The New-Age Contact Center: 3 Steps to Fostering Highly Engaged Employees

More and more customer service organizations today understand the value of employee engagement. A leading financial services company saw a 20 percent uptick in contact center upselling success when agents had better tools to work with, more open lines of communication with their superiors, and a valued voice in decisions about improving business processes. Indeed, agents who are truly engaged can drive customer service improvements, impact the top line through greater customer retention, and build business with current customers.

Over the last decade, customer experience has taken center stage as a key corporate initiative for most organizations. Executives are looking to the contact center as the most strategic area for customer acquisition, retention, and growth. As contact centers work to support these areas, companies are exploring new strategies and practices. Today, we're seeing a paradigm shift to a new-age contact center and a new breed of agent—one who is more deeply engaged with the company and customer, one whose success is measured in more substantive ways than how quickly he or she can handle or deflect a customer call.

Here are three important steps that executives should consider when undertaking an initiative to improve employee engagement in the contact center.

1. Analyze the behaviors that drive or interfere with peak performance. By assembling teams of agents, knowledge workers, and company managers to identify steps for process improvement, the financial services organization mentioned above discovered that agents were spending so much time logging onto different systems and pulling relevant customer information that they weren't actually listening to customers, and in many cases were simply filling time on the call while they multitasked to get the information they needed to start a transaction.

What is the best way to solve the problem? By automating repetitive tasks and creating a new agile desktop that automatically collects critical data and displays it in one concise window, the company found that agents could treat customers as individuals whose history they instantly understood.

2. Strive to enable journeys, not just transactions. This phrase was created by Bruce Temkin, managing partner of the research and consulting firm The Temkin Group. It's a sound guiding philosophy for the new-age contact center. Each transaction between agent and customer is more than a transaction; it is part of a broader journey that a customer can take with a company, and it is incumbent upon the contact center to enable that journey.

Automated desktop technology plays a key role here. In "The Six Golden Rules of Customer Experience" (CRM, February 2014), Temkin cites a practical example in which a customer calls a large insurance company to report an address change. Because the company serves many military personnel, the agent asks if the caller is going on active duty. If the answer is yes, the system prompts the agent to help with many other items—putting auto insurance on hold, asking if the caller has a healthcare proxy, a power of attorney, life insurance. Through these guided processes, the contact center agent becomes not only a transaction-handler, but a salesperson, an adviser, an ambassador for the company's brand. What a powerful incentive for an agent to become more engaged with company and customer!

3. Use technology to identify the star performers. Activity intelligence and desktop analytics tools play an important role in the new-age contact center by capturing and analyzing a user's desktop activity—clickstream activities that help you gain a better understanding of the work that results in gold-standard behavior. Measure things like customer success, not just number of interactions. Rather than focusing on average handle time, focus on KPIs such as first-call resolution, likelihood to recommend, things that measure loyalty.

In addition, remember that data is not an end in itself. Use it to engage with employees, to gather them around the table and ask their opinion on how you can work together to become a world-class organization. They have the knowledge that can only be obtained by being on the front lines. By empowering them to identify smarter ways to work, you're giving them the reins to think outside the box to improve processes, refine work activities and improve the agent and customer experience—for everyone's benefit.

You have superstars in your contact center and back office. But are you engaging them? By making their work environment better, stronger, more reflective of how they want to serve customers, executives can empower them to grow new revenue and build customer lifetime value. New technology can support this quest, but there has to be a fundamental shift in philosophy too—buy-in from the powers-that-be that times are changing.

Anna Convery is the executive vice president of strategy at OpenSpan.