Following on from last month’s article, we look at the top 5 agent gripes and how you can solve them.
Number 5: Annoying Placards
If there’s one thing sure to sour an agent’s morning, it’s the pre-shift stroll past those same old wallboards. You know, the ones that are crammed with tired, condescending slogans and worn-out stock imagery of impossibly contented members of staff.
The daily assault of these messages will add to the monotonous nature of the agents’ days, and act as a constant reminder as to your employees’ lack of professional progression. Any placards citing your basic policies and excerpts from your internal scripts are also a no-no; these will serve only to create the rather patronising implication that your frontline staff are incapable of performing their duties without the presence of permanent reminders.
In the end, the infrequency with which such placards are commonly replaced will suggest to the agents that their in-house management team is either uninterested or indolent. So, make sure that your posters are updated as regularly as possible. Fill them with fresh new ideas that will turn your agents’ heads by promoting your future competitions, congratulating successes and giving details of the centre’s upcoming social events.
And while there are some important messages that should have a permanent presence on the floor (DPA and PCIDSS rules, for example), there’s really no excuse not to amend these frequently with changes to the font, shade, format and colour; even minor alterations like this will help to create a less dormant office atmosphere.
As a rule of thumb, you should avoid leaving an unchanged poster in place for more than a fortnight.
Remember: the fresher your placards, the fresher your agents.
Number 4: Strict AHTs
Many customer service agents feel that their managers are almost robotically unsympathetic towards their daily trials and difficulties. Case in point: lengthy call times.
No agent enjoys dealing with a customer who just won’t go away, and to assume otherwise is just plain illogical.
After all, any employee worth his bacon will be fully aware of your AHT targets, and strive to meet them wherever feasible.
The simple fact is it isn’t always fair to hold your agents to strict AHTs; there can and will be occasions when achieving an “acceptable” call time simply isn’t possible. And, when these occasions arise, there’ll be nothing more off-putting for your agent than the threatening leer of an impatient supervisor, tapping his or her watch from across the office.
If in doubt, ask yourself: how would you feel if you were being lambasted by the customer on the one side and slammed by your manager on the other?
Handling calls is not a simple job – if it was, you’d have a machine do it for you.
So, allow your agents the discretion to handle irate customers in their own time; your front-line staff are, after all, the resident experts in complaint resolution.
Hold workshops to remind team leaders of the importance of quality service over speedy call times, and instruct them that, in cases of suspected latency on the part of the agent, he or she should not be addressed whilst still on the call. Instead, the recording should later be reviewed for analysis.
Reasonable team leaders will find that, in the great majority of cases, the agent in question was not at fault after all.
Number 3: Gossipy Co-workers
We’re not talking here about harmless yarns or the odd, friendly quip about last night’s sport; whilst mildly irritating, allowing the occasional banter between your agents can actually help to enrich an otherwise dull workplace.
But japes and jokes have an evil twin. And when the banter grows too sour, it will begin to dissolve that hard-fought motivation so crucial to your employees’ personal and professional wellbeing.
To cleanse the floor of venomous slurs and remedy bullying at the root, start with a careful reassessment of your own at-work behaviour.
Are you treating your staff with the consideration they deserve? Being fair, honest and professional? Offering help to those in need?
When you’re able to set an admirable, ongoing example for your subordinates, you’ll trigger a trickle-down effect of centre-wide civility and team-to-team cooperation across the board. But old habits are hard to break; lest you should find your manners begin to slip, it’s a good idea to begin each day by asking yourself a simple question: How would you like to work with you?
From themed workshops to disciplinary action, there’s a whole series of methods and plans for the prevention of workplace bullying. For more ideas, please see our comprehensive guide here; if there’s one thing you don’t need in a climate like this, it’s a profit-shattering series of completely needless employment tribunals.
Number 2: Giving Bad News
Delivering bad news is likely to have one of just two effects. Unfortunately, neither of them will be pleasant for the agent on the receiving end.
If yours is a financial service dealing in bills, insurance and other such affairs, bad news often brings about a confused sorrow on the part of the customer. After all, who wouldn’t break down on being advised that the heating is to be turned off the day before Christmas? Time and again, agents have difficulty in dealing with the guilt involved with delivering such devastating information.
To help ease the burden, provide your staff with the soft skills needed to soothe distressed callers; it is often helpful, for example, to offer the resolution to the problem before giving the worst of the news.
Instructing your agents to explain in advance the measures already taken to resolve the matter (advising of warning letters that have been sent, and so on) can also prove useful. With these tactics under their belt, your agents will feel less helpless the next time a teary caller dials in.
The flip-side side to grief is fury, and this is by far the more likely response to bad news if you work in service or retail. When a customer, mistakenly or otherwise, feels that they’re owed money, the conversation can quickly turn nasty. These calls can be lengthy (and therefore costly to you), so by allowing your agents the discretion to give reasonable compensation where appropriate, you could actually make a saving. In addition, holding courses to help your staff develop their own self-control could help your agents to emotionally brush off any abuse that comes their way.
Number 1: Peak Periods
The peak season is, of course, a fact of life – and one that your company most likely depends upon to achieve a decent annual profit.
The peak period is a year-round source of dread for contact centre agents the world over. With increased trading comes a heightened volume of calls; and this, in its natural turn, is invariably accompanied by a magnified level of employee stress.
The situation can be exacerbated further by companies’ reluctance to hire extra staff for the duration of peak period – the general consensus being that this would needlessly diminish the yearly turnover.
As rational as that idea sounds, the unfortunate truth is that understaffing during such a busy time could affect your public relations for years to come. Even long-standing customers could be put off your enterprise by agents rushing complaints to please their managers. So, if you can possibly afford it, do consider taking on some temps.
If you can’t, there are still other, cheaper, ways to make your agents’ lives more manageable.
Hold regular competitions, granting each winner a bonus breaktime after peak; keep your staff hydrated with free drinks from the vending machine; and allow your agents to take turns bringing in DVDs, which can be played silently on one of your wallboards. As well as rewarding your staff for their hard work, your generosity demonstrates your empathy for your agents’ predicament, garnering you the long-term respect required of any contact centre manager.