Maintaining Customer Satisfaction and Agent Morale in Uncertain Times

By Tim Kraskey

The US economy, while hopefully past the deep recession, appears far from the solid employment and growth days of just a few years ago. Many companies are cautious about adding to their payrolls until a clear recovery among consumers is evident. In a rough economy, they continue to keep an eye on costs, including maintaining tight budgets and freezing or reducing employee hours and salaries. Other companies have downsized their employee base through layoffs and decisions not to fill vacant positions.

Contact centers are not immune to such measures. When a corporation is considering or has turned to downsizing or outsourcing, contact centers walk a tightrope of trying to balance customer satisfaction with resource cutbacks. When corporations downsize, enormous pressure remains to maintain the satisfaction of their customer base, and keeping customers satisfied is more cost-effective than spending resources obtaining new customers. According to the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer survey, a majority of respondents say that quality customer service is more important in the current down economy and three-quarters are more inclined to share a positive customer experience with others than a negative one.

So how can contact centers maintain or even improve customer satisfaction amidst corporate downsizing? The following are ways in which contact centers can use their current tools and other new technologies to maintain customer satisfaction and boost agent morale.

Understanding Trade Offs: Balanced staffing has an enormous bearing on customer service, customer satisfaction, efficiency, and costs, but downsizing often means staff reductions. A contact center that is understaffed during peak call volumes, for instance, can quickly lead to issues with customer satisfaction, low agent morale, and decreased productivity. Working with fewer people charged with maintaining or improving service may not be the answer.

Workforce management (WFM) tools are one way to help with forecasting and staffing. WFM lets you understand the service level realities when working with less staff and can help you determine the customer service ramifications of reducing staff before you act. For instance, you may realize it could be more costly to the business to reduce staff due to the potential negative effects on customer loyalty and revenue.

Measure the Metrics that Matter: During challenging economic times, a contact center may need to reprioritize its metrics so the customer doesn’t lose out in the process of trying to meet the company’s bottom line. Traditional contact center metrics, such as the number of calls an agent handles and the average response time, may not take top priority anymore. Instead, metrics that can more meaningfully drive and measure customer satisfaction, such as first call resolution, may become most important.

Maintaining Morale: Aside from the strict operational benefits that workforce management software delivers to the contact center, it also can serve to positively affect agent morale. When corporations downsize, contact center agents can become concerned about layoffs. Even if their jobs seem secure, frustration can set in if they feel tossed about by constantly changing schedules and have no control over their responsibilities.

Agents tend to be more motivated and productive when they feel empowered. Giving them access to information about their schedules and performance is one way to achieve this. Through workforce management and other workforce optimization tools, agents can view their personal schedules, monitor performance, and request work shift trades with other agents. In addition, a supervisor can reward schedule flexibility among agents by offering incentives, such as variable start times, to align hours with actual business needs.

Don’t Guess When It Comes to Customers: Surveys auto-generated after the call via IVR or Web application are an excellent way to measure how a contact center is doing in terms of customer satisfaction. To obtain the most accurate and useful feedback possible, contact centers should capture customer feedback immediately after the interaction is completed. By using auto-generated post-call surveys that employ an IVR or Web application, the contact center can receive instant feedback from the customer on his or her experience with the contact center. The customer can be asked to participate in a survey prior to speaking with an agent, or the agent can ask the customer to participate once the interaction is completed.

The contact center management team can view and analyze the results, organized by agent, team, or contact center service, to determine areas of strength and improvement. Direct feedback also can help agents better understand customer needs and behaviors and what they are doing – or should be doing – to improve customer satisfaction.

Customers and Agents – Serve Them Both Well: During a down economy, the reality is that contact centers are seeing the same effects of downsizing as other parts of the business. But as the face of the company to many people, contact centers must be especially sensitive to downsizing’s impact on their customers and their agents. They must pay attention to the metrics and applications that can most significantly affect customer satisfaction and agent morale. When technology tools such as workforce management, performance dashboards, and post-call surveys are brought together in a unified framework like Web 2.0, contact centers can help provide the support required for customers to feel good about the company and agents to feel good about their jobs.

Tim Kraskey is vice president of marketing and business development for Calabrio, Inc., a provider of contact center management and customer interaction software that enables continuous business improvements in productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction. Tim can be reached at

[From Connection Magazine November 2010]

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