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November 05, 2010

Tips On Keeping Agents Engaged and Empowered: A Talk With Interactive Intelligence's Shaheen Haque

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

Many contact centers are feeling a tight squeeze today: sales may be down, which means it's more important than ever to retain existing customers. Companies may have hiring freezes in place, which means they need to make do with reduced agents pools and demand more than ever out of existing agents. Technology budgets may be trimmed back, which means companies are limited in buying new tools that make agents' lives easier. As a result, you have a perfect storm of risk: increased competition for fewer consumer dollars, more media than ever through which customers can reach you, burned out agents at risk of delivering less-than-optimal customer service, and customers expecting more and better service for their increasingly precious dollars.

Shaheen Haque, Territory Manager for the Middle East and Turkey at Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert) Inc. recently spoke with Zawya.com and addressed some common questions about ways to improve agent performance and reduce burn-out while acknowledging and planning for the fact that the contact center is becoming a more complex place. Haque addressed a common concern: coping with the high cost of agent turnover to a business. Not only is it expensive to continue hiring and training new agents, noted Haque, but a possible intangible cost is damage to a company's brand from unprepared agents interacting directly with customers.

So what to do?

The key, said Haque, is to combine well chosen technology with well designed training for optimum effect. By enabling and empowering each agent to play more of a subject matter expert role in the contact center via proactive mentoring, and providing agents with the best tools for the job, you can help prevent agent burnout and keep them active, engaged “promoters” of a company's culture and products.

To keep on top of agent performance, Haque stressed the benefits of real-time alerts: letting agents (and their supervisors) know when agent performance may be slipping from performance targets provides a way for both the agent and his or her supervisor to take steps to correct the problem immediately. Observed Haque, “Alerts go right to the desktop and can be configured to highlight particular target areas of improvement. Supervisors can easily see who the lowest performers are by reviewing real time stats and historical reports. It's best to work with the agents as the problems crop up instead of waiting for a performance review, especially if their performance problems could potentially impact customers.”

Better coaching tools, too, can help ensure that agent training is rigorous, even as supervisor free time for training and coaching may be shrinking. Noted Haque, “There are tools that can optimize the process of agents requesting assistance from their supervisors when they do not have the skills to handle a particular interaction. They reduce the amount of time involved in the request, and help supervisors prioritize which issues require immediate action.”

While your contact center technology budget may not resemble the one you had just a few years ago, the trick to maintaining contact center excellence in an increasingly complex and demanding environment is about making wise – not necessarily voluminous – purchasing choices. Burned out and bored agents are a risk to any contact center, regardless of how up-to-date its technology solutions are and how well crafted its business processes. By focusing technology dollars on solutions that help agents stay engaged, informed and empowered, companies can take the technology dollars they DO spend much further, to the benefit of customers and the agent workforce alike.


Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Chris DiMarco



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