Your agents (still) have an expiration date
Many of us in call centers chase the holy grail of higher agent tenure, assuming that agents will use the additional knowledge and experience attained through tenure to better serve customers. The unfortunate reality, according to customers, the more tenured agents don’t deliver a better customer experience; they deliver a worse one, despite being armed with all of the knowledge and skills that “rookies” are thought to be acquiring. And, that customer experience continues to diminish the longer your agents languish in your call center.
During our recent Customer Insights to Action meeting (a quarterly meeting open to all of our existing business customers), Customer Relationship Metrics refreshed a 2007 study of this same subject. In 2007, analysis of the customer experience found that agent performance peaked in month 11. At the time, we hypothesized that the peak of this performance bell curve would vary based on industry, management style, new-hire training, company culture and a number of other variables. What we found just recently is that peak service performance is rated by customers when the agents’ tenure is between 9 and 11 months.
While this finding is clearly interesting, it’s really bad news for many organizations that have tenured agents that far exceed the peak of the performance curve (including company 1 with an average agent tenure of 3.56 years). Every day, week and month that an agent remains employed past their peak, they’re putting your most important relationships in jeopardy!!
The good news is that there are many ways to extend your agents’ value past the expiration date. All methods to extend expiration require that you stop the focus on the arbitrary metric of tenure and shift your attention to building agent engagement. Engaged agents not only remain in your employ longer, but they also contribute positively to the customer experience because they are emotionally invested in your organization and the relationships that help it flourish. Below are a few suggestions to extend your agent expiration date:
- Promote agents reaching the end of their peak performance curve into escalation agents – Every call center receives those calls from unusually irate customers who refuse to talk to a “regular” agent and demand the attention of a higher-up. Some agents stagnate because they’re bored. Assign them to handle these escalated calls and watch them step up to the challenge!
- Have agents reaching the end of their peak performance curve respond to service alerts – Every survey project CRM launches includes (customized) triggers that immediately alert the call center management staff to an at-risk customer experience. Make your more tenured agents responsible for researching these case histories and following up with these customers. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they integrate this new information into their call handling and how vocal they become in communicating what they’ve learned to their peers on the call center floor.
- Be supportive of the fact that for some agents, the call center is only a launching pad – While this may be frustrating to many of us who invest a fair amount of time training and education agents, the fact is that not everyone wants to remain in the call center for eternity. Support your agents in growing towards their career vision and you’ll earn their loyalty and best effort while they’re with you.
- Show agents how they contribute to the larger company picture – Recently I had the opportunity to visit one of our business partners and present to them how their efforts to deliver the very best customer experience positively impacted the entire organization. It had taken quite a number of years for the organization’s upper management to be open to this type of claim. Immediately after that meeting ended, the call center management team had a luncheon scheduled with all of the call center agents and presented our findings. Understanding how their daily efforts contribute to the bottom line of the organization and how their hard work changed the way the call center was viewed by the organization at large was exactly the boost that some agents needed to continue improving! And much love could be felt for their fearless call center manager who fought for their efforts to be recognized.
- Create a mechanism for upward flow of feedback – Create a mechanism by which employees can openly (and without fear of repercussions) provide feedback to management and about management. At a prior employer our culture was so open that I regularly had agents dropping by my office to provide feedback about my management staff … and me. If you do not have a company culture in which this type of open interaction is likely, consider having quarterly feedback sessions in which an independent moderator (perhaps an individual from another part of the organization) collects and disseminates agent feedback or the responsibility of reporting on the outcome of these sessions is rotated among agents.