The COVID-19 pandemic turned contact center agents into frontline workers who became not only customers’ chief problem solvers but also the key to corporate survival. Management was forced to turn on a dime and pivot supervision, coaching, training, and evaluation for a new hybrid and stressed workforce.
According to the Adobe 2021 Digital Economy Index: COVID-19 gave e-commerce an extra boost of $183 billion, as consumers flocked online to meet their daily needs. In 2020, the share of e-commerce grew at two to five times the rate before COVID-19 — a trend that is likely to continue.
Contact centers were bombarded with a huge increase in call volume. Work From Home agents were without the camaraderie of coworkers or the physical presence of management. Long wait times became a source of frustration not only for customers but also for agents trying to handle the huge volume and complexity of calls. The need to find ways to reduce agents’ stress and increase happiness rose exponentially.
A new emphasis on human connection and empathy for both customers and agents came with the changes. Managers began to lean into listening and to helping employees understand how their work makes a difference to customers and to the company. Contact center managers needed more training on new leadership techniques with participatory and collaborative coaching programs that give agents a voice in their development.
From this rose a greater emphasis on employee morale because morale impacts motivation, engagement, and culture. The consequences of not prioritizing great customer service are clear. But so are the consequences of not redefining contact center culture to be empathetic and compassionate.
Creating “Happy Agent” Cultures
Culture is a key determinant of happiness. Happy, successful agents lead to more satisfied, loyal customers which reduce churn, challenging situations, and leads to more productive and efficient operations. It is important to invest in your people so they can do their jobs better every day.
From working with over 200 contact centers across 34 countries, Playvox has identified ten actions that directly contribute to high-performance cultures and happy agents:
1. Train managers on new techniques for leading in hybrid and remote work environments.
2. Implement programs that focus on the mental, emotional, and physical health of agents.
3. Offering bite-sized classes and experiences to help agents cope, become more resilient and happier.
4. Make it easy for agents to communicate candidly with their managers, without fear of reprisal.
5. Use the same transparent quality scorecard criteria for both WFH and work from office agents to eliminate any evaluation bias.
6. Give agents greater control over their hours, the types of calls, and the customers they handle through the use of AI, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and other automation.
7. Develop collaborative, participatory coaching programs that give agents a voice in their development (vs. making it punitive).
8. Make Quality Assurance transparent and couple scoring with training recommendations to help agents improve their scores.
9. Offer career path and skill development to keep agents current on emerging technologies and best practices.
10. Tie motivational rewards to CSAT and NPS scores and overall (Customer Lifetime Value) CLTV.
There are a number of cloud-based applications designed to help define, manage and institutionalize cultures that bring into sharp focus the need for improved social bonds between management, global customer support representatives, and consumers. One category of workforce management applications, agent optimization tools, offers critical insight in rapidly changing environments. Agent optimization tools help leaders access contact center agent feedback, gauge how customers feel, and measure how interactions are changing.
Leveling the Playing Field
Supervisors at some of the largest contact centers use the Playvox system to evaluate, improve and inspire agent performance, with a concentration on agent well-being. With this real-time intelligence and quality assurance analysis, they also improve customer experience and revenue generation.
When it comes to structure, supervisors must level the playing field so at-home or in-the-center agents are afforded the same opportunities. More meaningful contact with supervisors, as opposed to routine check-ins, gained importance. Using cloud-based quality and performance management solutions means agents’ performance and compliance can be evaluated similarly regardless of their location.
While video conferencing can help remote workers feel like they are part of the team, concepts like gamification can be immensely helpful in creating team spirit. Gamification can use data in a useful, fun, and smart way to drive people’s behaviors for the better.
Gamification in the workplace activates creativity by encouraging employees to think outside the box and extend beyond their capabilities and job responsibilities. It increases productivity. And although it isn’t about playing Jumanji, it does make work more enjoyable because it’s fun. But it must be a choice, not a requirement.
Changes and challenges that might have seemed daunting at the start of the pandemic have transitioned into the new normal. These changes create a culture that employees find engaging and motivating which helps employees tie their work to a meaningful purpose. And are creating a more productive, stable, and effective future workforce.
In this way, the pandemic led to positive contact center transformation that will have a lasting impact on the future of work.