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What Conway Twitty taught me about Agent resilience

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

 

In this short article I share how the popular country music Artist, Conway Twitty, taught me a life-long lesson about Agent resilience in the Contact Center.

 

What do I mean by Agent resilience?

Here’s a useful definition of resilience –

the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness.

Because given what’s going on in the world now, Contact Center folks at the Frontline are going through a lot.  Changes in work environments, work from home protocols, stressed Customers, stressed Bosses.

So while the topic of resilience is always relevant, it has a special resonance right now.

 

The background

Early in my career in the 90s, I was Vice President of Call Centre & Distribution Operations for Heartland Music.  Based in Los Angeles, it was the job that got me into the Contact Center & Customer Experience industry.

Heartland ran TV commercials and mailed out catalogues to millions of Customers across the US.

TV commercials and catalogues that featured titles like ‘All the Elvis Presley’ hits you need to own or the ‘Top 100 Love Songs’ of all time.

Customers then called into our Contact Centers to place orders which we packaged and shipped from our own warehouses.  And of course we provided Customer Service as well – anything from suggestions on what titles we should stock to ‘where is my order ‘enquiries.

It was a big and growing business.

 

So how does Conway Twitty fit into Agent resilience (and who was he?)

Country music was a big part of our offerings.  And country music fans were generally sweet, loyal and supportive.

And though it sounds a bit macabre, whenever a popular Artist that we carried passed away, there would always be a marked and sudden upsurge in sales for their work.

That’s still the same case today – though it’s reflected these days by increases in streaming figures vs. how many ‘units’ were sold.

And an Artist passing way was an event that a Workforce Manager couldn’t really plan for.

We relied on our own internal back-up plans and a strong committed Agent workforce to get through most of our unexpected surges.

But Conway Twitty was the surge to end all surges.

An American country music singer, he also recorded rock and roll, R&B and pop music. And he received several Country Music Association awards for duets with Loretta Lynn – another beloved country music star.

I don’t remember which day of the week it was, but when I entered the office, our Operations Manager made a beeline straight for me.

‘Dan, Conway Twitty died.’

That’s all Frank had to say.  We’d both been around enough years to shorthand the conversation.

The volume of calls in the Center had already picked up and we knew we were only at the beginning.

CX lessons we can learn from the Contact Centre industry

Six weeks later

I’m not exactly sure why Conway Twitty was different.  But we were now six weeks into the surge and his sales were still going up.

Great for business but not so great for our Agents.

Occupancy was through the roof, hours got longer, and admittedly a few people started to get edgy.

And while we were dealing with normally sweet country music lovers, long wait times and out of stock situations put them on edge too.  Meaning even more frustration for our Agents to deal with.

It ended up being about a 3-month period overall.  Much longer than the normal two or three week ‘lift’ that we had seen before.

 

And here’s what I learned about Agent resilience

My Operations Manager said it to me first.

‘Dan, they’ll be ok. Do you know why?  Because they know there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

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

The light at the end of the tunnel

If you’ve been a fair boss,  you communicate honestly, and you have a management team that’s aligned to the purpose – it’s amazing what your people will give back to you.

And I’ve seen them give back for a year and even more (in some cases).

But the real caveat for Agent resilience is that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  You must be very open & honest about what you’re doing to bring things back to ‘normal’.

Even if what normal looks like coming out doesn’t look exactly like the way it did when going in.

 

Thank you for reading!

Daniel

[email protected]

What kind of Customer experience does your Contact Center deliver?

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this short article I discuss the question – what kind of Customer experience does your Contact Center deliver?

It ties together two of my favourite topics – Customer Experience & Contact Centers.  And it’s the title of one of my best Keynote talks for various conferences around the world.

The Contact Center in the context of Customer Experience

The Contact Center is a touchpoint that only some Customers will use across some subset of all possible Customer journeys.

And for some organizations it can be less than 1% of Customers who utilize the Contact Center touchpoint at all.

Daniel Ord speaking on Customer Experience

Daniel Ord delivering a keynote on what kind of Customer Experience does your Contact Center deliver?

For example, imagine that on the spur of the moment you decide to stay in a hotel this upcoming weekend.

You ask a friend to suggest a place, you do some research online and finish by booking a reservation on your mobile phone.  No Contact Center involved.

But with that said, when a Customer needs the Contact Center, it can be a real moment of truth.

An experience that has significant ‘weight’ in their overall perception of the organization.

So not every Customer interacts with the Contact Center.  But every interaction with the Contact Center is really important.

The Contact Center is the formal living room in a house

Formal living rooms may sound old fashioned – but they’re still around.

When I was growing up we had a formal living room to receive and entertain special guests or to use for special occasions.

It’s a room that’s always perfect. It’s got the best furniture, the best art and it’s always spotless.  Because even though it’s not used everyday, it must always be ready.

And I think of the Contact Center within an organization in the same way. It’s the formal living room in the house of your organization.

Not every Customer will need to use it.  Nor will every Customer journey involve it.  But for those Customers who do come into our Center, it’s our job to always be ready for them with our very best resources.

So what kind of Customer experience does your Contact Center deliver?

Much of the subject matter for our keynote talk – and for this post –  is based on nearly 20 years of conducting Mystery Shopper research – especially for Contact Centers.

And most Centers have a list of ‘Quality standards’ they use to train Agents and measure their quality performance – and which they hope or believe will deliver a great Customer interaction.

Simple examples of Quality standards include:

  • Clarity in presenting the product or service
  • The level of Human Touch on display
  • The use of branded language
  • The conciseness of the email
  • The sales or upselling skill

The possible list of Quality standards is endless because there is no industry standard set of standards that work for every Center.  If that were the case, all Customers of all organizations would be happy all the time.  And obviously that’s not the case.

And what we’ve found in our research work with Clients is that there is a positive correlation between the sophistication behind selecting and defining Quality directives and the resulting Customer experience.

Or put more simply – when there’s more thought, effort and rigour put into selecting Quality standards – the resulting Customer interactions are better.  And Agents benefit from being treated like adults – and not compliance machines who have to do things like say the Customer’s name three times.

Let’s look at some example Quality standards now.

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

So what’s an example of a Quality standard that was impressive?

One of our most interesting engagements was as the Official Mystery Shopper Evaluator for the Singapore Government.  Which basically meant mystery shopping the quality of different government agencies for phone, face to face and email interactions.

And one of the standards set by the Singapore Government was amazing.  They practiced what they called ‘No Wrong Door’.  Let’s say the Customer had a personal taxation question but accidentally contacted the housing authority.

In most countries, the Contact Center Agent would tell the Customer that they reacehd the wrong place and perhaps give the number for the correct place to call – if that much.

But with No Wrong Door in Singapore, the Contact Center Agent will either arrange a connection to the right Agency or arrange for the right Agency to get back to the Customer directly.

And in a public sector setting that’s amazing.

Having lived in multiple countries, I sometimes joke that trying to get public service assistance through a Contact Center could be branded as ‘Every Door is the Wrong Door’.

That is unless you’re fortunate enough to live in Singapore.

 

What’s an example that wasn’t so great?

Isn’t it funny that we can sometimes come up with the not so great examples more easily than the great examples?

Here are three.

The ‘Ready to Serve’ Quality standard

The Client, a major mobile phone manufacturer, wanted our Mystery Shoppers to evaluate if the Contact Center Agent we reached was ‘ready to serve’.

Did you just read that twice?  So did we.

The question we had was this.  How is it possible for us to tell if someone was ready to serve?  In our opinion, that sounded like something a Team Leader should be doing internally.

We went back and forth with the Client to get some clarification.  But eventually our Client contact wrote us and said – “Look Dan, just ask the Mystery Shopper to do it”.  Which was shorthand for ‘we’re done talking about this.’

So we sat down and came up with our own logic for this Quality standard and moved on.

But here’s the thing.  If senior management selects a Quality standard that even they can’t explain clearly – how can we expect an Agent to bring that to life in their Customer interactions?

The ‘Tai Chi’ standard

For a University Contact Center, the Agents were instructed to immediately redirect the Caller to the university website if it turned out that the information was available there.  

Don’t answer the Caller question.  If it was on the website then send the Customer straight to the website.

I decided to call it the ‘Tai Chi’ standard because they really just tai chi’d Customers to the website!  And avoid answering the question.

And their rationale for this standard?

They had attended a seminar where the speaker told the audience they should focus on efficiency.  And to get people to use the website you have to force them to go to the website.

And you can just imagine the Customer Experience here.

After dialling, listening to the recorded announcements, punching through the IVR options, finally reaching a live Agent and asking their question – the Customer gets tai chi’d to the website.

Yikes.

The every Quality standard is measured as a Yes or No

For a few Centers we’ve worked with, management had decided that all or most of the Quality standards should be measured on a binary scale.  Yes / No.  1 / 0.  It happened or it did not happen.

Because they felt it was less complicated and easier to implement for them internally. That’s classic inside-out thinking.  Do what is easy for the Center – not necessarily for the Customer.

I bet you can imagine what those Agents sounded like when we listened to the calls.  Yup that’s right.

They sounded like robots.  There was no style, no articulation, no effort.

When every Quality standard is measured on a binary scale, that doesn’t just set a low bar for Quality.

There’s almost no bar for Quality.

 

There’s an art & science to selecting Quality Standards

There’s an art & science to selecting the right Quality Standards for your Contact Center.

If you’re lucky enough to have a well-defined Customer Experience Strategy in place that can help a great deal.  Because a Customer Experience Strategy describes the kind of experience you aim to deliver.

It provides a high level guide to coming up with the right Agent standards.

If you don’t have a Customer Experience Strategy, then a Service Delivery Vision can help.

A Service Delivery Vision is very much like a Customer Experience Strategy, but it tends to be focused only on the Customer Service function.  Whereas the Customer Experience Strategy is meant for the entire organization.

Now – if you don’t have a robust Service Delivery Vision then the next question is this.

How did your Contact Center choose its Quality standards?  What guided the decisions?

Here are some of the answers I’ve heard:

  • I think our Managers came up with these.
  • I think our Quality Assurance people came up with these.
  • The last Mystery Shopper provider we used came up with these.
  • Our Agents know how to talk to Customers – we don’t really use any standards.
  • I’m not sure but we don’t want to change them because everyone knows them already.
  • I’m new here and I don’t know – I was just asked to find a Mystery Shopper company.
  • We’ve used these for years and they’re ‘industry standard’ for our X industry 

Answers like these aren’t indicative of any level of sophistication in Quality standard selection & design.

And as I shared earlier, we’ve found a positive correlation between the sophistication of the Quality program and the Customer’s interaction experience.  And that makes complete sense.

Because when there’s more thought, effort and rigour put into selecting Quality standards – the resulting Customer interactions are better.

What we’ve learned about conducting Mystery Shopper Research on Chatbots

 

In closing

I may write a book sharing nothing but Mystery Shopper stories and the ins and outs of how to get Quality right.  There are just so many stories and learnings.

Because your Contact Center does deliver some type of Customer Experience.   The question is whether its the experience you wanted or planned for.

Thank you for reading,

Daniel

[email protected]

 

 

 

Do your Agents really talk too much?

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this short article I talk about Agent KPIs in the Contact Centre.

“But Dan…if we don’t have an Average Handling Time target the Agents will talk too much.”

That’s what so many Team Leaders tell me in classrooms.

But I’ve never yet met an Agent who says, “Dan…I go to work and make sure I talk a long time to everyone.”

So where’s the disconnect?

For a lot of Team Leaders it comes down to justifying the KPIs set by management. Because if the big bosses say we have to keep Agents from talking too much there must be some truth to the belief that Agents will talk too much if you give them the chance.

Usually when you dig a little deeper with the Team Leader you find that it’s one person that’s ‘talking too much’.

Not everyone.

So that instance can be analyzed and fixed.

When you set KPIs across a majority population just to catch a few outliers you end up creating barriers to great performance.

Folks in the Centre talk more about what not to do vs. the important work of what to do.

If you really want to know how important Customer Experience is to a Contact Centre – don’t just listen to what the Centre management says. Look at the KPIs they ask their Team Leaders to ‘bring out’ in their Agents.

That’s where the real story lies.

Why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?

 

Daniel

Image by Suju at Pixabay.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you coach you’re either helping or keeping score

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International 1 Comment

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.

https://www.omnitouchinternational.com/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

 

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

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

This article is about understanding Contact Centre productivity and how the Pooling Principle impacts how ‘busy’ Agents are when they are signed in.

It’s Monday morning and the calls are pouring in.

But you planned well and you’ve got the right Agent capacity in place.

For the morning interval of 9:00AM to 9:30AM, here’s what your stats look like using a simple Erlang C calculator:

Erlang C Example

Your Service Level objective is 80/30.

Based on a Talk Time of 4 minutes, an After Call Work time of 2 minutes and a volume of 1,000 calls, you require 209 Agents to login and be part of capacity so that you can achieve your 80/30.

All good.

Now let’s look at the Occupancy stats for this interval

In this same scenario, you can see that the Occupancy Rate – which is an outcome or result – stands at 96%.

Simply put – that means during this 30 minute interval, your Agents are talking or doing their after call work for 29 minutes.

That means that they will experience only 1 minute of Available Time over the course of that half hour (not much).

What about calls handled per Agent?

Well – if we are receiving 1,000 calls distributed across 209 Agents that works out to an average of 4.8 calls per Agent for that interval (using simple math).

Occupancy is a high level of Contact Centre productivity – telling us how busy Agents were when they were signed in.

Same Contact Center – later that same day

In this Center, the workload drops significantly in the afternoon.

For the afternoon interval of 4:00PM to 4:30PM, here’s what your stats look like using a simple Erlang C calculator:

Erlang C Example

Read more

A Culture of Fear & Compliance are poor tools for delivering a great Customer experience

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

This article proposes that a culture of fear and compliance are poor tools for delivering a great Customer Experience.

In the markets where I work most often, compliance still rules in Customer interactions.

Say this, wear that – act like this, act like that.

One of my students – who had worked as a concierge in a high-end Singapore shopping centre – told us that every morning their boss would line them up and critique all aspects of their grooming.

He told us the experience was a fearful one – and Team Members would begin their shift with a nagging unpleasant feeling.

Another student shared that they had been instructed to say, “Will you allow me to put you on hold?” vs. “May I put you on hold?”

It was never made clear why this use of language was so important to the Customer experience.

But there was a team of eagle-eared Quality Assurance analysts who fixated on language use and tidings of woe to the Team Member who in some way mixed up the verbiage.

 

Sure, compliance has its place – but not when it takes on Darth Vader-like proportions

Recently I had a meeting with a high-end hospitality company.

The course under discussion was how to help Team Members better interact with high-end VIP Guests through conversational engagement.

The challenge was that Team Members were either silent, monosyllabic or overly formal in the presence of ‘high rollers’.

The position I took was that in order to create a better Customer experience for these Guests, it was going to be necessary to back-off a bit on the compliance – and by association the culture of fear.

Perhaps it was time to allow for greater flexibility.

The whole room went silent.

You would have thought I had just ordered a double bacon cheeseburger in a vegetarian restaurant.

All eyes turned to the Senior in the room.

After a long pause, the Senior intoned that compliance was the most important aspect of their Service delivery and with that, I knew the conversation was over.

A culture of fear had shown itself.

I worry that to this day, these folks would rather look at their shoes than engage conversationally with a Guest.

 

Branding & the Customer experience

It is completely understandable that an organization would aim to live its brand promise.

The right opening, the right phrases, the right ‘look’ all matter.

They have their place in overall quality initiatives.

The problem comes in when these behaviors – and discussion around these behaviors – crowd out discussion about what’s really important.

It is well understood that what matters most in CX delivery is the Customer’s perception or ‘feeling’ about what they went through.

Clearly no Customer is going to get all excited about your greeting – or the fact that your Staff’s socks matched the color of their shoes.

When it comes to compliance, there’s very little opportunity to differentiate the experience.

But if you really consider your brand promises – either explicit or implicit – along with your values, mission, vision and the like – there’s a lot of rich context to develop powerful CX standards for conversation.

Let’s ask

The moment the Team begins to ask themselves – ‘What can we do to exceed the Customer’s emotional expectations’ for this kind of visit, call, email, live chat and so on’ – well that’s where the magic lives.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel Ord

Daniel Ord

 

 

 

 

Why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this article we talk about Contact Centre Average Handling Time.

So put your feet up on the couch and tell the Dr. – for heaven’s sake, why are we all still talking about Average Handling Time?

The more you talk about AHT, the less you talk about Quality

A psychologist with a patient

I have a theory that’s been proven out over the years.

A see-saw going up and down

Contact Centre Average Handling Time & Quality

The more a Centre and its inhabitants talk (or fret) about Contact Centre AHT – the less they talk (or fret) about Quality.

Sure – Quality gets lip service (who’s going to bash Quality?) – but it’s AHT that reigns supreme.

And for some inexplicable reason, it’s almost always about the Agents.

Yeah – you know – those Agents who brush their teeth in the bathroom mirror every morning and plot how to sabotage AHT.

A young man brushing his teeth“Hmmmm (they say to themselves) – how could I drag the calls today?”

“A few more holds and a bit of nonsensical small talk and I’m sure I can knock AHT out of whack.”

Really?

Any Quality Assurance professional will tell you a simple truth

AHT flows from Quality.

Exhaust coming from an automobile tailpipe

Average Handling Time is an outcome

It’s an output…a byproduct…an emission.

You know those Monitoring Forms with the checklists and standards that QA likes to hand out to let you know how you’re doing with regard to Quality?

Those Forms dictate your Contact Centre Average Handling Time.

Want Agents to use the Customer’s name 3x? Ok – that’ll be about 15 seconds.

Want Agents to say “Is there anything else I can do to help you today (and mean it)?” – that easily adds 7 more seconds.

Need Agents to conduct 2 levels of verification – yup – takes time.

Are you fearless enough to put First Contact Resolution on your Form? Well that’s gonna cost you too (in time that is).

If your Agent scores 100% quality on their call and you still have to talk to them about their AHT something’s wrong with the Form or something’s wrong with your Quality process.

A guru floating in the air As I like to say when I transition into ‘guru’ mode – when your Agent achieves Quality – and it just feels right – then AHT will be what it will be.

Contact Centre Average Handling Time flows from Quality.

But most assuredly Quality does not flow from Contact Centre Average Handling Time!

A delicious piece of chocolate lava cakeDid you ever order chocolate lava cake for dessert in a restaurant? It’s delicious.

But the menu often says “please order early, or just be aware it will take about 20 minutes for us to make you this delicious chocolate lava cake”.

I’ve never seen it happen that a Diner bangs the table and says – “Hey, Chef baby – make me one of those delicious chocolate lava cakes in 10 minutes – you hear? ”

So what’s the best way to correct Contact Centre AHT at the Agent level?

The best way has always been – and it will continue to be – conducting root cause analysis at the Agent level.

Watch the Agent at work, listen to calls, correct what needs to be corrected (sometimes it’s a piece of equipment, sometimes it’s knowledge or skill).

When you fix Agent Quality – you automatically fix AHT. It’s an outcome – not a driver.

Of course having a guideline helps.

Contact Centre AHT lends itself beautifully to measurement as an ‘acceptable range’.

A graph showing acceptable range

Contact Centre Average Handling Time Acceptable Range

For example an ‘acceptable’ range for your Centre AHT in the mornings might range from a low of 3 minutes to a high of 6 minutes.

I’d set my ‘acceptable’ range based on my high performers in quality – if your call is great quality-wise – then by default the AHT is acceptable. (if it isn’t something is broken in how you measure quality).

Armed with a range, you can track performance across your Team Members and identify outliers – for example those who are consistently above or below the acceptable range for that time period.

This approach allows you to focus in on folks who may have some barrier in their way.

Do remember though –

Acceptable ranges are not consistent throughout the day – most Centres see longer AHT in the night hours as compared to the morning hours (for example).

You have to adjust your ranges based on your call mix, Customer mix and the like.

If you’re in WFM or Process AHT matters

Of course – if you are in WFM (Workforce Management)or you are in Process improvement and/or Customer journey mapping, AHT is super important.

And WFM folks tend to understand that the biggest improvements in AHT come from technology and process improvement.

When you look at all the factors that ‘drive’ AHT, Agents themselves have only minor control over AHT – namely applying their knowledge, skills & abilities as trained and coached.

Industry-wide AHT for voice calls is going up

Children in front of a fun-house mirrorAs the world increasingly becomes digital, Customers reach out to voice channels when their issue is complex or they are confused or unhappy with something.

Coupled with the digitization of ‘simple’ inquiries the outcome is clear – while voice volumes may be ‘stabilizing’ in volume for some Centres, AHT continues to climb.

Feel better? I do

In an era of Customer experience, it won’t do you or your Team Members any good to have an artificial clock ticking in their ear while trying to listen, empathize and resolve a Customer call.

If you’re a Manager or Team Leader who still harps on individual Agent AHT it’s time to rethink your value.

It’s not 1973 anymore.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel

[email protected] / https://www.omnitouchinternational.com

A picture of Daniel Ord

Daniel Ord