It’s 8:15 on a Monday morning. The lights are on, but where is everyone? Three agents have called in sick, and you’re waiting for four others who were scheduled for 8:00 a.m. Another person tells you they have to leave early for an unexpected doctor visit, and you see calls building in queue. You already know that those who are there are going to get short-changed on their break time, and your hands begin to sweat anticipating the grumbling that will ensue.
Does this sound familiar? Agent adherence is among the top issues that cause stress in the world of supervisors and managers. How does one match the art and science of having the right number of properly skilled people, supporting resources and committed leadership, in place at the right times, to handle an accurately forecasted workload, at service level, with quality? It’s not easy, and often keeps many of us looking for answers.
If adherence to schedule includes both availability and compliance, meaning how much time is available to respond to calls, email messages and faxes during shifts, including the time spent handling customer interactions, and the time spent waiting for calls to arrive, and when agents actually follow their schedules, adherence may seem simple. But then we consider human factors, adherence gets a bit more complicated.
Although some of these maybe a bit exaggerated, they ring true for most call centers experiencing difficulty getting agents to adhere to schedules. Once a call center has determined which of these factors is playing havoc with their goals, they can focus on turning the concerns into strategies for success.
The Impact of Each Individual
When agents are asked about reasons for being late, there are some legitimate issues, such as sickness or emergencies. However, the majority of issues indicate a lack of understanding of the impact one person makes on the overall service level and quality.
These actions can be taken to eliminate this lack of understanding:
1. During new hire training, take20 to 30 minutes and educate agents on the essential steps in resource planning, how schedules are produced and the impact of one person not signed in on time.
2. Be sure phone definition usage is communicated and standardized. Does everyone know what “after call work” means and when they should be in this state on their phones?
3. Establish priorities for agents tasks, so if they’re idle, they know exactly what to focus on. Should they deliver faxes, clear their inboxes or take a break?
4. Train agents on how to look at real-time information and corresponding actions. Let them know the compliance target, and their individual impact onresults.
5. Educate supervisors, agents and schedulers about how much 20minutes adds up to in dollars.
Educate and Inspect What you Expect
Do your agents know what to do, how to do each task efficiently and effectively, why they should be doing it, where they need to be and when, and what happens if they don’t? There is a saying, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll continue to get what you’ve always got.” If your agents are confused about any of the above, then change your pattern for different results.
Inspect what you expect, and you’ll find the majority of people will live up to those expectations. Different people learn in different ways, so offer hands-on opportunities to demonstrate understanding, along with question and answer forums. Share data with your agents. As long as the data is accurate, most people will not argue with it. However, if improvement is required, give options about solutions and actions they can own to make a difference.
One trap many call centers fall into is becoming a “gotcha” culture, or giving time to agents only when they do something wrong. Rather, be a culture of noting the pluses, or what you want agents to continue doing, and put the focus on managing those things to do differently rather on what isn’t being done.
Supervisors and Team Leaders Are Key
Most people do not think about the company they work for, but rather the supervisor, or team leader, they work for. They will respond to their immediate boss, either negatively or positively, depending on the skills and approach of that boss.
Ask your supervisors and team leaders to answer these top ten questions. Don’t be surprised if you get a variety of answers. Most importantly, have a discussion to be sure everyone is in agreement with the answers.
1. What are our established allowances for availability, compliance, service level and quality?
2. How have I communicated these expectations?
3. When was the last time I reviewed them with my team?
4. Are we dealing with problem employees fairly, but promptly?
5. Does our culture enable success?
6. Do we have and use key performance indicators (KPIs) to let each agent know how they are doing?
7. Do we look for root causes of issues, or make assumptions?
8. Do we have a process that tracks adherence by team?
9. Is there a standardized process that enables schedule adherence?
10. Do we plan for shrinkage based on conditions like training, breaks, lunch, meetings, coaching time, research or absenteeism?
Managing non-phone activities is a critical part of the success equation. For example, is there time built in to log on at the beginning of a shift to check urgent e-mail messages or voicemail? Do we have an overflow queue plan in place? Having a plan for how to react when calls spike or drop in advance will have a great impact on the overall success of your agents.
Make the Most of Tools
What you count is what you get, so count the right things. Use tools to “see” what agents are doing, and use them to identify good performers, or consistent patterns of abuse. It is important to give regular and equal feedback regarding adherence statistics and customer satisfaction to all teams. It is also critical that all are aware of the consequences ahead of time for out of adherence behaviors. This avoids the perception that “big brother is looking” and enables agents to take ownership of their behaviors.
Coaching feedback is also crucial to agents’ success. Know what is important to each agent, and allow for options or choices whenever possible. It is important that feedback is clear and positioned in a way so the agent understands your intent and expectations. All feedback can be positive when delivered using the CARE model.
There are four essential steps to giving excellent feedback:
1. Clearly describe behavior
2. Address reactions to behavior
3. Realistic expectations
4. Expected result
Incentives That Matter
Another aspect of meeting your adherence to schedule goals is to focus on what motivates individual agents. If your incentive plan isn’t working, ask for a committee of agents and managers to revamp it. Often, when individuals help create policies, they will buy into it, and help “sell” it to others.
Be sure that your incentives are focused on what’s important to the individual and team, and include both monetary and non-monetary rewards. Start out discussions by saying, “What would happen if we did this?” When agents are asked for input on what works for them, they feel included in the success of the operation.
Interestingly, many agents report that having their direct supervisor or floor manager recognize them for the value they bring to the company is recognition enough. There is a great way to ensure that agents are offered compliments. Put ten pennies in your left pocket. Every time you offer a compliment, switch one of the pennies to your right pocket. Your goal is to have all of your pennies in your right pocket by the end of the day. Try it and watch what happens to the energy of your group and your adherence issues.
We barely have enough breathing room in a busy call center. However, not managing adherence to schedule issues is like trying to put air in a balloon with a hole in it. You need to apply the right tools for the right results. Remember, many of us are more capable than some of us, but none of us is as capable as all of us.