Off Center
By guest blogger, Matt McConnell

If doing the same thing 50-75 times a day sounds intellectually stimulating, stop reading.

Still there? Since many of you may have begun your career as contact center agents, you probably know how monotonous the job can be. As a manager, there are many things you likely already schedule to break up the agent’s day periodically. Things like training and team meetings along with activities like special projects. (Whether they actually happen or not is a different story.) But what else can agents do in between calls that don’t have to occur at a specific time?

Consider putting together a list like the one below to build variety into your agents’ days. Happy agents make happy customers, so read on for ideas to end up with both:

1.    Development. How satisfied can you be if the customer knows more than you do by the time they make it through multiple channels before reaching you with a complex problem? Ensure your agents get the communications, training and coaching they need to do their jobs well.

2.    Social Media. Certify agents to support customers or even just interact on behalf of your brand via social media to liven up their day and take your service to where your customers are.

3.    Customer Community. If you have a customer community, send your agents to mingle and help. If agents participate in your customer community via an assigned task, not only would you alleviate boredom, you could end up turning idle time into call avoidance.

4.    Back Office. The customer experience involves the whole enterprise. Help alleviate back office backlog, elevate the customer experience and provide variety by delivering back-office tasks like application processing, fax communications, and processing returns to agents during call volume lulls.

5.    Welcome Calls. Give your agents the opportunity to take a customer call without a “problem” attached to it, and start your customer relationship off with warm fuzzies.

6.    Game Time. Games can keep agents engaged, especially Generation Y agents. If you’re planning to incorporate gamification into your center, make sure you give your agents time to earn their badges, kudos and bragging rights.

7.    Peer Awards. What if agents received reminders to nominate their peers for awards? Doing something nice for someone else can improve one's mood, and on the receiving end, recognition from one's peers can mean a lot.

8.    Fitness Breaks. Give agents a chance keep their body and mind healthy by giving them a fitness break. A walk around the grounds could be just what’s needed to break up the day and get a healthy boost of energy to bring to the next call.

Most call center leaders want to make the center a better place to work for their agents, but time is tight, and service levels rule the day. High attrition and low agent engagement don’t have to be the norm, however. You do have options if you’re willing to challenge some of the accepted methods and manual processes around intraday management. Even with all the maneuvers workforce management does when staffing and call volume don’t quite match up with your forecasts, 85% occupancy equates to 17 hours of idle time a month. Automating intraday management allows your workforce management team to re-purpose that time so that your agents can take a break from calls to improve your customer experience, your center productivity and your agent retention. 

About Matt McConnell: Matt is chairman, president and CEO of Intradiem. Matt co-founded Intradiem in 1995 with a vision of helping companies increase the level of customer service they deliver by improving the performance of their agents. Today, Intradiem is a leader in intraday management technology with more than 450,000 agents and managers around the world using Intradiem every day.

In my recently launched ebook, Full Contact, I cited a landmark study on employee health, fitness and emotional well-being. Among the 50 different industries that participated in said study, the contact center industry ranked 53rd..

Just because the study wasn’t real doesn’t make the findings untrue.

Hyperbole aside, there’s no doubt that the agent position is potentially dangerous to one’s health – and costly to the organization. Few other jobs are as inherently sedentary and as emotionally taxing, what with agents tethered to their workstations for hours on end talking to often-angry or upset customers. Adding to the health risks is all the pizza and other fat-laden fast foods that centers ply staff with in an attempt to keep them inspired and too full to leave their workstations.

I’m not saying that all agents are out of shape and on the brink of losing their minds; just the ones who make it through initial training and orientation. Some centers try to counter the negative effects of agent work by implementing wellness initiatives featuring such things as onsite fitness facilities; wellness courses (e.g., nutrition/weight loss, smoking cessation, stress reduction, etc.), healthy food options onsite; and ergonomics training. Such initiatives can be helpful, but rarely have a big impact since most agents are too busy having heart and panic attacks to take part in them.

In response, many leading contact centers today have found ways to cleverly incorporate physical and mental health exercises into agents’ daily routine.

Here are a few examples:

Adherence sprints. All it takes to get agents to engage in these healthy exercises is a little remodeling in the contact center. The key is to place the break room so far away from the phone floor that agents are forced to sprint there and back during breaks/lunches if they hope to adhere to their schedule and avoid disciplinary action. In centers where agents are severely out of shape, it’s a good idea to place the breakroom three or four floors above or below the phone floor to add a little “Stairmaster” kick to the sprints.

The only drawback of adherence sprints is that poorly conditioned agents often end up breathing heavily while speaking to customers just after a break. Of course, if you run a 900-number adult contact center, the heavy breathing could actually lead to increases in revenue and customer satisfaction.

Shift climbs. These are another great way to keep agents active in the course of their regular job routine. Instead of just sending agents their shift assignments via email, create a climbing wall that has the best schedules printed out and placed at the very top, with less desirable schedules placed below them on the wall. Agents line up at the base of the wall and, after a whistle is blown, compete against each other in scaling the climbing wall to see who is able to reach the best schedules first.

Such climbing competitions often result in injuries resulting from being stepped on by peers and/or falling from dangerous heights, which some say defeats the purpose of using shift walls to improve agent fitness. But such falls and flops often cause big belly laughs among agents who aren’t involved in the accidents, and laughter has been proven time and again to enhance employee health and well-being.  

Headset hypnosis. Where the previous two exercises are aimed more at improving agents’ physical health, headset hypnosis is intended to help keep agents mentally and emotionally strong.  Here’s how it works: During low volume periods when agents are sitting idle at their workstations awaiting their next call, they receive soothing subliminal messages through their headset convincing them that they have extraordinary powers to overcome harsh insults and unbearable stress, as well as the rare ability to spell correctly when chatting with customers. This results in agents getting lulled into a false sense of competence and calmness that is often enough to keep them from abruptly quitting, hurting themselves or, worse, interrupting you in your office to cry while you are busy snacking. 

The best headset hypnosis systems feature professional hypnotic voice talent and can be programmed to deliver personalized messages to different agents depending on their unique psychological and emotional weaknesses. For instance, an agent who tends to stutter profusely during difficult calls could receive a headset message convincing her that she has a dual doctorate degree in speech pathology and customer service. Or an agent who has a habit of flying into a rage with rude customers could receive a message convincing him that he is Gandhi or addicted to benzodiazepines.