Response Design Corporation:Creating the Uncommon Call Center
Kathryn's Uncommon Call Center Blog
February 27, 2006 11:57 AM
Categories: Employee Turnover 
The 21st century employee challenge

You enter the contact center on Monday morning after a restful weekend and all seems right with the world. You begin your day by reviewing the weekend performance statistics. “Not bad,” you say. “Revenue is up. Average hold time is down.” You clear your phone messages—nothing pressing here. There’s no one at your door declaring the sky is falling. You had cleared your “in” box over the weekend; those reports due this week are finished. You take a deep breathe and enjoy a fresh start to the week.

After your computer boots, you check your e-mail. It is here that the day begins to go wrong. Six of your top performers have been recruited by the new call center opening across town. You stare at the screen trying to comprehend the loss to the center. Then, you think about what you can do to stem the tide of defection.

It’s probably already too late to take action. Employees don’t leave on a whim and usually can’t be wooed back easily. Any plan you put together now won’t reverse what has already happened; however, you may be able to change what could become a trend.

Our studies show that a call center with 100 frontline agents can expect to lose 26 percent annually, and a large percentage of the loss is in voluntary termination—the agent leaves for another opportunity. We also know that the average cost per hire is close to $4,000 and the cost to train a single agent is approximately $4,800. In a latter blog entry, I intend to cover the cost of turnover in exquisite detail.

Simply reacting to employee loss is no longer an option. When it comes to stemming the tide, we all need to be proactive. Rather than searching for the “one size fits all” solution, we need to be smart about:
1. market and economic conditions that influence employee turnover;
2. the uniqueness of our turnover (causes, consequences, and cost); and
3. strategies to reduce turnover that work in our situations.

These are some of the issues I’ll be addressing in future entries. You'll be as amazed as I am about the options that we have to turn the tide of employee defection.

Entry logged at 11:57 AM
February 23, 2006 11:11 PM
Categories: Emotion 
Still Buzzing Around?

In the last blog entry we talked about how busyness affects our call center employees.

Well, the research doesn't end there. Customers are able to perceive when we are busy through the time they have to wait in queue or the short answers that they receive. All else being equal, when they perceive busyness, they evaluate the service level lower than when agents have all the time in the world to serve them.

I have good news. Research shows the effect of busyness on customers' evaluations of service quality can be partially mediated by the display of positive emotion by the agents. Agents can change the perception of the customer by being positive.

Even if customers reach agents "fit to be tied" because they had to wait too long, the agents can use empathy and defusing anger skills to address the situation. They can use the "positive emotion" skill you will be teaching them to effectively control their facial expression, voice, gesture, or body movement to improve the customer's impression of service quality.

I've heard it said a thousand times, "It's not the event that makes the customer go away angry, it is how we handle it." Looks like research is giving us plenty of ways to handle it!

Entry logged at 11:11 PM
February 18, 2006 11:09 PM
Categories: Emotion 
Busy as a Bee?

Did you know that research shows a negative relationship between how busy an agent / call center is at the time of the customer interaction and the agent's ability to display positive emotions?

Okay, everyone managing a busy call center and busy agents - raise your right hand. Hmm, I thought so. Most every call center professional I know falls into that category. So what does this mean and what can we do?

I believe a call center environment can be busy without being chaotic. I believe an agent can be busy without being negative. I believe that most of this purposeful busyness is a result of good management.

Consider two different agents working in two different call centers. Both are extremely busy - looking at a customer queue of more than 50 calls. The first agent has been taught that their responsibility is to develop the customer relationship and, if necessary, invest in customer retention activity. There are no blinking red lights on her phone, no supervisors running around telling people about the queue emergency, and no reason for the agent to do anything but ensure a quality, cost-effective interaction with her current customer.

The second agent is bombarded by red and yellow sirens warning of impending doom. He has a supervisor leaning over his shoulder questioning why the call is taking so long. "Sure," the supervisor says, "we're supposed to satisfy the customer but we are in an unusual situation right now. We have to make some adjustments to our standard procedure or else our statistics will not reflect what we want them to."

Which agent is more likely to communicate positively to the customer?

There's no magic. It's all about good management. Not one of us can eradicate the busyness but we can help control the chaos by communicating clear expectations to our agents and managing to those expectations. When an agent works in a well-managed busy environment he or she will be more likely to communicate positively to the customer.

Entry logged at 11:09 PM
February 12, 2006 11:26 PM
Categories: Customer Service 
The Secret of Success

John D. Rockefeller said, "The secret of success is to do the common things uncommonly well." What a strikingly simple concept! The expectation that companies provide customer service is common; how they provide it can make it uncommon. We don't need to create some big, expensive strategy that takes months (if not years) to implement, cost zillions of corporate dollars, and (according to research) will most likely never be completed or fail if it is. We can, however, dissect our routine customer service interactions and brainstorm one or two improvements that would make them uncommon. Once we have taken sufficient time to celebrate the success of these changes, we can brainstorm one or two more.

The first level of service is the minimum that you are required to provide. Make sure you are not missing an essential "table stakes" component of customer service. While customers typically have a difficult time defining this "must have" foundation, they eagerly admit, "I know it when I don't see it." When they are missing, these "common" customer service actions often cause our customers great dissatisfaction.

The second level is uncommon service. Consider how your customer service can become the competitive differentiator for you. Customers continually judge us against our competitors in the routine, every day interactions they have. What can you do uncommonly well within each of these interactions that will set you apart?

Of course the litmus test is the customer. Ask, "What are our customers currently saying we do uncommonly well? In what areas are we still just 'common'?"

Entry logged at 11:26 PM
February 5, 2006 11:23 PM
Categories: Emotion 
Act Nice? But How? (Part 2)

"Deep acting" is the process of controlling internal thoughts and feelings to meet the display rules mandated by management. In deep acting exercises, agents learn that when they become angry with difficult customers, they need to counteract their anger by envisioning the interaction from the customers' point of view.

The reason deep acting work is so appealing is that research says that employees who engage in it experience more feelings of personal accomplishment. Therefore, researchers recognize deep acting as beneficial for both employees and customers. However, here is my warning. Researchers are afraid that all this talk about feelings and their regulation might motivate organizations to treat employees' feelings as a commodity (something it can control to benefit the bottom line).

Research on mood regulation suggests training employees to engage in deep acting techniques. If, indeed, "jobs are not as easily molded as are people," then training agents how to deep act may be an effective means for employees to adjust to their work situations. Giving your agents the ability to act positively no matter what they feel is intriguing and practically useful thought for call center managers.

Have you implemented emotion regulation and deep acting training for agents in your call center? We would love to hear from you if you have found a program that is effective.

Entry logged at 11:23 PM
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