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Closing the Revolving Door – Part 2

Closing the Revolving Door – Part 2
By: Colin Taylor
So how do we build an enduring structure in our call center that will support engagement, motivation and allow us to deploy aligned reward/recognition programs that succeed in meeting the objectives of the center and the business? But what happens if we can design an environment where the agents push us? What happens when the agent is proactive, rather than reactive? But what happens if we can design an environment where the agents push us? What happens when the agent is proactive, rather than reactive?

Structural design focus creates a push model where staff are motivated to succeed and grow. Structure must be designed and aligned with the objectives we wish to obtain. It is a lot of work to keep staff motivated and engaged. It seems that we are always introducing new programs, pushing the agents to perform, pushing our goals.

So where do we begin our structural design? At the beginnings, by looking at how the agent perceives their role and the progress they make over their career.

The accompanying simplified fish diagram above shows and agent career progression with a call center. At the left they go through the hiring and recruiting process. They start to become familiar with the details of their job and role.

They are introduced to the ACM (Adequacy, Competency, Mastery) or other career paths and understand where they can progress. They receive and provide peer feedback helping them improve. Their improved results are recognized. They move up a level and receive increased compensation.

Hopefully they continue on to have a successful career with the call center. To understand how this framework can be the underpinning of a successful structure let’s examine each of the elements in the career progression.

Hiring & Recruiting

Good bye mirror test. Previous experience is not a reason to hire anyone. Bernie Madoff has 30+ years as a successful money manager. Anybody want to hire him?
Hire people who are best equipped to succeed. Doing so reduces turnover, especially in the early stages. The best way to achieve this is to employ skills and competencies: map your best agents.

Don’t hire others cast offs. There is generally a reason why they aren’t working there anymore. Don’t take someone’s word that they have attention to detail or can type, test them.

Establish specific interview questions that will be used by all interviewers. Such as tell me about something you did really well and are proud of, who did you tell, how did you explain it to them, why did do this, how did you do this differently than others might have. Of course interview questions are subjective and present more risk than an objective test, but if we ask enough questions related to a topic area and approach the questions from a few different angles you tend to be able to weed out those who are making it up on the fly.

Job Descriptions

Almost every center has job descriptions. But fewer than 10 percent actually have accurate job descriptions that reflect what is done in the role.

Your job description must detail specifically what the position entails, state what the performance metrics will be employed to measure agent performance, tell them what performance they will need to attain and maintain, tell them who they report to, any dotted line relationships and cite the roles and positions that this job is a prerequisite for. If you are employing ACM share with them the matrix showing what they need to attain to move up the food chain.

When agents know what is expected, how it will be measured and where they can move to if they succeed most will work towards this goal. Their motivation comes from within and not from the outside.

Do not fall into the habit of creating new job descriptions for all special projects or short term assignments. Each job description should include a reference to special projects and of course the “other duties as management may assign” clause. A special project or new responsibilities do not necessarily require a new job description. These are just changes in job tasks not changes in the job.

Career path/ ACM

You need to show them where they can go, within the center and beyond. You must define, document and publish the career path. When you have a map, it is easy to work towards a goal.

Share your ACM model, or other defined career path. Share the career flow options with the agents. Let them know that your role as their manager is to help them succeed, because the more they succeed the more you as the manager will succeed.

Peer Feedback

People can become jaded just listening to their supervisor telling them what they need to do and how to improve. The context changes instantly when the guidance is coming from a peer or a mentor.

A peer feedback program empowers staff to share their knowledge. The agents and mentors will also learn through coaching. Coaching and mentoring benefits both the giver and the receiver.

If you employ a Voice of The Customer (VOC) program or call logging or recording in your call center it is quite easy to leverage this facilitate peer feedback. In short a Voice of the Customer or VOC program employs call recordings either random or based upon specific themes to provide senior management with insight into the types of calls and details of the calls being received in the center. These calls maybe scored by your QA group or not.

To leverage your VOC or base call recordings, segment calls by agent and provide these to all members of a peer group. Your peer group could be all agents in the center if it is small, or a specific existing team or you might wish to create a new peer group specifically for this purpose so that you can mix supervisors teams and/or include SME’s in the group.

Regardless of the peer group constitution, once you have distributed the calls to the peer group you meet once a week to provide feedback to one agent. If you have six people in the peer group and review three to five calls per week this will represent approximately one hour of ‘off-phone’ activity that needs to be included and planned for in their schedule. The objective of each meeting is to review the agent calls.
Now since all agents will be likewise assessed on a rotation basis, people tend not to be overly critical, rather they focus on constructive suggestions…how else could you have answered that question…when I had that question, I replied with…, have you tried… all of these informal coaching sessions can be very productive. In fact often these are seen by the agents as more beneficial than their traditional coaching sessions with their Supervisor or the QA team as they know that their peers are also ‘do-ers’.

This peer feedback should not replace your existing quality program, rather should augment it. Organizations that have implemented Peer Feedback in addition to their existing quality programs have seen much faster improvement in agent skills.

Recognition

The first step in building a structure is recognizing what is important to the center. In most centers what is important includes: performance, improvement, leadership and coaching/mentoring. Performance is likely the single point on this list that your senior management will discuss with you, but the fact is that without the other three points in place it is much harder to achieve improvements in performance.

So you will need to provide recognition in all of these areas. Before deploying any recognition or reward programs in any of them, identify the metrics to employ and be sure that they will give you the information required.

If you cannot identify specific metrics that are objective, I would suggest you pass on the program. Any program that is based on a subjective assessment will be tainted. Next you must look at other unplanned for outcomes that could occur and if there are any ways for the agents to ‘game’ the system.

Don’t just recognize the best. The losers can get bored and stop trying
So recognize the top performing team in FCR, CSAT, Quality, Sales, Tickets closed etc, as well as the most improved team in these areas, Ask the teams perhaps to nominate one member of their team for a leadership award based on predefined criteria (could be a weighted combination of their teams FCR, CSAT and Sales Revenue). Recognize peer contributions; who provided the most coaching who is not in the QA team, how many sessions did they participate in, the average or aggregate improvement of the agents coached etc.

There are so many ways to recognize the winners which are cheap and easy…preferred parking, pick your shift, wall of fame, lunch with the call center manager or CEO, ride along with sales or service for a day, certificates, posted in reception, identified on the reader-boards (LCD’s), billboards, newspaper, on the website, on the intranet site, the company Facebook page, a Tweet to all.

If we look beyond no cost, low cost incentives and rewards, there are a huge number of options available to you, such as trips, hotel stays visits to other offices, cash, dinners, conferences etc. These rewards will tend to fall into two categories –work related and non work related. Both of these can have value.

The work related ones (trips to other offices, conferences, seminars, dinner with the CEO) all allow the recipient to learn. This learning will help them to improve their understanding of the company or of the call center industry, both of which can pay dividends in their positions, equipping them better to win future rewards.

The non work related rewards (trips, hotel stays, dinners, cash etc.) both improve the recipients’ quality of life, albeit briefly, but also allow them to share their reward with their significant other. This is also a chance to show off. This improves the recipients desire to win again, thereby increasing their motivation to win future rewards.

Both of these approaches can work well. Business related rewards are appealing as they not only reward the individual but also benefit the call center and the business. This provides a better match to the career path of an individual than a dinner out.

One interesting reward was a quality award at an outsourcer/BPO working with Ford. The reward for the highest quality score average at the end of each year was the use of a Ford vehicle for the next year at no cost.

Big ticket caution

Exercise caution however on ‘big ticket’ rewards. Obviously ‘big ticket’ incentives can cost a lot, and can represent a significant portion of your incentive budget. Personally I would prefer to run a number of smaller incentives rather than one big one. Big rewards tend to be won by the top agents. Very quickly less skilled agents will give up trying and pretty soon you can find yourself having just two or three motivated agents chasing this prize and 40 who have given up and are not motivated.
When giving monetary rewards, be sure that these are structured as re-earnable rather than a permanent reward. In some centers they pay a bonus of $.50 or a $1 per hour to all monthly reward winners or those who exceed threshold levels the next month. This however is re-earnable, which is to say that if I win three months in a row I will get the bonus, but if I fail to do win or achieve the threshold the next month, I don’t get the bonus and my compensation drops down to my base level.

Of course, there is still a place for tactical rewards to achieve tactical objective. An example of this would be to increase staffed hours during a known volume peak period, where a bonus maybe paid to all agents who pick up 10 extra shifts in a month. Tactical goals will by definition be short term and allow you to realize the goal in this period.

What I would hope you take away from this recognition review are that there are numerous inexpensive ways to motivate your staff, that retention and motivation aren’t just about money, that you need to structure your retention, rewards and recognition program to recognize what is important and lastly that structure, transparency, alignment and engagement can help you to reduce attrition in your center.

This article is the second in the series Part 1 can be found here.

This article is published in the November/December issue of Contact Management.

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