Call Center Agents
A call center agent is the person who handles incoming or outgoing customer calls for a business such as account inquiries, customer complaints or support issues.
Hi, my name is Susan. I’ve worked in the Customer Service Department for my company for just short of 20 years now and I absolutely love most everything about it. I’m one of the top ranked agents in the department and, according to the masses, I work for one of the best managers in the whole company. But lately I think I’ve experienced agent burnout because I have begun to think about doing something different.
Normally I keep to myself and just go with the flow when it comes to what management wants me to do from day to day. However, as I get older I feel I need to address the elephant in the room – aka our QA program. I’m sure the process was created with good intentions; however, it seems to have outlived its usefulness, and my tolerance. Please let me share with you my perception and let me know what you think.
In our Contact Center
Each manager is responsible for listening to and evaluating 5 calls per month for every agent on their team (sometimes that doesn’t happen). The calls are evaluated based on a checklist of items and I don’t really know how the criteria was created. It seems as if someone, or some committee, decided at some point along the way that the items being measured would make a call a good one.
While I understand that the intended result was to be able to say if the agent did these X number of things, then the customer would have left the call satisfied. And if agents would collect all of the necessary information from the customer, they would be happy. But it isn’t really that simple.
In addition to the basic items on our call monitoring form, like obtaining the customer’s name, address and email, there are several items that are subjective. They require managers to make assumptions on how the customer feels about the call.
For example, one of the scoring items on the evaluation form asks to rate whether or not the agent treated the caller as a valued customer. It doesn’t feel right to ask any manager (or agent for that matter) to evaluate how the customer would answer that question.
Agent burnout builds
We all know that each of us has different definitions of what would make us feel valued. Secondly, if three managers reviewed the same call, they would not all answer that question the same. On items like this it’s almost impossible to obtain consistency across the managers. Why does the form have questions with no right answer? These results affect the performance rating and compensations of other people and it just doesn’t feel right.
Another question on our monitoring form that is always a hot debate for other agents is the question that asks if the customer received a fair resolution to their situation. When a manager has to explain the rating they gave with, “I know I would be…” that doesn’t feel right either.
Asking managers to pretend that they are the customer and to evaluate agents on behalf of the customers feels wrong. Some managers, instead, apply the company slant and define fair as whether or not the agent followed procedure.
After being divorced twice, I have learned that attempting to interpret someone’s feelings based on tone and assumptions doesn’t work.
I still can’t get over the fact that my performance rating and compensation are affected by this guessing game?!?!?
Voice of the Customer?
There was an attempt a few years ago to use our voice of the customer program to measure the customer perception, but that did not work.
Customer feedback was collected as much as two weeks after we helped them in the contact center. The comments customers provided often spoke of not remembering the agent contact. Or they talked about several agent contacts and we couldn’t tell who should own the feedback.
Now they are testing a post-call survey that collects customer feedback immediately. I am very concerned though because the survey only asks to evaluate agents and no customer comments are collected.
It feels like our company wants us to be responsible for product and policy problems. We can’t do anything about that. I feel like I am in a hopeless situation. I want to improve but it just feels like we are being dinged for everything.
It didn’t use to be like this. In the past few years our executive leaders have talked more about customer retention and loyalty. They talk more about the importance of the work we do in the contact center but it seems like we are just being scrutinized more. We do not feel very valued. Agent burnout is spreading like wildfire.
Who is Susan?
Susan is a mixture of many stories we have heard from contact center agents over the past 20 years. Over this time we’ve spoken to many agents to get the agents’ view about the company’s quality assurance program. We also have team members that have managed in call centers.
Because of stories like Susan’s we included the question, “Would your agents say they are satisfied with your quality assurance program?” in the self-assessment 29 Mistakes to Avoid with Quality Assurance Programs.
Susan’s story is a very real one in the contact center industry. And the time has come to transform our traditional quality assurance practices before we lose thousands like Susan from our talented agent ranks.
How do you fix it?
It’s very likely the issues mentioned in Susan’s story can be found in your center. We have been told time and time again from contact centers across the country that agent moral is falling and turnover is rising. Agents seem to understand the need for a quality assurance program and most of them want them. But only if it feels right.
This is why we developed the Impact Quality Assurance (iQA) model. It is the gold standard in quality assurance for customer centric companies. The evaluation components of the methodology utilizes internal quality monitoring (iQM) that is streamlined to address only the key points that are needed to make an effective call and eliminates all of the role-playing, hypothesizing questions that are unfair to agents.
Layered with effective iQM is an external quality monitoring (eQM) program that utilizes a scientifically based post-call survey that asks for the customers’ insight and opinion about their company, agent and resolution experience. This, along with the customer comments, yields actionable data that can be leveraged to make sound business decisions.
The two-layer approach, with an effective iQM and eQM process, is what enables companies to take their level of service to the next level and uncovers pain points for not only the customers, but also the agents. Once that information is identified, you can make the appropriate changes in processes and technology to mitigate or eliminate the pain completely.
So I ask you, would your agents say they are satisfied with your current quality assurance program? (Question 22 in this self-assessment) Or will you need to find a replacement for Susan?
What? Remove handle time from agent scorecards?! Yes. You also need to do something else. This case study example provides a model you can use to prove why you must remove handle time from scorecards. If you have already taken this action, please share your results.
Recently Customer Relationship Metrics published an e-book and self-assessment to help contact center leaders identify issues within Quality Assurance Programs. One of the questions within 29 Quality Assurance Mistakes to Avoid asks “Has handle time been removed from your agent scorecards?” Our goal in creating this tool is to help you avoid costly mistakes and eliminate mental anguish.
What happens if you don’t remove handle time from agent scorecards?
Recently Matt McConnell interviewed Jim Rembach at Customer Relationship Metrics; the original post is located on Intradiem’s blog.
In an effort to provide better customer service, contact centers have added more channels of communication. But how do channels like e-mail, chat, Twitter and Facebook impact the agent?
Ultimately, it’s a balancing act, says Jim Rembach, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Customer Relationship Metrics, an award-winning contact center managed analytics services company.
Jim tells us, “When you look at the ability of human beings and what we can handle, multi-tasking isn’t always possible. Studies have shown the brain ends up inefficiently switching focus from one activity to another. When you have all of these channels, you increase the likelihood of poor performance from your agents.”
Over the past few decades, organizations have gone back and forth between segmentation and universal agents. When too much is put on agents’ plates, the degradation of the customer experience begins and the roles are often separated again to turn around poor agent performance. Continue reading
On Thursday, August 22, 2013, Jim Rembach of Customer Relationship Metrics drew upon his extensive domain expertise in contact centers and shared with participants some of the reasons 99% of contact centers fail to leverage the seven main elements that make a contact center great.
Almost every industry finds that true employee engagement is a goal that’s difficult to achieve; call centers are one of those industries. In fact, 75% of call centers leaders consider it to be their top issue; 24% of contact center leaders have stopped trying and instead just ignore the multitude of problems that arise when employees aren’t engaged.
If YOU want to be one of the companies that has a competitive advantage over all others with cost control and significantly better customer experiences, it’s time to be a quitter. Quit the bad habits that undermine your employee engagement efforts and fix this problem by figuring out what the 1% does differently. GET THE FREE RESOURCES FROM THIS WEBCAST HERE. Continue reading
“Did you fail to put in a process that prevents agents from receiving vulgar and obscene comments?” is a question that was included in the 25 Mistakes to Avoid with Post-call IVR Surveys eBook and self-assessment located in our resource library for contact center leaders. Take advantage of our knowledge and experience accumulated over the past 20 years since inventing post-call IVR surveying for call centers. The eBook and self-assessment includes diagnostic questions that will help you to identify any of the many problems that will undermine the value of your customer experience measurement program.
Why is this a problem? Continue reading
“Do you only have questions about agent performance?” is a question that was included in the 25 Mistakes to Avoid with Post-call IVR Surveys eBook and self-assessment. The eBook and self-assessment includes diagnostic questions that will help you to identify any of the many problems I have come across since inventing post-call IVR surveying in contact centers. The self-assessment is intended for you to leverage our 20 years of experience to avoid the common pitfalls with real-time voice of the customer surveys.
Why is this a problem?
While asking questions about how well the agent handled the call is an important part of your post-call IVR survey, it doesn’t paint the whole picture. Asking customers to evaluate service from the agent will make it possible to write annual performance reviews; however, it isn’t going to tell you as much as you need to know about how the company can improve the customer experience. Sure, you will have a lot of data focused on how the agents are servicing the customers, but how will you determine how satisfied the customer is with the company if you don’t ask them? And how do you know if the scores are not a blend of the agent and the company? Think about it. Continue reading
The reasons why you can’t afford the contact center of tomorrow may not be for the reasons you think. It used to be that anyone who could type and was nice, was perfect to sit in a call center seat. Well, it’s not 1980 anymore and we have contact centers now. The archaic mindset of thinking that these are very simple jobs and therefore do not warrant higher education or provide a greater wage than the minimum is just not the case anymore. If you say it aloud it doesn’t even make sense, “I want to hire a multi-tasking problem solver, who is also empathetic, talented, and committed but I only want to pay them $10/hour.” See? Crazy. The contact centers jobs have become more and more complex with each passing year but the mindset hasn’t changed. Continue reading
Have you ever been disappointed going to a restaurant based on a friend’s recommendation but the great food and service they raved about, and you expected, was just the opposite? I don’t know what’s worse, having the bad experience or lying to your friend so their feelings are not hurt.
Unfortunately, the same disappointment happens in contact centers too – customer experience inconsistency is the bane of our existence! In a perfect world the customers call in, reach a knowledgeable agent, and have their issue resolved promptly and professionally. Done. But, there is no worry in that. It’s the not-so-perfect world that we fear – the customers who have the opposite, disappointing and unexpected experience. Continue reading
This story makes me really sad. You know, I love a good public relations story just like everyone else. And when you hear many of the (genuine) customer service stories coming out of companies like Zappos you understand how they have built an enviable reputation in the marketplace for generating high customer loyalty. I appreciate what they have been able to do and I hope that people don’t try to take advantage of them and companies like them. Continue reading
I was asking myself these questions as I read about Target Corporation opening stores on Thanksgiving evening instead of Friday morning. Then, I started to think about my years in the contact center industry (and one contact center I worked in) and how over the past few decades the hours of operation have continued to increase. First it was a longer work day, then it was a half-day on Saturday, then it was all-day Saturday, and half-day on Sunday, and finally 7 days a week. Continue reading
If you could create the perfect call center manager, what would he or she look like? Specifically, what traits or management styles would s/he have? What attitudes or knowledge would s/he bring to the table? While you find some of your perfect traits during the interview process, it is difficult to find all of the attributes of a winning call center manager in one single candidate. Wouldn’t it be great if we could take the best of all the call center managers we’ve seen over the years and build the perfect prototype? Continue reading
The weekend before Thanksgiving, I competed in my very first body-building competition. Between stage appearances, eating hourly meals and making sure my Oompa Loompa-like tan was intact, the customer-service lessons were hard to miss.
1. Forget agent to supervisor ratios. You need expediters. If you’ve never been backstage at a body-building competition, imagine a large room filled with free-weights, (tan) spraying tents, and fans leading to numerous dressing rooms—all connected by a fine mist of spray tan, Pam oil, hairspray and spray glue, amidst the chaos of dozens of competitors pumping up in preparation for their time on stage. Part of the chaos was likely due to the fact that this was my first show. Some competitors had the process down to a science. I think I even caught one competitor on a yoga mat catching a few moments of Zen. But the clear breaks in the chaos were the expediters, like bright beacons of knowledge and organization. The sole purpose of the expediters was to keep the competitors on track with the flow of the competition, make sure they were in the staging area when needed, and on stage when scheduled. And while there were only three of them (compared to over 90 competitors, plus coaches, trainers and helpers backstage), they seemed to be everywhere and have the answers to every question. If you can’t describe your call center supervisors the same way, you need to re-examine your supervisor selection and training process.
2. It’s all about relationships. When you think about any competition that involves any degree of primping, you probably think you need to keep your finger on the record button of your flipcam so you don’t miss the impending cat fight. Instead, what you would have found were male competitors spotting each other in the pump-up room, women helping each other with make-up and glue, and competitors joking with the MC while on stage. If, as a manager, you can’t recall the last time you genuinely laughed with an agent or left working thinking, “We accomplished a lot today, but we had fun doing it!” your call center is at severe risk for agent burn-out. Continue reading
Guidelines and talking points sound different to customers than do call-controlling scripts. A call center agent who sounds like an advocate or advisor because they naturally converse (what they are told to say), deliver a better customer experience. With your effort to help agents connect with the caller or to control the content of the call, your scripts easily become a cause of poor customer experiences.
You know that being a call center agent is extremely difficult. Were you aware that multitasking is close to impossible for human beings to do? Did you know that with each additional task added to the basic task of listening, efficiency and effectiveness degrade? Add the need to say specific things during the call to the list of tasks that have already decimated the ability to perform and what do you get? Well, you get call center agents who sound like idiots (and robots) because they resort to reading the script and not one who is thinking about what the caller is saying. As far as your customers are concerned, you have engineered intelligence, common sense, and human emotion right out the door.
Your customer experience and/or speech analytics can help to identify agents who are desensitized due to over scripting. If you are only doing traditional quality monitoring then you are not actually listening what your customers are saying. Here are some examples of what you could hear: Continue reading
I recently had a small issue with Verizon that I wasn’t able to resolve on the web site. Not a big deal. But when clicked on ‘Contact Us’ and then ‘By Phone’, instead of giving me the phone number, I was met with a pop-up window that said: “We’re sorry…we are not able to process your request.” Great, if you are going to hide the number you need to cough it up when we follow the clicking path to get it! Is this a new call avoidance tactic that I missed? Now my small problem is bigger. Understandably miffed, I relayed this story to a co-worker who had just called Verizon a week prior and had a completely different experience. She said she got right through to a knowledgeable call center agent and after the billing issues were resolved was transferred to another live agent in service to get the phone line checked. She even said how surprised she was that a company so big had such good customer service, while I on the other hand, couldn’t even locate a number to call. Do you worry about the consistency of the customer service experience? Are you protecting your brand by having a uniform calibration process and parameters for evaluating service?
While collecting scores and customer comments for analysis as part of our External Quality Monitoring (EQM) managed services we uncover significantly more than ratings about contact center agents. See what I mean:
“I tried calling your service number and each time it rang once and disconnected me. Talk about poor customer satisfaction.”
“I usually get right to a contact center agent whenever I have service issues but this time when I called I was on hold for 30 minutes. I got so frustrated I finally hung up. What gives?”
“Every time I order from your company my package is delivered quickly but this time it took almost a month and it was damaged. I don’t know what’s going on with your customer service.”
“Last week I was told by Kevin that I would get a form in the mail to request my refund. I didn’t get the form so I called today and was told by Susanne that I am not eligible for a refund and she’s not sure why Kevin told me that I was.”
How many of you remember getting a gold star from your teacher for good work or good behavior? I remember thinking that the tiny little symbol filled me with a sense of pride for a job well done. What we find over and over again in our External Quality Monitoring programs is that call center agents want to feel empowered and they thrive on performance recognition. Just like those gold stars from our younger years, when call center agents are held accountable for resolving customer complaints quickly and efficiently, and they are provided the tools to improve their performance, it’s not hard to see the link between satisfied agents and quality customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. Continue reading