Everyone knows the importance of offering incredible customer support. Review websites and social media make it easy for unhappy customers to express themselves and harm to your business permanently. With demand for better support and experience, there are more contact centres to meet demand.
With high targets to hit and customers to impress, it can be easy to forget about the importance of the contact centre agents themselves.
A job as a customer support agent is considered one of the worst and most thankless jobs. Contact centre work is a great way to enhance a CV or for temporary work, but it’s seldom considered a dream job. Angry customers will make agents feel unmotivated, stressed or apathetic.
On top of growing pressure from customers, workplace frustrations augment stress on agents. With the rise in gamification creating competition among individuals, managers put more pressure on their staff. The contact centre sector is plagued with high attrition rates due to burnout. Some businesses adopt a hiring-and-firing approach so that staff disappear in the blink of an eye. Customer service culture is grim across the board. Employees are an afterthought to meeting targets as though the two concepts have no relation.
A customer support manager sets a tone for the team. Adjusting expectations and goals can make a huge difference to agents. Read on for the best advice from customer support agents themselves to improve culture in your centre.
Be honest when interviewing potential agents.
Overselling the contact centre experience makes your company sound like a pyramid scheme. When you describe the experience as amazing, employees may feel duped and quit due to unrealistic expectations. Anyone who has worked in a call centre will agree that it can be a tough role, and employees need to be prepared.
Manage expectations and say that customer service is a challenging but rewarding opportunity. A potentially rewarding opportunity is more realistic and suggests that the experience is based on what employees put into their work.
Having a thick skin is more important than good intentions.
Customer support is not about being a hero. Assuage illusions of collaborating with customers to find a solution and prepare agents for the worst. Only half of customer support is about helping customers, while half of it is taking the heat for another department’s mistakes.
Having a thick skin is an absolute necessity and sometimes cannot be taught. Be honest with potential agents about the demands of the role to reduce high attrition rates down the line.
Use successful performance to motivate, not to name and shame.
Displaying leader boards for the team has pros and cons. It gives individuals the opportunity to see how they rank against their colleagues and works well for staff members who are motivated by healthy competition. However, displays may isolate other team members when they need support and encouragement from management to succeed.
“Who in their right mind wants to go back to high school where you are constantly being compared to other members of your team? For those of us who will never make the top of the leaderboard, it can actually make us work slower,” says Jane, a call centre worker in Livingston.
Top performers also find leaderboards meaningless. “I am always one of the top performers in my contact centre, but sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. I’m lucky if I get a ‘well done!'” John, an agent from Hamilton, reports.
Keeping staff motivation costs low may cost more than you think.
Agents want to feel valued and seen by their managers. It does not take much effort to recognise hard work, and often times a call of congratulations from a senior manager is sufficient reward. However, many call centres limit positive reinforcement to a kudos or pat on the back for a job well done.
For consistent overachievers, call centres should work to continue to motivate these agents and keep them happy in their current role. Creating more incentives and offering tangible rewards such as additional training courses is a more suitable option and shows individuals when their performance stand outs.
Measuring performance is good, but impossible targets set up agents to fail.
Measuring performance is instrumental in the success of a call centre to keep productivity high and to distribute resources. But setting unrealistic aspirational KPI targets is detrimental to staff welfare. Call centres sometimes implement draconian measures and enforce strict call times and breaks policies. Overall performance quality may suffer when targets force agents to cut corners to hit arbitrary numbers.
One notable point of contention between call centre agents and managers is a strict wrap time. This refers to admin time following a call to update notes and create next actions in the contact centre software or database. Many centres punish staff for not meeting their wrap time target, but efficiently categorising and following through with actions is one of the most important steps of a contact centre agent’s job.
On the job experience is better preparation for work than extensive training.
Contact centres have long induction and training sessions that offer roleplaying, webinars and training manuals to prepare agents. There is a lot to learn about working in a contact centre, especially for those without much previous experience in the sector, and managers want to prepare their staff with the tools to deal with any scenario.
Agents complain that there is far too much emphasis placed on learning the theory and hypothetical situations. While knowing the history of the company and its policies is important, training sessions often do not equip agents for the actual job and as many as 67% felt underprepared. Building confidence is through on the job experience is important, and recording calls for quality assurance helps agents better adjust to the work.
Be willing to help and do not disappear when agents need support.
“Whenever call volumes would soar, I would have an impossible time getting my manager’s attention, not to mention finding a boss to take an escalation call. As soon as I would head in my manager’s direction, he would disappear into thin air and appear after I had been stuck for a good hour on the phone with a grumpy customer, ” says Laura, former contact centre agent in Manchester
Helping out during a surge in call volumes can be very powerful in showing agents that the management team cares. Joining the fray and being a team player shows the contact centre staff that you are an active member of the team and want to participate in meeting targets.
Companies fear bad customer reviews and emphasise customer service, but providing support is often limited only to customers and not the staff that helps them. Customer-centric companies often forget that customer support agents are people too, and happier employees lead to happier customers.
While contact centres prioritise customer support to ensure good reviews, sites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor let staff members review their work culture. Listening to your staff and implementing their suggestions will drastically improve your contact centre and make it a better workplace. At the end of the day, the staff is the greatest asset to any business. Treating them fairly and rewarding performances ensures their loyalty and the ultimate success of the contact centre.
(This story was first published on 30/08/2016 and has been updated.)