Call Center Agents: Now Admit Defeat

By Dennis J. Adsit, PhD

I came up with the idea for this article from reading a magazine article written by women to help men be more romantic. One section was titled, “Happy Valentine’s Day. Now Admit Defeat.” The notion was that if guys do what they are supposed to do on Valentine’s Day – dinner, flowers, chocolate, heart-shaped pancakes, and so forth – their female partners will think they are just doing it because they are supposed to. On the other hand, if men don’t do that stuff, they are regarded as “cruel and bloodless.” For the guys, it seems like a no-win.

The same is true of our efforts with call center agents. Ever since the first call center opened its doors, call center leaders have been trying to motivate agents to show concern, be cheerful, diagnose an issue correctly, provide all the correct disclosures, hide that accent, update the database properly, use the caller’s name – and do all this quickly.

We have spent billions of dollars in an effort to reduce agent variation. We have used agent hiring tests designed by industrial psychologists; we do accent neutralization training; we provide the agents with knowledge bases so they can search for information; we have speech analytics to make sure agents are not yelling at callers and are saying the right thing; and every center on the planet spends a fortune to record, monitor, and coach. Then, after we have poured all this investment into an agent, he or she quits and we start all over.

Yet, in spite of all this effort and expense, are your agents doing what you want them to more or less often? Are your center-wide first-call-resolution, handle time, after-call work, customer satisfaction, cross-selling, process adherence, and accent escalation metrics all continuously improving? There are few center leaders who can answer, “Yes, across the board” to that question. With all that investment, if you can’t put up steadily and improving charts of agent metrics, what are you doing it for?

Perhaps the answer is that, even though the metrics are not steadily improving, if you stopped spending all that money and effort on trying to motivate and train your agents, your center would descend into chaos.

Is the title of my article now beginning to make sense? The article about how to be more romantic and how to handle Valentine’s Day went on to suggest that men could “win” by concentrating their special efforts on the days before Valentine’s Day. In other words, men need to “change the game.” It’s the same in our call centers.

While the whole industry is focused on trying to improve call centers by improving agents one at a time, vanguard companies are achieving staggering breakthroughs by focusing on establishing a process for all agents to follow. They are “engineering” what agents do and say, and then simply allowing the agents to execute that engineered process.

Advanced call center software can standardize what agents say to callers using prerecorded audio files that allow the agent to execute multiple actions across desktop tools with a single click to ensure compliance. This lets the agents follow the engineered process and only vary what they need to based on the needs of the caller as opposed to potentially varying everything on every call. This approach is driving dramatic and sustainable improvement across all agent, customer, and shareholder metrics. These gains can be completely sustainable because all the improvements are made to the process and not the environment of constantly churning agents.

So – there you have it. Are you going to admit defeat, or is it time to change the game?

Dr. Adsit is the VP of business development for KomBea Corporation. He can be reached at dennis.adsit@kombea.com.

[From Connection Magazine – October 2009]