In response to quarantine efforts geared at quelling the spread of COVID-19, many companies made the adjustment for departments or entire business operations to operate remotely. Some companies are now remaining remote while others have adopted a hybrid workforce model, giving employees the choice of returning on site or continuing to work from home.
This shift has proved challenging to many employers in managing and supervising workforce performance. With supervisors and call center reps no longer working in the same building, it can be difficult to identify who is excelling and who needs additional coaching to meet company key performance indicators (KPIs).
Whether remote or in person, KPIs should be customized to each company's particular needs according to industry and company goals. Keeping a pulse on these metrics — such as handle time, schedule adherence, after-call work and customer satisfaction — are crucial to driving call center performance and evaluating the overall effectiveness of your team.
Aston Carter's Senior Manager of Managed Solutions Lori Weber and Client Solutions Manager Jaci Stephan share how call center supervisors and leaders can invest in their employees to yield consistent improvement in performance metrics.
Exceptional call center performance starts with getting the right employees in the door. While rigid expectations for years of experience and technical skills will narrow your candidate network and eliminate otherwise strong candidates, it's important for hiring managers to screen for those who have transferable experience, adaptability and ability to execute.
While prior experience as a call center rep helps build key skills that are desirable to employers, considering candidates who have transferable experience outside the call center is a good option for companies looking to attract a wider pool of candidates, which is especially beneficial in today's tight labor market.
To make sure candidates without prior call center experience are on track to succeed and regularly meet KPIs, hiring managers should seek employees who have general experience interacting with customers, effectively navigating difficult conversations and issues, and finding solutions to drive positive outcomes. Regardless of the specific nature surrounding of their experience, these skills will translate well to a call center role.
In many cases, the right personality and willingness to adapt can be more important to screen for than experience. Since many call centers now operate remotely and hard-to-find top performers expect flexible work options, it's important to know your employees will be able to adapt to different work environments and won't need to be monitored closely to be successful.
"In the current labor market, candidates are (to an extent) in a position to demand remote work options. In order for companies to positively respond with flexible opportunities, they need employees who are highly motivated and able to adapt to working with teammates and supervisors that are often spread across multiple locations,” Weber says.
Not all candidates have had experience working remotely, so during the interview be sure to ask questions to find out how they would stay organized, motivated and communicate with co-workers and supervisors while working from home.
Additional soft skills to screen for include:
These attributes are central to delivering a positive customer service experience. In particular, adaptable and goal-oriented candidates often translate to reliable employees who will commit to your company and provide long-term value.
When it comes to capacity for executing daily job functions in a remote environment, it's important to find out if candidates have access to the resources they need to be successful. Stephan recommends that, “Hiring managers ask what their home office is like and if there are any distractions in the vicinity. Having candidates perform an internet speed test is also a good idea to make sure they have the bandwidth to get the job done.”
It can be difficult to procure an ideal workspace in a home office environment, so employers should be aware of any obstacles a potential employee might face when working from home. Companies that are willing to work with new hires to address logistical concerns and propose solutions will provide a more effective and supportive onboarding experience, which will encourage retention and performance.
Once hired, providing IT resources including a specialized department that new employees can connect with to troubleshoot any issues is extremely beneficial in promoting efficiency and seamless execution of daily work activities.
Once you find the right candidates for your call center, it's important to know how to keep them. Quality Assurance and Training Connection finds that turnover within call centers averages 30% to 45%. The actual numbers vary widely from company to company depending on factors such as types of calls handled, onboarding initiatives, employee engagement and individual performance. In many cases, assessing where your attrition is coming from and how to address it can greatly impact your call center's ability to meet KPIs.
Stephan points out that “attrition can have far-reaching impacts across the entire workforce. Not only can losing top performers immediately result in diminished call center performance, but it can also have down-stream effects on workflows and morale. When large numbers of employees leave, workloads and stress levels often increase for your remaining call center reps and result in increased wait times for your customers.”
Additionally, when high-performing employees quit, peer mentorship opportunities are negatively impacted, and remaining employees are at risk of following those leaders out the door. If you're able to retain your tenured workers, you'll benefit from having senior employees on board who understand your culture and can better meet KPIs. They can also support newer hires and inspire them to meet performance metrics.
Weber states, “A key to reducing attrition is making employees feel valued. Employers can consider building in a layer of retention by offering bonuses that are either based on meeting KPIs or staying with the company for a specified length of time. Providing incentives for improved performance and communicating how employees can grow in their careers will help motivate them, and motivated call center employees result in increased retention and performance.”
Clear communication around career growth and development is another strong motivator for improved retention. If promotion opportunities are available, be sure to let your employees know what potential career trajectories look like and what performance metrics they should aim for to get to the next level. Career-minded employees are typically goal-oriented and committed to achieving company KPIs.
Companies that provide adequate training for their call center employees, particularly around KPIs tend to see better results in enhancing customer service and overall call center performance.
Although many companies are tempted to cut back training hours so call center reps can be productive as soon as possible, Weber stresses, “the length of your training program isn't as important as understanding what you're hoping to accomplish. Training timelines should be tailored according to your goals, not vice-versa. So, if you want your employees to meet KPIs out of training, you'll need to give them enough time so they're clear about the performance parameters they're expected to meet — and how to meet them. Sometimes that means slowing down to speed up.”
It's also important to train employees on why it matters. Customer service reps are often the first human-to-human contact a customer has with your business. They make a huge impact on your customers' experiences by solving problems and personally connecting them with your brand. Communicating this higher purpose will motivate call center reps beyond what can at times feel like a thankless job.
In a remote environment, supervisors can't stop by an employee's desk to instill a sense of purpose or provide in-the-moment feedback, which could delay real-time behavior and performance improvements. Companies should therefore build an infrastructure that allows supervisors to provide regular feedback and morale building that encourages employee development.
A good place to start is by instituting weekly / monthly employee touchpoints and regular performance scoreboard reviews that reinforce expectations around KPIs and provide a forum for discussing practical steps to improving performance. Since motivation leads to improved retention, implementing fun competitions and recognizing high performers at team meetings are other great ideas for keeping your team engaged and excited for the job.
Stephan advises that call center supervisors who become more intentional about building their teams up and encouraging relationship building will foster a more functional work environment. As an example, she states, "Companies have found that when they include a virtual morning huddle, both retention and customer satisfaction rates typically improve. The key is to actively promote engagement between team leaders and co-workers.” Even small, yet meaningful regular touchpoints and team meetings can go a long way in developing culture and positively impacting call center performance.
If you're seeking to improve the performance of your call center but currently lack the internal resources to jump start a revival of your program, you might consider partnering with a services provider for support. When it comes to enhancing management capacity and building out training, retention and performance initiatives, many companies turn to outsourcing options, but find they lose control and visibility over core functions and performance details.
Another option is to consider a managed solutions provider that can guide you in defining meaningful KPIs and building a solution to drive program and team performance — while helping you maintain visibility. The right managed solutions partner will have knowledgeable program and client solutions managers who have significant expertise managing customer support functions and bring best practices and continual improvement to your programs.
To learn about how Aston Carter can help elevate your call center's performance, reach out to Aston Carter today.