The Need for Agent Monitoring in a CRM Society

Agent monitoring is in need of evolution and may be headed toward a revolution if the industry confronts the challenges of executing a true customer relationship management strategy.

CRM may be the buzz. However, it is simply a progression driven by customers in need of satisfactory service and who want to do business with a company interested in doing business with them. We see it daily, as our market statistics show changes in the customer demand for service and satisfaction.

Customers are demanding a communication channel to receive accurate, immediate information in a manner that implies that the customer matters. Our customer service channels were not meeting the need, so customers went to the Internet. Our sales channels were failing to inspire, so customers sought new ways to gather product information and make buying decisions. All the time, the industry's buzz makers told us it was the technology that failed, the corporate strategy that failed, the customer was failing.

However, the customer was right. How often have we all tried to get information from a service representative, only to find it was more productive speaking to a wall? And how about getting in-depth information about a product you are interested in buying — or just having a knowledgeable, interactive dialogue with a sales rep?

Our data show that the heart of the problem lies in the industry's ability to overlook the most basic principle affecting customer satisfaction — the agent. Agents have two basic needs: the tools to do their job effectively and the skills to execute daily. In today's technology-focused society, where being a CRM solution provider sounds exciting even if no one knows exactly what that means, it is easy to focus on acquiring the technological tools. Though they are important, they are not the sole answer.

So many times we ask our customers why they want to license our quality-monitoring software suite. They look puzzled, so we ask what they hope to accomplish — what is the objective? They say they need to automate their agent-evaluation process and create a depository of qualitative data.

We explain that the information is only as good as the action plan for it. If you lack an objective, then the data simply collect. Objectives are more than evaluating quality or performing quality assurance.

This is where the revolution is needed. Call monitoring too often is seen as a task instead of a critical function that affects service levels and call performance. Agent monitoring always improves a call center's performance, if done correctly. Though much monitoring is done, very little is performed well. As a result, call performance/production is not improved and people say it doesn't work.

Our extensive client case studies say it does work, when done well, and is the only management tool that directly drives performance. How can you educate someone without knowing their knowledge gaps? How can you develop employee skills without knowing their deficiencies?

Too many call centers perform monitoring because it is expected. But what is the objective? The same question that should be asked when a company is about to spend a large sum of its capital budget for the latest technology solution should be asked for its agent monitoring and training budget.

The answer may vary slightly for every industry and business need, but the global answer is the same: Drive higher revenue from your customer base through better-developed agent skills to improve customer satisfaction and retention.

All call centers drive company profits, either directly or indirectly. If I operate a service center that delivers accurate, in-depth knowledge to customers without transferring them 10 times and requiring them to recall my center, then I create a satisfied customer who will continue to buy from my company. If I operate a sales center that communicates our product value proposition to prospects, I will acquire new customers and generate ongoing, incremental revenue from them.

In the new communication channel that the customer is dictating to us, we all need to provide effective communication to the customer. The customer has taken charge of how she will communicate, and we need to be ready. Department silos are a thing of the past. Whether our service and sales departments ever meet face to face, we are one and must speak in a unified fashion.

Agent monitoring is at the heart of this communication change. We can implement new technology; however, if we do not evolve agent skills, we will fail. Agent skill development begins with agent monitoring. It is important to stop monitoring by call components (i.e., evaluating the opening, the close, etc.) and begin evaluating by skill set. What does a “poor opening” mean, anyway? If an agent is to be developed, his skills need to be coached and developed. That is the only way to improve his opening.

Though this concept may read like a common-sense handbook, it is radical. We have monitored calls by components for so long that changing is like moving a barge — slow and painful. But it is the only way to improve performance. If you want an agent to improve his sales-per-hour rate or reduce his call length, you need to identify which skills are lacking and target coaching and training. Does he have the confidence, judgment and listening skills, customer handling knowledge or product understanding?

Your monitoring form probably needs to be modified. Most are a list of evaluation questions grouped by call component. The form needs to ensure that evaluation questions include skill assessment and to group questions by skill category.

If skill monitoring instead of call component monitoring is the key, it should be noted that it is not a stand-alone measure. Like all business improvements, first you measure, then you implement. Measuring and quantifying skill set deficiencies are the first step. The next step is to implement coaching solutions to effect change. This is where a true challenge comes in.

One element that requires mention is the need to evolve the skills of our supervisors to handle this new role. We shifted the monitoring focus, which requires a skill evolvement of our supervisors to handle such agent assessments. We need these leaders to become effective coaches and mentors if they are going to implement change and take action with their newly developed skill assessments.

The need for such closure will ensure agent development and customer satisfaction. Every coach should have a daily action plan for each agent. The plan includes what skills require coaching and what action steps will be implemented (i.e., what coaching solution is the supervisor going to execute?).

The key is action. Coaching should be action-oriented so the agent can test the strategy immediately. How does the supervisor know whether the coaching solution worked? Repeat the skill assessment to measure the difference and quantify the improvement. And the cycle repeats.

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