The coaching carousel or "How do you overcome indifference in your call center employees"
By Chad Mottice
In almost every instance where I get to talk to call center professionals, a variation of the same issue/question always comes up:
“How do I overcome the lack of energy and focus that comes with doing the same call / script / flow over and over. How do I keep my workforce energized and engaged?”
I refer to this as the “indifference” question, and it has been a central component to any call-center experience I have been a part of. Weather it has been collections, sales, customer service or field support, the challenge has been the same. After an agent reaches a certain point(usually about 90-120 day mark) they have maximized what they learn about the job and will either become board, or at least not be as energized as they were in the beginning. This is why retention and attrition numbers are always high in the call center industry and why it is so hard to maintain solid, engaged employees for the long haul. The goal in this article is discuss the symptoms of this issue and give solid, tangible steps you can take to improve or eliminate this issue.
If you look back to when you were hiring agents for your team, you usually had only one real standard you needed from your applicants: “Previous call center experience”. If you are like me, you have no problem getting experience. Phone experience and skill is a talent that not many people have to be successful, and once you have shown that skill, you can normally find work in just about any industry (someone always needs the phone to be answered, but someone skilled). The challenge becomes, why do experiences phone center agents move around so much. The answer may be easier than you think. It is not any dissatisfaction with what they are doing as their job, it is the lack of variety and growth within that job that loses their interest.
Ask any of your most experienced agents the following question:
“Can you explain for me, in the deepest detail possible, the last three calls you took?” The answer is going to give you all the information you need to know if indifference is impacting your employees. It will be your hope that your agents can give you answers that include the following things:
· The Customer’s situation/issue
· The Customer’s tone
· What the agent did to handle the situation
· What the outcome of the call was (positive / negative)
· Was their any additional steps that the agent will need to take after the call was over (follow-up)
· How long did the call take?
This level of engagement can also move into levels of “delighted focus” that the most engaged agent will be able to answer.
· What did the agent think they did well?
· How would the agent handle the call differently if they had the chance to do it again?
The challenge will be that many agents will not be able to answer most of these questions without any kind of recording or reminders of what happened in these calls. It is not a sign of a bad employee or flawed process, it is simple human nature for the individual to process into the background what has become normal and habitual. In the same way that a strong smell fades into the background to where you do not notice it anymore (unless you are specifically trying to remind yourself of it), the repletion of the call center experience causes this same dulling of the senses. Think about this: It takes about 21 days for something to become a habit, and once something becomes a habit, you do not have to think about it to do it. This is counter-productive to the call center process in that you want your agents to be engaged and focused on every opportunity, every day. This is extremely hard in the call center process because human nature is pulling us in a different direction. Therefore, people love call center work but struggle to find job satisfaction as it can feel mundane.
The solution for resolving indifference is what I call the “3 Ms”, measurement, momentum and meaningful engagement.
We all understand metrics. It is the lifeblood of call-center management and we all have stacks of emailed reports and measurements that all mean something different to different people in your organization. What I am talking about here is digestible, easy to explain data that your agents can see on a regular basis that shows impact in the following areas:
o Log in percentages
o Call Handle times
o Calls / Emails / Incidents per hour
· Quality Assurance (either a call-quality scored recording or review of an agents call)
· Survey feedback / scores (if available)
Now, I know what your initial thought is: “We have this, we make it available every day, this is not new”. I know you have this, but I want to challenge you to the next step, and that is the following:
· Set specific goals in each of the above areas…create these goals with the following levels of achievement:
o Exceeds Expectation
o Meets Expectation
o Needs improvement
· Let each agent know what their rating is as often as possible in each of these areas and…where they rank with their teammates.
o This can be a cultural shift if you do not normally post / show rankings publicly…you may need to give each agent their own numbers only and simply list what their ranking is (Example: Your log in percentage is 11 out of 22 agents)
The key to this tool is to not be concerned getting the perfect metric or fairest rating. Get methodology and measure into your teams’ hands and will start the following changes in your team’s focus and energy.
· Competitive people will engage quickly and work to improve on their own (instant lift in energy and production)
· Those that are not as competitive will ask questions of leadership as to how they can improve their numbers and want to know what areas they should focus on.
· This will engage conversation by all about what is measured, what is hard and what is easy (allowing you to re-calibrate the goals as any time).
· Most importantly: You get what you measure! Incorporating measurements, goals and conversation around what you need success/improvement on will generate focus, and “where your focus goes...energy flows” (Quote from Tony Robbins)
The measurement tool of this process takes very little effort and can be implemented quickly. The remaining two tools will require another “M”…Management. The momentum tool is used to create positive gains and propulsion toward success for both your agent and your call center team. The goal here is as follows:
· Use the information shown in the measurement tool to show the agent, what they are improving in….it can be:
o A metric (from one rating to another) or simply a positive movement at all.
o Ranking (overall or in a metric)
o Team movement in a focused metric.
It will be your goal to find a momentum component to touch upon with each agent, as often as possible (at least once a week). Feedback needs to be given with specific reference to a specific positive action, and it needs to be given in a very “action, result, reason to keep doing” format. Example:
“Alice, I am very happy with your improvement on your inbound handle time…you went from 2:00 last week to 1:40 this week. You are now within 10 seconds of the team goal and this is helping you handle more customer calls than ever. This is key to our success, keep up this solid effort”.
The idea that this “Javelin” feedback can be given at any time (and because it is positive can be given in the presence of others). The automatic momentum of positive reinforcement and coaching is a contagious ingredient to morale and mental attitude in any workplace (especially in a call center).
Ensuring a continued focus on the positive is important. This is not to say difficult conversations and corrective action are not going to happen, but the more deposits (positive interactions) you can put into the agent’s emotional bank account the better (and more productive) the conversation will be when you must take a withdrawal (give negative/constructive feedback or correct a negative action).
The last tool is the piece that ties everything together and sets your team up for long-term success. For any employee to retain their motivation and zest for the company / job they work for, they need to feel engaged. This means the following:
· The work they do is important and meaningful
· As an individual they are visible and important (rather than invisible and taken for granted)
· Everyone has a compelling vision for what they are expected to do daily.
Engagement begins with measurement and momentum…it is completed with distinct, individual touch-points between leadership and the individual agent.
This is the component of the process where coaching, guidance and career planning happen. Beyond just knowing what the metrics are (measurement) and cultivating growth through success (momentum) this is where the communication cycle is completed, solid two-way conversations happen, and a true engaged relationship between employee and business happen.
In future editions, we are going to dive into breaking down these areas into digestible chunks…we will talk about:
· One-Way and Two-Way Coaching deliveries
· Skill vs Will Coaching
· Identifying and capitalizing on the 4 work-place personalities
· Why good attitude and work ethic is not enough (The importance of the roadmap)
Yours in call center excellence,
· 20+ years of call center training, development and management