Call Center Performance Hints, Tips & Best Practices
Agent reviews should be a mandatory part of your contact center regimen. Your performance management results depend in part on knowing you have a capable, motivated team of agents working on behalf of your business and your customers.
But what is the best way to handle these essential but sometimes challenging assignments? Most contact centers rely on one of two options: a company-wide review in which every agent receives their feedback at the same time (a focal review), or individual annual review sessions, dated from the day that each agent joined the company.
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Of course, with new hires you probably won’t wait a full year before providing review feedback. But once any probation period has passed, the method of using annual written or verbal reviews has several advantages, starting with the obvious – it’s a logical approach that also makes it easier for managers to prepare, as they may only have 1-2 reviews in a week, as opposed to a focal approach, where the entire team is reviewed at the same time.
This is also a reliable strategy if the crux of your review is a measurement of agent performance against the contact center customer service criteria, rather than against the performance of other agents.
However, scheduling often proves more difficult with this method – nobody really enjoys agent reviews, so managers sometimes procrastinate, resulting in delays or sometimes even neglecting to do them at all. Plus, if performance reviews reveal a flaw in a company process that needs to be changed, doing so may be harder to implement throughout the entire contact center.
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The advantage of a focal review is getting all the reviews out of the way quickly. This always makes a difficult task more palatable. And because you’ll have performance review data on all of your agents at the same time, it’s easier to compare and contrast their performances, and provide updated guidance on new company policies to the entire team. On the down site, focal reviews take longer to prepare, especially at larger contact centers.
Whichever option you choose, the most important thing is to make sure the reviews get done. When management neglects the review aspect of performance management, it makes it easier for agents to neglect the responsibilities of their position.
Is there such a thing as a quick fix when it comes to more effective performance management? Can one little change in attitude or procedure make a big difference in quality monitoring?
The answer is yes – and no.
Both performance management and quality monitoring require coordinated planning and execution throughout the contact center.
Performance management is something of a catch-all term that incorporates a wide range of management aspects, from planning to developing agent skills, to evaluating performance based on metrics and making adjustments accordingly. Doing so will be more successful with a detailed plan of action.
Likewise, creating an integrated quality monitoring program will take time and preparation, with particular focus on call recording, PCI compliance, quality scorecards and screen capturing.
No quick fixes there. However, once the foundation for both programs is established, small changes can indeed pay significant dividends toward the ultimate goal of ensuring consistent, high quality service that meets or surpasses expectations. Here are a few that may help your performance management and quality monitoring endeavors.
Praise from the top
How often does your upper management team review calls? Have them listen to a few every week, and then contact the agents that did a great job and let them know their work is appreciated.
Training doesn’t have to be boring
If training consists of the same procedures every week or month, agents will tune it out. Have trainers use varied methods to maintain a higher level of engagement.
Quality monitoring starts (before) day one
While agents are still in the induction phase, introduce the QM system and expectations in place, and make sure they are aware of the criteria.
Praise and reward systems can be beneficial (more on some of these later) but there is no substitute for immediate positive feedback following a customer’s praise. If an email or a phone call contains that praise, don’t wait to share it with the group.
This is obvious, but bears repeating. These programs require consistency, not just in how they are carried out by agents but how they are presented and maintained by supervisors.
Who watches the watchers?
Your coaches are entrusted with maximizing agent performance – but who is making sure that the coaches are doing their best? Their work must be regularly monitored as well.
Individual call monitoring is important, but occasional group meetings to review calls may also be beneficial.
Feedback won’t work unless it is clear and actionable. You can find out if this is the case by providing agents with feedback forms about coaches (they’ll love that anyway). Offer them a chance to confirm that they understand the assessment they received, and if the coach took their thoughts and opinions into consideration.
Encourage a general climate of professionalism, not only in how agents communicate with customers but how they communicate with managers, coaches and their fellow agents. Once this becomes second-nature, performance will inevitably improve.
Involve the QM team in agent recruitment
Your quality monitoring teams knows what to look for in outstanding agents. So why not involve them in the recruitment process?
Coaching and training sessions should not be dreaded by agents. If they are, something is wrong. Try starting each session with positive coaching – what the agent is doing well and how the call center is lucky to have them. Remind agents of the improvements they have already made. Then review areas where further improvement is possible and discuss ways to work together to get there.
Include customers in performance management
Agents play a role in performance management, but customers do as well. Take their feedback into account.
A lot of contact centers give out prizes to agents for consistent performance or specific moments of excellence. A free meal, a spa day, or a cash bonus works better than a trophy or a “job well done” certificate.
Encourage peer discussion
You know your agents already talk about their jobs and customers (and probably you as well) with each other. Set some time aside to allow them to get together and also talk about improving quality. Some very smart ideas may emerge from these sessions.
The big picture
When discussing performance management with agents, tell them about the center’s greater goals and over-arching customer service strategy. The more they understand the big picture, the more they might buy into the program.
Public or private coaching?
Some contact centers conduct coaching sessions in a closed office; others have these discussions out on the floor within earshot of other agents. There is no sure formula for which will be more effective at your contact center – so why not try both and see what happens?
Watch your language
Does anyone still use words like “demerits” or terms like “marked down” in coaching sessions? Use positive, supportive language instead.
Grade calls in sections
Break each call into different sections for review purposes, such as: call open, courtesy, technical skills and compliance, efficiency, and closing.
Don’t ignore the longer calls
Short calls are always desirable but not always possible. Sometimes you can learn more about agent performance, contact center issues and your QM strategy by reviewing longer calls.
It’s ok to ask for help
If an agent is having difficulty answering a customer’s questions, he or she might be hesitant to forward that call to a supervisor if it reflects badly on their performance. But if that is the best way to keep that customer relationship, make sure the agent knows that doing so is the right step.
Never stop improving
Did you achieve your quality goals? Great! Now, set new ones. Complacence is the enemy of every contact center.
Performance management provides a clear direction and a shared understanding of what is to be achieved, the leadership approach required and support for the continual development of the individuals to ensure it is delivered.
It is both a process and an application. And for contact centers it’s a way to approach data-driven management and apply it to correct adherence issues. However, even as other technology solutions and best practices habits have been embraced by the contact center industry, performance management continues to lag behind.
The question is, “Why?” While there are unique qualities to running a contact center as opposed to some other type of business, measuring the performance of quantifiable business activities is no less important here than in any corporate operation. Or to put it simply, find out what’s not working right, and correct it.
A company called DMG Consulting did a survey of contact center managers to find out why so many are still reluctant to invest in a performance management solution.
These are five of the most frequent responses:
• “I'm not sure what it is or what it will do for my contact center.”
• “I already have too much reporting; I don't need another reporting package.”
• “It's not worth the effort.”
• “It requires too many integrations.”
• “My management won't approve the investment.”
What these answers suggest is not any deficiency in a performance management solution, but a disconnect when it comes to understanding how it works and the benefits it provides.
Let’s look at these objections one by one.
“I’m not sure what it is or what it will do for my contact center”
A vendor should always have a ready answer for this question. At Monet, we tell our customers than performance management is a critical part of managing call centers and is essential to help you align your people, processes and systems to your goals and objectives, such as customer satisfaction and cost control.
Monet Metrics, our PM solution, offers a number of significant benefits, including:
• Managers can make better and faster decisions through actionable intelligence
• Contact centers can move from reactive to proactive management to better meet service and efficiency goals
• Agents can improve productivity and team motivation
• Supervisors can refocus their time from data collection to coaching, training and planning
“I already have too much reporting”
Performance management is more than just reporting. As stated earlier, it is both a process and an application. Contact center managers that truly understand the mission of their business recognize that delivering an outstanding customer experience is critical, but it’s not the only consideration. The goal should also be to optimize the performance of every aspect of the business.
The overwhelming majority of ongoing call center expenses are related to staffing – as much as 70% of the budget. Even slight improvements in agent productivity and motivation can have a big impact on performance and cost management of your contact center. Performance management provides powerful tools to identify trends and potential issues that might have gone undetected, and delivers business insights to improve overall performance.
“It’s not worth the effort”
This is the same objection that contact centers used to have to workforce management (WFM). Some still do, but their continued reliance on spreadsheets has these centers lagging behind their competition, and wasting countless hours on forecasts and schedules that are not as accurate as those generated more quickly via WFM.
Performance management has a strong value proposition for managers who are quantitatively oriented and appreciate the importance of managing by numbers. Is it worth the effort? Only if real time and historical performance data at the agent, group and center level is important. Only if optimizing all aspects of the workforce with one solution is important. Only if better utilization of resources, better cost management, and improve service levels are important.
We think they are – how about you?
“It requires too many integrations”
This objection is easily overcome with a system like Monet Metrics that is already incorporated into our larger workforce optimization solution. Standalone performance management can make a positive difference, but it’s even better when purchased with a full WFO suite, where the functionality arrives fully integrated. Now you not only enjoy the benefits of performance management, but also workforce management, call recording, quality management, screen capture, and archiving and reporting capabilities.
“My management won’t approve the investment”
Fortunately, PM solutions can be delivered via the cloud, which eliminates the large upfront investment that used to be required for such sophisticated analysis.
Cloud services and software are provided for a low monthly subscription fee, usually pay as you go, without an upfront investment required. Any upgrades or customizations are handled by the vendor at no additional cost – over the long haul (given how often software upgrades are unveiled) this results in considerable savings. In addition, contact centers can also avoid the cost of a full-time employee devoted to maintaining software; with the cloud, these tasks are handled more efficiently at the source by the cloud application vendor.
The cloud offers other advantages as well. Specific customer configuration can take less than two hours; with an on-premise system, that same task can take up to two months.
Actual installation is also faster, and the site acceptance testing required with a traditional solution is not necessary with a cloud delivery system, as compatibility is already achieved with multiple modern web browsers.
Finally, user training can be completed in as little as two weeks. With traditional software systems, it can take several more weeks before agents and managers are comfortable with the new technology.
The verdict? A cloud delivery system can not only be implemented for less money, it can also be set up with fewer headaches as well.
Metrics deliver the data that keeps your contact center on track. And with an advanced workforce management solution like Monet’s WFM Live, metrics that were once only attainable with the most costly and advanced solutions are now within the reach of smaller and midsized contact centers.
Of course, it’s not enough to compile data; that material must be reviewed and analyzed to measure performance and inspire beneficial changes. Looking for a place to start? Try these seven top performance measurements.
1. Schedule Adherence and Efficiency
Are your agents working when they should? When that doesn’t happen, the center may be understaffed, leading to missed calls or delayed responses. Improving adherence will have an immediate impact on productivity and customer service. With WFM it’s easier to always have the right number of agents in place for each day and each shift.
2. Call Answer Time
What is the average speed of answer (ASA) at the call center? Most centers have a defined wait threshold that should be met consistently.
3. Agent Occupancy
Finding the balance between keeping agents busy but not overworking them is the challenge of agent occupancy. It’s a key element in schedule efficiency where the goal is to avoid having too many agents sitting at their desks doing nothing, while also having enough available personnel so that each call is promptly answered.
4. First Call Resolution
Customers want to resolve issues with one call, which makes a call center’s first call resolution rate critical to customer satisfaction. Sometimes it’s not possible, but if an agent consistently lags behind established goals, he or she should be scheduled for additional training.
5. Transfer Rate
Few situations are more frustrating for a customer than explaining an issue to one agent, and then being transferred to a supervisor and having to do so a second time. While this may still qualify as a first-call resolution if questions are ultimately answered and the problem is solved, it should still be kept to a minimum whenever possible.
6. Abandon Rate
When a customer hangs up, it will not always be the fault of the contact center or the agent. Some people just have shorter fuses than others. However, abandon rates can be reduced by shorter wait times and courteous agents.
7. Blocked Calls
Blocked calls never even make it to a call center agent, because of insufficient network capabilities. Obviously, the only possible result becomes a frustrated customer. Are some blocked calls inevitable at peak times? Or can these calls be taken with better scheduling, expanded trunks or other corrective measures?
Recently the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) asked contact center leaders to name their biggest performance management challenge. The organization received a wide range of responses, all of which fit into four main areas of concern.
If it’s time to review performance management at your contact center, these are the potential trouble spots that provide a logical place to start.
1. Budgeting Time
It’s difficult for some contact center managers to focus on the challenge of managing agents when there are so many other responsibilities that need to be handled. The task becomes further complicated with telecommuting employees. Automated workforce management can make a significant difference in collecting and analyzing employee data, so effective agent management can be achieved in less time.
2. Consistent Performance
You have agents that are capable of performing at a high level – but how can you keep them at that level? Complacency and burnout are ongoing challenges that may be met with supportive coaching, quality monitoring, and periodic acknowledgment of a job well done, along with a reward for consistent quality service.
Attendance is a chronic issue at contact centers. A review of hiring practices and interview questions might lower attendance problems by weeding out less responsible agents before they are hired. Motivation strategies, from more flexible schedules to gamification, can also help reduce attendance issues.
4. Agents or Robots?
Which is better, having a customer receive pre-determined, scripted answers to every question and comment, or an agent with the confidence to take ownership of a situation and bring it to a successful resolution – even if that means deviating from procedure? Most managers prefer the latter, but agents won’t be empowered unless managers provide the proper guidance and support.
We won’t bury the lead ¬– the common thread in all of the tips presented below is how much easier they are to achieve with forecasting and scheduling software. An automated workforce management (WFM) solution provides insight into contact center operations and will play an integral role in establishing policies that boost customer service.
1. Setting Specific Goals
“We want to improve customer service and experience.” “We want to improve our training.” Great – now how are you going to do it? The more specific you can get with your objectives, the more likely you will be to accomplish them. When you set more precise goals (“We want to lower our average handle time”), WFM will provide the data that can be used to make it happen.
2. Targeted Training
Once basic training has been completed, agents should be regularly guided toward and tested on their abilities to meet the contact center’s service goals. With the Performance Analysis component of WFM, managers have access to reports, statistics and analysis of all agent activities, including their schedule adherence and key performance indicators (KPIs). That will help to further target training sessions.
3. Set Quarterly Goals
Don’t make a list of goals for 2015 and wait until December to review them. With quarterly targets, you’ll know sooner if your efforts are working, and can make beneficial changes – which is certainly better than going another 6-7 months with a less than optimal system in place. The real-time monitoring and work history data delivered by WFM allows managers to track progress toward quarterly goals.
4. Avoid Agent Burnout
Agents are employees but they are people first, with families and outside interests and holiday plans they would like to keep. Flexible scheduling makes it easier for agents to work shifts that are more convenient, and when they have that option they are likely to be more productive and provide better service. With WFM, shift-bidding and shift-swapping (with a manager’s approval) is streamlined, while holidays and other special events can be factored more efficiently into overall scheduling.
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The contact center agency is notorious for its high rate of employee attrition. Whatever the reasons for the number of agents who don’t stay in their jobs very long, each instance of employee turnover adds additional costs to the company’s operating budget.
One contact center, tired of spending thousands of dollars on training and testing and interviews, only to have far too many employees drop out before they bring any value to the business, decided to try something new – they started hiring not just by the results of the traditional screening methods, but by trying to identify in candidates the preferred mindset of a successful contact center agent.
The technique, described as talent benchmarking, resulted in better agents, lower attrition and reduced contact center costs.
To find the mindset they were seeking, the contact center selected its top-performing agents based on performance metrics, manager reviews and customer feedback. These agents were then given surveys and interviewed to discover why they have thrived in the contact center environment.
When this process was completed, the company had ten “raw talent metrics” it hoped would serve as predictors of future success.
The results were encouraging: prior to talent benchmarking, the contact center hired an agent that turned out to be an asset 47% of the time. With benchmarking, that number improved to 59%, a 25% improvement. The method also cut down on the number of instances when agents were hired that were later found to be poor fits for the company or the position.
In an industry where marginal improvements add up to significant savings, talent benchmarking may be one way to reduce employee attrition at your contact center, while improving customer service.
In the contact center, a change made to one aspect of performance or technology can impact several other areas, which will either enhance or undermine the original attempt to improve quality or service.
That is why a unified/integrated system is so important. Performance management encompasses a number of moving parts, and it’s necessary to have one system that connects all aspects of scheduling, skills, quality, metrics and compliance, with both qualitative and quantitative data.
The advantages of unified and aggregated reporting over less sophisticated systems or siloed strategies are obvious:
• Metrics are displayed in one place, making it easier to monitor and adjust them as needed
• “Connecting the dots” becomes simpler when real time and historical performance data is available to agents and managers
• Insight is gained through the monitoring of key metrics that are critical to contact center performance, from adherence and service levels to average handle time, forecast accuracy and shrinkage
• Real time data makes it possible to react immediately to situations, or even proactively to avoid issues before they can occur
Now that this data is more conveniently accessible, managers can clearly define what metrics drive the performance of the center. Use these metrics to set goals – is the average handle time too long? Are customers waiting too long for an agent? Are product upsells below expectations? Once that to-do list is in place, make sure all personnel are on board and working toward the same standard.
“This is an office – not a playground!” Such words were frequently uttered for generations at companies, where the employees seemed more interested in having fun than doing their jobs.
More recently, however, studies have shown that finding the element of fun in every job that must be done (to paraphrase Mary Poppins) can actually improve productivity and customer satisfaction.
It’s called gamification, and it means redesigning everyday routines and tasks to be more game-like and interactive, resulting in experiences that are more engaging, more fun, and (hopefully) more productive.
Can this work to motivate employees in the contact center? Possibly – as long as there are not any negative consequences to the activities devised.
At some Target stores, cashiers compete in on how quickly they can ring up purchases. Something like this could be tried in a contact center, as long as agents are not rushing through scripted responses to end the call faster. Likewise, a challenge among agents on who can achieve the most upsells of a certain product could backfire if agents resort to more aggressive techniques that exacerbate the customer experience.
Managers must introduce a gamification program with care – specifying guidelines for competitions and stressing the ultimate goal of improving not just worker morale but customer service. In the contact center environment where so much of the workday is spent in repetition of basic tasks, the right kinds of games can add excitement to the team, and might even help the company retain its best agents.
If you have created any activities that have proven successful, let us know.
“Incentivizing” is something of a buzzword now in business. It refers to ways to acknowledge and reward employees to build a sense of loyalty and encourage outstanding performance.
If you are thinking of introducing an incentive program to your contact center, here are a few tips that might help.
Make sure agents understand the goals you wish them to achieve, and make sure you have an accurate, objective means to measure their performance. Workforce optimization software can play a key role here.
2. Divide and Inspire
Don’t make your program one-size-fits-all. A new hire should not be incentivized in the same way as a 5-year veteran. Your top performers are already highly motivated – the program should reward them in a way that inspires those just under that top 5% or 10% tier to up their game. Likewise, strive to incentivize “average” agents into stars, and those that are struggling to achieve a more consistent performance.
3. Offer the Right Rewards
Perhaps you think dinner for two at the neighborhood steakhouse is a great reward, but your vegan agents won’t be inspired. And while everyone appreciates money, it doesn’t have the same tangible impact as a gift. Try this – acknowledge achievement with a point-reward system. Once points are accrued they can be traded in for a reward selection of the agent’s choice.
4. Recognize Everyone that Improves
Contests can be motivating, but if awards are only bestowed on the top 3 performers in a month, that won’t do much for the agent who also improved his job performance but finished fourth. Make sure everyone who is getting better is sharing in the accolades for doing so.
5. Keep it Fun
An incentive program should not turn into a cutthroat competition between agents. It should be a unifying program that focuses on celebrating both individual and collective achievement.
Monet Software recently presented a webinar entitled “How to Gain More Insight into the Performance of your Contact Center.” The event generated a strong turnout and has received positive feedback from many of those in attendance.
If you missed it, good news – the webinar is now available on our website at http://www.monetsoftware.com/webinars/. You can check it out any time you like.
Why should you? Because it’s one thing to read about how Monet's cloud-based WFO can help gain more insights and improve the performance of your contact center. It’s quite another to actually see this technology in action. And that is the opportunity this webinar provides.
Several related topics will be covered as well, from the importance of visibility at the agent level to the benefits of real-time data and alerts of key metrics and activities.
Don’t miss this second chance to discover what the advantages of cloud-based WFO can mean for your agents, your management team, and your contact center.
The start of a new year is a natural time to evaluate the status of your contact center, and decide if any changes would be beneficial moving forward. If you are ready to put together a checklist of important topics, you may wish to start with these.