While the contact center’s performance is often measured in averages, it’s important to remember that any average contains high numbers and low numbers. The high numbers, of course, are top-performing agents. Middling performers tend to do around the average, and the lowest numbers are turned in by the lowest performers.
Contact center turnover is often very high, so many companies are hesitant to simply show the low performers the door before trying to salvage that person’s employment at the company. (Besides … there is no guarantee that he or she will be replaced by someone better.) Dealing with such agents is usually not at the top of any manager’s list of favorite tasks, according to a recent blog post by inContact’s Scott Ence.
“Working through awkward conversations with woeful underperformers and providing negative feedback is something that doesn’t come naturally for most leaders, and can be a painful topic for many employees,” he writes.
Often, these unpleasant encounters turn the manager/agent relationship adversarial if they are not handled properly. Ence recommends approaching the task like a sports manager would do.
“On the field of competition, it is clear the coach and players are on the same team; they very clearly want the same goals. Is that always the case in your contact center? Are supervisors, managers and quality coaches clearly seen as “on my side,” or are they seen as something of an adversary?”
Often, one of the causes of poor performance is infrequent training (after the initial hire training), poorly targeted training and performance feedback that is infrequent or comes long after the agent has had a problem. Coping with missteps soon after they happen – in essence providing real-time feedback – can help employees correct their behavior better, nip small problems before they become large problems, and give underperforming employees the impression that a manager is trying to help rather than piling on that individual with a flood of negative feedback.
Encouragement is also critical, as is recognizing when an employee has made improvements, says Ence.
“During and after a game, a good coach will call out excellent performance by an individual,” he writes. “This should be done immediately and with specific observation. Remember, what gets rewarded gets repeated. A coach praising a certain player’s effort and hustle will certainly be noted by all the other players.”
The goal is to turn under-performing agents into willing team members who are invested in their own improved performance rather than adversarial warm bodies occupying a chair. Agents take their cues from managers, so be sure you’re sending the right messages.