Agent Motivation Hints, Tips & Best Practices
Effective agent motivation can turn good agents into great ones. But what is the best way to achieve this important goal?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for agent motivation. But the following blogs and articles offer suggestions for a variety of techniques, from improving the call center work environment to better training, to rewards for outstanding performance. The right tools – such as workforce management (WFM) software – can also help.
Click here to find out more about how WFM boosts agent performance. Still have questions? Search for answers here.
Want to be a great baseball player? Study Kris Bryant’s swing.
Want to run a great call center? Study how the best ones are getting things done.
Maybe you don’t have time to travel the country visiting these successful businesses in person. That’s why we’ve collected some of their best advice and tips for better results. Hopefully they will work for you as well.
Start with this: Make things as easy on the customer as possible. Some customers may appreciate exceptionally friendly service, but for most the top priority is getting an answer, placing an order (or whatever prompted the call), and then moving on with their lives. So emphasize speed of answer, technology that rapidly delivers the customer’s information to the agent, and allowing agents to provide what is needed without putting someone on hold or transferring the call. Are your communication channels fully integrated? That means knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each channel (ordering, conflict resolution etc.) and making sure well-trained and cross-trained agents are handling each interaction.
Next, make sure your agents are engaged. That starts with measuring attrition and absenteeism to weed out those that aren’t cutting it, and perhaps using speech analytics to
track performance. But if you demand great performance from agents, you need to give them something in return besides a paycheck – flexible working hours, extra help when they need it, and a path to advancement for those seeking something better.
Is Net Promoter Score one of the KPIs you measure? It is at many top call centers. This gauges the likelihood of an average customer recommending or criticizing a business’s service. And it’s not enough to collect the data – you have to act on it.
Finally, don’t look for answers outside the business when they might be available from your own teams. Companies routinely hire outside consultants to tell them what their customers are thinking, what they want, which products should be introduced and which should be discontinued. Before paying someone else a fee to deliver this data, investigate whether your agents and managers already have this information, and put them in charge of putting it together.
By doing so, the company saves money while getting better answers, and offers an opportunity for agents to take on some executive-level business analysis, which may provide them with a path to career advancement.
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.
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. Learn More
“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. Learn more
“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. 1. Clarity 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.
In every type of business there are unfortunate realities that seem inevitable. With contact centers, one of these pitfalls has always been agent churn, or agent attrition. For years, the rate of attrition across the industry has remained fairly consistent at approximately 30%. Many call center managers would single out this turnover as one of their top priorities for improvement, but when the numbers don’t drop they just assume there’s nothing to be done, and that about one of every three agents is not going to be there very long. However, given the significant business costs associated with agent churn, and its impact on customer service, perhaps it is time to take a new look at agent retention. The Cost of Attrition If you are a contact center manager, the cost of attrition is already built into your annual operating budget. Funds are allocated for the high costs of recruiting and hiring new agents, training those agents, and any loss of productivity resulting from new hires becoming acclimated to a new company and new procedures. However, there are additional hidden costs that are not always acknowledged, including the impact that agent churn has on customer churn. If a customer receives poor service from a new agent, he or she may decide to try another company. According to an inContact study, a 1% increase in churn represents a 1% decrease in revenue. If the attrition rate could be improved by 50%, the result would be a 1.2% increase in company revenues. For a firm with $500 million in annual revenues, improving the attrition rate would represent more than $6 million saved in hidden costs. Another detriment to churn that is less obvious is how it disrupts the culture of the contact center, particularly in the effect it has on remaining agents. It’s not pleasant to regularly welcome new agents into nearby cubicles, only to watch them leave after a short period of time. The Cure for Attrition It will come as no surprise that the key to reducing attrition is keeping agents longer by making sure they are happy and motivated in their work. Companies have different philosophies on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to employee motivation, but here are a few tips that can produce positive results. Hiring Retaining quality agents begins with hiring quality agents. Those who start out with the required experience, personality and skills for call center work are more likely to become the type of agents worth keeping. Environment An agent who dreads going to work every day will soon rid himself of that habit. A call center that is bright and clean and inviting provides motivation by simply being a more pleasant place in which to work. There are also a number of team-building activities, seminars, outings and other activities that can improve agent morale and build a team spirit outlook. Respect Agents are on the front lines of customer service, and they will have ideas on how methods or scripts can be altered to better serve customers. Respect these ideas and reward those that are implemented. Agents will feel more motivated if their ideas are taken seriously, and they feel like part of a team. In addition to open communication, managers should also nurture, encourage and support their agents to encourage loyalty and consistent job performance. Rewards It’s the most obvious, but also among the most effective motivation tools – reward good performance with a little something extra besides a weekly paycheck. It doesn’t have to be elaborate – perhaps an “Agent of the Week” designation that comes with a gift card for a local restaurant. Training Some agents may view training as a necessary evil, but if these sessions are used to teach new skills, which may be critical as call centers evolve into contact centers, it provides motivation for the agent by adding variety to their daily obligations. Learning new skills benefits both the agent and the call center. Trust While coaching and training should be a regular part of the agent experience, agents should also be able to use call recording software to review their own performances and make changes as needed. They will also appreciate the trust you show in them by allowing them to correct their own mistakes. Patience Did an agent mishandle a call? It’s going to happen, especially with newer hires. This is a coaching moment, but not a “verbally dress down the agent on the floor” moment. Nobody’s perfect. Take the necessary steps to minimize such incidents, but insults and threats are not going to result in better performance or motivated employees. Technology/Flexibility Agents work best when they have the technology that makes their jobs easier. Call recording software and quality assurance solutions not only benefit managers, but agents as well. Workforce Management (WFM) can play a prominent role in engendering employee satisfaction. When WFM was first introduced, it was perceived as a means to control a call center workforce and keep an electronic eye on them at all times. But in today’s call centers, agents and managers have discovered how WFM improves both communication and schedule flexibility: • Skill-based Scheduling allows managers to better match agents with the types of calls they are most comfortable and experienced in handling. This boosts both employee confidence and customer service. • Flexible Schedules are more easily managed with WFM, so agents can balance obligations in their personal lives with work responsibilities. • Online Collaboration between agents and supervisors makes it easier for agents to bid for shifts, and to handle changes as needed. • Exception Calendars keep all call center personnel informed and prepared for issues. • Reporting and Transparency Tools provide more accurate assessments of agent performance, so they can be monitored and reviewed fairly. All of these capabilities help call centers to engage agents in the planning and management process, and that makes for happier agents. Conclusion When asked to specify the greatest obstacles to achieving their key business goals, 53 percent of call center leaders selected attrition, outranking all other choices. By intelligent employment of communication, process and technology, particularly workforce management software, it is possible to reduce attrition rates and create motivated agents.
Your contact center has policies and procedures in place that you expect your agents to follow. They have been trained in your way of doing business, and receive periodical reviews and coaching to make certain they are adhering to the system. So is it then counterproductive to suggest that you also allow agents to stray from that system, and to exercise some flexibility when it comes to doing the right thing for your customers? It may sound that way, but contact centers that recognize there’s not a textbook answer to every customer engagement are those that are doing more for customer service than marking items on a checklist. Your agents should be empowered to make decisions, to stay on a call a few extra moments, even to break a rule every now and then, to preserve a customer relationship. To be clear, this is discretion that should be earned, and not bestowed on day one. After an agent has been with the contact center for awhile and has shown good judgment, he or she should then be given the latitude to sometimes take action that may not be in the script. The online shoe store Zappos is often lauded as an example of this type of customer service , and with good reason. The company seems to have located the right balancing point between efficient and consistent procedures, and thinking outside the box. “Never take your customers for granted,” said Scott Klein, manager of the company’s Customer Loyalty Team. “Never settle. Many companies get to a point where they hit cruise control, because things are going well. Zappos realizes that customers are our lifeblood — they're keeping us in business. The moment we take our customers for granted and stop listening is the moment that a competitor steps in and pushes us out of the way.” Learn More
“Happy agents = happy customers” is a formula espoused by many in the
contact center profession, and not just agents looking for a raise.
Studies have been done in this area and the results are enlightening.
The SQM Group found that every 1% increase in employment satisfaction
resulted in a 2% increase in customer satisfaction. More... Learn More
Satisfied customers are happy customers, and that should be the goal of
every call center. Processes, rules and agent scripts should all be
prepared with that end result in mind. However, customer service should
not be limited to the following of company policy. How many times
have you read a story about an employee who went out of his or her way
to help a customer? Often these anecdotes are picked up by local media
or go viral on YouTube, which is great free publicity for any company. More... Learn More
Motivation can be a powerful tool that helps good call center agents
become great. Companies have different philosophies on what works and
what doesn’t when it comes to employee motivation, but here are a few
tips that can produce positive results. More... Learn More