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Stop Talking…Start Walking The Behaviors You Want From Agents

comunicationhornsSome people talk a lot. Some not so much. I’ve seen research that says the number of words spoken by a person ranges from 6,000 to 10,000 words per day.

As Contact Center leaders we are probably keeping pace with the high side of this speech range. We are communicating frequently with our agents, supervisors, support staff, co-workers, customers and the C-suite.

I love to watch how the front line leaders and managers interact and communicate with their agents and support staff. As I continue to work in the center, I occasionally observe center leaders demonstrating many of the bad habits that they tell me their agents are displaying.

 

There is a lot of, “do as I say, not as I do” happening.

As leaders we should be heavily focused on coaching and mentoring with our staff. This does not mean that coaching only happens in a closed-door session or during side-by-side training. It means that by our very behaviors and attitudes in our every day activities, we are shaping the behaviors and attitudes of our teams. They are watching and learning constantly from us and from others around them.

Here are a few of the opportunities we have to inspire our agents:

How do you enter the center? Smiling or complaining about how tired you are and how you wish you were at home.

How do you handle a difficult caller? Mocking the caller, bad mouthing the customers or demonstrating the importance of every customer, even the ones that aren’t so nice.

Do you talk about importance of wait times and just yell “call in queue” when you notice a backup? Or do you roll up your sleeves and help by answering a few of those calls and thank the agents for their hard work?

Do you talk about how important coaching is and then think of every excuse to NOT do it or set a time to coach and then cancel repeatedly on agents needing help?

Do you talk to your supervisors about how important it is to have well-trained agents and then never spend the time or money to allow it to happen?

Do you talk about the importance of team-work for customer success and then bad mouth the other teams or departments in your company in front of agents or customers?

Are you talking to your team about how focused you are on engaging employees and improving attrition and the next day remove a bonus for an agent for a minor error that was easily fixed?

Do you talk about the popcorn parties and fun things you will do to make agents happy and never ask THEM what really DOES make them happy and interested in staying on the job?

Help your team to learn the best behaviors and customer first philosophy by living and demonstrating those behaviors everyday!

 

♦ This article first appeared on Intradiem’s Blog where I’m featured as one of their Call Center Experts.

Guest Post: Amazing Service Begins With Engaged Leaders

bizmeetingcollage Today’s Guest Post is by Sean Hawkins, Manager of Technical Support and Support Engineering at iContact. Sean and I met through Social Media and he and his team interviewed me for their Call Center Weekly blog last year.  From our conversations, I know that Sean is passionate about leadership’s role in driving customer satisfaction and agent engagement.  I’ve asked him to share some of his tips here today.


 

Providing service to customers is not as hard as some make it seem. It does take diligence and lots of effort to do it exceptionally well. In its simplest form, it is about treating customers with courtesy and respect. Unfortunately, in the business world we often lose sight of that.

When doing business leads to unsatisfied customers, it is time to reevaluate how business is done. Companies are competing for the same customer, and if all things are equal, customer service is usually a deciding factor for the consumer.

How can you as a contact center leader help your agents to be successful in providing “amazing” service above and beyond?

Review Processes
Exceptional service allows agents to offer immediate solutions without getting bogged down in processes or policy. This leads to happy, loyal customers. In turn, your contact center will see an improvement with CSAT. Removing barriers that prevent exceptional customer service will lead to a more engaged service center. I make it practice of regularly reviewing processes, policies and procedures impacting our customers and agents. As business needs change, policies should be reviewed and updated if necessary.

Agent feedback
I’ve never met an agent who enjoys denying customer requests. On the contrary, they have a desire to satisfy them. Team members have often requested that they be allowed to offer a good will credit to customers. This request was due to their willingness go beyond good service to amazing service.

They knew that random acts of kindness made customers happy.

What I learned is it empowered them and made them feel a part of the decision-making process. Upon implementation, we were able to see how this directly impacted customer and agent satisfaction.

Manager Buy-in
I’ve always treated my team as customers. In my opinion, showing them what great service looks like is more impactful than telling them. When they see it alive in you, they will emulate it amongst one another and customers. Leadership must be committed to improving and should regularly attend training, seminars and conferences.

Front line supervisors, leads and managers are a great source for ideas. Allowing them freedom to develop CX initiatives will ensure they are customer focused and invested in organizational goals. I recommend that all leadership review customer feedback and CSAT performance as a team. Some of the benefits in doing so is everyone is aware of department/team performance, problems can be identified, and new ideas can be presented to the group.

Below are 4 simple and immediate steps you as a leader can implement on your journey to customer service excellence.

  1. Empower agents- accept feedback, include in decision-making process
  2. Be transparent- honest and effective communication (internally & externally)
  3. Be accessible- provide support in multiple channels, expand support hours
  4. Be attentive- your own active listening allows agents to better assist customer and anticipate future needs

As you can see, these suggestions can be easily implemented, are quick wins, and address some core areas of customer experience. With consistency, effort, and diligence, I’m convinced these steps will set you on the right path and improve your service department.


Sean HawkinsSean Hawkins is a Contact Center manager with over 13 years of experience. He has a terrific pulse on incorporating innovation into the contact center. He’s implemented social service, outsourcing partners, new technology, and new products, while maintaining an award-winning contact center.

His contact center is a past winner of the ICMI “Global Call Center of the Year” award for Small to Medium-Sized Centers. In addition, he was named one of ICMI’s Top 50 Contact Center Thought Leaders on Twitter. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanBHawkins and @CallCntrWeekly or join him on  LinkedIn

Guest Post: Two Reasons that Prevent the Perfect Customer Experience

cexoncomputerMy Guest post today is a video blog from Matt McConnell, CEO of Intradiem,  a leader in intraday management solutions for contact centers.   I enjoy working with Matt and his team and know how passionate he is about creating a great experience for both agents and customers. In this brief video, Matt shares his thoughts on what interferes with customer experience success.


 

As consumers, we take for granted that we are going to have to wait to be serviced. We’ve come to expect it as part of our daily lives – sitting on hold, enduring 4-hour service windows, having to search for a store clerk to help us, standing in long lines to pay for our purchases, and the list goes on and on. It’s downright ridiculous in this day and age – the age of the customer – that we can’t have more timely service.

 

As customers, we only want two things: speed and accuracy. A quality product or service delivered in a timely fashion that meets our needs.

 

What’s preventing companies from being able to deliver on this customer experience promise?

 

 


 

About Matt McConnell
Matt McConnell is chairman, president and CEO of Intradiem. Matt co-founded Intradiem in 1995 with a vision of helping companies increase the level of customer service they deliver by improving the performance of their agents. Today, Intradiem is a leader in its market with more than 450,000 call center agents around the world using Intradiem every day. Matt is the author of the book Customer Service at a Crossroads and holds 11 software patents.

 

Your Quality Monitoring: Engaging or Exasperating?

badcoachingOne of the worst methods of quality monitoring is the one that is based on finding everything wrong on a call or other type of customer interaction down to a seemingly molecular level.

I am definitely in favor of scored monitoring for skills but it must be balanced with common sense applied by the QA and/or coach listening and scoring those calls. Unfortunately I find that the common sense factor is not always applied.

An agent recently shared with me his experiences with a quality monitoring and coaching process that is frustrating and disengaging for him and his team members. This particular agent has been receiving kudos from customers for going above and beyond, including verbal positives to his supervisor and emailed compliments from customers. He is a seasoned agent who also is relied upon to train newer agents on his team. Despite his positive feedback and great skills, he regularly receives multiple errors from QA on calls.

Upon listening to one of these calls that was considered by QA to have errors, I heard a great example of excellent listening and other skills demonstrated by the agent. During this call, I heard the customer say, “Thanks for your help. That’s all I need today”. The agent replied with a sincere sounding thank you and ended the call positively.

QA however gave him an error because he didn’t ask, “Is there anything else?” at the end of that same call.

What would be gained by the agent asking what the customer had just answered? Nothing.

Some quality managers with a “follow the carved in stone checklist” approach train their QA team to be a robotic error factory. At times, I’ve even observed QA and their manager view any questions or push-back from an agent regarding quality scores as a personal affront to their ability to monitor. Email exchanges between agent and analyst may escalate until the agent gives up in defeat.

The agent in the example above told me he initially questioned the quality scoring error but after multiple emails with the Quality Analyst explaining why his question wasn’t necessary, he said that he finally gave up and accepted the error because he was “tired of fighting”. To add to his frustration, his new supervisor with no prior call center experience did little to nothing to support him with this apparently not wanting to rock the boat.

Agents who are very satisfied with their job will provide the best customer experience and remain on the job longer.

When we set up conflict between agents and quality through unrealistic processes or by creating a skill witch hunt environment, your agents will not only become dissatisfied…they will leave.


 

This article first appeared on Intradiem’s Blog where I’m featured as one of their Call Center Experts.

 

Guest Post: 4 Ways to Develop Positive Communication in Customer Service

 With all the buzz about GenY agents in our contact centers and retail customer service roles, I thought it was a good time to have a Guest Post from one who understands what it takes to be a great communicator in service.  I hope you enjoy Laura’s post!

Laura McConney
Laura McConney
Laura McConney is a college student, a writer for the Kova Corporation (an award winning provider of Enterprise and Security Intelligence Solution), and also an intern with The Marketing Zen Group (a full-service online marketing and digital PR firm).
Laura loves writing about the customer experience and contact centers and has worked in centers as an Advanced Computer Consultant for 3 years. She also tinkers with technology and learns all of the pop culture that she can. Connect with her on Twitter @l_mcconney .

 

Customer service is complex. In order to excel in dealing with clients, one must possess a vast number of abilities. Whether you are in sales or customer service, dealing with customers is simply part of the job, and you must express yourself in the proper manner to leave your clients satisfied. One of the most difficult skills to master, a personable voice can distinguish good customer service from great customer service. But how can one attain these skills? To start, consider these tips:

 

  1. Use positive words and phrases.

Implementing positive language can start a conversation on the right note.

Communicating what you can do rather than what you cannot instills confidence into customers.

If they know you are capable, then they will be more likely to trust you and listen to what you have to say. A positive frame of mind can help find solutions more quickly and will convey what actions you can accomplish. For example, if a product is back-ordered, tell a customer, “That product will be available next month, and I can place an order for you right now to make sure it is sent as soon as possible,” rather than saying, “I can’t get that product until next month because it is back-ordered and unavailable at this time.” This small difference will inspire faith in your clients and make your customer service second to none.

 

  1. Think about your body language.

Certain gestures can change the tone of your voice. In particular, smiling stimulates your sense of well-being, which lets customers know that you are approachable, trustworthy, and cooperative.

A smile directly influences those around you and adds warmth to your speaking voice.

Furthermore, keep your hands relaxed and your arms comfortable. If you clench your fists or slam your hands on your desk, clients will feel the tension and be less likely to appreciate your service. Think about keeping fresh flowers around because seeing them can lift your spirits and heal your mood and your voice. If the customer is speaking, look like you are listening. Focus on his or her head and torso and face him or her directly. This will communicate that you are engaged and paying attention. Nonverbal communication can directly impact your verbal tone and reception.

 

  1. Make a connection with the customer.

Learning more about a customer can generate more sales in the future. Making a personal connection with clients will engender loyalty, trust, and return service. Also, customers will appreciate your attempts to discover more about them. They will interpret your endeavors as friendly inquiries and will open themselves up to you even more.

Consider asking customers how new products or services are affecting them.

However, avoid spending too much time on this area of customer service. You also need to get to the trouble quickly. One of the keys to customer service is answering questions well. So, learn a little about your clients and then move on to what they would like to know or learn.

 

  1. Speak clearly and politely.

The proper annunciation and emphasis will create a warm tone in your voice. No customer wants to decipher mumbled words or listen to a monotone. Speak slowly and clearly while varying your pitch. Also, think about the volume of your voice. Do not speak too softly or too loudly. Doing all of this will allow your clients to easily hear what you are saying and will leave them satisfied once your conversation is over. Being understood is key to any customer service interaction. Furthermore, a slow, precise manner of speaking will provide a calming message to your clients. The appropriate inflection implies a natural discussion about your services and products.

Whenever you are speaking with a client, be polite. Please and thank you goes a long way to establish a solid base from which you can build a great customer interaction.

If you are still struggling to establish a friendly tone with customers, consider practicing in the mirror or recording yourself.

This will allow you to more readily identify your weaknesses. Once you have recognized your largest weak points, you can practice more efficiently.

 

REMEMBER that customer service communication is always different and is constantly changing. After you have mastered these general tips, be ready to think on your feet, and you will become a customer service expert.

5 More Tips for Improving Attrition At Your Center

InterviewResumeThis is a continuation of the article “5 Tips For Improving Attrition” which appeared on my blog on July 14, 2014.

Recruiting the best agents for your center is a challenge at times and can be expensive as well.  Equally or even more expensive is the cost of losing the agents we have brought on board when many times there are opportunities to turn around the negatives that are causing them to leave.  These are 5 more tips for you to consider:

Attrition Tip #6

Catch them doing something right.

A recent Forester Research report showed that only 31% of organizations recognize and reward employees across the company for improving customer experience. Many of us have rewards and incentives in place for our agents based on reaching targeted goals. Unfortunately, Psych 101 tells us that you get the behaviors you reward. What are we rewarding? Are we looking at monthly goals reached, quarterly goals reached? What about the frontline leaders recognizing agents that are doing great things for the customers every day? This is typically only done through monitoring.

Coaching isn’t an activity that should just happen in a room behind closed doors, but something that should be done out in the center as well to make those agents feel valued.

We need to catch our agents doing something right and let them know about it right away when it happens, instead of waiting until days or weeks later when a report comes out or when it’s time for formal coaching. Unfortunately, that is the cookie cutter coaching that so often happens. Many supervisors are stuck in that repetitive nature of the work. The causes of contact center attrition aren’t just the in repetitive work of the agents but rather in the repetitive work that supervisors do and how they view their role in motivating and helping your agents want to come to work every day.

 

Attrition Tip #7

Recognize efforts, not only perfection.

We know agents love to be rewarded for things. Studies have shown they love getting money, gift card incentives, time off and written recognition. I suggest that supervisors and coaches leave a little surprise thank-you note instead of just sending an email. Kudos like that could be part of a big corporate plan for recognition, but still involves the supervisor taking the time to personally recognize the agent by leaving a little treat or surprise at their desk.

Of course, just stopping desk-side and giving verbal kudos in front of the rest of the group also goes a long way, but the bottom line is that they all want someone to notice their efforts, not just perfection.

If your contests are motivating and rewarding the same top ten people all the time, what is it doing for the rest of the group?

Although you may be rewarding them with a paycheck and they certainly love money, that’s not always the top motivator for people. Some are motivated by money, but some are motivated by other things.

Attrition Tip #8

Give agents opportunity.

They want you to identify them as a growth opportunity for the center, the future leaders for the center or maybe within your company. I often find the coaching that we’re doing involves strictly the customer experience. If this is what we’re doing, we’re really not thinking about leadership qualities that we might identify. Number three on the list of attrition causes is the lack of promotion and leadership opportunity.

What are you offering for your best agents who want new challenges and opportunities with you?

You have opportunities to structure your centers with multiple levels of agents so that your agents can grow within those levels. They can start off on the beginning level and move up through your call center.

 

Attrition Tip #9

Meet the challenges of the 58% of your agents who are now GEN Y.

Contact centers are seeing a change, with a lot of the baby boomers and older agents leaving the workforce. They’re retiring or moving into part-time work. Fifty-eight percent of agents are now GEN Y, and we need to look at the new challenges and opportunities for preventing attrition with them. Understanding how they think about their job and what motivates them and keeps them is critical. This goes back again to a lot of front-line leadership contact, because the daily interactions are where we see the best opportunities for improving attrition. This includes the personal interactions that GEN Y agents are having with your leadership team.

They love when your lecturing turns interactive because they don’t want to just sit there and listen to you talk. They want you asking them for their ideas, their suggestions and their input for your center.

I’m not referring to generic surveys, but rather the supervisors asking them, what have they noticed? What have they heard? How could processes be improved? What about interacting with the customers, what have they noticed? GEN Y agents love that and they will contribute on a regular basis if we just ask.

 

Attrition Tip #10

Explain to Agents the benefits to the customer, to the company and to them.

Gen Y doesn’t want us to just say, “Okay, this is the way you have to do it.” There is now a group of people working in your center who are more interested in what’s going to happen to them and how it’s going to affect the customer and even the company itself because they’re interested in the day-to-day operation of the company. Many of them want to learn more about those things.

How you manage mentoring with this group is also critical because they love to help.

One of my clients recently used mentoring as a motivational tool to get several struggling GEN Y agents to improve their skills. The client told the agents that once they reach a particular skill level they would be able to become mentors. Within a month’s time the agents made the needed improvement. They are now doing great at those skills; they have really successful quality ratings and manage processes and procedures extremely well. They became mentors and they were thrilled to have that opportunity. Looking for ways to offer that mentorship program could provide substantial results.

 

This article is based on a webinar I facilitated for Intradiem and the related article written  for Intradiem’s Blog where I’m featured as one of their Call Center Experts.

5 Tips for Improving Attrition At Your Center

Hope everyone is having a successful summer!  If you follow my blog, you know that I love to write about coaching, front line leaders and customer and agent experience.  The post below is based on an article which appeared on Intradiem’s blog after a webinar I facilitated for them.

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Contact center attrition is not only affecting the bottom line, but it also has an impact on the day-to-day operational success and morale in call centers. Here are 5 tips to help us look at ways to improve agent and front-line leadership communication and attrition.

Attrition Tip #1:

Front-line leadership is key to combat the reasons for contact center attrition

The two top drivers of satisfaction, according to Blessing White’s 2013 Employee Engagement Report, were career development and training. There are opportunities within the contact center to make agents want to come to work.

Surveys consistently show attrition is directly affected by agent feelings of pressure, stress, lack of promotion and development.  Center leaders need to look for ways to combat these negatives

The way supervisors and team leads interact with your agents as coaches, mentors and motivators directly affects agents’ job satisfaction, which in turn is going to affect your contact center attrition.

 

Attrition Tip #2:

Great coaches engage agents and help to retain them

I really have passion about coaching and the benefits that can bring to your call center. We often forget that great coaching will help retain your best agents.

Your agents want to have opportunities to grow, learn and to be appreciated.

Contact center leaders play a key role in doing that; they’re creating a positive atmosphere for your agents to work in. One that helps them not only learn skills they use to create a great experience for customers, but one that helps to develop skills for their career goals within the center and your company, and that’s important. We like when we lose agents for good reasons, such as when they’ve been able to be promoted into other positions in our center or somewhere else within our company. Our front-line supervisors and leaders must develop the skills needed to conduct that type of engagement, coaching and motivation. They also have to personalize it for each of the agents that they’re working with.

 

Attrition Tip #3:

Coach the coaches

Who’s coaching the coaches? That’s the question I often ask when I work with contact centers because we spend a lot of time talking about the agents, but the supervisors and frontline leaders often have no formal contact center leadership training. The question I like to ask is, “What are you doing to develop them?” because they in turn are helping to develop the agents and keep them in your center.

Many of the agents I meet with will tell me that the only time they’re seeing their supervisors or team leads is when there’s something wrong.

Obviously if that’s happening, it’s not going to make a positive place for them to work.

I sometimes hear about supervisors walking agents into a room and telling the agents that they really aren’t happy having to do all this coaching, how busy they are, how it’s taking their time away from other things. How motivating is it for an agent to hear that the time spent with them isn’t important? It should be no surprise when these agents decide to leave. In both examples, agents came forward and said they did not want to work with their supervisor anymore.

Attrition Tip #4:

Do ask, don’t tell.

Unfortunately, telling is a coaching method that a lot of front-line leaders use instead of making development interactive and really finding out what’s driving the behaviors and how they can help that agent.

Some coaches spend a lot of time telling agents what they did wrong

Even worse, I often hear examples of agents receiving emails with scores telling them what they did wrong…there’s no personal contact.

 

Attrition Tip #5:

Power down the quality checklist robots.

Are they sitting there, listening to calls and just checking off yes or no and giving a score?

Are they really listening for that engagement and really listening for the way the agent personally handled engaging with the customer?

One example I heard recently is that an agent was given a failure score on a call because they didn’t ask the customer at the end of the call, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” It turned out in listening to the call again that the agent had heard the customer say at the end of the call, “Well, there’s nothing else I need and thank you so much for your help.” So why would we want quality to negatively score the agent for not repeating what the customer has just said? The customer would have thought it was a crazy question to ask after they had just said there was nothing else.

…In my next post,  I’ll continue with 5 additional tips I for controlling attrition.

This article is based on a webinar I facilitated for Intradiem and the related article written  for Intradiem’s Blog where I’m featured as one of their Call Center Experts.

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