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What I learned from Thoreau about CX, Customer Service & Contact Centers

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

What I learned from Thoreau came from stumbling across his quote in a science fiction book I was reading –

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

There’s so much wisdom packed into these few words. And for someone like me who teaches, it resonates. Because I think great teaching helps people ‘see’ more clearly.

In the domains of Customer Experience, Customer Service & Contact Centers, folks look at and see a lot of different things.

Let’s have a look.

Here are some examples of the difference between looking and ‘seeing’

Interpreting Quality

– When you listened to that call recording or read that email reply from Customer Service, what did you ‘see’ (hear)?  

Quality opinions tend to be all over the place – even amongst folks who’ve worked together for years. Was that a good email or a not so good email? What was great about that call? What could be improved in that call?

Getting people to ‘see’ Quality and align around a common understanding for Quality makes Customer lives better (yeah – predictablity & consistency!).

And it makes Employee lives better too (yeah, we know what we’re supposed to deliver and we get quality help from our company to deliver that).

What a great Quality Assurance professional can do

Interpreting Metric results

–  When you look at those 32 Contact Center metrics you report every week – what do you ‘see’?

Because I work inside so many Centers around the world, I see the level of variation in the ‘what’ people select and look at in their Contact Center KPIs.

So many Contact Center metrics are either unnecessary, secondary at best, interpreted incorrectly, are weighted too much (or too little) or are interpreted in different ways amongst the Team.

And because a Center is an ‘interrelated system of causes’, it’s important to understand the interrelationships and trade-offs that exist between metrics – not just metric performance in isolation.

Looking at a dashboard of metrics, and having the entire Team accurately interpret what they see – unlocks a world of potential.

What I learned from Thoreau?  Don’t just look at dashboards – see and understand what they’re telling you.

Why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?

Interpreting how Customers behave

– When that Customer scolded you while you were serving at the Counter what did you ‘see’?

Don’t be surprised when some Frontline folks – after being scolded by a Customer – say they saw a ‘jerk’. Or that they were being ‘abused’.

Some discussion on how to better manage difficult Customer situations can change the way folks ‘see’ some of these situations.

Because there is a distinction between Customer behaviour that is indeed ‘abusive’ vs. Customer behaviour that we just happen not to like.

Helping your folks see that – and manage those situations better – is an important leadership responsibility.

 

And for those in leadership roles, our job is to help others see things too

In management workshops Participants ask the following questions:

– How can I get my bosses to ‘see’ that our Contact Center is a profit center, not a cost center?

– How can I get my Employees to ‘see’ that the values we’ve chosen for culture change really matter?

–  How can I get other departments to ‘see’ how important CX is?

The cool thing is that when people see better, they do better.

They make better decisions. They align & unite around common language & goals. They improve their ability to influence & persuade others.

Not once in the 21 years I’ve been training has a single Client said, “Dan, we’d like to fly you halfway around the world and pay you some money to stand up and share your opinions with the Team for 1 or 2 days.”

Even writing that sentence makes me wince.

The way Clients put it sounds like this. “Dan, we have a challenge or an opportunity we’d like some help with.”

“Can you help our people see how to run our Center better? See what CX means and how to bring it to life. See how to be a better boss. See how to improve coaching outcomes. See how to communicate better with Customers.”

 

Not just look. But see

I like what I learned from Thoreau.  And I came across his quote purely by accident – in a science fiction book I was reading.

But it helped me reflect on what I do in my own work. And see it more clearly.

https://www.biography.com/writer/henry-david-thoreau

I hope in some way it is helpful to you too.  Thank you for reading!

Daniel

No alt text provided for this image

 

What lessons can Contact Centre folks learn from CX folks?

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

What lessons can Contact Centre folks can learn from CX folks?

I’ve written extensively about what lessons CX folks can learn from Contact Centre folks.

Here’s a link to my earlier article:

CX lessons we can learn from the Contact Centre industry

Today I flip the perspective and ask – what lessons can Contact Centre folks learn from CX folks?

Because the nature of the work between the roles is different – no matter how much Contact Center folks rebrand themselves as Customer Experience.

And there are so many lessons Contact Centre folks can learn from their CX Colleagues.

Here goes!

 

Is the work done in CX and in Contact Centres really so different? Yes it is. The Customer Experience and Contact Centre Big Top

When people ask me about what it takes to run a successful Contact Centre, I like to use the analogy of a circus tent.

Imagine a traditional red & white striped circus tent up ahead of you. Lots of things are going on inside that big top.

As you enter the tent you’ve got the high-wire acrobats up overhead, the lion tamers over there and the clowns driving around in funny cars in the ring by the entrance.

There’s a lot going on in that tent. And it all matters. The Fortune Teller has her role. The Weightlifters have their role.

You get the idea.

Now imagine that your big top tent is your Contact Centre. There’s a lot going on inside the Contact Centre big top too.

You’d find Quality Assurance – that’s a specialized role.

And as we look around we find Workforce Management, Training, IT, Human Resources, Finance.  They’re all specialized roles too.

They’re all contributing to Contact Centre success.

And of course you’d have all the people that get the work in and out each day – the Agents, the Team Leaders, the Directors.

In a great Contact Centre all the disparate roles work in harmony together to achieve results. Everyone knows what everyone else does and has a basic understanding of each other’s contribution – even if they themselves don’t ‘do that’.

All under the direction of a skilled & knowledgeable Contact Centre Head.

But the Contact Centre tent isn’t the same as the CX tent. Sure – they’re pitched on the same turf. Your entry ticket gets you into both.

 

So what’s inside the CX tent?

Like the Contact Centre tent, there’s a lot going on inside the CX big top too.

I’m a CXPA Recognized Training Provider and a fan of the 5 CX Competency Framework required for CCXP Certification.

The 5 CX competency domains are:

·      Customer Experience Strategy

·      Customer Insights & Understanding

·      Design, Implementation & Innovation

·      Metrics, Measurement & ROI

·      Culture & Accountability

Where each competency requires a specific set of know-how to succeed.

Just consider VOC (Customer Insights & Understanding) alone. By the time you factor in qualitative & quantitative research, triangulation, prioritization & actioning of results you’re covering a lot of ground.

CX isn’t just doing one thing. And it’s not Customer Service on steroids.

And just like in the Contact Centre, the disparate CX roles work in harmony under the direction of a skilled & knowledgeable CX Head.

With the added caveat that CX is at play across the entire organization. All functions, all departments, all Employees, all Partners, all Vendors.

When I listen to people talk about their work and Customers  I ask myself – are they talking about the work done that falls within a department – like Customer Service or Marketing?

Or are they talking about work done across the organization – such as prioritization of Customer journeys to be studied, rollout of Experience Design know-how organization-wide or Culture building.

It may not be a perfect dividing line but it helps me decide if the conversation is about Customer Service (we handle omnichannel service) or Customer Experience (we’re use a few key Customer metrics to understand their relationship with our organization).

https://www.omnitouchinternational.com/cx-lessons-i-learned-judging-cx-awards-this-year

 

Ok, the tents are different. You made your point.  So what can lessons can Contact Centre folks learn from CX professionals?

CX Leader of the Year Awards Judge

I continue to be inspired by the level of CX work being done out there in the real world. I see this level both through judging I’ve been doing for various Customer Experience Awards as well as our own work with Clients.

CX Leader of the Year 2021

The lessons Contact Center folks can learn from CX professionals is tremendous. But for this article I’ve narrowed down to five points that really stand out for me.

Especially because of my background in the Contact Center industry.

1.   How to craft a CX Vision

I am endlessly blown away by the work that CX professional put into crafting a powerful CX Vision.

We teach the process and quite a few Clients have shared the outcome of their process with us – and it’s intensive and can take months.

Because it involves aligning to business strategy, brand values and Customer expectations.

And then blending all of these into a powerful statement that defines – specifically – what kind of experience we deliver around here.

It’s so much more than asking ‘what’s the industry standard for this or that’ – which seems to be a trap some Contact Center folks fall into.

Strategy flows from Vision – so getting that Vision right – and taking the time & effort to craft one that’s meaningful is something CX people do – and do well.

And if you’re a Contact Centre person lucky enough to work somewhere with a powerful CX Vision – you’ve got what you need to craft your Service Delivery Vision – one that can help you inspire the Service folks that work for you.

 

2.   Tie strategy to business results

Even after my 20 years of teaching in the industry, you’re still hearing consultants & practitioners debating whether Contact Centres are cost centers or profit centers.

I know it’s an important discussion – I’ve been in a few myself. I’m not minimizing the importance.

But really? 20 years? Why hasn’t more progress been made here? (and likely a topic for another article).

What the best CX folks are getting right these days is aligning the CX strategy they come up with to the overall business strategy.

And showing how and where their CX work can improve the business. And not at the ‘expense’ of Customers – but considering the Customer viewpoint.

What I still hear a lot in the Contact Centre industry is this – ‘what are the best practices’.  As if there was one playbook to use and everyone should use that same playbook.

And that playing to that playbook would be enough to be a great Contact Centre.

I think the additional question that would help would be ‘what are the principles or practices I can use to align our Contact Centre strategy with our organization’s business strategy to prove out how our work benefits the organization and the Customer.’

Asking that question can take some philosophical shifting – and a strong grasp of financial and ROI considerations – something that CX folks are getting better and better at.

And would be happy to help with.

 

3.   Start thinking in Customer journeys and not just in touchpoints

Contact Centres, by the nature of the work they do, become obsessed with what happens within that interaction.

Did we show empathy, did we solve the problem, did we use time well.

And mastering the Contact Centre touchpoint and delivering great conversations with Customers takes a lot of know-how and skill and it’s to be celebrated.

But if we think only in touchpoints and not in the totality of the Customer journey we’re missing the big picture. And how Customers think – which is in journeys.

Which is one underlying reason CX folks think & work at the journey level too.

So in addition to mastering that ‘touch’ the Customer has with us – such as that live chat or email – it helps for Contact Centre to consider what I call the Journey Perspective.

1.    Where did that Customer come from – and what motivated them to reach out to us? (the before)

2.   What does this Customer need from me right now in this touch? (the during)

3.   Where will the Customer likely go or need to go next – and how can I help them on their way? (the after)

I like to cover this when I teach touchpoint management because I think it’s important to use a broader Customer journey oriented ‘lens’ to consider what Customers are going through.

Over and above the single ‘touch’.

 

4.    Understand Voice of Customer Research practices & principles better

I was taken on a Centre tour a few years ago where the Director was so proud that the individual NPS scores given by Customers at the end of their calls were instantly flashed on large TV screens posted throughout the Centre.

All showing the Agent Names and the scores they had received so far that day.

Oh dear. (an article for another day)

Here’s another example.

When I ask Contact Centre folks the last time they invited in a small panel of Customers, bought them lunch and asked them questions about what they like or don’t like about Contact Centre service, they sometimes look at me like I’m speaking in tongues.

Bring in a real Customer to the Contact Centre? I’m not exactly sure why that would sound so outlandish. Just imagine how much you could learn.

What kind of Customer experience does your Contact Center deliver?

To be fair, VOC is a highly specialized area. And it has a pride of place in the CX big top.

But having an essential understanding of qualitative, quantitative methodologies and principles and practices can only help Centres perform better.

And make better decisions on how they use the data & insights that come out of VOC work.

 

5.    Build cross-functional support

When you listen to CX professionals share their stories – there a common narrative arc amongst many of them.

Let me see if I can narrate that typical arc here:

“I was the first person in my company to take on the CX role – it was brand new. I had to create my own job, determine my own priorities and consider how to achieve both short term and long terms results.

And in all these I had to align myself with other stakeholders in other departments, heads of functions, senior leadership, finance, the COO.

And now – 2, 3, 4 years later I’ve been successful. You know how I know? It’s not just that our Team size has increased – though it has.

And it’s not just that we’ve achieve some cool results – though we have

It’s the people are starting to come to me and our CX Team. To ask for help. To get our opinion on how to handle something better.

That’s been the true sign of our success in promulgating a CX mindset throughout the organization.”

Don’t you love that story? I do.

And I think Contact Centres can only achieve their vision & purpose better when they also build powerful cross-functional relationships too.

Not just to get the basics done – like forecasting or training. But to share how the Contact Centre can help support the efforts of other departments and the organization at large.

 

In closing

Because I stand with one leg firmly in the Contact Centre world and another leg firmly in the CX world I enjoy comparing, contrasting and understanding how the two disciplines can work together better – to make Employee & Customer lives better.

I hope this short article has been helpful.

Daniel Ord of OmniTouch with a Participant

Thank you for reading.

Daniel Ord

[email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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]

Good & evil in Customer Experience and why it’s like a Marvel Comics movie

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this short post I consider the role of good & evil in Customer Experience.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

I admit I’m not a follower of the Marvel comics movies.  But when stuck on a long haul flight or in a hotel room with nothing on but CNN, almost any Marvel movie is a welcome distraction.

So I never saw them in any order, nor do I grasp the entire mythology.

But in the movies I did see, it was always clear which characters were ‘good’ and which characters were ‘evil’.

The Marvel universe is a pretty binary place.

What kind of Customer experience does your Contact Center deliver?

Good & evil in Customer Experience

Sometimes when I read articles & posts on Customer experience, I feel like I’m watching a Marvel comics movie.

Evil VillainThat happens when the author of the article positions the company they’re describing in one of two ways:

  • When the company described in the post does things ‘right’ or right in the author’s opinion – then they’re good
  • When the company described in the post does things ‘wrong’ or wrong in the author’s opinion – then they’re evil

It’s never in doubt who is good and who is evil.  The content & tone make it clear.

And when it comes to the evil companies – which are the posts you see most often –  look out for these kinds of words –

They’re dumb, apathetic, lazy, careless, wasteful, ignorant, greedy, selfish, OK Boomer (ok I added that one).

It’s practically biblical how evil they are.  And this is what worries me.

If a company doesn’t deliver the experience the writer likes, the default setting seems to be how dumb, apathetic, etc. they are.

But if Customer Experience is as binary as a Marvel comics movie, there’s not much room to manoeuvre.  Not much room to improve.

I don’t ever see Thanos becoming the good guy or Wonder Woman becoming the bad guy.

 

The real world is more nuanced than a Marvel comics movie

The real world is more nuanced than a Marvels comics movie.  Customer Experience deserves more than a binary good & evil measurement scale.

I had lunch with a Client in Asia not long ago.

She had navigated the pivot from Head of Customer Service to Head of Customer Experience.  And our lunch conversation turned to organizational culture.

She had built a great service culture in the Customer Service function.  That was one of the reasons she had been appointed the Head of Customer Experience.

And now she needed to develop that service culture across the entire organization.  Into departments & functions where service wasn’t seen as the most important characteristic.

With her usual pragmatism she told me –

“Dan, we’ve been around a while as you know. 

And we’ve got really great people in this company.  In all departments.  It’s not that we’re bad or we don’t care about Customers.  We care a lot.  

It’s just that we’ve become too comfortable.  Things have been good here for a long time.  The impetus for change is muted. 

I think my job is to help our folks understand our future desired state as a company and why being too comfortable in what we do and the way we do it isn’t sustainable going forward.”

Her people are good, her colleagues are good, the management supports the change and she’s successfully completed her gap analysis.

Do their Customers complain?  Of course they do.  But as an organization they’re working on it.  And as practitioners know, it takes time.

Saying they’re good or evil isn’t productive.  It’s not even accurate.

They’re working to be better.

What can I do with my CCXP?

Why I don’t publish personal complaint posts

If I have a personal complaint with a company I contact them directly and privately.  I give them the chance to address my issue.

If I was a ‘normal’ Customer I’d consider sharing my complaint on social media.  And I’d write a detailed post of the bad thing or things that happened to me.  And maybe I’d feel better having shared my tale of misery & woe.

But I don’t view myself as a normal Customer.  I’m proud to come from the industry.

And I think industry professionals look at the bigger picture.  We’re interested in the underlying dynamics or conditions that led to whatever it was that we experienced.  We dissect the ecosystem.

Leave it to ‘real’ Customers to sit in judgement. I’d rather look for the lessons.

 

Good & evil in Customer Experience

Marvel hero

Industry professionals don’t have to use ad hominen words like dumb, apathetic, lazy, careless, wasteful, ignorant, greedy or selfish to describe organizations.

They don’t have to rant.

I’ve never seen a conference event yet where the Host says “Welcome everyone, our next Speaker will rant and roll their eyes for the next 30 minutes or so.  We hope you enjoy it!”

It doesn’t have to be about the role of good & evil in Customer Experience.  It could be about the lessons to make things better.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel

 

[email protected]

Daniel Ord speaking on Customer Experience

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]

 

 

 

What a great Quality Assurance professional can do

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this short article, I share one story of what a great Quality Assurance professional can do.

When Cindy – the Quality Assurance professional in our Contact Centre – walked into my office, she looked concerned.

“Dan, we just heard the weirdest call. You know that new wooden sandbox set we’re selling?  The one that ships in from the UK?”

“Sure Cindy – I know the one – it’s quite fancy but it looks great for kids. Why?”

“Well the Customer just received her shipment from the UK and she says it’s defective.  That the sandbox has no bottom in it.”

“No bottom in the sandbox? What do you mean?”

“You know.  A base in it.  A floor for lack of a better word. The Customer says that it looks like you fill the sandbox by pouring the sand directly onto the ground.”

We looked at each other for a moment.  Don’t all sandboxes have bottoms?

“Cindy thanks for telling me.  Let me call Marketing and see what the story is.”

 

A bit of background

In the 90s I was VP, Contact Centre & Distribution Operations for a Los Angeles based direct marketing company that served the entire country.

Our Centre took orders from TV ads and catalogues for products including CDs, children’s toys, gardening tools and more.  And our warehouses would ship most Customer orders – unless the product was to be shipped directly from the manufacturer.

We also handled all the Customer Service questions and issues. It was a big business and was growing year on year.

And Quality Assurance really mattered to us.  Because it was an important measure of success that we earn repeat orders from Customers over time.  And our Quality Assurance professionals helped us to do that.

The sandbox in question was an item in the Spring Gardening catalogue that had gone out to Customers across the US.

It was handmade in the UK and crafted from high quality wood.

But the best part was that it had a roll up/roll down wooden roof that not only protected the sand – it made the sandbox feel like a small castle for the kids.

It cost over US$1,000 (plus shipping) and due to its size, orders were shipped directly from the UK to the Customer in the US.

We didn’t have any sandboxes in our own stock.  Which meant that unlike a lot of our other products, we had not seen one in real life.

So the mystery remained – why didn’t the sandbox have a bottom?

When good people follow bad Contact Centre process – a story

 

What Marketing told us

Our Marketing Team was great.  And they got back to us quickly.

It seems that having a bottom in the sandbox was an ‘American’ thing.  A Customer expectation built around hygiene and what American Customers were used to.

Whereas in the UK, sandboxes typically didn’t have bottoms in them.  You simply poured the sand on top of the ground or whatever the surface was below where you placed the sandbox.

A simple cultural difference that resulted in a different set of expectations.

 

What we did

Well thanks to Cindy – and the weird call – we were on it.

About 29 sandboxes had been ordered with a 3 – 4 week delivery timeframe.  Remember it was the 1990s – there was no such thing as Prime!

So that gave us the chance to contact all the Customers who had ordered the sandbox, explain the manufacturing aspect and allow the Customer to cancel the order – or keep the order with a discount applied – their choice.

And it worked.  In fact most Customers decided to keep the sandbox.  And they appreciated our proactivity.

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

We tend to underestimate the power of the Quality Assurance job role

In my training & consulting work I find that the Quality Assurance job role tends to be underestimated.  By that I mean it’s used (and viewed) as a policing function for Agents.  Low level and unpopular.

And that’s so sad.  Because the potential value inherent in the Quality Assurance job role is tremendous.

In this story, Cindy acted as a ‘lighthouse’ for quality issues.  Coming and telling me – and others – about weird calls was an important part of her job.  Because Cindy innately understood that her job was about a lot more than checking if an Agent said the Customer’s name 3x.

She and her Team helped our Centre understand where we were with regard to Quality, where we wanted to go – and how to get there.

And I’ve told this story now for nearly 25 years because it had such a profound impact on me – both at the time and today.

Thank you Cindy.

And thank you for reading!

Daniel

[email protected]

 

 

 

 

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

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International 1 Comment

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.

[email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

We get into a bit of advanced operations here.  But it’s something that Contact Centre leaders should know and be able to use.

 

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 at 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 – when directed at 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 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.

Let me show you how.

 

The True Calls 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 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 so that we can compare them fairly.

 

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 during 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.

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

That’s how the True Calls per Hour calculation works.

Just substitue calls for pizzas.

 

But could we have a problem?

Absolutely.

Typically at this point in the discussion the topic of Quality comes into the picture.  How good (or not) the pizza looks & tastes.

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.

Because we want Customers to come back again. And if we don’t give Quality – then what we’re doing is pointless.  We’ll never run a sustainable pizza business.

Studies must be done

Fast food companies are well known for conducting 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 chef operating at the rate of 22 – 25 pizzas per hour was ideal.

The required quality standards were achieved without any obvious pick up or loss in productivity.

Now that we have a viable quality range to look at, we can draw some conclusions about the pizza chefs in this story.

Prachi is probably ‘doing fine’.  She’s operating at the upper end of the range and is within range.  But we should still taste her pizza now and then for quality assurance purposes.

On the other hand, Sangeetha is operating outside of the range – and on the high side.  We’d better go taste her pizza to ensure quality hasn’t been compromised.

Of course, if someone looks like they’re operating outside the range and on the high side it could be either:

a) they are in fact working too fast (and thus Quality falls – such as the taste of the pizza)

b) they’ve discovered some kind of process or quality innovation that should be studied and replicated across our other chefs

The best Contact Centres

The best Contact Centres 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 conduct comparative quantity analyses they use the same normalization technique we used in this story for pizzas.

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

  • For Ireland/Germany/Singapore (name your market or city) we know that on a Saturday afternoon shift the right rate of call handling that delivers on quality is about 12 – 15 calls per hour
  • Our night shift Team calls per hour achievement will always be lower than our day shift Team calls per hour achievement
  • The true calls per hour rate for Japan will always be lower than our calls per hour rate for IndiaWe know that if we see variations in the rate we need to explore the underlying reasons (conduct root cause analysis) and not just blame Agents or push them to go faster

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

 

Why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?

In conclusion for True Calls per Hour

If you seek to compare the rate of contact handling for different times of day, for different shifts, for different cities or countries or across a time period – an educated implementation and use of True Calls per Hour calculation can help.

It’s an advanced operations technique – for advanced Centres – but very powerful.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel

[email protected]

Public Programs

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