Spotlight on the supervisor

Analytics and
agents: Empowering employees in distributed teams

07

Before the pandemic, contact center supervisors had their schedules down to a science. Let’s follow your average supervisor through a typical day:

Jayne gets in early and reviews her notes from the previous shift. There was a spike in calls about a new software update. When agents arrive, Jayne calls them over for a pre-shift huddle. She highlights the issues that came up the day before and asks them to read up on the update.

Later, once calls are coming in, Jayne walks the contact center floor. She overhears one call that goes well. On another, she hears an agent struggling. She makes notes for their weekly one-to-ones.

In the afternoon, Jayne opens her analytics dashboard. A screenful of metrics pops up, revealing everything from abandoned call rates to average speed of answer. Everything looks good so she jumps into a couple of calls.

That’s how things used to work. But the pandemic has shuttered most contact centers. It’s forced teams out of their comfort zone and into impromptu remote working transformations. Without a lot of their old in-person analytical sources, supervisors and managers had to rethink how to monitor and manage their teams. While it’s a significant challenge, it’s also an opportunity for change.

Organizations can use the pandemic as a catalyst point. They can overhaul their performance management and design systems that empower agents.

A new era of autonomous working

Contact centers have the highest employee density of any industry. Agents worked shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues. Supervisors could hear a dozen conversations at once by standing up. Workplaces were personal, and information flowed by osmosis.

But the pandemic upended everything. Agents now operate across hundreds or thousands of home offices. Supervisors can’t listen to calls by standing near agents. Neither can they tap someone on the shoulder and jump into an impromptu coaching session. And all of that can feel scary.

For agents, it’s like their support system disappeared overnight. Before the pandemic, supervisors were right behind them. Now, they’re a floating head on a video call. The shift affected supervisors and managers, too. In the office, they could watch agents, walk the floor, and hear calls. It was easy for leaders to keep their finger on the pulse when they could walk the floor. Now, not so much.

A decade ago, contact centers couldn’t have adapted. Remote technology just wasn’t there. Today, it’s a different story. Organizations have cloud-based contact center platforms that work wherever agents have an internet connection.

But when it comes to analytics and performance management, we need a new approach. Today’s agents need to learn to work more autonomously. Leaders must adapt their analytics and monitoring to distributed work. Let’s look at how organizations can adjust their analytics to the post-pandemic world.

Leaders set the direction

Humans are social animals and we look to those around us for guidance. If a crowd of people laughs at a joke, you’re more likely to laugh, too. In the close quarters of a contact center, this is especially true. If your colleagues go the extra mile for their callers, you’ll try extra hard too. But when you’re working from home, there’s no one there. 

In the era of distributed work, your supervisors must step forward and set the direction for their agents. As before, they should kick off each day with a pre-shift meeting. But unlike in-person huddles, everyone joins via their computer — and that’s something you can work to your advantage. With everyone joining the call virtually, supervisors can run productivity reports from the previous day and share their screen. Before, you’d have dozens of people crowded around a monitor or passing a piece of paper between them. Since your agents are now remote, they can all see the report on their screen and interact with it.

Because video meetings are quick and simple, you don’t have to keep them to the start and end of the day. If a supervisor notices performance dipping in the middle of the day, they can call agents onto a quick update call and share stats with them. And if it’s too busy for a video call, they can drop the report into team chat. It makes feedback more real-time and reactive. Instead of waiting until the end of a shift, they can drop in whenever there’s an issue and sort it out.

The 30,000-foot view is half the equation but it misses out the personal angle. As well as setting the direction, supervisors need to highlight strong performers within their team. Say an agent has the highest customer satisfaction scores in their team and even received a few post-call emails with praise. Your supervisors need a way to give recognition remotely — and publicly. That’s where video meetings come in. For significant events, supervisors can tack on an announcement to the pre-shift huddle. With video, their team can see their enthusiasm and feel the pride coming from celebrated agents. It turns a simple moment of recognition into a powerful motivational driver. However, video calls aren’t always an option. For smaller achievements, highlighting wins in team chat is usually enough to celebrate strong performances.

Agents manage the journey

The reality of distributed work is that agents are working on their own with less supervision. Yes, supervisors have access to their calls and performance data. But they aren’t looking over agents’ shoulders, keeping a close eye on them. In this new environment, you need to give agents more responsibility — and make that clear to them.

Handing the reins to your agents will feel scary, but it’ll pay off in the long run. The Academy of Management recently ran a meta-analysis of 319 studies and 151,000 participants to unpack the benefits of employee autonomy. They found that granting people more of a say in their work resulted in better job performance by “enhancing work motivation and reducing mental strain.”

But you can’t whip away their supervision and expect agents to step up to the challenge. Sit down with them, explain the changes, and outline what you expect from them.

Today’s contact centers can provide open access to performance data for agents. They can click into team-wide dashboards and see how they’re performing compared to their team averages. Say an agent logs on and sees their customer satisfaction score is lower than their team average. Now, they know something is wrong, and they can take steps to fix it — but only if you’ve made it clear that self-evaluation is part of their new role.

Granting agents more autonomy is about giving them responsibility for their work. Instead of relying on a supervisor to pull them up on poor performance, you give them the tools to evaluate themselves. When you create a culture of self-analysis and continuous improvement, your contact center only gets better.

Supervisor support … when-needed

No matter how well trained your agents are, they won’t nail every call. They’ll come across demanding customers, complex issues, and brand new challenges. Before, supervisors could sense which agents were floundering just by looking. But now, they have to rely on data.

Supervisors must dig into the data at the agent level, unpacking performance, and searching for red flags. If an agent has a spike in abandonment rates, it’s clear something’s up. That’s a prime opportunity for supervisors to drop into their calls and monitor how they handle them. Is the agent struggling with technical aspects? Are they finding it difficult to deal with particular callers? Whatever the issue, supervisors need to get involved and sort it out.

But support is a two-way street. Supervisors are only human and will inevitably miss worrisome metrics, so agents need a way to call for help. Again, this was easy before. Agents could wave or catch a supervisor’s eye as they passed. Now, you need to formalize support requests. Do agents ping their supervisor via chat, bring up concerns during their one-to-one, or ask their peers for assistance? Whatever you decide, tell your agents what to do when they need help. Because if they don’t know how to ask for support, they’ll sit in silence and continue to struggle.

Adapt, overcome, thrive

In the early days of the pandemic, service disruption disclaimers popped up on every company website. “During these challenging times, we expect to have fewer colleagues available to take calls,” they read. “Please only contact us if it is essential.”

Contact center execs spent the early scrambling to work out what was going on. Once they had a feel for the landscape, they worked out how to get back to a minimum level of service. Organizations acquired new software, bought new gear from their employees, and learned how to work remotely. After a while, service levels climbed back to where they were before the pandemic.

It’s tempting to stop here — precisely where we were before the pandemic. But as we mentioned, this crisis is also an opportunity. For many organizations, the coronavirus crisis turned into a hard reset. It tore down the status quo and challenged people to rebuild their businesses. While you could settle for getting back to where you were, you could also strive to build something better.

By overhauling your analytics, you can enhance information access across your contact centers. By granting your agents more autonomy and providing access to their performance data, they’ll no longer sit in the dark, waiting for supervisors to assess their work. Instead, they can click into their performance dashboard to see how well they’re performing. They can take control of their own work lives and kickstart a process of self-improvement. 

As Steve Jobs once said: “It’s not the tools you have faith in — tools are just tools — they work, or they don’t work. It’s the people you have faith in or not.”

That’s where we come in. At RingCentral, we’re dedicated to building platforms that work, allowing you to concentrate on your people. Our collaborative contact center empowers agents to take control of their work and manage their own improvement. Instead of micromanaging every task, your supervisors can step back and think bigger. When you grant your employees trust, tools, and autonomy, they’ll amaze you with their work.

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