8 Ideas to Help Contact Centre Agents Be Better at Their Jobs


Here are eight ways to help improve agent performance while also helping to develop morale and contact centre culture.

1. Find Out Which Areas Agents Want to Improve In

There are few better ways to improve agent performance than by personalising training, instead of asking the whole team to sit through the same presentation over and over again. You don’t want your advisors to approach training with the mentality of “I already know this”.

So, Stephanie, one of our readers, says that in her experience “I tend to find out what my people want to work on/improve, then identify how this links with our business and customer needs (objectives). Set the right stepping-stones with SMART actions and keep working on this until it’s achieved.”

“Also, try to find examples of where it’s been done, or not. Coach on this, celebrate success and explore ‘what stopped them’.”

SMART training objectives ensure that agent’s targets meet each of the following five criteria:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Attainable
R – Realistic
T – Timely

Refreshing agents target’s to meet these criteria is important. Remember that training has a shelf-life and it must adapt and change as the business changes.

2. Don’t Apply Factory Logic to the Contact Centre

In your contact centre, agents don’t control the number of calls or live chats they handle. That’s based on your service level objective and your staffing levels. So, focusing on number of calls handled per hour/day/week as a measure of agent performance is completely incorrect.

This is according to Daniel Ord, the Founder and Director of OmniTouch International, who says: “I think it became a popular measure because when people come into the contact centre industry they think ‘what can I grab onto that will prove to me productivity?’ And their mind immediately goes to a factory setting.”

Daniel Ord

Daniel Ord

“In a factory, productivity is based on how many widgets can I make in a day or a week or an hour, for example. So, people who come from outside of the industry try to apply that factory logic to contact centres.”

“But the reason that doesn’t work is because, when you’re dealing with phone calls, live chats or even walk-ins, you’re dealing with random call-arrival patters. That means the mathematics is completely different.”

This practice can also drive very negative behaviour, as agents may begin to keep calls short and even start hanging up early.

Daniel has previously experienced this happening, saying: “I visited one IT support desk in India where the team were targeted on 80 calls a day and agents told me that sometimes they would finish their 80 calls by noon and then they would relax for the rest of the day.”

So, to help improve agent performance, Daniel advises to only apply quantity measures to certain types of interactions. He says: “When it comes to quantity, the only quantity measures that you can apply relate to things like email, correspondence or case handling. This is because these activities don’t have to be handled when they’re immediately presented to you.”

3. Measure the Right Things When It Comes to Agent Productivity

Occupancy and calls per hour/day/week shouldn’t be used as a measure of agent productivity and performance, as when targeting a metric, agents should have a high degree of control over the outcome.

Let’s face it, if agents don’t have control over the outcome it can be quite unfair to measure them on that metric. But what can be used as an indicator of how hard agents are working?

Unfortunately, there is no single metric that can tell you this. However, there are certain measures which can give you a good indication, with schedule adherence also being an obvious example.

As Daniel Ord says: “This is always the ‘biggest’ ingredient – when agents adhere, service level stabilises and that’s what matters. This is a metric that agents have a high degree of control over.”

Contact centres cannot focus solely on productivity as a measure of agent effectiveness.

However, contact centres cannot focus solely on productivity as a measure of agent effectiveness. Quality must also be assessed separately, to ensure that agents are being effective in this productive time.

But quality shouldn’t just consist of Voice of the Customer (VoC) feedback; quality scores must also be considered.

This is according to Daniel, who says: “I had an interesting discussion with a Global Quality Head and he said that ‘we used to measure all our agents on the Customer Satisfaction and Net Promoter Score results and we found that the agents were breaking all the rules to make customers happy.”

“So, this company switched to a blend of roughly 50% call scoring and 50% VoC, which I personally think is kind of healthy because you’re looking at both sides of the coin.”

4. Don’t Take the Net Promoter Score Down to the Individual Agent Level

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) should not be taken down to the advisor level. This was highlighted when one energy company found that whenever they put their prices up, their NPS score, which they really value, dropped about ten points. So, each time their prices went up, it would take the team two months to get back the NPS score to where it was.

While the organisation believed that NPS was a very important metric, it was a bit demotivating for the advisors, who were working really hard, only for their NPS score to drop 10%. This is because NPS is often more of a reflection of the company, rather than the service provided.

This is an argument that Daniel Ord makes when saying: “NPS can be great, but please don’t take it down to the individual agent level.”

“Better practice would be to ask the traditional NPS question and then ask a specific question like ‘How did you find the service from our staff member today?’ Then, you can isolate the staff performance separately, away from ‘the basket’ NPS.”

For more advice on correctly using popular contact centre measures, read our article: The Top 10 Most Important Call Centre Metrics

5. Any Product That Needs a Manual Is Broken

Elon Musk once said that “any product that needs a manual is broken”. This is a quote which doesn’t just apply to the organisation’s product design team, but to the tools and systems that agents are using as well.

Patrick Russell

Patrick Russell

As Patrick Russell of NICE inContact says: “The ease of use of any software should be on the high priority side of your expectations from your technology providers.”

“This all really simply boils down to ensuring that technology decision makers and leaders aim to have an agent-centric mindset when examining any piece of software that would be used by your front-line team members.”

Yet this quote from Elon Musk also highlights the importance of creating better links between the contact centre and product design teams.

Some forward-thinking organisations are now inviting their designers to come down and spend a day in the contact centre, listening to some of the problems that some have.

Designers, on the whole, think in a different way to customers, and if they visit the contact centre, they may start to think ‘to me that was self-explanatory, but obviously we are not quite there.’

6. Remember That Agents Don’t Wake Up and Hope to Be Mediocre

As Patrick Russell says: “People don’t really wake up and hope to be mediocre. In general, people want to do good and meet their objectives.”

With this idea in mind, Patrick offers the following three tips to improve quality management. These are likely to have a positive effect on helping agents to be better at their job.

i. Offer self-evaluation options – Not only do self-evaluations allow for self-reflection, as they relate to the quality of service provided, they allow agents to become more familiar with the evaluation form and expectations of the business.

ii. Provide self-coaching tools – Coaching tools can aid self-evaluation, as if an agent misses question one, for example, the tool can recognise this and then assign the advisor a coaching “module” to complete based on their evaluation. This allows agents to be more empowered and take a greater level of ownership in their overall performance.

iii. Ensure quality management is engaging – By making quality more interesting to agents, they become more invested in wanting to improve their performance. This can be done in a number of ways, including:

  • Ask agents if they would like to review any particular calls
  • Create themes of the month (i.e. January = Empathy)
  • Establish a call quality forum

For more on the topic of quality, read our article: The Quality Problem: Good Advisors Stay Good – Average Advisors Stay Average

7. A Strong, Continually Updated, Knowledge Base Is Needed

A strong knowledge base should be both in depth and well organised, while always growing and being updated, according to Patrick Russell.

As Patrick says: “A simple FAQ document is no longer enough to really serve the more complex type of interactions that we are all handling.”

This is especially true in larger contact centres, which are now doing more to be proactive by automating contact responses and improving self-service.

Patrick argues: “If you have a good knowledge system, agents can immediately repeat and confirm information collected from the IVR or from previous interactions.”

If you have a good knowledge system, agents can immediately repeat and confirm information collected from the IVR or from previous interactions.

Patrick Russell

“Not only will this immediately give the customer confidence in the agent’s capabilities, it will also accelerate the interaction, reducing handle times and saving money, while increasing productivity.”

“But, more importantly, customers will also have more confidence in the business, so a good knowledge system can go a long way in furthering the customer experience.”

For more on this topic, read our article: 10 Knowledge Management Mistakes That You May Be Making (and 5 Fixes)

8. Keep It Fresh

According to Mike, one of our readers, “The key to motivating your staff and getting more out of them is to keep things fresh.”

“Any job, however much you enjoy it, can become monotonous. This is even more true for the call centre environment and the advisor role.”

“So, refresh your old incentives, awards and motivational games to keep the contact centre lively.”

For example, AO’s contact centre keep their incentives “fresh” by rewarding with experiences and not only material items/money.

The idea of winning an experience is so that advisors can create positive memories that the winner will associate with the contact centre. This could then improve job satisfaction, morale and performance.

However, in order to do this, you must have a good knowledge of the team’s interests. Winning tickets to the FA cup final may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

To find out more about AO’s contact centre, read our article: 17 Things You Can Learn from the AO Contact Centre

Author: Robyn Coppell

Published On: 11th Jul 2018 - Last modified: 15th Nov 2023
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