How to transform your contact centre agents into a team of strategists

17th Oct 2013

Despite being at the coal face, dealing with difficult customer situations and frequently working unsociable hours on a daily basis, call centre operators often fall to the bottom of the pecking order in most organisations. Given that they deal with customers on a daily basis and have an intimate knowledge of their preferences, behaviour and opinions, they play a vital role to the organisation. Applied correctly, this valuable insight can be used to transform business processes and strategies to boost customer retention and sales. Fundamentally, these front line staff should be given more recognition for the insights they retain and given a broader opportunity to progress within the business.

But, to get the most out of your contact centre workforce, a culture of providing proactive feedback and suggesting how customer insight can be used to benefit the wider business should be encouraged across all levels. Empowering staff in this way from the bottom-up boosts motivation and job satisfaction levels, as it gives them the opportunity to think creatively about business ideas.

McDonalds for example operates a bottom-up style of management by devoting a lot of time and money into its employees. As a result, it gains a wealth of insight into its customers by tapping into the creativity of staff and their knowledge of business-customer relationships. McDonalds’ ‘Hamburger University’ trains employees of all levels, but in particular embeds the organisation's goals, skills, values and management principles into its staff at a junior level, which is reinforced in all areas of the business, from promotion policies to symbolic and financial rewards.

Other businesses would do well to adopt a similar approach. They might not go as far to develop a university scheme, but adopting this mindset and a culture that supports all employees would reap the benefits.

Driving a culture change

When embarking on such a change, it is important to effectively communicate new processes and procedures internally, so that everyone understands the opportunities that are available and supports them. Whether you plan to run internal creativity brainstorms amongst team members, launch competitions for individuals to pitch their own ideas, or simply want to gain feedback from employees about the business, everyone should be clear on how they go about doing this. They should also be aware of what the possible outcome of their ideas or suggestions might be – could it have the potential to change the way a department runs or even the wider business?

While the ability to make a difference will be appealing, contact centre workers must also feel comfortable and confident about voicing their ideas and feedback not only with their direct management, but other departments within the business and even the Board. This is where training and personal development programmes will really help, along with mentoring. You should also investigate ways to make it easier for employees to provide feedback on the business, so you can get the true Voice of the Employee. Such initiatives will help workers feel valued and that their thoughts and opinions count, no matter how junior or senior they are.

Providing the right tools

In order to champion their skills and ignite creative thinking, contact centre workers need to be equipped with the right tools for the job. Quite often critical customer feedback is only retained in the minds of the agent or at best, written down. In this day and age, the contact centre team should be able to record and store all customer interactions and feedback, which they can then analyse to spot patterns and trends and highlight problem areas that need to be solved. But with the numerous amount of communication channels now out there, this can be a time consuming and complex process. Voice of the customer technology can help capture insight from the vast structured and unstructured data the company holds and display the information in easy-to-use dashboards. This includes everything from calls recorded by the contact centre, customer emails or text (SMS) interactions – even social media exchanges and online chat conversations. All this will provide agents with a 360 degree view of the customer and their behaviour, which they can then analyse and present to the wider business.

Incentivising your staff

But it’s not just about the technology. To encourage contact centre workers to provide feedback and act upon their insights, it is important to communicate the benefits of doing so and how they could be rewarded. From financial incentives to offering extra holiday, secondments and promotions, it should be made clear from the start, so employees are aware of what they’re working towards and are motivated to do so. For example, a call centre agent who has been proactive in making business suggestions and seeking more responsibility in a particular area could be pushed up through the ranks to accommodate these interests. 

Workforce optimisation tools will help in all areas of employee management, from staff training to managing reviews and scheduling practices. Running comprehensive career development programs will help manager’s spot talent early on and identify certain skills sets, while highlight areas for improvement where the right training will help individuals progress within the company. More often than not, the best managers will be those that have grown from the bottom up within your company and have excellent insight into your customers, so it is important to do all you can to retain and consequently challenge your staff.

Reap the rewards

Having a motivated workforce that feels valued will not only improve staff retention rates, but also improve your customer service delivery. Contact centre agents that are empowered to contribute to the wider business strategy and feel their insights are central to this will be more inclined to deliver a higher standard of customer service and be driven to push themselves up the ranks to more senior positions.

Driving this culture change isn't easy, but once you’ve communicated to your employees and they understand and support the motivation driving the changes, you’ll notice your organisation’s operations become much more streamlined and effective. Following the lead of companies like McDonalds, providing more support, training, and incentives while outlining wider career opportunities for contact centre workers, job satisfaction will soar and the true stars will shine even brighter.

Claire Richardson is VP at Verint.

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