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Performance Management

Best Practices on using contact center metrics, reports, dashboard and key performance metrics (KPI) to optimize customer service

Employee Motivation Hints, Tips & Best Practices

Companies have different philosophies on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to employee motivation. Will agents respond better to rewards, or flexible scheduling that allows them to work more convenient shifts?

The blogs and articles below provide tips on employee motivation, which helps call centers to keep their best agents. Of course, the right technology can make a huge difference, starting with workforce optimization software – find out more. If you still have questions, Search for answers here.

Performance Management: Time to Think Outside the Box?

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Change for its own sake rarely produces positive results. 

In a recent survey on performance management, more than three out of every four responses indicated that the performance management procedure in place at their respective companies could use some changes. 

But one-third of these respondents also admitted that they’re not just making the usual tweaks to the system – they’re going to try something bigger. 

For many, this involves shifting the focus to company culture and management. Rather than concentrate on ranking employee performance, which can be a prelude to firing those at the bottom of the list, businesses are looking instead at boosting employee feedback, making sure managers are more engaged in day-to-day activities, and instilling greater transparency. 

Transparency is particularly important, given that more than 60% of employees do not believe the performance management rating they receive is accurate. If those employees are receiving feedback, coaching and encouragement throughout the year, rather than in one annual assessment, it may help to eliminate some of these conflicts. 

And when managers are more involved in the activity on the contact center floor, it creates a nurturing environment for agents at the contact center, which contributes to a more positive culture. Sophisticated software such as workforce optimization can create the temptation to let technology do all the work and deliver data to the manager’s office. But it is not a substitute for face-to-face communication. 

The performance management of the future will be based on such communication, as well as annual goals that will be presented not as an ultimatum to employees, but a shared challenge that will be met with everyone working together. 


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Performance Management and Quality Monitoring: A Checklist for Success

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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. 


Instant gratification

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. 


Consistency

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. 


Group therapy

Individual call monitoring is important, but occasional group meetings to review calls may also be beneficial. 


Clarity

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. 


Professionalism

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? 


Positive reinforcement

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. 


Prizes

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. 


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Four Tips to Improve Contact Center Performance – and What They Have in Common

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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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Gamification = Motivation

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“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


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Incentivizing Your Contact Center Agents

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“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. 



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Reducing Churn with Motivated Agents

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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.




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Virtual Call Centers + Cloud Software = Happy Employees

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There has been much written on the advantages of virtual call centers from the company’s perspective. The potential for huge cost reductions, and easier scalability than may be possible with a brick and mortar call center, has prompted many companies to embrace the virtual model.

The evolution of cloud software has accelerated this trend, as it provides the same service capabilities to an agent’s home computer as they would enjoy at the call center. No installation is required, data sharing remains secure, and managers enjoy even more flexibility in the forecasting and scheduling process. 

What is not acknowledged as often is how employees may also prefer a virtual working situation. Qualified agents looking for a position no longer have to live close to a call center location. In fact, they don’t even have to reside in the same state. 

Parents with small children might also enjoy the family proximity of a home-based office, as long as it does not interfere with their professional obligations. It also eliminates the drive to and from work, which not only increases family time, it also decreases gas costs and automobile wear and tear. 

The comforts of home can make a call center agent more content in his or her work, and more motivated to maintain their employment by working hard and meeting the company’s needs. These agents may also feel more confident in trust that is shown in them to work from home without a manager looking over their shoulders throughout the day. 

For traditional call centers this arrangement can be a big adjustment. But if employee turnover remains an issue, the option of working from home may result in better agents that will stick around longer.


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