Improving agent performance in contact centers in the Middle East
Source: Interactive Intelligence , Author: Posted by BI-ME staff
Posted: Sat November 6, 2010 6:34 pm

UAE. Contact Centers have become very popular in the Middle East!!

UAE. Contact centers face a growing array of media to handle increasingly diverse and complex customer interactions. Customers present high expectations for stellar service, and real-time response with rapid resolution and spot-on answers.

At the same time, centers must find ways to squeeze more out of the workforce without risking burnout and turnover. It’s a tall order, but one that can be addressed effectively with today’s tools and process optimization.

The tools and processes to optimize agent performance are multifaceted — addressing the desktop to handle the contact, and performance tools to measure and monitor. The desktop includes knowledge management (KM) and scripting, as well as agent assistance tools.

A performance tools suite includes quality monitoring (QM), workforce management (WFM), customer feedback, and coaching tools. Another key ingredient is a strong feedback loop that uses those performance tools to drive actions that the individual and team can pursue for overall optimization.

Shaheen Haque, Territory Manager, Middle East & Turkey at Interactive Intelligence responds to common questions on how to improve agent performance in a contact center environment.

His insights on some of the innovative and exciting ways to empower agents to succeed and to optimize the customer experience will assist management in identifying areas for improvement in their organizations.

Q: How does a center get the most out of its agents in today’s complex, demanding world, without risking burnout and turnover?

A: An agent’s job can be incredibly stressful. You can reduce the stress by enabling and empowering agents to play more of a subject matter expert role with proactive mentoring and with the right tools at hand. The benefit is that it allows agents to focus on what can be fun about the job — helping people. A powerful reason for providing these tools is the high cost of agent turnover to the business as a whole. Not only is it expensive to continue hiring and training new agents, a possible intangible cost is damage to a company’s brand from unprepared agents interacting directly with customers.

Q: Many centers measure internal views of performance but fail to look at the customer view. How does a center balance agent performance optimization with customer experience optimization?

A: Sometimes we become so wrapped up in what we’re doing as a company we forget the customer’s viewpoint. It’s important to respond as quickly as possible to optimize performance and customer experience. It may mean having a supervisor call a valued customer back that same day to try to repair the damaged relationship, which means you need to have configurable alerts that come in as soon as the customer survey is completed. It’s important to note that you want to apply rules on how often to offer surveys, and best practices in how you construct the survey so that it isn’t too long. Otherwise surveys can just seem like harassment. Another area to focus on is sharing information with other departments on customers are contacting the organization. For instance, if there is a problem that displays a pattern, talk to the department to see if the problem can be rectified. To a customer, one step better than FCR is to not have to experience the problem in the first place.

Q: What other indicators do agents have about, “How am I doing?” from a performance perspective?

A: These alerts go right to the desktop and can be configured to highlight particular target areas of improvement. Supervisors can easily see who the lowest performers are by reviewing real time stats and historical reports. It’s best to work with the agents as the problems crop up instead of waiting for a performance review, especially if their performance problems could potentially impact customers.

The metrics hit parade
Any center that wants to optimize performance — from both an internal and external view — needs to define the right metrics to drive behavior. Here is Shaheen Haque’s favorites:

• Service Level: A tried and true metric that reflects the customer experience and drives staffing and other decisions. Every center should have a goal for answering a high percentage of calls (e.g., 80%) in a target timeframe (e.g., 30 seconds).

• First Contact Resolution: It’s relatively new, it’s darn hot, and unfortunately it can be tough to measure. But it’s a great indicator of what every customer wants – to have their issue resolved on the first try. So centers need to define how best to measure it, whether through customer satisfaction surveys, tracking if a customer calls back in a defined period of time (e.g., two weeks), agent capturing an affirmative indication, or other means.

• Quality Score:  QM scores may be an internal view but they define the key principles and actions each agent should strive for on each interaction, thus providing a solid base for performance goals.

• Customer Satisfaction: Only your customer can tell you how they really feel about that interaction, so ask them. A few targeted questions can go a long way toward keeping your finger on the pulse of how you’re really doing.

• Cost per Contact: Another metric that can be a bit difficult to measure, but applying a consistent methodology that includes overall costs can help track the effectiveness of the center.

• Schedule Adherence: | Occupancy (also called utilization) | Average Handle Time and its components, Average Talk Time and Average Wrap-up Time | Number of calls offered | Number of calls handled or abandon rate | Forecast versus actual (calls and handle time). These metrics aren’t nearly as fun and exciting as the others that we mention, but they are fundamental to managing a center well and forecasting and staffing to meet the volume demands at a consistent and defined performance level. So they must be part of the hit parade, even if they are only used behind the scenes by support functions.

Q: Most centers today are highly dynamic. They are asked to ramp up quickly to support new products and services. The business goals and competitive pressures can change on a dime, requiring them to cut costs or begin cross-selling. Or, something happens that triggers a peak in volume that they may have little or no time to prepare for. How do we help centers consistently perform in this constantly changing world?

A: Content can be made available for agents internally, via KM or a scripting application, and even for customers externally, via the KM application. It can encourage self-service and reduce overall contact center costs. A supervisor or Content Manager can send out a quick alert notice to the entire contact center, including at-home agents, to notify them that new content is available to cover a rapidly developing situation. Such a “rapid response” program can save a tremendous amount of agent time by reducing research time caused by each agent individually searching for the answer to the new problem. KM can also provide views into trends, such as new topics that should be added to the database to continue to drive down costs.

Q: As mentioned earlier, most supervisors and team leaders in centers struggle to have enough time to coach their staff, even though they know it’s a priority and high value for performance optimization. What are some innovative techniques to deliver the most from the coaching time available? And how can you make more time for coaching?

A: There are tools that can optimize the process of agents requesting assistance from their supervisors when they do not have the skills to handle a particular interaction. They reduce the amount of time involved in the request, and help supervisors prioritize which issues require immediate action. Supervisors can seamlessly choose to use real-time coaching with whisper coaching or chat to course correct and achieve FCR. An added benefit of coaching the agent in real-time is that many people learn more effectively if they perform the actions as opposed to passively listening. Improved learning could lead to fewer escalations in the future, which could give supervisors more time to coach.

Share lessons learned with the group to help everyone improve. You could potentially share parts of a recorded interaction that went exceptionally well. It serves as a way to recognize the agent who took that interaction, and reinforces good performance.

Q: Even though we’ve come very far, centers still face the age old problem of putting the right number of people with the right skills in place at the right time to handle the workload. What can centers do differently and better with today’s technology?

A: The all-in-one systems today make configuration and updates to data such as agent skills less onerous. Correct configuration is essential for proper scheduling to ensure that the right people and skills are available when the interaction arrives. Today’s technology is also in a much better position to track demand and skills needed across different interaction channels. Another area that has improved is the tracking of customer satisfaction ratings, which helps contact center management assess agent performance and reinforce training and coaching programs.
Many companies experience peaks and troughs in demand. With seasonal peaks or new product/service launches, consider combining specific IVR prompts or DNIS to separate out certain types of interactions. Assign skills to cover the topics, and add detailed KM content. For easier areas, it can enable you to bring temporary workers or backup teams up to speed quickly, and for more complex areas, allow you to send those questions directly to trained, senior agents.

Q: Most centers still handle the majority of their contacts from phone calls, but the landscape seems to be changing with increasing email volumes and more web sites offering chat. How will agent performance optimization evolve as the media mix changes in centers?

A: Apply structured processes to your metrics, quality monitoring, and customer satisfaction for all media. Don’t assume different interaction channels can be scored exactly the same way against the same criteria. Be sure to address unique characteristics of each channel. Typing, written grammar, spelling, use of pre-built responses in email and web chat should be considered in your evaluation. Keep in mind that how you handle an email or a web chat is also part of your brand, and the customer experience should be viewed in that light.

Q: A variety of industries face increasing regulatory pressures. Many contact centers are faced with challenges such as protecting personal information, and adhering to scripted statements. What tools can help optimize agent performance in these areas?

A: The most important thing any management team can do is ensure that agents have current information on what they are allowed to do, and on what is forbidden and why. Frequently this material comes in the form of hard copy handouts that are then misplaced, or rapidly become out of date. A scripting interface or KM “canned” responses can be enlisted to guide agents with up-to-date information on procedural questions, as well as to help ensure the right phrases are used, or the wrong phrases are avoided. The centralized nature of these tools enhances accessibility, and fosters consistent, compliant behavior on the part of the agents. Recording interactions is commonplace in such environments to facilitate mentoring and also to prove that an agent said or wrote the right thing if a dispute occurs. As many know, PCI
A: Compliance places its own restrictions on such activity. Staying current with regulation/compliance requirements is critical in today’s environment.
It’s important to include compliance in your quality scoring and mentoring processes as well. It will reinforce good behavior on the part of your agents, and show them that you are serious about complying. Add to that the fact that any auditor will be looking for signs of a good-faith effort on your part to comply. If you can demonstrate a solid track record of scoring, mentoring, and rewarding agents for compliance, it will put your organization in a better position should any infractions be discovered. Questions in your QM scorecard can be marked as “critical” and agents can be failed if they do not adhere to the rules. eLearning modules or instructor-led training should also be supplied for any complex compliance areas to give agents the necessary knowledge to comply.

Q: Of course centers have to be able to make the case for investment with a solid business case or “return on investment.” What’s the ROI on tools to enhance agent performance?

A: Self-service also extends the accessibility of your contact center by making information available to help customers 24 x 7. It can improve a customer’s perception of your company while you’re lowering costs. External facing applications like KM can be accessed by customers directly to improve self service rates, which is lower cost than assisted service. Then, even if the customer needs to connect with an agent, perhaps the contact time is shorter. Both of those improvements impact return on investment. I mentioned compliance earlier, and that is another target for ROI. Using the tools and processes we’ve discussed to ensure compliance can avoid penalties and reduce the costs of ensuring compliance through automation rather than time-consuming manual processes.

Q: All this technology sounds great but if a company faces resource or budget constraints, or need to get something in relatively quickly, which many do, what can they do?

A: You may decide to start out using hosted and then migrate the system to premise-based when your IT department is ready for it. For companies who eventually will want complex, custom integrations, this might be the best strategy. For those who prefer not to take the custom route, staying on a hosted platform might make more financial sense.

Q: Any last points you’d each like to make?

A: This was touched on earlier, but where the contact center and its agents can be empowered to more actively assist customers, the agents are likely to be more motivated. Nothing can fire up agent performance more than the feeling that they really can have a positive impact.

It might involve reporting back to other departments regarding feedback the contact center has gathered, on topics such as product quality or customer satisfaction with company policies, or it might include other departments gradually turning over specific functions to the contact center.

Either way, it allows agents to participate more in what the organization does and have a sense of accomplishment at the end of their work day, which is what we all need to stay motivated in our jobs.

Note. Shaheen Haque is Territory Manager, Middle East & Turkey at Interactive Intelligence.

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