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How To Help Your Contact Center Teams Stand Out In 2021

by Marc Bernstein, CEO and Founder, Balto - February 1, 2021

How to Help Your Contact Center Teams Stand Out in 2021

By Marc Bernstein, CEO and Founder, Balto

The wrecking ball that was 2020 disrupted a huge chunk of the workforce, and contact  centers were no exception.

The massive shifts unleashed by COVID-19 thrust contact center agents into a new world. Forced out of workplaces where they had the support of peers and managers, most found themselves working independently at home. 

Suddenly, customer conversations were taking place from agents’ living room sofas and kitchen tables. There were no co-workers around to bounce ideas off, no managers to help troubleshoot. There were cameos by kids, dogs and cats, among other distractions.

Even under normal circumstances, it’s natural for agents to make mistakes. In an effort to understand the drivers behind them so that we can better support agents, Balto recently conducted a survey of over 1,000 contact center agents in sales, service, claims, collections and more. 

Titled "Why Agents Fail: A Contact Center Survey for Understanding Mistakes During Calls,” the newly released survey is the largest of its kind. It’s also especially timely, given the additional challenges facing agents today.

As tough as 2020 was, 2021 is not looking much different. Even with COVID vaccines rolling out, no one’s predicting a mass return to the office or contact center for some time.

With that in mind, here are a few tips to help your contact center agents be more effective, whether they’re focused on delivering a high-quality customer experience, generating revenue or ensuring compliance. 

  • Find ways to keep your agents engaged. In a Call Center Times article, Chad Mottice writes that agents tend to lose focus and energy after 90-120 days of doing the same call or script over and over. Balto’s survey finds that agents with five-plus years of experience rank boredom as their leading cause of mistakes. In addition, two-thirds of agents report that the main reason they make mistakes on a call is human error, including forgetfulness (24 percent), nerves (21 percent) and boredom (21 percent). In order to engage your agents, try creating a competition to gamify their tasks, collecting feedback to gather insights and address concerns, and asking for input on new playbook strategies. The contact center industry is notorious for its high turnover (averaging 30 percent to 45 percent), so keeping agents engaged is key to their success — and yours.
  • Evaluate your processes. If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Mottice proposes what he calls a “3 Ms” solution — measurement, momentum and meaningful engagement, where measurement includes gathering easy-to-explain data (e.g., on call handle times) that agents see on a regular basis. Not enough contact centers take this basic step. You should evaluate what is and what isn’t working, including doing so with particular agents so that you can help those who need more support and scale success to others. Do this by looking at key indicators such as CSAT scores, conversion rates, ramp time, and average handle times. This gives you a baseline of your company’s strengths and weaknesses and where your agents may need more support.
  • Fine-tune your training. According to Balto’s survey, coaching-related training tools are the most helpful resource for agents. Only 12 percent of agents say lack of training is their biggest issue, and only 34 percent attribute their mistakes to gaps in company training. Any training should include guiding agents to listen more and talk less. A study by Rain Group found that “listening to me” was the third most influential factor in buyer purchase decisions, with 68 percent of buyers surveyed saying they were highly influenced by sellers who listen well. Buyers also reported that only 26 percent of sellers are effective listeners. And for when agents do talk, don’t just train them in what to say, but also in how to say it. Leading with empathy not only helps forge a human connection, but can also offer insights into customer needs. For example, asking how the pandemic has affected a customer’s business not only shows empathy, it can also elicit information that helps agents fine-tune solutions to their unique needs. 
  • Reinforce training. As mentioned earlier, many agents forget what to say on a call. According to one study, people forget over 60 percent of information they’ve learned within just a few days. The best way to remedy this is to provide agents real-time guidance (more on this below). We also suggest reinforcing training materials with an up-to-date and easily accessed training repository for agents to reference regularly so they can learn at their own pace and build confidence. In addition, we recommend strategies for testing and tracking best practices in order to help agents and managers understand which approaches are resonating with customers and which are turning them away.
  • Don’t stop at post-call analytics. To help agents improve their performance, post-call analytics have become a standard tool for contact centers. But while these tools are useful for gathering data, they are not much help while agents are on a call because they don't provide visibility into what isn’t working until the call is over. In addition, they detect mistakes only after agents have lost deals, place the burden on managers to change behaviors and only result in coaching when managers have listened to calls — which they do a paltry 2 percent of the time. For post-call data to be valuable, it needs to be reviewed and acted on in a timely manner, which isn’t always realistic for managers with limited time. Many contact centers are turning to real-time technology to provide their agents with guidance when they need it most — in the moment.
  • Invest in real-time guidance tools. As contact centers continue to invest in training and technology, they need to consider which tools will be most effective in providing agents with the guidance they need while they’re live on a call. Real-time guidance prompts agents with the best things to say live and at scale, on every call. It can also help eliminate many of the common reasons agents cite for making mistakes, such as forgetting, nervousness and boredom.
  • Give leaders instant insights. Real-time tools also help contact center leaders by providing them instant insights into agent performance, win rates and trends. Armed with these insights, managers can see what is and isn’t working, and can quickly make changes to deliver better results.

The United States is home to some 39,000 contact centers and 3.5 million contact center agents. Often on the front lines of generating revenue and delivering a high-quality customer experience for their companies, they have a crucial role to play in the coming year. The road ahead may be uncertain, but if you combine proven best practices with a willingness to experiment with new technologies and techniques, your teams might do more than survive in 2021 — they might even thrive.


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