Performance Management Could Use a Human Touch


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Performance management systems can extract cold, hard facts and deliver valuable data to companies, but how well do they work with your call center’s very human agents? SmartCustomerService.com spoke with Scott Buchanan, head of solutions marketing at NICE, who provided his take on getting the best performance from the front line while gathering critical information from technology solutions.  

Q: What is your take on the current performance management market, and how has it progressed?

A: I think that over the last year, there’s been a lot of energy invested in performance management companies, the organizations that have really polished performance management processes. Seventy-two percent of the respondents in a recent survey NICE conducted said that their organizations have multiple systems that they use to measure and communicate performance. They’re managing it in Excel, plus Business Intelligence, plus a commercial performance management platform, but the effect of that is that 57 percent of the respondents said that their biggest pain point is their complexity as far as investing energy in measuring and managing performance.

Q: How are companies using this performance management data?

A: It looks like companies are using it to prioritize the kinds of people and topics on the front line that they would focus on for coaching, but they also complain that their supervisors don’t spend enough time coaching. The companies that have multiple systems to measure and manage performance are spending all their time crunching numbers and rationalizing data and not enough time coaching. I think the trend over the past few years has been to vastly increase the amount of data that’s being gathered, but companies haven’t necessarily figured out how to align around it or act on it yet.

Q: What should companies be doing to address these concerns?

A: We think that a single source of performance truth has huge value. When folks on the front line know that their performance is being measured and that the data from separate performance management systems is different, they need to know “Which one [of these systems] am I accountable to?” That’s why we’ve seen the organizations that are thought leaders in this space aligning around one system of record. Another point is to free supervisors from the front line, from doing the crunching. Give them the data they need to prioritize people and topics for coaching and let them spend their time delivering on that coaching, not trying to rationalize a bunch of numbers.

Q: What effect do information silos have on companies?

A: Having one performance management solution that companies can pull data from across the organization, rather than having that data exist in silos, is a huge value to an organization. Silos are a huge problem for organizations. [Companies are] trying to figure out how to pull data together. The reality is that a lot of vendors have closed systems; a solution is built to interpret one kind of data but not necessarily be friendly with other kinds of data in the organization, and this continues the silo problem. They need to find a solution that’s open enough to accept data from multiple systems. [Some of these solutions] are really built for an analyst and not for the front line. One of the key problems we see is one of alignment; is the entire organization from the executives and their company scorecards all the way down to the front line aligned to the metrics that matter, whether that be customer satisfaction or operational efficiency? Can you connect those dots?

Q: To connect the dots, what can companies do as far as the front line?

A: A consideration is, do people on the front line have the data that they need to know how to sell correctly or how to deliver really targeted coaching on a day-to-day basis? We see a lot of organizations that set goals for the front line on a monthly or less frequent basis. If you see that from a front line perspective in how that drives action or the right behavior, it might show things like an agent can have a first great week and then coast the following three weeks. We also feel that performance goals need to be set at the individual level, because the kind of calls one person takes might be different from the person sitting next to him. They might handle different call types, different customer types. They should have the same goals, but these goals can change day to day to reflect the change in reality of the kinds of calls they’re dealing with. That requires a solution that can adapt to changes in the environment. If you see how companies are trying to handle this across three different systems, you can see how they can get tangled up pretty quickly.

Q: How can companies help the front line?

A: Collaboration can help organizations engage their front line for ideas and best practices. We’ve found through our recent survey that only 12 percent of organizations solicit ideas from the front line. That might be a more traditional approach, but for companies that are struggling to engage their people, actively reaching out and understanding what they’re doing to deliver a better customer experience more efficiently is a great way not only to engage them, but to also identify practices that can save costs or deliver better results.