Increasing Agent Engagement and Retention in the Contact Center

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I’ve recently attended several contact center events, where one of the key topics of discussion was the high cost of agent turnover and the need to improve agent retention and engagement. While this has been a challenge in contact centers for some time, there are new aspects of the agent’s role that must be considered. With knowledgeable customers taking advantage of self-service tools, they now reach out to agents when more information is needed or a situation is too complicated for self-service. This means agents are often engaged in more complex scenarios, and require information and data from across the organization in order to effectively resolve customer inquiries. With customer care expectations continually rising, how do we set agents up for success and keep them happy and engaged?

Turnover in any organization is expensive. In the contact center it is markedly so, due to the multitude of systems, processes, and types of interactions that agents need to manage every day. Mastering everything that’s required to deliver a consistent customer experience requires agents to be up to date on product knowledge, systems used for managing customers, plus the processes involved in handling different types of requests. This adds up to a considerable learning curve that requires a lot of time and training.

Agents have a challenging and not always rewarding job. When overwhelmed by the complexities of their role, they are inclined to disengage, and this greatly impacts productivity. If left unresolved, contact centers run the risk of agents giving up altogether and leaving, resulting in even higher costs to the business. So it stands to reason that engaged agents – those who are enthusiastic about their work and workplace, who have tools to minimize the complexity – help propel the organization forward and can increase profitability.

According to the Gallup 2017 State of the American Workplace report:

“employees who are engaged are more likely to stay with their organization, reducing overall turnover and the costs associated with it. They feel a stronger bond to their organization’s mission and purpose, making them more effective brand ambassadors. They build stronger relationships with customers, helping their company increase sales and profitability.”

Contact centers today recognize that attracting and retaining high performing agents is critical, but many aren’t sure how to accomplish it. This Gallup report states that engaged teams show dramatically higher job retention rates and lower absenteeism, 17% higher productivity, and contribute 21% greater profitability.

What Makes an Employee Engaged?

Though a challenging question to answer across the board, some of the crucial elements related to employee engagement, particularly agent engagement, include:

• Employee recognition
• Open communication
• Technology and tools that reduce complexity
• Contextual understanding of their contributions
• Collaboration including tools for effective teamwork

Any organization interested in increasing agent engagement should explore how these elements might be interwoven throughout the fabric of the organization and corporate culture. What we live day in and day out with customers are repeatable processes that can be supported with technology that sets agents up for success.

The Role of Contact Center Software

When looking to increase agent engagement, it makes sense to evaluate and improve the quality of the agent experience, and to ensure that agents aren’t negatively affected by the technology used by your contact center.

Employee Recognition

Make sure there are reports on agent performance that provide insights into individual accomplishments as well as identifying areas for growth. For example, reports on Agent Solve Rate, i.e. how successful is an agent in resolving a customer request correctly on the first interaction?

Solve Rate is the agent version of tracking and reporting on First Contact Resolution (FCR), with FCR being the metric for the contact center and customer. The value in reporting on Agent Solve Rate is that it measures what is within that agent’s control and is reasonable to measure them on. What do I mean by that? Well, an agent can’t control whether a customer has contacted the center before, but they can and should be able to control whether they resolve the current contact inquiry.

Agents appreciate being evaluated and rewarded on solve rate, and as agents improve their solve rate, the contact center and the customer will benefit via increased First Contact Resolution.

Open Communication

Easy-to-use tools enable supervisors, teams and agents to offer assistance and support to each other with visibility into tasks and status of queues. This includes tools like agent/supervisor chat, or chat consult/conference, along with providing agents and supervisors visibility into what’s happening with the queues and what each individual agent has been able to complete during their shift.

Technology and Tools that Reduce Complexity

Set agents up for success with fully integrated applications so that all customer information and tools are within a single agent desktop, and provides the ability for agents to view the entire customer journey for a better CX.

As complexity of the requests increase, so too will the information that an agent needs in order to understand the customer relationship and history with the organization. The number of systems that an agent needs to access in order to resolve a customer request will also increase.

Contextual Understanding of their Contributions

Help agents see the significance and impact of their work by empowering them with real-time queue information and statistics, and of course metrics like solve rate.

Collaboration Tools for Effective Teamwork

Provide tools for supervisors to communicate with agents and teams, and for agents to seek assistance and share knowledge.

The Impact of Agent Engagement

When you drive agent engagement, you drive agent retention. Consider the following quote from the Gallup report:

“In high-turnover organizations, highly engaged business units achieve 24% lower turnover. In low-turnover organizations, the gains are even more dramatic: Highly engaged business units achieve 59% lower turnover. High-turnover organizations are those with more than 40% annualized turnover, and low-turnover organizations are those with 40% or lower annualized turnover.”

Conversely, the highly engaged teams featured in the report achieved a 10% increase in customer metrics and a 20% increase in sales.

Brands and customer experience benefit from an improved agent experience. Through agent empowerment, the right agent desktop and tools, along with team collaboration and moments for training, customers benefit from an improved experience and consistent, quick resolution.

Outlook for 2018

As we approach 2018, contact center attrition is still a major concern and is likely to remain so. According to Gallup, “the U.S and the world at large is in the midst of an employee engagement crisis”. However, organizations can view this as an opportunity rather than a foregone conclusion – the opportunity to tap into agent potential and foster enthusiasm and commitment that benefits the entire organization. In 2018, I recommend that leaders in Customer Experience actively look at what is being done to help agents find value and satisfaction in their work, inspiring them not only to accomplish more, but to even become ambassadors of the brand they represent.

So the take away is that although agent engagement involves more than just technology, when you consider the agent experience, make sure the tools you offer them are an integral part of your overall strategy and that they support increasing agent engagement and success. If they do, your agents will be in it for the long haul.

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