Call centres are typically fast-paced work environments, with agents needing a breadth of knowledge and some quick thinking for their daily work. It’s no surprise, therefore, that call centre teams are always thinking about productivity.
When productivity is high, you get faster call processing, better call outcomes, and more satisfied customers. When it’s low, however, both your employee and customers will end up unhappy.
In this article, we’ll delve into all you need to know about call centre productivity and highlight six high return strategies to get better results out of your call agents.
Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Call Centre Productivity 101
So, what does productivity mean in business?
Employee productivity is a measure that compares the output produced with the length of time it takes to complete a job.
Simply put, it’s the amount of work achieved by a worker in a set period. Measuring employee productivity is an essential step in calculating the return on investment (ROI) of your daily work.
How to Measure Productivity
There are many ways company leaders can measure productivity in the workplace, especially in the context of call centres. These strategies can be supported with productivity software to gain the most accurate productivity metrics. Key things to focus on include:
Quality of work
An employee may tend to thousands of customers, but the quality of their work is just as important as the quantity. Were they respectful? Did they understand the customer’s needs? What was their response time? A robust caller feedback system will help provide these answers, and more.
When calculating employee productivity, labour hours are the most prevalent unit of measurement, especially where workers are paid by the hour. Typically, time worked will be used in conjunction with other metrics—for instance, the number of calls answered—to calculate productivity.
Goals or quotas achieved
Start the year, month and week by setting goals, as this provides another reference system for measuring productivity. In the case of call centres, goals typically come in the form of call quotas: the number of calls to be handled in a given time period.
Amount of work accomplished
Another way to measure employee productivity is by measuring the number of tasks an employee completes in a given amount of time. Depending on your priorities, this might be measured through the number of calls handled, or the number of cases resolved.
Average handling time
This strategy is specific to call centres. Average handling time (AHT) establishes how long it takes an employee to handle one customer call on average. When handling potentially dozens of calls an hour, AHT is a critical metric. AHT also includes taking notes, tagging cases, and seeing things through to resolution.
First contact resolution
First contact resolution (FCR) is a key metric of productivity. Simply, the faster a call gets resolved, the better it is for all parties. How many client calls are resolved on the first attempt? It’s considerably more beneficial to thoroughly address the customer’s issues on the first call, no matter how long it takes.
Customers, Companies and Agents All Benefit from Productivity
When call centre agents are productive at work, they are more likely to provide excellent customer service and interaction. This whole client experience is critical to retaining consumers and clients.
Additionally, when employees are productive, the company’s revenue rises, meaning you can reward employees with pay raises, bonuses, and improved benefits. These perks serve to increase motivation, thereby promoting even greater productivity in agents.
For customers, productivity equates to better customer service, resulting in a better customer experience. Excellent customer service helps retain customers, and optimises revenue for call centres.
With all this in mind, it’s important to understand what can impact productivity in call centres. Small changes in a call centre can make a huge difference. These changes include:
- Creating a robust support system where detailed onboarding, education, and ongoing training helps to boost agent productivity
- Fostering a healthy environment by promoting transparency, cooperation, teamwork, and accomplishment
- Formulating standard operating processes to reduce errors and optimise business functions
- Prioritising employee wellness by encouraging frequent breaks and offering hybrid and remote working opportunities as a distributed team
- Providing a clear set of goals and objectives that provide agents with a shared understanding of your team’s direction.
The Challenges to Productivity in Call Centres
Like any industry, working in a call centre comes with it’s own set of unique challenges. This includes the unpredictability of callers, dissatisfied (and even angry) customers, and high call volumes. All of these are part of the nature of call centres, but their impact can be mitigated. Let’s take a look at some of the major causes of low productivity in organisations.
Poor employee retention rate
A common challenge in call centres across the globe is the high rate of attrition among employees. Finding a qualified call centre attendant is extremely difficult, and retaining their services can be just as challenging. The fast-paced and high-pressure work environment often overwhelms many, forcing them to quit.
Many times managers take on new members and train them, only for them to quit after a year or less. Every time an employee leaves, the cycle begins again, which takes a toll on the company’s productivity.
IT and technology issues
Call centres are goldmines for information, especially on consumer trends and levels of satisfaction. Unfortunately, the performance of agents can be hindered by lacking relevant software systems, like call centre monitoring or CRM. What’s more, with so much information going through call centres, a lack of a reporting system can cause businesses to lose critical data.
Budget constraints and legacy systems are often the cause of technological shortcomings in call centres, leaving agents to make do with what they have. This can hinder processes, causing delays and reducing productivity. At its worst, it can even be a security risk.
Call centre managers have to run activities smoothly, despite often being on a tight budget. Some executives view call centres as high-cost burdens, so they get minimal funding, forcing them to work on a shoestring budget.
This can lead to smaller budgets for training, resources, pay and perks, minimising the support available to agents. While it might save costs in the short term, businesses with this approach are likely to pay in the long run.
Increasing customer expectations
The ever-increasing demands of customers continues to be a challenge, making satisfying their expectations a difficult feat. In the internet age, customers are quick to turn to social media to vent, creating a nightmare for company reputational management.
More people are resorting to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, where they expect fast results. This can make it harder to satisfy customer expectations when dealing with them over the phone.
Low employee engagement
The fast-paced environment in call centres can result in lower levels of employee engagement due to unbalanced workloads, high amounts of stress, and a lack of perceived opportunities to progress. The often repetitive nature of the work also adds to the low levels of productivity, as processes become rote, and errors creep in.
6 Ways to Make Agents More Productive
So now we’ve looked at all the problems you may encounter, it’s time to look at some solutions. Ideally, you want your team to remain motivated, committed to their work, and productive. But how do you achieve that?
Let’s take a look at six proven ways to help increase productivity among your agents.
1. Benchmark top performers
Benchmarking top performers helps to establish the kind of productivity or work ethic you’d like in your employees. By considering these metrics, executives get a distinct idea of how their business and employees perform. It gives businesses information on the data and tools needed to optimise the efficiency and effectiveness of their strategies across all business areas.
Benchmarking also serves as motivation for employees. With time, employees may start to get too comfortable in their positions, resulting in stagnation. As a result, performance gradually lowers as staff become bored with their roles. Benchmarking provides them with a renewed impetus to perform well.
What’s more, the insights you get from benchmarking will help you identify and provide the training necessary for improving business productivity. Having a high-quality and comprehensive employee training development program improves agent abilities, while also filling in knowledge gaps. A training development program for your employees will raise their proficiency to a higher level.
2. Improve the work environment
Employee burnout is a common problem in numerous work environments. Burnout at work manifests itself in lower productivity, emotional and physical tiredness, a loss of attention, and in extreme circumstances, a decline in health.
Managers must prioritise call agent health. They can achieve this by encouraging regular breaks at the workplace, and having clear policies on how to handle difficult and stressful calls. You can also offer periodic wellbeing-geared perks, like allowing employees to leave an hour early after a highly challenging day. Also, schedule weekly team lunches or a team-building activity where agents can talk, share and interact with each other. It will keep spirits high and reduce cases of burnout.
It’s not just about the work—it’s also about the workplace. Invest in high-quality lighting and plants throughout the office; they will help liven up the workspace and keep energy levels high. An employee’s work environment directly influences their state of mind, which translates into their productivity.
Another way to fight burnout is through employee monitoring. It helps track each staff member’s hours and gives you the data necessary for employee evaluations. However, don’t mistake this for micromanagement—workers still appreciate a level of freedom and trust. The software also aids you in calculating active and idle hours, especially for firms that pay their workers by the hour.
3. Use incentives and rewards
Including a rewards and recognition program in call centres can help boost employee engagement. In turn, this leads to a variety of benefits for the organisation, including higher productivity and retention.
When they feel recognised, agents will be motivated to perform better, especially when offered a choice of innovative and meaningful rewards. Recognition for your call centre agents could be for meeting call quotas, resolving a particularly difficult case, or for an exceptional piece of customer feedback.
Every company has its own culture, meaning that what one workplace prioritises may not be the same for the other. Curate your reward system to cater and appeal to the interests of your employees and your company goals. Go out of your way to appreciate acts that support your company’s objectives and strategies.
The incentives do not always have to be monetary—think out of the box. Alternative ideas may be tickets to an event, a fully sponsored course or even lunch at a restaurant of their choosing.
Your reward system must recognise both minor and significant achievements. Too often we ignore the small wins and focus on the large ones. Show your team how much you value their efforts on a regular basis. When you note even small wins, you demonstrate that you value and appreciate their efforts.
4. Provide autonomy and standard operating procedures
Autonomy in the workplace refers to the degree of freedom an agent has in executing their daily tasks. Autonomy not only boosts productivity but promotes job satisfaction among employees, which culminates in better customer handling.
Now, naturally there are many elements that must be done in a certain way in a call centre, like order processing and methods for resolution. However, there are still ways to encourage autonomy. Allow agents to use initiative in escalation within set parameters or use their own vocabulary in dealing with customers, for instance.
Respect, trust, honesty, and a culture of accountability are the founding principles of an autonomous work environment. Instead of forcing immovable work processes on agents and threatening punishments if they don’t follow them, assign them guiding principles, instructions and timeframes for success, then give them some freedom to complete the tasks in the way that they work best.
Strive to assign employees to activities that are a good fit for their skill sets and experience, too. That way, they’ll be driven to put their knowledge to good use. Building Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) will help keep employees focused on the tasks.
SOPs are the defined protocols that a firm uses to ensure that services and goods are delivered consistently. Companies use SOPs to determine how tasks must be conducted and demonstrate compliance with regulations or operating standards.
The main goal of your SOP should be to resolve all issues callers have, as soon as agents get them. SOPs also help ensure that each caller is treated fairly and equitably. This boosts their relationships with you because there is a consistent means of dealing with their queries, refunds, and follow-ups, among other things. An SOP helps guarantee your call centre provides the finest possible customer experience.
5. Involve agents in decision-making
Engage your agents by providing them with opportunities to participate in decision-making. Create a conducive work atmosphere where your agents recognise their part in the company’s overall success. You can achieve this by soliciting agent feedback, incorporating them in the quality assurance process, and including them in all parts of the call centre’s operations.
Allow them access to productivity data by providing them access to their Key Performance Indicators (KPI). This way, agents will have more control over how they can enhance their performance since they can identify where they are going wrong and what they need to alter right away. Time tracking software can assist in this KPI tracking process.
Giving agents self-evaluation access to their performance data encourages them to take charge of their development and progression. This helps them develop a stronger feeling of connection and dedication to the company.
This deeper involvement in the company shows that more experienced professionals are invested in helping shape their careers and create opportunities for growth for them. Formal mentorship is an extension of this process. Mentoring strengthens stronger relationships and promotes open communication, resulting in a positive work environment.
6. Encourage hybrid and remote working
Technological advancements in productivity and communications applications mean it’s no longer necessary for call centre agents to be in one central location full-time to be a productive part of the team. Working from home is now a standard fixture in many places of employment, including call centres.
Consider providing your agents with the option to work from home; this will cultivate mutual trust between both parties and allow them to maximise their time, encouraging the highest productivity between employees. Or, opt for a hybrid workforce where some or all employees spend part of their time working remotely and the other half working in the office.
Remote and hybrid work can be a boon for company leaders too. Call centre operators can save money by renting smaller offices and recruiting from a more global talent pool. They also save money on office supplies, consumables, utilities, and other expenses.
Moreover, remote work can contribute to higher productivity by reducing distractions, as well as encouraging a calmer disposition in employees by removing stressors such as daily commutes. Agents are likely to develop more job satisfaction— which translates to higher productivity—when given the flexibility to work from any location.
As we’ve seen, high productivity enhances every link in the chain within call centres. It influences everything from the number of calls processed, to the happiness of the callers on the other end. It’s logical, then, that call centre managers need to put meaningful thought into ways to make their team more productive.
For call centre agents to be more productive, company leaders need to be creative in offering incentives, giving them an opportunity to grow, and involving them in the decision-making process.
The structure of a call centre workplace can’t be underestimated, either, when it comes to productivity. Encouraging hybrid work or allowing agents to work remotely can have a positive impact on productivity.
By implementing some or all of the actionable approaches above, call centres of any type can enhance their productivity. And that’s good news for your customers—and your bottom line.
Originally published Oct 10, 2021, updated Jan 16, 2023