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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.



 
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, it’s your customers’ direct comments that often have the biggest impact on agent development.

This is 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 really stand up and take notice. (Just make sure they don’t stand up for too long – they might end up out of adherence.) Having your supervisor tell you that you need to work on your empathy doesn’t hit you quite the same way as reading “The agent I spoke to had all the charm of a morgue attendant” on a survey completed by a customer you recently interacted with. Where agents may occasionally feel a supervisor’s or QA specialist’s take on their performance is subjective and unfair, there’s no arguing with the “voice of the customer”.

Some contact centers have modeled their entire quality program around the “customer as coach” concept. The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) is one such center. The NTTA uses a VOC/performance management tool that enables the contact center to efficiently capture agent-specific customer feedback across all contact channels. Supervisors then share this feedback with agents to identify behaviors and skills that need improvement as well as those worthy of positive recognition. The center’s agents can access the system themselves whenever they want to view direct customer feedback on recently handled contacts. As much as 50% of the feedback received by agents following a monitoring session and during annual reviews comes directly from customers.

The NTTA’s agents wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Agents love the initiative,” says John Bannerman, Assistant Director of the NTTA’s Contact Center. “They get far more positive feedback from customers than a supervisor would have time to provide for their entire team on a daily basis. This provides encouragement and motivation for agents to continue doing things well, and makes them more willing to accept suggestions for improvement.”

Whether you share customer comments taken from post-contact surveys, emails/letters sent from customers, customer’s direct conversations with supervisors/managers (following an escalated call, etc.), or from gas station bathroom walls, those words can do a whole lot to engage (or wake up) agents and drive them to overcome challenging performance barriers.

Your customers are much more than just potential revenue sources lined up in a virtual queue; they are viable contact center coaches. It doesn’t matter if they know this or not – what matters is that you do.



 
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.


 
Just because your call center surveys customers and occasionally even looks at the feedback they provide doesn’t mean you have a “Voice of the Customer” initiative in place. A true VOC program entails continuously and carefully analyzing customer ratings and sentiment, identifying trouble spots and trends, and taking decisive action before your customer base starts to hate you as much as your agents do.

If your call center is as serious about the customer experience as it is about low wages and bad lighting, then you need to make sure that your VOC initiative includes the following special components:   

Tools that report whether the customer was using their “inside voice” or their “outside voice.” Naturally, you want to pay attention to any customer who provides negative comments about a recent interaction, but for prioritization purposes it’s important to distinguish between customers who are merely a little frustrated and those who are considering hiring a hit man. By investing in speech analytics tools that detect customers’ emotion/volume levels during calls and survey responses, it becomes easier to determine which customers to ignore, which ones to call back within the week, and which ones to kidnap immediately before they ruin your brand via Twitter.
  
“Fist of the Customer” (FOC) software. Sometimes customers don’t verbalize exactly what they are feeling, thus it’s important to have tools in place that can dig deeper and uncover hidden sentiment. While still very much in the testing phase, FOC technology measures how forcefully frustrated customers throw their phones or punch their computers when interacting with an agent or IVR. Equipped with special motion-detection software that I’m too stupid to understand or explain, a typical FOC solution can be programmed to send an instant alert to the call center’s recovery team whenever a customer’s punch reaches a “Mike Tyson” or “Jerry Springer guest” level of force.

A “Last Word” option for agents.  To avoid having your customers’ negative and abusive comments adversely affect agent retention and morale, it’s important to incorporate a VOA (Voice of the Agent) component into your VOC program. After receiving a scathing rating or comment from a customer, agents will likely want to retaliate and get the last word in after they stop crying. Let them do so by providing them with what they think is the customer’s phone number but is really the number to a crisis hotline where operators are used to enduring profanity-laden diatribes from complete strangers.   


NOTE: If you found Greg’s “Voice of the Customer” recommendations to be insightful and valuable, you should consider seeking help from a licensed mental health professional. Contact Greg for referrals.