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Internal Perceptions Drive External Satisfaction for Call Centers

Have you ever heard that what’s perceived internally is mirrored and amplified by external perceptions? Well, it’s true; specifically in regards to financial services call center agents on the front lines with customers.

A recent study by Harvard and Sociometric Solutions found that the energy and engagement the team cultivated outside of formal meetings explained one-third of the variation in dollar productivity across groups in a large banking call center. By allowing entire teams to take breaks together—not a usual practice in call centers—the improvement in employee energy played a role in reducing average handle time in the bank’s call centers by 8 percent across the board. The manager has also seen customer satisfaction rise; sometimes by more than 10 percent in call centers for the institution.

Additional research proves that employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction are strongly linked. When employees feel positively about the support and facilitation of their skills and work environment, that quality is reflected in the way customers react to them, and extends to the financial institution that employs them.

This application of the “Golden Rule” obviously retains its veracity in application; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—or in this case, your customers. A study by Kinexa® Research Institute found that, “employee retention is positively related to customers’ satisfaction with the quality of service they receive.” As call center operations managers strive to increase efficiencies, it’s imperative not to lose sight of this correlation between internal and external satisfaction.

The Efficiency of Effectiveness in Call Centers

Matching service with high demand has never been more important or more challenging. Customer preference for service that provides instant gratification is expanding across channels and patience is stretched.

It may seem counterintuitive, but cost is not the defining factor of efficiency. Efficiency is representative of the knowledge, skill, and competence held by call center agents to serve customers in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort.

Improving efficiency in the call center is reliant upon looking past a surface metric to uncover root cause and address it. For example, a high average handle time (AHT) is not remediated by simply trying to get customers off the phone faster. Resolving this issue requires assessing call flows, agent scripts, and overall customer response to their experience. Quite often, what is discovered are ancillary components of the call that need improvement, such as IVR design, call routing, and workforce management adjustments. The result of root cause resolution is sustainable improvement in efficiency based on more effective process design.

Shared Accountability Improves Efficiency

Setting concrete goals and instilling accountability from top to bottom and bottom to top will also improve employee engagement and the ability of agents to effectively deliver service that produces higher satisfaction.

Four Areas for Applied Focus:

1. Communications Training: In many call centers, communications training is only provided to new hires. However, as consumers, markets, and channels change, so does the context that service delivery must address. Listening skills must be updated based on changes to needs and preferences. Trigger words from two years ago, may no longer be as prevalent today. This also requires that agents adapt their word choices to ensure that their conversations demonstrate empathy the customer receives as caring, rather than as stock responses based on scripts.

2. Transfer Process Improvement: As the products banks sell become more complex, matching the caller’s issue to the agent best prepared to resolve the issue will result in service delivery that is perceived as highly competent and valued by the customer. Processes can be streamlined in many ways, from IVR design modifications to workforce management.

3. Team Lead-to-Agent Ratios: Based on the initiatives the call center is responsible to support, operations managers should develop a process for adjusting the team lead-to-agent ratio in support of goal achievement. Factors such as the experience level of agents, the complexity of new products being launched, and the need to answer to external events should all be assessed to help call centers devise plans for identifying times when adjustments to ratios can lead to higher efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery.

4. Daily Call Review: Call review is necessary to inform actions taken in relation to all three of the preceding areas, above. This is the only way to allow the voice of the customer to serve as the foundation for the development of service delivery that will resonate with customers and result in improvements to satisfaction that surpass the goals and expectations of both the company and your customers.

Perceptions Rule

As you can see, efficiency is based on much more than lowering costs. Employee engagement, involvement, and team relations each play a role in creating an experience that empowers agents to satisfy customers. By shifting operational focus from standalone metrics to methods that improve the knowledge, skill and competence of your agents, their enthusiasm will be mirrored by measurable improvements to your customer satisfaction levels. Best of all, this efficiency and effectiveness will be sustainable because it’s designed to address root cause, not to smooth over surface issues that will return with the next shift in context.