The "best person for the job" is not always who you think it is. In customer service, this miscalculation may even be the norm.
For example, it makes intuitive sense that people want a sympathetic ear after exhausting the self-service options and, often very frustrated, reaching the service desk. This type of person, the Listener, is therefore heavily preferred in contact center agent recruiting. Similarly, customer service managers see a strong-willed person with an opinion on everything, the Commander type, as less desirable in the front office. There is a certain expectation that customers prefer being listened to attentively over being guided firmly.
The problem is that this assumption simply does not hold up to scrutiny.
In practice, the latest research and our own field observations show that the Commander far outperforms all his or her colleagues in making the frustrated customer's service experience easier. Apparently, this is because Commanders tend to take charge, adapt to the specific customer's needs and personality, and know when to depart from the approved script to get things done. And customers love it.
Relative Metrics for Absolute Success
It is an axiom that we will always have different types of customer support representatives, each of whom meets different needs. Moreover, people are generally somewhere along a continuum of personality types, rather than in rigid boxes, with relative strengths and weaknesses.
Broadly speaking, in addition to the Commander and the Listener, you can find Inventors who are always looking for creative ways of doing things, Pacifiers who search for compromise and accommodation, and the Go-Getter who takes pride in a dedication to the in-house rules.
The most effective workforce management approach takes those personality types into account in shaping coaching, in-house processes and forecasting. Each employee can then be cultivated based on their particular performance metrics, skills, personal attributes and preferences. This adaptive personalization is the key to employee engagement and, ultimately, improved customer satisfaction.
For true adaptive workforce optimization, though, you need to know precisely how your employees are currently performing. For that, we turn to what is known as "relative metrics".
Relative metrics asks the penetrating question: Compared to what?
That is, any true measure of employee performance needs to be seen in context. For example, veteran contact center employees may have consistently shorter average handle times than new recruits due to their experience differential. Similarly, a commonplace, easily fulfilled request at the start of a customer journey may produce far higher customer satisfaction scores than, say, fee adjustment requests farther down the line.
Drilling down into the performance data to make such distinctions provides a very high-resolution picture of each employee's skills and capabilities. One possible hierarchy of progressively more refined performance criteria could include:
- Call type (e.g., technical support or account management)
- Call reason (e.g., assistance or complaint)
- Customer sentiment (e.g., hostile or neutral)
- Employee tenure (e.g., trainee or seniority)
- Employee skills (e.g., drawing on primary or secondary skills)
In other words, a particular employee's performance can only be meaningfully assessed in comparison to other employees of the same tenure, using the same skill set, dealing with the same type of customer, who is calling for the same reason. Such relative metrics allow managers to optimize coaching for effectiveness, with very specific, measurable and attainable objectives.
When employees enjoy transparency into their relative metrics scores, they can also direct their own efforts at self-improvement more efficiently. Rather than a generalized uncertainty regarding how they can improve, employees can see when exactly their personal attributes serve them well – and when they don't.
More broadly, overarching corporate business goals can shape which performance data is measured using relative metrics and which is not. In this way, the KPIs that reflect company priorities will see the most focused and rapid improvements, while broadly influencing the in-house culture.
Whether under the guidance of a manager or self-coaching, relative metrics can be transformative. A sensitive Listener, for example, might be trained to expand their horizons and become as proactive as a natural Commander - a clear win-win.
Yohai West is the Chief Evangelist for NICE's Adaptive Workforce Optimization Solution for the Contact Center and Customer Service industry. Yohai has over a decade's experience in technology solution marketing. Throughout his career, he has managed global solution marketing activities while focusing on market needs analysis, solution definition, marketing campaigns and thought leadership. Yohai's thought leadership articles have been featured on leading publications such as Forbes.com. https://il.linkedin.com/in/yohai-west-5191744