• My Blog Posts On Intradiem.com

  • 2014 MindTouch Customer Experience Influencer

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.

Training

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.

Don’t Let Self-Service Channels Become “No Service”

self-serviceDuring focus groups I’ve facilitated for clients, one of the common questions that customers ask is, “Why doesn’t (company) want to me to talk to their representatives?” Further probing and discussion uncovers reasons why they are frustrated with the self-service options offered by many companies and why they feel “pushed” to a channel they don’t want or don’t understand.

Most customers eventually tell me that they have no objection to finding answers or updating information online themselves unless it ends up creating a lot of work for them, including a call or email being necessary to really get the answer needed.

These are some issues I’ve experienced personally as a customer or heard expressed during customer focus groups and feedback:

Hard to use products with mixed messages for support

How many clicks and pages does the customer have to navigate through to find the information they are seeking? For example, a company sells adapters for USB to Ethernet online and vaguely says you “should be able to just plug and use.” I had to search online beyond their website to find other customers discussing the same problem I had. I found out there is a driver that can be installed when the plug-in doesn’t connect. Then, I had to go back to their website and dig through support pages to find it. How many customers will give up and just return the product, or search for the service phone number?

Broken links

A company has put “clickable” links on their website but during some updating of the site later, they didn’t test the page links and customers find that the link now goes to the message every customer hates to receive: “Page no longer available.”

Start clicking on your website links and see if you are providing the customer experience they need.

Website knowledgebase differs from what agent has

I see something on the website that I mention to the agent during a phone call. The agent tells me that my information is incorrect and proceeds to tell me something totally different that they have in their own knowledgebase. This often happens when special offers or amenities change for hospitality groups and the poor agents have to tell customers they have no idea what they are talking about. Embarrassing for the agent and upsetting for the customer.

One way to rectify this situation is to ask agents to document these types of issues during down times and help to create updated knowledgebase information for future interactions. Taking advantage of this otherwise idle time for your agents makes them more knowledgeable, helpful and productive.

Unclear directions that result in a call

Do your instructions help them or just end of driving frustrated customers to your contact center for help?

The goal of self-service should be a great customer experience, including the efficiency of all customer channels. Increasing call volume is a negative for everyone involved.

Customers not educated how to use the self-service channel

Many agents feel the time constraints we give them and won’t spend the time needed to walk a customer through a “how to use” discussion regarding the self-service options. How can you help the customer to gain comfort with using your self-service options? Your agents need to feel comfortable with the system themselves and be able to communicate clearly and positively how to use.

This is where the importance of making training a priority becomes clear. Schedule time to train agents on ways to make self-service easy and beneficial for customers.

Customers feel they are being “pushed” to self-service when they don’t want it

Not all of our customers are on-board with self-help, especially if they have had issues with it in the past. Some may also feel that they have paid for our service or products and we need to personally help them instead of pushing them to do it on their own. There is a big difference between offering to explain to a customer how to find the information online next time and doing a hard sell of your self-service system. There must be a way for agents to note that they discussed self-service with the customer and the customer’s lack of interest in it so the next agent isn’t selling the customer the same self-service pitch. Your queue management tactics might even include having agents monitor the self-service channel as volume allows.

Help your agents understand customer self-service fears and spend time training them on ways to overcome customer complaints and fears from poor self-service. Walk through self-service options with your center team and find ways to make them most successful for both agents and customers. Automate intraday activities in a way that supports your self-service channel, and your customers will find value in self-service and your agents will be more effective, too.


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

Contact Center Coaching Needs “The Right Stuff”

TheRightStuffCoaches “with the right stuff” help to ensure that our centers provide consistently excellent customer experiences. Few new coaches are equipped with all the skills needed to be successful. It’s up to us to hire well and to provide them with the skills and tools for the job. Because if our coaches fail, our contact centers agents are apt to crash and burn.

When I observe a coach in action, I’m looking at a wide range of skills and behaviors they demonstrate before, during, and after their sessions. I’m especially looking at how they engage with the agents being coached.

These are some of the keys I watch for:

Attitude

Agents are quick to pick up on our attitude toward contact center coaching and the follow-up required. How does the coach welcome the agent? What is their attitude towards doing the coaching: last minute rush or clearly prepared and ready. Is the coach positive about working with the agent or see this as an interruption to their day?

Communication Style

Some coaches are too direct, focused on only the bottom line, and need to work on making the session interactive by asking great questions, as well as being more personable and approachable. On the other hand if the coach is mainly “people-oriented” in their communication style, they will have the empathy and positive friendly approach while struggling with delivering the bad skill news when necessary and often sound apologetic when doing so.

Body Language

The coach needs to be relaxed and make eye contact with the agent. Nervous habits like pen tapping, foot shaking or negative facial expressions while listening to calls or discussing the emails are distracting and may result in the agent focusing more on the coach behavior than looking for those customer experience moments As with our customers, everything the agent sees, touches, hears or even smells (eating while coaching?) affects their experience.

Motivation

Some coaches are too matter of fact in their delivery of the good news or improvements. They aren’t very enthusiastic sounding. We expect our agents to have a great tone and show interest, and our coaches need to do the same. Smiles and words of encouragement during and at the end of the session are very important.

Commitment

At the end of the session, does the coach make the agent feel that they are committed to helping? Some end the session by simply telling the agent that they will be available (generically) to help if needed. These coaches aren’t making a commitment to do specific coaching and training with the agent and aren’t pro-active. They reactively wait for an agent to come to them in between coaching times. Instead, great coaches set a timeframe during which they will assist and what will be done and put it in writing for the agent and their own documentation.

Follow-up

Your coaches need to report on what they’ve done since the “formal” coaching session, including the activities and results. Did the coach do the coaching activities they agreed to in the session with the agent? Did the coach observe or spot check calls and give encouraging feedback desk-side to show the agent they are truly interested in the agent’s progress? Some coaches are great in the coaching session itself and fail at the follow-up that makes a big difference to the success of agents.

Then there is something that is out of the coach’s control:

Support from Management

A coach will only be successful if given the time and encouragement to do so by their manager and those in the C-Suite. I’ve seen companies with failing contact center coaching programs that weren’t poor due to the lack of commitment from the coaches or their skills, but a lack of support from upper management. These C-Suite and VP folks say they want the coaching and the results but aren’t willing to commit to what is needed to make the program successful for the coaches.

Observe your coaches in action on a regular basis. Provide them with honest and positive feedback, including ways you can help them improve their skills via coaching, learning programs and by supporting them in all of their efforts.


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

Old-School Empathy is Still “In” for Agent / Customer Interactions

EmpathyICareOur customers judge us on many moments of truth: timeliness, follow-up, accuracy, solving their problems and of course how we engage with them and make them feel valued.

Empathy is a key soft skill for anyone in a service or sales role who manages customer interactions. Unfortunately empathy is a skill that doesn’t come easy for many. It is also challenging for us to coach since it requires more than just asking an agent to “be more empathetic” or handing an agent empathetic phrases to read when needed.

Saying empathetic words without meaning is as bad as not saying anything at all.

Our phone customers are judging us on our tone as well as the word choices we make. And, yes… our customers need to have empathy from us in written interactions too, such as emails and chats.

Both verbal and written communications with customers are difficult for some agents to personalize due to time constraints they feel management has imposed. Some of our agents may think empathy isn’t a big deal as long as the customer gets business taken care of.

I’m dealing with this personally now as a customer of a young sales rep who is very engaging in person, but who loses his soft skills during our email interactions.

He wanted me to sign off on something that I had questions and concerns about. I expressed my concerns in an email to him and did not hear back. I emailed again a couple of days later and he finally responded without any acknowledgement or apology for his late reply.

He answered my questions accurately in his email but curtly and ended with this sentence: “I hope that answers everything.”

Given his delayed response and lack of apology, I translated it to say, “Don’t bother me again with your stupid questions!” He might not have meant it but the tone of his email was lacking any empathy or concern for my situation.

Another great example of the empathy miss is this email sent by an accounting clerk at a major hotel chain a month after a hotel stay. The customer was a frequent travel member with this chain and thought this might be a scam email based on what was written. He had to call to confirm it was really from this hotel:

“I am writing to inform you that during your stay at the (hotel), your bill was left unsettled…. The MasterCard did not swipe correctly and is coming up as invalid. Please fill out the credit card authorization attached to settle your account”

No salutation, no cordial greeting, no thanks for your business and then a request to email personal information to a stranger a month after the hotel stay. Clearly no understanding how a customer would feel receiving such a cold and strange message that ended up causing more work for the customer.

How can we help our agents to avoid the verbal and written empathy pitfalls? I have a few suggestions for your empathy discussions:

“Put yourself in their place” role-play

Role-play is often passed over in favor of just talking about the skill. Depending on the agent’s mode of learning, the practice of skills during role-play often brings better long-term and quicker results.

First give them a scenario that requires empathy and then ask the agent what they think the customer might be feeling in that type of situation. Ask them to look at the situation from the customer’s point of view and then have them role-play as the customer first and then as the agent with you switching roles with them. Try doing this over the phone to make it more realistic instead of face to face.

Have the “right” written tone

Provide them with scenarios requiring empathy but don’t tell them that specifically and ask them to respond as they normally would in written form. Then demonstrate for them how to use their writing tone to combine with the words to sound more interested in the customer situation. Discuss how that interest translates to empathy.

Make a list of empathy benefits with your agents and discuss

You may already have something like this as a part of your training or you may need to create. Review these benefits during coaching with your experienced and new agents to make sure they are in agreement:

  • Prevents many escalations and complaints
  • Negative social media blasts avoided
  • Customer easier to communicate with
  • Positives back from customers
  • Retains customers which means continued revenue for the company, center and employee opportunities
  • Increases sales opportunities

Developing empathetic agents can have profound results on overall customer experience.

Just as we train and coach our agents to manage customer interactions related to products, support, upsell opportunities, etc., building an empathetic workforce takes time. Here is another place where you must leverage your agent and supervisor time to provide opportunities to grow in this area.

Regardless of the type of business we have, the customers we sell to or provide service for, and the technology or channels we use, empathy is one skill that never goes out of style.


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

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.

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