COPC Inc. introduces a new blog series called Ask the Experts. This will be a quarterly series where we ask COPC Inc. experts questions about specific areas for improving operational performance in call centers, customer experience operations, vendor management organizations and procurement.
In this edition of Ask the Experts, we turn to Judi Brenstein, vice president and COPC Inc.’s resident expert on recruiting, hiring, training and coaching for call centers and CX operations. Whether your organization’s staffing practices need a complete overhaul or are you simply looking for some inspiration, Judi’s expertise and experience adds value to any CX operation.
Question #1: Based on your experience, how have knowledge and skill requirements changed for customer service staff over recent years? What has led to these changes?
Judi: In many cases, knowledge requirements have evolved as a result of changing technology, especially as products and services have become more technology-weighted. There are more technical support positions now for all types of products and services as compared to years ago when most technology agents were focused on computers, printers or big household appliances. Today, there are small products, home automation products, car technology, and Internet-provided services which have expanded the need for technologically savvy agents. And that means an agent’s expertise must include both technical knowledge and more advanced problem-solving skills.
Along similar lines, many companies are relying on self-service to address easier transactions such as changing an address or adding a service. The more complex transactions that reach the contact center need to be managed by people capable of handling them. Agents hired for human-touch interactions now need more advanced skills to succeed in providing a satisfactory experience.
At the same time, some attributes have not changed at all. For instance, it is more important than ever that agents possess “true empathy” for their customers and not “scripted empathy.” Scripted empathy is when an agent says, “I do apologize,” which comes across as disingenuous. True empathy is not about apologizing. It’s about being on the customer’s side. Here’s an example of a truly empathetic response: “Wow, that’s not right. Let’s get this fixed.” Which response would you rather hear?
Let’s be clear — I’m not saying all agents are lacking genuine empathy. Most of the time, agents are just doing what they have been trained to do or are making sure they get their boxes checked on their quality form. When I review the quality forms often used to evaluate agents, empathy is listed almost 100% of the time, and nearly always this is defined as whether or not the agent apologizes. The definition of true empathy and what customers actually expect is an agent who demonstrates a sincere desire to help and exhibits an understanding of how that issue is negatively impacting them.
Question #2: Given new technologies and expanding channels used by customers, how can brands ensure they are recruiting the right employees to meet customer expectations?
Judi: My recommendation for recruiting the right individuals for any operation follows a simple formula of establishing and sticking to minimum requirements. First, and most importantly, you must define the right skills, knowledge, and attributes critical to a successful customer interaction. Plus, these skills should include both those to be verified in the hiring process and those that will be trained.
With the expansion of different communication channels, it is important to define required skills by channel. For example, quick typing skills is not necessarily vital for phone or video chat but could be an incredibly important skill for agents who handle email or chat. Your audience can also play a role. If your phone agents are engaging with an elderly market, you might need to hire people who can speak clearly and loudly.
Once you have defined your minimum requirements, the formula expands to:
–Creating a way to measure minimum requirements during the hiring process
–Ensuring that everybody in the recruiting process sticks with the plan to evaluate applicants based on these requirements
–Hiring only those candidates who meet the minimum requirements
–Training people in the areas that were not included in the minimum hiring requirements but that are needed for the job, such as systems training
Question #3: If a customer service staff member has been recruited or trained based on a particular skill set, how should those skills be verified and how often?
Judi: Minimum requirements for any job should be consistently verified, and this should be done by supervisors. Supervisors should be working directly with agents at least 75% of the time, and a formal verification of skills should occur at least annually. This can be accomplished by reviewing each agent’s required minimum skills through a combination of working side-by-side with them, remote evaluation as appropriate, and data analysis.
Question #4: How should companies structure their quality program to ensure it drives positive change, and how should a quality program tie into coaching?
Judi: First, it is important to understand that the primary goal of a quality process should be to identify and correct issues at the process level that are impacting performance. However, most quality programs are incorrectly set up to focus almost exclusively on agent issues. This is not to say that quality data cannot or should not be used to help drive positive change among agents handling customer transactions. Quality data should be aggregated, analyzed, passed to the operational management team, and then used for coaching opportunities. However, focusing on identifying and addressing process-level issues is where the most significant improvements can be made to drive positive change.
Question #5: Who should be conducting coaching?
Judi: One word: supervisors. Again, they should be spending at least 75% of their time working with agents. Even if a quality team is monitoring agents, they are not best suited to coach agents. We rarely see that as an effective approach. Supervisors should have the primary responsibility of the performance of their team.
Could your organization use some help when it comes to recruiting, hiring, training and coaching best practices for your customer experience operations? If so, we would welcome the opportunity to share our expertise in this area. Contact Judi Brenstein at email@example.com.
Do you have a topic you would like to see explored in the next edition of Ask the Experts? Submit your performance improvement questions or topic suggestions by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Judi Brenstein is vice president, client solutions, COPC Inc. With more than 20 years as a management professional and consultant, Judi has a wide breadth of expertise. Prior to her current role at COPC Inc., she served as director, providing performance improvement consulting and overseeing the company’s global training program. Judi has worked with enterprise clients throughout the world specializing in customer experience and contact center performance improvement; operational management; change management; quality, training and development; recruiting; and project management. Judi holds an MBA in International Business from Houston Baptist University and a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Oral Roberts University.