Does the Shoe Fit?

Many of us have supported the contact center industry for years as managers, directors, executives, contact center solution vendors — and yet have never spent a single day as an agent. Or, per the stereotype of work-at-home agents, we haven’t stepped into those proverbial bunny slippers.

Two industry articles prompted this line of thought. The first questioned whether a well-known communications provider runs their contact center like a sweatshop. The second article is captivatingly entitled “Witness the Death of Average Handle Time.”

What is it like to be a contact center agent? Perhaps we think of the advantages: they typically work an 8-hour day, whereas many of us work into the evening. If they’re home agents, their morning commute is from the coffeepot to the home office.

But think of the stress an agent faces. Nowadays many consumers get answers to their questions from web sites, industry forums, and discussion groups. People go to agents for the hard stuff — so almost every contact is a tough, out-of-the-norm type of inquiry. Many customers are angry or frustrated because they’ve exhausted other avenues, and perhaps bounced around in IVR hell before reaching an agent. Now, the agent is expected to resolve these difficult issues QUICKLY. And magically turn grouchy customers into happy advocates in three minutes or less!

Empathy aside, why do you care? Because traditional metrics such as Average Handle Time are putting both customers and agents into shoes that don’t fit.

Customers may not get resolution to their issues simply because the agent is pressured to end the call quickly. And if they hang up dissatisfied, their next contact may be with your competitor.

And the agents who juggled challenging inquiries all day, and were then chastised for exceeding the expected handle time? They’re probably going to be searching for a new job – and you’re going to be spending time and money hiring and training their replacements.

It’s time to ask whether the old shoes should be thrown out and replaced. And when you do, one place you can check out is Zappos, a company renowned for exemplary customer service and a loyal following. It’s a company who reputedly values customer satisfaction more than handle time according to “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose” a book written by CEO Tony Hsieh. When writing this blog, I called Zappos’ 1-800 number to see what an agent would tell me about how they are evaluated. I spoke with Megan, a cheerful young woman who obviously loves her job. Indeed, customer satisfaction is paramount. Megan’s favorite line is “We’re a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.” Obviously the shoe fits – and profitably.

Is it time to reevaluate the metrics we use to evaluate agent performance? I think so.

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