Published: October 18, 2010 | Comments
Agent adherence is a critical factor in both customer satisfaction and managing the bottom line. Poor adherence to schedule is often viewed as an agent behavioral problem — and sometimes it actually is. But often, the underlying truth is that the contact center isn’t doing enough to train and reinforce the behavior necessary for better adherence performance from agents.
Make agents aware/educate them on the value of adherence. Ask yourself if your center is doing an adequate job of educating agents (new and existing) on the "power of one" principle. This principle says that each agent’s adherence has an impact on customers, other agents and the contact center’s overall performance. When you onboard new agents, is adherence part of the training? If it’s not, it’s a must. Start by dedicating at least an hour of new-hire training time to share with agents the power of one, the essential steps in resource planning, and how schedules are made.
For a quick look at the impact that just one agent can make on occupancy and service level, see the related figure here, The Power of One: How One Agent Can Mean the Difference Between Meeting and Not Meeting Service Level Goals.
You can demonstrate the principle of the power of one simply to agents (and to supervisors and others in the organization) with a quick exercise. Sit down with two or more agents and a deck of beginner mathematics flashcards. Dole out the cards to the agents every few seconds, representing incoming calls and their distribution. Ask the agents to write down the problem and then the answer before moving on to the next card. A few cards in, remove one of the agents from the rotation, but keep dealing at the same rate. Agents will soon see that losing just one person will quickly cause a pileup of the cards/calls. (If you really want to stress the point, track the agents’ accuracy between the period of total adherence and when you removed one agent. Were they able to multiply and divide, even add and subtract, accurately when the pressure was on?!)
Here are some other ways you can advance your adherence curriculum for agents and supervisors:
• Make sure definitions are communicated in a standard fashion. Agents (and supervisors) should know what "after call work" means and when they should be in this state.
• Establish task priorities for agents. Agents should know exactly what to do when they’re idle, whether it’s delivering faxes, clearing their inboxes or taking a break.
• Teach agents to look at real-time information and to understand corresponding actions. They should know the compliance target and how their actions affect success.
• Educate supervisors, agents and schedulers about the broader impact of non-adherence. This isn’t just the queue stacking up on frustrated agents, it’s frustrated customers and lost opportunities — and of course, there’s often revenue and customer loyalty tied to that.
Motivate and engage agents to be in their seats — and performing at high levels — when needed. There are several ways to do this, including these we’ve seen from top-performing centers:
• Agent-centric schedules. This can include giving agents the ability to schedule themselves based on their needs — in the context of what’s necessary to serve customers.
• Allow trades. Like self-scheduling, allowing trades gives agents a sense of empowerment while balancing their needs with those of the organization. Increasing flexibility by this method can be a powerful way to drive agents’ commitment to schedules in general, limiting both non-adherence and absenteeism.
• Recognize and value adherence and attendance. This doesn’t require huge incentives. Singling out agents with special recognition for their contributions is a very powerful incentive. By nature, most of us very much appreciate positive recognition for our contributions.
• Involve agents in the scheduling process. This is simpler than you might think. When you make time in your new-hire training to share the power of one, the essential steps in resource planning and how schedules are made, ask agents for their thoughts and input on the process. And do this regularly with all agents. Consider this nugget from the 2010 ICMI Workforce Management Practices Report: "Only about 60% of respondents indicated that their agents are satisfied with the center’s scheduling process."
Understand the impact of poor adherence on agents and the customer. There are hard consequences to poor adherence that everybody in the contact center should understand.
• When adherence is down, occupancy goes up. For those of you who don’t speak call center or WFM, that means when agents aren’t where they’re supposed to be —when they’re supposed to be there — the other agents who are still valiantly manning the phones are exhausting themselves taking on the additional workload. These adhering agents are more prone to get burned out and call in sick, or worse, leave your organization. Now you face the additional cost of training new agents to replace them. Add to this the fact that the agents most likely to adhere to schedule regularly — and to face a high-occupancy environment more frequently — are probably your best agents.
• When occupancy goes up, service level goes down. That means more customers are likely to abandon calls when there are long wait times. Every time your customers hang up before reaching an agent, your organization has missed an opportunity to (among other things) solve a problem and keep a loyal customer, cross-sell or up-sell them, or otherwise serve their needs.
• When occupancy goes up, quality and first-call resolution are likely to take a dive, too.
Those agents in adherence, faced with a stacking queue thanks to other agents who’ve taken a couple of extra minutes at lunch or on break (or who are down the hall following up on a customer fax), are going to be tempted to do one of two things, or both: cut a couple of quality corners or hurry a customer off the line without really resolving their issue in order to meet average handle time goals or simply to clear the queue so they can catch a breather. A drop in quality creates myriad scenarios for loss — from regulatory penalties to missed opportunities for both customer data management and customer satisfaction. Lower first-call resolution can have a more direct impact — even in short intervals — by generating more incoming calls (of a less predictable nature) that the center must handle.