leadership people skills steps to engage agents

Contact center leaders and managers often lament about the high rate of agent turnover. ContactBabel reports that agent turnover rates average 24%, but that 28% of contact center now have to deal with attrition rates of over 30%. This is not surprising yet it is still very concerning. The contact center industry has had notoriously elevated turnover rates for years. The impact on performance and cost has always been great. Yet, we now have a chance to change the agent experience and their desire to leave.

Leaders and managers currently have a renewed interest in the impact on the business of high agent turnover. Specifically, hiring, training, effectiveness, and call resolution take a big hit when agent turnover is high.

I tap into this renewed interest to coach leaders and managers on improving their essential leadership people skills. Key insight: How you treat the agents matters! Therefore, embrace and use the following six essential people skills steps to engage agents and make their daily work experience full of meaning and importance to the business.

1. Ask and listen instead of telling

With so much focus on meeting contact center metrics, leaders and managers can fall into the trap of telling agents what to do instead of asking and listening to their valuable perspectives. (After all, they are the ones on the frontline.) A job where agents are constantly told what to do gives them a sense of unimportance. They feel like replaceable robots. Meanwhile, they are human beings with needs – to matter, to belong, to be heard, and to make a difference. When you don’t meet these needs, morale is low and turnover is high.

2. Allow experienced agents to deviate from scripts to create more of a connection with the customer

Scripts help contact centers train new agents and give them confidence as they start working in real time. As agents become more expert, having to rigidly stick to a script undermines their sense of purpose and meaning with their work. Allowing them to listen to customers and respond in the moment helps the agent’s morale, the customer’s experience, and your business! Of course, you can still have lists of things to never say to a customer to prevent trouble.

3. Applaud more than just meeting the metrics

What you acknowledge, appreciate, and praise is the message you send to your agents. Do you mostly focus on whether they have met their metrics? Is that the primary basis for satisfactory performance reviews? Does that determine pay raises? If yes, they will feel like the robots we mentioned above. That is not a great employee experience. Adherence to rules and speed can turn into drudgery and boredom over time. As a result, agents leave to find a better employee experience in a more interesting type of job.

4. To make the job interesting and meaningful, engage agents’ ideas on how to improve customer service and agent training

The situations that agents deal with all day long are a treasure trove of information about customers and their expectations and frustrations. When you have agents give you their ideas on improving customer service, channels of delivery, and agent training, it makes their jobs meaningful. It tells them that their contact center insights matter to the business. Some contact centers assign the responsibility of improving service and training to supervisors and managers. Yet this is truly a missed opportunity for leading agent morale. Have agents contribute to this process. By doing that you tell them that their insights matter — i.e. they matter! Purpose and meaning are connected to a positive agent experience and high morale.

5. Clear the obstacles that agents can’t clear and ensure they have the information they need

Are there disjointed computer systems making the agents’ work very difficult? Do silos in your business make it nearly impossible for them to get answers to resolve customer problems? Is your telephone system good enough so that agents can clearly hear the customers? Does online chat hiccup and lose information that the customer has already provided? Can the agents easily access the top ten issues customers are having with the latest sale, promotion, or regulation change? Supervisors, managers, and leaders who spend time clearing the agents’ obstacles, providing access to key information, and interfacing with technology departments to ensure solid platforms, give the agents a chance to truly succeed in serving the customers. This is a morale builder!

6. Treat all agents with equal respect and dignity

Basic human respect does not have to be earned. Everyone deserves it. If you treat them in an undignified manner, morale plummets and turnover soars. Lead and manage with emotional intelligence and empathy. It’s key to a positive agent work experience and morale. For more specific examples and information on this step, read my book, Leading Morale.

©2023 Kate Nasser, Somerville, NJ, USA.

About the Author

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, founder of CAS, Inc., has helped thousands of leaders, managers, and front line staff to develop the strongest people skills, leadership, and teamwork for the ultimate in customer service and customer experience. Having started her career working in technology customer support at Johnson & Johnson in 1985, she saw the need for a more specific focus on people skills for success in business. For more than 30 years now, she has combined her rare ability to read people and her broad experience with diverse customer expectations to teach and coach leaders, managers, and staff on how to deliver the best customer service experience. In 2018, Kate Nasser then penned the book, Leading Morale, to address the growing need for a far more positive employee experience.

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