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Best of ICMI in 2021 - #2: Coaching Agent After-Call-Work Time

brick backgroundBest of ICMI in 2021 - #2

In most contact centers, after-call-work (ACW) or wrap-up time - the time an Agent spends after a customer interaction, completing the tasks needed to finalize the interaction - is the subject of ongoing concern, often with a dose of anxiety.

ACW time reduces contact center capacity and isn’t value-added time. Also, it’s rare that managers are confident ACW time is entirely comprised of post-call work. In reality, it’s often an uneven mix of interaction-related tasks, other tasks, email, side-conversations, updates, and just plain breathing. That’s why we should tread carefully when we coach Agents’ ACW efficiency.

While coaching ACW is similar to coaching talk time, coaching ACW efficiency is complicated by a lack of clarity into what agents are doing during ACW time. In many centers, ACW targets are set without rigorous task analysis, and are based on the misguided suspicion that agents waste time without someone at their heels admonishing them to “go faster.” This makes agents more likely to lengthen talk time - as they complete required tasks during, instead of after, the interaction – or develop an unhealthy skepticism that their leaders know what’s really happening on the contact center floor.

This, of course, has the potential to create more severe problems than long ACW. Unfortunately, what the agent hears is often more like: “Get that number closer two minutes – even though you take call after call without a minute to breathe in between, and our tools and workflow don’t support completing necessary post-call tasks with quality, but we don’t like to talk about that, so we’ll turn a blind eye to whatever you need to do to hit that number.

Here is a more effective ACW time coaching approach:

Observe the agent’s ACW activity in call recordings or side-by-side

What are they doing that’s driving the number above (or below) the desired range? Poor tool proficiency? Slow typing? Process misunderstandings? You need a solid understanding of agent skill or knowledge gaps to coach ACW without damaging quality.

What if, during your observation, the agent’s ACW time is where it needs to be? That’s important. Now you know that the agent knows how to manage ACW time but isn’t consistently doing it.

At this point, resist the urge to assume the worst of your team members. Are they overwhelmed by the pace of the work, and are using ACW time as necessary recovery? Do they not understand the impact of extended ACW on the customer experience and their peers’ workload? Are they feeling pressure to complete non-ACW tasks? Open the communication lines and have a candid conversation with the agent about their perspective on the situation.

Here’s what a more effective ACW coaching approach might sound like: “Elana, your ACW is outside the average range - I’d like to work with you to figure out why. I watched some call recordings, and I see that you frequently use that time to read your email or knowledgebase articles. I know it’s tempting to use the time we “give you” to do these activities but to distribute workload equitably and maintain customer accessibility, it’s important to only work on ACW tasks during ACW time. Do you find you don’t have time to read your email during your regular shift? I know some days are super busy, and you might not get to it – this is why we never send out urgent info by email and use the broadcast feature instead. For the next few days, why don’t you restrict email review to your available time between calls – after ACW is complete - and see if you can keep up that way? I’ll make a note to check in with you on Friday to see how it’s going.”

Involve agents in tackling ACW efficiency

Driving ACW efficiency requires coaching, for sure. But if you want to truly optimize ACW – and for agents to see themselves as part of the solution – involve them in the fix. Engage agents in ACW engineering and improvement. Ask agents to describe what they’re doing in ACW and validate it with recorded and live observations. Are there tools that could be used to support ACW efficiency? Could processes be reworked? Many ACW tasks aren’t the best use of an agent’s time, and it’s worth it to figure out how to offload unnecessary or duplicative tasks. This builds coaches’ credibility, when agents see you actively removing ACW roadblocks, rather than blaming them for too-long ACW.

Explain the impact ACW time has on contact center availability. To an agent, ACW constraints can feel like excessive micromanagement. Overcome some of those objectios by breaking out the Erlang C calculator to demonstrate the impact of inefficient ACW time to our budgets and the customer experience.

Ask frontline agents to compile a list of tasks that drive ACW time and identify when those tasks should be completed. This list can be especially helpful to quantify fringe tasks like email, knowledge base updates, and administrative tasks that aren’t officially scheduled. Be clear - do you expect them to fit in between calls (and does your occupancy support that)? Do you allot dedicated time to complete them? Can they be deferred within reason? Make sure you aren’t inadvertently pressuring Agents to use ACW for tasks they can’t complete otherwise.

The best ACW coaching approach relies on 1:1 coaching that tackles individual causes of longer-than-average ACW, and involves the entire team to knock down the roadblocks that stand in the way of post-interaction efficiency.