The title Chief Experience Officer has exploded over the last few years. Why? Because consumers are smarter now than ever before. They google you, they rely on customer-to-customer reviews, and they demand not just friendly, but knowledgeable people who can guide them through the buying process.
They are hasty to judge the quality of service, often times with a few clicks. But more importantly, they will become loyal advocates of your brand if they feel like their customer experience representative valued and cared about them.
"According to a study done by Business Systems in 2015, from over 100 call center professionals, the highest ranking challenge was delivering a service experience delivered around the customer, not the contact center".
The customer perspective. That's what it's all about. And to highly engage customers, agents must feel empowered.
So how do you "empower" agents? Big Systems suggests:
"the biggest employee engagement issue was 'giving agents more responsibility'.
I would argue that that it's not just about delegating important tasks to agents, but holding them accountable for those tasks, and rewarding and recognizing them when they have succeeded in those responsibilities. If they fail, leaders need to coach with constructive feedback-jump back on the horse and try again. At PlayVox, we call this the "cycle of continuous improvement".
Here are 5 best practices that can help empower both team leaders and agents to improve the customer experience, especially in the call center field:
1. Find your Customer's Sweet Spot
One of the biggest challenges call centers face is deciding which metrics are priority for measuring customer experience and happiness. By holding agents accountable and measuring Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), you are putting your customer's needs first. Every touch the agent has with a customer is an opportunity to engage.
In the Customer Experience Impact Report (2010), it found that 78% of customers stopped using a brand based on rude customer experience while 55% were dissatisfied with call resolution time.
Ask yourself: Why would a customer stop using our brand?
- Start by taking a team approach to the matter of deciding the KPIs. Get together with agents, new and senior, supervisors, and managers
- Discuss 4-5 key behaviors or skill sets that will be useful for agents to understand their customer's process.
- Use existing data to find out what customers really want. Is it really about the speed of the call? Or courteousness of the agent?
2. Work Toward Real-Time Feedback
After setting the performance objectives, gathering data is a pretty straight forward process. Especially if you are using automated tools to help.
The challenge comes in making the data meaningful and consistent for team leaders and agents. Once the customer or team leader has rated the agent's call, how quickly do they receive that data? Agents are expected to quickly deal with customer's needs, but how quickly is the data of the customer's experience relayed back to the agent?
People naturally crave feedback (am I doing ok?)-it helps nurture their self-esteem so they can provide a more positive experience. The Intradiem Contact Center Productivity Survey (2011) found that
"'recruiting people with the proper skill sets (57%) and increasing employee morale' (55%) were two of the top difficulties call centers faced"
Data doesn't need to be delivered in the old-school fashion (Excel report, tables) unless you are deliberately trying to overwhelm your team and bore everyone (and did they actually even take the time to look at your report?) Allow yourself to get creative with the presentation set. "Gamifying" can be as simple as spicing up traditional, heavy reports and making them attractive so agents stay engaged.
Here's an example of an agent dashboard with PlayVox's platform:
3. Hold Both Agents and Supervisors Accountable for Self-Improvement
Not all agents (or leaders) will come perfectly packaged with a ready-to-go skill and behavior portfolio. Leaders need to guide agents, giving specific written comments, videos, or documents for on-going improvement.
Clear and consistent dashboards can help do that. When agents receive frequent feedback of the data results, they are able to quickly reboot their behaviors and skill sets to think of the customer first. Receiving a personalized message from a supervisor reminds the agent that someone actually cares how they are doing. A behavior that will carry-over to the customer level.
"For higher complexity calls, a 2.5% improvement in employee satisfaction equals a 5% improvement in customer satisfaction"(Contact Center Employee Satisfaction Link, Mark Desmarais, 2005)
Here's an example from PlayVox showing coaching from the agent's view:
But what about face-to-face coaching? Maybe you like the traditional method of sitting one-on-one with an agent to talk it out. I'm not saying that those methods should be entirely replaced, rather supplemented with a more automated process.
Many team leaders feel overwhelmed by trying to "get" to each agent to give meaningful feedback. They run around in tornado-mode trying to accomplish their to-do lists, only to feel defeated because they couldn't get to everybody. Harnessing the power of technology can be scary.
But what's scarier? The cost of losing that employee all together: According to the Human Resource Institute:
"turnover costs about $10-$15k to replace a frontline employee"
PlayVox offers yet another tool for team leaders to improve efficiency and frequency of their coaching sessions. Not only should the agent receive feedback, but the supervisor should know if what they're offering is effective.
Maybe you're not as concerned with losing a non-performing employee, but high attrition always affects the bottom line of cost. By investing in smart training and coaching tools, employees will feel more secure. Big-time savings are possible if you're able to hold on to valuable employees. And customers will feel that experience when interacting with agents.
4. Recognize, Reward, Encourage-And Not Just For Millennials
Boxing up a Millennial
By 2020 nearly half of all workers will be from the Gen-Y. Typically characterized by employees who:
- Want to learn and grow with the company
- Are tech-savy and multi-taskers
- Want to be part of key decisions and lead
- Are strong advocates of their company's brand through social media
According to UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and the YEC
"organizations will need to recognize the priority millennials place on flexibility and fulfilling social needs at work, while at the same time setting realistic expectations of career paths and advancement opportunities"
However, traditionally speaking in the call center environment, agents are forbidden to use their cell phones, social media outlets, etc while working. Communication on the agent-to-agent level is very limited. And the effect with a millennial is similar to the effect of forbidding a teenager to do...well, anything. Instinct demands rebellion, which as any wise teacher or parent knows, leads to failure.
Instead, give your millennials the tools they crave, and teach them to use them smartly. To develop themselves professionally and seamlessly promote your brand. Change. Learn emerging technologies to change the minds and methods when appropriate. Because your customers certainly are demanding the most trendy, the most modern practices that you have to offer.
How to Give Consistent Recognition
The other piece is giving praise and recognition. Perhaps you are currently running weekly contests based on KPIs, but doing so on a whiteboard or poster format. This is a great start, but as often we don't know what we're missing until it arrives.
Tied in with quality and performance indicators (back to that cycle of self-improvement), here are some ways to automate and increase efficiency of the recognition and communication process:
- Give badges and (in PlayVox's case), Karma points to offer frequent positive reinforcement for positive customer feedback and goals achieved
- Allow agents to ask each other questions on the community board and in targeted channels, don't restrict communication, encourage it
- Set-up weekly or monthly e-contests around quality or behavior goals in teams and share winners with everyone in company
- Reward accumulation of karma points, contest winners, etc with e-gift cards
And these tactics don't just work for Millennials:
Dimension Data’s 2013/14 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report shows that while Gen Y prefer to use digital messaging (email, SMS) (42%) and social media channels (36%). However Generation X (born between 1961-1989) perfers ditial messaging at 44% (2% higher then their younger counterparts) and social media at 22%.
Not such a big gap.
Most people, regardless of generation, will welcome positive (and constructive) feedback, especially when it's shared with their peers and team leaders. The best practice is to customize rewards to the people in your organization. External rewards can lead to internal changes in behavior and output with your customers.
5. Spice Up and Speed Up Training/On-Boarding
Teaching new employees the skills needed can be time consuming and costly, especially if you're still using old-school methods (classroom, face-to-face, passing out documents on paper or as email attachments). What's more is the time needed to assess if the employees actually understand and grasp the skills being taught. The costs add up quickly:
Quality Assurance and Training Connection's 2015 Winter Report estimates the training cost from for 20 employees at $58,000, including 'unproductive training time' (3 weeks paid) at $1,440/employee.
Put aside the fear of e-learning by progressing in baby steps. Start with the following:
- Convert repeatable information into a PDF that can be distributed on a learning platform. Upload videos as well.
- Create online-courses/quizzes that automatically notify you when someone takes your class and gives you instant scores.
- Tie the learning process into rewards and recognition to keep employees engaged in the process
Combining quality, performance, training, and rewards fulfillment into one platform that is consistent across your organizations, especially if agents/centers are distributed, will reduce cost and bring continuity to your teams (shout out to PlayVox for offering this capability).
Happy agents = happy customers.