Contact center agents are problem solvers. And solving problems all day is no easy gig. It can be hard to maintain a positive attitude; as a result, turnover is a major issue. But contact center directors can help to a great extent to keep up morale and improve retention in the process.
Customer care expert Barbara Burke recently spoke with 1to1 Magazine about employee engagement in the contact center. Burke is author of The Napkin, the Melon, and the Monkey: How to Be Happy and Successful at Work by Simply Changing Your Mind, a fable about how a positive attitude can transform a call center agent from flop to star performer. She advocates storytelling as one way managers can help their agents learn new skills and improve their current performance. Here, she provides some additional advice on engaging agents so they stay longer:
Sustaining long-term employee engagement
The most important action a contact center director can take to sustain employee engagement over the long term, Burke says, is to survey employees regularly. Use the information learned to create a baseline, and then administer follow-up surveys at least quarterly for first year. After major issues have been resolved, annual surveys should suffice.
Burke advises tying agents’ engagement scores to supervisors’ and managers’ performance appraisals. The managers responsible for improving agents’ engagement scores must be held accountable for doing so. If not, they will put effort their efforts elsewhere. “What you measure is what you get,” Burke notes.
Increasing retention rates
According to Burke, there are several essentials for agent retention. They include agent involvement in decision making, quality of supervision, and career opportunities.
“One tenet of engagement is that people want to participate in decision making,” she says. “The more you can involve agents, the better. Their position allows them to be so rich with information on how to do things better, it simply makes sense to involve them.”
Another tenet is that retention and engagement is driven by direct supervisors. Often, however, these middle managers are undertrained. “So much is expected of these supervisors,” Burke says, “but they’re usually the most undertrained people in the organization.” In most cases supervisors are trained to expertly use workforce management tools, but they often lack ability to connect with their people on a meaningful level. Consequently, it’s essential to train supervisors on coaching and leadership skills. This will help them provide advice and coaching on such vital customer services skills as listening.
A third essential element of retention is having a career path. It’s important to help agents advance in their career and move up in the organization, Burke says. “Give them training,” she says. “Find out their career aspirations and help them along.”
“A lot of the great agents are life-long agents who have made a career of being in the contact center,” Burke says. “They’ve learned a lot and are willing to share what they’ve learned.” To capture that, identify who the top people are, and then offer them opportunities to augment the company’s new-hire training by mentoring new agents. “The first 90 days are crucial to retention,” she adds. “If you bring in seasoned reps as mentors for the 60 to 90 days, you can significantly help retention.” At the same time you’ll be motivating top agents by recognizing their accomplishments.
Connecting individual and company performance
The most effective way to show agents the impact their customer interactions have on the company’s overall performance and success is to use post-call surveys, because the feedback occurs in near real time. “Annual satisfaction surveys are not effective for that,” Burke says. They don’t give reps a good reading on their actual performance on specific interactions. Delivering surveys right after calls allows reps to get immediate feedback. “The positive reinforcement is great,” Burke says. But when there is an opportunity for improvement, the real-time information for supervisors is invaluable; it allows them to take action immediately.
“The trend is that companies are trying to offload routine transactions to technology,” she says. “The calls that get through are crucially important because they’re complex. So reps will become more and more important in the future. Ultimately, the company with the best service will get the business.”