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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


6/6/2014 06:30:44 am

We use to have a specific team called the "climax group" in charge of organizing events of all kind: barbecues, night outs, dancing sessions, disguise competitions, etc...it was incredible the fantastic motivation it generated

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6/6/2014 06:41:45 am

I love it, Maria Jose. (Though the name of your group might be a little too risque for many US corporations!)

Thanks for reading, and for sharing!

Best,

GL

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7/25/2014 02:00:26 am

How do you actually measure agent engagement and measure the change in that engagement due to efforts such as the ones listed here?

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richardjames
1/29/2015 02:12:47 pm

This is an excellent article, with steps which every center looking to improve productivity must follow. Employees are humans, and must be motivated to get the maximum out of them. A new employee must be eased into the company atmosphere so that he is comfortable with others. It is also important to recognize and reward employee performances. Not only it motivates the employees, but will keep them happy which in turn productivity their productivity. Rewards doesn’t always need to be very expensive, <a href=http://www.houlthellewell.com/our-product-line/art-glass-crystal-awards/plaques-plaques-and-more-plaques/>just an award plaque or trophy mentioning best employee</a> or similar things may motivate them to perform. Occasional social events to cheer the up is also a great idea.

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9/15/2015 02:14:55 pm

Video Conference with Monet Software CEO: You’re Invited!

Hello,

On September 28th at 9:30am, Monet Software founder and CEO Chuck Ciarlo will host a videoconference and Q&A session with prominent industry bloggers and reporters.

The Topic: The Future of Automated Call Center WFM

Chuck will discuss contact center trends that will impact tomorrow’s technology, and offer the first details of Monet’s new contact center WFM platform.

As one of the leading online voices for this industry, I am pleased to extend this invitation to be a part of the discussion.

Please let me know if you can attend. We hope to see you there!

http://www.monetsoftware.com/videoconference/

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