In many of my writings so far, there’s been a lot of focus on how to make workforce management or your business operate more effectively. In this post, I want to talk about employee engagement in the contact center and why it’s critical to have engaged agents. I will also focus on some simple ways how workforce management can help drive motivation and employee engagement to sustainably benefit customer service and entire operations.
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Employee engagement is not usually associated with workforce management. A WFM team sets the rules for scheduling, the average handle time targets, and is usually responsible to call attention to schedule adherence and other real-time infractions.
From this perspective it may appear that workforce management tends to be at odds with employee engagement. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, I have seen contact centers use workforce management as an incredible tool to improve employee engagement, while supporting their objectives as well.
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Why You Should Care about Employee Engagement
According to a recent Gallup poll, “the bulk of employees worldwide — 63% — are ‘not engaged’, meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes. And 24% are ‘actively disengaged’, indicating they are unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers. In rough numbers, this translates into 900 million not engaged and 340 million actively disengaged workers around the globe.” These numbers indicate that problem of unengaged employee is enormous. And, as we all know, contact center employees are as affected (if not more) as employees in other types of organizations.
With unemployment rates being historically low, recruiting of qualified employees for your contact center can a challenge. In addition, the job of call center agent has become more complex, which has increased the cost of training new employees significantly. So retaining your staff should be top of mind for you contact center.
We have put together an excellent infographic that further illustrates the importance and benefits of an engaged workforce in the contact center.
Benefits of Employee Engagement in Contact Centers
Happy employees are more likely to create happy customers by delivering outstanding customer service.
Employee engagement reduces attrition. When people are more engaged, they are less likely to leave an organization. Highly engaged employees enjoy their work, find it meaningful, and enjoy the experience. This means they are less likely to actively look for other opportunities and are less open to being recruited by friends and others who work at another contact center.
An engaged workforce positively affects customer satisfaction scores. Customers are the lifeblood of any business. Just like engaged employees tend to stay, satisfied customers tend to stay as well. When your employees are engaged, they are more likely to create happy customers by delivering outstanding customer service. This should become apparent in your Customer Satisfaction metrics.
When I went through call center training over 20 years ago, I can still remember my trainer saying “People can hear you smile on the other end of the phone”. I’ve found that to be true. As a call center agent, I did much worse on my customer satisfaction scores when I wasn’t feeling well, or just not liking my job. It’s not easy taking customer service calls for 8 or more hours a day and maintaining a positive and friendly tone every day!
Engaged employees rank higher on First Call Resolution (FCR). FCR means customers got their question answered on the first call. FCR can be impacted by several factors, like call routing, agent training, and so on. The key agent characteristic improving FCR, however, is taking ownership of the issue. Engaged employees feel more responsible for the outcome and are therefore more likely to take this ownership.
Disengaged employees don’t take this ownership. It’s a transaction and they just want to get the customer off the phone and move on to the next transaction. Engaged employees own the experience and deliver value to the customer.
2 Simple WFM Tactics to Improve Employee Engagement
So knowing how we benefit from employee engagement in the contact center, what can we do about it in the workforce management team? Here are two simple tactics for you to take advantage of.
1. Measure forecast accuracy and invest in making it better
The accuracy of your forecast may seem unrelated to employee satisfaction at first, but it can actually have a big impact. When the actual call volume is much more than what you predicted, your agents will be overwhelmed with calls and will not have a moment to catch their breath. Or if the actual call volume is much less than what you predicted, your agents will be sitting idle for longer periods and might become bored. Both of these extremes will hurt the employee engagement. But it’s even worse when you have periods of both, because it gives the impression your company can’t plan, which can cause employee to start having negative feelings toward your business.
You are looking for that sweet spot where your agents are given enough work to feel productive, but not too much to feel overwhelmed and stressed. High levels of forecast accuracy allow for better planning. This results in a better alignment between required staff and staff scheduled, which makes the agent workload more satisfying and more consistent.
So, you should make measuring forecast accuracy a priority and start initiatives to improve your accuracy. A good start would be to avoid common mistakes that reduce accuracy. Depending on your WFM system landscape, investing in the proper tooling can also have a significant impact on your forecast accuracy. At injixo, for example, we are constantly tweaking the algorithms of our forecasting tool to make the forecasts as accurate as possible. In addition, the AI-based forecast automatically compares hundreds of forecasting models, and picks the most accurate one for your contact center.
2. Engage your employees by involving them in the scheduling process
Generally, scheduling seems like a one-way activity. The WFM team determines what shifts are needed, and then they are assigned to the employees. But there are ways to actively involve your employees in the scheduling process. By giving your employees a say in the process, they can exercise influence over the process, which leads to a higher commitment and satisfaction. Below are two concrete methods for doing this.
Shift bidding means that you create a schedule with unassigned shifts. At a certain point in time, a bidding period is opened and employees are invited to place their bid (i.e. are able to pick the shift they prefer). This is a win-win-win scenario. The business wins, because there will be less change-requests from employees. The employee wins, because they can pick the shift that they prefer. And the customer wins, because their inquiry will be handled by a more engaged employee.
A modern WFM solution will allow you to organize shift bidding in an easy manner. In injixo, for example, employees can participate in shift bidding (amongst others) through an employee portal.
Involve agents in the conversation
I once did an experiment where I brought call center agents in for a discussion about scheduling. We showed them the over/under reports so they could see where we are overstaffed and understaffed each day of the week and each interval of the day. We asked what changes they wanted to make. After talking through the impacts of the change, and in many cases, negotiating, the changes were made if the business could support it.
I know it sounds like a recipe for disaster, but I believe if you share the information and constraints objectively, you can have real conversations with your employees. As a result, they become more educated on what goes into the scheduling decisions and are more empathetic to what workforce management does.
The workforce management team can also build stronger relationships with the agents and show them that they are not just numbers on a spreadsheet. Ultimately, the vast majority of schedule changes can be accommodated. And for those that aren’t, we can still increase awareness and eventually re-shape the network with new hires. More importantly, your employees know why the WFM team couldn’t make a desired change. It is a human experience that helped us earn a lot of goodwill within the company.
Workforce management can have a serious impact on employee engagement which, in turn, can have a serious effect on your service level and customer satisfaction scores. You can achieve this by taking an employee-centric view of what you do. By constantly working towards improving the forecasting accuracy, you can create a consistent workload that neither overwhelms, nor bores your agents. In addition, you can actively involve your agents in the scheduling process by offering shift bidding and involving them regularly in the conversation.
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Originally published on Apr 19, 2018, updated on Jun 09, 2020
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