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Is Agent Training On-Board Your CX Train?

By , September 16, 2014 at 9:05 am


Whether you call it employee development or skills enhancement, it’s all about training our agents and leaders to be successful with our customers and improve the bottom line. Not enough training and our employees may fail to provide the customer experience needed.

Some centers do not have the luxury of having a full time center trainer or team of trainers and may rely on corporate trainers to support them with some or all of the classroom-type training done with both new and seasoned agents.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that corporate development people rarely have any contact center experience. Some have never worked in any customer service or sales role. Many tell me it’s been years since they spent any time talking to customers and have never observed agents and center leaders on the job to learn what type of skills are key for success.

It’s not only the corporate trainers who are disconnected. Some executives have the same problem.

I recently heard about an operations executive in charge of starting up his company’s new contact center. He had no center experience but he was confident that he knew how one should be set up since he knew how the branch offices were run.

Since the new center team would need training, he decided it was time for the entire company to also have training so he enlisted the Human Resources manager to work with him to create classes for everyone: retail, administrative and even the newly hired contact center team would attend in mixed groups.

Unfortunately, everything on the agent training agenda they designed revolved around operational processes: data collection, product info and terminology refreshers, and how to use the systems to document information. Nothing was designed from the customer experience perspective or for the agents who would be dealing with them on the phone.

In place of soft skills training, the center team was instead issued management designed canned scripts for their incoming calls. The scripts were based on what they thought would be best for a quickly-get-off-the-call approach rather than customer engagement. Once the agents realized that the scripts didn’t work for most customer interactions encountered, the scripts were tossed.

On the job skills development for agents was a major issue since monitoring and call recording was not available. The company had purchased a phone system a year earlier that had not been considered for contact center use, so adding any quality coaching tools now would entail a large expense to replace phones and system. Management was unwilling to spend the money and the only coaching done was “feedback” when another department or customer complained about an agent.

Agent training done just to say “we’re training” is clearly not enough and yet it continues for some businesses. Without clear customer experience and agent success goals, without being customized for the appropriate skills for the work being done, generic training is wasted time and effort for all involved.

Poorly designed training lacking focus on customer success and agent engagement will quickly drive your business “off the rails.”


Customer Service is More than Just Being Nice

By , September 11, 2014 at 8:22 am

Customer Service

I recently had the privilege of speaking to the people of Ace Hardware about creating amazing customer service. If you know anything about Ace, you might be thinking that they could be the ones delivering the lesson on service – Ace has built its own special brand of customer service centered on being helpful. One of the corporate speakers at the event, Tom Knox, Vice President of Retail and Business Development, made a statement that really resonated with me:

We don’t want to be known for having the nicest people. We want to be known for having the most helpful people.

Does this mean that Ace Hardware’s personnel are not nice? No, I would say that “nice” is one component of helpful, but there’s another element as well – being knowledgeable. It’s the combination of nice plus knowledgeable that adds up to Ace’s special brand of customer service.

Let’s consider each component then. Have you ever done business with a company where the people were extremely nice, but still weren’t able to offer what you wanted? You might remember thinking, “they are so nice” or “they try so hard,” and you might even have returned a time or two to give them another chance. But eventually, if they don’t get the job done, you will turn to another business that offers the same product or service, looking for someone who will get the job done.

So then perhaps you find another business with people who are knowledgeable and offer the product that you want to buy. But if they are knowledgeable without being nice, you are not likely to give them your long-term business either. There may be a few customers who will put up with bad attitudes and a lack of appreciation, but the majority will move on. Customers want the total experience – nice people who know what they are doing – and don’t forget that a quality product or service is a must as well.

For Ace Hardware, the equation looks like this:

Nice + Knowledgeable = Helpful

Ace promises to be “the most helpful hardware stores on the planet,” and they work hard to fulfill that promise of customer service. As the customers experience their friendly, knowledgeable service, they gain confidence, which leads to repeat business and eventually, loyalty.

So what components do you want to include in your brand of amazing customer service? Define how you will offer the total package – from the quality of your product to the attitudes and abilities of your staff – and you are on your way to happy, confident customers.

Webinar | Preventing the Accidental Customer Experience

Measuring Agent Satisfaction: Why E-Sat Should Be a KPI in Your Contact Center

By , September 9, 2014 at 9:27 am


If you are a contact center director, manager or supervisor, you most likely value your agents. You most likely strive to implement programs and incentives to keep agents engaged and happy. You most likely even smile at agents when you see them – unless, of course, they are out of adherence.

Yet you most likely don’t have Employee Satisfaction (E-Sat) listed among the key performance indicators (KPIs) in your contact center.

This doesn’t make you a bad person. But it could make for a bad contact center.

Without a formal process in place for measuring employee sentiment and engagement, you are merely left to assume that the folks who seem to be smiling when interacting with your valued customers are actually content. In reality, they could be planning a violent coup.

And it’s no secret that unhappy agents lead to unhappy customers. Unhappy agents also lead to high turnover, which costs tons of money and leads to unhappy executives, who then make you unhappy.

All this can be avoided – or at least kept in check – by making E-Sat a KPI in your contact center.

E-Sat in Action

The best contact centers do more than just give lip service to E-Sat. Rather, they regularly measure it – as often as every quarter – using a comprehensive survey tool. They also keep a close eye on agent sentiment in between those formal surveys to make sure a mutiny isn’t in the works.

These centers’ surveys are designed to gauge not only traditional employee satisfaction, but also employee engagement. Engagement is satisfaction on steroids. Having an engagement component built into your E-Sat survey helps to identify which agents would not only help to put out a fire in the contact center but also run through the flames to save you and their employee manual.

It’s best to use a third-party surveying specialist to design and implement your E-Sat survey to ensure that the right questions are asked in the right ways, as well as to help foster a sense of privacy/anonymity, thus increasing the chances that agents will respond in a frank and honest matter. Surveying specialists can also help a contact center evaluate results, pinpoint key trends, and suggest actions to take based on the findings – such as hiring bodyguards for the supervisors.

Naturally, every contact center would love to achieve a 100% E-Sat rate, but that’s about as likely as a home agent bathing every day. As with C-Sat, anything in the 80%-90% range for E-Sat is impressive – and feasible, particularly if you incorporate into the survey process threats of physical harm for low ratings by staff.

If E-Sat isn’t already on your contact center’s list of critical metrics, add it ASAP. Bump Average Handle Time off the roster to make room. And when it comes to measuring E-Sat, don’t just go through the motions, or you’ll likely find that you have a bunch of agents doing the same.

And when that happens, your customers may also go through some motions – like moving their account to your competitor.


8 Steps for Customer Experience Change Management

By , September 2, 2014 at 10:44 am

CX Change Management

[The original post appeared on the CX Journey blogsite on August 26, 2014.]

How well are your change management efforts going?

I recently came across Dr. Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change. The steps come from his 1996 book, Leading Change, which outlines the eight critical success factors for change management.

As you can imagine, this process was intriguing to me, since it applies quite nicely to the challenges we face as we struggle to implement changes to/for the customer experience within our organizations. It got me thinking about whether I captured all of these steps in my recent post on change management. I think I got the general essence of the process, but I couldn’t agree more with his steps I missed.

Let’s take a look. Here are the steps, straight from the Kotter International website, with my thoughts added between the lines for each one.

Step 1: Establishing a Sense of Urgency

Help others see the need for change and they will be convinced of the importance of acting immediately.

I think this is a critical component for change management for the customer experience. Getting leadership buy-in and helping them understand that the sooner the focus is placed on the customer experience, the sooner the business will benefit is an everyday challenge for customer experience professionals. At the same time, employee buy-in is also critical, as employees will be impacted by the changes and will be the ones who deliver the experience. Don’t forget to keep the organization as a whole informed about the changes – why they’re important, when and how they’ll happen, and how they’ll impact employees, customers, and the company in general.

Step 2: Creating the Guiding Coalition

Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort, and encourage the group to work as a team.

This is where your governance structure comes into play. Changing the organization’s DNA to be more customer-centric is not a project for one person to undertake; this is an organization-wide effort. As such, the governance structure is critical to the foundation of any customer experience effort. Without the core team, the steering committee with both executive sponsors and cross-functional champions, the customer focus won’t go far.

Step 3: Developing a Change Vision

Create a vision to help direct the change effort, and develop strategies for achieving that vision.

Develop a customer experience vision that will be inspirational and aspirational; it will outline what you see as the future state of the customer experience. It will briefly describe the experience you plan to deliver. And it will serve as a guide to help develop your strategy and choose future courses of action.

Step 4: Communicating the Vision for Buy-In

Make sure as many as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy.

Communication – early, often, and ongoing – is a critical tool to gain buy-in and to ensure success for any customer experience effort. There are many different ways to ensure that you communicate the vision and to make sure that everyone has a clear line of sight to what needs to be done; one of my favorite is the journey map.

Step 5: Empowering Broad-Based Action

Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision, and encourage risk-taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions.

Are your employees unencumbered and empowered to do what’s right for your customers?

Step 6: Generating Short-Term Wins

Plan for achievements that can easily be made visible, follow-through with those achievements and recognize and reward employees who were involved.

We know that winning over executives (and others) and getting their buy-in often requires the use of skunkworks projects that demonstrate those short-term wins. These projects are used to build the business case, which is often built upon quick wins to show not only what can be done but also your commitment and persistence to achieving some outcome. As change is implemented, further quick wins may be required. And I couldn’t agree more with recognizing and rewarding employees for successes, not just during this quick wins phase but always.

Step 7: Never Letting Up

Use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision, also hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the vision, and finally reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents.

I have mentioned before that the customer experience is a journey. So are organizational change efforts, as part of that journey. They go hand in hand.

Step 8: Incorporating Changes into the Culture

Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.

In order to implement and to sustain the changes you’ll make in order to shift to a customer-centric, customer-focused organization, the values, the purpose, and the vision must be ingrained into the DNA of the organization. That requires that policies, processes, language, hiring, training, and all other efforts and decisions the organization makes must be based on what’s best for the customer. That customer focus becomes an organizational discipline, not a department. Everyone’s job ultimately contributes to the customer experience; make sure there is a clear line of sight. And continue to reiterate that.

How well does your organization do in adhering to these steps when implementing change? Which of these are a challenge that you must still overcome?

If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies. -Unknown

Report | Call Center Performance

3 Must-Haves for Workforce Management Success

By , August 26, 2014 at 9:34 am


Workforce managers don’t have it easy.

Not only are they responsible for accurately forecasting call requirements per half hour by both queue and skill, they are also tasked with scheduling the right number of agents needed to handle calls at a prescribed service level and average handle time.

This is a very specialized job that requires someone with an extreme skill set in modern forecasting techniques and an appreciation for scheduling and the impact it has on employees.

This can be a frustrating endeavor because of the countless variables that adversely impact forecasting and call volume such as bad weather, headlines, and new products and marketing campaigns that were not communicated to the contact center in time to be part of the forecast.

The forecast is only as good as the history that predicts it and the knowledge of these variables that can impact its accuracy.

Scheduling can also be frustrating because though you can produce schedules that are ideal and adequately meet requirements on paper, these schedules may not be able to be worked by agents in reality due to various family concerns, school commitments, and training and skill requirements.

The truth is, once schedules are produced, agents sometimes don’t show up. As we all know, in the contact center, even the best-laid plans are frequently interrupted.

To be successful, there are three things workforce managers must have:

#1: Communication and support from above

Workforce managers need support from higher management and must play an integral role in all planning and strategy for every aspect of the business from sales and marketing to HR.

The greatest marketing plan and greatest product in the world can get customers to call into the contact center, but if you don’t have the right people in the right place at the right time, that marketing campaign will ultimately be unsuccessful.

It has to be a closed-loop process. When it fails – when workforce management is not an integral part of the team and gets secondhand or late information – marketing campaigns are not as successful as they could be.

#2: Modern tools to get the job done

Workforce management teams also need modern tools that are capable of modeling forecasting and scheduling and that can support complex, multi-skilled, multi-queue environments. These tools must also be able to monitor on a half-hour intraday basis to ensure the forecast is still accurate based on actual call volume and AHT and that the agents who are scheduled to work those times are in fact available and working.

If an agent is scheduled to break at 10:15, but instead breaks at 10:45, this can have a huge impact on the schedule. The critical measurement is not compliance to the schedule, but adherence. It isn’t as important that an agent worked the same number of hours as they were scheduled, but that they worked the right hours.

For example, if an agent’s schedule is 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, but they instead work 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, though it is still an eight-hour workday, this agent is not adhering to the schedule that was assigned.

#3: Resources and knowledgeable staff

A successful workforce management team has the resources needed for short-term and long-term forecasting on a daily, weekly and even quarterly basis.

You also need very good forecasters and people who understand the scheduling system and how to produce schedules agents are actually able to work by incorporating things like block schedules and split schedules, and monitoring on an intraday basis what has been forecasted and scheduled.

When it comes to workforce management, one person simply can’t do it all (though sometimes they are asked to). The result may be a good schedule, but a lousy forecast, or the other way around.

Benchmark Report | Contact Center WFO

11 Things You Must Know to Win the Customer Experience Battle

By , August 21, 2014 at 9:54 am


If knowing is half the battle, what’s the other half?

In the 1980s, there was a G.I. Joe cartoon series for kids that embodied good vs. evil. At the end of each episode was a public service announcement (PSA) that would answer various questions and teach kids some valuable lessons. Each PSA ended with, “Now I know! And knowing is half the battle!”

This got me thinking, in a customer experience sort of way.

Knowing really is half the battle. You want your employees to deliver a great customer experience for your customers, right? What do you need to tell them? What must they know in order to deliver the experience customers expect?

Here are a few topics that are pretty important to know.

Customer Understanding: Listening to customers and ensuring that their feedback is shared and acted upon throughout the organization helps connect the dots for employees, who hear how what they do translates into the customer experience. At the same time, the knowledge must go beyond listening to really understanding who your customers are and what they are trying to do.

Customer Journeys: A customer journey map is the ultimate tool to help connect all employees to how they impact the customer experience. It details what the customer experiences while trying to complete a task with the company. It also helps create a clear line of sight for all employees, frontline and back office, to the target/goal: a great customer experience. It helps them understand how their contributions matter.

Customer Experience Vision: Your CX vision will be inspirational and aspirational; it will outline what you see as the future state of the customer experience. (Of course, it will be rooted deeply in customer understanding.) It will briefly describe the experience you plan to deliver. And it will serve as a guide to help choose future courses of action. Your CX vision statement will connect the dots between what you’re doing and for whom you’re doing it, in addition to creating alignment within the organization.

Brand Promise: A brand promise is the expectation you set with your customers; it’s a promise you make to your customers. Everything you and your employees do should reflect this promise. Consistently. It’s a combination of the brand purpose and the reality of what the brand can deliver. In most cases, defines the benefits a customer can expect to receive when experiencing your brand at every touch point. For example, JetBlue’s brand promise is “You above all.” If I’m working for JetBlue, that’s a clear message to me that I the customer comes first.

Core Values: Your core values are guiding principles for your employees; they outline which behaviors and actions are right and which are wrong, both for your employees and toward your customers. Everything you do must be aligned with your values, and they should be integrated into everything you do.

Purpose: It’s your reason for being, your Why. Customers buy from brands with which they align; similarly, employees want to work for companies with which they are aligned. Make sure everyone in the organization understands your Why.

Empathy: Teach employees to really pay attention to what the customer is saying, both verbally and through body language. Anticipate customer needs/emotions/reactions, and recognize when/how to use empathy. Role play for employees to really make it click; teach them the cues that signal it’s time for empathy to kick in. Show them that it’s important to always be listening and be prepared to respond in the way the customer needs you to respond, not in the way a script tells you to respond.

There’s more, but I think this covers the major categories.

How do you then ensure your employees are in the know? Maybe you need your own PSA? There are a lot of different ways to get your employees on the right page. The primary vehicles for delivering this knowledge are:

Onboarding: You can’t just hire people, set them free, and think they’ll understand what’s expected of them. By “knowing what’s expected of them,” I don’t just mean knowing what to do in their new roles; explaining the job, the benefits, and where to find the paper clips are all important to the onboarding process, but they must know what it means to be a part of your organization, i.e., knowing your brand promise, values and commitment, what it means to live the brand, where the priorities lie, and how to deliver a great customer experience. This is a great time to set the tone for the culture.

Continuous Training: You also can’t expect that as both the business and customer expectations evolve, employees will automatically know and adapt/evolve, too. There must be ongoing training to ensure that employees are kept abreast of changes in the business, expectations, and more. It’s always wise to provide refreshers and reinforcement of the things that are most important for employees to know.

Communication: What gets shared and communicated regularly is viewed as important to your employees. Not only does communication lend clarity, it is critical to a clear line of sight to the goal. Communication must be open and ongoing.

Culture: While this isn’t technically a vehicle for delivering knowledge, it is the guard rail that helps keep employees within the yellow lines. As Herb Kelleher said, “Culture is what people do when no one is looking.”

If we provide employees with clear guidelines and expectations, recognize and reward the right behavior, and allow them to learn from their mistakes, they’re covered for half the battle.

So knowing is half the battle; what’s the other half? Technically, fighting. But in our story, I would say it’s making sure you hire the right people, i.e., having the right people in your frontline workforce to fight the good fight.

Hire for attitude — train for skill. Those are the two halves of this battle.

White Paper | Value in Naysayer Feedback

Are You Engaging New Agents, or Training Them for Your Competitors?

By , August 12, 2014 at 9:30 am


Our contact centers today have a wide range of new hire training agendas depending on the complexity of the products and services, skills trained and even the size of the centers. There’s classroom time, self-directed learning, tests, games and activities, guest speakers, call examples to listen to, side-by-side observations and even mentors.

Many managers are very focused on coaching experienced agents to insure continuously improved skills and growth for them within the center. Some of these same managers, however, are missing the opportunity to provide newly hired agents the same benefits of coaching received during the crucial first days of training.

Regardless of the size of the center and complexity of training, I find that there is a lot of training process happening and not a lot of agent engagement.

Trainers on a fast-paced schedule get caught up with the need to stuff those eager new agent heads with tons of detailed information. Some have told me that they are following a checklist and their goal is to check off the skills taught as their measure of success. Others feel they are successful if the new hires test well in the classroom.

In the midst of all this organization and process, new agents may be lost.

New agents may lose the great enthusiasm they displayed in their interview and during the “honeymoon” period of the first two weeks in training. The excitement withers and even may die, ending in turnover if they aren’t feeling engaged and motivated.

Managers have complained to me about agents who looked so promising at the beginning of training and then ended up being average or worse in terms of skills and attitude.

The question to be answered is whether they hired the wrong person or was the reason more about lack of engagement, personal interaction, and motivation during training and even after.

Some agents have told me that they were initially excited to be a part of the team but soon found that the excitement wasn’t supported or encouraged by the trainers, supervisors and managers. Others say that they are being lectured to and never asked for their input during their training as new agents. A few complain that they never had a one to one sit down with their new supervisor during the first month to share experiences and get to know them.

New hires must have personalized one to one time, not only with their trainers but also with their supervisors. Despite all these processes in place to document progress and skills, the personal connection with leadership certainly appears to be lost for many. The supervisor never really bonds with the new agent until later, if at all.

Coaching with seasoned agents is tough enough for us to do well consistently given all the center challenges we face as leaders. Coaching with new hires can be even more challenging. They enter eager, positive and open to learning. They need validation from day one.

Our new agents need personal feedback daily, especially during the first few weeks of training, and then weekly as they progress through your on-boarding agenda to becoming a fully engaged member of your team.

Make sure your trainers and front line leaders are making agent engagement a priority so new hires feel welcome and involved right from the start. If not, your call center competitors in town will be thanking you for sending new agents their way!

On-Demand Webinar | Real-time Coaching

Is Customer Service Getting Worse, or are Customers Just Getting Smarter?

By , August 7, 2014 at 9:27 am


“Customer service isn’t getting worse. Customer service is getting harder.”

This was the message that Barak Eilam, the CEO of NICE, a technology company focused on customer experience solutions, shared with an audience of customers at the recent NICE Interactions users conference in Las Vegas. How profound. And, he’s right.

Surveys in the customer service world are coming back and indicating that customers perceive customer service to be worse than last year. W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University finds that in 2013 customer problems climbed to 50% from 45% in 2011 and 32% in 1976. Yet, at the same time companies are marketing and bragging about how they provide great customer service.

Here’s my take. The customer is smarter than ever when it comes to customer service. The best companies are becoming benchmarks for others to aspire – not just in their own industry, but across all industries. Companies such as Apple, Amazon, Zappos, Ace Hardware, Ritz-Carlton, Nordstrom and others are consistently top performers in the world of customer service. They are very proud of it, and they tell the world about it, thereby educating the consumer on what really good customer service looks like. As a result, customers hope to get this level of service from all of the companies they do business with.

That just makes it harder for companies that aren’t quite as customer focused, and that is a good thing. Companies that really want to compete and stand out are being forced to raise the bar and give customers a better experience. It can only be good for customers – and good for business.

So, how does a company begin to not just meet, but exceed the customer’s expectations? How do they raise the bar? A good start is to identify the typical customer’s journey. Determine all of the main touch-points or front-line interactions. Think of each of these interactions as a link in a chain. If there is a weak link, figure out a way to strengthen it to eliminate or mitigate problems and customer complaints. Look at the strong links and determine what might be done to make them even stronger.

At the same time, take a look at what is happening behind the scenes to support these front-line interactions. The systems and people behind the scenes can make or break the front-line customer experience.

There is no doubt that some companies aren’t good at delivering customer service. But what about the ones that try, yet fail? Is it that they are bad or getting worse? Maybe not. Maybe they are failing because the bar has been raised and the customer is expecting more. Maybe it’s just getting harder.


6 Ways to Fully Engage Your Contact Center Agents

By , August 5, 2014 at 9:22 am

Agent Engagement

Up until relatively recently, many managers and executives considered the topic of employee engagement to be “soft.”

Those that still feel that way today are finding that keeping employees and customers around is HARD.

Consider some of the organizations known for obsessing over agent engagement in their contact centers. Organizations like Zappos, Disney, USAA, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and J. Crew, to name just a few. Then take a look at these organizations’ incredible employee retention rates, C-Sat rates, and annual growth. Afterward, let me know if you still think employee engagement is “soft.”

While talking about engagement is important, achieving engagement is what you really should be after – unless you are about to retire and couldn’t care less if your agents torch the place. For those of you who still do care, following are six proven ways to keep contact center staff fully engaged and customers from wanting to physically harm you.

1) Turn on-boarding into long-boarding. To help ease rookie agents into the challenging and dynamic customer care environment without the use of mood-altering drugs, consider implementing an extended on-boarding initiative. Such initiatives spread the transitional phase out over several weeks or months to help foster a strong sense of preparedness and belonging among new staff, resulting in higher levels of engagement and fewer incidents of them vanishing into thin air.

Key components of a successful “long-boarding” initiative include: a comprehensive orientation program; transition training (a.k.a. “nesting” period); peer mentoring; onsite and offsite social events; and specialized satisfaction surveys for new(ish) agents.

2) Measure what really matters. Focusing too strongly on straight productivity metrics (e.g., Average Handle Time (AHT), Call Handled per Hour, etc.) strict performance targets destroys agents’ souls and compels them to do whatever is necessary to hit their quotas. This might entail rushing callers off the phones before their issues are resolved and speeding through after-call work and making costly mistakes.

Start emphasizing more customer-centric (and agent-centric) metrics like Contact Quality, Customer Satisfaction and First-Call Resolution, and you’ll be surprised how things like AHT and CPH end up falling in line anyway.

3) Provide dynamic and customized training and coaching. Committing fully to agent training & development not only helps agents perform at optimum levels, it ensures that they’ll actually want to. When agents see how much the organization has invested in and values their development, they become highly engaged and inspired to take care of customers, and usually even call off the violent coup they’ve been planning for months.

If you want such positive stuff to happen in your center, make training and coaching entertaining and intriguing with things like games, role-plays/simulations, e-learning, transition training, agent self-evaluations, and “ideal call” recordings. Also consider incorporating customer ratings and comments into agent feedback sessions, as agents would much rather a customer tell them they’re horrible at their job than have you do it.

4) Defend against “death by desktop.” All the training and coaching in the world won’t do much for the customer experience if your contact center’s CRMs, desktop tools and workflows make agents look like morons when interacting with customers. You need to place relevant customer data and other critical information and tools right at their fingertips to ensure that every interaction goes smoothly and makes customers swoon.

But such smoothness and swooning isn’t happening in most contact centers, and that’s because in most contact centers the agent desktop is a mess. Due to disparate and uncoordinated systems and applications, agents often spend more time fighting with their desktop than focused on the customer. More and more contact centers are fighting back by moving to a unified agent desktop – also referred to often as an ‘intelligent agent desktop’ or a ‘dynamic agent desktop’, or a ‘desktop agents don’t want to punch.’

5) Unleash agents on the phones and off. You can create a strong culture of engagement and ownership by giving agents a lot of authority on the phones, and a lot of influence off of them. Empower and trust agents to make on-the-spot decisions, offers and exceptions during interactions to make life easier for customers. And give agents ample opportunities offline to provide input on critical issues and to work on special projects and task forces to make life easier for everybody – the company, the customer and the agents themselves.

Empowering agents off the phones to help improve processes has been shown to have a hugely positive impact on agent turnover: A contact center study conducted by Cornell University found that centers that offer employees a chance to join a problem-solving group or team, had 50% fewer workers quit. …And yes, you should feel proud that you work in an industry that is now being studied by hoighty-toighty Ivy League schools like Cornell.

6) Reward and recognize outstanding performance and effort. Provide incentives and praise that really show agents how much the organization respects and values them and their critical role – and that inspire agents to keep doing the kinds of things that delight customers.

You can’t expect agents to continuously give it their all on calls if your rewards feature little more than balloons and cupcakes and pizza. All that agents get from those things are squeaky voices and Type II diabetes – neither of which typically contribute to good customer experiences. What agents do get inspired by and go the extra mile for include things like:

  • A Wall of Fame featuring agents in the center who have recently achieved excellence in key areas;
  • A points-for-performance program, where agents who kick butt in key areas receive points that they can then redeem for merchandise or for Xanax;
  • Peer recognition, where agents are empowered to give spot awards – like “You rock!” stickers or a shot of vodka – to peers who they witness going above and beyond on the job and with customers;
  • Recognition for the sake of it, like honoring agents during Customer Service Week, or giving them a plaque in appreciation of them not trying to kill any customers.

I kid around, but there’s nothing funny about failing to properly reward and recognize your agents. If you force agents to pat themselves on the back for a job well done, they might very well use that same back-patting hand to wave goodbye to your contact center – and don’t be surprised if they use one of the fingers on that hand to salute you as they are exiting.

Report | Call Center Performance

Is Agent Disengagement Leaving You Stuck in Neutral?

By , July 30, 2014 at 9:02 am

Agent Disengagement: Stuck in Neutral

As a consultant in the business for over 40 years, I can walk into any call center in the world, and if I see agents who are standing up, I guarantee you they are non-productive and Average Handle Time is lower than the expectation.

Why? Because if they are standing up, they are talking to each other.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but typically, the more idle time there is in a center, the lower the AHT. What happens is this: when agents are idle, they talk to one another and the customer call becomes an interruption. They put forth minimum effort with the customer so that they can return to their “productive” conversation.

The result is lowered customer satisfaction, productivity, and in some cases, it can actually be detrimental to morale.

Agent disengagement is the difference between an agent wanting to do the job and having to do the job. Once agents have disengaged, they are no longer focusing on the customer.

They are stuck in neutral.

The way to combat this is to enrich the agent’s job in such a way that agents feel they have value and that they are more than just a tool or asset. This means providing agents with better tools and more training so they can improve their performance, combined with opportunities for advancement, varied uses of their talent, and getting them engaged as part of your company’s overall success.

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Idle time – the natural downtime between customer interactions – can actually be productive. This time can be used to enhance the value of agents by providing specialized training on new practices and policy changes or doing something fun as a reward for good performance.

Do-nothing and idle time simply becomes time between calls for agents to engage in non-productive and sometimes disruptive behavior.

Instead, use this time for activities that make your agents more informed, confident, productive, engaged and better at their jobs and they will be more apt to help making your business successful.

Benchmark Report | Contact Center WFO