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Boosting Agent Engagement | #ICMIchat Rundown (April 7, 2020)

Woman working from laptop computer on dining room table.

Keeping employees engaged is hard enough when you see them in person every day, and the struggle is amplified when you're separated by miles or even oceans. #ICMIchat special co-host NICE inContact wanted to know how contact center leaders are engaging their remote workforce, particularly those who were newly pushed into working from home.

NICE inContact

Agent engagement experts Gina Montague and Tamsin Dollin share their secrets on April 15 at 2 p.m. ET, register now to watch live, or receive the recording on-demand. A preview of next week's questions follows this article.

Consistency Is Key to Customer Experience

Delivering exceptional service once isn't good enough. The key to building customer loyalty is to carefully manage expectations and then meet or exceed them every time! Being inconsistent erodes trust and causes friction because they never know what to expect. Even average, predictable service is better than experiences that randomly swing from very bad to very good.

Customers want to know what to expect, and when they don't, interacting with us feels uncomfortable. Why would I choose to walk into an uncertain situation over and over again?

Consistency sets the expectation for everyone. If they usually answer my call in 30 seconds, a 90 second delay before answer is off putting. Even if the service isn't the absolute best - the expectation makes it better and helps to establish trust -trust is key.

It’s the key to attracting and retaining happy customers for the long term and developing strong brand loyalty.

It's what we want from any relationship, personal, business, or even the government. We want to know what to expect. Uncertainty breeds distrust and fear.

Agent Engagement Drives Consistency and Loyalty

It's nearly impossible to deliver consistent service if agents aren't trained, equipped, and empowered the same across the board. A robust knowledge management strategy is helpful, but agents must also be connected with the brands they serve. Employers must also treat agents well, and create work environments (physically or virtually) that are conducive to productivity. In this way, agent engagement is critical to building loyalty through service consistency.

When an agent is sad or burned-out it will likely be a sub-par customer interaction. Customers are smart about that stuff. Also if a remote agent cant quickly get to the information they need to do their job, suddenly life is a nightmare.

Mileage may vary, but usually remote agents have more consistency. You’ll find the good ones consistently perform at or above (don’t want to mess up a good thing) and the not so good ones consistently go the other way.

Remote has a different dynamic. Needing a higher touch from leadership/team to offset the contact planned/incidental in the office to know they are valued and still part of the team despite geography.

Engaging Your Remote Workforce

When it comes to keeping remote workers connected to the brand, communication is critical. Particularly when times are tough and uncertain, overcommunication and transparency help to keep colleagues united. Video conferencing is a commonly cited strategy for engaging homeworkers, but leaders must be careful not to virtually force themselves into employees' private spaces.

As a leader, use your video, but don't force your teams to reciprocate. They may not want to invite you into their home.

We try to encourage our teams to have their video on during meetings as much as possible to keep the human-touch alive.

Communication is key. And note that WFH in normal times is not the same as the current crisis situation, where schools and daycare are closed and so many are sick. Make time for small talk, and be compassionate with each other.

Hold meetings and coaching with cameras on - Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, whatever. Include a few minutes in the meeting to ask how they are, what are they seeing, what's going on. You won't see people in the hallway or breakroom so you need to make that contact.

Measuring Engagement

There are lots of ways to measure employee engagement, but we must start by defining what an engaged agent looks like. As with customer feedback, we must be careful to listen for unstructured employee feedback as well. Pulse surveys and dashboards are great tools, but they shouldn't come at the expense of having individual conversations.

Super important to clearly define what you mean by engagement. I hear many clients talking about it - and get 10 different answers when I press them on defining it.

Performance metrics, CSAT, quality, survey agents, plus on what they think/feel about being remote. Agent happiness leads to their engagement and CX.

I prefer regular pulse surveys to check in with agents. But don't forget to pay attention to performance on other metrics like CSAT and Quality because these can also be good indicators.

Work output is measurable, but doesn't always correspond to engagement. I think the best way to gauge engagement is to have a real conversation with them, be transparent about your own engagement, and reassure that you want to help and not judge.

Metrics Impact Engagement

When it comes to metrics, employees must be measured and evaluated on things entirely within their control. Nothing is more demotivating than being measured by a variable outside of your control. Likewise, goals must be attainable and support the behaviors you expect. Watch out for unintended consequences, because agents will seek to improve their scores (pleasing their manager) at any cost.

If employees are aware that they're measured on something, that will affect their behavior - sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. Unrealistic goals can certainly damage engagement.

Every one of us has basic needs for purpose, potential, and PLAY (so important)! If you weave these into your goals, you can drive real employment engagement.

Metrics and goals must be SMART. If they are too lofty or unattainable agents will become dis-engaged and downright bummed out. Costly on a human and financial level.

Metrics that aren't tied to strategies or anything that matters, metrics that contradict KPIs or other metrics, metrics that are unrealistic or hold reps accountable for things they don't control....definitely

It's most noticeable when goals are unreasonable. Like when AHT is overemphasized.

Setting the Right Goals

When it comes to setting goals, leaders should ensure they are within employees' control, attainable, and essential to the mission of the contact center. We must also take care not to create unintended consequences by measuring opposing metrics. Once established, it's crucial to connect the dots for agents, so they understand how the metric supports the contact center's strategic vision.

"How should leaders go about setting goals for agents and contact center teams?" Not by edict, proclamation, or fiat. Or any other words I can find in a #thesaurus. Collaboration is key.

Always - ALWAYS - think about possible unintended consequences. What are the possible downsides to overemphasizing this particular metric? Look for balancing metrics to prevent tunnel vision.

Badges work for some people, especially ones driven by status and collecting, but not everyone warms to them. Other way to show recognition is to allow them to coach others, assign a special project and give more autonomy.

Simple - measure what matters and what they control. Reliability (do they show up?) and Delivery (do they take care of the customer?). Keep all the other metrics like AHT, SLA... for WFM, operations, and budgeting. Effective does not equal complex - simple wins.

Any goal should always be accompanied with a "Why" so agents understand both how this will impact their experience and the CX.

Rewards that Work

Not every employee responds to rewards and recognition the right way, so it's essential to get to know your employees and figure out what they prefer. Recognition in front of a group works for some, while others may detest the experience. Others might appreciate additional responsibility, and some could be happier with a monetary reward. It's important for contact center leaders to have a variety of rewards in their toolbox.

One agent's reward is another's nightmare. Visible rewards need to be tailored to the person - like being pulled on stage in front of people (I dig it - some others won't). Invisible ones can be done for all - like $$ in their check.

To truly reward agents, here's what works: Positive attention for their excellent work, the chance to take on more complex work with more responsibility, the chance to mentor others, and fundamental professional respect. What doesn't work? Pizza & gift cards.

We're all motivated by different rewards - Status - Achievement - Mastery - Mentoring - Challenge - Autonomy - Socially - Opportunity (risk) and so much more. Understanding this in each person is key. A good start is by measuing behaviours not KPI's.

On that note, it's crucial to ensure rewards are respectful and don't demean or infantilize your employees.

I try to look at any incentives this way - "How would i feel if this were offered to me now?" The infantilization of agent work is real hot topic for me.

I agree SO MUCH. I'm shocked at how childish and demeaning agent incentives are. And how so many of them still have to ask permission to get up and use the restroom. #heartbreaking.

I've been in a company like this and it was soul-sucking. It's a form of evil IMO.

Leading a Remote Workforce

Whether we liked it or not, many of us have been forced to embrace remote work this year. Employees who aren't accustomed to the work from home lifestyle may struggle at first to find the right balance between work and family. Communication in remote environments is also different than in person. It will feel awkward at first, but overcommunicating will help to keep everyone feeling unified.

Help people separate "home" time and "work time" or else burnout is a major risk. Encourage healthy habits and still find ways to have fun together. It may be a bit harder these days, but it can be done!

I've done #workfromhome for past decade, I’d have to say communication is the biggest challenge that's easy to overcome! Overcommunicate…and rethink all the little things. Now is not the time to run on assumptions.

I'd add again that this is not a normal time of working from home. This is a combination of that and an ongoing global health and economic crisis. Be as human, transparent, compassionate, and real as you can.

Leading a remote workforce requires higher EQ as you may not have visual queues and body language to help assess how someone is doing. The quality of communication needs to be dialed up a bit.

If you enjoyed this conversation, register for our webinar on April 15 to learn even more strategies for engaging your remote agents.


#ICMIchat April 14, 2020
Keep Your Skills Sharp: Train Virtually Anywhere

Did COVID-19 throw a wrench into your training plans? Ours, too. Next week, ICMI Business Associate and expert trainer, Rebecca Gibson joins #ICMIchat to discuss what training might look like in our new normal. Contact center leaders will share their strategies or selecting and organizing training and tips for engaging learners in our new work-from-home world. Be sure to Tweet us on Tuesday at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific.

Q1: What training topics do modern contact center agents need training on most? Are there any gaps, missing subjects, in commercially available training?

Q2: Who should influence and develop the agent training curriculum or learning plan?

Q3: Have training needs shifted due to the ongoing pandemic? Are any skills particularly important to hone right now?

Q4: How might leaders know when and what type of training is needed?

Q5: What can supervisors and leaders do to help their employees get the most out of training?

Q6: What is the best way to evaluate whether or not training was effective?

Q7: Compared to live in-person training, is it more difficult to keep remote learners engaged? Why? What works and what doesn't?

Q8: What formats (on-demand self-paced, instructor-led virtual classroom, etc.) are most effective for virtual training? To what extent should learner preferences dictate training formats?

Photo by Daria Rem from Pexels.