Do we even need Team Leaders anymore?

“Many an agent has sat through a baffling set of performance management queries, and come away thinking ‘how is that supposed to help me?”

If you want excellent agents, you need to put in equally excellent performance management. But this element of contact centre practice is now way behind curve and needs to evolve, and quickly.

I’m like most people when it comes to fitness. Summer approaches and you regret not sticking to the gym through the winter to be in good shape for the beach. Then Christmas approaches and we eat one too many (or eight) roast potatoes and are now doubly determined with our New Year’s resolution to join a gym and shed those extras pounds. You sign up for the minimum 3-month commitment and by March (Easter eggs) the motivation and focus disappears, and we start the cycle again.

Why do we all seem to repeat this cycle and not see it’s doomed to fail from the start? Why is it doomed to fail? Because our goals are too ambitious, our timeline too long and we lack an external influence to keep us on track at the moment we start to veer.

Good news, I’ve broken the cycle and the secret was a personal trainer but not in the traditional sense, my personal trainer…drum roll…an Apple Watch. Don’t worry it surprised me too; closing those three circles each day is now a daily obsession.

When I take a step back its obvious why it worked, the goals are daily (not about the end state), the timelines are daily (not about the week before my summer holiday) and the external influence are the subtle nudges and reminders to ‘get up and walk about’ or the visual image of a half-closed circle, these nudges act like a personal trainer but all of them focus me in the present and encourage me to hit micro goals each day and over three months I’ve achieved much better results than any other attempt at getting fit. But most importantly, I’ve not been overwhelmed by focusing on the end goal. Is this the death knell for Personal Trainers?

I now realise my smartwatch has enabled me to achieve something I’ve struggled repeatedly to achieve without me even noticing it was happening. It’s like it almost happened organically. The practice of gently nudging my unproductive behaviours and habits has subconsciously become engrained and created new habits.

A Fitbit attitude for the contact centre

This use of technology to augment performance to form new and improved habits made me wonder if the same principles and strategies could be applied to the contact centre.

It’s madness, but today team leaders still follow the same outdated practices and protocols on coaching when it comes to agent performance management.

They use outdated service level-based metrics and KPIs because they are easy to take and can be conveniently compared against the previous week’s figures. But they have no relevance to the agent’s personal achievements, experiences or behaviour, and offer no insight into how you can improve them. The weekly performance review is always retrospective and never insightful or tailored, and the goal setting for next week is usually something like ‘your AHT is too high. Work a bit harder to get that down for next week please’. Probably the same feedback that team leader has provided every week (perhaps since time began…) and they’ve become no more than a box ticking exercise.

Having been an agent I know that many agents have found themselves sitting through similar sessions, and come away thinking ‘how is that supposed to help me?’

Now consider the device that has helped revolutionise personal training in the last few years – the Fitbit smartwatch. No weekly check in session, but instead a constant succession of micro nudges that are relevant to what you’re doing at the time and keep you on track every day or every hour if needs be. It’s your own personal feedback machine that delivers the prompts you need for the challenges you face – in real time.

The message here is that, for me, technology has redefined the role of the personal trainer, and it should redefine the role of the contact centre team leader too.

Fitbits and their like are great at moment-by-moment measurement and encouraging you to action. But they are machines. They can’t make those metrics come alive for you in ways that give you a deeper understanding of how you might need to improve. That should be the job of the personal trainer (or team leader) who concentrates on the soft skills; who knows what makes you tick and helps you recognise your talents and challenges and guides you towards achieving your best.

Shouldn’t this be the model for performance management in contact centres? Let team leaders spend their time coaching on the softer and more complex skills of an agent’s job; hand the job of real-time nudges around the basic KPIs and hard skills to technology.

How it could work

Hard skills, such as controlling unproductive aspects of the call (hold, transfers & after call work), are easy to measure in real-time to provide nudges and feedback against. If we ask the agent to provide feedback on the exceptions – the calls that took twice as long to deal with and ask them why? – wouldn’t we get a much deeper insight into the anomalies? 

This enables self-assessment for the agent. We are now asking them to critically assess why something didn’t go as expected. More importantly, that data can be used by the Team Leader to also be more specific in their coaching support around the soft skills. They have a subset of outliers to focus on in the performance management session, but they also have the peace of mind that the poor behaviours and habits are being monitored and corrected on an individual agent basis in real-time. This takes the focus away from hard skills and onto the more important soft skills.

The smartwatch technology for agent performance already exists, so maybe it’s time we stop what we are doing and realise there is another, cost-effective and practical way to augment what we do right now.

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