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Companies explore team building to improve customer experience

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Team building boosts contact center agents’ performance

Incorporating group team-building activities into contact center agents’ schedules can have numerous benefits, observers say, such as boosting morale and fostering camaraderie.

Even though contact center agents spend their days interacting with customers, it’s easy for individual agents to feel isolated and alone -- despite sitting next to dozens or even hundreds of other agents. Can team-building activities in the contact center result in happier, more effective agents and better customer experiences? If so, are contact centers interested and willing to rise to the challenge?

“The answers,” said Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting, “are multi-tiered. Are managers interested? Yes. Are they willing to spend money on it? Not so much. But should they? Yes.”

“Team building is essential, particularly if you have at-home staff because those people need to feel as if they are part of the organization,” she said. “There’s always a balance that you have to make in investing in your staff and keeping your costs down.”

Backcountry.com team building

For Backcountry.com, an outdoor gear retailer that also runs several one-deal-at-a-time channel sites tuned to sports enthusiasts, team building in the contact center is critical to the company’s customer experience success. Read an interview with Sam Bruni, acting director of customer technologies, that covers how Backcountry.com handles team building.

The costs, Fluss explained, aren’t so much about money as they are about taking an agent off the phone. “If you’re a small shop with 50 agents and you take five off the phone, it affects how you can handle the calls. If you have 1,000 agents and you take five off, that’s not as much of a difference,” she said, adding, “The best run call centers will have a weekly team meeting.”

According to Bruce Temkin, managing partner of Temkin Group, team building is not usually the goal for highly effective contact center agents, but it can lead to positive outcomes.

“Our research shows that employees are more engaged when they understand the company's mission, have the skills and training they need to succeed and are asked to give feedback that the company responds to,” he said. “If, however, team building is an empty set of off-sites and parties, then it's unlikely that there will be strong improvement in contact center performance.”

The huddle, it turns out, might be one of the simplest, most effective habits for building a team atmosphere, Temkin said. “I like contact center teams to do periodic huddles, short meetings with the team prior to a shift where they review performance and customer feedback data and discuss how they can improve as a team,” he explained. “These meetings should also give some kudos to agents who have performed well and let them share how they did it.”

Deb Navarra, a senior analyst for DMG Consulting, has incorporated team-building exercises in contact centers, and she believes such activities can make a difference in agent morale as well as foster a sense of collegiality among contact center agents. At its base, she said it’s important to find ways to highlight and recognize individuals who feel lost -- that nobody knows who they are or what they do. Here are three of Navarra’s tips:

Create contests. For one large financial institution that was running a balance transfer campaign, Navarra said she would tie a team contest to the campaign for the team that could deliver the most balance transfers, but then go a step farther to foster the human angle. “We would also create a theme,” she said, “such as which team can decorate their area in the best summer theme.”

Use agent mentors. Navarra said another way to build team spirit is get agents to talk about which parts of the job are giving them trouble.. If someone is struggling with average handle time, have a mentor on the team who excels at that help,” Navarra said. “You can tie an incentive to it so that if the agent improves the average handle times, both of them get some incentive. It doesn't have to be monetary; it could be the best parking spot.” 

Of course, the team element comes in through the peer mentoring. If you use expert agents for the entire contact center, you might improve average handle time, but you might not foster any sense of team, she noted.

Connect the contact center to the business. In some contact centers, it’s possible to take team members out on field trips to see how other parts of the business operate. “When I was a manager, we used to take agents on field trips [to other departments] … so they were knowledgeable when customers wanted to know what was happening with their payments,” she said. “As a manager, you can foster the sense that your agents are part of the business rather than just the contact center itself.” 

Of course, the logistics can be daunting for contact centers that have multiple lines of business to serve. In these cases, technology can come to the rescue. “I have seen centers deploy gaming-style systems to help drive individual and team behavior,” said Richard Snow, global vice president and research director of customer and contact centers for Ventana Research. While these systems can help, Snow warned that contact centers must make sure the goals for using the system match up with desired behavior. For example, he noted, “If you set goals for average handle time, most agents will try to achieve it even at the expense of customer experience.”

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