Contact Center Performance Management – Maintaining Motivation Through the ‘Inflection Point’

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Have you ever noticed how new hires will start their jobs with enthusiasm and genuine excitement? With fresh objectives and a new team, as well as a set of new products and processes to learn, its hard not to become inspired to give it your best at your new job!

Then something mysterious takes place around the three-month mark; blame it on an anti-climactic probationary review, a reality check, or just a general pause after so much optimism, but the phenomenon is palpable. And it leaves most managers scratching their heads.

Was this a bad hire? Did I miss some kind of warning sign?

Work is getting done, but maybe there is a lack of energy being put into daily tasks. Deadlines start slipping, albeit for reasons that seem, well, reasonable.

The elements of contact center performance management

What is contact center performance management? In essence, it is the ongoing process of communication between a supervisor and an employee that occurs throughout the year, in support of accomplishing the strategic objectives of the organization(hr.berkeley.edu). Naturally, while that definition sums up the spirit of performance management, there are a lot of moving parts involved, and a more formal breakdown of the elements to maintaining a steady workforce and contact centre management software would include:

  • Planning work and setting expectations
  • Continually monitoring performance
  • Developing the capacity to perform
  • Periodically rating performance in a summary fashion
  • Rewarding good performance
  • Correcting poor performance

And, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (opm.org), a supervisor has mastered contact center performance management only when the following has been accomplished:

  • The supervisor has created an environment where employees have the greatest opportunity to reach their full potential
  • Employees are trained and have the skills required for current and future positions
  • Employees are included in decision making affecting their job
  • Communication is taking place at the beginning, throughout and at the end of each appraisal cycle
  • Employees are recognized for a job well done
  • Employees are helped when falling below standard and held accountable for poor performance
  • Employee surveys confirm supervisors’ competency is mastered
  • Employee goals are achieved
  • Finally: Organizational goals are achieved

Do employees and managers see things the same way?

Not according to published reports from the popular website salary.com. There seem to be a dichotomy with respect to the perceived dynamics existing in the typical American workplace. Two survey results posted to the site were especially jarring:

  • 82% of managers believe they provide clear goals to their employees prior to their formal performance review, but only 46% of employees say the same.
  • 83% of employers say that they include the input of their employees in the review process but only 43 % of employees feel their input is valued and included.

Based on an accumulation of studies reported on since the mid-1990s, Gallup findings revealed the primary determinant of an engaging and high-performing workplace is the manager. Wide variation in most organizations occurs across teams and business units. People leave managers more than companies. More recently, Gallup has reported that as much as 70% of the variance in the employee engagement of teams can be traced back to the influence of the manager — through the manager’s engagement, behaviors as observed by team members and the natural wiring of managers.

But these findings don’t mean that managers are the sole determinant of engagement. Each employee can play a role in his or her engagement by choosing to use his or her individual strengths every day. And unless individuals assume some ownership for their engagement, the efforts of the best managers may have limited utility. In environments where managers are miscast in their roles, the individual has to take ownership.

Building sustained performance in the Contact Center

The concept of an “inflection point” in employee motivation has been well-established by workforce management studies and psychologists alike, and in contact centers, where customer service, attention to detail, and operations that rely heavily on KPIs are the foundation of a profitable business model, the negative consequences of a disengaged agent will affect the entire organization, starting with lowered team morale, stagnant performance metrics, and a drop in operational efficiency, often leading to higher than average agent attrition.

The question is, how can the inflection point, or downturn, in agent performance be eliminated?

First, what is an inflection point?In a business context, it is defined as a time of significant change in a situation, or a turning point. The situation in question can be performance, motivation, or any measurable benchmark.

 Untitled-15.pngIn the sample chart above (created by nGUVU to illustrate the effect of the employee engagement inflection point – contact center agents), the point of inflection represented by the red line shows the natural cycle of stagnation of a new hire, in our case a contact center agent, after approximately 3 months on the job.

The yellow line represents operating costs of a typical contact center. Where the red and yellow lines meet, the combined effects of micromanagement and lower employee engagement contribute to the beginning of a declining return on investment in capital expenditure. In other words, declining agent productivity will now start costing the contact center money, leading to decreased operational efficiency.

By contrast, when a formal workforce performance plan is implemented, represented by the white dotted line, the trend is reversed, and agent productivity, fed by sustained workforce engagement, continues to grow, as the agent strives to take on new challenges, meet and exceed objectives, and benefit from the collaborative environment that has been created.

 

“according to Gallup research, the primary influence on employee engagement comes from the weekly — and even daily — tone that the manager sets.”

According to Pascal Leclerc, a contact center veteran with 15+ years of experience (interviewed via Twitter during the weekly #ICMIchat – @paslec1925) “Almost every survey highlights the high priority of employee engagement for organizations — especially as a leadership pain-point. But how much is leadership actively doing to lead this effort?”

“For those of you who don’t think engagement is a problem, consider this:”, continued Pascal “typical contact centers spend a lot of money and effort to put in place systems and software to track and manage agents down to the minute.  While this is necessary to track KPIs and performance metrics, if an agent or team start to feel unfairly targeted, it can lead to a huge drop in morale. But at some point every company reaches that point where productivity stabilizes or even decreases due to lack of engagement or micro-management.”

Other daily challenges are easily identified and well established in contact centers, specifically, chronic absenteeism, poor performance, poor schedule adherence and low motivation are all symptoms of a lack of engagement, ultimately resulting in agent turnover.

“Extending and improving the agent’s life cycle in your center is the objective. I believe that the most successful contact centers are the ones that recognize the value of agent engagement and understand its impact on productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction.” Concluded Pascal.

5 steps to Building High-Performing teams

  1. Focus on the organizational mission. Mission-driven teams perform better because they are contributing to a larger cause or objective.
  2. Create a continuous-learning environment. When agents on a team are provided with a culture of continuous improvement, andare challenged at their own individual pace, their progress contributes to an overall progression for the entire department.
  3. Use team-based reward systems. Combined with individual rewards, such as promotions, raises, and/or bonuses at the expected interval, team incentives are a powerful motivator and build trust among agents.
  4. Encourage tenure. When under pressure and dealing with complex tasks, it takes a lot of time for team members to learn to work together at an optimum level. Sports psychologists have affirmed that stable teams win more often as cohesiveness during play is superior.
  5. Provide constant feedback. Teams need to know how they are doing in order to stay motivated and to address areas for improvement. Ideally, a system should be in place so that team members receive ongoing feedback while doing their jobs. For instance, if an agent receives feedback that surprises them at their bi-annual review, management has failed to provide the proper building blocks to promote superior job performance.

Contact Center Performance Management in a nutshell

When bringing all the building blocks of performance management together, remember to keep things light, engaging, fun. Keep your eye on the target (or targets, if you are visualizing the KPIs by which your contact center is being measured), but don’t be too formal, or you will lose precious time managing administrative tasks instead of your operations.

The easiest way to accomplish all of this is to incorporate performance management, whether on a whiteboard or via a specialized application, within your mission-critical contact center apps.

Remember, if your team is onboard with your performance management program, nothing can stop them.

This blog is a creation of Mr. Jean-Marc Robillard, Marketing Manager, nGUVU. Jean-Marc Robillard is a product marketing professional currently working for nGUVU from their Montreal office. He has consulted on technology trends for the last 15 years with several organizations both large and small, including Oracle, Kronos and Vircom, and was also a member of the Techstars Boston 2016 accelerator program. He is passionate about both customer and employee engagement, and believes that superior customer service is the cornerstone of any technology offering. His Twitter handle is @CEO_converge. 

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