Can Workforce Engagement Turn Your Problem Agent into a Model Agent

Can Workforce Engagement Turn Your Problem Agent into a Model Agent?

There’s always at least one in every contact center. The agent that tests your patience, triggers an eye-twitch, elicits some curse words (in your head, of course) and makes your job as a contact center manager much more challenging at times. But the reality is, these agents aren’t waking up in the morning with the goal of making your life more difficult! Nor did they accept the job with the goal of failing – which means there is still hope for them!

All of your agents, including these tougher-to-love employees, have a direct impact on customer experience. According to a 2018 Gartner survey, 86% of CX executives rank agent experience as the number one factor in delivering customer experience.


Do any of the following agent “types” conjure the image of a special someone in your contact center? (or maybe someone you’d rather forget…)

  • Perpetually tardy
  • Goof-off
  • Rude
  • Complainer
  • Needy
  • Oblivious

Before you write them off as a hopeless, no-good, bad seed and “promote them to customer,” keep reading to see how workforce engagement software might help turn your problem employee into a model agent.

What is workforce engagement software?

Before we jump into how workforce engagement (WEM) software might help your agents, let’s discuss what workforce engagement software is. WEM tools support the entire agent employment life cycle, including onboarding, professional development, scheduling, motivating, and more. Gartner coined the phrase "workforce engagement management" and included the following categories under the WEM umbrella:

  • Recruitment and onboarding
  • Evaluation and improvement
  • Time management
  • Assistance and task management
  • Metrics and recognition
  • Voice of the employee

Agents are at the center of WEM software design. Ideally, workforce engagement products act as a unified platform of tools that actively increase agent engagement by supporting concepts like professional development, flexible scheduling, and performance transparency. Engaged and motivated agents should be more likely to deliver exceptional customer experiences.

How can workforce engagement help my helpless agents?

Effective workforce engagement software and strategies can help transform bottom performers into start performers. Too good to be true? Read-on!

The perpetually tardy agent

The perpetually tardy agent

We’ve all met those people have never been on-time a day in their lives. They probably would have been late to their own birth if their mother hadn’t been there! They can be really frustrating people to manage, and the excuses get old quickly. I missed the train, the car line at my kid’s school was long, I hit every red light on my way back from lunch. None of us are perfect, and occasional tardiness is a fact of life, but if you have an agent who is perpetually tardy for their shift or when returning from break – and otherwise performing great – then workforce management software and some simple tweaks might help turn things around.

  • Staggered and flexible scheduling: If your contact center still uses fixed scheduling, flexible scheduling might help your tardy agents. Just “how” fixed your schedule is might vary. I once worked in a very fixed-shift contact center where every agent started at 8 am and every agent ended at 5 pm (this is not very common). This was great for most agents, but not for my non-morning people and those who had morning childcare conflicts. So, we talked to our agents and began to stagger start times. Instead of having everyone start at 8 am, some began arriving at 8:15, 8:30, 845 and so forth. This not only made the difference between being late and on-time for agents, but it actually better mirrored our call arrival patterns, leading to better SLAs and agent utilization.

    You can also consider more flexible schedules where agents come in at different times depending on the day and schedule – but this might not be a good answer to your tardiness problem if your tardy agents are also on the more scatterbrained side.

  • Mobile workforce management capabilities: In many contact centers, agents only have access to view their schedules from their work computers. Or worse yet, they’re using a photo on their phone of the paper schedule hanging in the break room (only they don’t know the schedule in the break room was actually updated last week and they are working off an outdated copy!) When agents don’t have anytime, anywhere access to their work schedules, it’s inevitable that they are going to occasionally be late. They might forget what time their shift starts tomorrow but can’t double check, or they missed the memo that their start time tomorrow changed when the schedule was updated.

    Using workforce management software that gives agents mobile self-scheduling makes sure agents always know where they need to be and when they need to be there. The best even gives agents the ability to initiate shift trades and other schedule changes when they have a conflict – making sure they have a schedule that better fits their work-life needs and ensures they won’t be late after all!

  • Remote work. Now I know what you’re thinking, “I can’t get them to start on time when they actually have to be here! How will they ever start on time at home?!” Ironically, remote work can be the best thing for these tardy agents. I was recently speaking to a contact center manager who had her agents move to work-from-home (WFH) for the first time March 2020 in response to COVID-19. She shared an interesting story with me.

    She had an agent who was on a performance improvement plan and on the verge of getting fired when they were in the office because she was ALWAYS LATE. Naturally, she was worried that things would only get worse once she started WFH. But the exact opposite occurred. The agent has not been late a single day in months! It turns out that all those excuses – getting stuck at lights, missing the bus – were true, and removing the physical obstacles and commute solved the issue. This agent is now not only on time – but one of her top performers!

  • Incentivize schedule adherence. While there may be outside factors causing your agent to be tardy, the problem might just be that they don’t understand how their tardiness impacts the contact center as a whole. Schedule adherence can help with that. Make sure agents understand the direct relationship between adherence and SLAs – which all agents know is important. Once this knowledge is established, agents will hopefully be more accountable to their schedules and improve adherence. Nonetheless, it is only human nature to revert to old habits and slip up in adherence. The best way to keep schedule adherence top of mind is to use workforce management software that lets agents see their schedule adherence on an ongoing basis. Also, make hitting a certain threshold of adherence a requisite to earn other incentives in the contact center. Following your schedule is the bare minimum for doing your job, so an agent must do the bare minimum before they can start earning extra on top.

    The goof-off agent

    via GIPHY

    I remember in the second grade, there was this little boy who was always goofing off in class. He would interrupt and disrupt the teacher all the time. So, you can imagine that my little child-brain was really confused when one day he wasn’t in class anymore --- because he got advanced to the third grade. What? But he’s such a goof! Well, it turns out he was clowning around because he was not being challenged enough.

    Fast-forward twenty years, and that guy could now be the contact center clown because, again, he’s bored and not being challenged enough. This agent might be the jokester playing pranks on his cubemates, or the gal who always seems to be up and walking around the contact center floor – while still hitting all her goals. Workforce engagement can help you harness that extra energy to work toward the contact center’s performance.

  • Introduce gamification and create tougher challenges with bigger incentives for high-performing agents who have mastered the CC agent role. Performance management software makes it easy and sustainable to create different types of games depending on each individual agent’s tenure and proficiency level, keeping them challenged and focused.
  • Give them additional responsibilities, like coaching peers, working on special projects, or serving on workplace committees. This not only gives them an extra challenge, but also gives them the leadership and development opportunities they might need to get to their next role.
  • Show them how their performance directly impacts the greater organizational good. ICMI research on the state of agent experience in today’s contact centers shows that “having an impact on an organization’s goals” is the #2 motivator for agents, second only to “helping customers.” And together, the alignment of the agent’s role, responsibilities, and performance with overall business goals is the #1 contributor to high engagement levels within the contact center. Factors Contributing to High engagement
  • Work together to create a career path. If this agent is consistently exceeding performance goals, but still has time to goof off, it might be time for this agent to explore a different role in the organization where they will face a fresh set of challenges. It’s important that you work with this agent to create a career plan sooner rather than later, though – before they get so bored that they leave the company altogether! According to that same 2019 ICMI survey, one of the two leading causes of agent attrition are lack of growth and advancement opportunities (45%).top 5 causes of agent attrition

The rude agent

Have you ever had an agent who consistently comes across as rude with customers? When you monitor their calls, their word choice, tone, or demeanor make you cringe, and it feels like every other word coming out of their mouth is “fault,” “blame” or “I can’t.” Often times, you’re left scratching your head because you know that this agent isn’t actually rude at all!

On the contrary, your agent probably doesn’t mean to be rude to customers. In a 2019 survey, “helping customers” was the number one agent motivation for working in customer service. So, it’s fair to say that rude isn’t their intention at all. Quality management is your number one tool to help that discourteous agent build better, more empathetic relationships with your customers.

  • Provide better quality feedback. Most contact centers conduct quality evaluations on their agents, but most also face the challenge of only getting a small glimpse into agent behavior, evaluating 3-4 interactions per agent per month. So, while you’ve got the suspicion that this agent is being less than polite sometimes, it’s often hard to get tangible evidence to coach them with because finding those specific interactions – and then evaluating them -- can be like finding a needle in a haystack.

     The best modern quality monitoring software helps you overcome this challenge by infusing analytics and automating the interaction selection process. So now, you can specifically target those interactions that have a negative agent or customer sentiment or where specific words and phrases were used, and automatically route them to you for evaluation. This helps ensure that you are evaluating and providing feedback on those interactions where the agent needs the most coaching – and that have the biggest risk to your customer experience.

  • Give them hands-on coaching activities. Coaching is critical in changing agent behavior, and one of the most effective ways to create real change is with hands-on activities. In this scenario, of the best development activities is a role play between coach and agent. Also, open-ended introspective questions also challenge the agent to think through their thought process and how they could have handled it differently. For example, “Why do you think the customer responded that way?” or “After that interaction was over, do you remember how you felt?” Agent motivation for working in customer service

    Another great activity is to have the agent listen to and analyze a sampling of role-model interactions by other agents. This helps provide good examples of what great looks like and helps makes the contrast with their interactions more evident. While one on one coaching is incredibly powerful, online coaching packages can help move the needle as well. And if you’re using a contact center experience platform that unifies workforce engagement and ACD/IVR, then your agent can work on these coaching packages directly from their contact handling interface – turning idle time in between interactions into productive time.

  • Help the agent see things from an outside perspective. A quality self-evaluation can be a powerful, eye-opening activity to help agents see an interaction from the evaluator’s perspective. Assign agents self-evaluations to help them understand what evaluators are looking for. Comparing the results of the self-evaluation side by side with the evaluator’s completed form is a great exercise to review during the one on one coaching session to generate a productive conversation that can get agent and coach on the same page. Quality management software can actually display the two completed forms side by side through an automated workflow making this process even easier.

    The complainer agent

    Often it feels like some agents just don’t have anything positive to say, and the resident Negative Nancy can really put a damper on the overall morale of the contact center. It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to curb the contact center naysayer is to give them more voice. Often those agents are complaining because they don’t feel empowered or feel they have no control over their work situation. There are a couple of ways that workforce engagement software can give them more voice and turn that frown upside down.

  • Enable agents to dispute their quality evaluations. One area of contention for the contact center complainer might be their quality scores. It is, after all, probably the only subjective metric on their scorecard, and usually holds a lot of weight. Agents sometimes feel like quality management is like Big Brother out to get them, but enabling disputes lets them know that quality management isn’t a dictatorship – it’s a conversation. Make sure your agents know that they can dispute their quality score if they disagree, and that they won’t be penalized for doing so. Quality management software will automate the dispute process, ensuring that the right leader – either evaluator or their supervisor – sees the dispute and engages in a collaborative conversation with the agent to understand their point of view.The Complainer Call Center Agent
  • Put them on your quality management or engagement task force. As a contact center manager, I had times where I just wanted to throw my hands in the air and say, “If you know better, then why don’t YOU do it!” Well, creating a quality management or engagement task force can empower agents to bring constructive ideas to the table on behalf of their peers for how they would like to see things done differently.

    A quality task force is a creative way to both engage your agents in the quality process, while also giving them a leadership opportunity is to create a quality task force. These agents are not evaluators, but act as an agent advocate to the QM team, generating buy-in amongst the team. The members of the task form can help influence the rest of the agents, and odds are, if they see that this noisy complainer is even advocating for the change, they will get on board too. Agents think that some of the quality evaluation questions are unfair or they should use a different type of scoring? Then the task force can collaborate together on their behalf to create a different way to do things that still delivers on business goals. And engagement task force is similar, but more focused on non-quality initiatives to boost morale and keep agents engaged. Think a party planning committee with a bigger purpose.

  • Use gamification to make even the grumpiest agent happy. Even the grumpiest agents like to win “free” stuff. Gamification is a great way to make the work environment more fun while striving to meet business goals.And the best performance management software offers a variety of game and challenge types to give agents different opportunities to win, and even a virtual store where they can choose their prize – you know, so they don’t complain that they don’t drink coffee when they win a Starbucks gift card, or gripe that they already have enough company swag.

    The needy agent

    As supervisors and managers, it’s our jobs to coach and support agents through customer interactions. But let’s be honest – who hasn’t cringed when the team’s needier agent walks into your office or IMs you for the fourth time today with a customer issue they can’t resolve? And it’s only 10 am!

    While we may want to get frustrated with the agent - Seriously? Can’t you figure this out yourself?! - I am confident that the agent would happily resolve the issue themselves if they were empowered to do so. As mentioned earlier, the vast majority of agents surveyed indicate helping customers and solving customer issues as their primary motivators… but is your organization enabling them to do so? A combination of improved processes and workforce engagement software can help you unleash their true potential.

  • Assign them relevant, personalized coaching packages. This one may seem obvious, but the emphasis here is on the words relevant and personalized. Effective coaching is not a one-size-fits-all, but many contact centers take that approach because they either can’t identify what the agent-specific coaching need is or because they don’t have the time and resources to provide more personalized coaching. But obviously the training this agent has received up to this point hasn’t sunken in, and a personalized approach is needed.

    Intuitive reporting, dashboards, and analytics in workforce engagement software can make it very clear and obvious where each agent needs coaching – and then make it easy to act on it with coaching packages. As stated, the best of the best WEM software will make it easy for supervisors to create coaching packages and route them right to the agent in their contact handling interface. And even make it easy to create the coaching packages with intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces.

  • Provide a single, intuitive agent interface. If your needy agent comes to you confused on how to “do” something in the system – where to find “X,” where to click to get to “Y,” etc. -their agent desktop experience may be more to blame than their lack of knowledge. According to Aberdeen, agents spend 16% of their time looking for data across 4-7 disparate systems while interacting with customers.

    And agents cite the biggest challenges when it comes to handling multiple channels is having to navigate multiple screens/interfaces (52%), followed by having to learn new processes (50%) and technologies (48%). So, it’s no wonder your agent is confused. Implementing a single desktop that unifies contact handling across all channels, workforce engagement activities, and CRM data mitigates agent frustration, improves speed of resolution, and makes agents’ lives easier. And a less confused agent means a less needy agent.

  • Give them clear processes and defined delegation of authority. Many organizations inadvertently hinder their agents’ ability to address customer concerns in the name of compliance or monetary protection. For example, in my former contact center, our agents had to process credits on an almost daily basis. While there were some credits that required a discretionary decision-making process, the majority were quite clear and obvious - if the issue was due to our error, the agent would always process the credit.

    But the Delegation of Authority (DOA) as defined by finance provided our agents $0 authority to process these transactions. How did that make sense?! This meant that agents came to supervisors for help on hundreds of customer interactions per year just for formality’s sake. Even worse, it meant that our customers suffered through hundreds of interactions in which agents provided some variation of “I need to escalate this to my manager for approval” before resolving their issue – dealing a big blow to our First Contact Resolution and overall Customer Experience.

    No matter how passionate the agents were about helping customers and delivering solutions on their own, their hands were tied by our internal processes. We were able to work with the finance team to change the DOA to allow agents a specific dollar threshold for which they could execute credits without supervisor approval – making for happier customers, agents, and supervisors. In our case the dollar threshold that agents could approve was the same for all agents, but some organizations empower more seasoned, tenured, or high performing agents more than new agents. The oblivious agent

    The oblivious agent

    When I was a contact center manager, I remember having one agent that just seemed oblivious to their performance gaps. She would come in for her one-on-one and genuinely thought she was knocking it out of the park and was always very surprised to discover that she wasn’t hitting some core KPIs. But given that nobody had shared her performance with her until our one-on-one, I couldn’t blame her for being uninformed. Performance and quality management software would have ensured that she and the rest of the agents knew how they were always performing.

  • Give agents real-time performance dashboards. In a world full of “likes” and “shares,” agents are used to getting real-time feedback on everything. So why not their work performance as well? Performance management dashboards empower agents to understand their performance in key areas, on-demand. These insights are critical to agent performance. They act as a barometer to gauge their work, or rumble strips on the highway to show them when they are veering off course and help them get back on track.

    The ability to see this in real-time is huge, rather than waiting for an email from their supervisor at the end of the day with the daily update – or in the case of my clueless agent, waiting until her one-on-one to learn she’s missing the mark. When the data is delayed, it’s already too late to impact today’s results! Also, make sure agents not only understand how they’re performing individually via real-time dashboards, but also how the team and the whole organization are doing. This helps them continue to feel part of the team, engaged, and in-the-know.

  • Make sure quality evaluations are timely and consistent. Agents shouldn’t be seeing their quality evaluations for the first time during the one-on-one. The one-on-one should be for coaching on how to improve, rather than cluing the agent into how they did. But contact centers that are using outdated, manual QM processes often can’t get their agents quality feedback more frequently. Modern quality management software ensure that agents see their quality score and feedback the moment the evaluation is completed by automatically routing it to them in their agent interface. This ensures that agents are never oblivious to about their quality performance.Workforce engagement software helps transform agents one day at a time

Workforce engagement software helps transform agents one day at a time

There are a lot of different types of agents in the contact center – that is the beauty of diversity – but if your contact center has too many of any of the agent types discussed here, you’re probably on the verge of pulling your hair out. One common theme throughout is that agents want to do their best, and with the right tools, insights, and coaching, and capable of doing so. Luckily WEM software, including workforce, quality and performance management, can help you mold trouble agents into model employees by surfacing performance gaps and unlocking their hidden potential.

Workforce engagement is not a magic pill but can help you transform your agents one day at a time. Learn more about how NICE CXone Workforce Engagement can help.