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A happy agent is a productive agent

The direct link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction is often ignored, particularly in the contact center, but that is starting to change.

It's no secret that a happy, stress-free employee works better and harder for the company, and that fact holds just as true in the contact center.

Yet contact centers have often overlooked agent satisfaction despite the direct link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. Investments there are more often targeted at efficiencies and cost cutting. That is beginning to change, particularly in forward-thinking organizations, according to Jim Davies, principal analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., who recently authored a report on agent self-actualization.

"We're moving away from the times where the mantra was efficiency," Davies said. "Organizations are now thinking about customer satisfaction and the agent is a critical element. There's a lot more focus on the agent and there will be in the next few years."

Technology is a small part of getting the most out of contact center agents, but it should not be overlooked. One area of growth, Davies predicts, is in workforce management, tools that facilitate agent scheduling. Allowing agents to participate in scheduling their own vacations and swap shifts not only takes much of the burden off the call center manager but gives them a sense of control. Additionally, performance management applications are helping to improve agent performance.

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Performance management tools give agents insight into how they're performing against their peers by providing data on initiatives like cross-sell ratios and subsequently how they're rewarded, whether through preferential shifts, rewards programs or public acknowledgement.

"Performance management is relatively new," Davies said. "Less than 1% of contact centers have invested in that. It's a cutting-edge capability."

Davies said companies need to address agent satisfaction, even though it's difficult to qualify.

"Be aware of that and look to existing technologies to see how they can be optimized. Companies need to think about their agents a little more rather than viewing them as a tool," Davies said.

While technology can provide help, more often the cause of agent unhappiness is poor management, according to Steve Coscia, president of Coscia Communications Inc., a Havertown, Pa.-based call center consultancy.

"Most of what keeps frontline agents happy is good leadership and good management," Coscia said. "When agents aren't happy, stressed out or they're unproductive, it's because management hasn't done its job right. All of those things are correctable."

Often, agents become frustrated due to resource issues such as poor data quality or CRM information that is incomplete. Additionally, agents need to be kept abreast of the company's direction, Coscia said. Managers should meet with agents at the beginning of a shift or during low-call volume times to discuss any major problem that needs to be resolved and should provide at least a monthly update on plans.

Beyond technology and more open management approaches, there are some simpler ways to keep agents happy and well performing as well -- such as the banana.

"Have healthy snacks around," Coscia said. "Part of the happy agent equation is the dietary implications of stress. What you eat and consume, what you drink has an effect on behavior. Ergonomics, how well lit the call center is and time off the phones, is important."

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