Off Center
“Why is morale so low?”
“Why can’t we hang on to our best agents?”
“Why do we lose so many new-hires during or right after initial training?”
“Why are some of our agents carrying around voodoo dolls, and why am I suddenly experiencing such sharp pains in my face and back?”

If you often find yourself asking one or more of the above questions, it’s likely due to one or more of the following issues:

1) The metrics you measure (and enforce) are killing agents' spirit and the customer experience. Your agents bought into the “customer-centric” culture you sold them during recruiting and came on board excited to serve, but then the center started slamming them over the head with rigid Average Handle Time (AHT) objectives and Calls Per Hour (CPH) quotas their first day on the phones.

Focusing too strongly on such straight productivity metrics – and punishing agents for not hitting strict targets – kills agents' service spirit and compels them to do whatever is necessary to keep calls short and to handle as many as possible. This includes rushing callers off the phones before their issues are resolved, speeding through after-call work and making costly mistakes, and even occasionally pressing “release” to send unsuspecting customers into oblivion. You need to start emphasizing metrics like Contact Quality, Customer Satisfaction, First-Call Resolution, and Adherence to Schedule (the latter is a productivity-based metric your agents actually have control over). Do so, and you’ll be surprised how things like AHT and CPH end up falling in line anyway. Oh, and better do it soon – before your agents AND your customers decide to leave your company in the dust.   

2) Your quality monitoring program emphasizes the “monitoring” much more than the “quality”. Your supervisors and/or QA team are too focused on your internal monitoring form and not enough on how customers actually feel about the quality of the interaction they recently had with your center and agent. All agents see are subjective scores and checkmarks on a form that is likely better suited for measuring compliance than quality.

To get agents to embrace the quality monitoring process, let them have some input on what the form should contain, and, even more importantly, start incorporating direct customer feedback/ratings (from post-transaction surveys) into agents’ overall quality scores. For some reason, agents prefer it when a customer – rather than a supervisor – tells them how much their service stunk. Who knows, some agents might even try to improve.

3) Your contact center doesn’t fully embrace a culture of empowerment. Your contact center has failed to recognize and/or act on the fact that agents possess a wealth of insight, and know your customers better than anyone. It’s time to start empowering agents to use that insight and knowledge to improve existing processes and come up with new ones. This is probably the best way to continuously better the center while simultaneously making agents feel respected and valued. You’ll be amazed by the positive impact their ideas and suggestions will have on operational efficiencies, revenue and customer satisfaction. And because empowerment greatly increases engagement, you should see a big reduction in agent attrition and arson attempts.   

4) Coaching & training continuously get buried beneath the queue. Agents are eager to continuously develop and add value, but your overworked supervisors can’t find the time to stay on top of coaching and ongoing training. Your center needs to begin exploring feasible and effective ways to fit coaching and training into the schedule, such as using “just in time” e-learning modules, creating a peer mentoring program, and empowering agents to take on some supervisory tasks – which will free supervisors up to conduct more coaching and training while still giving them time to go home and visit their families on occasion.  

5) Agent rewards & recognition programs are uninspired – or non-existent. You’re merely going through the motions in terms of motivating and recognizing staff – futilely hoping that such stale incentives as cookies, balloons and gold stars will get agents to raise the roof performance-wise. It's time to revamp your agent rewards & recognition programs with proven approaches like: a Wall of Fame that pays tribute to consistent high performers; opportunities to serve on important committees or task forces; nominations for external industry awards for agents; fun happy hours where agents get to socialize and receive public praise for their concerted effort; and inspired events and contests during Customer Service Week and National Kiss Your Agents on the Mouth Day.     

6) You're handing the wrong people a headset. Maybe you are actually doing all the positive things I’ve suggested thus far, and are STILL struggling with low agent engagement and retention. Well, then you may want to take a close look at your recruiting and hiring practices. Regardless of how well you train, empower and reward staff, if you are attracting and selecting sociopaths and others who aren’t cut out for contact center work or your company culture, you’ll never foster the level of agent commitment or performance that’s required to become as good a customer care organization as your customers demand and deserve.   

A slightly different version of this post originally appeared on the “Productivity Plus” blog put out by the very good people at Intradiem.

Three questions seem to be on every call center professional’s mind these days:

1)    How should my call center handle social media?
2)    How should my call center prepare for mobile customer service?
3)    What would happen if Billy Joel wrote a call center song?

I feel that the first two questions are easy, thus I’ve chosen to tackle the third. I imagine this will help you immensely in your career.

What would happen if Billy Joel wrote a call center song? Probably something like what you see below. (Sorry, I would have made a recording of me singing the song, but I have laryngitis from shouting at Billy Joel’s lawyers. Besides, it will be more fun for you to sing it yourself with your agents during slow periods, or when you've all just given up.)

“The Call Center Is on Fire”
(to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”)

High attrition, battle scars
Spikes in volume, crowded queues
Budgets that are low

Calculating all the calls
Agents running down the halls
Service Level’s all disheveled
Systems that are slow

Senior managers aflame
Saying we take all the blame
Screaming that our stats are bad
Now our call forecaster’s sad

Driving callers to the web
Doing so to get ahead
Please adhere. Need a beer
Handle times are rising!

The call center is on fire
The calls ain’t stopping
Many calls are dropping
The call center is on fire
All the phones keep ringing
Not sure why I’m singing

FCR is down a bit
Unsure how to measure it
Social care has got us scared
Abandonment has grown

Seven agents called in sick
Seven more called in to quit
Callers now are getting mean
And I don’t like their tone

Monitoring all around
Agents lying on the ground
Everyday I have to swim
Through these freaking acronyms

SL, C-Sat, CPH
AHT, I need a break
ASA – blown away
What else do I have to say?

The call center is on fire
The calls ain’t stopping
Many calls are dropping
The call center is on fire
All the phones keep ringing
Not sure why I’m singing

Skills-based routing, traffic peaks
Half the staff releasing shrieks
Shrinkage, blinking readerboards
50 calls in queue

Chat requests and emails swell
Agents don’t know how to spell
All our text is just a mess
I don’t know what to do

Coaching, motivating reps
Work-at-home or under desks
Customers now own our soul
Your call is important – hold

Twitter volume’s on the rise
Facebook too, I want to cry
Time to train? Hide the pain
Obviously I’m insane!

The call center is on fire
The calls ain’t stopping
Many calls are dropping
The call center is on fire
All the phones keep ringing
Not sure why I’m singing

For more customer care related song parodies, check out my “Contact Center Tunes” page, where you can listen to song samples and, if you feel so inclined, download full songs.  (Let me know what you think about “The Call Center Is on Fire” lyrics above – maybe I’ll record the song soon!)