In an era of labor shortages and high wages, contact center managers have a compelling need to prioritize employee productivity. But in today’s contact center world, you can’t have a conversation about productivity without also discussing employee engagement and satisfaction. The two are inextricably linked.
Productivity is important in any industry, but this is especially true in contact centers, where labor accounts for a whopping 80% of the typical operating budget.
To get the results they’re seeking, managers must understand the factors impacting agent productivity. As we’ll discuss, labor shortages and rising labor costs are set against very high customer service expectations. In other words, it’s a pressure cooker in the call center.
So, your workforce should be seen as an asset - an investment that requires careful management not just to maximize its output – but also to safeguard its wellbeing.
Productivity is important in any industry, but this is especially true in contact centers...
You can turn to your managerial best practices and tech advancements for help. Use the right metrics to measure productivity and to ensure agent satisfaction. And enlist the help of technology to maximize your agents’ efforts and optimize your workplace.
Factors Impacting ROI of Call Center Agents
To begin, let’s take a closer look at the external factors impacting the ROI call center managers require from their agents.
The ongoing labor shortage means contact centers are competing with other businesses for workers. What’s going on? In short, the American workforce has shrunk since the COVID-19 pandemic, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce saying that there are 1.7 million fewer Americans working today, compared to February of 2020.
“If every unemployed person in the country found a job, we would still have 3 million open jobs,” writes Stephanie Ferguson, Director of Global Employment Policy & Special Initiatives, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, at uschamber.com.
High Labor Cost
Of course, labor shortages lead to higher labor costs, which is another industry pressure point. Site Selection Group’s numbers show that entry-level call center wages in Tier 1 U.S. cities jumped as much as 25% over the last four years. While that large bump may have been a singular event, inflation and the labor shortage continue to exert upward pressure on wages.
As we’ve discussed, staffing is the industry’s biggest operational cost. So changes in this area have an outsized impact on call center decision-making. This super-charges the need to maximize agent productivity but also changes the ROI of call center technology.
An investment in tools that support productivity, employee satisfaction, and team productivity will pay extra dividends in this environment. More on that later!
Demanding Customers – Difficult Work Environment
There’s another factor constantly at play in the contact center industry: these jobs are difficult and tedious. Anything a manager can do to relieve agent stress is then worth doing.
The numbers back this up. 74% of contact center agents are at risk of burnout, according to a Toister Performance Solutions study. SQM Group says 47% of managers identify high agent turnover and absenteeism as their biggest barriers to running their call center effectively. And agents are feeling the stress.
...agent productivity and customer satisfaction are two sides of the same coin.
At the same time, customer service has never mattered more. Salesforce tells us that nearly 90% of buyers say their experience with a company matters just as much as any product or service they purchase.
So, in a time of labor shortage and employee burnout, we still need our agents – who are often working remotely – to deliver exceptional service. It’s a tall order.
Productivity and Engagement: Two Sides of the Same Coin
To respond effectively, it’s crucial for managers to understand that agent productivity and customer satisfaction are two sides of the same coin. We know that engaged agents have stronger job performance that results in better CSAT ratings and better customer experience (CX). This, in turn, translates into stronger call center KPIs and higher profits for the company.
Having a happy staff also reduces employee churn and lowers onboarding costs, which can be substantial. (It costs about $20,800 to replace an average agent, according to SQM.) Retaining your agents also helps slow the loss of institutional memory: a somewhat intangible asset that nevertheless adds to a company’s value.
Tools to Improve Agent Experience and Productivity
A holistic approach is needed to improve productivity while keeping agents happy and engaged. This is where advancements in tech can make a difference. Here are some tools that can help:
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
This technology takes over repetitive, low-value tasks like data entry, basic self-service, and order taking. In the past, the justification for RPA technology was that it would keep agents focused on high-value tasks. Today, the additional motivation is to keep agents’ jobs engaging enough that they won’t quit.
Flexible scheduling is key to creating an attractive, competitive workplace and WFM technology that lets agents schedule their own time is important. The new generation of WFM software is great and there seems to be constant innovation in this area.
Anything that improves the quality of life for agents is important: including alleviating small annoyances and smoothing out workflows. A good CRM ticketing system gives agents the context they need to resolve issues quickly and prioritize calls effectively.
Gamification speaks to agent motivation and is another way to make the workday more interesting and keep your agents motivated and happy.
Call-Backs and Scheduled Call-Backs
Call-backs and scheduled call-backs keep callers off hold, which improves CSAT, lowers call abandonment, and supports agents when calls are spiking. They also help you squeeze the maximum value out of your agents’ time by shifting call demand away from peak times to times when agents have more capacity, or might even be sitting idle.
Get Your Service Levels Right
We want to put in a special word about SLAs in this context. 80/20 service levels are still very common in our industry, but there are several reasons why that might not be right for your contact center.
...look at your service levels while you work towards maximizing your agents’ productivity.
For starters, the automation tools you’re looking at to promote agent productivity should also have you questioning one-size-fits-all SLAs. If your bots or self-service tools are handling simple questions, then agents are dealing with more complex problems.
In this scenario, calls handled by agents will almost always take more time than things like account balance inquiries, credit card applications, and PIN resets.
An 80/20 service level could have agents rushing through these in-depth calls, lowering your quality of service, and your CSAT ratings: not to mention the negative impact it will have on your agents’ experience. No one wants that. 80/20 also doesn’t speak to the newer channels like chat, SMS, and social media.
Be sure to take a close look at your service levels while you work towards maximizing your agents’ productivity.
How AI Will Impact Agent Productivity
When we think about AI in customer service, we usually start with the low-hanging fruit: automated tools taking on simple, repetitive tasks formerly performed by agents. That is a good use of self-service tools, though, as we discussed, you’ll need to adjust your SLAs to correctly measure agent productivity in this scenario.
But we think the bigger gains for AI in the contact center might be more directly focused on agents. Here are some areas to watch:
Real-Time Agent Support
AI tools with natural language processing abilities can help agents understand customer sentiment and supply real time responses as well as hyper-personalized suggestions based on a customer’s previous interactions.
Real-time translation is an excellent tool for agents who need language support. It has the potential to ease labor issues by opening up a much broader pool of potential employees who are otherwise qualified to do the work but require some simple translation to assist customers. This could be a game-changer.
Agent training is time-consuming and expensive. It takes 90% of contact centers more than two months to get an agent up to speed, according to ProcedureFlow. And more than one-third of contact centers take at least five months to train competent agents.
...investing in agents is money well spent as voice is still the number one channel in customer service.
AI-powered training tools speed up and optimize this process by letting managers analyze all agent-customer interactions to identify agents’ gaps in skill and knowledge. This means they can personalize their training based on real events and company trends, rather than with a pre-conceived curriculum.
And by studying and replicating the habits of successful agents, it will be much easier to help struggling agents increase their competence: and help competent agents excel.
Agents Are Here to Stay
The rise in automation and self-service may have you wondering if investing in agent productivity is worthwhile. After all, aren’t the bots supposed to replace agents? Indeed, investing in agents is money well spent as voice is still the number one channel in customer service. And the World Economic Forum puts customer service in its top 10 list of growing skills.
More than ever, thoughtful investments in WFM and AI tools, call-back software, and better work conditions, are crucial to protecting one of your most valuable assets: your workforce.