call center agent

Your parents put you in the call center

are you predestined to end up in the call center?*The article was co-authored by Dr. Jodie Monger and Vicki Nihart

As you look around the office at your coworkers out there in the cubicle farm, do you ever find yourself wondering how you ended up in your chair?  Do you think you have anything in common with them?  What brought you all to the call center industry?  It has to be some kind of gravitational pull into a career in service because you didn’t wake up one morning when you were 17 and say “I’m going to college so I can be a manager and then an executive in a call center.” Continue reading

Reducing volume in your call center is simple, hide your number

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.”

Happy Monday!

Call center agent empowerment leads to customer satisfaction and customer retention

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

Call centers don’t want your support; they can’t handle it

We’re taught from a young age to ‘love thy neighbor’, to be a conscientious citizen, to do  the right thing.  But often what we find is that some call centers aren’t equipped to deal with help from customers.  They have a very strong culture overly focused on cost reduction (speed) and have processes to follow, and if there is no process for your request…they’re lost.

For instance, I recently received a call from a colleague who had phoned his local electric company about a severed wire he saw dangling over his neighbor’s house.  He said he called for three days in a row to try and get someone from the electric company to come out to deal with the wire.  The agents told him, they were clueless as to what to do or who to transfer him to since the problem wasn’t specific to his property.  Did he have an account or claim number?  No.  Was the electric out in his own house? No.  But the message he received was very clear; agents are doing what they are told to do and when a concerned neighbor or customer calls in with something out of the ordinary that is beyond their regular scripts and call topics, they freeze.

Continue reading

Great web content is key, but does anyone know it’s there?

Aren’t we all focused on enhancing the customer experience using our web sites to handle common customer service issues and questions to help reduce call center costs (headcount, resources, etc.)?  What I find to be a bit of sad irony is that while time and energy is being spent to beef up web site content, few people within the company have the slightest clue as to what is on their web site.  I know I’ve been guilty of this myself.

I recently called a company about a service issue and the call center agent promptly let me know that my issue could be solved by going to the web site.  I say, “thank you for letting me know that.  I did try to serve myself and couldn’t figure it out.  What exactly do I need to click on to get the information?”….radio silence.  The agent had no idea.  So, we both think this should be possible but neither of us knows how to do it.  The shame is that I am not the only one having this customer experience problem.

Continue reading

Creative customer service wins every time

We’re told all the time to ‘think outside the box’.  In school it meant looking at a passage in a book to see the symbolism; that the words were more than mere words.  In the call center it means something as simple as creatively solving a customer’s problems.

I recently tried to book a summer vacation house and after tireless research and dead-ends I called the Board of Tourism.  There I spoke with a lovely woman that gave me countless phone numbers to try, web sites to further my research and even offered to call some of her contacts in the area to see if they could assist me.  I was blown away at her resourcefulness and willingness to help.  She called me back the very next day with vacation packages and pricing as well as the personal phone numbers of her contacts.  Too often agents lose that can-do, problem solving spirit.

Here are some recent customer comments from External Quality Monitoring programs:

Continue reading

You vs. your competition, head-to-head, how’d you do?

A few weeks ago I had a mishap with an electronic billpay that brought together – and then set apart -three financial institutions.  Admittedly, I made a mistake in creating the electronic payment request.  My local bank generated a physical check rather than transferring the funds via ACH (Automated Clearing House), and sent it on to institution #2 to process for financial institution #3 located in the United Kingdom.  This error took hours of my time over a number of weeks to resolve.  When it was finally over, I wanted to blast one financial institution on every social media platform I could find, wrote a thank-you letter to another and felt as indifferent about the third institution as they felt about me. 

My local bank, First National Bank of Omaha took an electronic request for the transfer of funds and executed it via paper and then sent it via pony express (kidding, it was US mail), losing the tracking capabilities possible with an ACH.  But the moment I called their customer service department, I had their attention and their commitment of assistance.  My agent, Tania, conferenced me into First National Bank’s billpay department, inquired about next steps and stayed on the phone with me for over two hours as we made our way through the phone-tree-from-hell and more transfers than I could count at GIANT BANK (not their real name).  My local financial institution received a thank-you letter, along with my business for as long as I remain a resident in their coverage area.  Continue reading

If good customer service is so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it?

You can fix stupid! 

For all the bad customer service that we see, feel (and sometimes even deliver), there are companies that consistently delight their customers.  Do you also wonder, ‘if they can do it, why do we struggle to achieve that level of service?  Why is it so hard to duplicate a successful customer service model?’  Continue reading

Your contact center agents have an expiration date

Contact Center Agent burnout ,your agents have an expiration dateDid you ever think your agents 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 clients), Customer Relationship Metrics updated a case study of this same subject.  In the originial analysis of the customer experience we 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.

Many agents have an expiration date that’s shared

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!!

Contact Center Agent turnover ,your agents have an expiration dateAgents have an expiration date? How’s that good news?

So, agents have an expiration date. 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.

free contact center resourcesWho knew contact center agents have an expiration date? This case study represents the capabilities of Customer Relationship Metrics to find things that are otherwise undetectable in contact centers. Our services entail including ourselves in the world of our clients through an immersion process. This process includes data collection, observation, collaboration, strategy analysis, and predictive modeling. Our survey and unstructured data analysis programs go beyond collecting data and compiling a report to post. We detect, uncover, recommend, and enable action. Contact us for a complimentary consult so we can determine how you can gain value from the otherwise undetectable.

Who knows when call center agents burnout first?

Who knows when call center agents burnout firstMy friend Julie has taken call after call as an agent for nearly 10 years. I have it on good authority that Julie is one of the best agents out there, but it’s been my experience that Julie is the exception and not the rule. Do you think Julie and other call center agents burnout at the same time? Similar time lengths? Always? Never? Who knows first?

I know when call center agents burnout first

We recently completed analysis that revealed agent performance to peak and then decline at about 10-months of tenure (for a specific client case). Customer evaluations indicate the service peak and decline is related to tenure of the agent, not time of day, month or year!

This makes me think about the complaints we get from customers about the lack of knowledge and care that they receive from lackadaisical agents. When customers can voice their opinions about service engagement so quickly and publicly, a positive agent experience is paramount.

Do you think these customer comments (these are real) can help you to identify when call center agents burnout? Continue reading

Is your sales team selling out your agents?

If you ask a call center agent how many times a day they get yelled at by customers, the answer is too often – “all day long.” Agents bear the brunt of unrealistic customer expectations when the sales and marketing staff are overselling, overpromising or omitting information about the product at the point of sale.

While seemingly obvious, we constantly have to remind clients that when they mislead customers just to close the deal, the agents will ultimately feel the negativity (and so does the brand). And it’s a vicious cycle – the customers are unhappy and complain to the agents, and the agents don’t feel supported by their organization leading to churn in the call center. What should you do to better manage expectations at the point of sale so that your agents can do their jobs better? Are you quantitatively determining the impact of the point of sale? When should you say “yes” to saying “no”? Continue reading

Are your post-call surveys used for business intelligence or to beat up call center agents?

Are your post-call surveys considered to be business intelligence?  Let’s be honest, are we always ready for that honesty?  Or are you asking in such a way that you only get positive comments? Or to just beat up call center agents? 

What we’ve found is that most programs are destructive or met with apathy. The objective you want is to encourage the good, the bad and the ugly – this strategy will help you react to and solve issues with  your products and services.  For instance, a recent case was the discovery of a supply issue – not enough product to go around – which in turn was causing some negative online conversation surrounding the product.  The call center knew about the problem long before consumers started tweeting about it, but did not have a good process to disseminate the information.  Given how quickly people can express themselves online these days it becomes even more important to have a proactive process in place to not only deal with issues, but to equip your agents with the tools they need to address the consumers concerns about supply on the phone. Our client certainly does this now.  You hear, and you need to share your customer intelligence: Continue reading

Customer satisfaction can come in small packages

Customer satisfaction, like your customers, comes in all shapes and sizes.  Sometimes you must go to great lengths to satisfy your customers and other times it’s the little things that make the experience a pleasant one.  Capturing the voice of the customer in post-call surveys shows more than the percentage of satisfaction, it also shows the customer’s satisfaction with emotion and personality.  Just like the comments below, some customers may find it a relief that they are able to communicate with your call center agents with ease, and some may be satisfied simply by the fact that the person on the other end of the line was handling their problem with a smile.  Big or small, your customers will tell you exactly what caused their satisfaction, and that is a very good thing. Continue reading

Are your call center scripts working for or against you?

There are many pros and cons to call center scripts.  For many organizations, they are a necessary evil.  One of the problems with call center scripts is, well, when your customers notice that your call center agent is reading from a script.  This ‘strategy’ does more than annoy the customer; it affects the customer experience and the satisfaction with your brand which you know through the feedback.  If you are curious to see how your latest scripts are doing, review your customer comments.  You may uncover ‘knuggets’ like the ones below that will not only help pinpoint the problem with some recent low scoring but also help identify what needs to be changed. Continue reading

All you need is love

On a day that is synonymous with LOVE, everyone should be feeling the vibe.  From your friends and family, to your customers and your call center agents, everyone should feel a little extra special today.  Make sure you tell your team just how special they are.  These are the folks who are the face of your organization, who work hard to satisfy your customers while working towards key metrics to help reduce the costs of your call center.  Be sure to tell them today (and everyday) that they are doing a great job, especially if they are among your all-star agents.  Your customers tell your agents how they feel, especially if they LOVED their customer service experience: Continue reading

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