Off Center
 
Picture
I'm not one to criticize or judge, except perhaps when I'm around other people. However, I feel I must voice (or, more accurately, write) my opinions regarding some common problems that plague the contact center industry.

Following are what I have found to be among the most common stupid things contact centers do, along with some suggestions to help avoid such idiocy.


Borrowing another contact center’s Service Level or Response Time objective. In choosing a Service Level and/or Response Time objective for their center, many managers simply use the same objective that is in place at centers deemed "best in class." What these managers fail to realize is that their particular customers may very well be bigger pains in the butt than those of best-in-class centers, making them more likely to complain and become irritable if their call isn't answered immediately.

Take for example a manager who, after reading an article about an award-winning pharmaceutical company's contact center with an 80/30 Service Level objective in place, implemented the same goal at his center. What he failed to realize was that 94 percent of the pharmaceutical center's customers were using a leading anti-depressant, and thus thoroughly enjoyed humming along to the centers' on-hold music for as long as possible. Our guy, on the other hand, managed a helpdesk for novice voodoo practitioners, where it wasn't at all uncommon for callers who were forced to wait even just 10 seconds for a connection to start sticking needles in little dolls wearing headsets.

The key point to take away from this ridiculous example is that I am very prone to run-on sentences. Another important point is that, whenever deciding on performance objectives, it's essential to choose the best objectives for YOUR contact center, and to ignore those of respectable ones.

 
Failing to incorporate customer feedback into coaching. One problem with relying solely on your own QA staff or supervisors to provide monitoring feedback to agents is that your agents don't like your QA Staff or your supervisors. Many of your agents would rather have their gums scraped or read a technology vendor’s whitepaper than take your supervisors' advice. That's why the best contact centers have started incorporating direct customer feedback (taken from post-contact surveys) into monitoring scores and coaching efforts. True, most agents don't like your customers either, but are more willing to accept their input because customers never have coffee breath and rarely if ever order your agents to go home and change out of their cut-off Rage Against the Machine tee-shirt on Casual Fridays.

Research has revealed several key benefits of implementing a direct customer feedback initiative. One study, for example, found that contact centers with such initiatives in place have up to 25% higher customer satisfaction rates, up to 15% higher agent retention rates, and up to 1% fewer incidents of QA staff and supervisors being gang-tackled by staff.


Waiting for bleeding-edge technology to become boring. I'm not saying that all contact centers should take big risks on unproven customer contact tools. I'm merely suggesting that those that don't are totally chicken. Now you may argue that investing in unproven solutions is not an intelligent, well thought-out business move. That's fine, but if you are interested only in things intelligent and well thought-out, then you have no business reading my blog.

Show me an award-winning contact center, and I'll show you a manager who has dared to make some dangerous moves with regard to customer contact solutions. Granted, occasionally such deployments fail at these leading centers, but persistent and progressive managers do not let such events stop them. Instead these managers continue to think about the next advanced technology to revolutionize their center and, once their request to leave the mental health facility is granted, eagerly begin meeting with vendors seeking beta-testers.


Treating agents like employees. If you treat agents like employees, they are going to act like employees, and few organizations can recover from such damage.

A recent study by a leading consulting firm revealed that employees are one of the biggest threats to a corporation's health and prosperity, second only to the CEO. Absenteeism, poor work performance and stapler-theft were among the many harmful acts found to be carried out more by employees than any other living entity.

On the other hand, the report found that such undesirable behavior is almost never associated with grandmothers, infants or lemurs. That's why, as I've been saying for years, contact center managers would be wise to stop spending so much time micromanaging and monitoring agents, and start spending more time providing them with rose-scented perfume, colorful rattles and pictures of Madagascar.


For those who find it insulting that I’ve used the term “Stupidity” in the title of this blog post, don’t be dumb. I was just trying to shake things up a bit and bring about some positive change.

For those of you who actually stuck around and kept reading, feel free to share what YOU feel is a common stupid thing in our industry. And please don’t say “Greg Levin”. I may be a highly judgmental and critical jerk, but I do have feelings. Moron.



 
Picture
Every 30 seconds, a contact center agent somewhere breaks a hand after punching a computer monitor.

Only YOU can prevent shattered knuckles.

How? By providing agents with a desktop that actually allows them to do their job and take care of customers. Unfortunately, such a desktop isn’t what’s gracing the workstations in most contact centers. According to recent industry research:
  • More than one in three companies cite disconnected and complex agent desktops as a key obstacle.
  • Agents are forced to navigate an average of five screens to handle a typical customer interaction.
  • Agents estimate they waste more than 25% of their time (during customer interactions) searching for relevant data across different systems.

Spend a day toggling between various applications, asking customers to repeat information, and keying in redundant data on multiple screens, and see if YOU, too, aren’t overcome by the urge to put your fist through your computer monitor. If such disparate and uncoordinated systems are causing this much frustration on the frontline, imagine how your customers feel. Actually, you probably don’t have to imagine – I’m sure every day they’re letting you and your agents know how they feel… through their sighs and obscenities, and their ‘1 out of 5’ ratings on post-contact surveys.
   
Make the Move to a Unified Desktop
Leading contact centers protect agents’ hand bones and elevate the customer experience by investing in a unified desktop (a.k.a., ‘intelligent desktop’, ‘dynamic desktop’, ‘a desktop agents don’t want to assault’). Such desktops take all the existing systems and applications agents need to access and place them all behind a single intuitive interface. Every resource the agent might need – regardless of contact channel – is organized and presented together on the desktop. This includes all the customer account activity and history as the contact arrives, including any information a customer may have provided to the center’s IVR prior to being routed to the agent. A typical unified desktop also features: user-friendly knowledge bases; dynamic rules-based screen pops; text templates to help agents seem less illiterate when handling email, chat and social media contacts; and other helpful tools and applications.

So, those are some of the key features of a unified agent desktop. Now let’s take a look at something even more enticing – the benefits that those features make possible. Talk to just about any contact center that has moved to a unified agent desktop, and they'll tell you how it has enabled them to do the following:

Reduce Average Handle Time (organically!). Naturally when agents aren’t fumbling around different applications and keying in stuff they had to ask customers to repeat, calls (and chats) go a lot faster… without anybody feeling rushed or spontaneously combusting. A large contact center outsourcer, Group O, reportedly reduced overall AHT by 36 seconds after going the unified desktop route. I’ve heard of other companies shedding as much as a minute or more off of handle times thanks to a more dynamic agent desktop.     

Increase First-Contact Resolution. Having a complete view of the customer’s activity and immediate access to relevant applications/knowledge bases means agents don’t look like morons during interactions and can better resolve customers' specific issues. Telecom company Blue Casa reportedly increased FCR by a whopping 25% after implementing a unified desktop.

Increase sales. It’s much easier for agents to sell to a customer (and not feel dirty doing it) when they can see the customer’s purchase history and preferences, and when dynamic screen pops alert agents to ideal sales opportunities. Just ask Servicemaster, a large home services company that reportedly DOUBLED sales conversion rates due to the enhanced customer info and context-specific cross-selling suggestions provided by their unified agent desktop.

Increase C-Sat. Highly personalized service and quick issue resolution make customers fall in love with agents and your company. Your agents might even receive some marriage proposals. My own wife has walked in on me professing my love to an agent who rocked my world during an interaction. By the way, Group O (that same company that realized big AHT reductions with a unified desktop – see above) also reported an 8% jump in their Customer Satisfaction rate – proof that organically lowering AHT directly and positively enhances the customer experience.      

Increase agent engagement & retention. As an agent, having customers profess their love and propose marriage several times a day makes you feel valuable and special. So does having everything you need to thrive at your job right at your fingertips.    

Reduce training time. I know of a large cable company that reportedly shortened new-hire training by three-weeks after moving to a unified agent desktop – saving the company $5 million annually. Of course. that huge profit gain didn’t stop the company from raising its rates, but if you ignore that part, it’s a lovely success story.

Save the Knuckles
Recent research shows that less than a third of contact centers are currently equipped with a unified desktop; however, many other centers report that they are in the process of implementing one. For those of you that don’t fall into either of these camps, I recommend you at least consider investing in a padded desktop – to limit the number of ruined agent knuckles in your center. 



 
Picture
A ‘Voice of the Employee’ (VoE) program is a great way to capture agent feedback and insight and use it to continuously improve the contact center, the customer experience, and agent engagement. Most VoE initiatives, however, fall short because they don’t go deep enough. They entail merely surveying agents a couple of times a year and asking static questions – questions that do little to unlock and harness agents’ collective wisdom and intuition or to uncover how close they are to staging a violent coup.

To capture the kind of agent knowledge and sentiment that drives real change, your VoE program needs to capture agents’ real voice. To do that, you need to think outside the traditional VoE box, push the envelope, and break a few federal privacy laws.

Following are three bold and innovative VoE tactics embraced by contact center leaders who are so committed to continuous improvement and the customer experience, they are willing to risk prison time.

VoE on the Edge     

Bug the bathrooms and breakrooms.  Agents may provide you with some valuable comments and suggestions via surveys and focus groups, but they generally save what they really know, think and feel for when they’re offline and out of earshot. When chatting with peers in the restroom and breakroom, agents often share their candid views on customers’ intelligence levels and exchange ideas on where management can stick its policies and metrics. By secretly placing a recording device in the aforementioned rooms, the contact center is able to capture a continuous stream of insight (and obscenities) that might enable the organization to rise to the highest levels of mediocrity.

If you’re struggling with the ethical aspect of bugging the bathrooms and breakrooms, you can ease your conscience by thinking of this approach as merely expanding your monitoring program into new and uncharted territories.


Ply agents with liquor. You should be doing this anyway to reward agents for a job well done (or for at least not quitting) and to help relieve job-related stress. The best contact centers don’t stop there, though. After buying staff a round of shots during happy hour (or, in really stressful centers, before their shift), smart managers and supervisors listen up and take notes. After the second round of drinks, most of the smaller agents and those not accustomed to drinking will start sharing the kind of information and opinions they’re too afraid or uncomfortable to share when sober. After the fourth or fifth round of drinks, those agents will have passed out, but your larger and heavier drinking agents will continue where the lightweights left off.

Keep in mind that if you decide to add alcohol to your VoE initiative, you’ll need to find just the right balance. Too little, and agents won’t loosen up enough to share anything revealing or meaningful. Too much, and they’ll develop liver disease, which can negatively impact attendance and significantly hinder agents’ ability to upsell.


Spy on agents while they’re sleeping. This practice is a little controversial. And creepy. But hey, if you’re not willing to be a little controversial and creepy in an effort to improve your contact center and the customer experience, then perhaps you’re in the wrong line of business.

Spying on agents while they’re sleeping – either by hiding under their bed or, for those of you with less time on your hands, placing a recording device in their bedroom – is the best way to capture the subconscious thoughts that agents mumble when snoozing. It’s how the best contact centers discover what’s in the deepest, darkest recesses of their employees’ minds – the kinds of thoughts and feelings that the company could never uncover merely through bugging bathrooms and getting agents drunk. By spying on sleeping agents, the center will learn stuff that may enable it to improve ways to strap agents into their workstation chairs, enhance the colors and themes of the motivational posters the center has on its walls, and decrease the number of customer homicides agents attempt each year.     

 
Don’t let my obvious expertise in this area intimidate you. Feel free to leave your own ideas on how to capture the REAL ‘Voice of the Employee’ in the ‘Comments’ area below.



 
Picture
As Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, Bruce Temkin has helped thousands of organizations become more customer-centric. Bruce describes himself as a 'customer experience transformist.' If you see him work, hear him speak or read his writing, you'll agree that the aforementioned description is very fitting.

Anyone in a managerial or supervisory role in a contact center can benefit greatly from Bruce’s keen insight. Following are several of his notable customer experience tips – simple ideas (backed by real-life examples) that he assures will yield powerful results:  

Help customers achieve their goals. Don’t push your products and agendas on customers. Instead, find out what they want and create experiences that fit your company into their journey. As Wayne Peacock, Executive Vice President of Member Experience at USAA, said:

“We want to create experiences around what members are trying to accomplish, not just our products. If a member is buying a car, then we would historically see that as a change in auto insurance. We are changing that to an auto event – to help the member find the right car, buy it at a discount, get a loan, insurance, etc. and do that in any channel and across channels. There’s enormous value for members and for USAA if we can facilitate that entire experience.”

Make employee engagement a key metric. Since 2007, Bombardier Aerospace’s annual employee engagement and enablement survey has given all employees a voice within the organization. In 2012, 93% of employees completed the survey. Managers are evaluated based on the engagement levels of their employees. To create an environment that ensures performance, every leader has an annual target for employee engagement.

Motivate employees with intrinsic rewards. Companies often try and force employees into doing things by slapping on metrics and measurements. While these types of extrinsic rewards can change some behaviors, they can often cause conflicts and lead to unexpected consequences. When Staples put in place a goal for $200 of add-ons per computer sold, some store employees stopped selling computers to customers who didn’t want to purchase add-ons.  Compare this outcome to inspirational coaching at Sprint, which leads to an environment where employees consistently excel and measure their performance against their best effort and compete with themselves to be their best. It turns out that people tend to be more motivated by intrinsic rewards. To build commitment from employees, stop relying so heavily on extrinsic rewards and focus on providing them with the four key intrinsic rewards: sense of meaningfulness, choice, competence, and progress. These types of rewards build an emotional, instead of a transactional, commitment from employees.

Tap into customer insights from unstructured data. As more companies thirst for customer feedback, the number of surveys has escalated. But there is a limit to customers’ willingness to complete surveys. As completion rates get more difficult to maintain, companies will become more efficient with the questions they ask, target questions at specific customers in specific situations, and stop relying as much on multiple-choice questions. Tidbit: When we asked large companies with Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs about the changing importance of eight listening posts, multiple choice survey questions were at the bottom of the list. Companies must learn to integrate their customer feedback with other customer data and tap into rich sources of customer insights in unstructured data such as open-ended comments, call center conversations, emails from customers, and social media. This new, deeper foundation of customer intelligence will require strengthening capabilities in text and predictive analytics.

Use ambassadors to build links across the organization. Fidelity’s Voice of the Customer Ambassadors program is the cornerstone of Fidelity’s efforts to engage customer-facing associates across the organization around their customer experience vision. Ambassadors are associates from across Fidelity’s functions who apply to become part of a network of customer experience evangelists who (1) identify opportunities for improvement by amplifying the voice of the customer/associate; (2) inform new product and service development; and (3) inspire their peers with local dialogue and other activities. Ambassadors are supported by extensive executive sponsorship across multiple levels of management and are asked to dedicate 10% of their time influencing Fidelity’s shared customer experience vision.

Actively solicit insights from employees. Adobe’s Intranet includes an online suggestion tool called “Tell Adobe.” Through this simple mechanism, employees can submit suggestions for improving the company, covering everything from current products and services to the processes used to engage and help customers. All submissions are reviewed by a member of the People Resources team, who then brings in internal subject matter experts or functional teams to evaluate the submitter’s suggestions, work with him or her to understand the idea better, and then decide if and how to proceed or pursue further. The process closes the loop with the employee so that he or she has visibility to the outcomes resulting from the initial submission. 

Maintain a list of top 10 customer issues. Oracle drives consistent customer experience activities across all regions and lines of business through a structured framework and standardized approach to monitoring the customer experience: Listen, Respond, Collaborate for Customer Success. The portfolio of feedback tools includes transactional and product surveys, relationship surveys, customer advisory boards, user experience labs, and independent user groups. Feedback from across these sources is integrated and analyzed to identify the 10 customer feedback themes that have the greatest impact on customer experience and business results, and programs are established to improve each.

Empower employees to create memorable moments. Hampton has trained its team members on a set of Moment Makers rather than checklists and scripts to handle a variety of situations. Moment Makers are designed so that team members can choose approaches based on their personality, comfort level, and individual style to match the cues from guests. These approaches include being anticipatory, using empathy, using humor, providing unexpected delight, and giving a compliment. Moment Makers are taught from a team member’s first days on the job when he or she learns the brand story and continue to be reinforced on an ongoing basis through learning maps and e-learning modules. 

This post was excerpted (with permission, of course) from Bruce Temkin’s brilliant “50 CX Tips: Simple Ideas, Powerful Results” article, which can be read in its entirety here.

You can learn more about Bruce Temkin and his organization here.




 
The next time your contact center is in need of a consultant, look no further than your phone floor.

The best centers I have worked with in my 20 years in the industry don’t view their agents as merely ‘the folks on the phones’ but rather as highly insightful internal consultants – individuals who know better than anyone what processes, practices and improvements are needed to provide optimal customer experiences and increase operational efficiency.

Such contact centers get better and better – and retain agents and customers longer and longer – by empowering staff to serve as…   

Recruiting & Hiring consultants. Nobody knows what it takes to succeed on the contact center firing line better than the people who man it everyday. Smart centers solicit agent input to enhance recruiting and the applicant selection process. This may entail having them help develop ‘ideal agent’ profiles, provide suggestions for behavioral-based interview questions, interact with and evaluate candidates, and/or create job preview descriptions or videos (that give applicants a clear view into what the agent position is really like). It may also involve having agents sneak into neighboring contact centers to kidnap top talent.

Training & Development consultants. Agents know what skills and knowledge they need to create the kind of customer experience one usually only reads about in corporate mission statements or sees in dreams. Creating a training & development task force and including on it a few experienced agents – as well as a couple of not so experienced ones – is a great way to continuously close knowledge gaps and shorten learning curves. Agents will gladly tell you what’s wrong with and missing from new-hire training, ongoing training, one-on-one coaching and the center’s career path (assuming one even exists). Only by actively involving frontline staff in the training & development process can a contact center become a truly dynamic learning organization.

Quality Monitoring consultants. One of the best ways to keep agents from being afraid of or resistant to your quality monitoring program is to actively involve them in it. Agents will hate monitoring and you a lot less if you…
  • ask them to help develop/improve the center’s monitoring form and rating system
  • let them self-evaluate their performance prior to having a supervisor provide feedback/coaching
  • allow them to take part in a peer monitoring & coaching initiative
  • collaborate with them when creating development plans during coaching sessions
  • give them a chance to “coach the coach” by asking them to evaluate how effective their supervisor is at rating calls and providing feedback. 
 
Technology consultants. While you probably don’t want to have your agents designing the actual systems and software your center uses, you definitely do want to have your agents sharing their ideas and suggestions regarding what tools they need to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the service provided to customers. Agents’ two cents on desktop applications, knowledge bases, scripts and workflows can be invaluable for decreasing handle times and increasing first-contact resolution rates. In addition, agents often know what’s wrong with the center’s IVR system and web/mobile self-service applications (because customers constantly tell them), thus they can provide input that leads to a reduction in the number of unnecessary calls, emails, chats and death threats agents must contend with.

Rewards & Recognition consultants. Empowering agents to enhance the rewards and recognition they receive may be akin to letting your partner pick out her/his engagement ring, but hey, it’s all about making people happy and keeping them from running into the arms of another. I know of a lot of contact centers that ask agents for input on incentives and contests, individual and team awards, and how they’d like to be recognized. Many centers have even implemented peer recognition programs where agents themselves get to decide who is most deserving of special accolades and attention. Managers and supervisors still need to show plenty of their own initiative with regard to rewards and recognition, but collaborating with agents in this area goes a long way toward elevating engagement and performance.

Do you treat YOUR agents like consultants? Feel free to share some of your experiences and suggestions in the Comments section below.

(A slightly different version of this piece originally appeared as a guest post on the ‘Productivity Plus’ blog

put out by the very good people at Intradiem.)


 
A couple of years ago I wrote a post containing rather satirical and sardonic definitions of key contact center and customer care terms. Since then, there has been seemingly nonstop requests for more – mostly by my subconscious mind, which repeatedly wakes me from my sleep and demands I slap down additional items for the somewhat subversive glossary.

Well, I’ve never been one to argue with my brain (except for when it tells me to be serious or to quit drinking), thus I spent the better part of my last nap creating the following additions for my devious dictionary:    

agent retention: Bloating that occurs when contact center reps try to hold off going to the restroom until their next scheduled break.

big data: Customer information that is suspected of taking performance enhancing drugs.

The cloud: What people have their head stuck in if they think state-of-the-art hosted technology solutions will solve rampant agent disengagement
and burnout.

Customer Effort: A newfangled metric that estimates how many years the contact center takes off a caller’s life during an interaction.

customer experience: A vitamin that many executives are highly deficient in, resulting in the chronic loss of business.     

empowerment: What a contact center agent is filled with upon the realization that he could probably take his micro-managing supervisor in a fistfight. 

home agent model: A very attractive person who handles customer contacts virtually.

peer mentoring: A training and coaching approach employed by managers and supervisors who realize their agents are more competent than they are.

mobile customer service: The act of a customer moving away from your company and toward one that has adapted its contact options to the rise of smart phones.

Net Promoter Score: The single best indicator of customer satisfaction for the most single-minded companies.

social customer care: An emerging form of online service and support that entails accepting customers’ ‘friend requests’ and kissing their butt publicly.


If for some odd reason you want to read more of these devilish definitions, be sure to check out the original “Contact Center Glossary”. Oh, and feel free to add some of your own terms and definitions in the 'Comments' section below. 

 
Timely and positive coaching is one of the most important tools in the contact center. Notice I said “timely” AND “positive” – this is no either/or scenario. Giving agents immediate feedback following an interaction with a customer is great, but not if that feedback makes them cry or want to punch you. By the same token, positive praise and constructive comments are wonderful, but not if the praise and comments refer to an agent-customer interaction that took place during the previous President’s administration.

A good coach plays a big part in determining whether an agent becomes a service nuisance and an early turnover statistic, or a long-lasting high-performer.

So, what comprises good coaching? Here are five practices that coaches in the best contact centers use to give their agents serious game:

Letting agents self-evaluate. When it’s the agent starting the “what needs to improve” conversation, things tend to flow much more smoothly and agents remain much more open to input and feedback compared to when the coach launches a unilateral attack. The best coaches give agents the opportunity to review their monitored contacts and allow them to express how much their performance stunk before the coach goes and does it for them.  

Agents are typically quite critical of their own performance, often pointing out mistakes they made that QA staff and supervisors might have otherwise overlooked. Of course, the intent of self-eval sessions is not to sit and watch as agents eviscerate themselves – as much fun as that can be – but rather to ensure that they understand their true strengths and where they might improve. Self-evaluations should cease if agents begin to slap themselves during the process, unless it is an agent whom you yourself had been thinking about slapping anyway.

 
Praising before pouncing. When it comes time to provide feedback, the best coaches start off acknowledging and recognizing what the agent did well, as opposed to opening with something of a more critical nature that may put the agent on the defensive. Even if the agent stunk up the call, it’s still important to start off with something positive: “Mary, you did an excellent job of being in your seat, continuing to breathe, and not pressing ‘release’ when the call arrived. Now I’d just like to talk a little bit about how you swore at the customer before breaking into tears…”

If an agent fails to identify a performance issue during their self-evaluation, good coaches don’t shove it down their throat. Rather, they point out the issue or behavior in question and ask the agent what they could have done differently, and then engage in an interactive discussion featuring constructive feedback and sometimes lollipops.  


Tapping the power of ‘ideal contact’ archives. One of the biggest complaints you hear from agents about coaching is, “They tell us what we did wrong, but they don’t help us to get better.” A great way to show agents how to get better is via recordings (or email/chat transcripts) of past agent-customer interactions that demonstrate a desired skill or behavior you want the agent in question to emulate. For example, if you have an agent struggling with excessive handle times, have them listen to a recording featuring an agent demonstrating excellent call control. Or maybe you have an agent who unwittingly comes off as rude to customers. If so, sit them down to listen to a call handled by an agent who isn’t a total sociopath.

Telling an agent they have to decrease their handle time and/or not be so mean doesn’t work nearly as well as showing them what call control and courtesy sounds like and asking them to comment on what they’ve just heard. Plus, most agents like learning from "one of their own” – more than being told what to do by a cranky supervisor who likely has it in for them.


Taking the “customer as coach” approach. Sometimes the best coaching in the contact center comes from folks who don’t even work there. As experienced and proficient as your supervisors and team leads might be at providing feedback on how agents can improve performance, it’s your customers’ direct comments that often have the biggest impact on agent development. This is certainly not to suggest that agents don’t require and value feedback from their superiors as well as from experienced peers, but there’s something about hearing things straight from the customer’s mouth that causes agents to not fall asleep during coaching sessions.

Having a supervisor tell an agent he needs to work on his empathy doesn’t hit him the same way as having him read “The agent I spoke to was colder than a naked Eskimo” on a survey completed by a customer he recently interacted with. Where agents may occasionally feel a supervisor’s or QA specialist’s take on their performance is subjective, there’s no arguing with the “Voice of the Customer”. So, whether you share customer comments taken from post-contact surveys, emails/letters sent from customers, or customer’s direct conversations with supervisors/managers (following an escalated call), those words can do a lot to engage agents and drive them to stop stinking so much.


Collaborating with agents to develop action plans. At the end of each coaching session during which a key area for improvement is identified, the best coaches typically work together with the agent to come up with a clear and concise action plan aimed at getting the agent up to speed. Such collaboration, just like with letting agents self-evaluate, is engaging and empowering to agents and makes them more likely to work hard to improve. The supervisor/coach still has the final say, but the agent is actively involved in the creation of the action plan.

A typical action plan may call for the agent to receive additional one-on-one coaching/training offline, complete one or more e-learning modules, work with a peer mentor, start taking powerful psychoactive medications, and/or undergo a lobotomy.

 
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.



 
“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.

 
I dedicated an entire post to the topic of peer mentoring in contact centers a while back, but there’s one thing I didn’t address then that I’d like to address now: The importance of incorporating home agents into the peer mentoring mix.

With so many organizations embracing the home agent model in recent years, a good portion of some centers' best agents no longer work onsite. And while these agents invariably thrive at home, they are no longer available to help their peers do the same back at the brick and mortar facility.

At least that’s the assumption. I’m here to say that home agents not only can serve as peer mentors, they absolutely should.

Just because these talented team members have traded in their business casual attire for pajamas doesn’t mean they’ve traded in their expertise and insight – or their appetite for empowerment. Case study after case study shows that experienced agents fully embrace the opportunity to serve as mentors, to share their vast knowledge and skills and expand their job role.

Sending top agents home without their mentoring hats zaps the contact center of much of its employee development strength. It’s like eliminating part of the training team.  

So how does a center go about utilizing home agents as peer mentors? The same way the center keeps home agents in the loop and up to date. Email, chat, video and phone are invaluable communication and training tools in centers with remote staff; those tools can be just as invaluable when used to foster mentoring relationships. Sure, it’s always nice for new-hires and seasoned staff to work side-by-side, but physical presence isn’t nearly as important as real-time communication when it comes to mentoring. Protégés with pressing questions can initiate a quick chat session with their mentor. When in need of more in-depth coaching or assistance, chat (or phone) with screen-sharing can be very effective, as can video calls, which add a nice face-to-face element to help foster a sense of connectedness. And email can come in handy for less urgent or in-depth matters.

As with traditional mentoring, contact centers need to establish certain scheduling and adherence policies to ensure their virtual mentoring initiatives don’t end up hindering service levels or quality. Since home agents serving as mentors are likely to be among the center’s star agents, it’s important not to have too many of them offline assisting their respective protégés, or to have any of them or their protégés offline when the center is being bombarded by customer contacts. Centers can solve (or at least minimize) such issues by having a solid workforce management process in place, and by instilling a “keep your eyes on the queue” mentality among mentors and protégés whenever they are working offline.

And finally, it’s important to realize not every home agent – regardless of experience and skill on the phones – is cut out to be a mentor. Some, in fact, love working at home for the simple reason that it allows them to never have to interact with another human being (other than customers) again. As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to force sociopaths to assist new-hires. When choosing virtual mentors, be sure to select those who are as gregarious and patient as they are experienced, and stay away from those who snarl whenever approached or who look like Jeffrey Dahmer.  


What are YOUR thoughts on virtual peer mentoring? Have any of you tried it? If so, how well did/does it work for your center?