Every contact center has a plan for how they want to handle each customer interaction. Given the complexity of any given interaction, having well-informed and capable agents, as well as a seamless technology environment, are key to executing each interaction successfully and delivering fast, accurate, and uniform service that leaves your customers with a favorable impression of your company.
Obviously “fast, accurate, and uniform” is easier said than done but when your service is slow, inaccurate, and frustrating for customers, it’s not always a people or a technology issue. In fact, we find that poor customer service is often the result of poorly defined processes and that fixing those processes results in significant improvement in overall contact center operations.
The 80/20 Rule for Underwhelming Service
When establishing the process for handling a particular call type accurately, a lot of contact centers subscribe to the 80/20 rule of process definition: 80% of the process is defined and the remaining 20% is so complex or is needed so rarely that it doesn’t seem necessary or feasible to document it. That remaining 20% though is a significant risk to performance because agents are left to make their own interpretations or they end up asking each other for guidance which could propagate the wrong process. Often, we find that among that 20% of poorly defined calls are often call types that management never even knew they had because their audits were relatively sporadic, and the audits just never caught that issue.
Signs that Your Contact Center Might Have Poorly Defined Processes
There are a lot of symptoms that your process isn’t well-defined. You might look at these problems and think these are all people or technology problems but with well-defined processes, you’ll see most of these symptoms become less acute.
- Sticky notes, notepads, and binders. Any time an agent uses a workaround such as these, it is an attempt to define (or just remember) a process that is unclear.
- High call escalations. One option for an agent who gets to a dead-end in a process and doesn’t know how to proceed is to escalate the call to a manager. If your senior team is swamped in call escalations, it may be because your frontline agents just need better guidance.
- Poor metrics, especially hold time. Another option for an agent who is unsure how to proceed is to put customers on hold while they try to interpret the best way forward. Obviously, this has serious implications on hold time, overall handle time, accuracy.
- A long list of FAQs. It makes sense that if you have a lot of frequently asked questions, you can put together a list of FAQs and answers that agents can reference when needed. FAQs are a Band-Aid for bad process though, since eventually (and quickly), a compendium of FAQs will grow past the point where it’s useful and becomes a disorganized and inferior knowledge base.
- Lots of agent alerts. Announcing changes to employees via group meetings or email is an inefficient way of disseminating process changes and is less likely to result in uniform process change the more alerts you have. In our experience, lots of agent alerts often mean that the quality assurance team regularly finds that agents are performing a specific process wrong.
Further reading: 4 Simple Signs Your Contact Center Processes are Broken
Why “Doing the Job Right” is Even More Critical in a “Work from Anywhere” Environment
When working in a brick-and-mortar call center, it’s easy for an agent to look over the cubicle to get an answer from a colleague. Similarly, it’s easy for managers to give an agent feedback because that manager can stop by and talk to them at their desk or arrange a quick in-person conversation. Naturally, a lot of contact centers have come to depend on these built-in safety nets that a physical office provides, but obviously, they don’t exist in a remote working environment.
So, you’ll need a system that will compensate for the disadvantages of a remote environment by:
- Reducing the uncertainty agents face on calls and, subsequently, the times they need to enlist help from others.
- Ensuring that agents are doing the job correctly, even though you’re not able to look over their shoulder on a call.
- Highlight the individuals who need additional training, again because you’re not able see them struggling in person.
- Call out new interaction types that do not yet have defined processes but that are increasing in frequency.
As you can imagine, any system that does all these things is going to be heavily dependent on having highly detailed processes for almost every call type—not just the most common 80%.
There are no Two Ways About It
As contact centers transition to a permanent hybrid model of in-person and remote agents, we’ve talked to a lot of managers who feel that they have a well-established system for managing in-person agents so now they just need to figure out a system for managing remote agents. But this “two system” approach ends up unfairly penalizing or favoring certain agents and makes the job of managing those agents more time-consuming and cumbersome (just imagine starting every update meeting with “those at home need to… and those who are remote will need to…”).
The question managers should be asking themselves is “What system can we create that makes the job the same regardless of whether an agent is in the office or remote?”
That’s the path to creating the ideal work from anywhere environment—make the process of doing the job and managing those doing the job the same. If you have two ways to do the job right, you’re doing the job wrong.
The Case for Starting with Process
Moving to a hybrid model is a daunting task. Lots of managers feel extra pressure to hire agents who are more self-motivated and more able to manage themselves from a remote environment. Others will see moving to a hybrid model as a technology challenge and they will start shopping for software tools that help them manage a remote staff while keeping them productive, engaged, and motivated. We argue that any move to a hybrid approach should start with defining exactly how to do the job the right way. Otherwise, you’re just guessing at how many agents and what technology tools you’ll need.
By starting with process, you’ll have a better idea of how many agents you’ll need to handle current call volumes while doing the job correctly and you can look for technology solutions that reinforce that process in any environment.
Ultimately, the success or failure of a call center is dependent on how clearly defined your process is. Think of it this way: if you could hire the best managers and only the finest agents but the process for them delivering great customer service is missing, your customers are going to get poor service. But once you have a well-defined process for how to do the job right every time, it becomes much easier to accomplish that job and to do so from any location.
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