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Tom Hoffman | November 13, 2012

The Contact Center: An Incubator for Continuous Learning

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incubator.jpgOne of the most interesting aspects of an organization's contact center is that it not only provides customers with assistance when it's operating effectively, it also benefits the company in many other ways. It's a hub of continuous customer feedback - feedback that company leaders can and should use to improve customer-facing operations and even internal processes to help make the business operate more effectively and deliver better customer experiences.

Customers are constantly sharing their feedback with us about the good and not-so-good things that companies do for them. Best-in-class companies listen to what their customers have to say, act on these insights, and then share with their customers how their feedback has been used. Exceptional companies also actively seek ways to continuously improve their contact center operations, starting with agent coaching and training.
I was recently reminded of this when I attended inContact's ICUC 2012 conference in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago. During one of the conference sessions, Kristyn Emenecker, vice president of product marketing at inContact, offered some useful advice for coaching agents. For instance, it's important for contact center leaders to define quality management scores for rating different aspects of agent performance to help provide agents with some sort of benchmark to understand how they're being graded in a particular area and why. Let's say an agent received a grade of 3 out of 5 for their level of customer engagement during a particular call with a customer (with 5 being an exceptional score). The contact center manager can explain to an agent that while they scored fairly well, they'd like to see the agent engage customers a bit more deeply in the future, says Emenecker.

Meanwhile, an effective way to reward and recognize agents is by having a senior executive acknowledge when an agent has received a high quality management score or to celebrate a successful interaction with a customer. This is particularly important for agents who spend most of their time interacting with customers but far less time talking with peers and supervisors. "Agents like to know that their interactions with customers matter and that supervisors listen and care," says Emenecker.

Another great way to continually develop agents is by creating a mentoring program between experienced agents and those who need the most assistance, says Jennifer Waite, product marketing manager at inContact. Given workload demands, scheduling short, 15-minute mentoring sessions with agents based on quality management reports and feedback can help agents to identify areas for improvement along with concrete steps for achieving those goals. Still, it's important for mentors to keep the sessions positive and to provide agents the tools they need to make improvements, advises Waite. "If you continually drill down on what an agent did wrong, they'll never feel like they can come back up," she says.

Of course, nothing beats occasional positive reassurance from a supervisor. "It's important to give agents the confirmation that they're doing what you're asking of them," says Waite. For instance, a contact center supervisor might say, 'I passed by and overheard your last call and you really handed X situation great!'

Empowering agents to make critical decisions during moment-of-truth situations with customers also makes a huge difference - both in terms of the customer relationship as well as agent performance and engagement. Says Waite, "If agents are empowered and feel they're part of the process, they're going to work twice as hard."

What are some of the agent coaching and training techniques your contact center finds most effective?

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