Dear Contact Center Santa,
Hello from your good friends at PowerHouse! As always, we have been extra nice (never naughty) in 2018 and hope you honor our many heartfelt requests. Yes, we continue that tradition! This year we thought we would ask Contact Center agents for their ideas. So we surveyed random frontline staff in Healthcare, Utilities, and eCommerce to yield answers to this question: “If you could, what would you ask Contact Center Santa to bring you this year?” Our questions sought to yield ideas around such things as training, technology, policies, and performance.
To our delight, we learned that business efficiency and the Customer Experience are at the top of agents’ minds more than rewards, treats, and time off. But we also discovered that a number of agents declined to comment because they were “afraid.” I asked one manager if she could relieve agents’ concerns about responding to us. Sadly, she said she was “not authorized” to allow agents to answer the question we posed.
I found this to be a bit sad. But the brave agents took chances and replied with thoughtful answers. So we thank and congratulate them for their courage. So here goes Santa! Here are our top “clusters” of requests from our frontline friends.
Quality vs. Quantity – My favorite request comes from a veteran Customer Service professional (we’ll call her Mary) in an eCommerce Contact Center. Mary explains that she is a career rep with only one request for you Santa. She asks that her “management focuses on Quality AND Quantity instead of just Quantity.” Poor Mary! I have been in this industry for well over 30 years and it stuns me that this remains a conflict for the front line. Consider this reality … when Quality is the focus in customer interactions, then Quantity and productivity issues are typically resolved. I thank you Mary. Santa, please get Mary’s message to her leadership! And while you are at it, can your elves create a Quality guide that defines desired agent behaviors in an easy, reasonable, and equitable way?
Agent as Valued Partner -Agents have proven time and again that they are a critical Contact Center resource for improving processes, identifying training needs, determining system enhancements, etc. Yet, many feel that their ideas are either not heard or are dismissed without due diligence. Others say that it really doesn’t do any good to offer ideas because there is no follow up (and a fear that they may be labeled a “complainer”). Santa, agent observations, insights, and recommendations must not be given short shrift. They are the ones that bear the brunt of customer dissatisfaction, broken processes, lousy management decisions, out-dated systems, and non-existent training. So I humbly ask you to provide business leaders with the foresight to ask important questions of their staff. What works the best? What doesn’t work? What is the smartest/dumbest thing we do in the Contact Center? Maybe you could even organize a workshop for managers that emphasizes the importance of productive agent focus groups and consistent communication methods for staff to submit ideas. Leaders need to exhibit the leadership qualities that “welcome” rather than dismiss potentially valuable ideas. What about it Santa?
Technology and Systems – I don’t mean to be repetitious or sound ungrateful because I send you technology requests each year Santa and you have listened! You’ve helped companies to acquire state-of-the art Contact Center technology … features like predictive dialers, web video and voice, social media integration, and workforce management dashboards. Unfortunately, some Contact Center agents we spoke with still live with aging, outdated, and non-integrated systems that require rekeying of data and different sign-on’s (not to mention the inconvenience of filling out a ticket and waiting for IT to respond). What we ask for on behalf of the Contact Center is a stronger voice at the technology table, a dedicated IT resource for the Center, and the ability to define and articulate requirements and recommendations that meet the specific needs of the Center.
Communication and Collaboration – Santa, a huge wish comes from Healthcare agents that want regular communication updates from management on what initiatives are happening both within and beyond the Contact Center. Change is such a constant in Healthcare; those we spoke with feel out of touch, uninformed, and unimportant related to process and procedural changes in the Contact Center. Can your leadership team help Contact Center managers develop a consistent method for summarizing and presenting updates on such things as the status of process improvements, the results of Customer Experience surveys, or organizational decisions that impact the Contact Center? Agents are also asking that you sprinkle some Santa dust (more powerful that fairy dust) over cross-functional partners for increased respect, understanding, and appreciation for what happens within the Contact Center. (And one more thing … please ask Marketing for proactive alerts on new campaigns, classes, and seminars.)
Training and Staff Development – Guess what Santa! Our Contact Center agents want training, training, and more training! This means dedicated time, human resources, and money allotted yearly for new-hire training, ongoing training for incumbent staff, and professional development. Of course, this means being fully resourced to allow for continued agent development. Also, can you unincumber supervisors from daily fire fighting to spend more time with their agents for staff development and coaching purposes? And please continue to bring us training for Contact Center frontline managers. While they mean well, they sometimes don’t know the best ways to listen, provide advice, and implement efficient communication strategies.
Working Smart – Several agents we spoke with ask for Work at Home opportunities. Santa, this wish deserves some attention though it requires strong vetting of candidates and attention to legal and technology issues. Work at Home presents some strong business benefits … a way to handle fluctuations in call volumes, broaden a demographic presence, and offer a longer daily timeframe for service. Some agents cite the advantages of part-time work in the Contact Center. Instead of retiring completely they offer the Contact Center a part-time worker that provides for staffing flexibility and an already-knowledgeable workforce.
Comfort and Morale – Our final requests relate to the Contact Center work environment itself and to those initiatives that promote and sustain positive staff feelings. Many agents tell us that they work in pleasant and light-filled settings with break rooms, refrigerators, and coffee machines (though stronger coffee would be an asset). For others, these features are still a faraway dream. And what about stand-up desks, exercise rooms, regulated temperature settings, book-lending libraries, quiet rooms for contemplation, and fun non-phone activities? These are not just “amenities” Santa. They are stress relievers that when combined, assist agents to re-energize and relax amidst an often frenetic Contact Center environment.
I know I am asking for so much Santa, as is my tradition. But you understand and appreciate innovation and creativity in the Contact Center. You know what is needed to deliver a stellar Customer Experience and to retain a staff that shines throughout the year. And you deliver every year!
In closing dear Santa, I hope your season wraps up just beautifully and that you don’t get stuck in any chimneys. It has been yet another great year and we look forward to a healthy, happy, and very productive 2019.
Oh … I almost forgot. You might want to tell your elves and others to purchase Backstage at the Customer Experience: Musings for Contact Center Leaders (Kindle Edition) on Amazon.com.
Our best to you,
Kathleen and Friends at PowerHouse