Motivating contact center agents is not about a one-time effort or a specific technology. As with any kind of employee, nurturing and motivating an agent is an ongoing process that starts with identifying and hiring the best candidate, providing that individual with the right tools and training to do the job, and keeping things interesting for him or her over time by offering incentives and rewards for good behavior and positive results.
Impact Learning Systems is one company that addresses the training part of the equation. The 20-year-old training business, which became part of Miller Heiman last year, helps clients provide consistent training to contact center agents, tech support, and those who manage such employees.
The company is a big believer in using games during the training process to help people learn in a more creative way, explains Jodi Beuder, marketing manager. In fact, founder Peggy Carlaw has written the following books on the subject: The Big Book of Sales Games; The Big Book of Customer Service Training Games; and Managing and Motivating Contact Center Employees.
The last title tells a story of two contact centers, each with about 150 agents, working on a four-month outbound initiative. One does great; the other flounders. The successful one had a manager who attended parts of the agent and supervisor training; called regular meetings with supervisors to review results and share information; used the feedback models encouraged during training; and remained involved and continued to encourage the agents over the life of the program.
Beuder adds that Brocade (News - Alert), a customer of Impact Learning Systems, has mentioned that people with its organization were more interested in participating in training because they knew their managers were taking the same training. (Brocade, by the way, uses the Impact Learning curriculum to onboard new employees India, London and North America. As a result, Brocade has been able to improve customer satisfaction by 33 percent and increase level 2 resolution rates by 20 percent within just three months.)
Offer Path to Improvement
Providing training that helps people understand what they tested great and not-so-great on can also help motivate them to advance in the needs-improvement categories. To help encourage that, Impact Learning Systems displays a skill proficiency graph after completion of exams. That way, students can not only see how they did on what subjects, but they are provided with a series of links that take them directly to the content for which they need review.
Incentives and recognition are also helpful in motivating agents, Beuder says. For example, one client of Impact Learning Systems used a huge bulletin board in the contact center break room on which managers could congratulate people for their successes in such metrics as having the least call escalations in a given month, she says.
Giving agents and other customer-facing employees the ability to revisit training materials as needed also can ago a long way toward enabling agents to meet company goals, says Beuder. Because Impact Learning Systems’ online licenses offer 6 months of access, she says, participants can revisit and review the content along with utilizing the post-training reinforcement tools built directly into the system.
Keep It Simple
Making things simple for agents can have a big impact.
This point is also emphasized in a study released earlier this year by LiveOps (News - Alert) and Social Customer Service Expert and Adjunct Professor at UCLA, Dr. Natalie Petouhoff. The study looked closely at the connection between a brand’s customer service agent and its customer experience – and the impact of both on operational costs and revenue generation in the contact center. A key focus of the study was to look at how agents are impacted by multi-channel contact centers.
The study revealed that 26 percent of agents’ time in these environments is spent just trying to navigate all the different channels that they’re being asked to cover. That 26 percent can add up to $250,000 of wasted time annually for a 60-agent call center. A caller may, for example, ask the agent if the company received his or her e-mail, and then the agent needs to put the caller on hold and find that e-mail. That creates a lot of downtime for the agent and can frustrate customers and agents, says LiveOps.
Agent frustration can rub off on callers, the company adds. According to the study, 92 percent of end users are totally turned off to a brand if they sense that the agent is unhappy. To make agents happier, the company suggests contact centers bring their channels together on one screen for easier navigation.
Listen to the Voice of the Agent
Companies that take into consideration agent input when re-engineering their contact center processes and technology tend to have the most success says Anna Convery, executive vice president of Strategy, and Paul Sewell, senior director of Communications and Intelligence, with desktop automation company OpenSpan (News - Alert), which has been doing work investigating how customer satisfaction scores relate to contact center desktop activities.
One company that serves as a good example in this realm is a telecom company outside the U.S. It holds quarterly meetings with agents, operational folks, the IT team, sales and marketing, and owners in an effort to gather and implement the top eight to 10 suggestions for improvement. That enabled the business to become one of the top organizations in terms of customer satisfaction scores.
Giving agents more of a stake in the process by providing them with a complete view of the customer journey can also improve contact center metrics and agent and customer satisfaction, according to OpenSpan, which refers to this concept as the Agile (News - Alert) Agent Desktop. Business has become very metric-driven but that requires companies to supply metrics at a granular level to affect change, says OpenSpan.
Agents become demoralized if they are being measured on things they can't control, such as slow systems, complex processes, processes that take a long time to instigate (e.g., new account openings, address moves, AHT, etc.), says OpenSpan. Automation makes these things simple for the agent, and ensures that the company is measuring things the agent can actually impact.
OpenSpan offers as an example how a mobile provider contact center used its solution to add a timer to the agent toolbar. It showed agents how long they had put a caller on hold. Indicating time on hold to a call center agent motivates them to re-engage a customer every 60-90 seconds, according to OpenSpan, which reports that for the mobile provider this resulted in a dramatic increase in first call resolution and a decrease in customer hang ups.