Demand for customer support continues to grow not only in size but complexity. No surprise then that 8 out of 10 contact centers plan to staff up next year to service the increase in demand and replace employees they may have lost during the pandemic. Yet, most of these organizations (62% according to Ventana Research) still use spreadsheets to track agent performance for new hires.
This second statistic is troubling because it hints that contact center leaders are stuck using legacy technologies and time-consuming methods to manage their most important assets—their employees. Unfortunately, these outdated practices strain resources, cause high employee turnover, and typically produce lackluster results.
The key to stopping this domino effect is to move beyond traditional performance reviews. Instead, embrace a holistic, future-forward approach to contact center performance management.
In the post-pandemic world, it’s common knowledge that superior customer experience begins with superior employee engagement. But it’s important to understand why.
First, there isn’t just more demand for customer support—customer support itself is more demanding. The pandemic won’t last forever, but the last few years have created meaningful shifts in consumer behaviors that are here to stay. For example, a recent analysis of over 1 million service calls shows that agents are dealing with customers who are especially anxious and frustrated. This same analysis revealed calls scored as “difficult” have doubled when compared to previous years.
This shift in agent mindset means performance management programs will need to account for agents at an individual level. This means integrating personal goals, agent wellbeing, and growth opportunities will be an integral part of performance management in the near future.
It also means contact centers leaders and managers need to welcome open, honest discussions with their agents, in addition to measuring progress against personal goals, not just those of the business.
If you acknowledge that agents are critical to contact center success, then performance management needs to play an active role in the day-to-day operations. This means moving away from measuring output annually or even quarterly. Even before the pandemic, only 38% of hiring managers felt annual reviews could keep pace with business needs.
Instead, to meet the demands of the modern contact center (and the agents working within it), managers need to focus on providing utility. That is, performance management needs to be useful, and for good reason.
In 2020, Gartner compared a sample set of companies where perceived performance management utility was high against those where it was low. They found employee engagement was 14% higher and workplace performance was 24% higher at high-utility companies.
In order to enjoy the benefits of high-utility performance management, metrics need to play an active role in daily contact center operations. Daily shift huddles, toolbox talks, and regular reviews ensure these metrics have context for the individual agent. One-on-one sessions for employees demonstrate concern and reinforce good habits at every stage of career development. Feedback loops provide an additional means to maintain a high-performance review utility.
The scientifically-based “plan–do–check–act” feedback loop puts this into action by helping customer support teams learn from their mistakes and identify good ideas that can be applied elsewhere.
As customer service continues to grow more virtual and interdependent, contact center agents receive less natural feedback from their peers and managers. Implemented correctly, feedback loops provide a healthy counter-weight to this issue and ensure agents remain in lockstep through day-to-day operations.
Another advantage of this “smallifying” approach to performance management is it creates ample opportunities for training.
Most contact centers provide ongoing training at all levels (beyond new-hire training). But training time is limited. On average, contact centers allocate ten or fewer days for annual, ongoing training across all levels. In addition to low frequency, 37% of contact centers still rely on self-study for a majority of their employee training.
While certainly better than no training at all, this approach fails to capitalize on the well-established benefits of continuous improvement, especially when such initiatives are grounded in behavior-based science. Even the best-trained agents fall back on intuition and are unconsciously guided by biases and psychological fallacies when dealing with customers in real-time. In these situations, broad, de-contextualized annual training provides little benefit.
Research by behavioral economists, psychologists, and neuroscientists has produced a far more effective approach to employee training. Their findings support the use of subtle, strategic interventions presented to agents as they engage with customers in real-time (sometimes called real-time coaching). These “nudges” are engineered to guide choices without restricting them. Considering how little a behavioral approach like this costs to implement, the results can be substantial.
For example, behavior economists in England partnered with Virgin Airlines to see which behavioral-based approach would best reduce overall fuel costs. 335 flight captains were separated into four different groups. A control group was told only that their fuel use would be monitored. Another group received monthly feedback on fuel usage. The final two groups each received a variation of the feedback “nudging” approach detailed above.
At the end of the experiment, all three groups performed better than the control. But the two groups who received behavioral nudges performed best of all. As a whole, the experiment saved 3.3 million pounds in fuel costs, savings that dwarfed the costs of the experiment itself.
Whether it’s in the cockpit or in the contact center, it’s clear that for modern performance management to have an impact, it needs to happen in the moment. Fortunately, these modern times have also ushered in plenty of advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) to help make this happen.
That’s where Cresta comes in. Our Expertise.AI™ is taking real-time performance management and behavioral “nudging” to an entirely new level. Learn why, how, and what we’re doing to Supercharge Agents in Real-Time.