August 26, 2013

Leverage Your Most Valuable Asset: Agent Engagement

Gabrielle Doby UWEBC Communications Student Assistant

Barbara Burke

The UWEBC Customer Service Peer Group held a clinic on "The Supervisor as Coach: Strategies and Practices for Improving Agent Engagement" on August 22, 2013. Employee engagement thought leader and author of the game-changing book, "The Napkin, The Melon, & The Monkey," Barbara Burke discussed her approach for cultivating successful customer service centers.

According to Burke, contact centers need to align their approach to delivering customer service with what today’s customers want. Routine tasks that used to require a call to the contact center are now handled online. So when customers today place a call to the call center, they typically have a complex issue that requires personal attention. Today’s customers require more than efficient transaction handling. They expect the agent to listen to their problem, show empathy, take ownership, and in the process make them feel valued and important.

The shift away from focusing only on efficient transaction handling to more on the quality of the customer experience means supervisors have to change the way they coach and communicate with their agents. As Burke said, “It doesn’t take much talent to manage by the numbers. All a supervisor really needs is a baseball bat. Sure, handling customer calls efficiently will always be important. But, if we really want to keep our customers happy and retain their business, supervisors need to focus their attention on helping their agents create the best possible service experience for their customers. By the end of the call the customer should feel their issue got the attention it deserved and that the company valued their business.”

According to Burke, “supervision is a contact sport. If supervisors want their agents to provide personalized support to their customers, they need to do the same for their agents. Simply put, supervisors need to be available and ready to help their agents be successful.”

In order for agents to help customers, supervisors need to meet the needs of their agents. Burke suggested supervisors:

  • Get out of their offices. Spend at least 50% of their time out on the floor working their agents.
  • See their role not as a "firefighter" or performance enforcer but as a caring coach and mentor.
  • Focus coaching conversations on what the agent is doing right, not what’s wrong.
  • Be aware that some agents may never “get it.” If they aren’t a fit for the job, it’s time to move them out.
  • Need to understand that agents should be recognized by their supervisors for their contributions.
  • Realize the best way to build trust with agents is to get to know them and show you care.

"Ultimately, happy agents create happy customers,” said Burke, “Creating a work environment in which agents are happily engaged and committed to creating the best possible experience for their customers isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s smart business. Customer-centric contact centers have lower turnover, higher customer satisfaction, better first call resolution, reduced handle times and lower operating costs.”


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