Not long ago, handle time was the chief measure of customer support agent productivity. Managers optimized everything they could to lower costs (that is, time spent) by speeding up their teams’ calls.
This, according to management consultants at Bain & Company, is what leaders do to make teams more efficient.
Efficiency is producing the same with less.
Productivity, by contrast, is producing more with the same.
And while efficiency is a worthy pursuit (handle times are certainly worth measuring), productivity, they argue, is the key to business success today.
A new wave of customer-centric organizations are turning to support agents’ experience as the source of improved customer experience. They’re finding they don’t need to squeeze water from a stone for agents to produce more. People want to be productive. In many cases, organizations simply need to get out of the way.
Here are three ways to do exactly that for support teams, plus how doing so benefits both businesses and their customers.
1. Restore lost time
If companies invested in agents’ time as thoughtfully and formally as they invested finances, agents would be free to produce more every day. But most leaders don’t view the resource of time as highly as they do fiscal resources. To prove it, consider the last time you heard of a business poring over the profits and losses of a department’s minutes or hours. It doesn’t happen.
Survey your team to find exactly where they encounter bottlenecks, blockages, and drag. Employ time tracking software to see when workflows stop, what’s holding them up, and what can be done systematically to streamline those processes. Note how much time is spent toggling between dashboards, waiting for email responses, searching for information, or re-collecting customer information for context.
Reinvigorate the old belief that time truly is money.
Why? What’s really at stake? Your customer’s experience. Customer expectations have changed. People expect fast, efficient, relevant responses across channels without having to repeat themselves. When you're equipping your team with customer context, collaboration tools, and the data to streamline and improve workflows internally, then your customers will see the benefits. They'll have faster, more personal responses – a much-improved experience.
2. Reclaim the talent you hired
No one hires someone anticipating they’ll operate at 70% capacity. The talent you sourced promised (at the time) to be the best of the best. After all, that’s why each valuable individual was selected.
For decades, occupational health experts have suggested a correlation between employee happiness and productivity. But until just a few months ago, their conclusions were inconsistent.
Finally, in late 2019, the World Economic Forum published conclusive evidence linking employee wellbeing with increased productivity and other business benefits.
Together with Gallup, researchers analyzed studies that included 1.8 million employees across over 80,000 business units. They found that organizations whose employees were satisfied at work had
- A “substantial positive correlation with customer loyalty”
- A “substantial negative correlation with staff turnover”
- A “positive and strong” correlation with productivity
- A “moderately positive correlation” with business profitability
While the scientists hesitated to declare causes, they do call out apparent drivers of heightened morale. Among them are telling takeaways for customer-centric business owners and contact center managers. For example, the expectation of rewards (incentivization), social relationships, making jobs interesting, and work-life balance.
Again, people want to be productive. And now there’s proof that happier teammates are more productive.
3. Redirect discretionary energy
Most agents do their job, fulfill expectations, meet standards, and no more. Meeting requirements doesn’t make an employee “disengaged” but throughout the day, a trend emerges: some agents look for ways to creatively do more, be better, and promote the business. They use the mental calories they have to brainstorm collaborative ideas and creative solutions.
Can a company develop this type of overachieving customer service representative? Sort of. See, business leaders can put structures and methods in place, so that those “who have it in them” can emerge. Here’s how.
McKinsey analysts describe an experiment conducted by Harvard Business School students wherein a restaurant’s kitchen team was given visibility to the faces and interactions of dining room guests by way of video feed. The results were dramatic; chefs chose to make fresh eggs for each guest instead of cooking several in advance. Seeing their diners altered everything. The place enjoyed a surge in employee satisfaction. Better yet, customer satisfaction increased 14.4 percent. By giving customer support agents selective visibility of customers’ and teammates’ activities, leaders can restore the human side of every interaction.
Reconsider your team’s tools.
Our recent Customer Experience Benchmark Study revealed a startling admission: a mere 52% of customer service agents believe they have adequate tools for reporting. That means that if an agent wanted to go above-and-beyond, many times they wouldn’t even be able to. Loop agents into decision-making conversations so you can ensure you're giving them adequate tools to do their jobs. Remember, when they’re successful, the end result is a better customer experience
Balance independence with oversight.
Accountability provides alignment and repeatability. Meanwhile, autonomy allows for creativity, innovation, and spontaneous problem-solving. Most customer service organizations favor one extreme while ignoring the other. But put them together, and you’ve got a team humming with productivity. Establish organizational structures that juggle both for customer service agents, and that discretionary effort will emerge right when and where it matters most.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with measuring handle time. In fact, it’s an insightful metric. But today’s customer-centric business leader knows that faster calls aren’t the only standard of productivity. Treating the quality of an agent’s time spent, original talent hired, and discretionary energy with the value they deserve will turn an ordinary contact center into a productively buzzing machine.