Off Center
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.

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. 

I haven’t always been an expert on contact center management and customer care. Some might even argue I’ve yet to start being one. That’s ok, though – I never react emotionally to critics or naysayers. Besides, most of them have been “quieted” by my “assistant” Tony.   

Instead of telling people about my knowledge and experience in this profession, I prefer to show them. That’s why this week’s Off Center piece features my expert responses to various pertinent questions I’ve received over the past month from inquisitive contact center professionals just like yourself, only a little more fictional. 

Q: I’m tired of hearing about home agents all the time these days. Our traditional call center is successful and our agents are happy with the way things are – why should I start messing around with our staffing model?    

A: I don’t doubt that your center is successful and your agents are content; but I sense from your question that you are a bit of an annoying whiner, thus I can’t help but think how much happier and engaged your staff might be if they didn’t have to work anywhere near you. Now, I’m not judging you; after all, plenty of very successful professionals are annoying and whiney – poetry professors and the entire International Tennis Federation, for example.

I’m merely suggesting that you consider allowing at least some of your agents – the ones who make fun of you behind your back on Twitter and Facebook – to start handling customer contacts from the comfort of their own home. Not only will your center begin to enjoy the often-cited benefits of home agent programs (e.g., increased agent retention, more flexible staffing, reduced facility costs, etc.); you will be able to make it home to dinner on time most nights since your car tires are less likely to be slashed in the parking lot by agents who legitimately dislike you.  

Q: What is the industry standard for service level?

A: The newest industry standard is to ignore people who ask about industry standards.

You are looking for an easy way out of having to make key decisions about a very critical metric – decisions that need to be based on your specific business, customers’ expectations, and budget. Meanwhile, I’m looking for an easy way out of having to answer the same aggravating question for the 1,000th time in my career.

Bottom line. An “industry standard” for service level (and most other metrics) simply does not exist – like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or a contact center that effectively handles customer contacts via social media.

Q: Our contact center continually struggles to engage and retain agents. What quick steps can we take to help reduce turnover?

A: One of the best and easiest ways to cut agent attrition dramatically is to hire a “reverse bouncer” for your contact center. Where traditional bouncers specialize in not letting people into establishments, a reverse bouncer specializes in not letting people leave. Disgruntled agents who plan on quitting to pursue a career outside your contact center will think twice once they are confronted by a 6’10” tall ex-UFC fighter named Bruno during their exit interview.

It’s also a good idea to make agents go through a comprehensive application process whenever they want to quit. After all, there is a formal application process to start working in a contact center, so why shouldn’t there should be a similar process to stop working in one? Be sure to explain to agents who apply for dismissal that applications take about five years to process. Then, when the five years is up and it’s time to make a decision, just tell applicants that you decided they don’t have quite what it takes to survive outside the contact center.

To be fair, let applicants know that they have the right to appeal the decision, and that the appeals process is handled by Bruno.