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What to look for when you hire a new Contact Centre Manager

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this article I share what to look for when you hire a new Contact Centre Manager.

Our scenario – you need to hire a new Contact Centre Manager

Let’s say you’re the new Chief Customer Officer and you need to hire a new inbound Contact Centre Manager for your existing 200 seat Centre.  You’ve been given a mandate to implement a CX strategy and you have a small CX Team at hand.

You don’t come from the Contact Centre industry yourself.  But as a CX professional you understand the value of the Contact Centre.

Your overall business is in good financial shape though the Centre has been somewhat neglected for the past few years.  And tech-wise the Centre has the basic building blocks though there’s room for improvement.

You’ve learned from past experience that the number of years of experience held by the Contact Centre Manager doesn’t correlate to mastery of the job role.  You need someone who ‘knows’ the Contact Centre – not just someone who has spent a lot of time in one.

So the essential question is this – what do you look for when you hire a new Contact Centre Manager?

 

The key domains of know-how required

The job of a Contact Centre Manager is a rich and full one.  And that’s because there’s a lot to know to succeed.

I recommend the following key domains of know-how when looking to hire a new Contact Centre Manager.  Or when you’re looking to upskill a current Manager or Management Team.

1.  Operations & Technology

Includes Centre design, forecasting the workload, calculating staff and resource requirements, selecting the right metrics and ways to measure those metrics, understanding the interrelationships between metrics, understanding the underlying dynamics of the Centre, channel management and the ability to articulate the impact of business decisions on the operation.

In this domain I’d include essential & evolving technology knowledge.  That’s because of the significant impact any technology choice has on the operation with cascading impact on Customers, Employees & the Organization itself.

When I’m asked which domain should come first in the hierarchy I always recommend Operations.  That’s because so much of what happens in a Centre, from how people are managed through to how Customers experience the Centre, flows from strong operations management practices.

How to use the True Calls per Hour Calculation in the Contact Centre

2.  People Management (or the broader ‘Employee Experience’ if you prefer)

This domain includes organizational design, strategic resource planning, hiring & selection, retention & attrition management, training & development, performance management, compensation & incentive strategies, coaching and employee engagement, satisfaction & motivation, career & skills pathing and succession planning.

In this domain, I’d specifically include the design and implementation of the monitoring & coaching process.

For organizations that are evolving into Employee Experience – a big topic today – I’d recommend adding those competencies to this domain.

3.  Leadership & Business Management

From a leadership perspective, this domain includes competencies around the vision, the mission, values (or principles) and development & execution of strategy in the Centre.  It also includes how to build healthy cross-functional relationships and put the Centre front and center on the organizational radar screen.

From a business management perspective, this domain includes the ability to make credible business cases, calculate Contact Centre budgets, calculate ROI and understand change management project management.  I’d add that it’s vital that the Contact Centre Management bring strong financial and analytical skills to the job role.

In my experience, very few Centre Managers have a strong grasp of how to correctly calculate a Contact Centre budget.

If I were conducting a hiring exercise for a Contact Centre Manager I’d ask the candidate to walk me through how they budget for a Centre.  You’ll learn a lot about how much they know (or don’t know) about a Contact Centre operation.

4.  Service Management 

Service Management is the art & science of delivering value to Customers through any channel or combination of channels.  Often times the Contact Centre is at the heart of the Service Management function.

Service Management includes know-how around developing and implementing a Service Delivery Vision, the selection & definition of relevant Quality standards, Quality assurance practices, Customer research practices including service monitoring, Customer communication strategies and the nurturing of a service culture.

And of course it includes a strong & practical understanding of the specific service and relevant sales skills for each channel in use.

The skills for handling a Customer email are different than those for handling a Customer live chat for example.  Omnichannel service requires a different approach than multi-channel service.

And yes – your ever evolving mastery of what are commonly called ‘digital’ channels goes here as well.  That incorporates chat, messaging and to some degree even chatbots as there should be a solid bridge between chatbot-assisted and Agent-assisted service.

I think some folks confuse Service Management with Customer Experience Management.

Service Management very specifically relates to Customer interactions with the brand.  It’s a subset of the overall Customer Experience.

Customer Experience includes product, pricing and every single aspect of the organization from the way the bill looks to how fresh the chicken is in the restaurant.   It’s so much more than a call to the Contact Centre.

With that said, let’s look at the last domain of know-how – Customer Experience Management.

What I learned running 60 classes on CX values and Culture for one Client

 

5.  Customer Experience Management 

There is a ‘real’ Customer Experience Manager job role out there.

And the Contact Centre Manager role is not that role.

The Contact Centre Manager job role – by its very nature – only involves some subset of all Customers (never all Customers), at some point of time (not all points in time) in that specific Customer journey (not all Customer journeys).

If it was really true that the Contact Centre Manager job = the Customer Experience Manager job then why not rebrand every Customer Experience Manager as a Contact Centre Manager?

Because that’s what’s implied. It would have to work both ways to be true.

So you honour the Contact Centre profession when you keep the phrase Contact Centre in your job title. Not when you decide to jump on the rebranding of everything as CX bandwagon.

Sure – the Contact Centre has impact on those Customers who experience that touchpoint. But it’s not the same thing as the perception the Customer has of the entirety of their experience with your brand.

Once you get that – and master your understanding of and contribution to the overall CX – you become a better Contact Centre Manager.

So after that big build up, what does the Contact Centre Manager need to know about CX?  From my perspective, the more the better.

But we need to be careful here.

While having our Contact Centre Manager understand CX as a business discipline is important and helpful to our CX efforts, let’s remember the Contact Centre Manager already has a full-time job.

Just relook at domains of know-how we covered so far.

So it’s likely that much of the actual ‘work’ of CX will be done by the CX Team.

That’s because the CX Team is in the best position to handle activities like VOC research, developing the CX strategy, cross-functional journey mapping. implementing organizational accountability measures and the like.

The CX Team has a higher elevation across functions as well as a broader mandate.

I think that in real life, the Contact Centre Manager has a lot to learn from the Customer Experience Manager with regard to CX.

And I think that the Customer Experience Manager has a lot to learn from the Contact Centre Manager as well.  The Customer Experience Manager will benefit from the rich experience, know-how and Customer insight residing in the Contact Centre.

Ultimately, both roles will work closely together for the benefit of the Centre and the Organization.

CX lessons we can learn from the Contact Centre industry

You don’t have a CX Team?  I see that all the time.

Then it’s likely that you have a ‘Service Quality Team’ or variation.  As is implied in the name, a Service Quality Team tends to focus on service – including research and analytics, high level complaint management and targeted improvement efforts across the organization.

But again – avoid confusing a Service Quality Team with a Customer Experience Team.  The mandate and activities are different – as well as the scope of authority.

For Contact Centre Managers (or anyone) that wants to develop competency in Customer Experience – I recommend the CXPA 6 Competency Framework as a basis.

In that framework, the essential domains of knowledge for CX are CX Strategy, Voice of Customer, Experience Design, CX Metrics & Measurements, Governance and Customer-Centric Culture.

To those domains I add Maturity Analysis & Implementation Strategy as well because I think that’s important.

10 CCXP Exam Practice Questions for Customer Experience Strategy

 

Of course there’s more to consider

Of course when you’re selecting your Contact Centre Manager you will also look at their past track record of success and their ‘characteristics’.  Such as how well they seem to ‘fit’ your culture.

But know-how is an obvious and critical component in the selection process.  And it often takes a backseat to how much ‘experience’ the candidate has.  That’s definitely the wrong way to go.

The key to success will always be KNOW-HOW + EXPERIENCE with DEMONSTRABLE SUCCESS.

 

In closing

I hope this article has been helpful.  It’s a big nut to chew on for sure.  And each heading and domain could be an article or set of articles on its own.

But I hope the high level overview is useful for you.

Thank you for reading!

Daniel

With one foot planted solidly in the Contact Centre industry (29 years!) and the other foot firmly planted in the CX industry I have the ability to connect the dots for people in the Contact Centre that want to understand CX and for folks in CX who want to understand the Contact Centre.

I’m one of 6 Trainers in the world designated as a Recognized Training Provider by the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) and I help people learn more about CX and prepare for their CCXP Exam.

daniel.ord@omnitouchinternational.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to use the True Calls per Hour Calculation in the Contact Centre

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this article I share how to use the True Calls per Hour calculation in the Contact Centre.

When you hear folks talk about Contact Centre productivity they’re usually talking about the Agents

Usually when we hear people talk about productivity they have their finger pointed firmly in the direction of their Agents.

“How can we get our Agents to be more productive?” they ask.

When we ask “What do you mean by productivity?” the most common answer is –

“How can we get the Agents to handle more calls or live chats per hour (day/week)?”

But Quantity Handled per Agent is and always has been a problematic measure

Productivity in a Contact Centre is not about how many calls or chats are handled.

This measure for Service Level based contacts has always been problematic.

There are very real mathematical realities at work that put the number of calls or chats handled outside the direct control of the Agent.  

When you stop and look at it, the key factors that drive contact quantity either up (or down) per Agent include:

  • The Service Level set (and its resulting Occupancy rate)
  • The health of the Forecasting, Staffing, Scheduling & Real Time Management process at the interval level
  • The size of the Queue  at any given time (known as the Pooling Principle)
  • The undeniable mathematics of random contact arrival (which is why we have Erlang C)

What you need to know about the Pooling Principle in Contact Centers

For Centres that have sorted this out and no longer target Agents on quantity handled – congratulations.

You’re well on the way to enhancing Agent and Customer Experience.

But let’s pause a moment.

Ok Dan (you might say).  Got it.  We don’t (or won’t) target Agents on Quantity Handled for Service level based contacts.  

But for planning, comparative and high level management purposes, is there some way we can analyze the quantity handled across different shifts, cities and even countries?

Well I’m glad you asked.  There is.

Let me show you how.

 

The True Pizzas per Hour calculation

When I teach this in workshops, I like to use the example of making pizzas in a Pizza Outlet.

See if you can answer the question posed in the picture below for our fictional Pizza Palace company.

What makes this difficult to answer is that our Delhi outlet is ‘busier’ than our Chennai outlet.

Perhaps our Delhi outlet is located on the ground level of a busy mall while our Chennai outlet is a bit off the beaten track in a low traffic area.

But we can’t possibly hold Prachi or Sangeetha accountable for how busy (or not) their outlets were – they’re not in the Sales & Marketing Team.

They were hired to make pizzas.

Got your answer?

Ok – let me show you how we ‘normalize’ the figures:

In order to correctly compare both Prachi and Sangeetha, you take what they actually ‘did’ (in this case how many pizzas they made) and divide that by the Occupancy rate they experienced at that time.

Once you normalize the data as you see above, we can calculate the ‘rate’ at which both of these people are working.

The use of the word ‘rate’ is important (think of a speedometer telling you your rate of speed).

Prachi is working at the rate/speed of 25.3 pizzas per hour.  (In other words if her Occupancy rate had been 100% this is how many she would have made).

Sangeetha is working at the rate/speed of 28.3 pizzas per hour. (In other words if her Occupancy rate had been 100% this is how many she would have made).

So now we can compare both of our pizza makers on the same basis because we have factored out the impact of the different Occupancy rates.

But could we have a problem?

Absolutely!

Typically at this point in the discussion the topic of ‘Quality’ comes into the picture – hurray Quality!

What we don’t know (or haven’t figured out) yet

What we don’t know in this exercise (at least so far) is the appropriate or best ‘rate’ at which we should be making pizzas.

What is the ‘right’ rate that yields a delicious pizza. Because we want Customers to come back again!

And because higher isn’t always better. (that had to be said)

Studies must be done

Fast food companies are well known for doing very scientific time & motion studies on how many can be ‘done’ and still deliver the required level of quality.

Contact Centres could learn from their example.

It is very likely that Pizza Palace has conducted in depth time and motion studies.

For purposes of this article let’s assume that they discovered that a pizza maker operating at the rate of 22 – 25 pizzas per hour during the lunch hour was  ‘in the zone’.

By in the zone they mean that quality standards were achieved without any obvious loss or potential gain in productivity.

Now we can draw some conclusions about our pizza makers in the example.

Prachi is probably ‘doing fine’ – she’s operating at the upper end of the zone.  But we should still taste her pizza now and then for quality assurance purposes (otherwise known as monitoring).

On the other hand, Sangeetha is operating outside of the zone – on the high side.  We better go monitor her pizza to ensure quality hasn’t been compromised in some way.

Of course, if someone is ‘too fast’ it could be that a) they are in fact working too fast (and thus Quality falls – such as the taste of the pizza) or b) they could have made some kind of process or quality innovation that should be studied and replicated.

 

In the best Contact Centres…

In the best Contact Centres they don’t target Agents individually on the quantity of contacts handled (for Service Level based contacts – that caveat must always be there).

But when they want to do comparative quantity analyses they use the same normalization technique we used for pizzas.

Some of the conclusions I’ve seen Clients come up with using normalization include:

  • We know for Ireland/Germany/Singapore (name your market or city) that on a Saturday afternoon shift the right ‘rate’ of call handling that delivers on quality is about 12 – 15 calls per hour  (remember rates will vary across the course of a day)
  • We know that our night shift Team calls per hour achievement will always be lower than our day shift Team calls per hour achievement
  • We know that our calls per hour rate for Japan will always be lower than our calls per hour rate for India
  • We know that if we see variations in the rate we need to explore the underlying reasons (root cause analysis) and not just blame Agents. .

Notice that none of these learnings had to do with targeting individual Agent calls handled.

I mean come on – if you want an Agent to handle a lot of calls all you have to do is understaff.

But that decision comes with a whole host of disasters and that’s why most Centres don’t intentionally understaff even when they know it would raise the actual call handling rate of each Agent.

These examples have everything to do with high level planning and analysis.

Why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?

In conclusion

If you seek to compare the ‘rate’ of contact handling for different times of day, for different shifts, for different cities or countries – an educated implementation and use of ‘True Calls per Hour’ can help.  This applies to Service Level based contacts only!

If in some way ‘quantity’ matters to you – for example the quantity of closures made per Agent or Team – then normalization works well because you’ve factored out the impact of Occupancy variations.

Simply targeting people to achieve a certain number of ‘closes’ is unfair – in the same way that targeting the number of calls or live chats per person is unfair.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel

I’ll be presenting my Keynote speech at the Customer & User Experience Expo in London

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

I’ll be presenting my Keynote speech – What kind of experience does your Contact Centre deliver? – at the Customer & User Experience Expo in London next week.

More than 5,000 Customer engagement professionals are expected to descend on ExCel London (the ExCel Exhibition Centre) for the Expo, Europe’s largest Customer experience event of the year.

I look forward to meeting & engaging with those making the trek to London!

I’ve put the details for the Exhibition at the end of this short post.

So what will I talk about?

Over the years I’ve managed many Contact Centre based Mystery Shopper programs.  And my responsibility in these programs was to advise management how to improve the quality of the experience they delivered to their Customers.

In this Keynote speech I’m going to share stories from my work with Universal Studios, the Singapore Government and an award winning hotel to help Contact Centre folks

  • Proactively define the type of service ‘we deliver around here’
  • Understand and use the 3 key inputs to select Performance standards for quality conversation
  • Consider a measurement approach that addresses the needs of Customers today

I’ll also share some rather hilarious (and real life) examples of quality standards gone wrong.  Because sometimes it’s not just what to do – it’s what not to do.

I’ll close the session with a list of tips to help your Centre deliver a better Customer experience.

I guarantee a few laughs – and real life stories & examples are always the best.  You’ll love the story about Kung Fu Panda and also the 12 Teeth.

 

Exhibition details

  • Wednesday, 27 March, and Thursday, 28 March, 10:00 a.m.– 5:00 p.m.
  • ExCel Exhibition Centre, Sandstone Lane, London
  • http://www.cu-experienceshow.co.uk/
  • I speak on the 28th at 11:00AM and again at 2:45PM at the designate Keynote Theatre

See you in London next week!

Daniel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to help your Contact Centre Team Leaders do better

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this article I share some ideas on how to help your Contact Centre Team Leaders do better.

Common barriers to Team Leader success

The Contact Centre Team Leader has arguably the most important job in a Contact Centre.  Their actions or inactions directly impact productivity, quality & culture.

But the cards tend to be stacked against their success.

Why?

As with any Pareto scenario, I think a few reasons account for most of the challenge:

  1. Senior Leadership sets or pursues the wrong KPIs
  2. Team Leaders are always busy but don’t know how to allocate their time to achieve results
  3. What made someone a great Agent doesn’t readily translate to making them a great Team Leader
  4. The job role requires endless conversations – but they don’t happen often enough or well enough
  5. There’s a fundamental lack of structured know-how for the Team Leader to draw on to make decisions

The mix and relative impact of these barriers varies from Centre to Centre.

So let’s look at each barrier along with some related suggestions.

 

1. Senior leadership sets or pursues the wrong KPIs

I see this challenge all over the world.  A lack of essential Operations know-how.

Chasing incorrect KPIs or KPIs that actually compete with each other.

The only way to close this gap is to ensure that the senior leadership in charge of the Centre has expressly mastered Contact Centre operations.  That most often happens through participation in formal external workshops or certification programs.

Don’t count on experience alone.  I hear that all the time as in “She’s an experienced Contact Centre Manager.”

Experience matters.  But success requires experience + know-how.

One Client I worked with globally established an in-house ‘certification program’ after adopting the various principles and practices learned via external training.  Their in-house certification ensures that what they learned about operations gets codified into their business practices across dozens of Centres.

Delivering on Productivity, Quality & Culture is the big part of the Team Leader job.

So it’s important that Centre leadership be clued in to how Centres ‘work’ and how to define and set appropriate Productivity and Quality measures for Frontliners & Team Leaders.

That’s not always the case.

How to help your Contact Centre Agents improve their Performance

 

2.  Team Leaders are always busy – but busy doing what?

I remember in my VP Operations days I had a Team Leader come into my office.

“Dan, I’m so busy…”  so I asked “OK, busy doing what?”

We then set about finding out the answer to this question – busy doing what?

To this day one of my favorite exercises in a room of Team Leaders is to conduct a time & motion study – across a typical week – of where their time goes.

The 5 Categories of the Team Leader job role

When I conduct a formal Team Leader time & motion study, I use 5 different categories to categorize and then analyze where their time goes.

  • Developing their staff
  • Supporting their staff
  • Doing administrative & management work
  • Developing themselves
  • Other roles such as taking on the role of committee head

I ask each Team Leader to consider everything they do, estimate a weekly time spent on each activity and then slot each activity into one of the 5 categories.

Then we sum up the time for each category and share the results on a whiteboard for everyone to see.

When you talk to Team Leaders (and their Managers) they all say that they spend a lot of time developing their staff – coaching, performance appraisals, developmental conversations.

But when the numbers are laid out – Team Leader by Team Leader in black and white – that’s not usually how it plays out.

What the results tell us

I’ve had time & motion sessions where we learned that nearly 50% of Team Leader time spent was spent on administrative & management work.   Is all this admin work really valuable?  Could some it be redesigned, reassigned or even eliminated?  I worry about turning Team Leaders into admins.

When it comes to personal development I tend to see 0% of Team Leader time spent in a typical week.  You can shout lifelong learning from the rooftops all day – but check out how many hours in a typical week your Team Leaders really learn something.   It’s an eye opener.

Another common opportunity that pops up is to help Team Leaders figure out if they’re offering too much Staff support. 

My definition of Staff support is helping the Frontliners to do their job.

Handling too many escalations or fielding the same questions over and over means the Team Leader is doing the Agent job for them.  And that takes away the Team Leader’s time for Staff development.

Sure – Staff support will always be intrinsic to the job.

But time invested in Staff support – over and above a tolerable minimum – isn’t going to move the Team forward.

Another interesting trend has popped out during these time & motion sessions.

Sometimes, when Staff development hours look low, we uncover that Team Leaders avoid having developmental conversations with their staff.

Not because they don’t see them as important.  But because they lack the self-confidence to coach or have those important people management discussions.

That can be addressed.

When you coach you’re either helping or keeping score

3.  Great performance as an Agent doesn’t readily translate into great performance as a Team Leader

It’s an irony of the Contact Centre ecosystem that the knowledge, skills & attitudes of a great Agent don’t readily translate into the knowledge, skills & attitudes required of a great Team Leader.

If you consider that the job of a former great Agent is to replicate their personal success across other people you can see what they need to know and be able to do is quite different than before.  Their job role becomes about ‘them’ – not about ‘me’ anymore.

There’s also a bit of psychology at play here as well.

We all like to do what we’re good at.

So sometimes the new Team Leader spends an inordinate amount of time handling escalations and engaging in Staff support – because that’s where their formery mastery lay.

Defusing angry Customers and using their product, systems and organizational know-how.

But as we covered earlier, Staff support – though an intrinsic part of the job role – doesn’t move the performance dial forward.

So evaluate your Team Leader hiring criteria on what it takes to be a great Team Leader.  Not on the fact that this candidate was a great Agent.

When I’m hiring for Team Leaders I always ask myself these questions:

1.  What are the specific competencies across knowledge, skills & attitudes I need from a new Team Leader hire?  And what are the minimum existing levels of each competency to be considered for hiring?  I have to be realistic here because – at hiring – nearly no one will come with all the competencies expected nor at the levels expected for a professional Team Leader.

2.  What is my defined developmental roadmap to raise my Team Leader competency levels  – across the identified competencies – to expectation within the next 6 months or year? 

I think a lot of Contact Centres struggle with this.

There seems to be an assumption that the Team Leader can just somehow pick this all up on the job.

Or perhaps it’s inertia – doing nothing is just easier than doing something.  Hope as a strategy.  I’ve been guilty of that one.

One common scenario involves corporate learning & development departments.

Contact Centres are unique and specialized environments.  Trying to graft generic service or people management or leadership training onto the Contact Centre delivers mixed results at best.  Because it’s not specific enough to the environment in which these Team Leaders operate.

More on competencies soon.

Funny things Contact Centre Managers ask their Agents to do

 

4.  Team Leaders need to have lots of great conversations

If the Agent job role is to have great conversations with Customers, then the Team Leader job role is about having great conversations with the folks that they lead.

What kinds of conversations?  Wow – there are a lot – but they can be learned.

I like to cover them in people management & coaching courses.

Here is a list conversations that are specific to the Contact Centre environment and which are most often conducted by Team Leaders:

  • Praise
  • Gratitude
  • Something ‘good’
  • Something ‘not so good’
  • It’s not getting any better
  • Transaction coaching
  • Performance appraisal
  • Team reviews
  • One on one reviews
  • Boss as Leader
  • Boss as Person
  • Boss as Manager
  • Things you don’t talk about (the un-conversation)

Each of these conversations is triggered by an event or is pre-planned into a calendar.  For example Team & One on one reviews and many coaching sessions tend to be pre-scheduled while Praise or Something Good conversations happen when the Team Leader either observes something or learns about something.

As you might have figured out – most of these conversations fall into the Staff development category we covered earlier in this article.

But when Team Leaders are ‘too busy’ – the first category that gets ‘cut’ is Staff development.  Exactly the category which typically needs more time spent – not less.

How Team Leaders can talk like Leaders

 

5. Team Leader know-how

The Contact Centre environment is complex.

I think that’s why folks like me – who fall into it by accident –  end up making the Contact Centre and Customer Experience, a life’s passion.  There’s only ever more to learn and it’s super interesting stuff.

It’s not easy.  But Tom Hanks says that it’s ‘the hard that makes it great’.

If you want to equip your Team Leaders to succeed you need to consider equipping them with know-how across these domains:

  • Contact Centre Operations – there’s simply no excuse not to equip Team Leaders with operations mastery
  • Monitoring & Coaching – this process is key to driving Quality, FCR, Employee Engagement, Customer Satisfaction and CX strategies
  • Leadership & Engagement – what does leadership look like as a Team Leader?  How can a Team Leader use proven engagement models in their Centre?
  • People Management – for me this is about having those great conversations with the people who work for you at the right times and in the right way
  • Customer Experience – if your Centre promotes itself as fulfilling the ‘Customer Experience’ your folks deserve training on what it is (and it’s not Customer Service)
  • Self-Management – stress management, personal fulfillment, working through change – these are life skills

When your Team Leader is able to bring out the best Productivity, Quality & Qttitudes of the folks that work for them that translates into better results all the way around for you.

Thank you for reading!

Contact Centre KPIs & The Green Jaguar

Daniel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever happened to First Contact Resolution?

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this short article I consider this question – whatever happened to First Contact Resolution?

Last week I was judging Contact Centres

Last week I chaired a panel of Judges for a number of Contact Centre Awards entries.

One of the Judges on our panel asked several of the entrants –

“So how do you measure your First Contact Resolution rate?” or

“Based on the initiative you’ve shared, what were there changes to your First Contact Resolution rate?”

So that got me to thinking – is First Contact Resolution – or ‘FCR’ – still relevant in today’s Contact Centre?

 

First Contact Resolution is a multivitamin KPI

When I teach Operations I suggest Participants look at First Contact Resolution as a multivitamin KPI.

That’s because it does a few things for you.

FCR helps you to:

  • Improve Customer Satisfaction (through reduction of Customer effort)
  • Reduce cost (through reduction in unnecessary repeat contact volume)
  • Improve future Service Level (through reduction in unnecessary repeat contact volume)

No wonder FCR is referred to with such reverence in the Contact Centre industry.

 

But it’s always been hard to measure

I’ve seen First Contact Resolution formulas out there that would put Einstein’s formulas to shame.

They’re complex and require a lot of internal communication to understand and apply.

So, it’s worth considering why that’s so.

Everyone gets the general idea around FCR.  Assist the Customer to the degree that they won’t need to contact you again.  It sounds easy.

But the practical application is more complex, in part because there’s no industry standard for how to measure FCR.

Push-button KPIs

Many Contact Centre KPIs are push-button KPIs.  Push the button and you get your result.

Push the button and get your Service Level.

Push the button and you get your AHT.

Push the button and get the Occupancy rate.

You get the general idea.

But there’s no button to press for FCR.  It falls into the category best called ‘assembly-required KPIs’.

Think of some other assembly-required KPIs for a moment.

Employee Engagement, Customer Satisfaction, Turnover Analysis are all good examples.  To get at the data for these KPIs you can’t just push a button.

Getting at assembly-required KPIs requires you to design & implement a solid methodology for data collection & analysis.

Common data sources for First Contact Resolution

When it comes to FCR data collection, the most common sources are to:

  • Allow Agents to rate their own performance (not really recommended for obvious reasons)
  • Ask Quality Assurance folks to weigh in on FCR when they do their evaluations (this can be powerful and more on this soon)
  • Survey Customers and ask them if their need was met (but aren’t Customers getting tired of getting surveyed and is this the right question to ask?)
  • Run scans across the CRM system to see if a single Customer record shows multiple contacts for the same ‘reason’ within X time frame (based on business assumptions)
  • Use operational data (when the nature of the interaction is very transactional such as tracking shipments)

And because there are pros & cons to each data source, you choose multiple data sources, assign a weightage to each one and assemble the results together to get an outcome.  The purpose of blending different sources together is to alleviate the inherent advantages & disadvantages of each individual source.

I think of it like making a stew.

You have to select a variety of ingredients, throw them into a pot in the appropriate ratios, stir well and season to taste.

It’s a robust but complex process.

 

So how can we address some of this complexity?

It helps to remember that FCR is ultimately a measure of quality.

Sure – FCR helps reduce unnecessary repeat contacts – and that’s cool.

But at its heart Centres pursue FCR to help Agents create great conversations with Customers.

Conversations that address spoken and unspoken needs – not just deliver transactional answer-based service.

So with that direction in mind, how can we improve our FCR delivery while mitigating the complexity inherent in assembly-required KPIs?

 

Define what First Contact Resolution looks like for each of your Top 10 enquiry types

Every inbound Centre has a Top 10.   The Top 10 ‘reasons’ a Customer contacts you.

While your Top 10 changes over time, these enquiries easily represent 60% – 80% of your monthly contact volume (excluding one-off events of course).

So rather than looking for a magical or ‘industry standard’ FCR rate, take your FCR magnifying glass down to the enquiry type level.

For example, if your Enquiry Type #1 = Questions on room rates you’d sit down with a small group of folks and consider what FCR can and would look like.

What has to be conveyed, whether explicitly asked for or not, in that conversation.

But be careful.

Except for highly transactional enquiries you can’t rely exclusively on your internal determination of what FCR would look like.  You’re going to have to consider FCR from the Customer perspective as well.

And here I always suggest you do some qualitative research.

Bring in some real Customers.  Buy them lunch.

Ask them about their needs, expectations & wants (both expressed and unexpressed) when they ask about room rates.

I don’t see how we can talk about Customer-centricity without actually talking to real Customers face to face.

There seems to a tremendous amount of fear or skepticism or just plain lack of know-how around qualitative research.  That’s an article for another day.

Remember that if you pursue this Top 10 approach – your monthly FCR will fluctuate over time – in part due to changes in the enquiry mix.

For example, if in Month 2 – as compared to Month 1 – you got more volume for an enquiry type where FCR is ‘easy’ to achieve – that will weight up your overall FCR rate in Month 2.  You can’t simply assume this as an improvement in Agent performance – which is what folks tend to believe when they see FCR rates inch upwards.

So the key here is to be able to articulate why overall FCR rates change from month to month – was it a change in enquiry mix, a one-off event that weighted results up or down or did Agent Quality improve or decrease.  These are all potential factors.

By the way – it’s good to know that if your FCR rate is consistently high (let’s say high 80’s and 90s) that could be a sign of a poor self service strategy.  Why are Agents getting such simple enquiries which naturally lend themselves to a higher FCR rate?

That’s why I always smile (and grimace) inside when I hear a Centre say that their FCR rate is in the 90 percentile range.  That’s almost always bad from a self service strategy perspective.

As Centres shift the simpler enquiries to self service you see FCR rates naturally decline overall.

 

Accept that not every enquiry type might ‘qualify’ for First Contact Resolution

By the way – it may turn out the some of your Top 10 can’t be FCR for some reason.  That happens.

But in these cases I ask myself what has to be conveyed or gathered in that conversation to make the ensuing process as effective as possible – even when the overarching goal of FCR can’t be achieved from the Customer’s perspective.

Earlier this year a Contact Centre Manager from a travel company told me that FCR is a mindset and that mindset training would be enough to raise their FCR rate.

But I disagreed.

Yes – having a vision for FCR and putting it front and centre in your Agent’s performance basket matters.  But it’s not enough.

You’re going to have to get a bit more granular – and the Top 10 approach is a practical way to do that.

 

Ask yourself – does my current metrics system align to First Contact Resolution?

Contact Centres are important touchpoints within an organization.  But sometimes that very (self) importance leads to decisions which are good for the Centre but not necessarily good for the Customer.

Let me explain what I mean from a metrics perspective first.

If your Centre focuses heavily on Average Handling Time (AHT) as an Agent efficiency metric or on # of calls produced by the Agents you’re not really considering the Customer journey – you’re looking at what’s good for you.  Short call = lower cost (goes the reasoning).

That’s a touchpoint perspective.

FCR by its nature implies that we take the time needed to get the job done.  To provide the Customer with what they should know – whether explicitly asked for or not.

I’ve written extensively on Average Handling Time but for purposes of this article – if due to your Centre’s metrics perspective your Agent is more focused on quantity or time taken, it’s quality that takes the hit – and that includes  a hit to FCR.

Don’t get me wrong – cost efficiency is great.  But every financial model I’ve worked shows that reduction in future unnecessary contacts saves more $$ overall than trying to shave 30 seconds off current calls.

Why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?

 

Customers think in Journeys – not in Touchpoints

McKinsey writes that Customers think in journeys – not in touchpoints.

There’s a beginning, a middle and an end to a journey.  Some journeys go from start to finish and never touch the Contact Centre.

For other journeys the Contact Centre is a key participant – and important to the Customer’s overall perception.

In Service Design you learn that the various touchpoints need to work in harmony together – to avoid dissonance or distress.  So it makes sense to evaluate the harmony across the journey – not just look at what happens ‘inside’ the Centre.

 

Have your Agents been trained on Customer journeys?

I don’t mean journey mapping – that’s not needed at the Agent or Team Leader level.

I’m talking about sharing the motivations and experiences that led to the Customer contacting the Centre.  What was their mood, what was their ‘job to be done’ – what was the role of the Centre in helping the Customer achieve their goals?

On the other side of the interaction – where will the Customer go next in their journey?  Is there some way we can help them accomplish that better?  What can the Centre bring to the table to deliver a standout role in the Customer journey.

When I do Frontline training I often ask – “Do you know what your music on hold is?” or “Have you experienced your own IVR?  Your own Delay Announcements?”.

Because the Contact Centre Customer Experience doesn’t begin when you start talking (or typing).  It begins earlier upstream.  When the Customer begins to think and feel that they have to contact you.

Nine times out 10 the Agents hadn’t spent time studying the Contact Centre journey – much less the Customer journey.

I think this represents a real opportunity for training and discussion at the Agent & Team Leader level.

 

Should you pursue First Contact Resolution?

My personal belief system around First Contact Resolution is this.

It doesn’t make sense to implement an elective process where the costs and effort of the process aren’t outweighed by the benefits delivered by the process.

If you can prove out that your complex but solid methodology to get at metric-oriented FCR is yielding dividends – then by all means go for it.  Just keep Quality as your North Start for putting together your FCR program – it should always be aligned to what the Customer would say.

So I’m never surprised or judgemental when I meet Centres that don’t specifically measure FCR.  That puts me into the minority I think.

Lately I’ve seen some Centres take a less metric driven approach to FCR that I admire.  It’s also been quite effective for them.

They build the concept of FCR into their Service Vision & Principles.

If you haven’t heard of a Service Vision or Service Principles, they’re essentially a set of statements that answer the question – “What kind of service do we deliver around here?”

For example, if one of their Service Principles is ‘to be helpful’ – they consider all the ways they can be helpful to Customers (and each other) across their various interactions.  The successful behaviours  that enable ‘being helpful’ become codified across the Centre.  Culturally ingrained.

And the use of the Top 10 enquiry type approach works wonderfully here.

Measurement-wise – the use and impact of  these helpful behaviours are picked up in the normal Contact Centre monitoring processes through Quality Assurance, Team Leaders, Mystery Shopper providers and the like.

3 Suggestions for Contact Centre Leaders to transform into Customer Experience Leaders in 2019

In closing

I think FCR still has relevance in today’s Contact Centre.  That’s simply because it has to do with making Customers lives better through letting them know all that they need to know to achieve their goals.

And I think there are alternative ways to achieve the multivitamin benefits inherent in FCR.

If you can prove that your robust FCR measurement system yields results then well done – and keep it up.

But if robust measurement systems are a bit out of reach for your Centre, driving FCR-style behaviour through your Culture & Quality program is a viable alternative as well.  Service Visions & Service Principles are relevant for every Centre.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel

 

 

When good people follow bad Contact Centre process – a story

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this short article I look at an example of how otherwise ‘good’ people follow bad Contact Centre process.

Sitting around our workshop table, one of the Participants – a former Contact Centre Agent from a Philippines-based BPO – shared.

“Dan – it starts like this.

QA walks over to our station and while we’re talking to a Customer they give us the time out sign.  That’s their signal telling us to wrap the call up quickly so they can conduct our side by side coaching session.

That time out sign approach is a little off-putting but you have no choice but to get used to it.  

After they settle in and connect their headset to our phone, they pull out a scorecard.  

And as I log back into the system and receive my next call, they quietly mark their paper while I’m talking.  

When the call is done, I log back out and they talk me through each tick-box they made.

Mostly I just hope that my score is a ‘pass’ because if it isn’t, they can just go on and on about my mistakes. 

So of course while they’re sitting next to me I do everything in my power to achieve a pass.

I never knew that there were ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to do side by side monitoring.  Your course is the first time I heard this.

I only have my own experience to go by.  And it wasn’t a good one.”

There’s a lot that’s wrong in that story

At this point in our workshop, when the story gets shared, we’re talking about the power of the side by side method for monitoring & coaching.

The relationship building, the power of personal connection – the time to build trust.  The opportunity to make the time to spend with the people who work for you.

But in the many years I’ve taught this method – admittedly one of my favorites – I find that very few either practice it (we have no time!) or they practice it in a way that damages the relationship – not strengthens it.

There are a few things wrong in this story – and practices like these are more common than you’d think.

  • Using hand signals to summon people is rude – these should be reserved for animals – not human beings
  • Using a scorecard at a side by side session makes no sense – talk about frightening
  • Everyone’s faking it here – especially the Agent who is put in a no-win situation
  • The entire point of helping someone do ‘better’ has been lost
  • The focus on what went ‘wrong’

But the QA person in this story isn’t the villain

It’s easy to say – oh – the QA person you’re describing is the singular villain in this story.

But you’d be wrong in most cases.  Because what happens is this.

Good people readily conform to and carry out bad processes.

To ‘fit in’, to ‘get the job done’ to ‘show they’ve got the stuff’ for advancement & promotion.

And to be fair –  it may be the only way they know because that’s all they’ve ever experienced or been taught.  I see this a lot in the Contact Centre industry.

Even former Agents – who disliked everything we’ve just talked about – will readily jump in the saddle and carry on a legacy process that’s broken.

The villain in this story is the bad Contact Centre process.  In this case around side by side monitoring & coaching.

 

It’s not so great from a values perspective either

As a side observation to this story there’s an impact on ‘culture’ here too.

It’s likely that this Philippines-based BPO has the word ‘respect’ in their core values and if not ‘respect’ then something similar and equally lofty sounding.

We ‘respect’ each other, we ‘respect’ our Customers’, etc.  The posters are everywhere.  And here are pictures of all of us on our annual Team building showing our respect for each other.

But culture is nurtured through the actual behaviours of people at work.

Especially those in leadership and professional roles.

Summoning people with hand gestures and scoring them when they’re trying to serve a Customer aren’t really brilliant examples of respect.

So if you’re after building a ‘culture’ (and today who isn’t) it’s a worthwhile effort to filter your processes – and they way they’re executed – through the lens of your values.

Why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?

Is the Contact Centre industry really that mature?

I once received a comment from a reader who said – “Dan, why do you constantly write about the Contact Centre industry?  It’s a very mature industry already.”

And that comment made me think.  Sure – it’s a mature industry.

But do we always run it in a mature way?

Thanks for reading!

Daniel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Contact Centre – please stop tai chi’ing your Customers

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this short article I warn against tai chi’ing your Contact Centre Customers when they need your help.

There are many odd approaches to achieving productivity in the Contact Centre industry

There’s a long list of odd approaches to achieving productivity in the Contact Centre.

One of my least favorites is what I call tai chi’ing the Customer.

If you’re familiar with the formal practice of Tai Chi it originated in ancient China and is one of the most effective exercises for health of mind and body.

When I lived in Los Angeles I practiced tai chi to manage my own personal stress and reduce blood pressure.

But in the Contact Centre it’s not a good thing and here’s what it sounds like –

Good morning this is Andrew, how may I help you?

Hi Andrew, Siti here. Can I ask how to apply for the scholarship?

Sure Siti.   It’s all on the website.  Just visit abc.com and you’ll find everything there.

 Short, sweet , unhelpful.

But it kept the call short!

It’s tai chi’ing when you push someone to self-help without offering to help first.

Designed journeys have exception handling too

Sure – perhaps a particular Customer journey was designed in such a way that the Customer would have ideally gone to the website first.

But when you offer multiple channels, you’ve made an implicit promise to honor the Customer regardless of which channel(s) they decide to use.

When I work with students in Customer Experience courses I explain it this way –

“When your Customer wakes up in the morning they have a choice.  A choice in how they interact with you.

They could call, email, text, or drop in on your Service Centre as they’ll be in town running errands anyway.

No matter what choice they make, we honor them and help get the job done.”

Journey mapping practitioners recognize that some percentage of voice calls come in after Customers tried self-service first.

And that happens when the self-service option failed to deliver the desired information or required too much effort.

Referred to as containment this is a measure of the percentage of enquiries  fully resolved within a particular channel.

And it’s never 100%.

So for a Customer to be tai chi’ed on a voice call – right back to the self-service channel that had failed in the first place – is clearly not an award winning strategy.

The danger of measuring service through compliance measures

We worked with a large educational institution on their Contact Centre Mystery Shopper program.

To allow for trending,  the compliance standards used for measurement had not been refreshed or updated for years.

And sure enough, all the greetings, closings and using the Customer’s name ‘two times’ were achieved and generated high percentage scores for the program.

They were all happy.

But during our analysis of the conversations, we picked up on the extensive use of Tai Chi by the Agents.

Though we reported it in our findings the management wasn’t that interested.

Later on when we checked, we learned that the Tai Chi approach was a directive from Contact Centre management to keep the calls short.

Ah ok.  We had simply picked up on what the Agents had been asked to do.

Another weird way that productivity rears its head in the industry while damaging the Customer Experience.

How about a version like this?

Good morning this is Andrew, how may I help you?

Hi Andrew, Siti here. Can I ask how to apply for the scholarship?

Sure Siti. Happy to help with that!

(A bit of to and fro to address Siti’s needs)

Ok Siti – have you viewed our website before? 

Ah ok – no worries – let me show you where, in future, you can easily reference what we’ve been taking about on this call.

What if Customers fed back that the website did not provide an easy reference?

No problem.

Because this becomes business intelligence to be funneled to the CX Team for action so the website can better meet its purpose.

Thank you for reading (and please – no more Tai Chi!),

Daniel

When you coach you’re either helping or keeping score

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

When you coach you’re either helping or keeping score.  In this short article I explain the difference between the two.

We measure everything!

In the Contact Centre industry we tend to be obsessed with measuring things.

From Occupancy rates through to Net Promoter Score we have dashboards and dials for everything.  (Even though not everything matters.)

And we have a whole special set of measurements reserved just for Contact Centre Agents.

When we’re able to influence and guide our Agents to better Productivity, Quality & Attitude, life is good.

And measuring progress quantitatively along the way is fine.  It’s really important to let people know how they are doing.

Measuring Quality

One of the most important processes in the Centre is Monitoring & Coaching.

We monitor Customer interactions, document our findings and talk to the Agents about their performance.

Great Monitoring & Coaching improves Quality, drives better Customer Satisfaction and delivers higher Employee Engagement.

It’s a multivitamin process with lots of great benefits.

But only when it is well designed.

There are many questions to answer to create a great Monitoring & Coaching process

The Monitoring & Coaching process is more complex than it first appears on paper.

  • Who should monitor interactions?
  • How often should we monitor?
  • What do we monitor for?
  • Who makes the rules for defining and calibrating Performance Standards?
  • How often should we listen, how should we listen, what do we listen for?

And when it comes to Agents –

  • Who should talk to Agents?
  • With what frequency should we talk to Agents?
  • What is the role of Quality Assurance?
  • What is the role of the Team Leader?
  • When or how should a score be involved?

Wow – there’s a lot involved.  But there are some answers too.

Let’s focus in on the use of scoring.

What is the role of the Scorecard?

Let’s zoom in questions around scoring.

  • What is the role of the Monitoring ‘Scorecard’?
  • Do I have to use it every time I speak with my Agent about their interaction?
  • Do I as a Team Leader use it or does Quality Assurance use it?

You’re either helping or you’re keeping score

In our Client work, we find that both Team Leaders and Quality Assurance have an unhealthy attachment to the scorecard.

Every quality discussion with an Agent involves a score.

Even side by side sessions – the rare times they seem to be conducted – involve a scorecard.

Isn’t this all rather disheartening and unnecessary? And typically all the Agent wants to know is the score.  Or ‘did I pass or not pass’?

That’s not a formula for improvement.  And a sure sign there is confusion between helping or keeping score.

What do we mean by that?

Scorecards are wonderful tools for gathering quantitative data.

Providing a developmental summary of scores across randomly selected interactions can be a great tool for Agent performance trending.

Here’s your trend here.  Here’s your trend there.  The big picture of performance and what contributes to it.

But scoring on a day to day basis in the Centre can inhibit growth.

Imagine your Agent comes to you and says –

“Boss, I’d like you to help me with my communication skills. Can you sit with me and listen to a few of my calls and give me your thoughts?” 

You reply, –

“Sure, give me a minute to get my scorecards – I’ve got to score everything I hear and that we talk about – be right there…”

I don’t think you would say this.

Even writing these lines makes me cringe.

The role of a Coach within the context of transactional coaching is to help their Agent get better and better at what they do.

Since when did helping someone get better involve a score?

Scorecards don’t change behaviour

A Scorecard is a judging tool.

It tells you how you did.

Just like watching the scores presented by Olympic Judges after the skater has skated, or the diver made their dive.

They tell you how you did.  But they aren’t designed to help you get better.

It makes me sad when Quality Assurance people tell me that all they do is issue scorecards and hope that Agent quality performance improves.

Dream on.

But helping people changes behaviour

What the best coaches do is sit with their folks – on a regular basis – and help them get better.

They understand that helping is something they do for their people.

“Here’s where you did well.  Here’s where you can improve.”

With no score attached. And why would you need one?

And the more you help someone – the better they will score when the time comes.

In closing

When people ask me how many interactions they should monitor I ask them to rephrase the question.

“How many interactions will you monitor for scoring purposes and to provide trending?” 

“And how many interactions will you conduct to help your Agent get better?”

Then add the answers to these two questions together to get your answer.

Thank you for reading!

Daniel

 

“But my way is better!”– How to manage a common Coaching Challenge

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this article we talk about a common coaching challenge faced in the Contact Centre industry.

In a recent course, one of my students, ‘Roberta’ shared:

“Dan, I’ve just been promoted from Call Centre Agent to a Quality Assurance role.

And I’ve been asked to help the Centre improve its call quality.

But how do I handle a situation where the Agent believes that what they’re saying to the Customer is perfectly fine, even when I know it can be better?”

Roberta explained that there was an Agent, ‘Deborah’, in the Centre who had been there for many years and was set in her ways.

The Agent liked to use a colloquial expression when asking for the Customer name at the beginning of the call.

She would say –

“May I have your good name please?” 

But this Centre served an international Customer base.

Roberta believed that the Deborah’s phrasing could be confusing for some of their international Clientele.

All it took was listening to a sample of the call recordings to prove out the hypothesis.

Awkward pauses from Customers made it clear that the phrasing was confusing.

The suggested phrasing for this Centre was simply, “May I know how to address you?”

When Roberta approached Deborah with the recommendation to change the phrasing, Deborah became defensive.

Her response was along the lines of:

“This standard is perfectly acceptable. 

In fact, my sister in law who works in the Education Ministry in my home country told me that this standard appears in all the major textbooks in use in classrooms.”

Roberta was struggling with how to respond.

Handling the classic case of “My way is better”

When you conduct transactional coaching, it’s expected that there will be cases where Agents believe their way is ok.

And in some cases even better than what they’re asked to do.

My first suggestion is to listen to the Agent input without judging.

Remember that Agents do this for a living.  They may have great points and suggestions to make.

Be ready to tell them that’s a great idea.  And what you’re going to do to help put that idea up for consideration.

But to carry on with this story I advised Roberta to first honour Deborah’s input:

“Sure Deborah, I can see why you would suggest that phrasing.

I always appreciate Team Members with opinions because this means that you’re thinking about how we can deliver outstanding quality.”

Then direct your conversation over to the viewpoint of the organization.

I teach a 3 Parachute Technique when I share the organization’s viewpoint.

If the first parachute doesn’t open, then pull the second one.

But if the first parachute opens – and is accepted – then there’s no need to go further.

This approach is helpful for this particular common coaching challenge.

Let’s have a look.

Parachute #1

Try Parachute #1 first:

“Deborah, each day when we come into work, we actively become part of  _________(name the organization). 

Through our individual efforts, we help bring ________’s vision, mission and objectives to life. 

In the case of the Contact Centre and our quality standards, the Management Team worked hard to design the kind of Service we want to be known for.  

In the case of asking for the Customer Name, given our international audience, we implemented a consistent standard which is “May I know how to address you?”

While I honour your opinion, we have a responsibility to deliver the kind of Service we want to be known for here at ________, regardless of our personal opinion.”

Parachute #2

Remember to open Parachute #2 only if you believe it adds value to the Parachute #1 discussion.

“Deborah, do you know McDonald’s?  Starbucks?  Coffee Bean?  Great – I guess we all do. 

Can you imagine if someone who worked at Starbucks decided that they wanted to make a vanilla latte their own way? 

That they simply changed up the recipe or added an additional ingredient because they thought it would be better prepared their way?

Imagine if at Starbucks around the city, the country or even the world, the Baristas each began to make up their own recipes?  

One of the ways companies such as ours and Starbucks for that matter, impress their Customers is through consistency and design of how things are to be done.”  

For my own training programs and coaching I typically use examples drawn from the countries where I’m working.

Parachute #3  

I urge caution here though my old VP, Operations persona comes out here and please do look for some tongue in cheek humour.

“Deborah, let’s put it this way. 

When you decide to open up your own coffee shop, service consultancy, insurance company, etc., you can select whatever standards you think will work well for you.

And I’ll be the first person to come down, visit your business and talk to you about the standards you set.                          

But as long as we both work here and our paychecks say “_________”  on them, we have a responsibility, along with everyone here, to bring our company standards to life. 

Thanks.”

In closing

Coaches – don’t let the common coaching challenge of “But my way is better” throw you for a loop.

Not only can this common coaching challenge be managed, it’s an opportunity to build trust since you honor the input and share organizational vision, mission and objectives with your Team.

Thank you for reading!

Daniel

How to help your Contact Centre Agents improve their Performance

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

This article shares how to help improve your Contact Centre Agent performance.

What is the job of a Contact Centre Agent?

When we hire a Contact Centre Agent, we’re responsible for helping them succeed in their job.

To help improve Contact Centre Agent performance.

So a fundamental understanding of the job is the right place to start.

For the Contact Centre Agent job, this definition helps:

The job of a Contact Centre Agent is to do the right things at the right time.

 “Doing the right things” corresponds readily to Quality, while “at the right times” corresponds readily to Productivity.

So let’s look at some choices you can make to improve performance in Quality and in Productivity.

At the end of the article we’ll close out with a look at the role of Attitude(s).

“Doing the right things” = Quality

Here are some choices you can make to help your Contact Centre Agent performance in Quality.

Develop a compelling Service Delivery Vision  

When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.

That’s a powerful statement and important when you’re looking to deliver Customer-pleasing quality.

Every organisation has its own purpose, its own set of Customers and its own style and brand.

So by design, it should have its own kind of service too.

A well-crafted Service Delivery Vision helps everyone understand what kind of service we deliver around here.

Even better, ask Agents their opinion of what kind of Service we deliver around here – and incorporate their voice.

Wouldn’t be great if each Agent could say –

“I know exactly what kind of Service we deliver around here, how to explain it to others and how to bring it to life in my job role.”

Select the right Performance Standards by channel and train them well 

Every channel –  Live Chat, Email, Voice – has its own set of behavioural practices that separate a great interaction from a weak one.

upside down pyramidFor example, in Email it’s important to write the way you speak and to use inverted pyramid writing when sharing content.

Firstly – understand those behavioural practices – by channel.  If you’re internal Trainers don’t have this know-how then go to the outside word and get help.

Secondly – filter those practices through your Service Delivery Vision.  The behaviours you choose should reflect the kind of Service you deliver ‘around here’.

Thirdly – create and document meaningful Performance Standards for your Agents to learn and practice – for each channel they’re asked to handle.

And be sure that anyone involved in coaching understands these Performance Standards.

Don’t ask Agents to practice on Customers

I regularly come across Centres that ask their Agents to practice on Customers.

For example:

  • Email Agents who have never been formally trained in email writing practices.
  • Live Chat Agents who are told to start handling Live Chats without a background or understanding of what separates a weak chat from a great chat.
  • Voice Agents who may have received orientation training at the time of hire and that’s it – nothing since.

It’s hard to be an Agent who is asked to practice on Customers.

No one goes to work to be mediocre and when they can’t deliver on Quality it can be demotivating.

Quality Assurance (QA) should be an enabler – not a barrier.

And yet so many QA folks spend most of their time marking people down for things.

Wouldn’t be great if each Agent could say –

“I know the ‘why’ behind the Performance Standards my organization chose to measure quality and I appreciate that there are mechanisms in place to continuously train and equip me to do well in quality – across every channel I handle.”

Implement proper transactional coaching practices

Talking to someone about a ‘bottom box’ satisfaction rating from a Customer is not coaching.

Telling someone they failed a critical error is not coaching.

You should call it what it really is.  A poor performance conversation.

The goal of a poor performance conversation is to help the Employee understand what was poorly done and the consequences.

But a poor performance conversation is not the same as a transaction coaching conversation.

It’s not enough to just help Agents avoid ‘being bad’.  Learning & growth don’t live here.

Whoever came up with the term ‘fatal error’ should resign from the industry because that term – and the approach that goes along with it – promotes fear-based interactions between Agents and their leadership.

Transaction coaching is developmental in nature.  And it’s always about both sides of the interaction.transaction coach

What went well and what can be improved.

Agents who only hear what they did wrong, understandably disengage, dislike ‘coaching sessions’ and become mistake-avoiders.

Effective transaction coaching is at the heart of Contact Centre Agent performance in Quality.

For some lucky Agents it happens nearly every day – not now and then or crammed in at the end of the month like a quota system.

Wouldn’t it be great if each Agent could say –

“I receive regular and helpful feedback about my quality performance which helps me understand where I do well and where I can improve.”

“At the right time” = Productivity

Let’s look at some choices you can make to help your Agents improve their Productivity.

Stop measuring the wrong things

More than anything else, the key to Agent productivity is to understand what Agent productivity is – and what it isn’t.

Let’s start with what it isn’t:

It isn’t Average Handling Time (AHT)

The significant drivers of AHT don’t lie in the control of Agents.

They lie in process, technology and complexity experienced by Customers.

Leading Centres measure individual AHT to identify outliers for root cause analysis.  But they don’t consider AHT a viable productivity metric at the Agent level.

It’s better used for accurate forecasting & staff planning.

For Centres that still want some aspect of AHT in their Agent performance scorecard, they simply assign it a low weightage in the overall ‘basket’ of productivity KPIs.

That approach is perfectly acceptable as long as the weightage placed on AHT is not too high.

Why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?

It isn’t Number of Calls Handled

The mathematical realities of Service Level based contacts like calls and live chats mean that Agents don’t control the number of interactions handled.

factoryOnly Response Time contacts, such as Correspondence & Email, can have appropriate volume-based targets.

If you still think that Agents should be measured on quantity for Service Level based contacts you need to urgently sign up for some solid Operations training.

It isn’t Occupancy

Agents don’t control how ‘busy’ they are when they are signed in handling Service Level based contacts.

Management is the ultimate driver of Occupancy through setting Service Level objectives, Forecasting & Staffing and Managing Service Level in Real Time.

If you believe Agents somehow control their Occupancy rate, you need to urgently sign up for some solid Operations training.

We’re talking here about how to help your Agents improve their performance – and Occupancy isn’t in their control.

Mathematical realities such as the Pooling Principle further highlight how wrong it is to target Agents on personal Occupancy rates.

What you need to know about the Pooling Principle in Contact Centers

Setting the wrong productivity KPIs will earn you Agent confusion and a host of unwanted outcomes

It’s not so great when your Agent says –

“I work in a Centre that asks me to achieve both productivity & quality but then sets KPIs that compete with each other.  This situation not only puts me in a confusing position but makes it hard to meet my targets.  So that in turn drives me take some uncomfortable shortcuts.  Something feels wrong here.”

Start measuring the right things

We turn back to our definition of the job of a Contact Centre Agent.

The job of a Contact Centre Agent is to do the right things at the right time.

At the right time is best expressed through ‘Adherence to Schedule’.

Simply put, when your Agent adheres to the schedule they’re given –  at an interval basis – your Centre Service Level improves and stabilises.

That’s a great thing.

Adherence to Schedule is at the heart of Contact Centre Agent performance for Productivity.

And it makes intuitive sense.

When you’re short by even a small number of Agents, your Service Level goes down and all sorts of important KPIs go awry.

When you’re overstaffed by any number of Agents, your Service Level barely improves.

That means you’re wasting organisational resources.

Putting the right people, in the right place at the right time is not just a mantra.

It’s a way to manage your Frontline resources efficiently.

At a management level, you need to marry effective interval-based forecasting, staffing & scheduling with great Adherence to Schedule behaviour across all individual Agents.

You can’t wing this part.

And don’t think that Agent performance cannot make up for weak forecasting practices.

You need both.

When it comes to Agents, choose the right measures for productivity – with a heavy emphasis on Adherence to Schedule – and combine them in an appropriate ‘basket’ to measure their performance.

The weight of each item in that basket depends on the degree of control the Agent has over that item.

Wouldn’t it be great if your Agent could say –

“I work in a Centre that has defined productivity very clearly for me.  And they’ve explained the rationale behind it.  I understand how my individual contribution has a big impact on our overall performance and why I need to be in the right place at the right time.  Best of all – the productivity standards set do not compete with Quality.  I’m in a position to deliver both.”

Summing up Productivity & Quality (P & Q)

One of the powerful aspects of this Productivity (P) and Quality (Q) approach is that P & Q don’t contradict each other.

You can ask for both and you can help your Agent achieve both.

They should never be in contradiction.

see saw balanceAnd there’s no such thing as ‘balance’ here.

That’s a dangerous myth that costs many Centres either their Quality or their Productivity.

There’s one more dimension I’d like to look at before closing this article.

That’s the power of attitude.

Nobody has an attitude problem

It’s quite normal to hear a Manager say, “I think my Contact Centre Agent has an attitude problem.”

But is this a fair assessment?

I don’t think so.

There’s really no such thing as an ‘attitude problem’ because there are so many different attitudes at play to succeed in a job role.

In my former VP Operations days, if a Manager came into my office and said their Agent had an attitude problem, I’d ask them to tell me specifically which attitude was the problem.

If they couldn’t, I’d recommend that they figure it out and then come back and see me.

Was I being overly strict?  I don’t think so.

Every job, from the top on down, requires a certain set of attitudes to succeed.

And it’s our job to know the attitude requirements for any job role we manage – in this case the Contact Centre Agent.

Common attitudes I come across for Contact Centre Agents include–

  • Adaptability
  • Ownership
  • Positive Attitude
  • Consistency
  • Confidence
  • Goal-orientation
  • Teamwork

But I’d recommend you work through the selection and definition of the attitudes that make the most sense for your Centre and for your Agents.

Then be ready to explain what those attitudes really ‘look like’ at work.

What it helps to know about Attitude(s)

Nobody is a superstar at every attitude.

Some attitudes were inculcated in us through how we were raised, some we learned from trusted teachers and mentors.

Attitudes evolve and develop over time , especially with the right guidance.

For me, I’ve found the following (2) thoughts about attitude to be helpful-

  1. An Attitude is a settled way of thinking or feeling about something
  2. Attitudes are choices – people can choose and/or change their attitudes over time

When helping someone develop a specific attitude, my goal is that they end up making a conscious and personal choice to adopt the attitude for their success.

So that means that in addition to talking about Quality and Productivity, I need to also talk about Attitudes with my Agents as well.

Frequently!

In closing

When you’re able to help your Agent improve their quality, productivity & attitudes, life is good – for everyone.

Thank you for reading!

Daniel