Off Center
“Why is morale so low?”
“Why can’t we hang on to our best agents?”
“Why do we lose so many new-hires during or right after initial training?”
“Why are some of our agents carrying around voodoo dolls, and why am I suddenly experiencing such sharp pains in my face and back?”

If you often find yourself asking one or more of the above questions, it’s likely due to one or more of the following issues:

1) The metrics you measure (and enforce) are killing agents' spirit and the customer experience. Your agents bought into the “customer-centric” culture you sold them during recruiting and came on board excited to serve, but then the center started slamming them over the head with rigid Average Handle Time (AHT) objectives and Calls Per Hour (CPH) quotas their first day on the phones.

Focusing too strongly on such straight productivity metrics – and punishing agents for not hitting strict targets – kills agents' service spirit and compels them to do whatever is necessary to keep calls short and to handle as many as possible. This includes rushing callers off the phones before their issues are resolved, speeding through after-call work and making costly mistakes, and even occasionally pressing “release” to send unsuspecting customers into oblivion. You need to start emphasizing metrics like Contact Quality, Customer Satisfaction, First-Call Resolution, and Adherence to Schedule (the latter is a productivity-based metric your agents actually have control over). Do so, and you’ll be surprised how things like AHT and CPH end up falling in line anyway. Oh, and better do it soon – before your agents AND your customers decide to leave your company in the dust.   

2) Your quality monitoring program emphasizes the “monitoring” much more than the “quality”. Your supervisors and/or QA team are too focused on your internal monitoring form and not enough on how customers actually feel about the quality of the interaction they recently had with your center and agent. All agents see are subjective scores and checkmarks on a form that is likely better suited for measuring compliance than quality.

To get agents to embrace the quality monitoring process, let them have some input on what the form should contain, and, even more importantly, start incorporating direct customer feedback/ratings (from post-transaction surveys) into agents’ overall quality scores. For some reason, agents prefer it when a customer – rather than a supervisor – tells them how much their service stunk. Who knows, some agents might even try to improve.

3) Your contact center doesn’t fully embrace a culture of empowerment. Your contact center has failed to recognize and/or act on the fact that agents possess a wealth of insight, and know your customers better than anyone. It’s time to start empowering agents to use that insight and knowledge to improve existing processes and come up with new ones. This is probably the best way to continuously better the center while simultaneously making agents feel respected and valued. You’ll be amazed by the positive impact their ideas and suggestions will have on operational efficiencies, revenue and customer satisfaction. And because empowerment greatly increases engagement, you should see a big reduction in agent attrition and arson attempts.   

4) Coaching & training continuously get buried beneath the queue. Agents are eager to continuously develop and add value, but your overworked supervisors can’t find the time to stay on top of coaching and ongoing training. Your center needs to begin exploring feasible and effective ways to fit coaching and training into the schedule, such as using “just in time” e-learning modules, creating a peer mentoring program, and empowering agents to take on some supervisory tasks – which will free supervisors up to conduct more coaching and training while still giving them time to go home and visit their families on occasion.  

5) Agent rewards & recognition programs are uninspired – or non-existent. You’re merely going through the motions in terms of motivating and recognizing staff – futilely hoping that such stale incentives as cookies, balloons and gold stars will get agents to raise the roof performance-wise. It's time to revamp your agent rewards & recognition programs with proven approaches like: a Wall of Fame that pays tribute to consistent high performers; opportunities to serve on important committees or task forces; nominations for external industry awards for agents; fun happy hours where agents get to socialize and receive public praise for their concerted effort; and inspired events and contests during Customer Service Week and National Kiss Your Agents on the Mouth Day.     

6) You're handing the wrong people a headset. Maybe you are actually doing all the positive things I’ve suggested thus far, and are STILL struggling with low agent engagement and retention. Well, then you may want to take a close look at your recruiting and hiring practices. Regardless of how well you train, empower and reward staff, if you are attracting and selecting sociopaths and others who aren’t cut out for contact center work or your company culture, you’ll never foster the level of agent commitment or performance that’s required to become as good a customer care organization as your customers demand and deserve.   

A slightly different version of this post originally appeared on the “Productivity Plus” blog put out by the very good people at Intradiem.

Kevin Carly
4/26/2013 12:31:20 am


It has been a while! Somehow pulling a 4.0 on the MBA and allowing myself to get dragged deeper in the wrong direction. I hope all is well, and I'm still waiting for a signed copy of your book!!

This is a stellar article. It seems so many companies talk the "customer culture" talk, but walk the drunken-metrics walk. One local contact center I follow is guilty of what you describe. No empowerment, crank out the calls, keep your handle time low. They are even discussing fixing only one issue per call. If there are multiple issues to fix, the caller must fax or email the remaining issues.

When this concept was presented to me, I asked if management had queried the customers to see if they liked that approach. I'm sure you'll be surprised to know that they didn't think of this at all. Nor had the leadership team asked the agents what they thought of this concept.

It reminds me of my ex-mother in law.


Anyway. Perhaps a couple of things I would add here included with empowerment are eliminating tribal knowledge and providing knowledgebase technology to speed up troubleshooting or common calls.

Disseminating and de-centralizing knowledge empowers agents to handle more types of calls, have faster access to solutions, increase FCR, organically decrease AHT, and, when you add all these together, one might even see a decrease in the all-powerful Abandon Rate! (Why do I hate that measurement so much? I can't think of EVER fielding a customer complaint where they told me they can't help but hang up too much before my agents answer the phone.)

Another great post, GL.

4/26/2013 12:42:26 am

Great to hear from you, Kevin. I always love how you comment on my blog posts with insightful and entertaining content that could easily be a blog post of its own.

Yes, the example you provided is all too common: Contact centers not putting their metrics where their mouth is. Talking customer-centricity but walking Calls per Hour. Bring me my manager voodoo doll.

The suggestions you made are solid. Now get out of my blog and get back into a contact center! Your skills, knowledge and wit are sorely needed on site somewhere!



4/30/2013 07:23:53 am

True! You can also add bad management and leaders who don't know how to lead but just boss everyone around.

5/15/2013 06:39:20 am

"compels them to do whatever is necessary to keep calls short and to handle as many as possible."

That right there will be the death of your customer experience. If agents know they are being graded how on quickly they handle the call and not how well they handle the call what incentive do they have to really help that customer? They want to get it over and done with as fast as possible. Don't be surprised to see your repeat calls growing!

5/15/2013 10:16:27 am

Yes, Dan, haste most certainly makes waste when it comes to customer care. Force agents to play beat the clock and you can say hasta luego to customer satisfaction and agent engagement.

Thanks much for your input!


1/27/2014 06:05:51 am

It is so nice to see somebody actually discussing these kinds of issues. I stopped doing customer service work after 30 years because all focus on customers has been lost in the race to follow garbage business practices. Whoever invented the concept of "metrics" in customer service should be shot (at least as practiced now.) You can't give good customer service AND worry about how long you are taking to help the customer. You can't give good customer service AND worry that you won't use the right set of canned phrases when you are being "monitored". (And I have seen monitoring be abused to punish people too often to believe it is really a good idea for general practice.) You can't give good customer service in most modern customer service settings because those in charge are too busy worrying about following new ideas invented by people who have never answered a customer service call. There is too much reliance on overly educated college graduates who have no been taught tons of theory and no real life practice.


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