What happens when you walk through the produce section at your grocery store and pluck an orange from the bottom of the pile?
The same thing happens when you pluck a rock star agent from their chair and promote them to a job they don’t want. Or when you neglect your rock star agents because you take their apathy toward a promotion as a lack of motivation. When the foundation of your contact center gets a few holes, it too topples.
Then, so do your metrics and customer loyalty.
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Your contact center is built on the backs of agents with deep knowledge about their roles and your customers. These agents field hundreds of interactions every day and give stellar service that keeps your customers coming back. And they need to know their worth. They need to be supported to keep your contact center foundation strong.
Kim Scott, author and founder of Radical Candor, has built some of the best teams in the world at companies like Apple and Google. But along the way, she realized a crucial mistake businesses make: they undervalue their rock star employees.
What’s a rock star employee?
According to Scott, rock stars are the folks who love their jobs and are great at what they do, but they don’t want their boss’s job.
They like where they are and have a gradual growth trajectory. They want to stay in their role as an agent and hone their craft. But that doesn’t mean they want to be forgotten or treated as lesser than their superstar counterparts. You just have to motivate these employees differently than offering up a new job title and more responsibilities.
Superstars are the people who crave growth and development at your company. They have a steep growth trajectory and are always vying for advancement opportunities and climbing the corporate ladder. You motivate these employees with opportunities for advancement.
It’s important to remember that being a rock star and a superstar is taking on a certain mode at a point in your career. Over time, people shift modes depending on what’s happening in their lives.
To succeed in running your contact center, you need both.
“All teams need stability as well as growth to function properly,” Scott says. “Nothing works well if everyone is gunning for the next promotion.”
The catch? Companies need more people to stay in rock star mode. But most companies don’t have a culture that encourages people to stay put.
The role of a contact center agent is expected to grow by 36% by 2026. As customer expectations continue to rise, there’s increased demand for skilled agents to stay in their seats and help customers.
So how do you develop a culture that equally supports the departmental rocks and the growth-hungry?
Improve how you and your company leaders value the role of your agents and motivate the employees on your team. Here’s how.
Have conversations with your agents to ID their intrinsic motivators.
Talk to your agents about what they want from their careers. Ask employees questions about personal goals, hobbies, and interests to see how you can intrinsically motivate them. Most agents aren’t motivated by a paycheck or fleeting perks. They’re engaged and invested in their work when they love what they do and feel a connection to the larger purpose. It’s your job to have conversations and pull out those central drivers.
It’s natural to think of your top-performing agents when a position in management opens up, or when an opportunity comes along to expand their role. But if these employees live in rock star mode, a mountain of new responsibilities won’t motivate them. In fact, it will likely demotivate them. Or worse, it will set them up to fail in their new role.
Not to mention, there’s way more to management than just being really good at your job as an agent.
Truth be told, some people would much rather be a top-notch individual contributor than a sub-par, stressed out supervisor. And as a contact center leader, you’ll prefer the business outcomes of a top-notch individual contributor over that of a struggling supervisor, too. Find out what your agents really want out of their roles, and support them in their decisions, even if it means looking outside your nest of top-performers for promotions.
Give praise more often.
Improve how you and your company leaders value the role of a contact center agent. Sing your agents’ praises regularly and use team and company meetings as a platform to recognize all the work your employees do, so you continue to motivate better performance. Share stories about exceptional customer conversations and feedback. And give your star performers credit for keeping customers happy, boosting your CSAT scores, and keeping key metrics on track.
The role of a contact center agent comes with a ton of responsibility and has a direct impact on your customer loyalty and revenue. Be sure you and your fellow leaders recognize the weight and importance of this role.
Every added dose of recognition will encourage agents in rock star mode to stay put. They’ll know they aren’t written off just because they aren’t seeking a promotion. They’re still valuable contributors and what they do every day, in their current role, matters just as much as those advancing to new positions.
Prioritize agent well-being.
There are many reasons your agents might live in rock star mode, but often, your rock star agents have high priorities outside of work. They may want more time with their families, they might be pursuing new hobbies or side hustles, or even going back to school.
No matter the reason, support these priorities and show your agents you care about what’s important to them. Make agent well-being and overall happiness a priority.
When people feel valued and supported at work, they become more invested in their roles. They do better work and stay loyal to your company, too.
Turns out, more than 75% of high-performing companies measure employee health and well-being as part of their risk management strategy. That’s because, according to SHRM, how your employees feel, at work and at home, directly impacts their performance and your bottom line.
Give your team members flexibility in their schedules. Have 1:1 conversations to discuss pain points and blockers in their jobs. Send mindfulness lessons to their queues to encourage brain breaks and disconnection. And, build coaching into your daily workflow to help your agents strengthen their skills and to show them how much you value their efforts.
Create a workplace mentorship program.
Your agents in rock star mode have been culminating knowledge in their area of expertise, and they’re bursting at the seams to share it. At the same time, they don’t want to be responsible for team performance metrics or act as a magnet for new tasks just because they’re good at their jobs. Rock stars have deep knowledge about their roles, and they love what they do. They’re the perfect candidates to be mentors and subject matter experts in your workplace mentorship program.
Design a mentorship program and give your rock stars the opportunity to dive deeper and teach on topics important to them. Set them up as mentors, and pair them with mentees who want to soak up more information and learn the skills to be a stellar agent. Your rock stars will feel more valued and important to your team. The opportunity to be a mentor offers up an outlet (besides promotion) for your agents to share their talents, strengthen their impact, motivate fellow employees, and grow personally and professionally.
Individualize agent career paths.
Some 70% of contact center managers start out as front-line agents. But not all agents want to follow this career path. The reality is, many managers are thrown into their roles, unequipped to handle the changing demands of the job. Or, they don’t want to be a manager, but their current leader thought offering up the position was a reward for a job-well-done.
Encourage your agents to think through what they want out of their role, and out of their career. Map out different options your agents can take to advance in your company. And, outline the options for growth and development that live outside of a path to advancement. Just because your agents don’t want a formal promotion doesn’t mean they don’t want to grow. Growth comes with learning and development and sinking deeper into a role you love, too.
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Not to mention, your contact center and your customer experience need some of your best agents to stay agents. It adds a layer of stability to your team dynamic. And it keeps a crop of your best customer-facing agents where they thrive – on the frontlines helping customers. Then, your customers and your operations leaders will thank you for the positive business outcomes that follow.
Don’t assign pay raises based only on promotions.
It’s typical for promotions to come with an uptick in pay, but promotions shouldn’t be the only way for your agents to get a raise.
Then, you end up with agents vying for a promotion because they want a well-deserved pay bump, not because they want the new role (or the responsibilities that come with it).
Create guidelines for merit-based raises and bonuses to encourage your rock star agents to stay in rock star mode, too. Work with your agents to outline requirements and skills they can deepen to get a pay bump.
Some companies offer up these pay increases when agents complete a specific certification. Others set target goals and customer metrics as a marker for higher pay. When you develop an action plan for your agents to earn more in their current roles, it encourages them to hone their skills and stick with a role that best suits them.
Your contact center needs the right blend of superstars and rock stars to succeed. Make it easier for rock stars to grow and strengthen their roles, so you can keep your steady rocks in their chairs helping customers.
We originally published this post on June 12, 2019 and we updated it for new insight on December 17, 2020.