A customer's experience can only be as good as the agent's training, coaching and style of interaction.
Earlier this month I was in a race with Hurricane Matthew to see which of us could get to Florida first. I won by a nose after I managed to board the last inbound flight to Miami before the airport was shut down.
My primary goal was to get home to my family, but my secondary goal was to arrive in time for a live webinar on how to better manage a contact center. I didn't quite make it for the webinar. Fortunately, modern technology allowed me to get my message through, both on the webinar itself and with you today.
The International Customer Management Institute invited several thought leaders to share our "hacks" during Customer Service Week. You might assume that we spent most of our time talking about customers, but most of our hacks had to do with contact center employees. There's a good reason for that. The customer experience can only be as good or as bad as the employee's education, coaching and style of interaction.
You must make sure you've prepared your agents for these opportunities. Otherwise you're only setting them up for failure.
Here are four hacks that I contributed, presented live during the webinar by Erica Strother Marois, ICMI's community strategist:
1. Define Goals for Your Agents
Tell your crew why the project's objectives, goals, practices and procedures are important, and explain how your agents can achieve each objective. (Credit for this idea really belongs to ICMI and to Jeff Toister of Toister Performance Solutions.) We've written about this hack before in a blog post reinforcing the importance of quality management in the contact center. As I said then, it would be great if you could hand your team some notes and count on them to read and understand your directions. But if we want to get it right with any level of confidence, we need to meet with the team, explain, coach, and sometimes pull hair.
2. Walk the walk
Don't just talk the talk. If something is important, provide meaningful incentives to achieve objectives. The key word here is "meaningful." A smart manager asks the agents what kind of recognition will move the needle. (Totally unsurprising discovery: Money is very popular.)
3. Create a career path
Turnover chews up time and money. You are better off when team members remain part of the company. They are more likely to stick around when they see the possibility to learn, grow, and earn. These homegrown stories, where people start out as reps and move up through the ranks can be a powerful testimonial to your commitment to make opportunities and personal development available. I'm flattered that of all the hacks presented at the webinar, Erica called this one her favorite, but be aware that this takes a tremendous amount of support work. You must make sure you've prepared your agents for these opportunities. Otherwise you're only setting them up for failure.
4. Leverage partnerships
Contact center providers need to have symbiotic relationships with our clients. Don't view the players as winners or losers. Think of them as collaborators with common objectives. This spirit must flow through all levels of the hierarchy, within each organization, from the deal makers to the deal executors. Hopefully, the term "vendor management" will take on a more collaborative meaning that reflects this sense of equality.
More where those came from
The other participants in the webinar had some good contributions, too. I especially liked the suggestion of Jeremy Watkin, head of quality at FCR, to get out and walk when you have a meeting. The combination of moving forward and not sitting with arms and legs crossed makes it a much less threatening environment. It's easiest when meeting with one or two other people, but even larger groups can benefit from getting out of the conference room.
Each of these participants is an important pillar of the employee experience. Sean Hawkins, director of operations at PerformTel, even makes pancake breakfasts for the front-line employees at his contact center. I'm still hoping Sean accepts our invitation to come to our contact center, share his wisdom and, maybe his pancake recipe.
You can listen to the entire webinar at the ICMI website. You are sure to find some practical advice you can implement right away!