How to Improve Agent Performance without the Ding

How to Improve Agent Performance without the Ding

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Many contact centers struggle with how to improve agent performance. Too fast, too slow, not good enough can create a very contentious relationship between employees and management. Sometimes the relationships turn toxic.

Toxic Will Not Improve Agent Performance

Nobody that works in a contact center wants it to be a toxic environment. And to many it comes as a surprise when morale and turnover problems start to rule the day and they struggle to improve agent performance.

After all, people who work in contact centers are generally nice people, right, so how can that happen? They have that wonderful gene that not everyone has: the service gene.

You Must Nurture Agents

As managers, we are the nurturers of this gene. It’s very much like a seed that we are tasked with planting in fertile soil and with providing water and sunshine. The environment, however, is a lightning rod for negativity and the center can too easily become a hostile environment for growing the service seed.

Think about your contact center. The organization has focused on the physical environment with ergonomic furniture, warm colors, and carpet. Also important is your technology in the center, everything from the IVR to distribute calls to the knowledge base. Thousands of dollars are spent to have a center and that’s not even the cost of the people.

How does a center with a great physical design become toxic to those who work in it? Not a “sick building” but a toxic work environment for the agents that in turn provide a level of service that damages the brand.

Agent Performance Gaps Cause Toxicity?

Quality Assurance is everyone’s attempt to measure the fertility of the service environment. There are Key Performance Indicators, critical-to-quality operational metrics, and so on, and so on. Very few managers, if any, are lacking metrics that are intended to feed into the Quality Assurance program with the intent to improve agent performance.

When agent performance gaps occur, managers are often alerted from many different sources. So is it the “alerts” to agent performance gaps themselves that causes toxicity or what?

Question to Ask, and One More

Agent-VoC-Scorecards-150One question I like to ask is, “Do you think your quality assurance metrics focus more on the “ding” or on “develop”? Every time I ask this question people answer that their goal is to “develop” agents with QA, but admit that is probably not what’s happening.

Then I ask, do agents consistently receive coaching and development focused on teaching them how to transform quality and/or criteria for skill enhancement or are they being told their score?

This is when I most often find a big disconnect that I think contributes considerably to the low morale and high turnover problem.

These Are Not The Same

There is a massive difference between performance management and skills development and this difference is seldom understood or leverage to improve agent performance.

Developing the skills of others is a skill within itself. Very few organizations screen and develop these skills in managers. Also, many assume managers can do this because the skill is needed in their role and don’t think to provide it.

Also, skill development activities require time. So as you can see, skill development skills are not common and skill development takes a lot of time. This makes it easy to fall into the pattern of handing out quality assurance scores and performance reports and not investing time and effort in meaningful skills development.

Develop is More Important than Measure

The fact is that skills development is more important than the measurements. Your agents want to do a good job but often feel trapped in a system that is (perceived) to only punish (DING). The frustration in this system easily leads to lower morale and higher turnover problems.

This does not happen quickly. The environment gradually shifts toward one of punishment as the quality assurance program continues to produce measurements with little to no constructive development to enhance skills.

Does your center have too much ding? Remember Pavlov’s dog that learned to equate the bell with punishment? The same adverse reaction occurs when Quality Assurance is equated with punishment. I have had quality analysts tell me, “Everyone hates me.” It’s easy to see how this ding philosophy contributes to the toxicity of the center.

We all have to admit that contact centers can become toxic environments. The industry reports remind us all of the time. But how do you make sure you are focused on the development of the service seed?

3 Things to move from Ding to Develop

First make sure you develop people development skills.

Secondly, look at how QA blends the views of service by the agents. Call monitoring scores (Internal Quality Monitoring) too easily appear to be punitive to the agents because of the items measured and the scoring rubric applied to the calls.

Thirdly, Voice of the Customer (VoC) measures need to be comprehensive, timely, using the correct scale, and free from error so the agents have high confidence and trust in the tool. Include Survey Calibration to help you.

Either internal quality monitoring (iQM) or VoC/eQM (external quality monitoring) can introduce toxins into your environment, but these components of QA can be easily transformed into valuable inputs (iQA Model) necessary for coaching and development the skills of agents.

Make your goal to do away with the ding so that everyone come out smelling like roses.

About Dr. Jodie Monger

Jodie Monger, Ph.D. is the president of Customer Relationship Metrics and a pioneer in voice of the customer research for the contact center industry. Before creating CRMetrics, she was the founding associate director of Purdue University’s Center for Customer-Driven Quality.

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