“Spare Me”…

“Spare Me”…

/ Operations, People, Performance Management
“Spare Me”…

Agent Response to Outdated KPIs.

Spare me” is an idiom defined as, “Don’t bother continuing to tell me that; I don’t believe or care about whatever you’re saying.”

This definition runs on a loop for many Contact Center agents these days when listening to feedback by those who think they are coaching. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) built around agent productivity metrics (e.g., number of calls handled) is ineffective and quite frankly outdated.

Today’s frontline agents handle increasingly complex contacts, as many high frequency, low complexity contacts have been shifted to self-service. When agents are busy problem solving while simultaneously being nudged about their call volume, it honestly makes them shake their heads and ask the age-old question: Do you want quality or quantity?

To be honest, you want both. But beating up agents with metric audits is not at all effective and for the most part has become passe. Sadly, what it is, is easy. Metrics are easy to find on a report so it doesn’t take much time to deliver metric results to agents. But is it really helping the customer, the business, or the agent?

I have been thinking about this topic since last week when a friend shared a story from her book club. The story had nothing to do with the book … she shared the rantings of an RN working remotely as a “triage” nurse for a major Healthcare system. The story horrified others in the club. It was a story about her supervisor letting her know repeatedly during her shift of how many calls she had handled and whether she was on track to take the “minimum” 100 calls per shift.

Given the times we live in, this approach seems particularly reckless. Finding and retaining nurses for these critical positions means treating them like grown up professionals and not pieceworkers in a factory. This treatment may trigger a “spare me” moment(s) that leads to high turnover and a great gap for the enterprise. Not to mention the fact that call handle times vary widely but are generally not short.

Triage nurses determine if a patient’s symptoms require emergency or urgent care. RNs make recommendations and referrals for a patient either to the Emergency Department or to the provider. Getting this wrong can create a major liability for the patient and the enterprise. It is foolish to put production above performance when dealing with potential life and death situations.

Needless to say, this RN is actively evaluating her other options. Among her criteria for a new employer is an organization whose focus is on meeting patient needs and assuring that information is accurate and sufficient to make the appropriate medical decision. It is NOT on how many calls she has handled.

What is wrong with this industry? Why do 21st century Contact Center leaders continue to believe and invest in tools that track PRIMARILY productivity rather than actual agent performance? I prefer to refer to this as “contribution.” (Pipeline: March 2022, Go Ahead … Try Something New). I have been in this business for nearly 40 years and I cannot believe that agent productivity metrics are still a leading KPI and mightily defended as an effective one.

When discussing options around using metrics of this type with Contact Center leaders who are totally invested in them, you often hear comments such as, “Oh, so we’re supposed to not care about productivity?” Spare me! This posture means that these individuals are not interested in an honest discussion regarding the impact of leading agent KPIs with number of calls handled or other similar metric targets for Talk or After Call Work.

The fact is that some industry vendors encourage and endorse these productivity measures, often because they promote reports that their system can provide. These do not take a ton of insight or expertise to understand. The question is … Does this measure make anything better for the caller or the agent? That verdict is in and the answer is NO! Measuring calls per agent sheds little light on the actual Customer Experience.

You may be wondering why I feel so strongly about something that at first glance seems to make a lot of sense. It makes sense at first glance because (of course) it is important to understand productivity. But it is HOW we measure and communicate productivity objectives (Pipeline: March 2022) that determines whether we are engaging folks in contributing to shared objectives or simply giving metric feedback to agents as they run the “spare me” chorus in their heads.

One thing is for sure. Smart, intelligent adults in these positions grow frustrated with the entire experience. An agent in a complex business environment shared this message she received from her supervisor via an email coaching: “I’d like you to try to shave some seconds off your calls.” Spare me!

“Your rewards in life are always in direct proportion to your contribution – your service.” —Earl Nightingale, American Radio Speaker and Author

And let’s face it. The caller is often the victim when the agent must deal with competing priorities … having to make a choice between what is best for the customer and what is required for the metric. Productivity metrics date back to the earliest days of telecom; they have no place in today’s Contact Centers.

Want improvements? Focus on your Contact Center. How easy are you to reach? Who contacts you and why? How easy is it for agents to find information? How effective are you at providing Assist and Escalation paths? How efficient is the agent user interface?

Any amount of cut/paste and toggle/keyboard twister consumes seconds that the organization controls and in a much more significant way than agents can control how many calls they take. I could go on but I am like a broken record on this recommendation: FIX processes and tools and ALL agents benefit! Grow an insatiable appetite for streamlining processes. This effort returns more benefits faster and last longer than chasing productivity at the agent level. Supervisors/coaches need to spend time engaging agents in conversations! Far too many supervisors are thrown into positions without enough training to provide actual communication skill enhancement. What may be labeled “coaching” feels more like a “compliance audit” … how many and how long? Spare me!


Always engage agents in your organization’s business objectives, mission, vision, management contributions, and expectations for agents. Enlighten them as to how the Contact Center works, how staffing and schedules are determined, and what data you have and how it is used. When it comes to agent performance, think in terms of utilization and contribution. Use ranges for evaluation purposes and learn to coach. Measure agents via more of a contribution and coaching-based model that engages and retains staff over the long term in today’s complex business environments.

Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen M. Peterson is the Chief Vision Officer of PowerHouse Consulting, a call center and telecommunications consulting firm.
Twitter: @PowerHouse603

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