Innovative New Models for Managing Customer Contact Agents

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Innovative New Models for Managing Customer Contact Agents

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I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a session titled, “Innovative New Models for Managing Customer Contact Agents” . This was a 90-minute workshop that provided attendees the chance to collaborate with one another to rethink the way they operate their contact center. The objective was to create an environment that is more inspirational, innovative, and filled with happy employees.  These are the notes from that session.

Session Overview

Employee and subsequently customer engagement is an elusive goal for only a few select contact centers. Studies prove the ones that are able to reach this pinnacle have permitted their organizations to dramatically over achieve their financial goals and objectives and capture significantly greater market share over their competition. The contact centers in these organizations breed success; these contact centers do not follow the status quo. 

This interactive session explored how quality monitoring, workforce management, Six Sigma, Lean, self-service, and reporting practices can easily create toxic contact center environments and ways to prevent it.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Insight on how common contact center practices stifle and constrain innovation and internal and external engagement
  • Examples of proof that contact center personnel are nesting and we are poised for the greatest industry turnover we have ever experienced when the economy turns and ways to not be on the losing end
  • Lessons learned, the power of innovation, what it means to your organization and ways to generate it in the contact center

Group Activity

We worked together in small groups to identify all the things that consume agents’ thoughts through-out the day in three specific categories.

  1. Things Agents Worry About at Work
  2. Things Agents Worry About at Home
  3. Things Agents Worry About Regarding Their Future

The following lists outline the group effort in identifying all the things agents worry about.

Things Agents Worry About at Work

  1. Service Levels
  2. Clean, Safe Work Environment
  3. Treatment by management
  4. Benefits Available and cost
  5. Compensation
  6. Job Security/longevity
  7. Career Opportunity
  8. Ability to learn skills
  9. Product Knowledge
  10. Irate Customers
  11. Scheduling
  12. Being replaced by outsource
  13. Regulation/policy changes
  14. Monitoring – impact
  15. Fairness of measurement
  16. Offshoring
  17. Relationship with Management
  18. Breaks/Lunch/Food
  19. Any Change
  20. Availability of Parking
  21. Additional Incentives
  22. Quality of service
  23. Mission/core values
  24. Brand reputation
  25. Alignment with Management
  26. Available business tools
  27. Meet KPI’s
  28. Job performance
  29. Personal issues
  30. Conflict (customer and Interpersonal)
  31. Job Progression
  32. Training issues
  33. Capability
  34. Company Longevity
  35. Environmental changes
  36. Healthcare changes
  37. Increase self-service
  38. Other channels
  39. Commute
  40. Quality/Coaching
  41. Input and follow-up
  42. Keeping promises/commitment
  43. Are we measuring the right things?
  44. Pay
  45. Feel unimportant
  46. Lack of support
  47. Creativity in job
  48. Worry about things not changing
  49. Forgetting passwords (security issues)
  50. Adherence call duration
  51. Accuracy of information
  52. Empowerment
  53. Earn hours based on performance

Things Agent Worry About at Home:

  1. Children
  2. Money/Bills
  3. Spouse
  4. Schedule
  5. Job Security
  6. Work Life Balance
  7. Health
  8. Extended Family
  9. School Education/Job Education
  10. Second Job
  11. Savings
  12. Kids Activities
  13. Transportation
  14. Child Care
  15. Personal Interests
  16. Belonging/Diversity
  17. Company Security
  18. Outsourcing
  19. Home Repairs
  20. Pets
  21. Economy
  22. Appearance
  23. Friends/Relationships
  24. Spiritual Life
  25. Exercise/Fitness
  26. Healthy eating
  27. Time Off
  28. Safety
  29. Aging Parents
  30. Commute

Things Agents Worry About Regarding Their Future:

  1. Career Growth Opportunities
  2. Career Path
  3. Outsourcing
  4. Efficiency leading to job loss
  5. Increased complexity for same pay
  6. Constant learning
  7. “Better I Get….More Expected of Me”
  8. Ongoing dehumanization places
  9. Everything new is old from before
  10. Future of economy/business conditions
  11. Future investment in career development
  12. Slacking off……training goes slow
  13. Slow growth=Less opportunity
  14. Opportunity is Zero Sum
  15. Trust in Company’s vision for the future
  16. Pricing pressure on new work
  17. Limits on salary increases
  18. Retirement funding
  19. Is my Future Co. the one I work with today?

What we discovered through this activity is that there is a great deal of “noise” going on inside our agents’ brains.  So we asked, how does this effect customer service?  Gerald Weinberg, author of “Quality Software Management: Systems Thinking, proposed a rule of thumb to calculate the waste caused by project switching:

Even adding a single project to your workload is profoundly debilitating by Weinberg’s calculation. You lose 20% of your time. By the time you add a third project to the mix, nearly half your time is wasted in task switching.  This can be a problem even if you’re only working on a single project at any time. The impact of simply letting your email, phone, and instant messaging interrupt what you’re doing can be profound, as documented in a BBC study.  The study, carried out at the Institute of Psychiatry, found excessive use of technology reduced workers’ intelligence. Those distracted by incoming email and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ – more than twice that found in studies of the impact of smoking marijuana, said researchers.

Applying it to the Agent

The job of the agent is getting more complex (refer back to ‘things agents worry about at work’)  and agents bring many distractions to work with them (refer back to ‘things agents worry about regarding their future’ and ‘things agents worry about at home’)

When we combine the effects of distractions, multi-tasking and an ever-increasingly complex job (agent), the customer IS impacted.  Our research shows that when an agent is challenged the first thing “to go” are the soft skills – those skills that allow the agent to build rapport and loyalty with customers.

One of the ways to simplify the agent’s job is to use less metrics, not more metrics to measure their performance.  By aligning internal quality monitoring to the components most important to customers (identified through Voice of the Customer programs), we can minimize this “crush of information’ on agents.   (See Quality Monitoring Assessment for more details)

Open System VS a Closed System, what is a call center?

We defined that it’s an open system.  Call center folks need to be problem solvers, they need to be able to multi-task.  You would not need such characteristics in a closed system.  The true need in call center talent is creative type abilities, and that need is growing.  We looked at the traditional scorecards we use to manage both our centers and our people: Six Sigma, Lean, self-service, and reporting practices.  They are all closed system practices and measurements and can easily create toxic call center environments.  It’s no wonder that the number one dissatisfier amongst employees is closed system practices (which is the way we have been measuring for the lifetime of call centers.)  According to W. Edwards Deming, “workers are responsible for 10 to 20 percent of the quality problems, and that the remaining 80 to 90 percent is under management’s control.” As managers, we need to increase the quality for our employees.  We need more appropriate  measurement and practices for the open system that is our call centers and our employees.  But how?  We unveiled this later in the session.

Near the conclusion of our session, we uncovered that we as directors and managers of call centers need to ask ourselves and our agents the following  4 Vital Questions:

  1. How are we —as an organization— doing at representing our company to its customers?
  2. What can we— as an organization— do to improve?
  3. What can we— as a team— do to help you improve?
  4. How are you —as an individual agent— doing at representing our company to its customers?

Extrinsic VS Intrinsic Motivators

Before we wrapped up, we defined what these two types of motivators are:

  • Extrinsic motivators =  motivation that is driven by some external incentive; do this and get that or do that and get this
  • Intrinsic motivators = motivation that comes from inside an individual; I do it because I love it.

Research has proven that extrinsic motivators work well in closed operating systems and they do not, work in open operating systems.  We established that call centers are an open-system yet we use command and control type management systems.   In an open system we need to unlock workforce strength productivity and innovation by creating an environment where people motivate themselves. You can’t motivate people, people have to motivate themselves, you create the environment.  So to move beyond focusing on morale we need to set up a new business operating system.  A system that allows people to have:

  1. Perceived control
  2. Perceived Progress
  3. Relatedness
  4. Vision/Meaning

Because the session was so interactive, we did not get the chance to wrap up as planned.  Instead, we will leave what we did not get the chance to touch on, here in these notes.   We need to ask ourselves, “Why does all of this matter?”  Besides the facts of lower costs to operate and higher revenues. We are on the verge of a serious crisis. For more insights read the EDGE Report: A Review of the Post-Recession Job Market and the Towers Watson’s 2010 Global Workforce Study.  High Quality agents are few and going to become fewer. We will be left with very low skills and incompetence. Seeing that 65-80% of a call center budgets is tied to people. We need our human capital to perform at the highest levels and we need to retain our best.  We need to shake up the status quo of how we previously engaged our agents and develope new models to do so.  We hope this session and these notes will help you to make changes you need to retain your top performers.

Reading Suggestions 
  1.  50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology By: Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, Barry L. Beyerstein – John Wiley & Sons
  2.  The Recovery and Sustaining of the Human Element in Modern Organizations By: C. Stephen Byrum, Ph.D
  3.  What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There By: Marshall Goldsmith  and Mark Reiter
  4.  Kluge By: Gary Marcus
  5.  Mindset By: Carol S. Dweck
  6.  Nudge By: Richard Thaler and Cass R Sunstein
  7.  Sway By: Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman
  8.  Predictably Irrational By: Dan Ariely

About Jim Rembach

Jim Rembach is a panel expert with the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) and an SVP for Customer Relationship Metrics (CRM). Jim spent many years in contact center operations and leverages this to help others. He is a certified Emotional Intelligence (EQ) practitioner and frequently quoted industry expert. Call Jim at 336-288-8226 if you need help with customer-centric enhancements.

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By | 2016-12-05T15:15:24+00:00 April 26th, 2010|Call Center Agents, For Internal Relationships|0 Comments