Why You Should Treat Your Contact Center Agents as Well as You Do Your Customers

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highlight an employee' skills might be to put an agent in a different position in the contact center. For example, an employee who is very analytical might be inclined to work better in workforce management.

"It goes back to the hiring process," Navarra points out. "If you're hiring in an environment where people are expected to service more than one channel, then you have to make sure that your recruitment efforts are successful at identifying the right talent."

Recognition and Rewards Go a Long Way

Incentives are not just for salespeople—contact center agents also do a great deal of closing deals, cross selling, upselling, and customer retention. Navarra believes that contact center agents should also be incentivized, since they make the effort to bring in more business or build valuable relationships with customers. "A lot of organizations frown on [incentivizing] agents, but they deserve it," she says.

One way to offer incentives is through gamification. While the concept is still relatively new, gamification is catching on as a way to not only make work more fun but as a method to measure performance and motivate improvement.

But does gamification really work? Yes, according to Aberdeen Research.

"Our research shows that companies that do incorporate gamification within the contact center workforce optimization activities enjoy [a] 6.3 percent annual increase in agent retention rates, compared to 1.8 percent by those that don't," says Omer Minkara, research director, contact center and customer experience management, at Aberdeen Research.

"Improving the customer experiences is the number-one priority for most contact centers. However, looking at customer interactions without considering the role of agents is a short-sighted activity hindering organizations' ability to maximize the results of service delivery activities," Minkara says.

He explains that companies need to determine the top objectives that drive their customer care programs and incorporate them within contact center gamification programs.

"It's critical that companies first identify the business case and purpose prior to implementing a gamification program as well as review these objectives on a regular basis as customer needs change."

Additionally, many gamification solutions have somewhat of a social media feel, which allows agents to be recognized by their peers—they can be seen as influential and followed, similar to Twitter, or congratulated for achievements. As Navarra points out, in a large contact center, there can be hundreds of seats—gamification is a way to personalize the work experience and engage agents. "It's a fun way for agents to be recognized for doing their jobs without distracting them from the job," Navarra says. "That's the key part.

While some gamification solutions offer rewards such as badges, Navarra says that companies should also provide tangible items, whether in the form of a gift certificate, a day off, or a shift switch, items that aren't expensive but can be very meaningful.

Are You Strangling Your Agents?

It's somewhat of a universal experience to call into a contact center and get a surly if not downright rude customer service representative on the phone. But taking a step back, that attitude probably has nothing to do with the customer and everything to do with being hog-tied by ill-advised company policies.

"Organizations often put agents in no-win situations," Navarra says. "They have policies that frustrate customers as well as agents. Agents are often backed into a corner, and there can be a consistent pattern of frustrated customers and the agent's hands are tied. The more options that agents have, the happier they are and the happier customers are. It becomes a more rewarding job."

On the other side of the coin, companies such as Zappo's appear to have empowered agents who can do what is needed to keep customers happy and satisfaction levels high. "Agents need something to work with. There should be a give and take," Navarra points out.

Organizations also may want to revisit how they view their metrics. Agents are sometimes held accountable to unrealistic expectations based upon what they've been tasked with. Of course contact centers need to have a certain level of productivity that needs to be maintained, but other factors should be heralded as well, such as the quality of work. Otherwise, a company may be giving the impression that people who take the most calls are the best agents. However, there may be an agent who spends more time on the phone but brings in more revenue from sales.

Additionally, updated technology should be an important consideration to helping representatives. It seems that every day a new contact center solution hits the market—the latest and greatest dashboards may be hugely helpful in the contact center, but companies are often unwilling to open their wallets even if it might save money in the long run. If an organization isn't treating its agents like their customers and hearing what they have to say, then they won't realize the toll that outdated solutions take. For instance, if an agent has to fill out multiple forms, put the customer on hold because they can't find information, or use systems that have inefficient navigation, who suffers? Your agents, yes, but ultimately your customers.

"The contact center is the last place where companies spend their IT money," Navarra says. "Contact center projects are also usually low on the priority list in terms of internal IT environments."

Stop Thinking of Agents as Just Another Cog in the Machine

Your company may be heavily invested in measuring customer satisfaction through methods such as surveying, but don't forget that measuring your agents' happiness is just as important. Consider, too, that while agent churn is expensive, you might be also be paying the price for disengaged employees who sit in the contact center but are so burned out and disillusioned that they "quit and stay," as Navarra puts it.

"So many contact centers just dismiss their agents, but they need to be involved," she says. "They're on the pulse of what a customer wants. If you're not tapping into that, you're missing out on so much as well as not being fair to them. That's why they leave."

Are you listening?

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