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Agents are the Secret to Revenue Success
During my career, I've had the opportunity to work with a variety of organizations -- some better than others, but all focused on how to do more with the resources they have. Whether it's applying technology in new ways, implementing new training techniques to enhance sales, or simply making customer service representatives more "productive," everyone has some type of improvement focus going at all times. The companies that are good at this often have formal, focused ways of getting the employees involved in the solution. The best actually get the front-line employees to not only generate the solutions, but take responsibility for the design and actual organizational implementation.
Unfortunately, in many cases, the contact center isn't given the ability to invest the necessary people time it takes to realize a measurable return. Yes, to get the full impact of a focused front-line solution initiative, agents will not only have to be given time off the phone, it must be done in a way that shows the company values their input in the same manner as their handling of a customer.
Good, valuable employee feedback is obtained when you have scheduled formal meetings and everyone invited gets to attend because you've planned the workload and workforce around the customers. When employees feel like the company is making an investment in them, they're more willing to share openly and help to provide solutions that make a difference.
While this approach makes sense to most people running contact centers and executives will typically, "buy-in" to the concept, there needs to be a formal, measurable plan developed to keep everyone on focus and engaged. And because just about everything in a contact center comes with the need to justify the investment, you'll want to have something to refer to when the "buy-in" isn't as strong. Below is a simple way to get people excited about the potential returns that come with a formal front line improvement approach.
Example 1: Utilization
First is an example of a mid-sized call center and an estimate of the cost to provide service meeting an 80/20 Service Level Objective:
Many centers focus on handle time -- there are good things and bad things associated with this measure. If done right, better handle times can result in improved service to all customers and happier front line reps, but if not managed correctly, the outcomes can have disastrous impacts -- higher turnover, loss of focus, management burnout, customer attrition, etc. In this case we're going to assume that a handle time focused initiative is done right and it starts with the front line employees. For simplicity purposes, the above example has a center staffed to answer the same number of calls in each half-hour of the day at a consistent level of service (80 percent in 20 seconds). Again for simplicity, we also left out the queuing (hold time) associated with the telecom cost. The outcome is something that every contact center should know -- how much does it cost to provide service each day and what is the average cost of each agent interaction. Armed with this information alone, everyone - from the front-line agents to the executive management -- is able to gain a whole new appreciation for the value (and yes, costs) associated with the center.
Moving forward with a good handle time focused initiative, the center would then engage the front line to begin to tackle the things that will impact agent talk time, like -- scheduling flexibility, effective coaching, agent metrics that motivate, and positive evaluations. The team would also provide feedback on the things that can improve After Call Work time -- more efficient internal processes, better back office resource availability and systems/workflow enhancements. If done right, the front line agents will be able to provide you positive feedback on all of these topics and will most likely have great ideals on many other handle time related opportunities. If these ideas have just a 5% impact on the talk time and a 10% impact on the after call work time, the annual savings are tremendous:
This doesn't mean anyone has to work harder -- in fact, it will most likely be just the opposite -- with improved tools and processes, agents are able to provide better solutions quicker and with more focus on the needs of the front line agents, managers are able to spend more of their energy focused in a positive direction. And for the customer, it feels better -- no extra time on hold and there is less time taken away from them during the call.
Example 2: Sales Improvements
More contact centers are taking on the challenge of becoming a revenue stream for the organization and using every contact as an opportunity to provide enhanced offerings to customers. Unfortunately, this transition doesn't happen overnight and existing contact center agents aren't always comfortable with this new role -- this is where the right experience can provide immediate value. The good news is that just about every contact center has a few agents that can do it and do it well. Make the investment in these people, by giving them the time needed to be involved in the solution to move everyone forward. This is a small investment in time and resources when you consider the potential impacts:
How 1% increases can add up to big dollars:
How selling just 50 cents more to those that already buy impacts revenue:
As with the Utilization example, the new revenue is added every year and will grow as the numbers of contacts grow. These examples give contact center managers a way to not only get the "buy-in" but also maintain it throughout the entire process. You'll also have a solid foundation for measuring the program's success and communicating the impacts to the front line to get them excited about the next focused initiative.
Once you've got the commitment, what next?
The first step is to get you front line employees to tackle a problem or opportunity -- this can be done by selecting a group of front line agents to "lead" an initiative. This is different from being part of a focus group or providing feedback -- they own it, guide it, and work with their peers for input. There is no one in your company who understands your customers and the questions they ask better than your frontline agents. So why not let them be the ones to develop the plan for solving problems or creating opportunity? If you go in with a structured framework or recommendations, they'll know right away that you have an "agenda" and their creative energy will be reduced.
Show them that you're investing in them and have an expectation to "return" something to the company by way of this investment in time -- better service, improved efficiencies, happier employees, etc. But most of all, show that this is their time and team by taking a few simple steps:
Making an investment in your people can have long-lasting benefits for the organization. Once the entire organization understands the wealth of information available from frontline call center representatives, you'll have increased visibility for the center, plus companywide respect for your staff. Help your company to discover the hidden talents and skills possessed by your agents -- leadership, project management, teamwork and more. The best in the business know their agents are the secret to their success and do everything they can to leverage this competitive advantage.
Tim Montgomery is a highly regarding industry consultant and founder of TheService Level Group - a contact center focused management consulting firm. Tim has helped transform some of the most recognized and respected service organizations in the world. He can be reached directly email@example.com or visit their web site www.servicelevelgroup.com.
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