Treat Agents Like People and Watch Your Contact Center Service Level Soar
Anxiety and depression are common among full-time customer service reps. It makes sense –– they deal with high-stress situations, and sometimes even verbal and emotional abuse. Psychologist and author Guy Winch found that contact center employees average up to 10 hostile encounters a day. It’s a lot of pressure, and a lot of stress, for problems that typically aren’t their fault.
The stress of the job, however, doesn’t only come from upset customers. Along with low pay and repetitive work, managers setting strict expectations tops the list of reasons for agent burnout. From a management perspective, it makes sense to look at the numbers and set strict schedules and policies. You don’t want customers on hold for too long. You want to get through as many issues in a day as possible. These standards increase efficiency and help customer experience, but not when they’re prioritized above your agents.
In addition to all the other responsibilities on a manager’s plate, there’s a particular demand to maintain efficiency, cut costs, and reduce turnover. To keep your company growing, holding onto your best and most efficient contact center agents is necessary. Reducing turnover begins with employee empowerment. Where to start? Begin to shift priorities, and be kind.
It can be tricky to find balance when setting goals and standards in a crazy environment like a contact center. You want high CSAT scores, quality KPIs, and happy employees. When you see agents with low CSAT scores, the gut reaction is to hover, micromanage, and discipline their poor performance. But whether an agent is motivated by negative or positive feedback, no one thrives when standards and conditions are too high.
Be intentional to discover and implement new ways to motivate your workers.
Highly-motivated agents serve up high-quality results for your customers.
The truth is, your agents likely won’t find motivation through data. The quality of your scores matters to you, but tough metrics might be a negativity driver for your team.
Take a human approach
Invest time in training.
Often, people think that “anyone can answer phone calls or emails.” But, being an agent is way more than that. Consistently training your agents keeps them up-to-date with industry standards and reminds them of their purpose at your company. According to a recent report from Customer Contact Week, 61% of contact center organizations viewed coaching as an investment priority last year.
Well-trained agents get the job done faster and more reliably. This means quicker call resolutions and lower abandonment rates. (Read: Happier customers.)
Look at agent experience as you look at customer experience.
As you adapt your strategy for better customer satisfaction, don’t forget about your agents. Take time to paint a picture of different career paths your agents can take based on their performance, interests, and key motivators. Just as you create customer journeys that describe how customers interact with and progress with your company, do the same for your employees. This kind of intentionality for each agent shows your attention to them as individuals. They become a part of your entire business plan and aren’t treated as temporary. When they’re shown they are a vital part of the whole company, they’ll see themselves as important to your team
Be flexible with your traditional metrics.
Like Average Handle Time or Cost Per Contact. Don’t only focus on being quick and efficient. Instead, encourage agents to keep customers happy. Make sure your employees feel empowered to take time with customers to resolve issues, even if it means missing a metric here and there. In fact, our friends at onPeak have shifted to using flexible metric ranges over hard number goals to improve their contact center service levels. And it’s worked! Their CSAT for the contact center is sitting pretty at 95 percent.
Customer satisfaction is so powerful. In fact, service-focused companies see a 30 to 50% increase in the likelihood of customers who would recommend their products or services. When an agent’s focus shifts from meeting data standards to meeting a customer’s expectations, customers feel more cared for. And, your agent won’t feel as rushed in the process.
Be clear about your standards.
Nothing is more frustrating than being held to a standard that isn’t clearly defined. Set obvious objectives each day or week, and have a plan for how your agents can reach their goals. Show them the metrics you’re looking at, and encourage them to keep up with their interactions and performance. Then, they know how they’re tracking towards your contact center goals.
Identify the root cause of problems.
When you offer constructive feedback to an agent, don’t give advice on surface-level errors. Try to understand, and help your agent understand, what’s the root cause. Take a situation that went poorly with a customer and break down your agent’s resolution alongside them. Your agent, let’s call her Mary, reacted to the customer with a sharp tone, making that customer feel undervalued. Mary’s hold time was just a minute too long while she was looking for an answer, and the whole interaction fell apart as a result. She got stressed and it showed. Reveal these kinds of patterns in your agent’s work, hone in on them, then coach to fix it.
Consider that maybe Mary was up with a sick toddler all night, or she’s feeling sick herself. Her wait times lag all day, she’s taking more breaks than usual. Empathize with your agent just like you’re asking them to empathize with your customers. Give room for grace on their bad days.
Be fair and be kind in your policies.
Avoid agent burnout by creating a healthy balance of work and leisure for your employees. Don’t reprimand them for taking a walk after a difficult customer interaction. Give room in each agent’s schedule, so they can release stress. Reward good performance and attendance. And acknowledge above-and-beyond efforts with a longer lunch break, the option to leave early on a Friday, or even the occasional prize. Discover some other ways to lift agent morale in this post.
Build team relationships and establish times to let off steam as a group. When you close that extra tricky case with a customer, plan social events and celebrations so your employees feel appreciated for their hard work. Advocate for a couch cushions budget with your leadership team, so you can use contact center savings to fund some of these celebrations. Then, your agents can participate and have fun without financial worry. That makes it even more clear that you’re a company who values your team and is dedicating to sharing joy over team victories.
Take steps to motivate your workers, set tangible goals, and celebrate success, and it will result in better performance. Most importantly, it will inspire and empower your employees, so they don’t feel nearly as stressed walking into work every day.
Read more about motivating your employees and celebrating wins in this recent post: Workplace Happiness: How to Make it Happen for Your Team.
We originally published this article on March 9, 2018, and we updated it on April 11, 2019.