Unchain Your Agents, Elevate the Customer Experience

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UnchainedThe image of the contact center agent as a micro-managed and over-monitored drone stuck in a cubical handling calls as quickly as possible is changing.

Just not fast enough.

I’m often surprised at how many companies continue to view their agents as mere “butts in seats,” and I’m even more surprised when these same companies have the gall to complain that their employee attrition and customer satisfaction rates are atrocious.

Imagine that. You rush agents through training, tether them to a workstation, give them little to no ownership or autonomy, and demand that they force their Average Handle Times down to alleviate costs, and yet they and your customers still aren’t happy? How odd.

Fortunately, not all contact centers manage their people in such a manner. Not by a long shot. Many have emancipated their agents – removing the restrictions that have historically kept staff from doing all they can to improve the business and elevate the customer experience.

Show me a contact center that’s thriving today, and I’ll show you a contact center that has “unchained” its agents by embracing the following practices:

Focus on customer-centric metrics and measuring agent performance accordingly. The best contact centers focus on metrics like Contact Quality, Customer Satisfaction, and First-Call Resolution – metrics that free agents up to take care of the customer and not panic about the clock and call quotas. These centers don’t merely talk about being customer-centric; they put their metrics where their mouth is, thus keeping customers and agents highly engaged.

Commit fully to agent training & development. Leading contact centers provide comprehensive training and coaching that is as actionable as it is entertaining, and that continuously drives performance improvement and customer loyalty. Training and coaching in these centers goes far beyond the traditional classroom. Agents aren’t lectured to, rather they are actively engaged via such learning tactics as e-learning, role-playing, simulations, gamification and mentoring – and they emerge from training and coaching not exhausted and overwhelmed, but rather energized and empowered.

Give agents immediate access to customer intelligence & the right tools during interactions. Winning contact centers know that all the training and coaching in the world won’t mean squat if the center’s CRMs, desktop tools and workflows make agents look like morons when interacting with customers. Utilizing tools like dynamic screen pops, powerful knowledge bases, online training guides, customizable text templates (for email, chat, and social media contacts) and web collaboration tools, successful centers enable agents to efficiently dazzle and delight customers across all contact channels.

Sustain a culture of agent ownership and autonomy. Top contact centers realize their agents possess a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience, and that empowering them to use that skill, knowledge and experience to make key decisions and suggestions is one of the best ways to continuously better the contact center and the customer experience while simultaneously keeping agents from wanting to cut themselves. Agents in such centers not only are given ample authority on the phones; they are also are given opportunities to work on special projects and serve on key task forces and committees that make life easier for everybody – the company, the customer and the agents themselves.

Reward and recognizing agents in meaningful ways. Top contact centers provide praise and incentives that truly inspire agents and drive the kind of behaviors that positively impact the customer. Such centers perpetuate lasting agent engagement and high performance by providing individual agents and teams with things like: public recognition and prizes when they achieve excellence in key areas like Contact Quality, C-Sat, Sales, FCR, Attendance and/or Adherence; nominations for external awards recognizing outstanding agents, such as ICMI’s “Spirit of Service Awards”; and recognition for recognition’s sake that shows all agents how much the organization appreciates everything they do for the company and for customers.

For more on the topic of emancipating your agents for the good of the company and the customer, be sure to catch my presentation – “Agents Unchained: Empowered Reps Rock the Contact Center and the Customer Experience” – at the 2013 inContact Users’ Conference in Las Vegas in October. Hope to see you there!

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