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How to Win Agents’ Minds and Hearts

How to Win Agents’ Minds and Hearts

/ Strategy, People,
How to Win Agents’ Minds and Hearts

Hint: it takes prioritizing the employee experience.

Simply put employee experience (EX) is what it feels like to be part of something.

Every touchpoint - from the moment someone interviews for the job to when they exit - shapes how they feel about an organization.

The vibe of the physical workspace, the spoken (and unspoken) culture, how effective communications are, the leaders and those on the bench, how performance is managed, and the technology all contribute to an organization’s employee experience.

How an employee perceives the company is based on a collection of small (and big) interactions. All of these interactions ultimately shape an employee’s perception of the organization. And it’s those moments that influence their desire to invest their time and heart into that place.

How EX Impacts the Bottom Line

Employee experience has a notable impact on all areas of company performance. It’s no secret that when an employee is engaged they produce better business outcomes.

In fact, highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability and companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202% (Gallup).

How an employee perceives the company is based on a collection of small (and big) interactions.

Not only that, companies with high employee engagement levels achieve profit margins five points higher compared to companies in their sector. Savvy organizations understand that happy employees make happy customers, and happy customers are how companies drive sustainable growth.

Frontline Employers Grapple With High Turnover

Research from Calabrio shows that 1 in 3 contact center agents consider leaving within just one year. Burnout, frustration over pay, and a lack of growth opportunities, are among the top reasons agents quit.

High turnover rates in contact centers not only inflate recruitment and training costs - sometimes exceeding an agent’s annual salary - but also impact service quality and team morale.

The constant cycle of hiring and training new employees diverts resources from service improvement, while also complicating scheduling and compliance issues. This revolving door of staffing puts long-term customer satisfaction and revenue at risk, making employee retention a critical factor for the bottom line.

If a contact center doesn’t have solid leadership, regular recognition for good work, and obvious ways to move up the career ladder, it’s basically a revolving door for agents.

That’s why having a killer EX strategy is key. A meaningful company culture and a work environment that actually helps agents excel can really make the difference in keeping people on board.

The Dichotomy of the Contact Center Industry

The contact center is a pressure cooker, and agents are constantly juggling multiple calls and customer inquiries, all while navigating technical issues, irate customers, and shifting policies.

It’s easy to burn out in this environment, and agents can often feel undervalued and overworked. But, when an agent is able to help a customer solve a complex problem or resolve a difficult situation, it can be incredibly rewarding. Those moments of success, when the customer is happy and grateful, can provide the motivation and fulfillment that keeps agents engaged and passionate about their work.

Many folks start out in the contact center without fully grasping the daily grind. They may see the job as just answering calls and emails, not realizing that they’ll be hit with back-to-back calls, complex customer issues, and the relentless ticking clock of SLAs. It’s like jumping into the deep end of a pool without knowing how to swim.

Add to that the emotional toll of being the punching bag for frustrated customers, and you’ve got a recipe for burnout. At the same time, there is often no organizational camaraderie like that in a call center.

I spent years running internal and HR communications at GoDaddy (see Figure). And day in and out, as I worked to amplify culture and communication throughout the organization, I was amazed by the spirit of support, learning and solidarity amongst agents. It’s like they’re all in the trenches together, facing the same challenges and overcoming them as a team.

There’s a shared understanding of the struggles and triumphs of customer service, which creates a strong bond between agents. They celebrate each other’s victories, commiserate over difficult customers, and support each other when things get tough.

The constant cycle of hiring and training new employees diverts resources from service improvement...

Contact centers can never forget that the EX is a human experience. Most contact centers have clear performance metrics like average speed of handling to FCR and customer satisfaction scores. Agents endure pressure on the hour to meet their targets, which can contribute to stress and high turnover. Adding fuel to the fire is the lack of clear advancement opportunities.

This is why providing an excellent EX is critical for agent loyalty and customer retention alike. People are more likely to engage when it doesn’t feel forced, and it provides agents with a break from the stress and grind of high call or chat volumes.

Providing agents with opportunities to share what makes them happy and fulfilled outside of work is an easy place to start. It shows leadership cares about the agents as a whole, and not just what the agents can do for the business.

In recent years, new challenges have emerged in contact centers. The COVID-19 pandemic forced roughly 90% of contact centers to shift more than 75% of agents to work virtually from home, and the change happened overnight.

Ashley Anglisano is a senior communications specialist at Agero, Inc., a provider of software-enabled driver safety services and technology that serves 12 million customers across three geographically dispersed contact centers.

“During a time where everything was new for everyone, we were searching for ways to help employees to stay connected when not working in the office,” says Anglisano. “You can only do so many virtual happy hours, and for hourly contact center employees, live on-the-clock social events rarely are an option.”

Anglisano says transparency around company performance, especially during times of change, leads to high employee performance and retention. She adds, “There’s no shame in trial-and-error, and especially during the large shift to remote work, nothing was off the table.”

While the last couple of years have witnessed a shift back to a physical office space, one-third of contact centers expect nearly half of all their agents will continue to work from home. This means contact centers must invest in building an employee experience that drives strong emotional connection and engagement wherever and however employees work.

Inspiring Employees

Excellence is naturally buoyant. There is no doubt that some employees have more influence over others. The influencer impact doesn’t just happen on social media. And finding those influencers—who embody the company culture, attributes and values—and fostering relationships with them, can be a huge advantage.

Once contact centers identify behaviors that exemplify top performing employees, leaders can build a program around them that inspires their peers to perform in a high energy environment.

At GoDaddy, where I worked, the team has done a brilliant job of finding the “GoDaddy Guides” (the catchy phrase they use for agents) who exemplify the culture and can bring others along on a journey. Leaning into recognition and understanding through both simple and complex programs has made their culture one that is unique and celebrates their agents.

Another company that gets it is Zappos. Their EX team understands the difference between knowledge workers and contact centers and what makes agents tick. They understand that employees are fully scheduled, they have quotas to fill, and a certain number of calls to make.

This is why Zappos would send a newsletter out at the same time every day, so employees started to expect it daily and check-in consistently.

Given that agents only have 5-10 minutes to spare, the same newsletter in the same consistent sections succeeded in keeping employees well-informed. Leaders then have to explain why it matters and ensure agents know these communications are tailored specifically to their needs and schedules.

Ultimately, organizations need to connect with contact center employees where they are. How accessible and easy is it for agents to access critical information? The right tools and communications channels can enhance the EX by creating a seamless work experience from start to finish.

This is why it’s vital to design a digital EX with a modern intranet that meets the needs of today’s remote and distributed workforce.

—Carolyn Clark

Where to Focus When Building an EX Strategy

It’s important to remember that not all contact center experiences are the same. What works at one may not work at another.

Some succeed in creating a deeply enriching work culture, investing in every employee from the ground up to make the agent experience a rewarding one. Others are doing it right by focusing on enhancing employee well-being, providing support and training, and recognizing and rewarding exceptional performance.

While gamifying the experience with prizes increases morale, the big opportunity is in celebrating wins. Recognizing employees for hitting performance metrics, honoring milestones like work anniversaries, a great customer call, or improved call times in front of their peers results in associates feeling valued and engaged, better performance and lower turnover.

Employers also need to show up by thinking through employee initiatives and prioritizing holistic wellness and empathy for their employees.

While all of these strategies contribute to EX, the heart of a well-run contact center is a strong sense of community, shared purpose and trust. To succeed, companies need to invest in building an EX that reinforces the organization’s culture and makes employees feel heard and motivated to perform.

Why the Right Technology Matters

In contact centers time is money. And most agents are paid hourly wages. Meaning they are paid when they are logged in and working.

And for many organizations, work does not include connecting, digesting communications, and engaging. Therefore, most employees won’t spend any time on a company intranet as they are constantly being told not to do anything they’re not getting paid for.

...the heart of a well-run contact center is a strong sense of community, shared purpose and trust.

Often, when agents are asked to participate in a lengthy survey, tune in to a company town hall, or participate in a culture activity, they aren’t able to: even if they want to.

These events and activities may also be scheduled when they are off-shift, like during the day when they work evenings, nights, and/or weekends and holidays, and off the clock. You can’t ask them to participate unless you pay them and only if they are available; they too have lives.

With every minute on the job accounted for - including scheduled lunch and breaks - the responsibility of the agent’s holistic experience lies with the organization.

Valuing the contact center experience as much as any other employee experience must be a priority. Including finding ways to pay agents for engaging, connecting and digesting information, and company communication.

Resetting the Experience Priority

Progressive contact centers across the world are finding ways to make experience a priority. They are finding ways to work within the parameters of the contact center roles.

It’s essential that contact center leaders and managers create consistent and predictable ways to deliver critical information to agents.

Here are some examples that we’ve seen work that can be a low lift.

1. Focused huddles. Instead of asking agents to miss a company meeting or catch a replay of the presentation, why don’t executives come to the shift huddle and do an abbreviated version? The managers can then give agents 10 minutes before the start of the shift to leave questions on the intranet where executives can go back and respond.

2. A meeting in a box. Provide a standard playbook for disseminating critical information across the floor. Perhaps every company meeting comes with a short written recap, which gets posted to the intranet with a transcription of the video recording. Instead of missing the meeting to answer customer calls, agents can consume the information when time permits and managers give the okay.

3. Recognition standup. Most contact centers have customers rate both the experience and the agent. Use this feedback to find examples of exceptional customer service and then celebrate - and reward - agents with cash and other prizes at the standup.

Public recognition not only helps agents feel valued and appreciated, but it also helps the entire team see how their work impacts the big picture. Tip: Some intranet platforms offer plug-and-play campaign templates that make employee recognition easy for time-strapped contact center leaders.

4. Intranet. An employee intranet serves as the source of truth for policies, knowledge content, SOPs, etc., but it also acts as a gathering place for the entire workforce. Employees feel like they have a place they belong, albeit virtually, and can connect with their peers.

The intranet becomes a central place to engage with agents who are working from home. It is their source of truth to find out what is happening in their company and to interact with others. And when disaster strikes, the intranet is the communications lifeline to suddenly dispersed workforces.

When the intranet integrates with an agent’s tech stack, it’s easier for them to engage. They cannot be left searching for where to find information and opportunities, especially in a contact center environment where time is of the essence.

Making information and engagement opportunities accessible, in a place, format, time, and location that works for the agents consistently, is key.

A Guide for Successful EX Strategy Deployment

Successful deployment of an EX strategy doesn’t stop at launching new communications or a company intranet. It goes even further to tracking adoption and making ongoing improvements based on results and discoveries. Hopefully this article has provided new ideas and hopefully some inspiration.

...every touchpoint needs to reflect the EX the business is trying to create.

Now pair that with simple guidelines and best practices, and contact centers will be one step closer to creating a new and better employee (agent) experience.

Here are some examples.

1. Create a consistent experience. From recruiting and hiring to training, onboarding, leadership enablement, internal communications, the physical workspace, tech stack, and even employee offboarding, every touchpoint needs to reflect the EX the business is trying to create.

2. Align your employees to your goals. The organization’s goals should be the employees’ goals, but keep in mind, knowing and understanding goals are two different things. Employees need to do more than recite the organization’s purpose and annual objectives: they need to understand how their work connects to it. This creates opportunities to help them view the business’ success as their success.

3. Hire the right leadership and amplify the right influencers. Leadership is a critical component of EX. Those you elect to lead your employees need to have company culture in their sights at all times and be effective communicators. They will be the driving force behind your employees’ engagement and inspiration. Agents quit people, not companies.

4. Invest in EX technology. Organizations should be aware of the contact center agents’ tech stack. How accessible and easy your digital workplace tools are impacts how employees can do their job. If they find themselves blocked by information silos or have to log in and out of multiple apps to access the data they need, they’ll become frustrated and disengaged.

5. Build a culture of transparency. Communication across the board should be transparent, but when you have digital tools that work for the employee, creating a culture of transparency is much simpler. For example, with EX technology such as a modern intranet, it’s possible to make a digital source of truth that all employees access for their information.

6. Listen to employees. Getting feedback from your employees is essential to the success of any EX strategy. Gathering continuous feedback can provide important information and help leadership assess if there’s a correlation between the EX investment and sentiment.

7. Get C-suite support. The C-suite must be hands-on in its employee experience. Many times, it falls to internal communications to get them on board, but if employees aren’t supported by organizational leadership and managers don’t talk the talk and walk the walk, agents’ productivity falls, and the businesses will suffer.

EX and How It’s Measured Go Hand-In-Hand

This last example is a keystone for a successful EX strategy. But you have to accurately measure the factors that go into EX to win over those who must approve, budget, and most critically champion it.

Job satisfaction should be at the top of the list. In addition, the productivity and performance assessments can be indicators of the quality of the EX. Health and wellness, rate of retention, employee engagement, absenteeism, Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS), employee ratings, and customer experience: all reflect employee satisfaction.

While the field of performance and EX management continues to evolve, organizations recognize that measuring and improving an employee’s experience can increase productivity, improve retention, keep employees engaged, and alleviate burnout.

Both actively and passively gathering feedback at every touchpoint is essential for understanding and creating the ideal EX. Without it, how can an organization address issues and eliminate friction?

Carolyn Clark

Carolyn Clark

Carolyn Clark is the vice president of employee experience strategy at Simpplr. A seasoned leader with deep roots in employee communications and employee experience, Carolyn joined Simpplr to help elevate the employee experience by driving innovation and reimagining how employee communication is delivered in today's world.

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