Off Center
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 my book,
Full Contact: Contact Center Practices & Strategies that Make an Impact.

Agent adherence to schedule -- also known simply as “adherence” or, in less evolved call centers, “get your butt in your seat NOW” -- is a metric that measures how often your agents are logged in to take calls (when they are scheduled to be) as opposed to in the break room crying for their mother. 

Adherence is not only an important productivity metric, it is one that agents typically accept and buy into, since it is within their direct control. Unlike with such common – yet often polarizing – productivity metrics as number of calls handled per hour/shift and average handle time (AHT), agents alone determine whether or not they meet their adherence objective. They know the impact they each have on service level (assuming they have been taught this in training, another best practice), and they know their schedule – what time they need to arrive in the morning, be back from breaks/lunch, and emerge from under their workstation after a panic attack. If an agent is not in his or her seat when he or she is supposed to be, it is that agent and that agent alone who is accountable, with the exception of when a bullying coworker has duck-taped him to the bathroom wall for a laugh, or if the agent gets trapped under an ACD report.

It’s essential to set a feasible and fair adherence objective, one that meets the contact center’s and customer’s needs without forcing agents to pee in a jar at their workstations. As with virtually every other metric, there is no universal industry standard for adherence to schedule per se, though most leading contact centers shoot for the 85%-90% range. Meeting such an objective would require each agent to be available to handle contacts 51-54 minutes for each hour they are scheduled, thus leaving enough time for runs to the restroom, seeking assistance from supervisors, or searching the help wanted ads for a less demanding job.      

It should be noted that scheduled time away from the phones – such as breaks, lunches, training and beatings – is not counted as time assigned to handle contacts, and thus should not be factored into adherence to schedule measurements.

Agents are human beings, at least in most contact centers, and thus need to be treated as such when it comes to measuring and “enforcing” adherence to schedule. Merely telling agents that they need to be in their seats at certain times “or else” will do little to foster agent buy-in and commitment, and a lot to foster agent graffiti and arson. Leading contact centers ensure that agents meet adherence objectives without the use of cattle prods or border collies. Some of the non-invasive and respectful tactics these centers utilize to keep agents in their seats include:

• Educating new-hires (and reminding existing agents) on the meaning and importance of adherence, and the impact that each agent’s adherence to schedule has on the customer experience and each other’s sanity.

• Doing a good job with workforce management to ensure that agents don’t have to frequently endure call deluges, which will cause burnout and spontaneous combustion, thus encouraging agents to take longer breaks, or not show up at all.

• Involving agents more in the scheduling process – e.g., enabling them to access schedules, request vacations and bid for/trade shifts right from their desktop – to ensure more buy-in from staff and trick them into thinking they have the slightest semblance of control over their lives.

• Basically, doing anything that helps make the job more enjoyable and decreases burnout. Examples include: Rewarding/recognizing agents for regularly meeting adherence objectives; providing agents with fun stress-reduction techniques they can do between calls; offering a work-at-home option; and, of, course, removing the steel bars and the seatbelts from their workstation.