Off Center
 
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.)


 
When it comes to social customer care (providing service and support via social media channels), there are two key practices that contact centers must embrace: 1) monitoring; and 2) monitoring.

No, I haven’t been drinking, and no, there isn’t an echo embedded in my blog. The truth is, I didn’t actually repeat myself in the statement above.

Now, before you recommend that I seek inpatient mental health/substance abuse treatment, allow me to explain.


Monitoring in social customer care takes two distinctly different though equally important forms. The first entails the contact center monitoring the social landscape to see what’s being said to and about the brand (and then deciding who to engage with). The second entails the contact center’s Quality Assurance team/specialist monitoring agents' 'social' interactions to make sure the agents are engaging with the right people and providing the right responses.

The first type of monitoring is essentially a radar screen; the second type of monitoring is essentially a safety net. The first type picks up on which customers (or anti-customers) require attention and assistance; the second type makes sure the attention and assistance provided doesn’t suck.

Having a powerful social media monitoring tool that enables agents to quickly spot and respond to customers via Twitter and Facebook is great, but it doesn’t mean much if those agents, when responding…
  • misspell every other word
  • misuse or ignore most punctuation
  • provide incomplete – or completely incorrect – information
  • show about as much tact and empathy as a Kardashian.
  • fail to invite the customer to continue his/her verbal evisceration of the company and the agent offline and out of public view.
 
All of those scary bullet items above can be avoided – or at least minimized – when there’s a formal QA process in place for social media customer contacts. Now, if you’re thinking your QA and supervisory staff are too busy to carefully monitor and evaluate agents’ Twitter/Facebook interactions with customers (and provide follow-up coaching), then what the Zuckerberg are you thinking even offering such channels as contact options? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again, and again): If your contact center isn’t ready to monitor a particular contact channel, then it isn’t ready to HANDLE that channel.

Customers don’t applaud organizations for merely being progressive. If Toyota came out with a new automobile that ran on garbage but that had a 20% chance of exploding when you put the key in the ignition, customers’ response wouldn’t be, “Deadly, yes, but I might make it across the country on just banana peels!”

Social customer care is still new enough where organizations offering it are considered progressive. If your contact center is one such organization, are your customers applauding the strong and consistent social service and support your agents are providing, or is your center overlooking the quality component and losing too many customers to explosions?  

For more insights (and some irreverence) on Social Customer Care, be sure to check out my blog post, “Beginner’s Guide to Social Customer Care”. Also, my book, Full Contact, contains a chapter in which best (or at least pretty good) practices in Social Customer Care are covered.

 
True contact center success comes when organizations make the critical switch from a “Measure everything that moves” mindset to one of “Measure what matters most.” Given that we are now living in the Age of Customer Influence, “what matters most” is that which most increases the likelihood of the customer not telling the world how evil you are via Twitter.

No longer can companies coast on Average Handle Time (AHT) and Number of Calls Handled per Hour. Such metrics may have ruled the roost back when contact centers were back-office torture chambers, but the customer care landscape has since changed dramatically. Today, customers expect and demand service that is not only swift but stellar. A speedy response is appreciated, but only when it’s personalized, professional and accurate – and when what’s promised is actually carried out.

AHT and other straight productivity measurements still have a place in the contact center (e.g. for workforce management purposes as well as identifying workflow and training issues). However, in the best centers – those that understand that the customer experience is paramount – the focus is on a set of five far more qualitative and holistic metrics.

1) Service Level. How accessible your contact center is sets the tone for every customer interaction and determines how much vulgarity agents will have to endure on each call. Service level (SL) is still the ideal accessibility metric, revealing what percentage of calls (or chat sessions) were answered in “Y” seconds. A common example (but NOT an industry standard!) SL objective is 80/20.

The “X percent in Y seconds” attribute of SL is why it’s a more precise accessibility metric than its close cousin, Average Speed of Answer (ASA). ASA is a straight average, which can cause managers to make faulty assumptions about customers’ ability to reach an agent promptly. A reported ASA of, say, 30 seconds doesn’t mean that all or even most callers reached an agent in that time; many callers likely got connected more quickly while many others may not have reached an agent until after they perished.


2) First-Call Resolution (FCR). No other metric has as big an impact on customer satisfaction and costs (as well as agent morale) as FCR does. Research has shown that customer satisfaction (C-Sat) ratings will be 35-45 percent lower when a second call is made for the same issue.

Trouble is, accurately measuring FCR is something that can stump even the best and brightest scientists at NASA. (I discussed the complexity of FCR tracking in a previous post.) Still and all, contact centers must strive to gauge this critical metric as best they can and, more importantly, equip agents with the tools and techniques they need to drive continuous (and appropriate) FCR improvement.


3) Contact Quality and 4) C-Sat. Contact Quality and C-Sat are intrinsically linked – and in the best contact centers, so are the processes for measuring them. To get a true account of Quality, the customer’s perspective must be incorporated into the equation. Thus, in world-class customer care organizations, agents’ Quality scores are a combination of internal compliance results (as judged by internal QA monitoring staff using a formal evaluation form) and customer ratings (and berating) gleaned from post-contact transactional C-Sat surveys.

Through such a comprehensive approach to monitoring, the contact center gains a much more holistic view of Contact Quality than internal monitoring alone can while simultaneously capturing critical C-Sat data that can be used not only by the QA department but enterprise-wide, as well.


5) Employee Satisfaction (E-Sat). Those who shun E-Sat as a key metric because they see it as “soft” soon find that achieving customer loyalty and cost containment is hard. There is a direct and irrefutable correlation between how unhappy agents are and how miserable they make customers. Failure to keep tabs on E-Sat – and to take action to continuously improve it – leads not only to bad customer experiences but also high levels of employee attrition and knife-fighting, which costs contact centers an arm and a leg in terms of agent re-recruitment, re-assessment, re-training, and first-aid.

Smart centers formally survey staff via a third-party surveying specialist at least twice a year to find out what agents like about the job, what they’d like to see change, and how likely they are to cut somebody or themselves.


For much more on these and other common contact center metrics, be sure to check out my FULL CONTACT ebook at http://www.offcenterinsight.com/full-contact-book.html.


 
In an effort to gain recognition and respect, too many struggling contact centers try to bite off more than they can chew – implementing performance goals that they have as much chance of meeting as I do of being crowned Miss America. 

I often encourage managers of poorly performing contact centers to stop reaching for the stars and to instead just concentrate on not sucking. You have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you can run a world-class operation.

With that in mind, below are some key performance objectives that managers of sub-par centers might want to consider implementing to help earn some quick wins, build some confidence among staff, and quit drinking so much in the morning.

Contact Resolution. Don't worry about first-contact resolution (FCR) right now. True, resolving customer issues on the first contact has a big impact on customer satisfaction, agent engagement and operational costs, but chances are your center just isn't yet ready to achieve a lofty FCR objective. Instead focus on a more feasible and less intimidating metric – fifth-contact resolution (5CR).

Studies have shown that it is easier to fully resolve customer issues on the fifth try than it is to do so on the first, second, third or fourth try. Research has also revealed that centers that are able to resolve customer issues within five contacts report higher customer satisfaction, agent retention and cost savings than do centers that don't resolve customer issues until the sixth, seventh or eighth contact.

Service Level.
Don't set your center and agents up for failure by shooting for an ambitious service level objective of answering 80 percent of calls within 20 seconds, or some similar challenging goal. It's much wiser to start out with the following, more palatable service level objective: 80% of calls answered… period. The number of seconds that it takes to do so should not be a major concern at this point – that will come later, assuming customers don’t burn your center to the ground in the meantime.  

Adherence to Schedule. Most contact centers focus too much on whether or not agents are in their seat at the right times. Your center will be much more likely to meet/exceed its adherence objective if you don't emphasize the "in your seat" and the "at the right times" parts so much. Instead, go a little easier on your staff by explaining the importance of them at least trying to stay within city limits during their shift. Agents will greatly appreciate the fact that you recognize how challenging and restrictive their job can be, and, as a result, will strive to meet the new objective you have set forth. Or not. 

Contact Quality. When it comes to assuring quality in struggling contact centers, the emphasis should be less on agents achieving high monitoring scores and more on whether or not the person rating the call throws up. When no vomiting occurs, be sure to praise the agent publicly, and consider grooming him or her for a supervisory role. If, however, vomiting does occur during a call evaluation – and it will – provide the agent with positive and nurturing pointers on how he or she could have made the interaction with the customer less nauseating to the person evaluating it.      

If you follow all the suggestions and recommendations provided here in this blog post, I guarantee that your contact center will move from being absolutely abysmal to being just a little pitiful in no time. Best of luck!


For performance measurement and management tactics that are even MORE practical than those highlighted here, be sure to check out my book,
Full Contact: Contact Center Practices & Strategies that Make an Impact.



 
Very few people in our industry dreamt early on in life about being a call center professional. If you happen to know somebody who did, be careful – he or she is probably dangerous. (Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer both reportedly fantasized about customer care as kids.) If you yourself had dreams of a call center career when you were younger, then I was just kidding about the whole "dangerous" thing. Otherwise, I wasn’t.

Just because you didn’t plan on becoming a call center professional doesn’t mean that you haven’t landed in an exciting and rewarding field. With customer service being the big differentiator among competing brands these days, call centers are hot. You’ve probably even been invited to sit at the cool kids’ table in the company cafeteria, or at least you no longer have your lunch money stolen by some bully from Marketing.

Even still, many call center managers and supervisors – because of their random arrival in this crazy profession – continually struggle with existential career issues, constantly asking themselves such questions as,  “Do I belong here?” and “Is it too late to become a fireman?”

It’s ok to question whether or not you are a real call center professional. To help you find out, look for the following symptoms… I mean signs:



10 Signs You’re a Real Call Center Professional

1) You’ve legally changed your name to an acronym.

2) At the end of a date, you ask the person to complete a satisfaction survey.

3) You don’t giggle when you hear the term “shrinkage”.

4) If ever homeless, you’d create a sign that reads: “Will forecast call volume for food.”

5) You think an engagement party is a gathering to raise employee morale.

6) The fitness instructor at your gym told you to do 10 "reps", and you argued that that would be highly unprofessional.

7) You have a tattoo of A.K. Erlang… right next to your tattoo of Alexander Graham Bell.

8) You can’t telecommute because you’d miss the smell of headsets.

9) When friends ask about your social life, you tell them your call center now interacts with customers via Twitter.

10) You get all these jokes.