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Agent buy-in key to contact center success

As you look at new bells and whistles to improve your contact center's performance, don't forget the people who make that technology sing -- the agents.

There is no question that the contact center is one of the most important customer-relationship hubs today. At most firms, more interactions go through the contact center than through any other department, and those interactions are playing an increasingly vital role in a company's ability to retain customers, as well as improve their value.

To get the most out of this key interaction point, contact centers must align their day-to-day workflow with the company's customer-centric vision and goals. This includes the department's physical and logical setup (are reps organized by customer needs and value, and are contacts routed to reps based on their value to the firm?); matching the right agents to the right customers (have all agents' strengths and skills been evaluated so they are assigned in a manner that brings the most value to the firm?); and developing a change management plan that evaluates training needs and secures buy-in from each customer-facing employee.

That last point -- employee buy-in -- is critical to having the contact center processes and the company's customer-centric strategy meld seamlessly and run in a turnkey fashion. In fact, a hotelier we spoke with ventured to say that "70% of the equation comes from the folks delivering on the property." But, as we're certain you know by now, restructuring the contact center can be a huge undertaking. With so much riding on its proper alignment, it's critical to put together a plan that embodies success. A major component of that plan should be to reward contact center agents in a manner that produces desired results.

Reward them for changing behavior

Generating employee buy-in requires that you concentrate on two principal tasks: enrollment and workforce transition. "Enrollment" is the term we use to describe the process of changing the attitudes of the people who implement or support the CRM strategy. Workforce transition involves analyzing and modifying the processes that make it possible for people to do their jobs effectively -- or, in other words, giving them the proper tools for accomplishing the customer-centric goals. These tasks are equally important.

The hardest part? Persuading staff members to change their behavior. Recent advancements in complete contact center monitoring solutions and strategic consulting are facilitating cultural, behavioral and process change. New technologies are providing comprehensive scoring and evaluation programs that highlight gaps in service, tools and training, which can in turn be used to encourage and reward agents for improving and learning from their mistakes.

For instance, Kina Benton, a customer service trainee for Insight Communications, a New York City-based cable company, uses a scoring form to evaluate agents, who are recorded three times a month. The program uses a point system for rating each call, creates a graph and provides an average score. Agents, who provide customer service for Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, are shown the graphs and can listen to calls that need improvement. Benton says the average monthly score per agent grew from around 2.8 to 3.1, on a 4.0 scale.

Service reps then reward themselves by self-promoting after reaching specified attendance, performance and sales levels. And with each level they achieve, their responsibility and income increase.

Verizon contact center manager Patricia Fester gives her agents "report cards," assessments based on a combination of performance, time off and sales levels. She says that rewards are an important part of motivating her 139 reps, who are located in two contact centers, in Elmira, N.Y., and Binghamton, N.Y. Agents with high scores receive prizes ranging from McDonald's coupons to DVD players to luggage. Performance levels are on the upswing as a result.

Moving forward

To evaluate the effectiveness of your existing contact center processes, consider the following:

-- Is your organization horizontally integrated, so that all departments feed information into and have access to a single customer file?

-- Are people rewarded for behaviors that align with your customer-centric mission and goals?

-- Are customer-facing employees being trained to maximize the value of each customer of the firm?

As the need for a multi-channel, needs-based environment continues to grow, ensure that your customer-centric vision is carried out by each individual employee. Securing buy-in from your contact center agents can help turn your customer vision into a tangible reality.

Don Peppers and Martha Rogers are the founders of Peppers & Rogers Group, a Norwalk, Conn.-based management consulting firm focused on customer-based business strategy.


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