An Advice Column Only for
Contact Center Managers
This month we feature insights from Sarah Kennedy, Senior Client Development Consultant, Canadian Operations, for Ulysses Learning.
The question selected from our readers this month is:
Q: We meet weekly with our CSRs to communicate our key metrics, everything from average handle time to first call resolution. We tell them what numbers we need to hit and the importance of doing so. We typically see the numbers move in the right direction for about a month or so, and then they backslide. It’s getting a bit frustrating for everyone because we have invested a considerable amount of our time (and money) benchmarking and sharing our data across all units in our contact center. What can we do?
A:(Sarah Kennedy, Ulysses Learning)
I want you to know that you’re moving in the right direction, even though it may not feel that way to your team right now. I say this because measuring the success indicators of your contact center are important. Benchmarking is crucial. So please, have heart and give yourself a pat on the back for the work your organization has done to this point. Now you are ready to actually do something with that data. And this is key.
It’s not enough, and dare I say, it can be downright dangerous to share your data with CSRs and tell them they have to hit a certain number (or numbers). I know this because for 16 years I worked with contact centers around the world to benchmark their performance internally, as well as externally, comparing their data to their peer groups. As you probably already know, ultimately, the goal of good benchmarking is to better understand the customer experience and what is needed to improve that experience going forward. What I learned is that getting and sharing the data is only part of the equation, how the data is understood and acted upon at the point of customer contact matters most. And doing this well is, quite frankly, part art and part science. That’s why, I joined a company that focuses exclusively on the second part of the equation which is all about “how” to achieve improvements in the performance metrics you seek and actually sustain that improved performance over time. I’ll share more on this in a moment.
But first let me highlight some of the common stumbling blocks that occur when you give CSRs a number to target and tell them to go out there and get that number. (My sense is that you may be experiencing some of these challenges; but please know this is common among contact centers and you can turn it around!)
Average Handle Time (AHT) is an important measure at the management level in the operational planning of a call center. However, if the measure becomes an accountability at the CSR level and CSRs are told to focus on it exclusively (and without good judgment), the customer experience will most assuredly suffer. This is the most typical impediment to good First Call Resolution (FCR) because CSRs may get so focused on AHT they become “question only answerers” to keep the call short. They are unable to transition to that mode of listening, effective questioning, and giving alternative solutions to the customer because they are so focused on being efficient rather than being both efficient and effective. CSRs don’t want to look bad. They want to please you, they want to give you what you want. Unfortunately, you may get your AHT metric at the cost of customer satisfaction and higher than necessary call backs.
FCR is an incredibly important metric. If you tell CSRs you want them to increase their FCR without guidance on how they can best accomplish this task, they will find (sometimes surprisingly creative) ways to increase that number for you. Sadly though, it could be at the expense of your business, as well as the satisfaction of other customers. A clue if this is occurring is that you may see an increase in FCR along with an increase in hold times, talk times, and escalations. Some increases are necessary (see comments on AHT); however, you may see an unacceptable number of transfers as reps move calls they think may generate low FCR into other areas. You might also see an uptick in incidences involving extreme customer service heroics that rarely result in the best course of action for all involved. Imagine the rep that harangues other departments to speed resolution for a customer or conferences in a party but has to go through massively long wait times to get them on the phone. On the one hand, this behavior is the stuff that generates folklore about the customer being at the heart of the organization. (That’s good.) On the other hand, it can become a run-away train and disruptive to the business. Again, make sure your CSRs know how to use good judgment on their calls so they are not trying to resolve a call that really needs a follow up because it simply takes too long to resolve in one call.
Sales is another common expectation for financial services and telecommunications call centers. When positioned by management as the most important deliverable to achieve, this expectation can inadvertently cause the wrong behavior. Unethical sales practices at Wells Fargo made the news last year, and now the Canadian banks are caught in the media glare with the same accusations of unethical behavior resulting from ambitious sales goals. Opening accounts and increasing credit limits without the customer’s knowledge are just some of the destructive behaviors at the center of the accusations. Equally distressing is the CSR who does not focus on resolving the customer’s issue, but instead prematurely rushes to a sales offer that is unrelated to the customer’s needs. All of these examples feel like customer abuse – abuse of customer’s time, attention, and most of all, trust.
These three examples all underscore the truth of “you get what you measure”. After researching and analyzing call center metrics for a good part of my professional career, I learned that data, without good judgment, holds us back. Good judgment is a skill that is developed by having a proven strategy for handling calls, that is blended with a method for CSRs to use their emotional intelligence to get to the best possible result for all involved – your customers, your business, and your CSRs. We all get tripped up on this concept, I believe, because we are focused on getting a perfect result, when the focus really needs to be on getting the best result given the scenario. Remember when I mentioned earlier that getting this “right” is part art and part science? This is what I meant. And once you have the right approach, I can tell you running your contact center gets much easier and you’ll have more fun doing it!
While there are a number of approaches that work, I have come to learn that, at a minimum, your approach must include the following: 1) get the right type of training in place (I’m a believer that it must include a solid call strategy that is fully enabled by your CSRs developing and using their own emotional intelligence); 2) get the right type of coaching in place, a method that actually shows your supervisors/coaches how to give feedback in a way that CSRs can actually act upon (and feel good about); 3) implement ongoing coaching at a frequency that makes sense for your contact center and is customized to get your particular the call center results you seek; 4) measure your progress to goals (always, always, always); and 5) calibrate your metrics and approach, if necessary (especially if you’re noticing slides in your targeted metrics – remember, you have to get under the numbers).
I understand I provided much for you to chew on in this response. If you’d like to talk this through further, please contact me. I have a great passion for this topic and enjoy discussing it with others!
This month’s featured expert is….
Sarah Kennedy, Senior Client Development Consultant, Canadian Operations, Ulysses Learning
Sarah Kennedy is Senior Client Development Consultant, Canadian Operations, for Ulysses Learning. Sarah is well known for her work in contact center market research with SQM Group. After a successful 16-year career with SQM, Sarah brings to Ulysses’ clients a deep understanding of contact center analytics as well as her passion for coaching and training contact center associates and managers to become fully equipped to deliver exceptional customer service experiences in a complex world. Sarah possesses a proven track record in developing consultative and lasting client relationships, offering clients added value through her substantive knowledge in contact center operations. Sarah is responsible for developing the Ulysses’ Canadian base of clients with a special focus on those in the insurance, energy, and financial industries. Sarah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; for more details on Ulysses Learning visit www.ulysseslearning.com.
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