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.
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.)
(This post was written by guest blogger Kevin Carly, one of the smartest and funniest contact center experts you’ve never heard of.) In my time as a contact center leader, I’ve enjoyed many moments of profound success. Epiphanies, if you will. Chief among these include: 1) figuring out how to use the new coffee maker (which immediately led to more success and a sustainable, repeatable jolt to my morale); 2) determining that among my many minions there was at least one minion always willing to go get me more coffee; and 3) the value of benchmarking.
Now understanding the value of benchmarking was quite a struggle for me, ranking up there with understanding Erlang-C math and decaf coffee. Many a battle has been fought in my grand history regarding benchmarking. In favor of keeping my job, I dug deep within myself to determine how I should proceed. A favorite platitude of mine is, “When you don’t understand, start from zero.” Reluctantly, I accepted my own advice.
For me, starting from zero meant defining exactly what benchmarking is to me and to the contact center industry, and why it is always so important to my executives. I started with Webster's Dictionary:
benchmark: to study (as a competitor's product or business practices) in order to improve the performance of one's own company.
Essentially, benchmarking is studying what your competition does, how they do it and what their results are relative to your own business activities. It is akin to comparing apples-to-apples, except in practice it is more like comparing kiwi fruit and planarian worms.
Having arrived at this point, I reached out to some of my industry peers. (We contact center folks are migratory and at one point we all meet one another.) I learned that benchmarking is real and powerful, much like domesticated unicorns. Listed below for your reading pleasure are the finer points:
1) The Internet is your friend. The Internet can be enormously helpful in finding existing and relevant information. Google and LinkedIn can be leveraged for such activities as benchmarking. For this critical research, however, I spent hours on Facebook. I questioned my associates on their knowledge of benchmarking. Their responses included 127 invitations to play Farmville, countless irrelevant memes, and 12 invitations to “singles” events. After thoroughly investigating all of the above, I switched over to Google and quickly discovered my competition did not publish their KPIs and other performance metrics. This is curious, yet good news. It meant I could create and present any interpretation of benchmarking results and nobody would know if it were truly accurate!
I also found sites where contact center leaders may volunteer their call data for benchmarking baselines. These companies then share your voluntary information with other contact centers…for a price. Moreover, they wanted my money to gain access to this treasure trove. But seriously, benchmarking is so important that we always have the foresight to create budget funding for the task, right? Right? No. Spending on benchmarking puts at-risk the coffee budget. I digress.
2) You can believe benchmarking data is honest. Accurate benchmarking data may be useful. However, my contact center peers are hesitant to share their “trade secrets”. It really becomes a discussion of “You show me your FCR and I’ll show you mine.” I always fudged-down my numbers a bit and, in return, I’m sure I’ve received from my peers some numbers that are equally massaged up or down. I figure if my peers are doing a bit of benchmarking, and they want to do better than me, why not start them out aiming low, right? Instant benchmarking boost! Now I can tell my executives that we are already doing better than the competition! Call the Marketing Department and add this to their glossy collection of collateral!
3) Use your network to get more information. When seeking out benchmark-able material, call someone you trust. After you’re done co-griping about benchmarking, make good use of the time to feel out job opportunities where your trusted buddies work. This is also a good time to ask about attrition and upward mobility at your competition’s contact center. Quite possibly, this is the most valuable and useful time you’ll spend benchmarking.
Griping, benchmark data, and career opportunities – it’s a contact center trifecta. I’d add in coffee, but I’m not sure quadfecta is a word.
Also note that if your peers sound more dissatisfied than you, tell them how wonderful it is working where you are. Perhaps you can scavenge a few of their best people. Again, high value stuff here!
It’s all about networking.
4) The end-game. When you are done, you will find that there are no apples-to-apples comparisons. As most companies arbitrarily establish KPIs anyway, spend some time deciding where you should be with your performance. Along the way, you might have picked up a few numbers here and there that can be referenced and they may even make your executive summary seem a bit more convincing.
Obviously, to appear compelling, you should show where you could improve. FCR is always an easy one. Executives love NPS, too. Trust me when I say your NPS is too low. If you are close to the top of your 0-5 NPS scale, switch to a 0-100 scale to show all of your upside and potential. Then have a few action points describing how you are going to bump up your scores in each category.
This leads me to add a new entry in my own personal Contact Center Dictionary:
benchmark: to consume time chasing unicorns whilst leveraging one’s professional network, only to make up your own arbitrary goals that will convince your leadership team that you are doing okay but have plenty of room to improve. Benchmarking exercises are often performed under the influence of coffee.
What are your thoughts on benchmarking? Is it time well spent? Are benchmarking data useful in sculpting goals for your contact center? Share your ideas and advice in the comment area below. About Kevin Carly: Kevin grew up in the world of contact centers doing technical support for WordPerfect and Novell during their respective heydays. Nearly half of his career is entrenched in IT service management with companies such as Publicis Groupe and Rio Tinto. His unique-ish approach to leadership, technology and contact center expertise brought great success at DealerTrack. Kevin has four children (one in Afghanistan), and his nervous breakdown is scheduled for June 2018.
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.
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.
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.