Integrating best practices into a call center management system
Call center managers understand that their agents have a direct impact on every customer, every call, every day. Most centers have measurements in place to track that impact at the center level. What most centers don't realize -- or fail to track, if they are aware of it -- is the lasting impact agents have on customers as a result of each call. The best agents create loyal customers, and the best centers have measures in place to identify those agents.
Balanced CSR scorecards
The most important tool for managing a customer service representative (CSR) workforce is the scorecard. The measures on the individual scorecard should reflect all areas of the CSR's job -- but in a balanced approach. A balanced scorecard includes measures of customer loyalty and internal quality, as well as cost, productivity, and efficiency. In addition, the scorecard should provide managers with supplemental information to support the coaching and development process. This supplemental information consists, primarily, of CSR strengths and a description of how to use them to meet customer requirements (best practices).
It is critical to understand that CSRs have tremendous impact on customers post-call. It's even more important to realize that impact can be measured -- and placed on the scorecard.
- Customer Loyalty offers great insight into future customer-related revenue and cost. Depending on the business model, Customer Loyalty might receive as much as 75% of the weight on a CSR scorecard.
- Internal quality measures help ensure that internal standards are met in the delivery of products or services. Common measures in this category are process standards and script compliance. It's hard to assess these values for an organization; thus, normally, it's weighted low.
- Work efficiency measures are the most common. It's usually easy to quantify these measures and create a business case. In most instances, they should be weighted at less than 50% of the total performance on the scorecard.
Three other areas of the balanced scorecard contain important, though static, information: the CSR's individual strengths profile, best practices, and customer requirements. The strengths of each CSR -- like customer requirements and best practices -- change relatively slowly. These areas of the scorecard are important because they explain how CSRs should reach performance targets, and they are the basis for individual improvement plans.
The improvement program
Improvement begins with an evaluation of performance at the individual CSR and team levels. One of the most effective evaluation techniques is to rank-order CSRs' balanced scorecard ratings. In most instances, these rankings will produce a very wide performance distribution.
The employees and teams in the top quartile become the standard by which the rest of the workforce is measured. Their strengths profiles reveal those required for maximum CSR performance. The processes used by the top-quartile CSRs also become the "best practices" for all CSRs. This model is also used to examine the best managers and teams. By evaluating the best teams, it is possible to determine the strengths of great team managers and the processes they use to achieve brilliant results.
After the top quartile of performers is identified at both the CSR and the team manager level, selection criteria can be developed to recruit people who have similar strengths. Selecting great managers is especially important, because talented CSRs will not tolerate working for a poor one. CSRs with exceptional talent live to please customers and they will leave quickly if they are paired with an unsupportive manager.
Next, the processes used by the most successful CSRs and team managers need to be documented. These "best practices" are superior to those derived from external sources, because top performers inside the organization are currently using -- and succeeding -- with them. This gives the best practices instant relevance, applicability, and credibility.
The final improvement step is to start a pay-for-performance (PFP) program at both the CSR and team manager level. The CSR workforce needs to benefit from its own brilliant performance to sustain that level. The easiest way to maintain this momentum involves instituting a PFP system. Targets should be derived from a business model that clearly recognizes the value created by high CSR performance. Once the organization acknowledges the value created by outstanding CSR performance, the organization can begin to reward CSRs and team managers with incrementally increasing pay for reaching targets.
Strengths change the culture
Pay for performance programs quickly change the workplace culture. Customer service representatives and team managers in the bottom quartile -- those who most likely lack the strengths to achieve maximum performance levels -- will soon understand that their talents don't match the job, and they will look for other opportunities. At the same time, talented individuals will see the PFP system as an opportunity for recognition and increased income.
The CSRs and team managers in the middle of the distribution chart will be forced to either raise their performance levels or leave. This group should be the focus of training, based on best practices derived from the top quartile performers. Some of these mid-level performers will, in fact, be able to benefit from development and raise their performance to top-quartile standards, while others will not. As unsuccessful CSRs and team managers leave the workforce, the organization will have the opportunity to replace these people with others whose strengths match the job. This self-sorting process produces a more talented workforce and a very different culture.
This management system -- one in which performance measurement is matched to strengths -- becomes a value-creation engine for the organization. The measurement systems provide the targets, evaluating CSR and team progress toward them. Studying the best managers and CSRs provides development paths for achieving high performance. In their day-to-day work, CSRs are aware of their strengths, customer requirements, and how to use best practices to succeed. They also clearly understand the target measures and where they stand. Team managers assist by coaching CSRs -- talking to CSRs about their progress, reviewing results of the scorecard, and helping CSRs find new ways to increase performance. It's a feedback loop focused on helping CSRs and team managers continually drive their performance to new levels.
The final article in this series will feature a business case study where these principles were successfully applied.
To read the final article in this series, see "Best Practices -- a Business Case" in the "See Also" area on this page.