At the heart of even the most technology-driven contact centre is its people. Knowing how to manage them can play a big role in determining the effictiveness and efficiency of your contact centre.
Why the Contact Centre Experience Matters
Many reports confirm what we already know: The role contact centres play in defining the customer experience can’t be overstated. Highlighting this fact, a Forrester study found that more than 60% of customers said they would stop recommending a company because of customer experience failure or poor contact centre etiquette. Furthermore, once a customer’s business is lost due to a poor service experience, that company has only a one in five chances of winning the customer back.1 It’s not surprising that according to research by Walker (a customer intelligence consulting firm), customer experience will trump price and product quality as the key brand differentiator by 2020.2
With over 25% of consumers believing that companies are now less focused than ever on delivering good contact centre customer service, providing them with an exceptional (or even good) experience can have a significant positive impact on revenues.3
If there was ever a time to take a critical look at how you manage your contact centre—and identify opportunities for improvement—it is now.
Since the earliest call centre dating back to 1877, contact centres have evolved in step with advances in technology. Today, it is not uncommon for a typical contact centre to be responsible for serving customers through as many as nine channels, including website queries, instant messaging, email, SMS, social media, and video chat, in addition to the humble telephone.
Technology and solutions providing everything from advanced call recording and speech analytics to workforce optimisation and forecasting capabilities, through to portals for integrating data from legacy systems, all occupy a large part in the minds of contact centre managers in their day-to-day work.
Yet for all the emphasis on technology and systems in contact centres, an often-overlooked aspect is how the approach taken to manage and develop contact centre staff can have a significant impact on managing performance and costs. Consider this: Total labour costs – including recruitment, training, development, attrition and management, just to name a few – commonly account for 70% or more of total operating costs of a contact centre, despite being viewed as a technology-intensive operation.
This article is aimed at helping you – the contact centre manager – critically review your approach to contract centre management, while also identifying opportunities to improve how you manage the most critical factor behind any contact centre’s success – your people.
Defining and Aligning on Quality: Determining “Fit for Purpose”
While most contact centre managers are able to express the target Service Quality for their centre in terms of a combination of measurable metrics, such as Grade of Service (GOS) or Average Speed of Answer (ASA), Average Handling Time (AHT), Customer Advocacy or Satisfaction and First Call Resolution (FCR), many fall short in being able to articulate what Service Quality means to an agent in the context of handling a call or performing any other duties.
“Call Quality” is viewed as a separate and sometimes independent matter to “Service Quality”, rather than one of two critical agent-related drivers of it (the other critical driver being Agent off-phone behaviour – adherence to schedules breaks etc.). This can lead to a misalignment between agents and the business about what each perceive as Quality. Staff either don’t know or don’t agree on what “good” looks like, with each person applying their own interpretation.
Quality is about being “fit for purpose” and as such is highly contextual. This context needs to be clearly defined by the business after consideration of what its customers expect. Contact centre managers need to not only understand the target service requirements and measures for their centre, but also understand and be able to articulate what this means in terms of agent behaviour – on and off phone.
Establishing the business context of what “Quality” is and isn’t for your people helps set clear expectations, avoid mixed messages, and establishes a foundation for accountability.
Understanding the “Anatomy” of Your Calls: Knowing What ‘Right’ Looks Like
The reality for many contact centre agents is that AHT performance is one of the key metrics on which they are judged for their performance against a target AHT range. While AHT is undoubtedly a critical determinant of contact centre staffing (and therefore operating cost), a manager’s overzealous fixation on AHT (“the metric IS the goal”) can have dire consequences for centre performance and agent morale.
Given that AHT is a by-product of how calls are handled, it is somewhat questionable to even have a “target” AHT. The better-placed focus is Call Quality – either how the agents handle the call or how they are directed by the business to handle the call through scripts or Quality requirements (e.g. length of standard greeting, number of times customer’s name is to be used, duration of ID verification step, requirement to verify contact details). Many centres fail to appreciate how Call Quality can impact AHT—treating them as separate or competing considerations rather than different expressions of the same parameter: service delivery.
Contact centre managers need to have a clear and detailed understanding of the “anatomy” of the calls that their centre handles and know how their agents should be handling these calls to yield the most effective and efficient outcome for their customer.
It’s time to stop treating AHT and Call Quality as unrelated elements.
Strategy 5. Recognise Performance
Workplace recognition may be one of the most underused strategies for increasing employee engagement. Not only does recognition make employees feel proud of – and valued for – their work (both of which can lead to higher engagement rates), it also sends a message to others about what success looks like in your company. What’s more, people who feel they aren’t adequately recognised are two times as likely to say they’ll leave their job within the year. However, it’s not just about ‘pumping up everyone’s tyres’; it must be authentic and based on actual performance data or recognisable behaviours. And finding a balance between team and individual performance is critical. A high performing team contributes more significantly than a group working as individuals.
What to do: Regularly and routinely acknowledge actual performance. It is everything from thanking an individual for a specific effort or job well done through to a team hitting its targets in difficult circumstances. Be specific and do it in a timely manner. Use data to help contextualise the performance; what was actually achieved versus plan or historical performance. Talk about what specific behaviours contributed; they should be grounded in the desired operating model of the organisation and the area. Focus it on the impact on colleagues and customers; how did this support our commitments as an organisation (this links back to the first point of setting a clear direction)? Have others (customers or senior leaders) come to the area to recognise efforts; it demonstrates the impact on others outside of the area, connecting people in a real way to the organisation’s mission. And a bit of celebration also works. But use it wisely; what works today is not necessarily enough tomorrow. And rewards for no effort devalue any attempt to reward true effort.
Strategy 6. Promote a Positive Work
Culture Over a High-Pressured One As a leader, you set the standard for your company’s culture. Your attitude and actions trickle down to your managers, front-line staff, and ultimately to your customers. In the end, establishing a cut-throat, highpressure company culture is bound to backfire. For instance, health care costs at high-pressure organisations are nearly 50% greater than at other organisations. Conversely, studies show that positive organisational psychology leads to a wealth of benefits – increased employee engagement being one of them. Establish an operating rhythm that sets the tone for how you expect your people to work. It should be a calm, rhythmic beat, that makes it easy for people to step up and do their jobs. Firefighting, hero-mentality work environments are chaos and debilitating.
What to do: A positive and healthy company culture is founded on principles such as mutual respect, avoiding blame, and kindness and compassion. This is underpinned and enabled by an operation that is organised and has a manager that is in control and visibly engaging with and supporting their people. It is the captain on the field, directing their team. It is the leader setting an example about how to plan and manage their work. It is the visionary leader setting tough but achievable goals; and then working in the trenches to help make it happen. It is a culture that sets high performance targets and everyone owns them – and feels safe to do so. And it strikes the right balance between work and social. Each organisation sets its tone about ‘fun’ stuff. Ultimately, culture is ‘this is how we do things around here’; an engaged culture is one where everyone can articulate what that looks like, with passion.
As with any change you want to make in your organisation, knowing where to start can be the biggest challenge. Increasing employee engagement is no exception, and it doesn’t happen overnight; it is the outcome of doing a lot of things right.
Employee engagement must be one of your company’s purposeful goals, a conscious continual effort that’s frequently assessed and fine-tuned. Best employer companies display significantly stronger cultures than average companies, marked by strong leadership, reputation, performance orientation, and employee engagement.
And a core enabler of employee engagement is having management present and relevant in their teams. Working hard to make their team a success. It is a set of behavioural practices that engage, enable and empower people.