29 December, 2022
Tactics to turn underperforming contact center staff into superstars
By Steve Dibari and CJ Cardwell , VPs of Operations, Transparent BPO
To deliver a great client experience, you have to have great employee engagement in your contact center.
Passionate and engaged employees will deliver great service while underperforming agents and managers have the potential to drag down an individual program, or even worse, the entire company. With overall business performance at risk, leaders sometimes are required to pivot from client metrics to individual employee performance to ensure a seamless operation.
While it may be easy to assume an employee has lost their motivation, there can be more to the root problem. Perhaps they aren’t receiving constructive feedback, or there’s a life event that is distracting them. Regardless, an open mind is the best place to begin.
The first step in addressing underperforming contact center staffers, from individual agents to managers – including team leaders, supervisors and operation leaders – is identifying the problem. Essentially, you won’t know what to fix if you don’t know what is broken.
Identifying the Issue
This is where data can help.
Contact centers are flooded with an overwhelming amount of data, but you have to know what is important to your client before you narrow in on a specific indicator. Some clients are focused on average hold times, while other clients focus on sales per hour.
If you don’t have the data you need, it’s a telling sign that you haven’t structured your program properly on the front end. This will make it more difficult, if not impossible, to identify the true issues impacting performance. This is where you listen to calls, review emails, or chat transcripts to give you the insight you need. There is no prescription on the number of calls or emails/chat streams you should review; you dig in until you have the information you need to determine where the true problems lie.
Once you’ve identified the issues, you can get to work to fix them but first, you have a decision to make; is the employee’s heart and soul in the game enough to justify your investment? If it’s an experienced agent or leader, then you and the company are already heavily invested in the success of this employee. They’ve demonstrated their value in the past and can continue to provide exemplary service with additional coaching or training. Or perhaps they’ve grown stale in their role and need new or additional responsibilities to renew their inspiration.
- Step Goals. If that employee is worth the investment, remember offering vague or generic suggestions – like telling them to be more responsible may not be constructive. A better approach would be to share specific examples of how to improve. This requires specific performance step goals with clear expectations and timelines.
- Mentoring & Personalized Training. However, if there is a mismatch between the employee and the role – likely a newer recruit with less than six months tenure – you have to decide if additional support will help correct this individual’s performance. If so, then sometimes employees simply lack the skills to do their best, which can make personalized training an option. Additional training and mentoring can assist with tracking progress which will help you to evaluate your decision to further invest in them or not.
- Money Talks. Sometimes ongoing financial incentives or compensation – such as performance commissions or bonuses – ensure agents and their managers maintain performance standards that rank in the top quartiles. Ensure you’re rewarding and incentivizing employees based on the metrics that matter to your client. Target incentives toward key result areas to motivate your agents to work on these priority metrics. In addition to compensation, sometimes recognition can help course correct a wayward staffer. Formal recognition from leadership as well as from peers provides positive reinforcement for employees who may recognize how they contribute to the company’s overall performance.
- Disciplinary Option. If compensation, recognition, or a change of pace doesn’t motivate the underperforming employee, then disciplinary action can always be explored. Clearly, this is never the starting point but if the root issues are failure to follow procedures or policies, then sometimes disciplinary action is the only recourse for a leader, and it’s never an option to be taken lightly.
- Accountability. After a thorough review to identify the issues and remediation, the final step is following through with accountability. As in the earlier steps, it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. If the agent’s or leader’s performance degradation was short-term, then monitoring or incentives may not be necessary to return them to average or above-average performance. Occasionally, simple but sincere recognition is all that’s necessary to improve employee engagement. Some employees strive – and then thrive – when their work is recognized by their managers and peers.
- Feedback. To ensure your measures resonate with your team members who benefitted from this special attention, a constant feedback loop is recommended. Often, employees can feel disconnected from their job and the company because managers, though unintentionally, may be poor communicators. If employees don’t know how their performance impacts the company, their work might degrade again because they think their job is negligible. By recognizing performance, they’ll know that their contribution is valued.
Steve Dibari leads Transparent BPO’s Philippines operations and CJ Cardwell leads our Jamaica operations.