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Gaming the Strategy: What Are the True Drivers of Effective Contact Center Performance Management?


Presented By: CrmXchange

Performance management is an integral part of managing the contact center. It incorporates a number of factors including honing agent skills, determining the right evaluation metrics and rating agents based on their adherence to them as well as rewarding agents based on performance. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, performance management includes all of the following elements:    

  •  Developing agent objectives and setting expectations 
  • Continually monitoring contact center agent performance 
  • Training agents on a regular basis and developing customer service skills 
  • Rating agent performance in a summary and timely fashion 
  • Finding the most effective incentives and rewards to promote engagement and encourage productive performance    

This may sound like a simple formula to follow. But as it is with all aspects of contact center operation, there’s more to performance management than meets the eye. The most comprehensive plans not only take into account the goals of agents and contact center management, but also focus on aligning these objectives with both customer needs and the principal aims of the organization. According to performance management platform provider REV, only 40% of the workforce claimed they knew about their company's goals, strategies and tactics. 

Businesses need to identify achievable targets and establish the most effective measures to be put in place.  Getting the proper balance is a priority for organizations interested in the two main drivers of long-term success – workforce optimization and increased customer satisfaction.

But where does a company start the process? Many contact centers are now sitting on vast amounts of system data and management information. These operations are looking to a growing number of updated performance management solutions to help them leverage these underutilized assets. In fact, according to SaddleTree Research, the demand for such solutions in contact centers alone was nearly double the level expected in 2015.

 “Performance management has gone from being a ‘nice-to-have’ to a priority,” said Adam Aftergut, Product Marketing Manager for NICE. “As onboarding has become a more costly process and agent churn remains an ongoing drain on the bottom line, it has become increasingly important to find effective methods to both change behavior and measure performance improvement.”

Some of the key tools incorporated into updated performance management products include advanced analytics, business intelligence, customer and employee feedback and perhaps the biggest buzzword of the past several years, gamification. The natural question is which solutions provide the most bang for the buck? REV CEO Ty Tucker sees the market as one that is still maturing. “Buyers need to be educated about performance management. Executives must be more attuned to knowing the bottom-line daily behaviors that drive success,” he said. “Providing better systems and tools that allow employees to learn from the environment they work in fosters thinking. It also enables real-time planning by feeding management the analytical information they need to react immediately.” 

REV operates under the premise that success can be both measured and predictable. “Applying business intelligence helps businesses make decisions based on the data.” noted Tucker. “Companies can now learn how to benchmark the most relevant data to improve KPIs and execute on key strategic initiatives. Organizations are taking a more contextual approach that can help them more accurately predict and improve measurements such as NPS score and customer satisfaction.”

But effective performance management is also about setting realistic objectives. “Contact centers need to triage their goals to quickly allocate the ones that move the needle to achieving what is truly important to their success,” said Tucker. “Too many operations are still suffering from ‘paralysis by analysis’. While big data and CRMs make a significant contribution, it’s all about making data manageable and usable in the now.”

Of course, the most important element of the performance management equation is positively affecting employee behavior. Good tools focus on better employee engagement and enablement by providing visibility into such areas as team and individual performance. “Employees are becoming more technologically agile,” said Tucker. “Their real-time decision making within interactions is more critical than ever. Truly engaging employees requires businesses to remove all ambiguousness. This entails fixing the link between management and front-line personnel by training managers in a way that enables them to impart knowledge.”

One way that companies are becoming more responsive in communicating with employees about their performance is offering more immediate feedback. As Adam Aftergut, NICE, noted in a recent blogWhen ING Direct USA adopted a performance management system for its contact centers, the organization collected data on a broad spectrum of factors. This personalized data across KPIs was available to each team member, and the transparency and actionable insights created an atmosphere of accountability and motivation. Since managers could see those same numbers, they were able to provide valuable frontline coaching. The data also allowed them to pinpoint employee weaknesses and provide support in those specific areas, rather than assign entire teams to formulaic training programs.”

This type of more personalized and ongoing approach is rapidly displacing a time-honored business tradition of the annual performance review. “With solutions available that can provide real-time analysis, annual reviews are outmoded,” said Tucker. Tech firms such as Google, Adobe and Microsoft have all discontinued the practice as have household names such as GE and Deloitte.

Beyond internal measurements, some performance management solutions also bring customers into the picture. Stella Connect, an engagement, motivation and rewards product by StellaService, employs feedback requests, which are sent to customers immediately after service or sales interactions. These requests include a photo and brief bio of the front-line agent. “We see the customer as playing a significant role in engaging individual agents and the team as a whole, said Alex Vlasto, VP of Marketing for StellaService. “In a good interaction, there is a spark between the customer and the agent. But when it’s over, that spark is lost. By keeping customers involved, there is ongoing positive engagement for both the caller and the agent.” 

Customers are asked such questions as if the agent’s supervisor should buy them a cup of coffee for their good service.  And after a few customers respond positively, a tasty jolt of caffeine (or decaf) can be one of the tangible incentives for agents. Such customer-directed rewards are designed to boost morale across front-line teams. “Performance management solutions are now more attuned to current times, and are more in line with societ,” said Vlasto. “Agents…many of whom are millennials... are acclimated to being liked on social media and seeing positive emojis. That’s why solutions are more social and have more gamification elements.”

Gamification is at the heart of most performance management solutions. Vlasto believes that many agents find being appreciated by customers, acknowledged by their superiors and competitive with their peers is sometimes more important to them than other rewards. ”Stella Connect is focused on the individual agent,” he said. “The stream from feedback requests flow into agent dashboards, giving them insight on how their efforts are perceived which can reinforce positive behavior.”

Gamification, applying video game mechanics in non-game contexts, is being used at individual and team levels,  in a variety of settings but most notably in the workplace.“Companies of all sizes have been experimenting with gamification for many years, with varying results,” noted Craig Borowski, CRM Market Research Analyst for the online help desk technology reviews company Software Advice. “It’s been used to incentivize specific outcomes in all business units. When successful, gamification helps companies improve employee engagement, even in cases when other attempts have failed. A good program can even improve intangible and difficult-to-change facets of agent performance, such as the motivation or willingness to help, expressed by agents.”  

However, Borowski maintains that gamification isn’t always correctly implemented. “For gamification to work, there needs to be a system of incentives that employees find compelling, but which do not compete (or overlap) with existing performance measurements, like any of the wide variety of metrics used to monitor performance,” he said. “The best-case scenario for when they do overlap is that the redundant incentives get ignored and the game fails to improve engagement. But in the worst case scenarios, the game creates incentives that interfere with pre-existing goals.

As REV’s Tucker sees it, “Gamification is not a panacea. When deployed for its own sake, it doesn’t make employees better. But when properly applied, gamification technology is a powerful tool to motivate and engage teams. It allows them to view where they stand against their peers and give them insight into how the top performers are achieving consistent results."

Tucker also cautions companies who offer motivational rewards to make sure the incentives are meaningful, citing the case of one overseas business that was offering the prospect of earning low-value Amazon gift card as a reward. “A company that wants to position itself for a significant improvement in its bottom line by promoting better customer interactions should think about offering rewards that are more commensurate with the benefits that they will reap.” Some organizations offer significant monetary incentives, added vacations and the like.

Stella Service’s Vlasto agrees. “Gamification must be relevant and it should never seem condescending. There are no “one-size-fits-all” solutions. While some people are motivated by recognition, others expect something more substantial. A company has to determine what fits their brand…and their budget.”

 Performance management solutions can make a real difference in improving the day-to-day activities of both contact center staff and remote contractors. But to work, they must be both accessible and affordable. “Data analytics are not a core competency for most contact center executives,” said Vlasto. “It would be helpful if the analytics were automated to make them easier to use and the solution was as close to possible to being turnkey.”

But to make performance management really work, businesses have to take that final leap of faith. While studies have shown that companies with engaged employees generate 250% more revenue than companies with low engagement levels and 90% of leaders think an engagement strategy will have an impact on business success, barely 25% of them have deployed such a strategy.