Published: January 18, 2017 | Comments
Focusing on two key goals at once seems counter-intuitive. Frankly, I think these two initiatives are coupled together. Improve the first, and you improve the second without even trying. Get creative with specific programs and the net effect would be a combination of the two. Below are insights, specific courses of action and industry research that management can leverage to accomplish both goals.
1. Offer Training Tools To Expand Skills, Then After Time Identify The Driven Agents
The reality of customer service and contact centers is that agent turnover will not disappear. However, most agents do want to perform well. The key is to discern who those agents are, and then provide them with extra training time and specific tactics to truly expand their skill set. Metrics help discern who the performers are, but personal discussions are just as revealing.
First, and most importantly, give all agents an equal chance for success. Studies do show that roughly 60% of employees are highly or moderately engaged, while 40% are slightly engaged or disengaged (Temkin Group, 2015).
It’s important to discern a difference between the two groups and then focus somewhat more-- but not entirely-- on the agents with true upside potential. For both groups, multiple training tools help boost both productivity AND agent morale.
2. Make it Easy for Agents to Share Feedback, Then Encourage Their Input
Agents do hold some of the keys to improving the customer experience. Leverage their knowledge and motivate them at the same time. Agents are the ones who have to live with the software, hardware and the customers all day long. They have first-hand experience with real problems in the system and often have ideas on what could be better. Even if you don’t use their specific ideas, my experience is that not enough contact centers ask agents for input at all, so simply asking for it will generate valuable information and boost employee morale. Why? They’ll feel their opinion counts. Of course, the opposite is true if you don’t ask. Agents feel a real desire to at least voice their opinion. Make them a real part of the team, not just a warm body in a chair. Executives often preach this, but then some managers only solicit ideas from the most experienced or effective agents, which defeats the purpose. Soliciting feedback across the board generates ideas, or at least reveals issues, and reduces agent turnover.
The key to getting agents to speak up? Offer them different options for providing feedback. Start with a box for confidential suggestions, then elevate to small brainstorming/feedback meetings with someone from management and 5-7 agents. You can even do this over a free lunch for them so no call time is lost.
3. Build Agent Experience Just Like You Build Customer Experience
Metrics focusing on the customer experience (CX) have been the increasing focus for years now. Why? CSAT, FCR, and loyal customers add much more to the bottom line than shaving time off of call duration or reducing transfer rate. This trend is well established, but guess what? It works on agents as well. One example: provide a picture of a career path that comes with good performance. This will change the agent’s mindset. They’ll start to think of themselves as a vital team member, not just another body in a cube. Reinforce the message over time in different ways. Also, be flexible on AHT, cost per contact (CPC), and other traditional metrics. If the agent is scoring high marks for customer satisfaction, ask them personally what they’re doing differently and why it matters. The recognition motivates them, and you might learn a new approach.
Another question we need to be asking agents: “what’s preventing you from providing the best customer experience?” Again, you can use a variety of methods to gather this information—surveys, small group sessions, one-to-one meetings. Gather the feedback and then act on it to remove the obstacles. Ultimately, enhancing the agent experience generates multiple benefits. Not only will agent satisfaction improve, so will customer satisfaction. (See image: Temkin Group, 2016)
4. Change How You Teach Communication Skills
This topic has been discussed extensively, but it’s still critical. When it comes to agent training, most contact centers offer pre-recorded audio tracks or videos. That’s not enough. First, management must provide insights on why communication is so important, and then suggest more ways to improve those skills. I find one of the best methods is one-on-one sessions with senior agents. Junior agents learn the subtleties of good communication skills first-hand. It motivates senior agents to see that you appreciate and recognize their skill set, and junior agents appreciate the training. It also builds floor relations, which are important. Yes, some one-on-one sessions reduce total occupancy rate briefly as you have one agent listening, but the rewards are worth it. One-on-one sessions beyond initial training improve performance of less experienced agents, motivate both groups, and really pay off in the long term. Gallup studies report that employees who are both engaged and have high well-being are 59% less likely to look for a different job in the next 12 months and 18% less likely to change employers in the next year.
5. Identify Faster System Fixes
We know that system issues create problems for agents that negatively impact performance and diminish morale. All new systems are so tempting, and there are many options, but analyzing and selling the large cost, training time and theoretical reward to senior management is a long term project. In parallel, focus on system tweaks and quick fixes that help agents but are easier to implement. First, get ideas from agents and managers. What bugs or extra steps bother them most?
Then, if there are nagging issues, put the onus on your existing system partner. They definitely want to keep you happy. Tell them your top few issues and ask them for ideas on workarounds. Have them walk the floor with you and see the shortcomings first-hand. Reinforce the need for ‘quick fixes.
6. Transform Agents to Cross-Department Assets
Agents are a treasure trove of knowledge and ideas both for the contact center and the business as a whole. Leverage that to generate multiple benefits. Establish cross-functional teams that meet and collaborate with other relevant departments to exchange ideas. Agents come back with specific suggestions, newly formed company relationships, and a sense of empowerment. Also, consider hosting simple but fun group events (e.g. with Marketing) to build relationships within the groups and company. Finally, offer agents optional, small tasks beyond their usual work to break up their day. Not only does agent experience elevate, but those fun and functional cross-department activities can accomplish a key intra-company goal that managers often cannot. The comment from within the company will be “hey, customer service really knows something”. The 2016 Gallup “Moneyball for Business” reports shows that companies with motivated teams see 21% more profitability, 17% greater productivity, and 20% higher sales than businesses with disengaged employees.
What steps will you take this year to boost morale and performance? Share your ideas in the comments!