This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions
The tools and processes to optimize agent performance are multifaceted — addressing the desktop to handle the contact, and performance tools to measure and monitor. The desktop includes knowledge management and scripting, as well as agent assistance tools. A performance tools suite includes quality monitoring, workforce management (WFM), customer feedback, and coaching tools. Another key ingredient is a strong feedback loop that uses those performance tools to drive actions that the individual and team can pursue for overall optimization.
Lori Bocklund, President of Strategic Contact, and Rachel Wentink (News - Alert), Senior Director of Product Management for Interactive Intelligence, collectively possess more than 40 years of contact center experience. Recently they sat down together to respond to common questions on how to improve agent performance in a contact center environment. Here are a few of their summarized responses... although you can read everything Lori and Rachel have to say in their new whitepaper, “Optimizing Agent Performance in a Real-time World.”
Q: How does a center get the most out of its agents in today’s complex, demanding world, without risking burnout and turnover?
Bocklund: My experience is that most agents really want to do a good job and succeed in serving their customers — even with the increasing demands placed on them. So the first thing centers need to do is provide the tools to help agents succeed. Knowledge management is a proven tool, for instance, as is the ability for agents to seek assistance using other tools such as internal chat to peers, unified communication functionality for presence and instant messaging to find experts, and even whisper coaching that lets a supervisor or QA person provide agents with information that they can then convey to the customer.
One other thing centers must do better is assign ample time for supervisors to coach individual agents, and provide coaching tools to ensure it gets done effectively — things like QM scores, scorecards and dashboards that help an agent see how they’re doing and where they can target certain improvement actions. Then, centers need to reinforce performance through rewards tied to their metrics.
Wentink: An agent’s job can be incredibly stressful. You can reduce the stress by empowering agents to play more of a subject matter expert role with proactive mentoring and, as Lori noted, with the right tools at hand. The benefit is that providing these tools reduces agent turnover, which in turn helps prevent potential damage to a company’s brand from unprepared agents interacting directly with customers.
Q: Many centers measure internal views of performance but fail to look at the customer view. How does a center balance agent performance optimization with customer experience optimization?
Bocklund: Centers need to have a balanced set of metrics. That means having a mechanism for customer feedback and comparing those results to internal QM scores and other performance indicators such as service level. For example, a customer can get an e-mail with a link to a web survey, or go straight to an IVR after a call. Centers then need to execute consistent processes to assess performance across these balanced metrics and identify actionable improvements.
Wentink: It’s also important to respond as quickly as possible to optimize performance and customer experience. If an issue requires repairing a damaged relationship, it might mean having a supervisor call a valued customer back that same day, and that requires having configurable alerts that come in as soon as the customer survey is completed. It’s equally important to apply rules on how often to offer surveys, and best practices in how you construct the survey so that it isn’t too long. Otherwise surveys can seem like harassment.
Bocklund: Another “hot” metric that reflects the customer experience is First Contact Resolution, or FCR. We mentioned some things already that help improve FCR — like knowledge management and agent assistance — and centers need to define a clear way to measure FCR and consistently track and report on it. FCR is truly a balanced metric because it optimizes both the customer experience and agent and center performance.
Q: Most centers today are asked to ramp up quickly to support new products and services. How do we help them consistently perform in this constantly changing world?
Bocklund: One of the first places to look is self-service. If a company does self-service well — using IVR and the web — they can offload significant workload from agents. That benefits the center both during “business as usual” times and changes or events that throw curve balls at them. Self-service technology also helps to optimize contacts. A couple examples: A call transferred out of IVR can arrive with all the pertinent information already gathered. Or a customer on a web site seeking assistance can get it through text chat, web calls and collaboration. These kinds of scenarios can deliver a stellar customer experience while shortening handle times and letting the agent focus on the customer’s real need.
Wentink: Content can additionally be made available for agents internally, via a knowledge management solution or a scripting application, and even for customers externally, via the KM application. This can encourage self-service and reduce overall contact center costs.
Q: Centers still face the age-old problem of putting the right number of people with the right skills in place at the right time to handle the workload. What can centers do differently and better with today’s technology?
Wentink: Today’s all-in-one systems make configuration and updates to data such as agent skills less onerous. Correct configuration is essential for proper scheduling to ensure that the right people and skills are available when the interaction arrives. Today’s technology is also in a much better position to track demand and skills needed across different interaction channels, including tracking customer satisfaction ratings.
With seasonal peaks or new product/service launches, for instance, consider combining specific IVR prompts or DNIS to separate out certain types of interactions, then assign skills to cover the topics and add detailed KM content.
Q: A variety of industries face increasing regulatory pressures and challenges such as protecting personal information. What tools can help optimize performance in these areas?
Wentink: The most important thing any management team can do is ensure that agents have current information on what they are allowed to do, and on what is forbidden and why. A scripting interface or KM “canned” responses can be enlisted to guide agents with up-to-date information on procedural questions, and to help ensure that agents use the right phrases and avoid the wrong ones. It’s equally important to include compliance in quality scoring and mentoring processes. If you can demonstrate a solid track record of scoring, mentoring, and rewarding agents for compliance, it will put your organization in a better position should any infractions are discovered. eLearning modules or instructor-led training should also be supplied for complex compliance areas to give agents the necessary knowledge to comply.
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Edited by Jennifer Russell