Becoming a contact centre agent is a similar process to getting a driver’s licence. First you get your ‘L’ plates and spend time learning in induction training. The next step is you get your ‘P’ plates and can join the customer contact highway. Once you have passed the final driving tests, you get your full ‘licence’ to drive, and with that comes a certain amount of trust that you will do the right thing on the road. So, presumably once you meet your performance measures to be a qualified contact centre agent you will be awarded a licence to drive on the customer contact highway as a trusted agent.

Sounds simple really, however that is not the case in many contact centres today. Often what I see are agents who are fully competent, yet are still being micro-measured and quality monitored the same as the agents on the‘P’ plates. They actually never really get a licence to be a qualified trusted ‘contact centre driver’.

When I have proposed this scenario at workshops with contact centre managers and asked, “why are your skilled agents still being treated the same as P-platers?” the replies are interesting. Common answers are, “we can’t trust them” or ”that’s just how the process is” or, “that way everyone is treated equally”.

When I ask good agents why they left a centre or the contact centre industry, the common answers I get are, “can’t work for those micro-managing statistical control freaks”, “they treat us like robots”, “even after all this time they still treat me the same as a newbie”, and “they don’t ever trust us”.

Over the past 16 years, I have marvelled at how technology has enabled us to understand in great detail every aspect of our agents’ and centres’ activities and performance. From a centre management view, I applaud how this has empowered us to manage our centres more effectively, particularly from a workforce optimisation perspective. However my observations today are that micro-management of agents has become a contact centre illness diagnosed by the cost of attrition and absenteeism.

Behavioural psychologists tell us that the results of micro-management are usually poor morale and employee engagement, increased attrition and absenteeism, loss of productivity and employees not feeling trusted or respected. The impacts of each of these are far reaching and costly. So in an industry where these are some of the key challenges, are we actually perpetuating these problems with our statistical obsession?

If technology contributed to our micromanagement problems can it now help redeem us? Today I see that smart contact centres are moving beyond the old ways of agent monitoring, and using newer technologies such as Post Call Surveys to get real time feedback on agents and Analytics solutions to identify the ‘exceptions’, that highlight potential areas to review or manage. Is ‘exception’ management the key?

Technology aside, when I look at the answers both the managers and agents gave me, there is still a common theme around lack of ‘trust’. When I recognised that with my own agents in centres, I completely changed the way qualified agents were measured and the results were astounding. As ‘trusted’ agents their performance increased even further and they automatically became great mentors helping to teach the newbies how to get off ‘P’ plates.

On the road, we can all spot poor drivers and eventually they will get caught and face demerit points. In your centre, if a licensed agent starts performing poorly, they will stand out that way too. Then you have the option to demerit them back to being a ‘P’ plater again.

So the question is, “when will you remove the ‘P’ plates and award your experienced agents a full license as a trusted driver in your centre?”

If you are interested in discussing how you could implement some of these ideas in your organisation, contact the author.