Off Center
 
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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.



 
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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.



 
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I grew up in a Jewish family, but have always welcomed and even embraced several Christmas traditions – particularly those that involve getting stuff. Even as a kid celebrating Hanukkah, part of my personal eight-day festival featured a stocking hung from the menorah with care. (Hanging a large fuzzy sock from a lit candelabra does require care.)

To this day, I still insist that my family fill my stocking with little goodies for each day of Hanukkah. As a result, I haven't been invited to my parents' home for the holidays since 1990.

It's not just me – everybody loves stocking stuffers. So why not carry the tradition over to your contact center? Just imagine the positive impact it could have on agent morale and retention; agents might even remain on the job through January. That said, agents shouldn’t be the only ones getting goodies. Consider implementing a center-wide stocking strategy, where everyone – agents, supervisors and managers – all get a stocking filled with stuff to help them do their job better.

Here are some stocking stuffing suggestions for the various roles in your contact center:
 
For Agents

Ibuprofen. These lovely anti-inflammatory pills will help each agent minimize the common aches and pains associated with sitting and typing for long periods, shaking one's head vehemently in disbelief, and jumping from atop one's workstation with neck in noose. The little plastic bottles the pills come in can double as mini-maracas, which agents can shake during slow periods to celebrate the brief reprieve from customers.

Headset Barbie. I believe that this version of the popular anorexic doll is set to hit the market any day now. In recent beta tests with agents, the talking doll got rave reviews, particularly for her ability to overcome rejection and to think outside the box. Your agents will have a blast playing with Headset Barbie between calls – picking up valuable tips on how to continue smiling through adversity and how to maintain a golden tan despite working nine-hour shifts in a room with no windows. Headset Barbie comes with several replaceable parts, including wrists, lower back and larynx.


For Supervisors

Coaching Ken. Headset Barbie's suave supervisor – complete with monitoring form, distressed facial expression, and a Kung Fu grip to assist in agent retention – is currently being piloted in a contact center in Malibu. He promises to be a hit with real supervisors, as well as with frustrated agents who are into voodoo. Additional accessories include a miniature helium dispenser for blowing up tiny morale-boosting balloons, an ugly Hawaiian print shirt for casual Fridays, and more tiny morale-boosting balloons.

Safety flares. The same little devices that alert fellow motorists of a roadside accident when visibility is poor are great tools for supervisors, who can use them in several ways. First, whenever call volumes spike, supervisors can light up a flare to alert agents who are on break or outside playing with their Headset Barbies to get their butts back to their workstations. Flares can also be used to publicly recognize staff for outstanding performance/commitment. For instance, supervisors can light one up next to an agent who just achieved a perfect quality monitoring score, or next to an agent who just surpassed the three-week period of consecutive employment. 


For Managers

Contact center camouflage. What manager wouldn't be thrilled to find in their stocking special materials that enable them to remain unseen? After all, to last as a true leader in the challenging contact center environment, one needs the courage and ability to hide at critical moments. Properly applied body paints and other camouflage material enable managers to remain unseen not only by brash executives seeking explanations for the center's exorbitant operating costs and lackluster performance stats, but also by pesky agents who feel they have a right to know why their standard cubicle has been replaced by a much smaller one constructed of styrofoam. The best contact center camouflage materials include clothes made entirely out of gray industrial carpet, hats with plastic ferns growing out of them, and blue or black paint, which blends in nicely with the morale of frontline staff and supervisors.
 
A pocket-sized Acronym-English/English-Acronym dictionary. Very few managers are fluent in Acronym, which can truly hinder their ability to know what the hell vendors, consultants and authors of white papers are talking about. Acronym is already the official language of contact center elitists, and several studies suggest that any manager serious about succeeding and/or looking cool in this industry will need to become highly proficient in this new language. An Acronym-English/English-Acronym dictionary, which can be found in the abbreviated language section of most major bookstores, makes for a perfect gift. Go for the pocket-sized version, as the standard version will never fit inside a manager's office let alone his or her stocking.


Feel free to share some of your ideas for contact center stocking stuffers in the comments section below. Oh, and one more thing...

                      HAPPY HOLIDAYS!



 
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Your organization won’t be able to consistently deliver on its customer experience mission until you rid your contact center of all its agents. Agents are human beings, and human beings are by nature imperfect. How can you expect customers to rate their experience with your company a 5 (out of 5) if they are forced to interact with humans, who are inherently 2s and 3s?

The contact center front line is simply no place for a real person. So, if you haven’t already done so, you need to fire all your agents made of flesh and bone and replace them as soon as possible with advanced IVR applications and speech- and text-enabled virtual bots. The future of your company and your Net Promoter Score depend on it.

For those of you who need a little more convincing before fully automating the contact center and the customer experience, I urge you to consider the following major drawbacks of human agents:

Human agents have hearts. Hearts are easily broken – either by a bad break-up, a favorite sitcom being cancelled, or a request to work from home being denied. Studies show that agents with broken hearts are 73% more likely to sob during customer interactions. And while many customers are sadistic and like it when agents cry, most find it off-putting and awkward.  
 
Human agents have dreams. Dreams can too easily be dashed – either by a career path being too short (or non-existent), or by a supervisor telling an agent the truth about his or her IQ and potential. Studies have shown that agents with dashed dreams are 82% more likely to inhale lethal doses of helium from motivational balloons in the contact center. Studies have also shown that, after inhaling a lethal dose of helium, an agent’s ability to achieve first-call resolution drops from 68% to 3%.

Human agents have friends. Friends can be a tremendous detriment to agent productivity and focus. Agents’ friends – with no consideration for your contact center or customers – frequently invite agents to parties, dinners, weddings, etc., thus compelling agents to request specific schedules and days off that don’t always gel with the contact center’s needs. An automated IVR attendant or virtual bot, on the other hand, rarely gets invited to any social functions – except for when a caller is fooled by its advanced speech features and asks it out for a drink.

Human agents have bodies. Human agents have always been cursed with having muscles, tendons and bones that bruise easily during long stints of sitting in cramped cubicles and when slammed against monitors. Carpal Tunnel syndrome, back spasms, eye strain and concussions not only cost the company bundles of money in medical expenses, these problems greatly impair agents’ ability to pretend they enjoy their job. IVR attendants and virtual bots, in contrast, have no bodies and thus can handle thousands of customer contacts daily without any complaints about not being able to feel their fingers, toes or soul.

Human agents have tempers. There are only three absolute truths in contact centers: 1) customer contacts are constant; 2) customers complain a lot; and 3) constant customer complaints make agents want to hurt themselves and others. By fully automating your contact center, you greatly reduce the risk of the center being burnt to the ground and/or of you being beaten to a pulp whenever you leave your office during peak periods.


Down with People

Ridding your contact center of human agents means no more turnover and no more complaints about low pay, unfair metrics and bad schedules. It also means big savings on office space and parking, and on the amount of food that needs to be ordered for company picnics and holiday parties.

Sure, your customers will likely be outraged initially over not being able to reach a live agent, but if you take this article and use it as a script in your IVR and as an FAQ answer on your website, customers will soon understand that they are much better off interacting solely with machines. 


NOTE: Greg accidentally overdosed on his satire pills this week, which explains the nature of this post. The doctors say that Greg should be back to his normal, healthy level of irony and parody by the time his next post rolls around.


 
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While I usually cover contact center best practices and innovation in this blog, today, in keeping with Halloween, I’ve decided to highlight what scares the pants off of most customer care professionals (and what scares the pants back on those who work from home).

Forget about witches, ghosts and goblins – here are some things that are really scary if you manage a contact center:

Rampant agent turnover. It’s positively frightening to think that the average contact center has an annual turnover rate of nearly 40%, and that, according to the human capital management firm CallMe! (that really is their name), the average turnover cost per agent is upwards of $4,000. This means that in a typical 100-seat contact center, agent turnover costs roughly $160,000 – every year. Evidently many organizations are so paralyzed by fear of such exorbitant figures, they are physically unable to create the kind of positive culture that would cause said figures to plummet.

Disengaged agents interacting with your customers. Even scarier than agents leaving are agents who stick around – but who couldn’t care less about your company or its customers. Just because agents show up and sit at their workstations everyday doesn’t mean they are truly present, and THAT can cost you even more than actual turnover. When agents aren’t engaged, empowered and focused on the job, the unnecessary callbacks, long caller rants and customer defection could end up forcing your center to implement a 100% work-at-home initiative – because your company soon won’t be able to make rent.   

Managing Millennials. Millennials tend to be highly creative and tech-savvy multi-taskers who enjoy working in a collaborative manner. Nothing actually scary about that – unless you are a contact center manager or supervisor who only knows how to lead and develop people whose learning styles and communication preferences are just like yours. If that’s the case, your attempts to engage the typical Millennial will be a horror show featuring a lot of carnage – or at least a lot of burnout and attrition.

Social customer service. Just when you thought you had a handle on all the channels and that it was safe to go back into the contact center, social customer service entered the scene – bringing with it a new kind of terror. Now your center has to respond not only to customers who contact you directly (via phone, email and chat), but also to those who express their issue and mention your company name via Twitter or Facebook. And if you don’t respond to the latter customers – or if you respond in an unsatisfactory manner, everybody and their mother gets to see as the PR nightmare plays out. 

Big data. The vast amount of customer information today’s contact center is able to capture is amazing – and scary as all get-out if the center doesn’t have a way of structuring, analyzing and strategically acting on the data. If you thought finding time to monitor each agent a few times a month was hard, try finding time to make sense of the millions of pieces of customer intelligence flying around the contact center stratosphere. Fortunately, there have been real advances in interaction analytics and data-mining to help centers slay the big bad data monster, but many customer care organizations have yet to invest in or tap the full power of said technologies, and thus must continuously face the fear of being swallowed up whole.    

The power of the home agent model. This one may seem a bit out of place, but the power of the home agent model is scary. What else do you know of that, once implemented, has the power to vastly improve such critical things as: agent engagement and retention; agent performance and attendance; contact center staffing/scheduling flexibility; facility expenses; disaster recovery; and the environment? It’s natural to be in awe of such power, even a little frightened. But what’s REALLY scary is the fact that not every customer care organization has embraced the home agent model despite all the huge proven benefits. I guess they are deathly afraid of success – or of happy agents.


What scares YOU about customer care and working in a contact center? Share what makes you shudder and shiver in the ‘Comments’ box below.

Oh yeah, and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!



 
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The best managers realize a contact center cannot succeed without skilled, motivated and mostly sober agents manning the phones (and other contact channels). These managers work hard to develop and sustain hiring programs that ensure the front line is forever staffed with service stars who stick around for longer than the first pay period.

But I’m not here to talk about hiring success. When it comes to agent recruiting, assessment and selection, success is much less common than failure... and it's more fun to talk about the latter.

With that in mind, following are 15 signs your contact center’s hiring practices need work:

15) A common question among new-hires is whether their work schedule will interfere with their dog fighting competitions.

14) Your contact center recently underwent renovations to expand the exit interview room.

13) Candidates typically celebrate a job offer by firing off a few rounds of ammunition out back.

12) While playing hide-and-seek in your contact center, your eight year-old kid secretly answered several customer calls – and outperformed all your agents.

11) You’ve implemented a work-at-home agent program because most of your job candidates are under house arrest.  

10) Your average agent tenure is measured in minutes.

9) Your two most critical selection criteria when assessing agent candidates are “has a pulse” and “wears clothes.”

8) Your most effective recruiting method is begging.

7) Your best agent is your IVR system.

6) The final stage of your agent selection process involves a coin toss.

5) The top candidate from your last recruitment effort applied from federal prison.

4) You promoted the aforementioned candidate to supervisor his first week on the job.

3) Your most valuable applicant assessment tool is a drug-sniffing dog.

2) You hired the aforementioned dog as a team lead.

And the number one sign your contact center’s hiring practices need work is…

1) While reading each item on this list, you thought to yourself, “It’s funny because it’s true.”


For those of you looking for (slightly) more serious and insightful resources on agent recruiting and hiring, check out the following links to previous blog posts:

Active Agent Recruiting: Take Hiring by the Horns
Separate the Reps from the Replicas: Improving Your Pre-Hire Assessment Process
The First Key to Agent Retention? Your Hiring Program


There’s also an entire chapter dedicated to the topic of recruiting & hiring in my Full Contact book.





 
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Customer Service Week is once again upon us (starting Monday, Oct. 7), and contact centers everywhere – at least those that actually care about customer service and their agents – are getting ready to celebrate.

The key to an effective CSW celebration is to party just hard enough to show agents how appreciated and valued their work is, but not so hard that it interferes with the very service you are celebrating. Rewarding staff with tequila shots can greatly diminish service levels and cause agents to pass out during customer interactions before first-contact resolution is achieved.

Following are 20 fresh ideas that are almost but not quite guaranteed to make your Customer Service Week celebration a success:
 
1. Officially change the name of the contact center to “The Customer Love Hut”.

2. Give each agent a special comb that fixes ‘headset hair’.

3. Get rid of all the shackles, cattle prods and any other devices used to enforce agent adherence.

4. Replace “Dress-Down Friday” with “Undress Monday”.

5. Pay some actors to play your company’s executive team and have them visit the contact center to thank staff for their great work.  

6. Install a Xanax dispenser in the breakroom. And in the restrooms. And at agents’ workstations.

7. Offer agents free treatment for Xanax addiction. 

8. Walk up to each workstation and personally tell every agent how extremely important they are to the organization. If you have too many agents to do that, just tell your top performer.

9. Let agents work in their underwear or pajamas for the week to make up for senior management rejecting your proposal to implement a home agent initiative.

10. Remove the ‘Calls in Queue’ display board from all the bathroom stalls.

11. Give each agent one “Get Out of Call Free” card for use during an interaction with a highly annoying/abusive customer.

12. Permit agents to take one free swing at their supervisor during a coaching session.

13. Give out an “I’m Dedicated to Service” badge to any agent who has stuck with the job for more than 48 hours.

14. Install thick padding on all workstation desks, walls and computer monitors to protect agents against head injuries.

15. Wait till the week after CSW to tell everybody the center is being outsourced.

16. Give each agent a fresh new supply of the paper clips they use to cut themselves on paydays.

17. Instead of hanging pictures of your top-performers on the wall, hang your actual top performers on the wall to give them a well-deserved break from the phones. 

18. Give each agent three baseballs to throw at a senior manager perched in a dunk-tank. Better yet, forget the dunk-tank.

19. Present each agent with a commission check for all the revenue they’ve saved the company by not telling customers how they really feel.

20. Officially change agents’ title to “Customer Engagement Officer”. Tell your company’s actual CEO to deal with it.

I’d love to hear YOUR fresh ideas for celebrating Customer Service Week. Feel free to share them in the 'Comments' area below.
 
Special ‘Customer Service Week’ Offer from Off Center
In the name of all that is customer servicey, from now through Customer Service Week I’m offering a whopping 50% off the regular price of my Full Contact book on contact center best practices, as well as all of my ‘Contact Center Tunes’ song parodies. To receive your discount, be sure to type in the following code in the ‘Discount Code’ box provided when you are making your purchase: csw13

This offer will end at midnight ET on Sunday, October 13, so act soon! (Now would be good.)


 
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. 

 
“Smile, you’re on Customer Camera.”

Such a statement isn’t quite as silly or absurd as it sounds. Video calls are no longer just a whimsical fantasy. The technology that drives video interactions with customers is ready for prime time, and has been for a while.

Not a lot of contact centers have experimented with video calls to date, but some have and even report success in the visual medium. These centers claim that video calls aren’t just a gimmicky trend but rather something that many customers want – particularly those who are voyeurs and/or exhibitionists.

Video calls break down the barriers that exist with faceless phone conversations (and emails, chats, tweets), thus enabling companies to establish stronger rapport and more personalized relationships with customers. And because video lets customers put a face with a name, it makes it much easier for a disgruntled customer to find the exact agent he wants to slap after driving (or flying) to the contact center site, thus saving innocent staff members from any harm.

Achieving success with video calls, however, requires careful planning and strategy. Easy to overlook when implementing video are the unique performance metrics the center needs to measure in association with this new contact channel. While many of the metrics used for traditional phone calls also apply to video contacts, there are a few new measures that are particularly essential for success with video, including…

Food Particles In Teeth Per Shift (FPITPS): Agents who handle traditional voice-only calls can get away with having a piece of spinach or broccoli caught between their teeth, even if it does disgust their coworkers. For video agents, however, such a common occurrence can cause a customer experience disaster. In fact, a recent study found that video callers are 87% less likely to continue doing business with a company whose video agents fail to floss effectively.

Video agents should be coached and trained not only on proper pre-call flossing but also on the use toothpicks and hand mirrors to ensure that their FPITPS numbers remain very low. While there is no industry standard for FPITPS, the best video-enabled contact centers aim for between 0.0 and 0.2 food particles in teeth per shift for the entire center. The exception is suicide prevention hotlines, where higher FPITPS numbers are not only tolerated but encouraged, as studies have shown that agents with food caught in their teeth on camera helps emotionally distressed callers feel a lot better about their own lives.

 
Agent Smile Radius (ASR): Agents have historically been told to “put a smile in your voice” (and your emails/chats/tweets). Despite being an annoying and ambiguous command that makes agents feel like punching their supervisor, this practice has been shown to increase customer satisfaction. Now, with video, agents must learn to put an actual physical smile on their face when interacting with customers – no easy task when you consider the long hours, verbal abuse, physical confinement, low pay, and corporate motivational posters that agents must contend with each day.

To ensure that agents smile widely on a consistent basis during video calls, it’s important to hold them accountable and reward them for achieving an ambitious yet feasible Agent Smile Radius (ASR). ASR is the distance from one corner of an agent’s mouth to the other when forcing a smile during customer interactions. When choosing an ASR objective, select one that requires agents to smile big enough to make customers feel warm and special, but not so big that the customer mistakes the agent for Julia Roberts or Mick Jagger.
 
If you have some agents who simply cannot force a smile onto their face during video calls, consider using some strategic tools and props to help elicit genuine grins from these grumps. Possible smile-inducing tactics include having a supervisor stand off-camera wearing a pinwheel hat, and investing in workstation chairs that tickle.

 
Average Eye-Roll Rate (AERR): For traditional phone agents, the rolling of eyes while speaking to bothersome customers is as common a practice as sobbing alone in the break room or beneath a workstation. However, video agents must strive to keep such insulting actions in check. If customers see an agent rolling his/her eyes, they will feel the company doesn’t value them – thus increasing the likelihood of them taking their video contacts to a more caring company where agents merely have food particles stuck in their teeth.

Given the idiocy of some customers today, it’s unfair to expect video agents to completely refrain from rolling their eyes. Still, it’s important to keep eye-rolling to a bare minimum. Establishing a strictly enforced Average Eye-Roll Rate (AERR) objective and educating agents on said objective will help in this endeavor.

For best results, reward and recognize video agents who maintain a low AERR over time, or who last more than 10-15 minutes without rolling their eyes even once during a shift. And be sure to deal with problematic eye-rollers swiftly and sternly, either by docking their pay or by telling them that if they don’t stop rolling their eyes, their face is going to stay that way. 


Got any good (read: funny) metrics for video-enabled contact centers you’d like to recommend? Please share them in the comment section below.


 
Those of you familiar with my writing know I’ve long been a proponent of the home agent model. So you may be confused by the title of this post and are likely thinking one of two things: 1) Greg is extremely wishy-washy; or 2) Greg is about to unleash a satirical blog post where he only appears to be against the use of home agents, to help readers see how effective the work-at-home model actually is.

Wishy-washy or smart aleck – which one could it be? I’m sure the suspense is killing you.

So, without further ado, here are the five reasons why you and your contact center should NOT embrace the home agent model:      

1) The increased agent retention means you won’t get to meet as many new and interesting people. If you are the kind of manager or supervisor who loves to meet and interview new people every month and who gets bored when surrounded by the same talented employees for years on end, stay away from the home agent model. In my (somewhat) recent study on home agent staffing, nearly every participant said their use of home agents has had a ‘very positive’ or ‘positive’ impact on agent retention. Fewer people quitting means fewer new folks for you to meet, and fewer people for you to get to know a little better several days or weeks later during their exit interview.

2) The sound of joy in agents’ voices will be disorienting. When you have grown accustomed to hearing agents sounding exhausted and apathetic during interactions with customers, hearing those same agents suddenly perking up and caring about customers is very jarring to the system. Such increases in happiness and engagement have been known to distract those who conduct quality monitoring to the point where they cannot focus and end up forgetting to fill out the monitoring form. This is just the kind of problem you can expect if you are silly and brazen enough to embrace the home agent model and give agents the kind of work-life balance they crave. Keep in mind, too, that sudden rises in agents’ spirits and performance can also be very disorienting for customers, who, upon hearing an authentically warm greeting and inspired efforts to assist them, may very well hang up assuming they have dialed the wrong number.

3) Hiring decisions will be too hard due to the overabundance of talented applicants. You may not have a lot of job openings after implementing a home agent program (since current agents won’t be quitting), but expect to be inundated by high-quality candidates whenever there is an opening. Once word gets out that your contact center uses home agents, applicants will come out of the woodwork in hopes of snagging a job where they’ll have a chance to work in their underpants. The real pain is that many of these applicants will be talented individuals whom you would be crazy not to offer a job. But good luck making the best selection when there’s only one agent position open and 50 candidates with solid college degrees, good references, and no police record to speak of. Who needs that kind of stress?

4) You’ll no longer have a good excuse for low service levels during storms. Senior management never likes it when you fall short of your service level objectives, but at least they are somewhat forgiving whenever a snowstorm or flood is to blame for it. If you implement a home agent initiative, you can forget about such leniency during severe weather situations. “There are 200 calls in queue because half our staff couldn’t make it in” doesn’t hold water when you have a team of home-based agents in place. Once you go virtual, it’s your workforce management and training skills that will be to blame – not the weather – if service dips when a blizzard hits. Better to keep all your staff on site to ensure that your managerial shortcomings aren’t fully exposed.

5) Your center may be suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. Many contact centers with home agents in place win awards for customer service excellence, but those same centers are often accused of pumping staff full of PEDs in order to achieve such accolades. You can’t really blame folks for being skeptical. I mean, when you see a center suddenly increase agent engagement and retention, productivity, customer satisfaction, staffing flexibility and operational costs, it’s only natural to suspect that center of cheating somehow. And while you – if your center implements a home agent program – may know that the aforementioned improvements came naturally from going virtual, are you sure you’re ready to face such serious and hurtful accusations? And are your agents willing to undergo random blood testing throughout the year?   


One other reason not to embrace the home agent model is the searing envy experienced by agents in your center who are NOT selected to work from home. There’s even a famous song (at least in MY mind) about this: http://www.offcenterinsight.com/cc-tunes.html (scroll down to the third song on the page, titled “On the Phone at Home”, to hear a sample).