Most call centres have similar requirements and ambitions, using mostly the same established methods for achieving them. Sometimes, though, you need to embrace new ideas if you want to iron out the niggling little issues and unlock that extra ten percent of performance from your team. Here are some handy suggestions we picked up from our readers.
1. 15-Minute Vouchers
“Use 15-minute vouchers for agents who are over-performing – they receive an incentive which enables them to leave 15 minutes early from their shift, fully paid”. Thanks to Renu for suggesting this on a recent webinar.
It’s an intriguing idea as it addresses the problem of finding an incentive that is universally desirable to all. Many incentive schemes use rewards such as chocolate, wine, cinema tickets, but there’s no accounting for personal taste. There will always be people in the office that don’t like chocolate, don’t drink and prefer a trip to the theatre or museum. But it’s safe to assume that everybody wants to leave work early. If they don’t, then you’re doing something very right indeed.
2. Pre-empting the Dip
“If an agent’s focus goes for whatever reason it can knock their confidence and they may start looking for other work,” said Craig Hardy, head of the contact centre at 2Touch. “We want to be able to notice when people are about to dip rather than waiting for them to be on that downward spiral. We want to be able to remedy it and it’s something we’re really working on.”
Craig is looking at ways to ensure that any dip in an agent’s performance is anticipated and pre-empted, especially in sales, where confidence can be such a defining factor.
Craig and his team are hoping to implement such a scheme very soon and it’s an excellent idea. The practical aspects of trying to predict a ‘dip’ will always vary depending on the organisation, so it’s something that requires much thought and planning. In sales, though, pre-empting the dip could yield very valuable results.
3. Cull the Stats
The British Gas call centre has earned multiple awards over the past few years and has taken some radical steps along the way. In their presentation “How to Build an Award Winning Contact Centre”, they address the issue of unnecessary targets:
“Our people told us we had too many targets – so we removed all but one. The only thing we now measure our front line on is the thing that matters most – customer advocacy!”
It’s a bold move to boil all performance criteria down to just one or two measures. For many organisations this would be far too draconian or simply impossible, but there’s nothing to say you must go to extremes. With a ruthless audit of agent performance criteria you may find a surprising amount of stats you can do without, especially the ones that you’ve ‘always had’ and never really questioned.
Some measures can deteriorate in relevance and accuracy over time as your working practices evolve. By doing away with only a few, you may find that a loosening of statistical constraints will allow your team more freedom to do what they do best.
4. Agent Excellence Programme
Use of an ‘agent excellence’ programme for acknowledging high-performing agents and using them to coach other team members was one suggestion made by Mark during our webinar.
When administered by management, the basic ‘call coaching’ method can sometimes feel like being in the doghouse for the agent. By using a peer-to-peer system of coaching, this problem is negated and it makes perfect sense for several other reasons.
Any good manager should be willing to admit that some members of his or her team will be better at certain aspects of front-line service – simply because they get more practice. By using your strongest agents to train the least confident or least experienced, you remove the formality, reward excellence and provide the best training you can.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be an exercise in labelling agents as ‘under-performing’ or ‘over-performing’, though. It’s all about identifying strengths in different areas. If one of your agents has excellent soft skills but gets flustered by aggressive callers, seek to identify an agent who doesn’t exude the same charm but is calm and assertive under pressure. Pair them up and they will benefit from each other’s wisdom.
5. Flexibility for Special Events
Effective resourcing is an eternal conundrum for contact centre managers. Everyone wants to be as flexible as possible with requests to leave work early or take days off, but authorising too many can leave you under-staffed, upping the stress levels of your team and decimating your performance stats. At 2Touch, Craig Hardy likes to plan ahead for events that his staff will not want to miss.
“We are flexible with shift patterns and look at accommodating annual events or seasonal events such as the Olympics or World Cup,” he says. “We let all of our outbound call centre staff finish at 4pm so that they could watch the England match. We realise that the age group we’ve got is relatively young and these events appeal to them and are important to them.”
The best aspect of planning ahead for such occasions is that you can get your team cooperating to mutual benefit. Let’s say, for example, that the football fans in the office want time off for a big international tournament and the parents of young children want to book half-terms off.
If this is established early on in the year, then it’s easy enough to agree that the football fans work continuously during half-terms and the parents don’t request leave during the tournament. With a quick meeting at the start of the year for a bit of forward planning, everyone wins – apart from the football-loving father, who has a tough decision to make.
6. Compliments and Thanks Log
It’s a sad fact of customer service that while complaints get logged, formalised and circulated, compliments and thanks are often just briefly expressed to one individual before disappearing off into the ether, never to be acknowledged again. It’s a shame, because for many customer service professionals these are the moments that make the job rewarding. In a call centre environment though, where several agents deal with the same caller, it’s often a case of “he was really helpful the other day” and “please say thanks to her for me”, meaning that those precious little compliments rarely find their intended recipient anyway.
By keeping a compliments and thanks log, you can harness the power of thankful customers and use it to motivate your team. Instead of just emailing Cathy with a quick “Mrs Harrison says thanks”, you can ask agents to forward all such comments directly to their supervisor.
Then every Monday morning, a quick email is broadcast to the whole team, listing the thanks and praise that has been received throughout the previous week. If you have the time to spare, you can even check the call recordings and circulate the exact quotes from the customers.
This is a great means of motivation as it not only ensures that the compliments arrive at the correct agents, but it broadcasts it for the whole office to see what a good job they’re doing. If you copy in some members of senior management, then the most complimented members of the team will always feel they are being noticed and acknowledged.
7. Call of the Month
Similar to the compliments and thanks log, sometimes a little bit of acknowledgement goes a long way to improving motivation and morale. The toughest calls from the most difficult customers usually get flagged up to management one way or another and often it involves sifting through the call recordings to resolve complex problems.
Call of the Month is a quick and easy initiative to implement as you only need a quick meeting of managers or supervisors to discuss the comparative merits of the toughest calls they’ve listened to over the past few weeks.
This initiative has a number of benefits. If you have a shining example of how to deal with an especially complicated or stressful call, then you may as well circulate the recording to your team to help establish some best practice examples. For the agent in question (assuming they consent to releasing the recording) this serves as a great acknowledgement of a tough job well done. Also, it gives an extra boost of purpose to any agent lumbered with a really tricky call. On the one hand, it’s going to be time-consuming and stressful, but with this initiative they know that if they really distinguish themselves, there may at least be some recognition.
Thanks to Guy for suggesting this on the webinar.
8. Standing up to the Afternoon Dip
A quick and simple initiative for avoiding that irritating performance slump that often takes hold in the afternoon no-man’s-land between lunch break and home time – One hour of abstaining from your office chairs and performing all tasks standing up at your desk.
Thanks to Iain, who said on our webinar that he has seen this idea yield several interesting results – “It avoided the post-lunch dip and voices were much more energetic and engaging.”
This is one that probably shouldn’t be too rigidly enforced, though – anyone with a disability, back problem, etc. should, of course, be excused.
9. Talent Pools
Retaining good staff is a key factor in any good business, and when it comes to call centre staff, a sad but undeniable truth has to be acknowledged – it’s not anyone’s dream profession. 2Touch run a talent pool initiative that actively helps their agents to pursue a career progression into other areas such as coaching or relationship management.
Craig Hardy said, “The talent pools help us to identify if a person is the right calibre to pursue a certain role and when interviews come about they stand a good chance of being successful because they’ve been prepped for it in advance.”
This is one area where contact centre management need to have the good of the wider organisation in mind. Many call centre agents are actively seeking ways to further their careers. If that isn’t possible within your organisation then they will just begin to look elsewhere and that’s when you start losing your best people. By acknowledging their aspirations and doing what you can to help, you can make sure you keep them within the business, even if it’s not directly under your employ. Just as importantly, though, until that progression happens, you have lessened the risk of them becoming disillusioned and ensured that they are still eager to impress.
10. One-Week Secondment
This is where effective training and career development go hand-in-hand. Where staff have shown an interest in progressing to a certain branch of the organisation, a brief secondment to that department can be productive for everyone involved. This is another initiative that British Gas have fully explored and is mentioned in their presentation:
“We know people don’t dream of working in a contact centre – but we really encourage our teams to develop and to find a role they love. We also give our people the opportunity to experience roles in other parts of our organisation, like Planning, Change and Project Work.”
Knowing that career development opportunities are available can do wonders for any workers’ motivation and performance, and this particular initiative also has the benefit of being an effective training tool, especially if you carry out front-line services for departments elsewhere in the business. Once you have someone in your team that has actually worked within the department they are taking calls for, they can relay valuable training to others in the team.
Matt Phil Carver is a contact centre advisor at Arun District Council and a recent graduate of the MA Creative Writing programme at Portsmouth University.
Do you have any interesting initiatives in your contact centre? Please leave them in the comments box below.