidates. Top contact centers ensure employee harmony by creating strict policies prescribing mandatory group hugs and forbidding any agent to express his or her honest opinion about any peers or supervisors. Some of the more innovative centers also provide top-grade anti-depressants in each restroom.
3) Focus on effective leadership. Studies have shown that employees want to work for leaders who are accessible, communicative and sensitive to factors influencing success; however, other studies have shown that studies about what employees want are worthless. What employees really want in a leader is just enough insanity to make the leader fun to be around and work for, but not so much insanity that he or she could be mistaken for an IT director.
Thus, in order to attract and retain the highest quality agents, have the contact center director do playfully crazy things like shave his/her head after staff meet a critical performance objective, or perform an impromptu rap about how he/she values the frontline nearly as much as his/her golf clubs.
4) Care for and nurture agents. Employees want to work for organizations that respect a healthy work/life balance, emphasize wellness for employees (and their families), and that have flexible policies regarding where, when and how people work. Thus, employees are in for a lot of disappointment.
It’s important to politely explain to agents that there is no way that your company could exhibit all those caring qualities and still make a huge profit. After you explain this, give each agent a lollipop and a hug and tell them everything is going to be okay, as long as they get back to their workstation immediately and start handling calls.
5) Show agents the meaning and value of their work. Employees want not only to be cared for and nurtured; they also want to feel a strong sense of purpose in their jobs. Get creative to help show candidates and new-hires just how meaningful the agent position is. Point out that, without agents, headsets would merely sit on desks and acquire dust and possibly mold that could be dangerous to the environment. Also inform candidates that, if it weren’t for contact centers and agents, incidents of Carpal Tunnel syndrome would drop drastically and, thus, have a severely negative impact on the salaries of orthopedic surgeons and their ability to pay their kid’s boarding school tuition.
6) Provide opportunities for agent growth and development. Employees want to know that there is ample room for advancement in their contact center career. That's why leading centers have made a concerted effort to create and publicize career and skill paths featuring numerous cool job titles that distract agents from the fact that they still must work in a cramped cubicle far from any windows or proper ventilation.
Top centers are experts at recognizing whenever an entry-level agent is burning out, and remedy this by changing his or her title to “Elite Customer Care Specialist Extraordinaire” and then featuring a photo of him or her wearing a suit and carrying a leather briefcase in the weekly newsletter.
7) Get creative with compensation. There isn't as much room for innovation in this area as there is in many of the others, but employers of choice find ways to get creative with compensating staff. These centers go beyond merely adhering to compensation benchmark studies and/or paying agents exactly what nearby and competing centers pay theirs. Instead, they give agents what they are worth to their particular organization – often paying a compelling premium for agents who:
· Don’t report OSHA infractions, such as faulty headsets that administer electric shocks, or cubicles made out of asbestos.
· Can handle all contact channels (phone, email, Web/chat, social media) with only minimal medication.
· Are dedicated and flexible enough to work six weekends a month.
Of course, many centers are restricted by lean budgets, and thus can’t pay agents a very large premium for such special skills and attributes. The most forward-thinking among these organizations make up for this by making compensation itself fun. Some centers, for example, place agents’ paychecks at the bottom of a giant vat of melted chocolate, then have agents dive in and search for theirs. Other centers give agents the choice of either having their paycheck electronically deposited into their bank account or used to help pay for a case of domestic light beer.
8) Focus on making a difference. Employees want to feel that they are a part of something much larger than themselves or their cubicles. Some of your employees may already find that being a contributing member of a successful customer care enterprise already fully satisfies that need, especially if your recruiting and hiring efforts target people who have recently banged their head.
Most employees seek to contribute to much more than just the organization’s bottom line or customer satisfaction rate; they want to work for organizations that strive to make a real difference in the local community and the world at large. A prime example is an employer of choice contact center I know of in Miami that donated money to a non-profit organization that provides clothes to underprivileged locals. Then, once the center realized that the underprivileged locals in Miami were way over-dressed, management decided to start donating the previously mentioned funds to an non-profit organization whose aim it is to take clothing away from underprivileged locals in Miami and give it to underprivileged people in Minsk.
In an effort to gain recognition and respect, too many struggling contact centers try to bite off more than they can chew – implementing performance goals that they have as much chance of meeting as I do of being crowned Miss America.
I often encourage managers of poorly performing contact centers to stop reaching for the stars and to instead just concentrate on not sucking. You have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you can run a world-class operation.
With that in mind, below are some key performance objectives that managers of sub-par centers might want to consider implementing to help earn some quick wins, build some confidence among staff, and quit drinking so much in the morning.
Contact Resolution. Don't worry about first-contact resolution (FCR) right now. True, resolving customer issues on the first contact has a big impact on customer satisfaction, agent engagement and operational costs, but chances are your center just isn't yet ready to achieve a lofty FCR objective. Instead focus on a more feasible and less intimidating metric – fifth-contact resolution (5CR).
Studies have shown that it is easier to fully resolve customer issues on the fifth try than it is to do so on the first, second, third or fourth try. Research has also revealed that centers that are able to resolve customer issues within five contacts report higher customer satisfaction, agent retention and cost savings than do centers that don't resolve customer issues until the sixth, seventh or eighth contact.
Service Level. Don't set your center and agents up for failure by shooting for an ambitious service level objective of answering 80 percent of calls within 20 seconds, or some similar challenging goal. It's much wiser to start out with the following, more palatable service level objective: 80% of calls answered… period. The number of seconds that it takes to do so should not be a major concern at this point – that will come later, assuming customers don’t burn your center to the ground in the meantime.
Adherence to Schedule. Most contact centers focus too much on whether or not agents are in their seat at the right times. Your center will be much more likely to meet/exceed its adherence objective if you don't emphasize the "in your seat" and the "at the right times" parts so much. Instead, go a little easier on your staff by explaining the importance of them at least trying to stay within city limits during their shift. Agents will greatly appreciate the fact that you recognize how challenging and restrictive their job can be, and, as a result, will strive to meet the new objective you have set forth. Or not.
Contact Quality. When it comes to assuring quality in struggling contact centers, the emphasis should be less on agents achieving high monitoring scores and more on whether or not the person rating the call throws up. When no vomiting occurs, be sure to praise the agent publicly, and consider grooming him or her for a supervisory role. If, however, vomiting does occur during a call evaluation – and it will – provide the agent with positive and nurturing pointers on how he or she could have made the interaction with the customer less nauseating to the person evaluating it.
If you follow all the suggestions and recommendations provided here in this blog post, I guarantee that your contact center will move from being absolutely abysmal to being just a little pitiful in no time. Best of luck!
For performance measurement and management tactics that are even MORE practical than those highlighted here, be sure to check out Greg’s critically acclaimed ebook, Full Contact: Contact Center Practices & Strategies that Make an Impact.
Over the years, hundreds of articles and whitepapers have been written – some by respected experts, others by people like me – on practical ways in which contact centers can reduce operating expenses without sacrificing quality and the customer experience. Unfortunately, practicality is the cousin of conventionality, conventionality breeds conformity, conformity begets homeostasis, and homeostasis, well… I'm not exactly sure what homeostasis means, but I'm told that it doesn't lend itself well to innovation.
To achieve the kind of cost savings that truly impact the bottom line – and help organizations not only survive but thrive during the current economic climate – contact centers need to start pushing limits, taking risks, being creative, breaking laws, ignoring ethics and destroying evidence. It's not enough to focus only on ho-hum tactics like improving scripts and workflows to shave seconds off of calls, or encouraging customers to use self-service options. While such approaches can help cut expenses, they rarely result in the kind of eye-popping savings that earn the respect of the leading white-collar criminals.
To earn that kind of respect and recognition, you'll need to focus on the highly inventive and unproven practices highlighted here:
Ban turnover. Agent attrition is the biggest drain on most contact center's budgets. The cost of having to continually re-recruit, re-hire, re-train and regurgitate can be staggering. Most contact centers try to reduce turnover via rewards/recognition programs and other incentives, flexible schedules, home agent initiatives, and compelling career paths. The problem is that such initiatives require time and effort and stuff, which can be a significant challenge for managers who just don't feel like working too hard. And even if they do take the time to implement such programs and practices, there is no guarantee that agent retention will improve.
The solution is simple: Formally ban turnover in your contact center. Explain to agents that, from this day forward, attrition is strictly prohibited; that working in the contact center is no longer a privilege nor a right, but an absolute requirement.
Agents will most likely appreciate the authoritarian policy, as it will relieve them of the pressure and anxiety they often feel when trying to decide what to do after quitting. With quitting no longer an option, finding a new and better job will be one less thing that agents need to worry about, which will enable them to focus more on the obscenities that customers are screaming in their ear.
Of course, there are always going to be that small minority of agents who feel compelled to spoil everything. Don't be surprised if a few chronic complainers vehemently object to the center’s decision to strictly forbid turnover. The best way to deal with such employees is to introduce another new policy – one that forbids vehement objection in the contact center.
Eliminate training. A formal training program can be quite taxing – both financially and physically. First of all, the necessary investment in training materials and software can be staggering. Secondly, trainees often suffer costly injuries to their temporomandibular joint when yawning during sessions covering the company's mission, vision and values.
To dramatically reduce such expenses and musculoskeletal suffering, the most forward-thinking centers have eliminated agent training entirely – resorting instead to hiring only super-smart people and/or kidnapping competitors' top performers. Newly hired staff who still wish to receive some form of expert training can do so by asking the center's best agent to be their mentor, or by carefully observing the center’s worst agent and doing the exact opposite of everything he or she does.
Blackmail technology vendors. Just as expensive as agent turnover and training – if not more expensive – is the technology required to effectively and efficiently run a contact center. To compete and succeed in today's fiercely competitive customer contact arena, companies must shell out hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars for call routing systems, CRM applications, advanced speech recognition technology, etc.
The good news is that the vendors who sell such high-priced solutions will do just about anything to protect and embellish their reputation in their respective market. They know if word gets out that their product doesn't work, or that their support is unreliable, or that their ethics are questionable, or that they give out generic rather than Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars in exhibit halls, it could cause their entire empire to crumble. Thus, to greatly reduce your technology costs, it's a good idea to tell premium vendors that, unless they drastically lower the price of/give you their latest revolutionary technology release, you will start a daily blog dedicated to launching rumors that the vendor paid for its last five "product of the year" awards, that's its performance management suite causes meningitis, and that it tests its analytics software out on puppies.