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Agent Adherence — Don't Go Big Brother on Them

Managing agent adherence has driven one call center to Orwellian heights. Find out what NOT to do (and some easier ways to make sure your agents are where you need them when you need them there).

The telegraph.co.uk recently reported that call center employees at Norwegian insurance company DNB were protesting against a high-tech surveillance system that had been installed to monitor personal breaks. If an employee should spend more than eight minutes away from his or her desk, an alarm is triggered informing their manager of the extended absence. Though DNB claims that the system is in place to ensure customer inquires are handled in a timely manner, Norwegian unions and workplace inspectors cite the surveillance as "unacceptable" and argue that it's a "major violation of privacy."

ICMI certified consultant Laura Grimes agrees. "First of all, agents are adults and should be treated as such," Grimes said. "If a supervisor believes that an agent is avoiding work, he should address the issue directly with the agent."

Adherence From the Ground Up

Agent adherence issues are encountered by contact centers worldwide. In ICMI's 2010 Workforce Management Practices study, nearly half of participants responded that it was a top challenge. So, how can this issue be solved? Although tracking your agent's whereabouts by the minute may seem like a tempting prospect, the solution delves much deeper. You shouldn't have to resort to Big Brother tactics to maintain and enforce your adherence goals!

The whitepaper Getting the Right People in the Right Place at the Right Time for a Better Customer Experience: Changing the Way Contact Centers Look at the Critical Challenge of Agent Adherence identifies that adherence can be controlled and improved by taking charge of three major elements in the contact center: Process, People and Technology.

Process. If your contact center is looking to make improvements to its adherence and scheduling goals, ICMI recommends that the first step is to have a solid workforce management process in place. This process provides the foundation for these goals and are important no matter what size your contact center is. Some important points to consider while developing your process plans include:

1. Make sure that your contact center has and maintains a good relationship with the organization and stays on top of any promotions or business activities that may cause a spike in customer contact ahead of time.
2. Dedicate an individual or team to the task of forecasting, staffing, scheduling and reporting real-time management
3. Create a staff plan that’s appropriate and effective for your contact center
4. Focus on forecasting the contact center’s workload at the interval level before creating your initiative
5. Carefully plan adherence goals using WFM tools, such as an adherence calculator
6. Schedule with a buffer; leave time for agents to wrap up an interaction or finish other work before going on a break, clocking out for the day, etc.

People. If process is the brains, then your agents are truly at the heart of the adherence challenge – and its solution! By simply making your agents aware of, or formally educating them on the value of adherence, you can significantly impact your contact center’s occupancy and service level. ICMI stands by the "power of one" principle. This principle states that each agent's adherence has an impact on customers, other agents and the contact center's overall performance. Encourage agents to get involved in the planning process by tasking an individual or team with keeping track of your center's workforce management. Of course, properly training agents for these tasks is paramount. You should also consider adding adherence to new agent training.

A great way to increase agent commitment to adherence is to get them to buy into it: make them part of the scheduling process, recognize and value adherence and attendance. Motivating and engaging your agents is another way to make sure they stick to their daily tasks. The article, "Now You See 'Em: Proven Tactics to Slash Agent Absenteeism and Up Adherence", offers proven tactics that will motivate agents and keep them engaged:

  • Offer "compressed" schedules (e.g., 4-day workweek, 10 hours each day) and other alternative/flexible scheduling options
  • Offer a buy-back program for unused sick days
  • Add job diversity via intriguing tasks and projects
  • Create room for growth via dynamic skill paths and career development opportunities
  • Foster strong relationships between agents and their supervisor.
  • Make the job fun with things like theme days, parties, creative contests, humor, etc.

Technology. If Process is the brains and People are the heart, then Technology is the brawn. While not absolutely essential (you can certainly try doing some calculations in your head!) WFM technology is great asset – and enabler – when it comes to managing agent adherence. There are numerous WFM programs and tools available, with features like adherence monitoring and alerts, agent self-scheduling, remote agent scheduling and monitoring, call volume change notifications and incremental data capture. ICMI offers helpful, downloadable WFM software. But, remember to proceed with caution! ICMI encourages that these tools are used in a professional, non-intrusive way, and you don't want to inspire a mutiny as a result of over-monitoring, like our colleagues in Norway have.

How are you maintaining adherence in your call center? Are you tracking bathroom breaks? Share your tips, tactics and tribulations with us here!

Christina Hammarberg is the former associate editor at ICMI.