Building an Agent Improvement Plan? 5 Tips for Contact Centers

by | Jun 24, 2022 | Agent Productivity, Contact Center

You need to see improvement, but why spend time recruiting and training new agents if you don’t have to? Most contact centers planned for growth this year, but hiring great talent has been challenging. Companies like xtDirect had to reduce their agent count by 25% due to the pandemic, and many companies are still short staffed.

Before you put agents on an improvement plan, first take a step back and try to understand why some agents can’t seem to resolve tickets quickly or keep customers happy. A few tweaks to your process or tech stack may be all it takes to turn things around.

If most struggling agents deal with simple tickets and interactions, find ways to reduce metrics Average Handle Time; after all, inefficient agents cost money. If soft skills and quality metrics matter more than speed, assess your agent coaching strategy.

No matter your situation, you should first take an honest assessment of areas you can control that might improve an agent’s performance overnight. You might uncover a few roadblocks you can eliminate that impact CSAT scores, escalations, and other key metrics.

To start, review these 5 tips designed to help agents get back on track, no matter if they work remotely or in an office.

1Evaluate the resources you provide to agents

No agent wants to use clunky software that doesn’t integrate with other platforms they use day-to-day, or be stuck with a support platform few agents use or talk about.

Any CRM, ticketing, or Contact Center platform should be intuitive for all agents, not just experienced agents who know all workarounds and shortcuts. If agent tools seem to be the culprit, schedule a quick lunch and learn session to allow agents to provide feedback and share best practices; simple time-saving hacks can eliminate minutes of wasted time each day.

Check out our blog post, 10 Ways to Improve Agent Efficiency if your team struggles with efficiency in general; how you deliver knowledge to agents when they need it matters a lot. Agents shouldn’t need to hunt for answers in 17 different locations!

Invest in certification programs

It takes time to master customer support software, especially for new or remote agents. Don’t just rely on your own team of trainers, ask each vendor if they can provide resources to help your team get up to speed.

Agent certification programs and training programs like this one by Genesys can not only improve agent performance, but give agents confidence they need to improve and advance in their career.

Even if a contact center vendor doesn’t have a certification program or website ‘training center’, each vendor should be able to point you to a few videos or resources.

Provide emotional health and well-being support

Poor agent performance often has more to do with the environment than software. Some agents might not feel supported or motivated, or might be dealing with problems outside of work.

Meet on-on-one with each agent individually, meet with leadership, do what you can to change company policies that contribute to agent burnout. Studies show 74 percent of contact center agents feel on the verge of burnout, so be sure to address this topic internally.

In a modern contact center full of KPIs, empathy, support, motivation, and encouragement still matter if you expect every agent to do their best work; without the right company culture, don’t expect to cultivate a team of top-performers.

2 Assess your knowledge solution

Legacy customer support software can negatively impact your agents, but your company’s solution to knowledge also matters…a lot. No agent should be forced to switch tabs during every call to find answers, or navigate a collection of knowledge bases or SharePoint pages.

Each unnecessary open tab, message to a coworker, or endless search for a document (inside of the wrong knowledge base) negatively impacts important metrics you need to see improve.

Take Average Handle Time as an example—most handle times hover at 6 minutes industry-wide according to Call Centre Helper; if you integrate knowledge inside the agent environment, agents won’t need to navigate through a sea of browser tabs.

Agent Assist technology accomplishes this task, by surfacing answers (not articles) to agents with the click of a button.

Let Agent Assist surface recommendations automatically

At Shelf, Agent Assist compliments our knowledge management platform, because it takes customer intent data (via voice or chat), retrieves the best answer from the knowledge base using AI, and surfaces these recommendations to agents—directly inside their contact center platform.

No more wasted time spent searching.

3Revisit your agent training and coaching process

Before you address your agent onboarding, training, or coaching processes, consider a simple KSAC (knowledge, skills, abilities, and culture) analysis for any struggling agent. You might find another open role on your support team to be a better fit for their skillset.

If agents just need a little more training to hit goal, platforms like Genesys offer technology like speech, text, and sentiment analysis that can identify problem areas from call recordings. This type of technology can help you identify areas to prioritize during coaching sessions.

There are many online courses that focus on soft skills and upselling you can include as part of agent training—especially if relationship building and quality metrics matter more than speed-related metrics like handle time.

Check out these agent training tips by Zendesk if you need a few more ideas.

Video: See Agent Assist for Voice In Action

Agent Assist also makes it faster for new agents to be effective out the gate, so training teams can focus more on soft skills and skip the script memorization; for answers or policies that change frequently, you don’t want agents to provide wrong information.

4Study your top performers

Many successful agents use tips and tricks they didn’t learn in training; instead of only focusing on what poor performing agents do wrong, focus on what your best performers do right.

The video below explains this concept in more detail and offers tips you can use to study your top performing agents.

You can also ask your top performing agents to lead a group or 1-1 coaching session. In exchange for their time, make sure you show your appreciation to top performers; consider incentives like gift cards, even a pay raise or promotion if it makes sense.

5Create a performance improvement plan for agents

Last but not least, draw up a simple performance improvement plan once you’ve identified some action steps you would like an agent to follow. Most agent improvement plan templates include sections that identify specific areas of concern, goals, and action steps to achieve these goals.

Unlike a traditional performance improvement plan (PIP), you don’t have to draw up a formal contract with consequences for not hitting goals right away; you can make your plan iterative and present it as a guide to start. Later on you can decide whether or not to include consequences like termination of employment if an agent doesn’t achieve benchmarks.

Here are a few best practices for creating an agent improvement plan for your contact center:

  • Set SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound)
  • Tailor the plan to each specific agent
  • Determine consequences for failure to achieve goals (if needed)
  • Ensure each agent agrees to the plan

Conclusion

Improvement takes time, so express empathy with agents as they try new things to improve their performance. No agent wants to get presented with an improvement plan if they feel their superior doesn’t care, so don’t eliminate team building activities or anything to make an agent feel isolated.

As a manager, you should assume responsibility for areas outside of an agent’s control, like the CCaaS software or knowledge platform you make available. A new contact center platform or knowledge solution can make all the difference for agents, especially if poor performance is plaguing a large majority of your team.

You can also improve agent performance more than you might realize with AI; the more time-consuming steps you eliminate—like hunting for knowledge—the easier you make it for agents day-to-day. Find ways to create an environment where each agent feels supported, has software that makes their job easier, and adequate coaching and training resources.

A few of these simple (but impactful) tweaks to your process can have agents hitting target in no time.

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