Fuel Your Agents’ Service Spirit - and Elevate the Customer Experience - TELUS International Europe

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  • Fuel Your Agents’ Service Spirit – and Elevate the Customer Experience

    Posted by Greg Levin

    Note: This post was originally posted on TELUS International blog. This is the third in a series of guest posts from Greg Levin (you can visit his blog here). Check out his first post “Six Signs It’s Time to Oust Your Outsourcer,” and his second post “First Call Resolution: Difficult to Measure, Dangerous to Ignore.”

    It’s difficult to deliver exceptional customer experiences when the person doing the delivering is dying inside and dreaming of an escape.

    Many contact centers consider it a success when they have enough butts in seats to handle the incoming contact load. What these centers need to realize, however, is that real success and customer delight requires said butts to be attached to bodies containing minds that actually care about the work being done and the customers who are calling (or emailing, or chatting, or tweeting).2

    Having the right number of people in place at the right times is nice and all, but it means little if those people are counting the seconds until their next break, and counting the days until they can make a break. That’s exactly the mindset among agents in many contact centers – and it’s not the agents’ fault.

    Stop Blaming Your Agents. Inspire Them

    It’s easy to blame agents for being lazy, uninspired, apathetic and/or incompetent. But if such is the state of your agents, then at least one of two things is true: 1) Your hiring program blows; and/or 2) your other practices and processes are sapping agents’ service spirit.

    You can’t rush through the agent recruiting and selection process in a desperate effort to fill seats and then complain that your frontline is hopeless. Nor can you micromanage and push agents to hit unreal and unfair performance objectives and then wonder why half of them are heading for the door (and why many of your customers are considering doing the same).

    Let’s assume your hiring practices are up to snuff (this doesn’t let you off the hook if they are not). Now, take a good hard look at your other practices and processes – training, quality monitoring and coaching, metric selection and performance measurement, rewards and recognition, workforce management, etc. Are the things your center does in these areas helping to drive agent engagement and retention? Do they show agents that the organization trusts them and recognizes how valuable they are? Do they pave the way for agent mastery, autonomy and advancement? Do they inspire agents to care about the company and the customer experience?

    It’s True – Happy Agents Equal Happy Customers

    Only you can answer those questions. And they are very important ones because how engaged your agents are directly influences how enamored your customers are. That is a fact. Anybody who argues against the immutable truth that happy agents beget happy customers is either selling you something you definitely don’t need or has recently stopped taking their medication – or has started taking a questionable medication.

    Nobody can tell you how to make your particular agents happy and how to drive the level of agent engagement needed to cultivate and sustain customer delight.

    But that’s not going to stop me from trying.

    What the World’s Best Contact Centers Do To Drive Agent Engagement

    The following is a concise list of the kinds of things the world’s best contact centers do – and what you should seriously consider doing – to fuel (rather than sap) the service spirit of agents and, consequently, make customers fall head over heels:

    – Emphasize customer-focused metrics over ones that measure mere productivity at the agent-level. By embracing metrics like Contact Quality, First-Call Resolution and Customer Satisfaction and chilling out a bit on ones like Average Handle Time and Calls per Hour, you inspire agents to stick around and serve rather than force them to play beat the clock. (And with such a strong customer focus in place, AHT usually ends up falling in line anyway.)

    – Let agents serve on – or even lead – key task forces and committees. Your agents know your customers and what’s needed to succeed better than anyone. Thus, it makes perfect sense to tap their insight and experience to come up with ways to make the contact center and customer experience better. Doing so not only enhances service efficiency and effectiveness, it gives agents a sense of ownership and autonomy that decreases their urge to cut themselves between calls.

    – Cultivate a learning culture. Comprehensive new-hire training as well as focused ongoing training and coaching keeps agents thriving and customers from wanting to punch them. The best centers mix things up with a variety of fun and captivating coaching and training methods, including e-learning, games, role plays/simulations, peer mentoring and on-the-job training. The worst centers stick agents in a classroom and destroy them with PowerPoint.

    – Regularly reward and recognize agents for performance excellence and improvement. Providing agents with public praise, thoughtful awards and special opportunities whenever they kick butt – or simply make notable progress – drives desired behaviors and almost guarantees that agents will call off the coup they’ve secretly been planning.

    – Tap agents’ individual skills and traits. Top contact centers take advantage of their agents’ unique capabilities and traits in order to enhance operations and create a livelier workplace. Examples include: empowering agents to serve as Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in their specific area(s) of expertise; letting artistic agents make design improvements to the contact center; having agents with anger management issues beat up the Marketing Director whenever he/she forgets to inform the center of a promotion that results in an unexpected spike in call volume.     

    – Actively involve agents in the organization’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. As much as agents love being cooped up in their cubicle serving overly demanding customers for hours on end, many also like helping others sans the headset or the fluorescent lighting. Agents get inspired when they see that their company extends its service mission outside the contact center, so be sure to let them in on the CSR action – by giving them ample opportunities to volunteer and/or by matching their contributions to charities. Doing so elevates engagement and fuels agents’ commitment to service and to customers of all types. Even the overly demanding ones.

    To learn more about Corporate Social Responsibility in the Outsourcing Industry, check out the new white paper from Impakt Consulting and TELUS International here. 

    gregGreg Levin has been researching, reporting on and bringing levity to contact centers and customer care since 1994. Known for his unique sense of humor, sharp wit and bold opinions about the state of customer contact management, he is still usually allowed entrance into industry events.

    Greg served as Editor of the International Customer Management Institute’s pioneering publication Service Level Newsletter as well as ICMI’s highly regarded follow-up journal Call Center Management Review. He was also a member of the Selection Committee for ICMI’s elite Global Call Center of the Year Awards from 2005-2010 – serving as the Chairperson for the awards in 2009 and 2010 before launching his solo career.

    Greg has written hundreds of feature articles and case studies on contact center best practices, trends and challenges, as well as dozens of research reports and whitepapers covering virtually every hot industry topic under the sun. In addition, he educates and entertains customer contact professionals via captivating keynote presentations and his popular and unconventional Off Center blog. Greg’s critically acclaimed ebook, “Full Contact: Contact Center Practices and Strategies that Make an Impact,” makes contact center executives, managers, supervisors and agents laugh almost as much as they learn.

    Recently Greg was ranked #3 on the list of the 100 most influential people tweeting about customer service today.

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