Many of us have worked in contact centers. It’s never been a particularly glamorous or well-paid job. And there’s now a serious talent shortage. Employers around the globe are facing the most severe recruitment crisis in 12 years, according to the latest Talent Shortage Survey, with 40% of companies surveyed reporting difficulties filling roles.
Contact center agents want to work for employers who help them to develop and grow their careers – and they’re not afraid to leave if they’re not getting what they need. In fact, agents are leaving their positions at more than twice the average attrition rate of other jobs. But thanks to a new wave of fresh approaches, that reality could be ripe for change as enterprises set about building a call center culture of excellence.
What Matters Most to Contact Center Managers
Contact center managers need clear strategies to create efficient, productive and effective teams. Measuring performance-based KPIs, such as first contact resolution (FCR), Net Promoter Score (NPS) and truck rolls are imperative to ensuring a smooth and customer-centric operation.
Enhancing employee satisfaction and cutting agent attrition should also be core priorities. Acknowledging and addressing agent pain points – such as lack of career progression, low pay, frustration with repetitive tasks and inadequate technology – demonstrates effective leadership and helps the drive toward agent empowerment, ultimately benefiting contact center productivity. After all, happy agents mean happy customers.
Improving Contact Center Culture
Interestingly, the opposite is also true. Improving customer experience (CX) creates better agents. A call center culture of excellence based on more personalized, collaborative, enjoyable and successful resolutions creates emotional bonds with customers that enhance brand loyalty from day one of the journey.
When employees feel they are providing value via their everyday tasks, and are trusted for their knowledge, expertise and integrity, they experience a boost in self-worth, motivation and confidence in dealing with more complex issues.
Areas where management can improve contact center culture include proactive customer support, empowerment through knowledge, professional development and better access to new technologies.
Proactivity is Key
Proactive assistance is the practice of identifying and resolving customer issues before they become problems. Taking the initiative in support processes could increase customer retention rates by 3-5% with consumers generally positive toward proactive service.
Anglian Water in the UK texts and emails their customers to notify them of outages and problems in their local areas, which has dramatically reduced customer calls and saved thousands of pounds in call center costs every year.
Similarly, BetterCloud, a US-based tech company that helps businesses manage software-as-a-service applications like Dropbox and Slack, flags customer issues and preemptively contacts the customer, eliminating the need for them to open a support ticket.
Meanwhile, Tesco Mobile’s onboarding team proactively checks in with new customers via social media to ask about their experiences and whether they need any help.
Sharing the Knowledge
Recognizing that agents are the most important resources in any contact center means creating robust training and coaching programs that enhance agent performance. As they work on creating a call center culture of excellence, managers often spend significant time on evaluation, but not enough on development.
While traditionally, agents have been expected to learn through studying the best practices of other agents, more personalized coaching is more effective in helping them achieve their full potential. For example, contact center managers should clearly demonstrate to an agent the behavior they’re expecting, not only by providing actual recordings, video or email/chat transcripts of positive agent-customer interactions, but by encouraging feedback and discussion in both one-on-one and group sessions.
Cargill introduced its “Everyday Performance Management” system, which incorporates encouragement and feedback into daily work-related conversations. Amazon offers its agents an intensive, month-long training and leadership program at the outset and a “Virtual Contact Center” trains employees to work from home.
Training can also be incentivized. Zappos’ employees earn “Zollars” for participation in training programs and can redeem them at an internal store. It’s no surprise that the company is known to have one of the lowest attrition rates of any large contact center.
Moving on Up
Allowing agents to take ownership of specific activities – sometimes becoming subject matter experts or training them in specific skills to fill new roles within the company – makes them feel important and acknowledged.
Developing SMEs from within an organization helps create new career paths for agents, enhances employee engagement and ultimately boosts retention. When agents are empowered, they become invested in every customer interaction.
This is especially relevant with chatbots taking over many simple and repetitive tasks, freeing up agents to deal with more complex customer issues. And they appreciate that. The 2017 Aspect Agent Experience Survey found that agents are not only willing to spend their time on more complicated customer issues, but that the majority see increased opportunities for growth and value-added contribution.
Tech Knowledge is Power
When considering the best way to widen agents’ skill sets, technology-based tools are often the key to professional development, as they enable agents to handle a much wider range of complex issues and to advance their careers.
As the range of products on the market increases and with BPO contact centers servicing multiple clients, the humble contact center agent has the potential to become the “tech guru” of the future, able to advise and assist on thousands of use cases across hundreds of devices and dozens of sectors. Powered by new technologies, agents can provide next-generation customer support beyond the scope of a traditional contact center.
AT&T is using SmartVideo technology from SundaySky to minimize ‘bill shock’ for their new and returning customers, placing more calls to customers who receive a bill for the first time or who get an invoice for a larger amount than usual. These bills now come with links to personalized videos that explain each specific charge, decreasing inbound calls.
Vodafone is using Remote AR Visual Support from TechSee to empower agents to see the customer’s environment and more easily troubleshoot issues such as cabling, self-installation, billing, and other issues in real time. Many of the activities that previously required a technician dispatch can now be performed by agents, acting as virtual technicians, effectively lowering the dispatch rate by 26%.
Promoting a call center culture of excellence that cultivates professional development for agents is a win-win, delivering improved KPIs and ROI for enterprises, cutting attrition rates, improving customer satisfaction and opening up a world of possibilities for representatives – both within the organization and beyond. Whether through proactive service, improved coaching, professional development opportunities or sophisticated technologies, when management demonstrates a sincere commitment to agents’ development, performance and retention rates skyrocket.