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8 Tips For New Contact Center Leaders

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If you’re a new contact center leader, congratulations! You’ve got this. But, as you may have gathered, being a contact center leader is a big job requiring understanding of a wide range of topics. 

During a recent #ICMIchat, my colleagues and I compiled tips on a broad range of topics to help new contact center leaders succeed in their role — and perhaps learn from some of the mistakes of their peers. I know I had plenty to learn (and still do) as a new contact center leader, and I hope these tips will save you from making some of the same mistakes.

Tip #1 - The first 90 days should begin with listening

In many contact centers, there’s a high probability that your boss needed you in your new role at full proficiency a month ago. The temptation for a new leader is to scrap the plan and dive right in. 

While that may be partially inevitable, some semblance of a 90-day plan will greatly increase your chances for success. Start by listening and learning from both customers and agents, then make plans to move forward. Dave Dyson from Zendesk suggests focusing on pain points around processes and people and devising strategies to address those.

Tip #2 - Read and learn as much as you can

As a new contact center leader, you may quickly find you have much to learn. This is why it’s so important to be a lifelong learner. Here’s a short reading list to get you started and keep you going:

Tip #3 - Know your metrics and how to improve them

Contact centers have tons of metrics, but here are some to emphasize:

  • Service Level (SLA) - The percentage of interactions answered in a desired time frame. Response time and customer wait time are similar to this.
  • First Contact Resolution (FCR) - The percentage of customer interactions resolved on the first response or interaction.
  • Customer Effort Score (CES) - A gauge of the customer’s effort required to resolve their issue. This is typically measured through a survey.
  • Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) - A measure of how satisfied customers are with support. This is also typically a survey.
  • Occupancy - The amount of time agents spent working as opposed to sitting idle. It’s important to strike the right balance here. If agents are too busy, you risk burnout and turnover. On the other side, if agents aren’t busy enough, they get bored and you risk overstaffing, which isn’t the best use of money.
  • Employee Engagement - A gauge of how engaged and satisfied employees are in their work.

As a word of caution, resist the temptation to track a whole bunch of metrics “just because.” Instead, know what each metric is, what levers you can pull to improve it, and how it impacts both the customer and agent experience either positively or negatively. Looking at a single metric in isolation can be dangerous. For example, agents might beg certain customers to complete surveys to ratchet up CSAT scores or they might avoid long email threads for fear of negatively impacting FCR.

Tip #4 - Constantly train agents and focus on the human connection

When it comes to training, focus on empathy. As a leader in a contact center, it’s important to model empathy and train agents to make human connections with customers. Empathy is the superpower that helps agents see things from the perspective of the people they are serving.

As far as format for training goes, stay away from Death-by-PowerPoint and engage as many learning styles as possible. Also, in a busy contact center environment where there’s rarely time to pull everyone into a classroom, focus on microlearning, where agents can self-guide through bite-sized lessons between interactions.

Tip #5 - Workforce management starts by understanding what’s changing across the business

Workforce management (WFM) is about understanding and predicting the staffing needs of your contact center based on a variety of factors, appropriately scheduling agents to be able to handle forecasted volume, and ensuring that they adhere to their schedule. No surprises should always be the goal, recommends Becky Roemen.

“Talk to different areas of the business. Understand what’s changing in financial projections, marketing campaigns, and software updates. Those insights can help you know what to anticipate and when it will hit the contact center,” Roemen wrote.

Also of note for WFM, it’s possible to build your schedules using a spreadsheet and a good Erlang calculator, but there are tools out there, especially as the team grows, that make this job so much easier.

Tip #6 - Focus quality management efforts on agent coaching and customer experience improvement

Quality management is about defining and coaching to the behaviors and actions contact center agents should include on every interaction with a customer. While some contact centers turn this into an elaborate system of forms and scores, the focus should always be on evaluating agent performance and coaching them to improve.

Becky Roemen sagely adds that it’s important to “understand how you measure agents, why they’re measured that way, and if the current state of affairs makes sense for your organization’s forward-looking strategy.” Creating a clear and succinct quality management definition guide is a place to start.

Tip #7 - Adopt tools that make sense for your organization

When it comes to contact center technology including AI, chatbots, CRM, CCaaS, speech analytics, new digital channels, omni-channel strategy, knowledge management, and more, there are so many tools out there and sales people eager to sell them. Resist the temptation and pressure to adopt the shiny new object on the market because “everyone is doing it.” New leaders should carefully evaluate their contact center technology stack and determine what makes the most sense for their organization.

Tip #8 - Always focus on customer experience

The contact center has an important role to play in the customer’s overall experience with the company and it’s important that they are aware of this and doing their part to make it better. David Dyson recommends that new contact center leaders “work with colleagues across the company to build a unified and easy customer experience.”

How can contact center leaders accomplish this? One way is to pay attention to and act on customer feedback, whether it’s through surveys, as they review interactions for quality management, or through unstructured feedback using tools like speech analytics. Focus not only on pinpointing the pain points, but also on quantifying those issues. This goes a long way in compelling others in the organization to take action.

If you liked these tips, set a reminder for #ICMIChat every Tuesday at 10am Pacific/1pm Eastern on Twitter. It’s an hour well spent for contact center leaders of all experience levels.