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Do Best Practices Hurt Service Quality?

It’s hard to get new results if you always do things the same way.

My pre-conference workshop at the Contact Center Demo & Conference in November will reveal Seven New Secrets to Outstanding Service. While conducting research for this program, I came across some examples of old call center wisdom that might actually hurt agent performance.

I don’t have the data to prove it either way. Only stories, whispers, and observations from contact centers I’ve visited.

Rather than accept or reject these ideas outright, I encourage you to explore them in your own contact center.

The Display Board

Nearly every contact center utilizes display boards.

They display real-time data such as calls in queue, average wait time, and service level. It’s very likely these boards hurt customer service.

The problem comes from how the boards are used. Contact center managers tell me they want their agents to know when they’re busy so agents can speed up calls, reduce wrap time, and delay their breaks.

Many agents tell me that display boards cause them to do exactly that. They speed up calls and look for shortcuts during busy times. They also work slower during slow times.

In other words, the display boards cause agents to provide inconsistent service.

A better use of these boards is to display information that’s actually helpful, such as product information or company updates. Agents tell me it is less stressful and allows them to provide more consistent service.

Give it a try, and let your workforce optimization person worry about calls in queue.

Dual Monitors

An increasing number of contact center agents work with two computer monitors.

This trend has been sparked by the proliferation of software programs that agents must use to serve customers. According to ICMI research, the average agent uses five programs while some use eight or more.

Today, some researchers theorize that dual monitors can actually hurt productivity and quality. That’s because these set-ups promote active multitasking.

Our brains are only equipped to handle one conscious thought at a time. We lose speed and effectiveness when trying to do two things at once. An agent speaking to a customer while instant messaging a co-worker about lunch plans will almost invariably miss something important.

A recent New York Times article by Farhad Manjoo lays out a nice argument for one monitor and fewer distractions. Interestingly, he’s quoted in Dell’s 2011 white paper on the benefits of dual monitors.

One alternative is the unified desktop. This is software that pulls together data from disparate applications into one screen so agents don’t have to constantly rotate between windows.

Another solution is to encourage agents to shut down unnecessary applications when they’re not in use. It’s amazing to see agents rotate between email, IM, and even their own Facebook account while speaking with a customer!

Utilization Maximization

It makes sense to want to maximize agent productivity.

Many contact centers try to fill the gaps between calls with additional tasks. Agents might answer emails, work on a small project, or brush up on their training.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but maximizing utilization might be terribly inefficient.

A client of mine did an experiment where they assigned agents to only one channel at a time and discovered the productivity and quality both went up, even though agents occasionally had idle time between calls. That’s because agents working on two tasks at once will inevitably try to multitask.

Maximizing agent utilization may causes even bigger problems. Constantly focusing and re-focusing our attention can lead to something called Directed Attention Fatigue or DAF.

Here are just a few of the symptoms:

  • Distractibility
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Indecisiveness
  • Difficulty starting and finishing tasks

These symptoms don’t bode well for great service or high levels of agent engagement!
The only known cure is rest. A few contact centers have created designated quiet rooms to try to encourage more decompression.

A better approach is prevention. Creating work flows that allow agents to focus their attention rather than constantly refocus can help prevent DAF from occurring in the first place.

Give It a Try

The challenge with any new research is it’s not 100% proven.

Perhaps the display board really does give your reps an edge. Maybe monitors will follow the path of razor blades and we’ll one day have five.

So, rather than encourage you to make radical changes I’ll instead suggest a simple experiment. Give one of these ideas a try and see whether or not it improves agent performance.

Either way, I’d like to hear from you.

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