6 Ways to Improve Your Call Center Performance (Part II)

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As customer experience and customer service increasingly become a strategic priority for companies looking to differentiate themselves, call center leaders are under more pressure than ever to improve call center performance. Recap: In Part I of this blog post, I covered the following three areas to focus on in order to advance your call center performance: 1.     Create the Right Perception Lead and manage with the mindset that your call center is a customer loyalty and revenue-generating center.  Perception matters. 2.     Use Outcome-Based Measurements Assess the performance of your call center agents based on specific, customer experience outcomes they achieve during the customer interaction.  Input-based “check-the-box” call quality sheets do not encourage or incentivize call center agents to create excellent customer experiences. 3.     Rethink Your Hiring Philosophy Hire the attitude, train the skills and ask yourself the following question before bringing anyone on board: “Am I confident this person is likely to be a good steward of my company’s brand?” Here is the remainder of our list: 4.     When It Comes to Call Center Training, Think Integration A smoothly functioning call center operationis a lot like a completed puzzle.  All of the pieces need to fit together in just the right way to create an integrated whole.  One critical piece of the call center puzzle is front-line agent training.  Training initiatives that do not incorporate or take into consideration the company’s particular products, processes and systems, as well as the company’s culture and brand promise, are unlikely to create any kind of lasting positive impact. In addition to integration on the macro level within the company, call center training is more effective when product skills, system skills and soft skills are taught in an integrated manner.  When front-line call center agents learn these various skills in silos, which is typically how call centers train their agents, it is often challenging, and sometimes impossible, for the agents to connect the dots on their own and effectively blend their skills in a manner that produces an excellent customer experience and a quality customer interaction.  An integrated call center training method permits the agents to learn and practice all of the necessary skills in the context of actual customer interactions they are likely to experience. Dr. John Miller, one of my colleagues, blogged about call center training in some detail earlier this week, and I would encourage you to check it out for some helpful guidance and thinking on how to make call center training sticky. 5.     Coach, Coach, Coach … and When You’re Done, Coach Some More Effective coaching might be the most frequently missed call center performance improvement opportunity.  Proper coaching is critical to ensure that the skills, methods, techniques and behaviors learned during training are practiced and consistently applied and become engrained where they really matter – on the call center floor during actual customer interactions. There are effective and ineffective ways to coach, and I’ve seen many examples of both.  Avoid “drive by” coaching, which essentially consists of a supervisor taking a quick look at the unchecked boxes on a call quality sheet and telling the call center agent what he missed or did incorrectly.  Often the coaching is provided long after the interaction has taken place and outside the context of the interaction. Call center agents are intelligent people who hold the value and perception of the company’s brand image in what they way and how they say.  Develop a process whereby agents can respond to the customer in a real and sincere manner.  Coach them to have a unique customer interaction that is in alignment with the customer’s practical and emotional needs and creates a real, or at least perceived, low-effort experience for the customer.  Have the coach and agent listen to the agent’s actual recorded calls, and then role-play improved versions of the customer conversation to drive value into the customer interaction. Coaching for improved call center performance should be immediate, regular, consistent, engaging and positive.  Why?  Because personal comfort zones and default behaviors are incredibly powerful forces for call center agents to overcome, and even the very best call center training is not powerful enough by itself to engrain the kind of behavior changes necessary for call center agents to build customer loyalty. 6.     Exercise the Right Leadership Skills This one is last on the list but by no means the least important.  To the contrary, the extent to which a call center is ultimately successful is driven primarily by the actions and behaviors of those with leadership and management responsibility and authority.  This means much more than constant monitoring of and managing service levels, average handle time and other key performance indicators. Call center leaders need to determine the culture and targeted outcomes of the call center.  Leaders must also know how to set expectations for outcomes and behaviors in a realistic, reachable manner and know how to hold managers and supervisors respectfully accountable for meeting goals and objectives.  And call center leaders need to have high-level familiarity with and be supportive of any call center performance initiatives, and they need to demonstrate leadership presence – the front-line is watching! Supervisors, quality assurance personnel, team leaders and yes, even operations managers need to know the front-line call center agent skills and behaviors well enough to be able to coach them to the front-line.  Without this, no performance improvement effort can be effective for more than a short period of time, and creating stickiness is key!

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Improving your call center performance does not have to be a daunting endeavor, nor does it necessitate busting the budget.  However, new mindsets and fresh ways of thinking about call center perception, measuring performance, hiring, training, coaching, managing and leading can pave the way for the kinds of skills and behaviors required at all levels to produce meaningful, positive change and better long-term results.

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About Scott Heitland

Scott Heitland is the Chief Operating Officer of Pretium Solutions. Scott also designs and directs the TRUE Performance Coaching™ component of the Golden Touchpoint™, Pretium’s revolutionary customer loyalty program in active use in approximately 50 countries and over two dozen languages. Scott began his career as a pointy-headed corporate lawyer, then discovered that entrepreneurship is a heck of lot more fun than billing hours. He also enjoys blogging from time to time about anything and everything related to customer experience.

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