Robots need not apply: The three secrets to high performance call centre staff

12th Oct 2012

Rodney Kuhn outlines three steps to creating adaptable agents in your call centre.

The contact centre can be converted from a cost centre to a revenue-generating powerhouse by using more creative approaches to agent effectiveness. Get rid of those robots, the dawn of the adaptable agent is here!
No matter how you slice it, every company’s goal should be to create an exceptional, consistent customer experience, regardless of whether the transaction takes place in the store or at the contact centre.
The adaptable agent is a high-performance agent who leverages new technologies (read: work-from-home, social media, video, etc.), and, can seamlessly shift to support new products, promotions and services, or, perhaps a suddenly emerging customer need, crisis or concern 
Moreover, leveraging metrics for performance management is becoming a key part of optimizing the contact center – traditionally though, contact centers have used qualitative metrics including queue lengths, average handling times, hold times, transfer rates, call volumes and silent time to evaluate agent effectiveness.
Instead, organisations must define and construct metrics that align with the specific business goals - and then use that insight to provide focused agent training to drive performance; and, also define and construct metrics that are more relevant to the specific goals and capabilities of individual contact centres.
Plus, contact centre agents are now required to handle customer interactions across multiple new channels (social media, chat, forums, et al) - traditional training and metrics fail to provide any real insight into their effectiveness during these communications – and companies must have a mechanism in place that enables them to evaluate agents in these new categories.
To truly improve agent effectiveness companies should instead measure performance in areas including: customer lifetime value, conversion rate, revenue-per-call, revenue-per-agent, cross-sell attempts, cost-per-contact-per-channel, top-box customer satisfaction, top box agent satisfaction, first-call resolution and agent retention.
These metrics above represent a whole host of new-skill sets, and, a different approach toward agent performance and evaluation.
By creating high-performance adaptable agents, organisations can reduce operational and training costs, and, improve the quality of service customers receive from contact center representatives.
In turn, by cost-effectively taking agents to the next level and creating a universal customer experience, companies are better able to maintain repeat customers as well as expand their customer base, and, increase sales.
Taking a holistic approach to achieving these goals, here are three steps to success:

1. Create adaptable agents

Contact centre agents need to be able to shift their thinking, switch to new work processes and be willing to flow to work easily so that it is transparent to the customer. Examples of coaching opportunities include:

  • Information about upcoming marketing programs, or coaching on how to responds to questions about a marketing promotion - this keeps the communication channel open between departments and creates a positive experience for the customer because they are able to get their questions answered by a knowledgeable representative of the company.
  • Best practice responses for a positive or negative social media post on Twitter or Facebook - if your contact center is communicating with customers via the social channel, this is an entirely different way to work that is very public, and needs to be handled differently than traditional call, email and chat communication.
  • Learning the quickest way to navigate your CRM system - sometimes just knowing the quickest way to resolve an issue makes all the difference to achieving a positive customer experience.
  • Share best practices of another agent who did an outstanding job, which not only show how to do something by example, but also it provides recognition for agents.

2. Coach them in their seats 

Traditional training methods should be coupled with immediate, ongoing feedback which increases an agent’s retention of information and accelerates his or her level of improvement – directly impacting the contact center service quality. Net-net, coach contact centre agents in their seats continuously and in real-time (in addition to one-to-one meetings which may occur once a month):
  • Through call recording, screen capture or both, it is critical to experience what is taking place during an interaction so that supervisors can quickly and easily review, evaluate and provide feedback to the agent.
  • By listening to recorded phone conversations between agents and customers, contact center managers can evaluate whether the agent is adhering to the script, and to ensure that their performance is appropriate from a customer service standpoint.
  • By capturing insights from customer interactions, presenting them in a personalised format through regular, coaching and delivering this training to the agent desktop - when and where they need it - saves time and money, and enables supervisors to address the specific needs of each agent, rather than teaching to the lowest common denominator.

3. Position to succeed with analytics

Once you have set up your agents to be adaptable and highly successful through regular and frequent coaching at their desks, analytics are a key part of further optimising a contact centre. Effective use of analytics can help pinpoint where a contact center is trending and to identify areas of opportunities for improvement with agents whose practices might be driving down membership satisfaction.
As we said earlier, the adaptable agent is trained with 'new' metrics in mind; listening and watching recorded phone, email, chat and social media conversations between agents and customers can lead to identifying opportunities for improvement tied directly to your new metrics.
Examples include:
  • Contact centre supervisors can evaluate whether the agent is adhering to the script, and to ensure that their performance is appropriate from a customer service standpoint.
  • Managers can track the rate of first-call resolution and coach contact centre agents to adjust their process or quickly give them the information they need to answer customer questions on the first call.
  • Cross or up-sells can easily be measured, and can significantly increase by coaching the agents to simply “ask for the sale” or “do you know about this solution?” at a certain point during the call.
  • You can measure your company values by tying your contact centre success metrics to those core values - for example, if one of your core values is to “put the customer first,” you may define metrics around whether or not the agent asked the customer “how are they doing today?”
'Out' are robotic, single-skill agents. 'In' is building better-skilled, adaptable agents, which progressive organisations know reduce operational and training costs, while at same time improves the quality of service customers receive from contact centre representatives. 
To do so, companies must enable supervisors to coach agents not only specific to that individual’s area of needed improvement, but also buttress agents with the advanced skills necessary that drive better customer experiences.
And, as the responsibilities of contact centers evolve to more closely align with corporate goals and strategies, progressive contact centres should question the value of many traditional metrics, and by proxy, the 'How' and 'What' their agents are coached on.
Bottom line is, put your agents into a better position to succeed, make them smarter and make them able to adapt, and the result will mean happy customers who are loyal, eager and ready to come back for more goods, products and services.

Rodney Kuhn, a pioneer in the field of CTI and call center software, launched Envision in 1994. It is best known for Click2Coach, the company’s award-winning product for agent effectiveness and performance improvement.

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