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5 Things Frontline Leaders Can Do to Help Agent Attrition

  Listening

I love working with front-line supervisors and managers who are learning how to be more effective coaches. Most are eager to learn how to build a great team. During our work time together, many express frustration about agent turnover, the time and effort that new hire training takes with high turnover. Some add that they feel powerless to do anything about attrition. They’ll blame it on poor hiring or an agent that didn’t have the right attitude, but often they don’t see the part they themselves play in keeping employees engaged and employed.

Agents share a lot of their concerns and comments with me too and their relationship with their supervisor and manager is very telling indeed. Some say that they love the way their supervisor rolls up their sleeves and helps when the queues are busy. Others tell me that their supervisor disappears from 8 to 5 in meetings and they barely have any contact with them. A few even tell me that the only time they see their supervisor is when they have done something “wrong.”

Those who are engaged and continue to work in their center roles will share what the best of their leaders are doing to keep them coming to work everyday and enjoying what they do.

The best part is that the most-mentioned agent attrition fighters below are free or nearly free.

1. Pay Attention

When was the last time you stopped by an agent’s desk just to say, “How is your day going”?

Offer each agent personal attention, time to speak with you about their goals for their career and not just a monthly coaching session because you have to do it. They can tell if you are sincere or just marking the session off on your management checklist. Stop by and say “Good Morning” or “Great job on that last call.” Just show you are interested in them.

2. Recognize

Many agents tell me that they think the customer service week focus (i.e. one big deal week out of the year) is just something managers think they HAVE to do, rather than really recognizing contributions and efforts regularly made. Ask your agents for ideas on rewards and recognition. You may find that not everyone loves that popcorn party you planned as a reward!

3. Sincere thanks

Give heartfelt thanks, not a corporate designed thank you! Sign up for a free or inexpensive e-card service (for example, Jacquie Lawson) and send a personalized thank you card for special projects, great improvements in skills or other reasons to show individual appreciation: attendance, covering for co-worker who is out, mentoring, etc.

Or, spend a few dollars and buy a box of blank thank you notes. Handwrite something about their abilities and efforts. Agents have told me that they take these custom written notes home to proudly show their family and then bring them back to post at their desk. They love looking at these on a tough customer day.

4. Notice when I’m doing something right and show me how to do better

The biggest push-back I receive from supervisors and managers is when I ask them to spend an hour sitting side by side with each agent observing live calls, emails, chats, workflow and even take calls while the agent observes them. Most tell me they are too busy to do this often and make excuses when asked to do it even once. Using intraday automation tools, you can eliminate manual tasks and find snippets of time in your schedule (and your agent’s) to interact with your team.

This is a wonderful opportunity to bond with your agent, show that you are still learning and working on skills too and that improvement is a work in progress as a team, not you versus me.

You should also “spot check” live calls from your desk during the week. When you hear a great call or an agent who is practicing the skills you just coached with them, you can go over to their desk and praise what they’ve done. They love it!

5. Listen to me

Ask your agents for feedback on things: processes, training materials, tools they use, what the customers are telling them and how to improve customer experience and their own work there.

Show interest and value their input instead of just telling them what they need to do.

If they ask for something challenging or perhaps unreasonable, don’t just say no. Explain why it would be a problem or at least offer to think about it. Millennials in particular love to have reasons shared rather than given flat “no.”

As frontline supervisors and managers, we DO have ways to fight agent attrition. Focus on proactive ways you can take charge of engaging and personalizing your daily interactions with each individual on your team. Find and take the time to coach them and communicate with them. Engage them so they not only want to do a great job — they want to stay!


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

Why Every Employee Needs Customer Engagement Training

SmilingBizPeopleOne of my favorite customer service quotes is by Karl Albrecht, founder of the Aldi supermarket chain, who wisely said, “If you’re not serving the customer, you’d better be serving someone who is.”

It’s easy to understand the need for service skills training for customer service, tech support and sales teams. They interact directly with our customers every day, so companies offer training programs specifically for these teams related to engaging, retaining and providing excellent service. Unfortunately the training is often focused on the external customers with little or no mention of internal ones.

An example of this internal disconnect occurred recently when I monitored a customer service agent answering a call from a company employee. The service agent sighed with frustration, used negative phrases and at times was downright rude to the other employee, “Sue.” The service agent acted as if Sue’s call was an annoyance.

When we coached with the agent and asked her what she heard when listening to the recorded call, she said, “That Sue is so aggravating. She should know the answer instead of calling me.” The agent saw no problem with giving poor service to Sue and even admitting this to us.

For this agent, great service was only for those outside of the company walls.

Many businesses also forget to take the steps needed to ensure that ALL employees company-wide understand how their work and communication interactions impact both internal and external customers. Employees who seemingly have little to no direct contact with outside customers, for instance back office administrative or plant personnel, have not been trained to see their part in the customer’s journey with the company. That’s where the value of customer engagement training for all employees comes in.

Management in these administrative or manufacturing areas may understand the customer impacts but their teams often seem to work isolated from the customer experience, customer expectations and the importance of what they do in terms of customer satisfaction. It’s not their fault if these ideas are foreign to them if management doesn’t make the effort to connect the customer engagement dots for them as well.

Customer engagement training is the missing link to connect all of our teams with the importance of service — internally and externally — and proactive communication.

They also need coaching from well-trained customer-focused managers and front-line supervisors who understand the part every employee plays in customer satisfaction and retention.

For internal and external customer experience, we should focus on these:

  • Be polite and respectful with everyone — Making other employees feel valued will go a long way for respect back from them and also for your reputation throughout your company. Positive and polite attitudes internally affect external customers, too.
  • Answer internal calls professionally offering your name and a greeting  — I had an agent tell me that they answered their extension, “What do you want now?” thinking it was a work friend and trying to be funny. Unfortunately the caller was a manager from another department using that person’s desk phone. He was not amused.
  • Look for opportunities to educate co-workers if they are calling with common questions and issues  — Instead of being annoyed by repeat calls, take the time to explain to an employee how the process he/she is calling about works. Take responsibility for things that ultimately affect the customers inside and out.
  • Follow-through on your commitments to internal customers, too — Don’t say, “It’s only John. He can wait.” Be on time and schedule their requests and needs on your calendar too.
  • Ask internal customers questions to make sure you are clear on needs — One agent told me she doesn’t ask what they want because she KNOWS what they want! She pulls up screens and looks at info while simply saying, “U-huh” to everything the employee is saying without really listening to them. Such assumption of needs is poor service and insulting to others.
  • Encourage employees to report internal processes that are hindering great service inside and outside your area — Stop complaining about problems with communication and processes and instead, document the issues along with suggestion on how to improve. Your boss will appreciate solutions instead of just complaining.

Let’s provide all of our employees company-wide with the training and coaching needed to ensure consistent and superior customer experience, whether toward internal or external customers.

An added benefit? … someone in the plant who is customer-focused and service skilled may be a great fit for that customer service opening in your center!


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

Dear Doctor: Stop Making Patient and Employee Experience So Painful

DizyI’m certain very few of us enjoy going to the doctor’s office for an exam or a medical need. Unfortunately many medical practices make the experience more “painful” by implementing negative or ignoring poor customer/patient experience practices. And, the patients aren’t the only ones suffering. The employees are on the receiving end of customer complaints that could be easily resolved. Often, employee experience suffers because they are not receiving the training and recognition needed either.

Here are a few examples of the “painful” patient and employee moments:

1. We’re not open yet… go away!

I arrived at 8:45 in the morning at a medical practice for a 9 o’clock business meeting. As I walked up to the door, an elderly man joined me and we noticed that the office was completely dark inside. At 8:55 an employee opened the door a few inches, stared at us and barked, “We don’t have any appointments today”. The man explained that he just wanted to reschedule an appointment while he was in the medical building area. She reluctantly let him in. I was given the same stare and told to sit in the waiting area inside. She mumbled to someone in the reception area and the man was finally assisted with the same poor attitude received earlier.

2. We’re a call center… well, not really

A medical group decided that all employees other than nurses would answer incoming calls on a main number. Nurses would receive only transferred calls. The group purchased a small call center system but barely used the features provided for best routing. Each employee was set up as an individual call center, not as an agent. When I asked about it, I was told there was no requirement for employees to log-in to the system and “we can barely get them to answer the phone.”

Because of the lack of procedures for the system, the reporting showed crazy metrics such as the agent/employee never taking a break or leaving at all.

To add to this disorganized process, everyone multi-tasked answering calls, greeting patients walking in, scheduling appoints and even taking payments. The employees were clearly miserable and the patients were feeling that pain too based on comments I heard from them.

3. I’m a doctor and I love technology. I can do it myself.

Ok… you love the new technology, Doc. You have an iPad, iPhone, Mac, PC, and your home and office are filled with all the latest gadgets. That does not mean you are an IT or telecom expert. It just means you have hobbies besides your medical career.

I’ve seen doctors meet with vendors who are prepared to provide the best practice advise, but refuse to take the advice because they want to do it “their” way.

Please let the pros help you set up the proper call flow, settings, reporting related to the calls and other patient/provider contact methods.

4. Hire, train and engage the right people for patient interactions

Stop hiring process-only people to provide customer service in your offices and on your phones. Please spend some money on your most valuable office assets you have for patient retention: the people who work there. Don’t just stick them on the phone and hope for the best.

When did you last provide training for them on how to offer great customer service to retain your customer patients?

If your focus is purely on the process and medical knowledge, your employees will focus on just that.

Be sure to reward your hard-working employees for creating great customer experiences. Avoid focusing just on the boring, “employee of the month” plaque and find unique ways to show appreciation to every employee who is observed going the extra mile to provide great service. And don’t forget to train your supervisors how to coach and motivate their customer-facing teams.

Avoid putting temporary bandages on your patient experience and employee experience/engagement and give them both the time and effort that they deserve.

Your business and bottom line will be healthier than ever!


 

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

The Multi-channel Agent: Are Your Canned Emails and Chats Past the Fresh Date?

spoiledmilkLet me begin by saying that it makes perfect sense to have a knowledge base for multi-channel agents, with some specific standard information to copy and paste during written customer interactions. Some agents are using this effectively and others, not so much. A few even end up creating really bad “moments of truth” for their customers.

This written exchange in a chat works nicely:

Customer: “How do I reset my password?”

Agent (pulling info, copying and pasting or having auto-response technology): “I’ll be glad to help you (pasted info here) In order to reset your password, please….”

That makes perfect sense. A clear-cut response to the simple question asked.

Where we get in trouble with our agents using canned messages and responses is when the customer asks something more detailed. The agent may not read these involved messages completely or make assumptions that make their response inappropriate and frustrating for the customers.

For instance this email or chat example:

Customer: I received a notice that my account has been billed a $___ fee for late payment. I sent in my payment on July 1st and I have a copy of my cleared check. I’m not sure why I’m being billed and I’m not happy to have this charge when I paid on time.

Agent (pulling info, copying and pasting or having auto-response technology): For this type of account, if your amount due isn’t paid by the 15th of each month, you will be billed a late fee of $_____.

Customer: WHAT ???? I just told you I paid it. I didn’t ask what my late fee was.

Far-fetched? Unfortunately not, as I’ve seen these type of transcripts and have been a victim of the “bad copy and paste” syndrome myself.

Agent training and coaching is critical of course but we may also encouraging these errors ourselves when we tell our teams to “hurry up” and get to the next call, email, chat interaction, etc. Multi-channel agents often tell me they feel pressured to get to the next customer so they look for ways to cut corners.

Are we creating copy and paste solutions that are vague or even inaccurate without constant review and updating? These will become quick-fix bandages for the rushed agent balancing 5 to 6 chat interactions and not sure where they left off when they return to chat number one.

Our need for speed to meet business revenue goals may be causing more complaints and actually lengthier interactions while the agent frantically tries to fix the errors that came from not listening completely or reading carefully what the customer is asking about.

So what makes our emails, chats and written interaction with customers more engaging and positive?

+ Make sure your emails and chats have the right tone: Your written correspondence has a tone, too. Friendly but not too personal should be the goal. Personalize with customer name. Courtesy words as simple as please and thank you are needed.

+ Multi-chat overload may cause multi-stress: Studies have shown that not everyone can multi-task successfully. An agent who does well with a single email at a time or one call focus may not have the ability to juggles several chats at the same time. Watch for multi-tasking stress signs including chats that are focused on speed and not the best experience for the customer

+ Respond with empathy: I emailed a question to a company regarding their travel webcams and asked why a certain landmark wasn’t viewable. Their response was a curt: “We don’t man this 24 hours a day.” Did it answer my question? Sure. Was it pleasant and empathetic sounding? No.

Knowledge bases with copy and paste or other auto response methods are fabulous tools for our busy chat and email agents, but only when used with common sense.

Multi-channel agents must have a clear understanding of what the customer needs and respond accordingly and positively.

As managers, we must provide them the time necessary to personalize, engage and create a positive impression in their written customer interactions as well as their verbal ones.


 

Is Agent Training On-Board Your Customer Experience Train?

Whether you call it employee development or skills enhancement, it’s all about training our agents and leaders to be successful with our customers and improve the bottom line. Not enough training and our employees may fail to provide the customer experience needed.

Some centers do not have the luxury of having a full time center trainer or team of trainers and may rely on corporate trainers to support them with some or all of the classroom-type training done with both new and seasoned agents.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that corporate development people rarely have any contact center experience. Some have never worked in any customer service or sales role. Many tell me it’s been years since they spent any time talking to customers and have never observed agents and center leaders on the job to learn what type of skills are key for success.

It’s not only the corporate trainers who are disconnected. Some executives have the same problem.

I recently heard about an operations executive in charge of starting up his company’s new contact center. He had no center experience but he was confident that he knew how one should be set up since he knew how the branch offices were run.

Since the new center team would need training, he decided it was time for the entire company to also have training so he enlisted the Human Resources manager to work with him to create classes for everyone: retail, administrative and even the newly hired contact center team would attend in mixed groups.

Unfortunately, everything on the agent training agenda they designed revolved around operational processes: data collection, product info and terminology refreshers, and how to use the systems to document information. Nothing was designed from the customer experience perspective or for the agents who would be dealing with them on the phone.

In place of soft skills training, the center team was instead issued management designed canned scripts for their incoming calls. The scripts were based on what they thought would be best for a quickly-get-off-the-call approach rather than customer engagement. Once the agents realized that the scripts didn’t work for most customer interactions encountered, the scripts were tossed.

On the job skills development for agents was a major issue since monitoring and call recording was not available. The company had purchased a phone system a year earlier that had not been considered for contact center use, so adding any quality coaching tools now would entail a large expense to replace phones and system. Management was unwilling to spend the money and the only coaching done was “feedback” when another department or customer complained about an agent.

Agent training done just to say “we’re training” is clearly not enough and yet it continues for some businesses.

Without clear customer experience and agent success goals, without being customized for the appropriate skills for the work being done, generic training is wasted time and effort for all involved.

Poorly designed training lacking focus on customer success and agent engagement will quickly drive your business “off the rails.”


 

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

 

Are You Engaging New Agents or Training For Your Competition?

ThumbsuptrainingclassOur contact centers today have a wide range of new hire training agendas depending on the complexity of the products and services, skills trained and even the size of the centers. There’s classroom time, self-directed learning, tests, games and activities, guest speakers, call examples to listen to, side-by-side observations and even mentors.

Many managers are very focused on coaching experienced agents to insure continuously improved skills and growth for them within the center. Some of these same managers, however, are missing the opportunity to provide newly hired agents the same benefits of coaching received during the crucial first days of training.

Regardless of the size of the center and complexity of training, I find that there is a lot of training process happening and not a lot of agent engagement.

Trainers on a fast-paced schedule get caught up with the need to stuff those eager new agent heads with tons of detailed information. Some have told me that they are following a checklist and their goal is to check off the skills taught as their measure of success. Others feel they are successful if the new hires test well in the classroom.

In the midst of all this organization and process, new agents may be lost.

New agents may lose the great enthusiasm they displayed in their interview and during the “honeymoon” period of the first two weeks in training. The excitement withers and even may die, ending in turnover if they aren’t feeling engaged and motivated.

Managers have complained to me about agents who looked so promising at the beginning of training and then ended up being average or worse in terms of skills and attitude.

The question to be answered is whether they hired the wrong person or was the reason more about lack of engagement, personal interaction, and motivation during training and even after.

Some agents have told me that they were initially excited to be a part of the team but soon found that the excitement wasn’t supported or encouraged by the trainers, supervisors and managers. Others say that they are being lectured to and never asked for their input during their training as new agents. A few complain that they never had a one to one sit down with their new supervisor during the first month to share experiences and get to know them.

New hires must have personalized one to one time, not only with their trainers but also with their supervisors. Despite all these processes in place to document progress and skills, the personal connection with leadership certainly appears to be lost for many. The supervisor never really bonds with the new agent until later, if at all.

Coaching with seasoned agents is tough enough for us to do well consistently given all the center challenges we face as leaders. Coaching with new hires can be even more challenging. They enter eager, positive and open to learning. They need validation from day one.

Our new agents need personal feedback daily, especially during the first few weeks of training, and then weekly as they progress through your on-boarding agenda to becoming a fully engaged member of your team.

Make sure your trainers and front line leaders are making agent engagement a priority so new hires feel welcome and involved right from the start. If not, your call center competitors in town will be thanking you for sending new agents their way!


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

Contact Center Data: It’s Here, It’s There, It’s Everywhere!

DataoverloadThere are many articles, webinars and conferences with an emphasis on big data and contact centers. Naturally with that being such a hot topic, many in the C-suite and savvy managers are looking at ways they can utilize the best practices.

If you are getting on board the big data train, make sure you consider the following:

1. What are you going to do with all the data?

Much like the confusion over which center metrics are key, having lots of numbers and trend details sitting uselessly in a report won’t improve customer experience or your bottom line. Contact center data is just data, unless we combine with great business practices to implement where and when it makes sense to take action.

 

2. Are your customers and employees associating “Big Data” with privacy invasion?

With the recent concerns about business loss of data and invasions of personal privacy, many customers are leery of sharing too much information with you. How much is too much for them? Look to your agents and customers across channels, who may be telling you their concerns, without you even having to ask. If you aren’t getting feedback, start asking so you can be prepared for Big Data use questions from both inside users and customers.

 

3. Are you making assumptions based on last year’s data?

Like most things in our businesses, timing is everything. Some execs spend way too much time discussing what should be done, and then discussing again ten more times only to find that the window of opportunity to use feedback and data collected is past its prime and things have changed in the market again or customers have moved on. Plan to take quick actions whenever possible.

 

4. Who controls contact center data collection, interpretation and use of information?

This is where it gets even more interesting. If there is infighting among internal parties who want to control and disseminate the information, the focus on the data opportunity is lost and it becomes more about the power play.

Personnel are also key to analysis success. Do you have the right people on board to work with big data? Are you offering them training to improve their analytical skills?

 

5. Big data vendor promises

Run from vendors who are promising you immediate success or total differentiation from your competitors six months from now. Big data capture and analysis means different things to different companies so make you’re your vendors understand and have experience with your size business, industry, and understand your marketplace, customers and your data goals.

Using contact center data effectively takes commitment, time, resources and the ability to move quickly with information learned. Ultimately, all of this means nothing if you don’t have the right blend of people, processes and technology properly aligned to support your efforts with customers on the front lines of your center.


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

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