By Karim Chabane

As more organizations adopt a customer-first approach to doing business, the role of contact centre agents, who are on the front lines of customer and organizational profitability, is changing along with their expectations. The newest entrants into the workforce may want it all, i.e. independence in a collaborative environment and the latest technology, combined with face-time and career progression without the need for job-hopping.All this can lead to a tug of war when operations wants one thing and agents want another, which is bad for contact centres and for the businesses. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Enabling a meeting of the minds

Agents may well be the gateway to customers, but they are also a great source of operational information. Contact centre leaders should take note of this to achieve a true meeting of minds that combines business needs with employee engagement.

Here are three tips to help steer you in the right direction:

  1. Keep talking. Conduct employee surveys and act on the results, good and bad. Hold weekly drop-ins for agents and invite the planning team to attend. Focus on the hot topics that matter for agents and share your own to promote interactive and constructive discussions. Develop focus groups where agents can raise customer pain points and share learning with other parts of the business to help boost self-esteem and elevate the status of the contact centre.
  2. Keep things clear and transparent. Work processes should be clear, transparent and supplemented with easy-to-understand documentation. The same applies to learning: communicate individual and team goals effectively and develop meaningful career paths that release the full potential of agents and make the whole contact centre shine.
  3. Keep staff happy. Remember your agents are your customers and need to be kept on side. Everyone wants to feel involved, so create a work environment where agents feel part of everything ranging from the company mission to their fellow team members and to the customers they serve. Actively gain their feedback for important decision-making. Having a ready-made pool of agent champions makes it so much easier to instigate cultural change and introduce new ways of working.

Utilizing WFM

Workforce management (WFM) can be seen by agents as a controlling “big brother” application. Instead it should be viewed as a powerful tool that enables the meeting of the minds with collaborative thinking, working and results.

Here are five ways how:

  1. Boost scheduling through agent self-service. Get agents more involved by having them enter their preferred shifts, select breaks and lunches, swap shifts and request time off with immediate manager feedback. Understand what works and what doesn’t for agents. Some prefer to start late and work later while others may be early-birds or like split-shifts.
  1. Minimize stress. Nothing is worse than overwork and stress, like asking agents to work extra hours, which risks making them churn. Maximize the latest forecasting technology to right-size your contact centre. Run “what if’ scenarios to help predict staffing needs for regular fluctuations such as public holidays or for new marketing campaigns. Use staffing methods such as empowering agent self-servicing by having a pool of flexible part-time agents who will fill in the gaps. Forecasting also provides the analytical evidence required to work effectively with outsourcing agencies to supplement your in-house resources during busy periods, while avoiding unnecessary staffing costs during quieter periods.
  1. Re-invigorate the learning programme. Utilize WFM to schedule offline interactive activities, such as weekly huddles and feedback sessions that give agents opportunities to air key issues and discuss potential solutions. Tap into the virtual library of agents’ skills, knowledge and qualifications provided by today’s WFM solutions. Identify missing competencies and build tailored training programmes that challenge and fulfill agents while supporting the needs of the contact centre.

The core data capabilities of WFM can be boosted with dedicated training functionality that streamlines scheduling and ensures lessons are learnt from regular wrap-up sessions. Just be sure to develop a portfolio of different learning styles and a mixture of traditional in-classroom training and online or virtual sessions to meet the needs of a multi-generational team. Today’s “Snapchat Generation” appreciates a mix of technology and face-to-face contact, so consider exploiting different chat apps such as WhatsApp and Messenger to appeal to this highly visual and growing sector of the workforce.

  1. Foster staff motivation. Make the most of advanced WFM reporting and dashboards to provide real-time snapshots of employee and team performance against specific contact centre key performance indicators (KPIs) or service level agreements (SLAs) fairly and transparently. Introduce the latest gamification features to motivate employees, provide a forum for sharing top tips, encourage healthy competition and reward individual and team performance in a fun environment. Don’t shy away from using catchy names i.e. “Game of Phones” for gamification campaigns: small things can have tremendous impacts on team spirit as well as on agents’ motivation and performance.
  1. Automate simple tasks. Invest in artificial intelligence (AI) technology and blend it with your WFM and scheduling processes so that agents have more time to devote to brain-engaging activities rather than be resigned to handling routine enquiries such as brochure fulfilment and utilities’ meter readings. When agents are mentally stretched and positively challenged, they are more likely to go the extra distance and support your own KPIs and SLAs.

With just a few simple tweaks and modern WFM practices, you can turn any potential tug of war into a meeting of minds in your contact centre: to everyone’s benefit.

Karim Chabane is a WFM consultant at Teleopti. Teleopti is a top, global best of breed provider of WFM software that is sophisticated, localized and easy to use. Teleopti focuses on helping contact centres, back offices and retail stores improve customer service, employee satisfaction and profitability

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