Contact Center Management Is about People
By Munirah Looi
Operating your Contact Center to deliver peak operational efficiency is essential in a world where resources are scarce and the demand for quality customer service is high. As organizations look to improve the bottom line, it is important to ensure you are effectively managing your people, the most costly of Contact Center resources. Today, all leaders need to be Chief Retention Officers, but what does it take to build a really great workplace—one that attracts, motivates and retains the very best talent? The first step to building a reputation for delivering quality service is to properly staff the Contact Center with well-trained and motivated agents.
The challenges of any Contact Center Manager today is that no matter how hard they try to keep the CSRs motivated and retain talents in the workplace, they are still experiencing a high level of attrition. Retention is still a problem in the industry, with turnover rolling on. The Contact Center industry is notorious for its high turnover of staff, costing companies thousands in terms of recruitment, training, and management. Increasingly, good people are regularly poached by the competition while new people with the right skills are hard to come by. To attract and keep top-notch CSRs, contact centers are mirroring their customer acquisition and retention strategies. Hiring the right talent and managing them to high levels of customer service is what distinguishes a world-class Contact Center. The need for diverse solutions geared to enhance the overall performance of your center is critical to success. There is no doubt that first and foremost, contact Center management is about people.
A study was undertaken to understand why CSRs remain in a Contact Center, and interestingly, 90 percent of the respondents listed at least one of the first three items among the top three to four reasons they stay.
The Top Three Reasons Why They Stay:
- Career growth, learning and development
- Exciting work and challenges
- Meaningful work, able to make a difference and contribution
The Top Three Reasons Why They Leave
- Low Company Morale
- Lack of trust for Managers
- Job burnout
Losing a CSR can cost you nearly 30 percent of their annual salary! It is therefore critical to create a program and a company culture that invites and encourages people to stay. Finding and retaining highly-skilled CSRs is at the heart of every Contact Center success. Therefore, we need to undertake employee turnover analysis, identification of turnover costs, its contributing factors and improvement opportunities; and then design and implement retention strategies, techniques and tactics to reduce attrition.
Strategy starts with the hiring process. Retention strategies are of little value if contact centers don’t get the right people. There is a need to institute vigorous applicant screening procedures, including a range of state-of-the-art assessment and selection tools designed for Contact Center hiring, innovative computer simulation tools and interview techniques to identify promising prospects. Understanding the job tasks and the required competencies for doing the job effectively are obviously the foundation for hiring the right person for the job.
Getting the right person for the job without training interventions can contribute to the person not being able to perform the job effectively. Considering that they are the voice of the organization, it will lead to customer dissatisfaction and your brand suffers. The better-trained a workforce is, the more comfortable they will be in doing their jobs and the longer they are likely to stay. Successful Contact Centers do have a comprehensive new hire/induction training and on-the-job programs in place to ensure new hires are fully trained and competent to go live. Training is not a one-off event; organizations must be committed to the long-term and continuous training and development of their CSRs. Therefore, it is recommended that we adopt a modular approach to up-skilling CSRs so that they can have the relevant skills to take on new demands and challenges in the job. The training and development programs should include a combination of technical, customer service, and behavior and attitudinal skills. Programs like basic supervisory and management skills to prepare CSRs for senior positions are also recommended. Quite often, Contact Center Team Leaders fail in their job because they lack the management skills needed to drive performance in the workplace. They are normally promoted to management positions because they are very good performers as CSRs. As it is known, getting results through people and delivering the results yourself requires a different set of skills, and it is important to prepare CSRs for this transitional role. The modular approach to the training of Contact Center Managers is just as important.
One key training challenge is to ensure that what participants learned in the classrooms are being applied in their jobs. Effective OJT, call monitoring and coaching and feedback programs need to be in place to drive improved performance at the workplace. Obviously, the success of these programs requires total buy-ins from all levels, clear, defined roles from everyone impacted by the process, determination to follow through with the process and a dynamic monitoring system to ensure discipline is in place for execution.
If there’s anything that contact center managers are constantly paying attention to today, it is performance measures. Metrics like Service Level, Abandon Rates, Average Handle Times, First-call Resolutions, Contact Rates, Complaints handling and Problem Resolution, Sales per Hour, etc. While these are important indicators for operations, the missing link is that CSRs typically don’t know how they can affect these metrics. Additionally, in many Contact Centers, the metrics that are in use likely include factors that are out of the agents’ control. In order to effectively measure CSR performance, we need to determine the nature of the call, the medium that they use (phone, email, web chat, etc.) when interacting with customers. Each of those factors has different measures associated with CSR performance and each need to be tailored to the specific CSR’s tasks.
A number of contact centers have failed to deliver the required service level of performance from their CSRs because of their inability to manage performance issues at the workplace. A high level of discipline is expected of CSRs—you do not want CSRS to come in late or take many sick leaves or absences from work. When this happens far too often, the service level of the center is impacted, not forgetting the morale of the high performers. The ability to maintain discipline and control is indeed a key challenge for any contact center manager. This requires managers to have the ability to use a balance of both task and people skills to deliver performance. A point to note is that mangers must not fear firing CSRs that are non-performers—imagine the impact it has on the morale and credibility of the respective manager!
Staff boredom can be a leading reason for high turnover rates in Contact Centers, a most difficult issue to solve. The difficulty is driven by two key factors—the work of a CSR is primarily about answering phone calls, and the longer the process of handling customer calls takes, the more expensive the call becomes and therefore processes are designed to be straightforward. The processes repeated 10, 100 or 200 times per day could be tough to take! The need for anti-burnout programs has to be in place to manage it. Such programs include coming up with various employee-welfare initiatives, like monthly treats, fun days, dress-down day, team-building events. Job enrichment—empowerment to make more decisions, job rotation and taking time off to participate in process-improvement projects does have—its successes.
Employee recognition is but one component of a broad staffing and relationship strategy that has dramatically reduced CSR turnover. The right behavior is inspiring and always deserves to be acknowledged. There are numerous proven rewards and recognition programs that are being used by many contact centers, which cost very little but the value is just excellent. The need to impart to employees a sense of belonging and an understanding that they are doing something others depend on will add value and importance to their job. CSRs also need opportunities for career growth and learning and development in order to see a long-term career in Contact Center Management. This obviously has to be communicated and understood by CSRs at the point of hiring.
In summary, very importantly, organizations should start listening to their employees—the Voice of the Employees. It is essential that there is change in the mindset of everyone in order to make way for an organizational culture that is people driven. This initiative, using both the formal and informal channels can be motivating as it gives employees a chance to be heard, and for management, a pulse of the morale and satisfaction level of employees.
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Munirah Looi is the CEO and Founder of Brandt International. She is experienced in the areas of Customer Relationship Management, Customer Service Management, Human Performance Management, Strategic Management, Business Process Redesign, Sales and Marketing, and Project Management, and all in all, has 20 years' experience working in these various fields. She is also an experienced facilitator, a human performance strategist, a Service Quality Management and a Change Management practitioner.