trust contact center agents

You Don’t Trust Your Agents (But It’s Not Your Fault)

Contact centers don’t trust their agents. To be fair, it’s not their fault.

It all started when high, sometimes unattainable, KPIs became standard as a way to increase efficiency and lower expenses. They were noble goals, but when agents failed to meet performance expectations, the assumption was a lack of effort. So, contact centers put into place strict policies like limited (and often timed) breaks and constant monitoring. Efficiency appeared to improve, but agent morale plummeted, resulting in a spiraling turnover rate that trumps that of any other profession.

The perceived effectiveness of strict policies has resulted in the inherent distrust of agents. It’s assumed that agents won’t make the best decisions for the company, therefore, they need to be closely monitored. This perpetuates a negative environment in which agents may feel they’ve done something wrong before they ever have the chance to do something right.

However, there is hope for change. Research shows that companies, like Zappos, are finding incredible success by fostering a culture that focuses on employee satisfaction – not numbers.

In fact, Amy Lyman, founder of the 100 Best Companies, conducted thousands of employee surveys at hundreds of companies and found that “Companies whose employees praise the high levels of trust in their workplace are, in fact, among the highest performers, beating the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.”

This data is a clear indication that the current contact center management model may actually be hurting business – not helping.

However, many contact centers aren’t even aware that trust is a problem that needs to be fixed.

Is mistrust an issue in your contact center?

There are a few clear signs that agents are untrusted in your contact center.

  • Agents are told both what to do and exactly how to do it.
  • Managers complain about being overworked (this could indicate that they aren’t delegating tasks because they don’t trust their team).
  • There’s a policy and/or a burdensome approval process for everything.
  • Agent’s internet usage is monitored.
  • Information is withheld from agents.
  • Demands are given as opposed to having a conversation.
  • Agent complaints are given little attention or totally ignored.

If you’re interested in reading more about these signs of distrust, check out this article here.

After reading through that list, did you automatically say to yourself “…it’s not that we don’t trust our agents, it’s just that these things are necessary in a contact center. If we stopped doing any of those things, our agents wouldn’t perform.”

If so, there may be some trust issues within your team.

Consider this – how do you know they won’t perform?

It’s fair to make the point that the policies were put in place because agents weren’t making the best decisions for the company. But, the policies themselves may not be the problem, but rather the way the policies were implemented.

Did you just slap another policy into the handbook, or did you have a conversation with your agents to get their ideas on how to fix the issue?

This is where you start. Rebuilding trust isn’t about big, disruptive changes – it’s little steps (like involving your agents in decisions). Sure, your outcome may still be a new policy, but your agents will feel involved, not controlled.

Here are a few small changes you can make now to help rebuild your trust in your agents.

Take an honest look at your policies.
Look at policies and ask yourself: “Is this policy designed with agents’ best interest in mind or is it there to protect the organization from the agents?”

Take an assessment of where you stand with your team.
Use the below list of questions to find areas of distrust within your team. You can do a self-assessment (be honest with yourself!) or ask your employees to complete an anonymous survey.

  • Do I show my employees that I feel confident in their skills?
  • Do I show my employees that I care about their welfare?
  • Do I show my employees that I think they are capable of performing their jobs?
  • Do I give my employees influence over the things that affect them most on the job?
  • Do I give my employees the opportunity to take part in making job-related decisions that affect them?
  • Do I encourage my employees to take risks?
  • Do my words and deeds convey how much I trust my employees?

Start treating minor mistakes as learning opportunities – not offenses.
When an agent makes a mistake or fails to meet a daily KPI, approach it as a learning opportunity. Rather than assuming what caused the mistake, listen to the agent’s explanation of the situation.

Work with them to develop a solution, don’t tell them the solution. This is a great way to convey that you trust they’re doing their best, and you are there to help them improve.

Initiate and demonstrate that you have an “open door” policy.
Communicate openly and honestly with your agents. If a big change is coming, make them aware of it prior to implementing it. Explain how it will affect them and why it’s happening. Being transparent shows your employees that you not only trust them, but you respect them.

Continue to strategize and execute on small changes.
After implementing a few of the above changes, take time to evaluate any noticeable differences in your team and KPIs. Check in with your team to see if it’s made a difference in their attitude towards their job. Once you determine what worked and what didn’t, begin strategizing your next steps.

Share your successes with other leaders in your contact center, and collaborate to find ways to implement trust building strategies in other departments.

Most of all, keep in mind that you’re undoing years of damage and changes won’t happen overnight. Stay persistent, and know that you’re not only improving the success of your company, but the success of your agents, as well.