North American Customer Service Management Association

Support for Contact Center Professionals

Step 4 Agent Performance Reviews


Why is it that both managers and agents dislike performance reviews? Both agents and managers don’t look forward to the performance appraisal process; it feels like a rite of passage for the agent and triggers dread on the manager’s part. The top reason employees dislike performance reviews are the overall rating the employee receives. The rating is not always objective. There are no objective criteria and therefore the rating is inconsistent from one agent to another. There is no real hard evidence to substantiate the rating. Managers save up examples of poor performance and surprise the agent with a low rating. Agent’s walk away feeling betrayed and this sabotages the appraisal process.

This “rating bias”can be unfair when managers include nonperformance factors into the appraisal. The outcome results in reduced job satisfaction, high turnover and is a major source of EEO complaints. Your managers need the facts. They need historical data that tells the performance story over the past year. They need hard data to substantiate the rating. When employees feel that the evaluation is fair they believe in the appraisal process.

Every employee wants to know where they stand and going a whole year without knowing along the way creates anxiety. Employees like to receive feedback and desire knowing how they are doing on a regular basis. Employees want to know specifically how they can perform better, they want it consistently and they want it frequently. Managers don’t always have the time to provide daily, weekly or even monthly feedback. What if agents could receive daily metric reports showing individual performance? With a comprehensive contact center platform, the capability to provide agents with real-time and historical data can provide the feedback agents desire.

An important step in optimizing your Agent Performance Review is having the proper “Manager’s Toolbox”. You must include the right tools, managing a contact center is a different set of tools than managing a production line. Does your contact center software provide the real-time and historical data you need to intelligently prepare a performance review? Many contact center managers are frustrated with the lack of data due to old antiquated phone systems or find that the data is limited because the contact center phone system is really an office phone system. The metrics that you should have coming from the contact center platform is key to writing a meaningful performance review. It is based on facts versus subjective narrative than no one can substantiate.

Here are some tools you should have in your toolbox.

- Contact Center software with integrated reporting. Every activity in the contact center is documented, stored and retrievable. Integrated with Workforce Management, payroll applications and CRMs for comprehensive data mining. This gives managers the data they need when they need it.

- Real-Time Metrics Dashboard for Agents and Supervisors – Agents want to see how they are doing in real-time like managers want to see how many callers are in the queue, wait times, average abandonments etc.

- The Manager’s Dashboard should include data that allows them to make split second decisions that impact business in real-time. These can be company/industry specific. Some examples are service levels, number of calls in the queue for all teams, longest wait times, etc.

- A best-in-class contact center platform allows managers to monitor calls; listen to live calls and listen silently, turn the call into a three-way call or just listen and coach the agent through the “CHAT” feature. Managers can also retrieve recorded calls for coaching and training.

- Managers need historical data as well as real-time. Managers want to look at the data over time; week over week, month over month even year over year. Hosted contact center software that tracks every activity can store data and make it easily accessible when managers need it.

- Integrating Workforce Management software gives managers that extra data like schedule adherence, absenteeism, and agent attrition.

- An evaluation process that uses a fact-based balanced scorecard measures agent performance against established key performance indicators.

Having the tools to capture and display the data in both real-time and in historical reports provides you, the manager with the intelligence you need to prepare meaningful and objective performance reviews.

Effectively setting agent expectations is a critical step to leading, managing and developing a culture of accountability. Clear expectations establish a baseline for performance measurement. An effective evaluation process that uses a fact-based balanced scorecard measures agent performance against pre-determined key performance indicators. Expectations are the key performance indicators your company determines that drive the business.

Set the performance expectations in a clear way so they can be heard. It takes repeating the expectation “message” several times before expectations become internalized. Good managers will have daily 10 minute “stand-up” meeting with their teams to review expectations including putting expectations in writing to appeal to every learning style. Many times, agents hear the expectations once and never again. This daily dose of hearing the message over and over is what it takes to get the message into their DNA.

Once you have a system for communicating the expectation, define the direction and set clear boundaries. The structure starts with defining direction. The company mostly likely will have defined the direction for you; it is your job to communicate what needs to be accomplished and therefore put the team on the same page. Setting clear boundaries defines what behavior is and is not appropriate. This comes in the form of policies and procedures. Agents like guidelines; it answers the question “What do I do?”

Now that direction and boundaries have been established you want to clarify roles. Many agents have this “you against us” mentality. In the discussion of defining roles, include in the conversation how YOU are part of the team; YOU have a different role on this team. When agents see you as a team member and understand your role in how you help the team reach their stated expectations they will leverage your role accordingly. Don’t be surprised if you get more cooperation when you do!

Once the team has been aligned with expectations, what needs to be accomplished, and are crystal clear on what everyone’s roles are, you want to motivate them with some achievable goals! Goals set too high will discourage team members. The key is to break down the goal into small bites. That monthly nut can overwhelm agents and when you break it down into daily, easily attainable goals the big nut takes care of itself.

Finally give and receive feedback. Two-way communication provides more ways to improve and more ways to meet expectations. Nobody is perfect, even the manager. Agents, who are team members, provide feedback to the manager and other team members and this feedback drives the team to perform. Remember everyone wants to know where they stand and how they can do better; with a constant feedback loop the team can achieve their goals more easily with more fun and more camaraderie People want to win with others.

Coaching for performance
is the opportunity to help agents fine-tune their performance.
This is when managers objectively assess elements of a customer contact and calibrate for consistency. Calibrate is the key word, customers want consistency when they call and getting agents on the same message, process and attitude is what calibration is about.

This is a confidential conversation
with agents and is usually scheduled weekly or monthly. Coaching conversations can also be spontaneous. When an occurrence happens that needs to be addressed immediately, you may not want to wait until a scheduled coaching meeting. In this meeting, you will want to provide the data for the basis of your coaching so it doesn’t become a “you don’t like me” conversation but a “here is your data and the data of your peers, and this is what we expect” conversation. Then you can talk about how together you both can get them up to the company expectation. Listen to the agent’s calls, as well as having them listen to top performing agents as examples of what you expect.

When agents have access to real-time metrics
they usually know where they have fallen short. They are driven to achieve and when they see the numbers they use the data to adjust their performance. It is also powerful to give access to recorded calls, as many times, agents know they messed up but want to go back and hear the call for themselves for future improvement. Often, agents are harder on themselves and save the manager from having to assess and correct.

Using the data to coach for performance makes the coaching meeting more productive and more objective. The feedback is based on data and when you share the data with agents they too become metric focused.

Contact center agent salary increases should be based on agent performance and achievement. KPI’s typically include productivity scores, quality scores, customer satisfaction survey scores and if applicable sales metrics. Frequently, the reliability factor (attendance, which is objective) and work habits like cooperation, attitude and interpersonal skills, which are not objective, are included.

Did the agent work on any special projects? Like participating in any contact center initiatives, conducting coaching or training sessions, assisting as a subject matter expert? While these are subjective, they too can be included in the review.

Avoid rewarding agents solely on experience or longevity. It will be difficult to attract new talent knowing that reward is based on tenure and not performance. It also encourages mediocrity; there is no incentive for outstanding performance.

Key performance indicators vary from industry to industry, the bottom line is to work with indicators that are tracked, measured and reported for a quality performance appraisal.

Tips!

Document your accomplishments along. Keep goals current, track progress and contributions, and update goals as appropriate to reflect any changes in your role or responsibilities. Let the boss know when you have reached established milestones.
The employee should never hear about performance in need of improvement for the first time at your formal performance discussion meeting unless it is new information or insight. Effective managers discuss both positive performance and areas for improvement regularly, even daily or weekly.

Take the Next Step!

Neither agent nor manager likes performance reviews. Both sides find them stressful and disenchanting when reviews are subjective and based on bias and not substantiated data. This happens when managers don’t have hard facts available and are left to evaluate agents on things like work habits, attitude, cooperation, interpersonal skills and even tenure. This creates distrust with the performance appraisal process and it becomes meaningless.

Using hard data that your comprehensive contact center software tracks, stores and reports you can write powerful and meaningful evaluations backing it with solid evidence. You want contact center software that can store 12 months of data in preparation of the performance review. When you have taken the time to set clear expectations, you can now use data to show how the agent stacks up against the expectations. Good agents will be tracking their progress, will be harder on themselves and will already know if they fall short of exceeding expectations.

Reward agents on the facts using pre-determined key performance indicators in your performance appraisals and your agents will trust the feedback and trust the process.

Work Space Vendors

Contact Center Furniture

Commercial Interior Designer

NACSMA Consultant

Furniture

Specialized Office Systems offers customized solutions to deliver printing, promotional products, apparel, office supplies and business furniture to multiple locations across the country. You will receive the personalized service you want and the attention to detail you need.

Interior Designer

Cresa Commercial founded in 1993 was convinced that representing tenants exclusively was the best way to go. Not only would it give our clients the kind of objective, unbiased advice they might not get elsewhere, but it would also give us a unique offering in the real estate marketplace.

Consultant

The North American Customer Service Management Association (NACSMA) assists Service Center professionals with improving the delivery of Customer Care to their clients by providing a collaborative networking approach to operational issues.

North American Customer Service Management Association

Support for Contact Center Professionals

Step 1 Five Rock Star Qualities of Successful Agents


Let’s face it, answering the phone all day isn’t always easy.

Not every caller is cooperative, cheerful and happy. Today’s consumer is very demanding; they complain to agents, blame agents and yell at them. Sometimes caller frustration is the result of a low-quality phone system; callers can’t get through, too many prompts, long hold times, reaching the wrong agent and the list goes on. The phone and IVR systems can be improved easily which will make it easier for agents. The easier it is for agents to do their job the less frustration on both agents and callers.

The Agents who can let the negativity roll are those that can get back in the game and take more calls without the last one upsetting them. When an agent gets upset it can take them off their game for the rest of their shift. Upset agents will sit at their desks and sulk, change their availability status to avoid taking calls and, depending on how upset they are, leave for the day. The best agents avoid taking it personally and bounce back quickly; the most resilient agents win!

Too often, agents will express empathy by reading or memorizing the script. True empathy comes from the heart not the head. Empathy is the capacity to respond with an appropriate emotion to another’s mental state. Agents are taught to “empathize” – when the agent is taught what the other person is feeling then it becomes more natural to react. Most agents don’t really understand why the caller is upset; they don’t understand the issue and how it impacts the caller. Too many times, agents are quick to launch into their “empathy script” which does nothing to sooth the caller. If anything, the insincerity of it makes the caller more upset. The best agents get it; empathy comes from the heart and the caller not only hears it but also feels it.

Not every caller is prepared when they call in. Good agents can balance the need to release the call quickly with the need to be patient. When agents are too impatient the caller feels rushed. Sometimes callers need more explanations, need to find paperwork or just talk slow. Whatever the reason, the best agents can pace themselves and give callers the time and attention they need without conveying impatience. The best agents learn to facilitate the customer experience by making the customer feel validated, respected and heard while maintaining agent control.

Do you have too many calls in the queue?

Perhaps too many callers are calling back because they can’t understand the agent. Everybody has called back at least one time in his or her life. Too often, agents can’t be understood by the caller and after waiting patiently hangs up only to call back. Does your contact center platform track hang-ups? Do you have agents with a high number of hang-ups? Can you identify these agents? The most basic skill of a contact center agent is speaking English, unless the agent is managing a non-English queue. Are your agents articulating every word?

Poor articulation frustrates callers and when they call back they are really upset now that they waited in the queue twice. They hope by calling back that they will get an agent who can articulate English properly. Agents who speak too fast or have poor articulation of words and phrases are ineffective.

The best agents at the end of their shift make it sound like it is the beginning of their shift; their voices are fresh, they deliver their greetings and questions like it was the first time. These agents articulate all day long. They don’t get lazy reading disclosures, they don’t speed up because they are bored of their own voice and they don’t mumble. The best agents come alive on each call and can be understood on every call. These agents are the most effective because they truly have “first call resolution”.

Everyone loves agents that “go the extra mile”. For example, the agent that takes the initiative to look up one more thing, the agent that gets you one more phone number or the agent that gives you one more discount. Whatever it is, everyone likes and appreciates the “extra mile” effort. The best agents know how to balance talk times with customer satisfaction. The best agents know that doing one small thing that takes very little time but is an “extra effort item” will get the biggest bang on the customer satisfaction survey. Those agents are smart!

Tips!

Agent Assessments: Use agent assessments that will help you identify agent values, personal traits and qualities. Assessments will speed up the process and take the guesswork out in selecting Rock Star Agents.
Hire agents with the qualities you want and teach them the job skills. Skills you can tech, qualities and values are not so easy to teach.

Take the Next Step!

Contact center agents have a multifaceted job and are expected to be skilled in communications, problem solving, computer systems, company product and services, sales skills, etc. The qualities of a rock star agent include resiliency; they can bounce back from an upsetting call and take the next one like nothing happened. Top agents are sincerely empathetic without reading or memorizing the script. Empathy comes from their hearts and is conveyed so sincerely that callers can feel it.

Rock star agents know how to balance patience with talk times. They help callers who struggle to articulate their issue and patiently guide the customer to a resolution without rushing or being impatient. They articulate the English language clearly so every caller can get their issue resolved on the first call. All types of customers appreciate agents that are resourceful enough to take initiative and go the extra mile. Look for these rock star qualities in your agents and you too will have rock star customer satisfaction scores!

Work Space Vendors

Contact Center Furniture

Commercial Interior Designer

NACSMA Consultant

Furniture

Specialized Office Systems offers customized solutions to deliver printing, promotional products, apparel, office supplies and business furniture to multiple locations across the country. You will receive the personalized service you want and the attention to detail you need.

Interior Designer

Cresa Commercial founded in 1993 was convinced that representing tenants exclusively was the best way to go. Not only would it give our clients the kind of objective, unbiased advice they might not get elsewhere, but it would also give us a unique offering in the real estate marketplace.

Consultant

The North American Customer Service Management Association (NACSMA) assists Service Center professionals with improving the delivery of Customer Care to their clients by providing a collaborative networking approach to operational issues.