We share ten tips for improving performance management in the contact centre, to help develop the skills and motivation of our teams.
What Is Contact Centre Performance Management?
Performance management refers to the processes that we put in place and the practices that we adopt to maintain and develop advisor performance in the contact centre.
To do performance management well, we need to establish a focus on getting the balance right between our skill as contact centre leaders and our related processes.
This is good to bear in mind as we take you through the following ten tips, as some will cross over between these key areas.
For a more detailed explanation of what we mean by the term “performance management”, read our article: What Is Performance Management? With a Definition, Best Practices and Common Misconceptions
1. Set Clear Expectations
One of the biggest barriers that you’ll find when it comes to performance management is that there is a lack of clarity between advisors as to what is expected from them.
Generally, people won’t be able to perform to the required standard if they are not sure what that standard is, and one of the biggest singular mistakes that we make is to just assume that our people know what is expected from them.
We should never assume. We need to ensure that our expectations are clearly explained and that we are continually checking that understanding in coaching sessions.
Chris Rainsforth, a customer contact specialist, says: “We should never assume. We need to ensure that our expectations are clearly explained and that we are continually checking that understanding in coaching sessions.”
To underline our expectations, it is good to have advisors join in call quality calibration sessions, to ensure that they have a good idea of how their performance is being assessed.
Just remember, expectation setting needs to work both ways, between the leader and the person being assessed, as having these two-way discussions helps to establish accountability.
2. Treat Everyone as an Individual
Everyone is different and they will respond differently to various different approaches, and these distinctions between different individuals need to be taken into account when managing performance.
What works with one person may not work for another. So while we are trying to achieve the same outcome in terms of performance, as we’re all likely to have our own standard set of KPI targets that we’re aiming for, we can’t all necessarily get there in the same way.
People will work at a different pace, they will react to things differently and they’ll need different stimuli to get them to where they need to be.
Chris adds: “As leaders managing people, we need to be aware of what works for our teams and the individuals within those teams, so we know how to get the best out of them.”
Having this knowledge is the only way you can have good development conversations with your team.
So, try sparking up impromptu conversations, not only about work, to get a wider understanding of each advisor’s strengths and weaknesses.
For more ideas of the various types of conversations leaders should be having with advisors, read our article: 10 Great Conversations to Have With Your Contact Centre Team
3. Offer Regular Feedback
While providing feedback seems like common sense in terms of our wider goals, it’s something that requires constant attention, and when contact centres are busy, this means feedback can fall by the wayside.
Yet leaders who excel at managing performance don’t wait until the quarterly review or annual appraisal; they will instead manage that performance on a regular and informal basis.
When you do offer regular feedback, when the time comes for a formal meeting to review performance, there are no surprises; people know how they are performing.
Chris says: “When you do offer regular feedback, when the time comes for a formal meeting to review performance, there are no surprises; people know how they are performing.”
“You can then use this time really effectively to plan ahead for how you can meet future goals and then look at setting improved expectations.”
We should never be saving our feedback for an appropriate scheduled time, as we will just compound the problem.
So we should have a consistent feedback loop and we need to ensure that we’re doing the following three things:
- Periodic performance reviews against our key objectives
- Informal discussions with individual advisors
- Real-time coaching to give immediate feedback
4. Try Not to Rearrange Coaching Sessions
The benefit of offering regular feedback through the right feedback mechanisms is that we can engage advisors with their own improvement.
With this in mind, we cannot expect our people to engage with their own development if we set a time to focus on it and then rearrange that time. This highlights to advisors that improving their performance is not a key business priority.
Chris says: “If our mission is to be the best, but every time we set time aside for performance development training it is either cancelled or rescheduled, then that for me is a conflict.”
This is especially true when we consider the consequences of not prioritizing development, because if we are not performing to our desired standard and we continue to delay development training, people aren’t going to get any better.
It also puts us in a really difficult position moving forwards, in terms of attrition and HR issues, as we are not sticking to the development plans that we as an organization are agreeing to give people. This may irritate some of your more ambitious, forward-thinking advisors.
For more advice on making more time to develop advisors, read our article: Being Super-Busy: The Modern Excuse for Not Coaching Staff
5. Provide Balanced Feedback
In terms of the feedback that we’re sharing with our people, we need to provide some balance to get the best from people and maximize the positive impact of the praise that we give.
The focus should be on how we can develop performance, and this means that we need to discuss with advisors how they can improve; we shouldn’t just be pointing out where they are going wrong.
So, we need to be careful that we don’t gloss over the good and labour over the bad. Instead, we should be comfortable using a variety of coaching models and applying the most appropriate model to the situation, trying to stay balanced in everything we do.
Chris adds: “Just stay focused on the outcome. If we, as leaders, are trying to motivate and inspire advisors to improve their performance, focus on the outcomes and goals that we want to achieve and how we’re expecting to get there.”
This goes back to Chris’s earlier point of setting those expectations and maintaining the process assets behind it. Keeping that balance is therefore key to this.
6. Support and Develop
Supporting people to achieve their full potential is the role of any good leader. This support could come in the form of mentoring, giving advisors special tasks to do or even arranging work experience in other roles within the company to support their wider development.
It is no good, as a leader, to say that someone is falling short of the mark. We have to put some sort of plan of action in place that will address those issues and assess what’s available within our organization to help do that.
Conversely, Chris says: “For the people that are performing well, they need some sort of opportunity or motivation to continue to perform at a high level.”
“We sometimes do forget about the people who are performing well, focusing on our lowest performers, but over time, this lack of recognition can become demotivating.”
So, ideally, we need to be working on developing each advisor to the extent where we’re looking to build on their key strengths and wider career progression, to help ensure our top performers stay within our organization.
Follow the link for more guidance on the topic of: How to Improve Agent Performance in the Call Centre – With a Checklist
7. Have a Consistent Framework
Often organizations have a performance management process that’s not applied consistently within each department and across the contact centre. But with the help of a framework, we can help to ensure consistency at all levels.
Also, with a framework in place, if an advisor were to move from one team to another, there wouldn’t be any break in their development and the transition should be seamless, because everyone has bought into it.
The leader who does not stick to the framework may be allowing advisors to get away with poor performance, while high performers will likely, over time, become demotivated.
However, Chris adds: “You see it often where there is a leader that is on top of the process, managing below-par performance and arranging progression opportunities for high performers. But, within that organization, another leader won’t be sticking to that framework, and this causes problems.”
“The leader who does not stick to the framework may be allowing advisors to get away with poor performance, while high performers will likely, over time, become demotivated.”
In addition to Chris’s point, high performers under these leaders will see equally hard-working advisors within other teams getting special treatment. This will negatively impact their morale.
So, consistency is key, and having a consistent framework that becomes part of the DNA of our contact centre culture is something that we need to take accountability for, as we ensure that all contact centre leaders are sticking to it.
8. Think About Performance Incentives
Incentives can be a great tool to encourage certain behaviours, but they need to be part of the right culture, and there is evidence to suggest that they can drive negative behaviours if they are not.
For example, if we incentivize certain KPIs, people can find shortcuts to hitting that target and claim the incentive. But these shortcuts may actually damage the quality of service provided to customers.
Chris adds: “In 2011, British Gas looked into their sales conversion rates and they did a lot of work using speech analytics to identify which behaviours led to the most sales.”
“By doing so, they found very quickly and very clearly that the people that were getting the most incentives, based on their conversion rate, weren’t driving the right behaviours.”
“These advisors were selling the wrong products and they were doing it to chase a conversion rate, as opposed to providing the customer with the best possible outcome.”
With this in mind, we need to be aware of all the “hygiene factors” when it comes to incentives and focus instead on using suitable motivational games as a tool to hand out incentives.
Or we could consider whether the investment that we are putting into our incentive schemes could be best invested elsewhere, in terms of our people’s development and how they are rewarded.
To ensure your incentives are driving the right behaviours, read our article: How to Use Contact Centre Incentives to Improve Performance
9. Use the Tools Available to You
Utilize the tools that are available to you and use the insight that they give you to enable balanced feedback and highlight the key development areas.
For example, a modern quality solution will allow you to spot trends and exceptions, while giving each advisor their own dashboard, so they can engage more fully with their own development.
Chris says: “We should also be using our tools to create meaningful metrics, as if we invested in these tools, as an organization, then let’s use them.”
We work within a technology-rich industry and we should be utilizing these things to their utmost to make sure they are as advantageous as possible.
“We work within a technology-rich industry and we should be utilizing these things to their utmost to make sure they are as advantageous as possible.”
Also, we should be thinking about how we can engage the team by using these tools. Perhaps we can provide dashboards that offer easy access to performance information, and maybe even introduce gamification.
10. Practise What You Preach
As leaders we cannot be hypocrites. Behaviour breeds behaviour, and we cannot expect others to be accountable for their performance if we don’t apply those practices ourselves.
As Chris says: “Let’s make sure that, if we want to drive performance within our organization, we live by the mantra that we are setting ourselves.”
If you do not practise what you preach, you will induce a “them and us” culture, which will create a barrier between your leaders and your team.
While leaders should be focused on their own tasks and processes, if there is a distance between them and their people, they will not be able to form the right relationships to fully foster advisor development. You will also miss a key opportunity to strengthen advisor ties with your organization.
To find out more about being a successful contact centre leader, read our article: Train Team Leaders Well
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