This article is primarily aimed at contact center managers and relies mostly on my own experience in building and leading contact centers in several industries.
These are the guidelines I have myself arrived at and followed for the past many years now:
- Define a clear vision to give the employees purpose.
- Measure and follow up on KPIs that create value for your customers.
- Empower your agents and give them regular feedback.
- Clearly define and communicate roles for your team.
- Have a strategy for your channels of contact.
- The agent who answers a conversation owns it until it is resolved.
I’ll go through each of these in detail below.
The agents need a clearly defined vision, so they know how they contribute personally to the overall goal of the company. Without any sense of purpose, it is difficult for agents to find the inspiration to come to work and deliver excellent service every day. When an agent knows exactly how he or she contributes it makes a world of difference. It also makes it a lot easier to nurture a positive team spirit because the teams have a common goal to work towards together. Example: With passion and understanding I help our customers find knowledge and entertainment by working in this online bookstore.
Define three to five KPIs that measure customer satisfaction. It is very important that the measured satisfaction is seen from the customer's perspective and not from the company's perspective. It is also important to follow KPIs closely and take action if they are not met for a longer period of time. The KPIs should guide the manager's actions. When KPI targets aren’t met it can be because productivity is too low or because there are more customer contacts than can be handled in a timely manner by the available agents. Whatever the reason, the manager needs to either increase productivity, reduce the amount of customer contact or increase staff.
Example KPIs: First Contact Resolution, Customer Effort Score (CES), Net Promoter Score (NPS), quality of email replies, quality of chat conversations, Trustpilot ratings (and other rating and review sites).
Empower your agents
Give your agents the power to make autonomous decisions. To do that successfully you need a knowledge base where they can find the answer to almost any question and somebody they can ask for help or confirmation about a decision when they are unable to find an answer or interpret the one they have found. Agents who have the power to make decisions on their own deliver better service since they don't have to ask their manager for approval and this, in turn, reduces the time it takes to resolve an issue for the customer.
It is absolutely mandatory that the manager speaks with each agent regularly and at least once a month. The agents are the ones who talk to the customers and therefore possess invaluable information that can be used to improve both the customer experience and internal processes. Many managers are too busy to do this regularly but it's paramount that this is done regularly. It increases agent satisfaction and retention. Satisfied agents who have been in their job for a long time usually deliver a better service, since they know a lot of answers and can help the customers faster. Speaking to agents also makes it possible to improve the skills of the agents by giving them new challenges and responsibilities, which in turn moves the task from the manager's desk. If you can keep challenging your agents to grow, you can expect them to stay longer and deliver a better service.
You need to decide where, when and how you want to be available to your customers. This can be either by phone, email, chat or social media. Each channel has their own benefits and challenges due to customers’ varying expectations when using each of them. When you’ve decided on channels, opening hours and level of service, you need to make sure you have the necessary resources in place to live up to KPIs you are using to measure customer satisfaction.
Defines roles and responsibilities
Part of empowering your agents is to give them specific responsibilities. There are almost always tasks that have to be handled daily, weekly or monthly. Exactly what these are depend on the industry you’re in and the processes you’ve established over time. The more of them you can remove from your list of responsibilities the better. It gives the agents more purpose and frees up time for you that can be spent on leading your team. You also need to make sure that it is clearly communicated to the whole team who is responsible for each task.
As a manager, it’s important to always be there for your agents. In most situations, they already have the answer to a question and just need your approval so they not only think, but know, that they are making the right decision. They also need to be able to escalate a situation to you if a customer demands something they’re not able to deliver. If left up to the agent to solve a situation like this, it can easily leave both customer and agent with a bad experience, so you need to give your agents a way out to avoid things coming to a head.
Own the problem
When a customer raises an issue, the agent who answers the conversation owns the problem and is responsible for following it all the way until it’s resolved. That doesn’t mean that the agent has to resolve the issue, but the agent has to be responsible for communication with the customer and whatever internal or external communication needed to resolve the issue. This not only creates a better experience for the customer, who doesn’t have to repeat what the issue is about, but it also improves the agent's level of expertise as he or she resolves more issues.