Do Your Call Center Workers Like Working There? They Should!


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Are your customer service representatives happy in their work? Are they proud of what they do? In my experience, it is rare to get a “yes!” answer to these questions. But believe it or not, a “yes” leads to higher customer loyalty and customer satisfaction. What do companies have in common that have motivated and satisfied customer service representatives? They have appropriate metrics.

Consider two call centers in the same company. In the first, customer service representatives were managed primarily by first-call satisfaction. If the customer called about an issue, the reps were to have that issue resolved in one call and, if possible, by the first person who answered the call. This aspect of the call was measured internally as well as in customer satisfaction surveys.

In the surveys, customers were asked if they had ever called about the problem before and how many times. The results of this survey question were the key metrics of success for the call center. Management did everything possible to encourage the service representatives to solve every issue on the first try.

Hired to consult on the call center, my company conducted “Voice of the Employee” studies. We asked customer service representatives what was getting in the way of resolving issues. What tools did they need? What policies or strategies were inhibiting them? The employees were encouraged to develop their own individual tools and crib sheets to enable first-call satisfaction.

The customers often were hurried off the phone without having their issues completely resolved.

The employees began meeting in teams to discuss how to improve the statistics (remember Quality Circles from the 1980s?). These employees developed specialties, on their own, so others knew whom to speak with to resolve a particular difficulty. The employees felt empowered. The customer service representatives felt as though they owned the figures depicting first-call satisfaction. The customer service representatives knew management would support them in whatever they attempted as long as the goal was to meet the customer needs on the first attempt. The call center employees were motivated and happy in their jobs.

But how did they handle call volume? Didn’t the focus on customer satisfaction on the first try slow them down? The answer is that while the initial focus was first-call satisfaction, the secondary focus was to satisfy the customer as quickly as could reasonably be accomplished. That meant that reps shouldn’t have made the customer feel hurried. In the call, the reps should have been relaxed and met the customers’ needs, but outside the call, they needed to develop tools and procedures to make sure the primary goal of first-call satisfaction was accomplished.

Call volume

Contrast this call center with another in the same company. In this second center, the primary metric was call volume. Customer service representatives were graded daily on how many calls they handled. This metric created some abhorrent behavior. In one instance, I witnessed a customer service representative pulling his phone chord in and out of the wall rapidly, connecting and immediately disconnecting with dozens of customers in a few minutes. When surveyed, the customers felt hurried. The customers often were hurried off the phone without having their issues completely resolved. What did the customers do? They usually rejoined the queue of waiting customers, but now they were irritated, sometimes angry! The average length of call was the dominant metric for everyone in this call center: the individual customer service representatives, the supervisors and the call center manager. The proverbial whip was being cracked constantly. No one in the call center liked the job.

Moreover, the customer satisfaction data showed that more than 40 percent of the calls were not satisfied on the first try! Imagine how much more efficiently your call center would operate if you could eliminate 40 percent of the calls! Can any system that has 40 percent rework be deemed “satisfactory” from either the customer viewpoint or management? The first call center had a rework score of under 10 percent, trending downward.

The most dramatic outcome of those two different sets of metrics was that many of the employees in the second call center asked to be transferred to the first! The customer service representatives felt that they could take pride in their work and enjoy the working environment.

The calls in the first call center tended to take longer than the second. However, the length of the call was trending downward rapidly as the customer service representatives developed tools and expertise. Sure, their calls tended to be 10 percent to 20 percent longer than those of the second center, but there were many fewer calls! They had very little rework.

What do you believe? Do you believe that customers are much more concerned with what happens after you answer the telephone than how many rings it takes for you to answer? If you believe that premise, do your metrics reflect that belief or are you still using call volume as your primary measurement of a customer service representative? Are your call center employees— your major voice and face with the customer—happy with their jobs and making the customer feel the pride and joy the employees have in their work? Make sure meeting the customer’s need on the first try is the No. 1 priority.

Which of these two call centers would you rather manage?

Chris Stiehl
Chris has helped companies save money and sell more by understanding their customers better. He once saved a company $3 million per year for a one-time research expense of $2K. What does your competition know about your customer that you don't know?


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