3 Steps to Optimize Contact Center Employee Performance

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In many industries, high-performing contact center associates are critical to organizational success. These employees are often the front lines of your business, the voice of your organization. When they succeed, your whole business succeeds, which is why optimizing employee performance from the start is so important.

A study by American Express found that 76 percent of U.S. consumers believe companies do not value their business and do not go the extra mile to retain it. Worse yet, 78 percent said they had canceled a purchase due to bad customer service. So clearly there’s a lot at stake here.

But annual associate attrition is often as high as 50 percent, if not higher. At the same time, recruiting and training new employees is expensive and time-consuming, with no guarantees that it will result in acquiring a productive, long-term contributor to your work force. Despite this reality, many companies continue to evaluate each step in the “street-to-seat” hiring and training process individually, rather than considering all the stages—i.e., sourcing, evaluating, hiring, training, nesting, and production—as one unified effort to optimize employee performance.

There are many reasons for this. One is that each step in the process is typically managed by a different department. For example, hiring is controlled by human resources, while training is handled by learning and performance and production is managed by operations. Another reason, which is a by-product of the first, is that hiring, training, and production data are usually stored in separate systems, often with no easy way to link them. And, of course, three different departments mean three different sets of objectives and three different definitions of “success.”

This situation creates a disconnect that results in a sub-optimal process that stunts organizational performance. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are three ways to optimize hiring and training initiatives.

Step 1: Break down barriers for goal setting and success

The first step in breaking down these barriers is to align the goals and objectives of all departments involved in the process of getting new associates to the production floor. Each department won’t have the exact same goals, of course, but the key is that each department consider the impact its goals have on other steps in the process, both downstream and upstream.

For instance, a recent study by Contact Babel cited poor “personality fit” as one of the top drivers of contact center attrition. Since even the best contact center manager can’t change someone’s personality, it’s imperative that this be addressed during the hiring process and human resources be held accountable for managing the metric.

Step 2: Integrate data for one single source of performance truth

Once everyone is onboard with an integrated set of performance metrics, the second step is to ensure that progress against these goals can be measured. This can be done by integrating data from all three areas to create a precise measurement tool that can act as a “single source of truth” for all interested parties.

This measurement tool should integrate key data from the three oversight departments. Examples of such data is listed in the chart below:

Data for optimizing employee performance

Department Data (illustrative)
Human Resources
  • Recruiting source
  • Hiring test scores
  • Prior associate experience
Learning & Performance
  • Knowledge Assessment Scores
  • Adherence to training schedule
  • Training call activity (i.e., AHT, QA scores)
  • Call activity
  • Adherence
  • Customer feedback (i.e., NPS, satisfaction, effort)

Linking all this data together can often be a challenge, however. For example, some data might not be available in a digital format. This will require management to weigh the potential value of the data against the effort required to digitize it (costs can often be minimized by limiting this effort to associates hired in the last one to two years).

Another common challenge is the lack of consistent match keys across systems. In our work with clients, we have found success in developing creative ways to link records across disparate systems despite the lack of pre-defined match keys. For example, we often utilize a hierarchical data integration process that can leverage both structured and unstructured data for match keys. Employee IDs or case IDs are the best ones to start with for their direct match reliability, followed by secondary sources of structured data, such as phone numbers or time stamps. For records that cannot be matched in any other way, there are opportunities to use fuzzy logic that can find matches on contact or company name, despite differences in punctuation or spelling.

Step 3: Dashboards highlight the downstream effects of employee performance

Step three is to begin mining this data. A good way to start is through the development of a series of employee performance dashboards. These dashboards can help “connect the dots” in terms of how performance in one area affects performance in another.

For example, you could track how those pre-hire personality tests given by human resources relate to actual performance and attrition data. Do differences in the test scores really matter? If so, which ones matter most and which ones should you consider changing?

Research conducted by Penn State University professor Rick Jacobs suggests that the costs of a bad hire can often exceed three times the benefit of a good hire. These bad hires can be costly not just due to their own bad performance, but also by damaging the attitudes of others and the cultural norms of the group, thereby infecting the performance of their whole team. HR is often responsible for collecting data that reflects many of the personality traits that can be used to foretell such a risk.

You could also begin tracking whether your training programs are adequately preparing associates to take live calls. How do employee performance metrics relate to training performance? Do higher training test scores result in a higher performing employee? If not, you might want to consider changing the training test to get a better measure of knowledge or change the training to focus more on the material that really drives associate success.

These insights help ensure that HR, learning & performance, and operations all understand, through hard quantifiable data, the impact their work has on the downstream performance and retention of contact center associates. And it’s only then, that the real work of optimizing the hiring and training can begin.