An Advice Column Only for
Contact Center Managers
The question selected from our readers this month is:
Q: What other measures do you believe are deemed focus areas to drive efficiency while upholding a positive customer experience that does not send the wrong message to agents and/or drive the wrong behaviors?
A: (Dina Vance, Ulysses Learning) If you really want to send the right message to agents, have them focus on the customer experience…and that’s it. And have your managers focus on the customer experience, as well as all other measures that matter most in your contact center.
I’m not saying that other business measures or areas of focus should not matter to your reps. They should. It’s just I have found that it can be very dangerous to have reps focus on measures other than the customer experience. Rarely does it work out well for the contact center. Having been a frontline manager, I can tell you it can cause numerous business disruptions, poor morale, and many, many, many sleepless nights.
Reps need to understand what you are measuring in your contact center and why it’s important. They must have a conscious understanding of major efficiency measures that drive the business. In my opinion these major efficiency measures include: service levels (percentage of calls answered in x number of seconds), average handle time (or talk time), aux time (after call work, or how much time they are away from the phones), and adherence (% of seat time doing what they were hired to do). But I believe that supervisors and managers are the only ones who should focus on these measures day to day, while your agents should focus on the customer experience and doing what is right for the customer the first time.
Why you ask? Because your agents are human.
For example, when you tell agents to focus on average handle time, it’s natural that they’ll do everything they can to give you the number you’re shooting for. Sadly (and you know what I’m going to say next), the path they take to get to the result you seek is usually not the path you intended. And there can be collateral damage resulting from the path they decide to take such as low first call resolution and poor customer satisfaction scores.
That’s part of what happens when we put the communication out to reps to focus on efficiency metrics. It’s human nature to get creative to give you what you want and our agents can be quite crafty.
Here’s one of experience I had recently that illustrates this point. I was doing a series of side-by-sides with a team of agents before we implemented a new customer service program. One agent was humming the Jeopardy song while he was on the phone with the customer. I found that odd. When the agent I was observing ended his call, I asked him why he was singing the Jeopardy song. And he says to me “We are not allowed to place customers on hold. So my colleague started singing the Jeopardy song and I thought that would work for me too. That way the customer will know that we’re working but I don’t have to have a conversation with them.”
Crafty, indeed! You would be amazed at the home-grown solutions agents create to give you what you want. So, no matter how tempted you are to tell your agents to focus on efficiency measures, think about the end goal of what you are trying to accomplish and align your messaging to them to clearly articulate this goal
It’s absolutely essential that your supervisors manage your metrics correctly. The reality for most contact centers is that supervisors have not been trained on exactly how to manage the numbers in a way that gives you the desired results. This kind of thoughtful coaching is not always easy and it helps to have a suitable framework to guide you. From my experience, I have found that to manage the numbers correctly you must coach your agents to demonstrate the behaviors that are impacting the numbers. Remember don’t coach only the numbers… coach the behaviors to get to the numbers.
For example, typically a manager who coaches the talk time metric would say: “Sally, I notice that your average handle time is up 30 seconds. I need you to bring that down by 30 seconds over the course of the next week. We need to keep the call under 3 minutes.” In this example, the supervisor is not telling the agent how they can actually cut 30 seconds off the call. Some agents might get creative and start hanging up on customers if the calls get too long. Unfortunately, most reps don’t know how to do reduce their talk times or they would have done it which is why it is critical to coach the behaviors that increase the talk time.
A manager who coaches the behavior behind the increased talk time metric would say: “Sally, I noticed you had an increase in talk time recently. I see that where you’re getting stuck in the call is how you start the call. You jumped right into problem solving instead of acknowledging specifically what the customer is asking or needing. I want you to take a breath. Think about what the customer is asking. Acknowledge that you heard what they said so it really helps you focus on where you should be spending your time. This will significantly help you reduce your talk time.”
So, if you’re looking for insights on what focus areas matter most. First, have your agents focus on the customer experience. Second, have your supervisors focus on those top efficiency metrics and any other metric that is meaningful to your particular business, ensuring your supervisors then have the skills and knowledge on how to coach and communicate the expectations to drive results. Above all else, I believe that is truly one of the best areas on which to focus.
A: (Sarah Kennedy, Ulysses Learning)
There are so many measures in a contact center that can be used or abused. Handled well they can be trusted to drive efficiency and a positive customer experience (the ideal for all contact center leaders). Handled poorly they can and will send the wrong message to agents resulting in declining efficiency and a poor customer experience.
As to the question raised by our reader, I am going to comment on issue resolution as a table stake measure and then I am going to share some thoughts about two newer areas for measurement – emotion and channel education.
I agree too with Dina on her earlier comments that these measures are best managed by a contact center’s management and supervisory team, while agents are made well aware of the importance of the measures and the why behind them.
Issue Resolution. I believe the most important measure by far for the customer experience is issue resolution. In fact, this is not a belief but a proven fact in light of my work at SQM Group who are the market leaders in measuring and managing issue resolution. To do this metric well you must: 1) incorporate the customer perspective into the judgment of whether the issue was resolved; 2) weight the achievement of issue resolution highly in the full assessment of the quality score; 3) incorporate a repeat call formulation from ACD data into the scoring so that statistically a KPI is formed from all inbound calls rather than just a small random sampling; 4) align all the rewards and recognition, career advancement, performance bonuses, etc., in the contact center on issue resolution; and 5) hold CSRs, team leaders and management accountable to issue resolution.
Done poorly, issue resolution can back fire if the organization takes over as judge of resolution. Poor execution has QA determining issue resolution by applying their knowledge of what a CSR can or cannot do rather than applying the customer viewpoint. QA folks will tend to side with the CSR – “there, there you did everything you could – the customer just doesn’t understand our procedures”.
My advice for executing an issue resolution metric well would be to incorporate both perspectives in the QA form – from an organization standpoint did the CSR do everything (and I mean everything) that they could have to resolve the customer’s issue or was there a stone left unturned? And then, separately a measure of issue resolution from a customer viewpoint, through a post-contact survey, or through speech recognition or through a repeat-call calculation (examining whether or not customers call back within 7 days of the call under assessment).
Emotion. This is a newer area of thinking, especially in light of the question on measurement! However, thinking about emotion takes us into the realm of elevating the interaction from a transaction (best transaction, of course, is a resolved one!) to an experience that improves the mood of the customer. We know it intuitively, that if our mood has been improved by an experience we are more likely to remember the experience, more likely to distill the experience as a personal story worth telling, and more likely to trust the organization as a whole and stay with it.
I believe that emotion is what we have been striving to understand when we spend time dissecting the “tone” of our CSRs. It’s also what we may be trying to impact when we dive into the world of matching customer personalities with the CSR personalities.
So, here’s the nub of what we are trying to do: we are trying to have our customers leave us feeling better than they did when they started the conversation. Simple. Issue resolution is the table stake, of course. If we haven’t resolved their issue then they’re not going to feel better at the end of the conversation! But assuming we have resolved their issue, then our goal should be to see if we can find some way to improve the emotion of that caller.
In a recent call assessment, we heard a customer needing some help on completing an application for a university program. No one identified the opportunity to acknowledge the excitement of making that application and all the human hopes and dreams that go with higher education.
Imagine if we were able to peg a customer’s emotion at the beginning of the call at 4 on a scale of 10 and then take them to a 5 at the end of the call. The customer wouldn’t identify what’s happened but they would feel that their day was “brighter” and their mood was lifted by the experience.
We don’t have time here to get into the details of how emotion can be measured except to say that it is absolutely a measure that needs to be judged by the customer. Having said that, there are also speech patterns that are well associated with increased enthusiasm that can be incorporated. What would certainly not be wise is to have an internal QA assessor determining a change to the customer’s mood.
Contact Channel Education. Lastly, in our world of increasing channel complexity and our huge investments in web, mobile apps, chat, bots, visual IVRs, etc., we now need to maximize these investments through providing thoughtful channel education to customers. To this point, I can see great value in looking to our agents to provide just-in-time information, tips, and techniques to assist customers in migrating to these other channels.
I truly see this measure as one that will continue to evolve in the years ahead and also become more meaningful to our contact centers. The key takeaway is that agents do not provide education on all the different channels available to customers (that is best suited for written or electronic communications), rather they focus on what other channel is appropriate or useful for customers given the reason for their call. By placing the focus there and showing the customer how they can use other channels to support their query or provide additional information, agents can reduce any resistance to or confusion customers may have in using a particular channel.
This is also a highly personal and caring way to end the call. Done well this is another way that we can increase the emotional outcome of the call, described earlier.
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Dina Vance is Senior Vice President, Managing Director North America, for Ulysses Learning. She is a widely-respected thought leader on developing and leading contact center staff and a pioneer in improving performance of contact centers. Dina was responsible for the ground-level startup of two contact centers before she moved into a consulting role where she also managed the call center division for an international consulting and training organization. She has worked with Fortune 100 companies to optimize their contact center performance through focus on results, people, and process. Dina can be reached at Dvance@ulysseslearning.com; for more details on Ulysses Learning visit www.ulysseslearning.com.
Sarah Kennedyis 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. In her new role, Sarah is responsible for developing the company’s 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.