Quickly Fix Agent Performance on the Cheap

Contact center leaders are constantly trying to improve agent performance.

Some solutions are costly. Others are time consuming. Still others require support or expertise that's not readily available.

There are some solutions that are easy. You just need to know where to look.

I reached out to 11 contact center leaders and asked them to share a favorite technique they've used to improve agent performance in some way. The only caveat was the idea had to be implemented with very little time, money, and resources.

Here's what they shared.

Brad, Standing, cropped LOW res.jpg

Brad Cleveland. Author, speaker, consultant, Brad Cleveland Company, LLC. Twitter: @bradcleveland

Explain the “why” behind schedule adherence, the importance of being “in the right place at the right times.” The relationship between staff and service level is not linear – it’s exponential. Every person has a significant positive impact on wait times—a ripple effect far beyond the contacts they directly handle.


gregcollins.JPG

Greg Collins. Chief Customer Office, SalesLoft. Twitter: @greg_p_collins

Highlight an Agent for great service at your next team meeting, presenting them a funny trophy for their desk (think old bowling trophy from Goodwill). When presenting for the first time, establish the expectation that this is a weekly award, to be pasted by the current recipient to another team member in each subsequent team meeting.


natebrown.jpg

Nate Brown. Director of Customer Experience, UL EHS Sustainability. Blog: Customer Centric Support. Twitter: @CustomerIsFirst

Top-down training is great, but there is a special magic that takes place when leadership, coaches, and agents are unified using a wonderful resource such as The Effortless Experience and dreaming about how to design a better Customer Experience.  While we’ve most recently utilized a “book club” format, our learning together has also taken the form of DiSC, Strengths Finder, and many more. 


Jeremy Watkin. Director of Customer Experience, FCR. Blog: Customer Service Life. Twitter: @jtwatkin

Regular, short one on one meetings with agents are useful for a couple reasons. First, they keep your connection with team members strong and are a terrific forum for investing in their continued personal and professional growth. Second, they are a great opportunity to quickly review job performance and regularly set and discuss goals and expectations.


jenny_dempsey_headshot.jpeg

Jenny Dempsey. Social Media and Customer Experience Manager, NumberBarn. Blog: Customer Service Life. Twitter: @jennysuedempsey

When you give CSRs the opportunity to show gratitude in ways other than just “thanks for calling”, it opens the doors to building unique relationships with your customers. It costs under $100 to create and set up a station in your office with thank you cards, markers, stickers, crayons, stamps and allow your agents to connect with customers on a whole new level.


toddhixson.JPG

Todd Hixson. Director of Workforce Management, VIPdesk Connect. Twitter: @Huskerhix

Schedule adherence is not meant to be perfection, rather trying to maximize opportunity to help customers. Going to break a few minutes early is better than trying to go exactly on time and getting caught on a call. Make a “break window” for your team that is 50% of your AHT helps ensure best chance at best capacity.


mathew-patterson-headshot.jpg

Mathew Patterson. Customer Service Evangelist, Help Scout. Twitter: @mrpatto

I struggled to get the team to consistently do a ‘review’ task that was important but never urgent. I had an engineer spend 15 minutes on a live ‘leaderboard’ that showed who had and had not done their weekly reviews. Making the tasks more visible and very mildly competitive was enough to change the behavior of the team almost immediately.


jeremyhyde.jpg

Jeremy Hyde. Customer Care Manager and Vendor Oversight, UCare. Twitter: @JeremyHyde_

I believe in finding ways to lead by example. Walk the talk. Example, if you are looking to improve the quality of your customer experiences find a way to demonstrate what that looks and sounds like. I’ve done this by having my team listen to and audit my calls or listen in on escalations that I took over.


jacobshields.jpg

Jacob Shields. Call Center Manager, CCI Systems. Twitter: @jacobshields20

Team leads listening to live calls while they work on other tasks. This allows them to pick-up on the tone of a call before it may become a concern or escalation. This allows them to coach an agent live, follow-up with them afterward on improvements, or let them know of their outstanding job!


BethG-sm.jpg

Beth Gauthier-Jenkin. Vice President, Customer Care, Gopher Sport. Twitter: @GauthierBeth

Ensure people understand the Purpose, Process, and Payoff of missed performance standards. Learning improves when people understand why they are asked to do something (purpose). Performance improves when we show them how to do it (process). If we can demonstrate how strong performance serves customers and supports their individual success, motivation increases because they see value (payoff).


David+Bugs1_Portriat (1).jpg

David Perry. Customer Support Manager, Clio — Legal Practice Management. Twitter: @davidjp87

Empowered agents are engaged ones. We encourage our staff to seek out opportunities beyond their day jobs that help them grow. However, they must nail their day-jobs first and foremost. They are driven to maintain high standards of productivity, because they are rewarded with work that will develop them further. This drives performance and grows the organization.


Additional Resources

Download the Quick Fix Checklist to diagnose many common challenges.

You can find even more tips to quickly fix agent performance with this training video on LinkedIn Learning and Lynda.com.

You'll need either a LinkedIn Premium subscription or a Lynda account to view the full course. Here's a 30-day trial to Lynda if you don't already have one.


Contact Center Satisfaction Reaches Lowest Point in 9 Years

CFI Group has just released its 2016 Contact Center Satisfaction Index, and the results aren't pretty.

The report reveals that consumer satisfaction with contact centers has reached its lowest point since the Contact Center Satisfaction Index (CCSI) was created in 2007. 

The latest report covers the 2015 year and shows an overall score of 68 on a 100 point scale. That's down from 72 in 2014.

The main culprit?

Contact centers are making it hard for their agents to deliver outstanding customer service. This post dives into some of the specific reasons why and suggests some solutions.

CCSI Report Overview

Let's first take a look at the CCSI and how its compiled.

CFI Group surveyed more than 3,000 consumers who had interacted with a contact center in the past 30 days. The survey asked people to rate their overall satisfaction and also a series of follow-up questions designed to help identify the key drivers of those satisfaction ratings.

The process is modeled after the American Customer Satisfaction Index. You can download the entire report or keep reading this post for some highlights.

 

Top Dissatisfaction Drivers

Three dissatisfaction drivers jumped out immediately:

  • Contact Process
  • Policies & Procedures
  • IVR

Here's a little more detail on each one.

 

Contact Process

This was the biggest driver of customers' dissatisfaction with contact centers. One major issue was the time customers felt it took to resolve an issue.

Self-service plays a big role in the perception of time spent on an issue.

In theory, self-service is great because customers can help themselves faster than by contacting a live agent and companies can spend far less money per contact.

Unfortunately, self-service doesn't always work well. When it fails, customers now have to spend extra time moving to a second channel such as phone, email, or chat. Now, it feels like the issue is taking too long to resolve.

There's a stark difference in overall satisfaction between customers who are successful and unsuccessful when first attempting to use self-service.

Poor self-service and an annoying IVR (more on that later) can put customers in a sour mood when they reach a live a gent. A 2015 study by Mattersight concluded that 66 percent of customers who call a contact center are frustrated before then even speak to a customer service representative.

This means customer service agents often serve customers who are upset about two things - their original problem and the process required to solve it.

Action item: Test your self-service channels

  • Employ user testing to check for self-serve problems
  • Review the topics customers search for on your website (and the results they get)
  • Make self-serve options as convenient as possible

 

Policies & Procedures

Many customer service agents are hamstrung by ineffective policies. There was a large dip in consumer satisfaction in this category:

A 2015 research report from ICMI found that 74 percent of contact centers admit to hindering their agents from providing the best service possible.

Part of the challenge is contact center leaders don't know how to empower their agents. Many contact centers have tightly controlled systems that work for normal situations, but quickly unravel when there's an unusual situation.

Action Item: Expand Empowerment

Make a list of the top 10 issues that require an escalation. Identify the processes, procedures, and authority that agents need to resolve these without escalating the contact. You can use this empowerment guide to help you.

 

IVR

Consumers were least satisfied with IVR or Interactive Voice Response. IVR refers to those annoying phone menus that make it hard for a customer to reach a live person.

There are a few reasons for this.

One stems from a primary reason contact centers use IVR in the first place. The aim is often to encourage a customer who calls to solve their problem via self-service without routing the call to a more expensive live agent.

The problem here is customers are often calling because they've already tried self-service and failed. 

That 2015 Mattersight study I referenced earlier found that only 28 percent of customers use the phone as their primary channel. That means most people would rather solve their issue another way. They don't want to call.

The 2014 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer took a deeper look and discovered that the complexity of the issue influences a customer's decision to call. Not surprisingly, customers are more likely to call when an issue is more complex.

IVR is best suited for handling simple issues, the very type of issue customers least want to call to resolve.

So, the typical customer calls because he or she has a complex issue or has already tried and failed to use another channel. Then, they encounter IVR, which feels like a giant roadblock standing in the way of a successful resolution.

From the CCSI study:

  • 64 percent of callers encountered an IVR system
  • 1 in 5 tried to use the IVR, but it failed to solve their issue
  • The overall failure rate for IVR was 32 percent

That last figure should be eye opening: IVR fails 32 percent of the time. Can you imagine subjecting your customers to any other product that failed that frequently?!

Action item: Get rid of your IVR system.

Customers are calling because they want to talk to a human. Don't make that difficult. Invest your resources in building better self-service systems that will prevent more calls to begin with.

 

Conclusion

Customer-focused organizations make it easy for their agents to deliver exceptional customer service. Here are a few examples from this post highlighting the next wave of customer service stars.

  • REI's 100 percent satisfaction guarantee makes returns and exchanges easy.
  • Safelite Autoglass has a live person answer their customer service line (no IVR)!
  • Zendesk empowers robust customer communities to enable effective self-help.

Contest: Win a Two-Day Pass to the Contact Center Expo & Conference

ICMI's Contact Center Expo & Conference is one of my favorite conferences.

It has been locked onto my calendar since I first went in 2013. I also labeled this year's version one of three customer service conferences in May that you shouldn't miss.

So, it was pretty hard to resist when the organizers asked me if I'd like to give away a two-day pass (worth $1,995!) to one of my readers.

Read on to learn more about the conference, what makes this year's version so special, and how you can enter to win.

About The Conference

Contact Center Expo & Conference has something for everyone. 

They have the usual selection of keynotes, breakout sessions, and a vendor expo. (Although, their selection is quite impressive.)

What sets them apart is everything else they offer:

  • Tours of area contact centers
  • Workshops before and after the conference
  • Industry roundtable breakfasts
  • Best practice sharing
  • Global Contact Center Awards ceremony and party

You can read more on the conference's overview page.

These re-caps of past conferences will also give you a flavor of some of the key learning moments and networking opportunities:

 

This Year's Conference

The 2016 edition is particularly exciting.

Scott McKain is delivering the opening keynote on The Ultimate Customer Experience®. My friend Leslie O'Flahavan is delivering a breakout session on quality assurance for social service. And, I'm excited to see who will win the 2016 Global Contact Center Awards.

On a personal note, I'm doing a half-day workshop called How to Get Your Agents Obsessed with Service and a breakout session called Customer Service Surveys Made Easy.

Here's the rest of the conference information:

 

The Contest

I'm giving away one two-day pass to the conference. It's selling for $1,795 until March 18, and then it goes up to $1,995, so this has a pretty hefty value.

Here's what's included:

  • Conference admission May 11 - 12
  • Main sessions
  • Keynote sessions
  • Breakfasts, lunches, and receptions
  • Expo Hall entry
  • ICMI Global Contact Center Awards Party (May 12)

How to enter:

  1. Make sure you're reading this post on my website.
  2. In the comment box at the bottom of the post, answer the question, "Why do you want to attend the 2016 Contact Center Expo & Conference?"
  3. All entries must be submitted by Monday, March 28 2016 at 5:00 pm (Pacific Time).

Entries will be put in a random drawing and the winner announced on Tuesday, March 29. Good luck, and I hope I see you at the conference!


Update: We have a winner!

March 29, 2016 - The winner of the two-day pass to ICMI's 2016 Contact Center Expo and Conference is Adam Howard!

Here's why Adam said he wanted to go to the conference:

The chance to hear the latest and greatest is an amazing opportunity. Finding new ways to engage agents and help them be passionate about the work they are doing and not just about how much money they make is an ever important part of our work.

Congratulations, Adam. See you at the conference!

 

Update #2: All Contestants Get 50% off!

It seems that the folks at ICMI were so impressed with everyone's comments that they have decided to offer a 50% conference discount to each contestant. All you have to do in exchange is agree to let ICMI use your comments in the conference marketing.

Please use this form to send me your email address and I'll email you the details.


Ten Ways to Fix Contact Center Turnover

Attrition is the biggest contact center challenge in 2016.

That's according to this research from Strategic Contact that outlined the top contact center challenges for 2016 . You could probably change the year and the result would be the same. High turnover is always a problem in contact centers.

This post outlines ten proven ways to improve contact center attrition rates. But first, check here to run your turnover numbers and see if you really have a problem. 

You should know the answer to three questions:

  • How much does turnover cost?
  • What's your annual bad turnover rate?
  • What's a reasonable target rate for bad turnover?

These numbers will tell you how much your contact center can gain from improving turnover. They're probably the first thing your CEO or CFO will look at if you want to invest in fixing this problem.

1. Conduct Stay Interviews

Don't wait until your best agents give notice. 

Schedule stay interviews with your top employees. Consider conducting stay interviews with a cross-section of other employees too. These are interviews designed to find out what keeps your employees from leaving. (Here's a great overview from Inc. Magazine.)

The goal is to learn exactly what factors prompt these agents to stick around so you can keep doing those things. You also want to learn what might cause them to leave.

 

2. Raise Wages

A client of mine was notoriously tight fisted when it came to employee wages. He quickly changed his mind when I showed him this chart:

It showed the $12 per hour average wage he was paying his contact center agents was at the bottom end of the pay scale compared to the range for similar jobs in the area. Paying at the bottom of the pay scale created two problems:

  • His company couldn't attract talented employees at that wage.
  • Any talented employees he developed quickly left for an easy raise.

In my client's case, raising wages to $14 per hour quickly paid for itself in three ways:

  • He recruited better employees who needed less training.
  • He recruited better employees who were more productive.
  • Employees stayed longer because they were more satisfied with their pay.

 

3. Hire For Culture Fit

Let's face it - not every person will love working for your contact center.

The trick is finding, and hiring, the people who will. This might be a problem if you tend to lose a lot of agents within their first six months. 

One tool that can help you do this is called an Ideal Candidate Profile. This describes both the skills and cultural attributes that an employee must have to fit in with your contact center.

You can use this worksheet to create your own Ideal Candidate Profile.

 

4. Improve Training

Great hiring won't help you keep employees if they don't get sufficient training. Poor training programs can create turnover in a number of ways:

  • Agents never get the confidence to do their jobs correctly.
  • Agents never get the skills to do their jobs correctly.
  • The training is so bad that agents quit before finishing.

Many contact centers can reduce their new hire training time by 20 - 50 percent while getting better results if they simply adopted more modern techniques.

Toister Performance Solutions helps clients design new hire training programs, but you can also make many improvements on your own. The starting point is setting good learning objectives.

You can also read my article, 5 Ways to Train Contact Center Agents Faster.

 

5. Create Career Ladders

Many contact center agents don't view their job as a career.

It's often seen as a stepping stone to something else, or perhaps a good way to earn some money for a short period of time.

A career ladder is a defined path that spells out ways for employees to grow within your organization. For example, many contact centers have different agent tiers. A new agent can earn progressive responsibility and pay by getting promoted into higher tiers.

In other companies, agents are actively recruited into other departments. 

Whatever the case may be in your organization, creating opportunities for your agents may entice your most talented people to stay longer.

 

6. Identify Toxic Leaders

Take a close look at your turnover rate by leader. Are agents quitting certain leaders or teams at a much faster rate than others?

An abnormally high turnover rate could signal a toxic leadership style. That individual leader may benefit from additional coaching or training. Or, they might not be cut out to lead people in your company.

The flip side is also helpful. Take time to study leaders whose agents rarely leave or frequently get promoted and see if you can identify what they do differently.

 

7. Focus on Short Commutes

The length of your employees' commutes might have an impact on how long they stay.

This fascinating post suggests that 30 minutes is the maximum time contact center employees are willing to commute. The post also cited research showing that employees with a commute of 10 minutes or less are 20 percent more likely to stay with your contact center six months or longer.

There seems to be a little more tolerance for longer commutes if employees are taking public transportation.

This data suggests that contact centers should employ a hyper-local recruiting strategy, embrace more work at home options, or both. 

 

8. Empower Your Agents

ICMI released a study last year revealing that 86 percent of contact centers don't fully empower their agents.

Empowerment is closely connected to attrition. One of the things agents consistently say they dislike about their jobs is the inability to do what's necessary to help their customers.

Employee empowerment isn't easy, but you can use this guide to get started.

 

9. Stop Demotivating Agents

Contact center leaders have focused on motivating their agents for as long as I can remember. 

They try incentives, slogans, and snazzy banners. Gamification is the latest agent motivation fad. None of it seems to really work.

That's because agents don't have a motivation problem. The issue is demotivation. Agents become steadily demotivated the longer they're on the job.

Take a look at this data from Benchmark Portal:

Good agents fundamentally want to help people. Make it easy for them to do that, and they're more likely to stay. Make it hard for them to help customers, and they'll probably quit.

Here's some more compelling data about why agents don't need to be motivated.

 

10. Do A Real Engagement Assessment

Many contact centers do an annual employee engagement survey. 

Contact centers do these surveys because they understand the link between employee engagement and retention. Unfortunately, most of those surveys are a waste of time

The way these surveys are designed, they rarely lead to actionable changes that can take a meaningful bite out of agent attrition.

I've had success with a counter-intuitive approach that doesn't rely on employee opinion. It instead takes a hard look at the underlying processes that drive engagement.

One client used this assessment to cut their turnover by 50 percent and save $150,000.

You can do the conversation starter assessment yourself. Or, let's talk about a more comprehensive version.

 

What About Culture?

You might be wondering why I didn't suggest improving your contact center's culture.

The trick with culture is it's a pretty squishy concept. However, if you look carefully at my recommendations, you'll see that they all contribute to a strong culture.

In other words, follow these suggestions and you'll be on your way towards building the type of culture that attracts and retains talented agents.