How to improve contact center agent performance

If there is one thing I have learned from a career in telecommunications and the contact center space, it is that agent performance is the key to success. The likes of technology and workflow processes undoubtedly play a significant role but, like so many sectors, a contact center is only as good as the people at the heart of it.

How to improve contact center agent performance | Probe

Studies have repeatedly shown that organisations with ‘engaged’ employees have better business performance. For example, they are 56% more likely to have higher than average customer loyalty, 38% more likely to have higher than average productivity, 50% more likely to have lower staff turnover and 27% more likely to report higher profitability1.

Bringing the best out of one’s agents is vital for maximizing customer experience but, as many executives and managers know, that is often easier said than done. Given my extensive experience leading HR, contact centers and operations teams, one of the questions I’m most often asked is: “How can I improve my agents’ performance?” and for that reason I have compiled this handy guide for fostering a contact center environment that lets your people shine.

How to improve contact center agent performance

Find the right agents

It is no secret that contact centers are regularly recruiting agents. The 2023 Australian Contact Centre Industry Best Practice Report revealed the average staff attrition rate had soared to 32%, a 6% increase on the previous year2, while respected consultancy McKinsey & Co estimated each new hire costs contact centers up to $20,000 in training, direct recruiting costs and lost productivity during ramp-up3. Given such numbers, the first step to improving contact center performance is to target job seekers who are passionate about customer experience. Design recruitment processes that help identify agents who are not only loyal to their employers but the clients or brands they are supporting. Hiring the right person from the outset can save future headaches.

What inspires contact centre agents to stay in the same job_USSource: Boosting contact-center performance through employee engagement | McKinsey

Provide quality training

A unique factor in the contact center world is many recruits enter at an early stage of their career but are often quickly handed significant responsibility. With many routine enquiries now being diverted to automated and self-service channels, it is even more likely they will need to manage complex or escalation issues. This means it is essential to provide a very strong development culture so agents are not only able to navigate systems but be able to engage with customers from all walks of life and who, on occasion, may be highly emotional. Quality training and skills programs are critical for empowering contact centre agents.

Create career pathways

For many recruits, working as an agent is the first step in what they hope will be a fruitful career in the contact center industry. They are passionate about customer service and while happy to start ‘on the floor’, they have clear visions of moving into support roles and ultimately leadership positions. The best contact centers tap into those human-centred behaviors and equip agents for long-term careers in contact centers. This includes developing a quality learning and orientation framework that is centred around building agent capabilities and guiding them to find the roles and responsibilities that best suit them. Moving between employers is a fact of life for many agents so the more they feel like you are investing in their future, the less likely they will be to go searching for another job.

Instil a fun environment

Contact centers have enormous potential to be bastions of positive culture. With many agents being relatively young, they are searching for workplaces that allow them to feel part of a community and operate in a fun environment. From incentivizing daily tasks to implementing gamification, there are various ways to foster a workplace that thrives on a feeling of togetherness and inspires discretionary effort from employees. On a similar note, contact center agents often believe in strong advocacy around community issues and social responsibility. Being able to donate some of their time to charitable causes or allowing staff to express their interest in external pursuits is another step towards better agent performance.

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McKinsey Report_mobile_US

Cultural understanding

When it comes to offshore contact centers, taking the time to understand cultural nuances is critical. Modern-day customers appreciate that their enquiries may be handled by offshore agents but every effort must be made to arm those agents with the skills to do so as seamlessly as possible. To get the most out of an agent’s performance, they must not only know the brand they are representing but also the Australian nuances they may encounter during transactions.

Embrace technology

Where voice communication was once the primary skill set for agents, the rise of technology means they need to boast additional capabilities in 2024. Businesses are now looking to provide customers with multi-factor channels so it is imperative that contact centers upskill their agents to not only be proficient in voice but ready to provide written and technical support. The digitization of lower-level transactions also means an increasing need for agents to be problem solvers as they are more likely to encounter complex enquiries. Contact centers need to factor this evolution into their training programs to ensure they get the best out of their agents.

Facilitate hybrid opportunities (engagement and inclusion)

Where contact centers were once housed in central locations, the COVID-19 pandemic inspired a revolution that has resulted in businesses being entirely comfortable with agents choosing remote, work-from-home or hybrid models. As the saying goes, just as long as the job gets done. The challenge for contact center managers is creating an environment where home-based agents feel as engaged as their in-office colleagues. This is especially crucial given fun and friendship are often cited as key reasons for people choosing to work in this sector. Contact centers need to have a clearly defined strategy for ensuring staff feel engaged and attached to the community they are serving regardless of where they physically work.

Summary

Inspiring contact center agents to be the best they can be is not as simple as ticking a box. It requires time, effort and a range of tasks and strategies. From providing quality training and defined career pathways to nurturing a fun and inclusive environment, making a long-term commitment to invest in one’s people is the key to nurturing a more committed and engaged workforce and realising the benefits that come with it.

Winning new business is a great feeling but various studies show that holding onto existing customers is more valuable for businesses. Discover what companies can do to transform engagement into retention and how they will know if they are achieving success.

About the Author

Vaughan Paul is a dynamic leader with a proven track record of leading large teams to deliver significant improvements in customer experience and staff engagement. With extensive experience in the IT services, telecommunications and banking sectors, he has overseen staff development across operations, contact centers and digital development and is committed to creating collaborative and engaging work environments.

Reference:
[1] Article : People Mean Profitability: Maximising Agent Performance In The Contact Centre (contactcenterworld.com)
[2] 2023 Australian Contact Centre industry Best Practice report (acxpa.com.au)
[3] Boosting contact-center performance through employee engagement | McKinsey

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