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How to Performance Manage and Not Kill Culture

Today’s contact center is a paradox.

On one hand, managing agent performance often leads to increased micromanagement. The contact center is awash in metrics and KPIs. Seemingly every activity is monitored, recorded, and measured.

On the other hand, there’s a growing understanding that culture impacts performance. Happy employees lead to happy customers. Unhappy employees create service failures and drive up absenteeism and turnover.

And what’s the biggest killer of contact center culture?


Agents detest it. Ask a contact center agent what he or she likes least about the job and you’re likely to hear a theme around micromanagement. The top three answers I hear are:

  1. Rigid metrics
  2. Scripted workflow
  3. Lack of authority to fix problems

So, how do we lead our contact center teams to greatness without overdosing on soul-crushing micromanagement?

Here are three proven strategies:

Create Partnerships

Garry Ridge, the CEO of WD-40 gives us this wonderful quote:

“Don’t mark my paper. Help me get an A.”

Traditional contact center performance management has focused on marking papers. Agent interactions are evaluated and scored. They’re informed of goals, metrics, and standards established by the management team. New procedures are constantly introduced as management scrambles to solve yet another problem.

What would leadership look like if we instead partnered with agents to help them get an A?

A partnership approach focuses on working with agents to help them maximize their performance. Here are a few examples:

  • Agents participate in the quality assurance process and evaluate their own contacts.
  • Coaching sessions focus on behaviors, not scores.
  • Contact center teams work together to create goals, metrics, and standards.
  • Managers and agents work together to solve problems.

The key to all of these examples is performance management isn’t something that’s being done to agents. Agents are a part of the process.

Reduce Metrics

Metrics are widely used in contact centers because it seems to make performance management easier. However, having too many metrics creates some unintended consequences:

  • Too many metrics can make it hard for agents to focus on what really matters.
  • Agents find it naturally difficult to balance competing metrics such as Average Handle Time (AHT) and First Contact Resolution (FCR).
  • Studies show that performance metrics can cause psychological pain.

One strategy is to reduce the number of agent-facing metrics. For example, instead of having agents try to meet AHT and FCR standards, focus agents on FCR. The surprising result is often an improvement in FCR without a corresponding increase in AHT.

Another solution is to focus on qualitative feedback instead of quantitative measures. For example, many contact centers are removing scores from their quality assurance process because they find the scores cause agents to overlook the feedback itself. This shifts the conversation from “you need to get a 90% QA score” to “here are some specific areas you can work on.”

Shared Goals

Goals play an important role in managing performance. Set a clear target and then try to get agents to achieve the goal.

Whether those goals are individual or shared can have a big impact on culture.

For example, imagine a Tier 1 agent takes a call from a customer whose issue is borderline Tier 2. An agent with individual goals for AHT or service quality might be quick to transfer the call to a Tier 2 agent.

But, what if the Tier 1 and Tier 2 agents shared a goal for customer satisfaction?

In one contact center, Tier 1 agents tried a little harder to fix problems without transferring the call. Tier 2 agents helped educate Tier 1 agents on solutions to common issues. The two teams also held regular feedback sessions to help each other improve their customer’s experience.

None of those conversations would happen if was every agent for themselves.

Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

You shouldn’t have to choose between managing performance or developing culture.

Agents partner with leaders to solve problems. They relentlessly focus on the few things that matter most. And, they collaborate with each other to achieve mutual goals.

These three strategies can help you build a performance culture rather than kill it by inviting your agents to participate in the process.

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