Call Center Performance Hints, Tips & Best Practices
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.