• My Blog Posts On Intradiem.com

  • 2014 MindTouch Customer Experience Influencer

Waterfall Coaching For Agent Engagement

waterfall-2One of the greatest opportunities for agent engagement — and yet from my observations, the least implemented — is the consistent involvement of top leadership in hands-on coaching activities and quality monitoring.

Many C-suite and higher-level managers feel that coaching is an activity for the frontline leaders. Or they may do a lot of feedback “telling” in team meetings with agent groups or with supervisors and leads.

As we know from our coaching best practice studies, this type of “tell and not do” communication style often falls on deaf ears. Agents and frontline coaches such as supervisors and leads tell me that they feel that the people on the top have no idea what the customer interaction work is really like for them including the coaching work and time it takes. They feel the C-Suite have no interest in how the contact center work environment is or how coaching should be done until a customer complains loudly. Then, the feedback (not really coaching) is all about what they did wrong.

Other agents tell me that the C-Suite folks at their company simply email blast the contact center teams with written platitudes such as, “Go Team!… you can do it!…we are behind you 100%!” when in reality they rarely see the top people in the center to engage with them directly. They receive volumes of attitude notes without the substance behind them.

If we want to have our employees truly invested and engaged in coaching and quality programs, it must begin with the people at the top. Coaching needs to be lived and breathed by everyone in the company responsible for customer experience, especially managers and executives who have direct reports who coach frontline center agents.

When we aren’t great coaches ourselves, why are we surprised when agents or supervisors fail as coaches or avoid coaching activities?

I believe in what I call “Waterfall Coaching.” Waterfall coaching means you are an active coach with your managers and frontline leaders, while they in turn are coaching with their agents.

This must be active coaching: Observe them coach with an agent, let them watch you coach an agent, listen to calls with them and make sure everyone agrees on the quality level expectations, skills needed and shares how to help the agents improve and how to drive active agent engagement.

One of my favorite clients is a Vice President of Marketing and Sales I’ve been working with for a few years. He knows sales and marketing practices extremely well and he also understands how to engage with his employees using active coaching.

When he decided to roll out a new coaching and quality program, he asked me to coach with him which involved listening to him on recorded customer calls and actually scoring his skills as we did with the agents.

His willingness to be monitored for quality and coached by me and also by his customer service managers spoke volumes about his interest in not just telling what to do but by learning what to do himself. He told me he better understands what both the agents and the manager coaches feel when participating in the coaching process.

The VP’s coaching participation also involved looking at the tools both managers and agents were using for customer interactions, processes and the time they needed to be successful. This allowed him to look at ways to improve the tools used.

Do you have expectations for your frontline leaders to drive quality and then load them up with everything but the tools and support they need to get the job done?

Having high expectations for quality and coaching without supporting with training and agent coaching tools will not bring you the agent engagement results you are seeking.

This company has seen great success from their coaching efforts, including written praise from customers worldwide regarding the quality of service. Their feedback was not asked for in a survey but offered freely by customers at conferences that my client and his peers attended.

Find the time to be a great coach yourself, give others the time to be a great coach, too and practice waterfall coaching every day. Your agents, your frontline leaders and your customers will all see the benefits.

My post originally appeared on the Intradiem blog

Why So Many Contact Center New Hires Fail

CustomerQueueIt’s a given that we spend a great deal of time and money recruiting and training agents for our centers.

Sometimes we hire someone who looks great on paper and knows how to present themselves well in interviews, but they don’t make it past the training program.

Even those who seemed so eager to work in our center during the beginning may end up leaving before their 90-day review time arrives.

We need to think like our New Hires and look at what they are experiencing from their point of view. Some negatives for them are under our control. Others are something they bring to the job themselves based on how they view this job: “Temporary job while I look for something else” or “This could be my career and opportunity for the future.”

Here are a few of the new agent issues I’ve observed:

“These customers are making me sick”

You have to be willing to take a lot from customers. They will often act like the south end of the northbound mule even when we are doing all we can to assist them.

Some newer agents have told me that they went home with headaches everyday from the “loud” customers and negatives they had to deal with. Somehow they never equated customer service work with customers having complaints despite your interview discussion.

Allowing top candidates to observe and listen to some calls with you is a great way for them to better understand the nature of their potential job. Fortifying them with in-line training breaks delivered during idle time can also be beneficial.

“I didn’t do it”

This is one of the worst phrases ever uttered by an agent to a customer with a complaint. Our customers never want to hear that we lack responsibility or that another department or individual is to blame. They want us to take responsibility to fix the problem no matter where the problem originated.

Some of our new hires struggle with the need to move the blame to others or share “too much information” about internal issues that the customer personally does not need to know. We need to make sure that taking responsibility and how to avoid giving “TMI” are part of our onboard trainings.

Why should I give empathy to strangers?

Agents have to be willing and able to show understanding, concern and put themselves in the customer’s shoes. Some agents will nod their heads in agreement and give empathy and sympathy to friends, but with “unknown” customers may focus on the process without showing interest in those customers.

I’ve actually had agents tell me that they “don’t care” about the customer’s problem because “It’s the customer’s fault” and they really don’t see why they should be empathetic in any way, shape or form.

These type of comments always makes me wonder how this agent reacted during the interview process and training when empathy was discussed. Didn’t anyone notice his or her attitude or did the agent conceal it just to get a job?

When I probed further, I discovered that these same un-empathetic agents had supervisors were strictly “process” focused and inept themselves at showing empathy.

Regardless of how they got the job, if they are tired of being coached on their lack of empathy and not interested in improving, they will often look to transfer to another area of the company or just quit entirely.

On the other hand, agents who are open to the coaching on empathy, and learn how to be engaged in doing it, find the response from the customers is so positive that they continue to build their empathy skills.

Being tied to that desk

Balancing customer satisfaction and agent satisfaction is a real challenge for us.

An agent recently told me that their supervisor does nothing to coordinate breaks among their small satellite center team and simply says, “You are all adults. Leave when you want to.” New hires love it and don’t even look at the queue, assuming the experienced agents will stay while they take the best lunch slots. I’d like to see this center’s customer wait stats!

That situation is the total opposite of the too-controlling managers and supervisors who look at every one-second gap in agent activity. A few agents even told me that they were afraid to take a break when “nature called” since their supervisor sent them a nasty message when they got back.

Even when we are trying to offer scheduling and breaks in a way that appeals to agents, we aren’t able to make everyone happy. New hires with little experience in a structured center environment will have a hard time staying at their desk initially and some soon find they don’t want to stay long term.

The bottom line is that our contact center new hires need to understand fully what the job entails. Don’t just sell them on the fabulous bonuses, benefits or promotions they can look for. Be realistic about the nature of the job, the expectations and most importantly your customers and what it takes to make them happy.

And be realistic as well about the process that’s involved in managing your agent’s intraday activities. Getting “stuck” in manual processes creates a condition where engagement, empathy, variety, new skills acquisition, and the like are seen as just too much trouble. Automate these processes where you can to streamline activities and provide more face-to-face, personal interaction time.

We also need to accept that some people are professional interviewers and test takers and are just agent ships passing through our center until something they like better comes along.

My post originally appeared on the Intradiem blog

Too Many Process Cooks Spoil Customer Experience and Agent Support

cookclipartUnfortunately, the story shared here is based on a real company event. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, but too bad the company name can’t be shared so they can be shamed for their part in poor customer experience and agent support.

An agent recently told me about a customer service situation that demonstrates how internal processes considered “open to interpretation,” failing to back up agents when they are right, and lack of follow-up with customers when there is an issue, can combine to create the worst possible customer experience.

Sue, an experienced claims agent, received a call from an angry customer, Mrs. Smith, who told Sue that felt she was unfairly charged for services that should be part of her coverage.

After verifying Mrs. Smith’s policy and information, Sue realized that Mrs. Smith was correct, so she entered a request for refund and told the customer she was doing so. Sue told me that she had done these requests for similar customer issues and was following the same processes and procedures as before.

Sue explained to Mrs. Smith that the refund was pending final approval and that she would receive an email within the next 24 to 48 hours confirming the status of the refund.

Mrs. Smith was delighted to have such quick and positive service, and thanked Sue for her help. Sue then closed out her portion of the interaction and moved on to assist other customers.

Sue told me that the standard process was for the request to be signed off by her direct manager and then submitted by him to operations and finance areas for final processing.

Ten days after Sue submitted the refund request, she received a detailed email chain, which included emails from operations and finance supervisors and managers. The email was a forward from her manager with a note saying he wanted her to see the request results “in case the customer called again.”

As she read through the pages, it was clear that not only her direct manager but multiple people in process, finance, service and operations had chimed in on why the refund should or shouldn’t be paid.

Each department involved in the refund had their own interpretation of the process and in fact, some said that Sue was wrong in even requesting such a refund.

The final email was from a high-level director who said that Sue was correct and the refund would be issued that week.

Mrs. Smith did in fact call the next day to find out why she had not received a refund email or any other contact. She was very angry and accused Sue of being “incompetent.”  Mrs. Smith insisted on being transferred to Sue’s manager.

Sue overheard the manager explaining to the customer that there had been some “internal delays.”  He never told Mrs. Smith that Sue had done everything correctly and was not to blame.

  • Day 1: Customer is told refund request is submitted and she will receive email confirmation on status. Customer is happy.
  • Day 2 to Day 10: Internal people argue over the way to handle and who is right.
  • Day 11: Previously happy customer becomes angry customer.  Agent has to take the customer anger and manager does nothing to defend the agent during the internal process email exchanges or let the customer know that Sue was correct. Major fail for customer follow-up and agent support.
  • Day 12: Sue wakes up wondering if she wants to continue working at a company that doesn’t back her up and focuses on petty internal process arguments instead of making the customer and her feel valued.

Policy “interpretation” happens at more than just Sue’s company. How many times have you been a customer and found different answers to your policy questions depending on the person, the department, and the channel or seemingly the time of day you ask?

Our agents and our customers deserve clarity, trust and consistent communication. We will make mistakes at times, but we shouldn’t make them based on department in-fighting or processes that confuse and irritate those who receive the information and those who have to deliver it.

My post originally appeared on the Intradiem blog

All Work, No Play Means a Disengaged Contact Center

OfficepartyWe all want to create the best customer experience. Unfortunately, sometimes in our zeal to drive success we end up taking the fun out of our centers. We become the “happiness vampires,” sucking all of the fun from our teams.

Taken from my personal experiences, here are some top cautions as well as opportunities for center leaders looking to prevent a disengaged contact center:


Dear CEO: your center’s boring beige walls and grey cubes have to go!

And, please don’t ask your relatives or anyone in the company to design the decor and comfort of our centers unless they have worked in contact centers and they understand the importance of creating a positive, fun working environment. Unfortunately I’ve seen this happen in many smaller centers but large ones have challenges, too.

A large telecom center I visited a few years ago looked like a scene out of the movie Metropolis, with agent robots lined up in factory rows with no personal touches allowed. They also have high turnover rates, and based on my observations and agent comments, I’m certain their work environment plays a part.

Let’s put some color in their center lives including artwork, travel posters or other nice visuals on the walls, especially for centers with minimal window views.

Motivating Contests for 4 to 6 weeks of Fun

A small service center has had agents dealing with some business issues out of their control, so naturally they were feeling down and stressed.

I challenged the managers to design a fun contest for everyone based on quality and other work qualities they wanted to drive and reward. They chose the theme of “Service Superheroes” and had weekly goals for quality and performance to participate. Costumes were encouraged.

Soft skills, attitudes and quality improved as the agents competed with each other to be the best and had fun with lunch treats and costumed photos, too. The results were fantastic, including a tech support agent who used a company product to create his hero costumer!

Easy Fun Games for Small Budgets and Shorter Periods of Time

This is an inexpensive game I used when I was a center manager and it can still work today. I referred to it as “Retro Pac-Man Day.”

For this game, first make sure you have a wall space where you can hang/post large sheets for visibility in the center. Purchase 1 to 2 large White cardboard/paper sheets depending on the number of participants for your team (usually 6 – 7 agents max per sheet) and bright yellow construction paper. Buy two yellow sheets for each agent participating.

Cut out 2 circles from each yellow sheets (use cups or glasses as template). Give each agent 4 circles and ask them to draw a “Pac Man” face on each with a Black magic marker. Encourage them to customize the faces. Anything goes as long as fun and clean.

Draw a table on each large sheet of white paper with agents down the left and game days across the top.

One of their Pac-Man faces will be placed (taped or tacked) in each of the four spaces if they reach the goal that day. If they don’t reach the goal, the space is left blank.

Announce the daily Pac-Man goal for that day at a 5-minute start of shift meeting or the day prior. Some examples of goals are: upsell goal reached, worked scheduled hours/back from lunch and break on time, met availability, etc)

On Friday, bring in pizza or snacks for everyone and reward the top person(s) who achieve the most goals. You can have a drawing if there is a tie by placing the Pac-Man faces with agents’ names on them in a box and drawing out winners. You can also put the “runner ups” in a separate drawing. More goals reached (i.e. Pac-Man faces in box) increases their chance of winning.

Unexpected Surprises

We need to do the unexpected and add an element of surprise to an agent’s day. Make an announcement at shift start that the next upsell/cross-sell completed gets the $10 bill you have tacked on the wall of your cubicle. Or, a chosen number of agents reaching a morning goal get to choose from several sealed envelopes and find a prize inside. Prizes can be movie coupons, gift cards, or $5 bill.

It’s fun, quick and easy to manage.

Supervisors, Please Smile!

We have a no-cost way to help make our center more positive through our actions and words: A simple smile and a kind greeting work wonders!

Find time to walk through your center. Smile and greet every agent, including those who aren’t on your team. When they ask you why you are smiling, tell them you love working with such dedicated successful agents who make the customer feel important.

So stop running a disengaged contact center and start looking for ways you can make your workplace friendly, creative and fun. Having this atmosphere will drive agent retention and engagement, which in turn will bring customer experience success.

My post originally appeared on the Intradiem blog

Are You Selling Your Customer Service Team?


Global studies tell us that 78% of customers have not made an intended purchase due to a bad customer service experience. Other surveys say we have a 60-70% probability of selling to an existing customer versus less than 20% probability of selling to a new prospect. And another survey reported that only 1% of business-to-business customers feel that vendors consistently meet their expectations.

Despite these statistics demonstrating the importance of high quality service for future sales and retention, and companies stating their commitment to providing excellent service, the actual operational and financial support for service teams is often less than what is needed.

Companies will spend large amounts of money for training their sales teams saying, “We have not had a problem spending money for sales or marketing because these folks bring money in.” Many not only provide the training perks but also offer high wages and pay for attendance at conferences or offsite sales meetings at resort locations. The problem comes when a company doesn’t show the same commitment to resources and funds to support service operations.

When was the last time the President or CEO spent more than a quick walk through your center?  Did he/she spend time observing and talking with frontline supervisors and your agents?

Unfortunately some CEOs think service success simply means answering the phone quickly with a smile and meeting operational metrics.

These CEOs don’t see the need for spending the time and money on soft skill or other key training for long time agents. It’s disappointing when a center manager says, “We don’t have time for training” or “Our company is spending so much on (technology, marketing, sales, new product development, etc.) that we don’t have any funds for training.”

Frontline service agents, supervisors and managers are dealing with the challenges that will affect future sales and retention of customers. Many are also focused on cross-selling and up-selling, and work closely with the outside sales representatives to support their sales efforts.

When it’s time for crucial customer service training, most contact centers like to have a mix of training methods for best results. They use online e-learning modules, webinars but also like to have time for in-person facilitators and of course live, real-time coaching. There are definitely solutions for finding the time to train and coach.

What is more challenging is convincing the C-suite team that money should be spent on the service team.

As a manager or director, you need to be prepared to sell your customer service team and the benefits they bring that go way beyond just answering the phone quickly with a smile. You must find ways to communicate how your team both directly and indirectly increases sales and retains customers.

These are a few suggestions to consider. You may already be doing some or perhaps all of these, but are you selling the results?

  • Collect customer feedback that demonstrates the difference individual agents and your team are making with customer satisfaction. Call back customers who give high praise to reps and ask for details and document.
  • Track the add-on sales and product substitutions made when the original purchased interest isn’t available. How were your agents able to save an order? This goes beyond normal cross-selling or up-selling programs.
  • Listen to customer comments during call monitoring and coaching and save calls where customer says they continue to buy due to great service.
  • Create a dynamic presentation based on the facts and audio collected.
  • Request a show-and-tell meeting with top executive leadership: keep it brief and interesting. I’m worried when executives say no to this request, and as a manager you should be, too.
  • Share the challenges of keeping the team well trained and motivated and the cost of losing an agent and replacing them. Find statistics that demonstrate the link between training and customer success as well as training and reduced agent turnover.
  • Wrap up with solutions you have for training and motivation that will keep sales coming in and customers retained.

In essence, center leaders must learn how to be the best sales people for their customer service teams.  Sell your team every day in every way possible and ask for the financial and operational support you need for continued success.

My post originally appeared on the Intradiem blog in 2015

Home-Based Heroes Need Agent Coach

CoachwhistleIt’s hard enough to coach with agents in your center who sit close by, but it can be even more challenging coaching with those farther away.

Many home agents are part of skills monitoring and coaching programs that are timely and motivating.  Some aren’t that fortunate and may find themselves wondering if they still have a supervisor.  Or worse yet, they hear from their supervisor only about errors made or procedural changes.

Coaching with agents virtually is an art that takes practice and planning.  We need to find creative ways to engage with our home agent, making sure they have consistent coaching and motivation.

If you work with current agents who have been given home-based work opportunities based on quality and experience levels, they are used to having daily contact with their team members and access to supervisors and trainers.  The transition to working at home sounds exciting initially, however their enthusiasm can soon be lost if the supervisor and trainers aren’t continuing to support them proactively and make them feel a part of the team.

Hiring work at home agents directly without bringing them into your center first for initial training and agent coaching requires some different approaches to new hire development.

Regardless of the size of your remote teams, you’ll benefit from careful planning for the following:

Call Recording System

Whether you use an inexpensive small center system or enterprise-wide solution, having a user-friendly comprehensive call recording system is key to coaching and motivating our in-center and home agents. In addition to having the coach work with them virtually using the recordings, skill rating tools and having a webcam coaching session in real time, home agents can listen to their own calls and critique themselves. Interactive quality discussions will be very engaging if done positively.


Studies continue to validate the importance of using a variety of training methods instead of “one size fits all” modules.  Smart center managers know this and have a blend of the following:

  • E-Learning modules including knowledge tests, delivered during low-volume periods
  • In-house produced videos of company product, sales and service experts discussing skills and product updates
  • Onsite classes (if the home agent is able to travel to your location)
  • Recommendations for continued education offered local community resources such as technical colleges

Consistent Positive Contact and Motivation

Remember, “Out of sight = Out of mind.”

That’s how some home agents may feel.  Regular contact will help make them feel a part of the team. Make sure they are eligible for contests, games and activities you have planned.  Send them a birthday card and have lunch or sweet treats delivered to their home on center celebration days (birthdays, holidays, etc).  Have their team sing happy birthday or congratulate them as a group via webcam.  Take them on a “tour” of new facilities and meet new employees by taking your laptop with webcam around the center for them to “see” what is happening.

Gamification is one way to offer a universal motivation tool for both in-house and home agents.  This can be very motivating for many agents during their break times or as rewards for success with metrics or skills improvements.  You can also use team games and contests to motivate healthy competition: home agents versus in-house or home agents paired with in-house agents.

Use Social Media

Encourage internal “chat” with co-workers (during appropriate work times of course!) and have an internal social media channel for all employees to read and share.  Invite home agents to send a work “selfie” photo of themselves at their home office desk and post on the internal center website or a newsletter if you have agent “spotlight” segments in it.

Home-Based Supervisor for Home-Based Agents

If you have a large enough team or teams of remote agents, offer one of your supervisors the chance to work from home, too.  Working in their home-based office every day will give the supervisor a new perspective on the highs and lows of working away from the daily center action. Virtual systems for agent coaching, training and monitoring of operational activities are available to support supervisors and managers working from home so they won’t be out of the loop either.  Managers need to make sure that the home-based supervisors have the coaching, motivation and support they need as well so managers must consistently schedule these activities with remote leadership, too.

If you have remote agents or are considering adding them to your center mix, be sure that you have carefully thought out not only the processes for technology and policies, but also how you will successfully coach, motivate and retain your hard-working home-based heroes.

This post originally appeared on Intradiem

Complete Agent Disengagement in One Email

EmailproblemsI recently saw an email that was a good reminder to all of us that the words we choose to write can convey a very different meaning from what we intended to say, especially when the actions before and after the email aren’t mirroring what we wrote. The email I’m referring to was written by a supervisor who, from all accounts, thought she was writing a positive and motivating email to her agents but instead, she ended up killing any remaining agent engagement. The result was outright agent disengagement at its worse.

The supervisor who wrote the email has been in her role for two years.  According to her agents, she has never taken a customer call. They told me she loves to stay in her office most days doing anything other than helping them or interacting with customers.

“Instead of pitching in, she simply opens her office door and says loudly, ‘Can anyone take a call?  Customers are waiting.’”

What makes this even more irritating to agents, beyond the obvious fact that she doesn’t answer the calls waiting in queue, is that she shouts this while they are on calls with other customers or taking care of customers who have come in person for assistance.  The supervisor appears to be oblivious to the effect she has on her agents as well as the customers who are within hearing range of her shouts.

The center agents multi-task handling phone, email and face-to-face interactions and most have been in the center for more than 10 years. They also have the task of handling some administrative tasks.  At times, customers who prefer to have issues resolved in person will meet with an agent in an area close to the center.  The supervisor doesn’t offer to help with these visitors either saying, “I don’t know how to do that.  You (agent) handle it much better than I do.”  Unfortunately her agents don’t see this as a compliment but as her way of once again avoiding the customer interaction.

Staff has recently been added and the supervisor has taken no role in training these new agents.  One of the seasoned agents has been tasked with this job.  As you can see, the supervisor has never shown interest in being a part of the team and makes excuses about not having time, busy with emails, attending a corporate video chat meeting, etc. constantly.

Now to the email…

The supervisor decided to send out an email thanking the agents for all of their hard work and in the same email, welcoming the agents who had just joined the center a few weeks earlier.  Normally this would be a great idea but given her lack of interest in being a real “working” supervisor and part of the service team, the email was of course badly received.

Her email opened with words of appreciation and welcome.  The supervisor wrote that she knew without a doubt that the new people would benefit from the knowledge of the seasoned agents adding, “If they can train me, they can train you.”  She also wrote that she was still learning from them.  She said they should all support each other as well as the customers “they are paid to help.”

The email ended up with cheerful “Together we can do it!” message.  Of course the agents knew there was no together with this supervisor.  They were on their own.

It was true that the agents did train and coach with the supervisor but she showed no interest in applying the knowledge they shared with her.  She isn’t supporting them or even the customers that SHE is also paid to help.

       “Insulted by the note and now totally disengaged, as an agent I’m now looking at options for future employment elsewhere.”

As managers and supervisors, we may occasionally say something that isn’t seen as positive by our agents, but putting it in writing is even worse since it can be printed, saved, reviewed and read over and over again.

Supervisors and managers need to find the time to be an active part of their team’s success. Agent disengagement is real, and it can destroy an otherwise great team. Make sure that the engaging emails you write to your team reflect engaging actions that you take to support them.

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

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