By guest blogger, Matt McConnell If doing the same thing 50-75 times a day sounds intellectually stimulating, stop reading.
Still there? Since many of you may have begun your career as contact center agents, you probably know how monotonous the job can be. As a manager, there are many things you likely already schedule to break up the agent’s day periodically. Things like training and team meetings along with activities like special projects. (Whether they actually happen or not is a different story.) But what else can agents do in between calls that don’t have to occur at a specific time? Consider putting together a list like the one below to build variety into your agents’ days. Happy agents make happy customers, so read on for ideas to end up with both:
1. Development. How satisfied can you be if the customer knows more than you do by the time they make it through multiple channels before reaching you with a complex problem? Ensure your agents get the communications, training and coaching they need to do their jobs well.
2. Social Media. Certify agents to support customers or even just interact on behalf of your brand via social media to liven up their day and take your service to where your customers are.
3. Customer Community. If you have a customer community, send your agents to mingle and help. If agents participate in your customer community via an assigned task, not only would you alleviate boredom, you could end up turning idle time into call avoidance.
4. Back Office. The customer experience involves the whole enterprise. Help alleviate back office backlog, elevate the customer experience and provide variety by delivering back-office tasks like application processing, fax communications, and processing returns to agents during call volume lulls.
5. Welcome Calls. Give your agents the opportunity to take a customer call without a “problem” attached to it, and start your customer relationship off with warm fuzzies.
6. Game Time. Games can keep agents engaged, especially Generation Y agents. If you’re planning to incorporate gamification into your center, make sure you give your agents time to earn their badges, kudos and bragging rights.
7. Peer Awards. What if agents received reminders to nominate their peers for awards? Doing something nice for someone else can improve one's mood, and on the receiving end, recognition from one's peers can mean a lot.
8. Fitness Breaks. Give agents a chance keep their body and mind healthy by giving them a fitness break. A walk around the grounds could be just what’s needed to break up the day and get a healthy boost of energy to bring to the next call.
Most call center leaders want to make the center a better place to work for their agents, but time is tight, and service levels rule the day. High attrition and low agent engagement don’t have to be the norm, however. You do have options if you’re willing to challenge some of the accepted methods and manual processes around intraday management. Even with all the maneuvers workforce management does when staffing and call volume don’t quite match up with your forecasts, 85% occupancy equates to 17 hours of idle time a month. Automating intraday management allows your workforce management team to re-purpose that time so that your agents can take a break from calls to improve your customer experience, your center productivity and your agent retention. About Matt McConnell:
Matt is chairman, president and CEO of Intradiem
. Matt co-founded Intradiem in 1995 with a vision of helping companies increase the level of customer service they deliver by improving the performance of their agents. Today, Intradiem is a leader in intraday management technology with more than 450,000 agents and managers around the world using Intradiem every day.
Contact Quality. C-Sat. First-Call Resolution. Adherence to Schedule. These are just a handful of the metrics the best contact centers fully embrace.
Here’s another one: Corporate Social Responsibility.
In our industry, “CSR” usually refers to the people handling customer contacts, not the social good the organization does. Nevertheless, if you want to raise the level of engagement among the former, it’s very wise to raise the level of commitment to the latter. You see, CSRs LOVE CSR.
If you don’t believe me, ask them. Studies and companies’ engagement surveys consistently show that agents want to work for an organization that cares just as much about the community as it does about the customer. They want to see that “Service Level” refers to more than just how accessible the center is to callers. And they want to play an active role in reducing not only complaints and handle times but also homelessness and hunger.
That’s exactly what companies like travel insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance have found.
“We have a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility program that provides opportunities for all [contact center] agents to become involved,” says Daniel Durazo, Director of Communications (USA) for Allianz. “Our CSR program is well liked by our agents, and the community recognizes us as a responsible corporate citizen.”
Among the CSR initiatives and activities that Allianz’s contact center agents, supervisors and managers participate in include assembling food kits to be sent to hungry families in developing nations, volunteering at Ronald McDonald house, painting houses for Elder Homes, and more. In addition, whenever an employee gives a donation to their favorite charity or non-profit organization, Allianz matches it.
Another customer care organization that views CSR as a key metric – and has seen the hugely positive impact on agents – is global contact center outsourcer TELUS International. (TELUS was recently recognized as the most philanthropic corporation in the world by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.) Since 2007, TELUS team members have volunteered thousands and thousands of hours of service to build sturdy and affordable homes in villages in The Philippines. In addition to helping with construction, team members regularly volunteer in the villages to help run livelihood programs, teach lifestyle skills and English, and host children’s recreational activities. TELUS team members’ volunteer efforts in Latin America are equally impressive, with the focus being namely on children and education (e.g., helping to construct schools).
Certainly, the most important things to come out of such noble philanthropic efforts is the improved standard of living in the aforementioned impoverished communities, but in keeping with the topic of this article, I need to point out the positive impact of TELUS’ CSR efforts on CSRs. According to TELUS President Jeffrey Puritt, since the organization started fully embracing Corporate Social Responsibility, “attrition in all of our contact center programs has dropped, employee satisfaction indexes have increased, employee engagement scores have increased, and we are now considered a ‘Top Employer’ in both Latin America and the Philippines.”
Puritt acknowledges that TELUS’ CSR initiative isn’t solely responsible for all these improvements, but points out that it definitely has had a significant and direct impact.
“By opting to make CSR an important component of the contact center, we believe there are huge dividends for all involved,” says Puritt. “And although our daily focus needs to remain on the key metrics of our business, like C-SAT and FCR, there are many ways to inspire great performance. Corporate Social Responsibility efforts are truly a positive path to success.”
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.
The contact center industry has historically been plagued by high employee turnover. Particularly problematic (and expensive) is early agent attrition – new-hires quitting soon after the contact center has spent ample time and resources recruiting, assessing, training and greasing them up to fit inside their cubicle.
While some early attrition can be attributed to poor candidate selection, often rookie reps exit because they get rushed through orientation and initial training then thrown to the customer wolves. Or, in some cases, they receive plenty of coddling and coaching during orientation/training, and then wonder where all the love suddenly went once they’ve earned their headset.
To help ease rookie agents into the challenging and dynamic customer care environment without the use of mood-altering drugs, many top contact centers have implemented an “extended on-boarding” initiative. Such initiatives spread the transitional phase out over several weeks or months to help foster a strong sense of preparedness and belonging among new staff, resulting in higher levels of engagement and fewer incidents of them vanishing into thin air.
Following are several key components of a successful “Extended On-Boarding” initiative:
“Transition” training. After their trainees complete a couple weeks (or more) of classroom training, many contact centers send them to a special phone bay (or “nesting area”) to take basic calls while being closely monitored and carefully coached by a supervisor (or multiple supervisors, if the training class is particularly large). After a week or so in the bay, trainees may head back to the classroom to enhance their skills and to learn how to ignore the urge to punch customers. Following another stint in the nesting area taking live calls, successful trainees are moved to the official phone floor while their less successful peers are moved to a mental institution.
“Transition” training, as it has come to be called, not only helps to shorten learning curves by providing plenty of practical experience, it works wonders in raising comfort levels among new hires, who love the extra care and attention they get before getting torn to shreds on a daily basis by customers with much more complex problems.
Peer mentoring. Effective agent on-boarding doesn’t end with initial training. Top contact centers continue to show new-hires the love after “graduation” by pairing them up with an experienced agent trained to assist and inspire. Having a peer nearby to help rookies through tough calls, peak periods and panic attacks is a surefire way to fend against early attrition and help new-hires thrive in what can be an overwhelmingly fast-paced environment.
In addition to raising the retention and performance levels of new hires, peer mentoring has the added benefit of enhancing engagement among the center’s frontline veterans (which can be infectious), who enjoy sharing their knowledge, taking on more of a leadership role, and having somebody to fetch their coffee in the morning.
Social events. Even with peer mentoring in place, feelings of isolation and alienation are common among agents, who must spend most of their time tucked inside a cubicle handling (or waiting to handle) customer contacts. Smart contact centers recognize this, and thus organize frequent events and gatherings aimed at strengthening relationships, elevating morale, and getting agents drunk so that they'll accept weekend shifts. Examples of such practical social activities include team luncheons, bowling outings and barbeques. During these events, managers and supervisors should introduce and encourage interaction with the center’s newer team members, and inform the newer members if they have any food stuck in their teeth.
Specialized satisfaction surveys for new(ish) employees. Just because this isn’t a common practice doesn’t mean it’s not a good one. Administering an “on-boarding satisfaction” survey to agents after 60 or 90 days on the job enables the contact center to gauge the level of engagement among newbies and act quickly on feedback to help prevent early attrition and aggravated assault on supervisors. Agents’ input and suggestions also help the center to improve the overall on-boarding process to ensure high levels of retention and low rates of murder among the next group of new-hires that roll through.
Many managers say that the very act of soliciting such feedback from new-hires helps to increase morale and retention, as it shows them that the organization truly values their opinion and is committed to improving hiring, training, brainwashing and other processes aimed at setting them up for success.
This week being the one-year anniversary of the launch of my ebook, Full Contact, I thought it would be fun to share the book’s Introduction, which is far too well-written to only be enjoyed by the six people who have actually purchased Full Contact. (Don't miss the special offer at the end of this post. It's especially special.)
In high school, I was voted “Most likely to write a top-selling ebook on contact center best practices”. It was a peculiar honor, especially since I graduated high school years before either ebooks or the term “contact center” had even been invented. My senior class was a prophetic lot.
Of course, such a lofty and obscure prediction places a lot of pressure on a person. Throughout college I wondered if I would ever live up to the expectations of my peers. At my university there were no classes or study groups on contact center practices; no dean of Customer Management. I tried to engage my college friends in contact center-related conversations, but they all felt that frat parties and frisbee were more important than first-call resolution.
Feeling that college ill-prepared me to fulfill my ebook destiny, I took a job as an agent for an insurance contact center right after graduating in 1991. However, I soon found that having to adhere to schedule in a cramped cubicle nine hours a day left little time for me to discover best practices or to write.
Things started to look more promising when I secured a job as an editorial assistant with ICMI in June of 1994. The fact that I didn’t have much contact center experience or knowledge didn’t bother ICMI founder Gordon MacPherson; he had been looking for somebody with good writing skills and a fiery ambition whom he could shape and mold. When he read on my resume that I had been voted “Most likely to write a top-selling ebook on contact center best practices” back in high school, he knew that I had what it took to become a top-notch editor for their pioneering publication of the time, Service Level Newsletter.
I learned a ton in my editorial position at ICMI. Gordon – and later, Brad Cleveland – enthusiastically taught me the key principles of contact center management. I got to interview top experts the world over and write articles and research reports on the most pressing issues, biggest challenges and hottest trends facing contact center professionals. Over my 16 years at ICMI I learned about and witnessed first-hand the most effective practices with regard to workforce management, metric selection, quality monitoring, customer satisfaction measurement, customer relationship management, agent hiring and retention, email/chat management, IVR and web-self service, outsourcing, home agents, and a lot more. I learned how to say key contact center management terms like “shrinkage” and “Erlang” without giggling, and was able to memorize over 700 industry acronyms without the aid of performance enhancing drugs. You name it, I wrote about it, conducted research on it, and – eventually – spoke about it at industry events.
But what I didn’t do while at ICMI is make my high school classmates’ prognostication become a reality. True, I have written well over 200 feature articles, nearly the same number of case studies, dozens of research reports and countless industry-related blurbs and bytes, but I have never written an ebook on contact center best practices.
Full Contact is a composite of the most effective and innovative practices, processes, approaches, applications, strategies and initiatives – in what I consider to be the most critical areas of contact center management – that I have uncovered in my nearly two full decades as a researcher and journalist in the industry. The book contains not my opinions (though, yes, I do have a penchant for speaking my mind); rather it contains proven practices and tactics – those that separate the world-class contact center operations from those that merely get by, or don’t.
I realize that just because I have finally written an ebook doesn’t mean that I have lived up to my high school classmates’ expectations. After all, I wasn’t voted “Most likely to write an ebook on contact center best practices”; rather I was voted “Most likely to write a top-selling ebook on contact center best practices”.
Thus, I strongly encourage all of you to purchase multiple copies, and to persuade your colleagues to do the same. Rave about this ebook online. Tweet and blog about it. Give it as a gift for birthdays and holidays, or simply to show that special somebody in your life that you care enough to want to help them learn how to accurately forecast contact volume and schedule accordingly to achieve a strategically chosen service level objective. That’s love.
Then and only then will I be able to attend my upcoming 25th high school reunion with my head held high.
Get Full Contact at Half Price. From now until next Friday (Nov. 11), I’m offering Full Contact at 50% off the regular price. The discount code is fc1111 – be sure to use it when you stop by the gift shop on the way out: http://www.greglevin.com/full-contact-ebook.html