Call Centre Helper visited the Bristol branch of Echo Managed Services.
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Echo Managed Services is an outsourcing contact centre, offering first-line support to inbound and outbound operations.
They have 300 agent positions in Bristol, and on average handle 540,000 inbound and 1.1 million outbound calls every year. Their clients include the RAF, The Guardian, Dogs Trust and Asda.
Actively identify internal development opportunities for agents
The contact centre is committed to maintaining a highly skilled workforce. In line with this vision, they conduct annual personal development reviews to identify opportunities for people within the business, as well as running an active ‘Team Leader Development Programme’.
By taking an active interest in succession planning, they have found that agents are less likely to be dissatisfied in their job role or to seek external opportunities for career progression.
This approach benefits everyone within the company, as it helps to improve employee engagement, while also retaining a greater number of experienced agents.
Present agents with viable alternatives to reading at their desks
Like most contact centres, Echo have had to deal with agents wanting to read between calls. While they don’t operate an outright ban, the managers do encourage the agents to be productive while waiting for their next call to come through.
To promote this idea across the floor, they have given agents the opportunity to develop their IT skills at their desks by providing access to online courses in Microsoft programs such as Excel.
“We wanted our agents to use the time between calls productively, and not just sit reading magazines at their desks,”said Robert Carter-Edwards, Head of Contact Centre at Echo. “Rather than crack down on the issue, we sought to change the desire. By making the Microsoft courses available, we have prompted them to learn something and have been pleased with the uptake.”
The Buzz Awards recognise agents going “to infinity and beyond”
In order to encourage consistent high performance, the company hosts “The Buzz Awards” once a month. These peer and self-nominated awards are a celebration of excellence which give recognition to those going “to infinity and beyond” in their role.
The awards are open to anyone from across the business, from agents working on the front line to the IT staff supporting the back-office team, and offer employees the chance to recognise their peers for a job well done. Prizes include cash sums up to £65, as well as boxes of chocolates.
The concept of these awards emerged from the employee forum, which offers regular opportunities for ideas to be voiced and developed.
“We have come to learn that it is best to ask our agents what they want, rather than impose our assumptions upon them,” said Karen Banfield, Contact Centre Director at Echo. “We find that giving the agents regular opportunities to voice their opinions helps to circulate new ideas, as well as nip any problems in the bud.”
Work closely with clients to maximise the customer experience
Being an outsourcer, they need to work closely with their clients (companies that the agents represent, e.g. the RAF) in order to maximise the customer experience.
This extends to motivating the agents on the front line of the business. While the level of involvement varies from client to client, in the past, agents have been given opportunities to try out RAF assault courses and have enjoyed sponsored nights out.
This has the added benefit of improving employee engagement. This is because, by submerging the agents in the needs of the client, they begin to feel like brand ambassadors rather than just “another cog in the wheel”.
Keep agents engaged by rotating them between channels and campaigns
The company has found that rotating agents between channels helps to keep the agents’ work varied and engaging, and ensures that their multi-channel skills are regularly exercised.
In practice, this means that agents only tend to spend around two hours monitoring Facebook, and half a day on web chat or Twitter, before switching back to the core channels of phone and email.
Managers also use this method in the wider context of the contact centre by rotating agents between campaigns every so often to stop them becoming bored; although agents can choose to stay put if they so wish.
This approach has the added benefit of being a contingency plan, as managers are able to switch agents between channels and campaigns to counteract a suddenly influx in demand.
Overall, the management team’s efforts to make Echo a good place to work have paid off, with their agents’ average length of service being four years. They have also seen a positive impact on shrinkage (currently 4% per month) and attrition (2%).
5 bite-sized facts about Echo Managed Services
- They operate formal dress throughout the week, with a dress-down day on Friday.
- Before putting any potential new recruits through the interview process, they are invited to sit in with one of the teams and watch the work they do. This prevents time being wasted on people who come to realise that the role doesn’t suit them.
- They publish a quarterly newsletter to keep everyone in the loop of how the business is doing.
- Agents are encouraged to listen to one another’s calls, as well as their own, to share best practice across the business.
- They have an annotated map on the wall pinpointing the locations of their other branches, as well as their clients’ offices. This helps agents to understand the role they play in the wider context of the company.